Chris Kovachis has been collecting one of a kind wrestling memorabilia for the last 25 years. He has Kerry Von Erich’s ring-worn left boot and Rick Martel’s ring-worn WWWF World Tag title belt. His prized possession is the original ring-used Canadian Heavyweight title belt from Maple Leaf Wrestling that he purchased about 14 years ago. For that, as well as several other “Mulka style” championship belts (belts created by Nikita Mulkavich), Kovachis earned a reference in Andrew Calvert’s book, The Canadian Heavyweight Title: The Complete History 1978-1984. He purchased a lot of the items in his collection from eBay about eight to 14 years ago “when people were selling this stuff without [certificates of authenticity] or anything and for relatively cheap,” noted Kovachis.
Now, Kovachis is getting ready to part ways with some of his collection, while he’s “still around,” and one item in particular is bound to turn some heads in the wrestling collectibles community.
Kovachis is selling a pair of Hulk Hogan ring-worn wrestling boots, autographed and inscribed by Hogan, that Hogan himself claims were worn in the ring in 1980 against Andre the Giant at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The inscription on the boot reads, “These are my real boots with my real blood on them from MSG,” and you can even watch a video on YouTube of Hogan holding and talking about the boots. Kovachis knew he had something very rare and special on his hands, so in order to get the most eyes on these boots, he contacted Goldin auction house and, specifically, Ryan O’Neill.
O’Neill is a Sports Trading Cards & Memorabilia Consignment Director for Goldin, and he’s the go-to Consignment Director for wrestling cards and memorabilia.
In an interview with O’Neill, he said he hasn’t really watched wrestling since 2001, but he’s been a wrestling collector for the past three years. O’Neill is a “diehard” Boston Celtics collector, but through his years of experience collecting and consigning high-end, game-used memorabilia and trading cards, O’Neill recognized that professional wrestling was, and remains, an undervalued market.
There’s certainly more attention on wrestling cards now than there was even one year ago, thanks to a couple record-setting sales of a 1982 Wrestling All Stars Series A #2 Hulk Hogan Rookie for $52,840 and a 2022 Panini Prizm WWE Black Prizm The Rock 1/1 for $126,000, but O’Neill is confident that these sales records are destined to be broken, and Kovachis’ 1980 Hogan boots is one piece of memorabilia that can help elevate the world of wrestling collectibles.
This past December, Goldin auctioned a 1989 Macho Man Randy Savage Worn, Signed Lime Green Costume Jacket for $13,200, but as amazing as this jacket is, O’Neill believes that Kovachis’ 1980 Hogan boots could sell for significantly more.
The key is authentication and a process called photo-matching, because O’Neill said “having that paperwork” will increase the value of a collectible “five to ten times” its worth.
Savage’s signature on the lime green jacket was authenticated by JSA, which means it was verified as real by an autograph expert in the presence of a licensed notary public, but it only received a “likely” photo-match, so they could not say with 100% certainty that Savage wore this jacket. As it stands right now, the Hogan signature and inscription on Kovachis’ boots have been authenticated as real by PSA. The next step is to photo-match the boots to exactly when and where Hogan claims they were worn, in 1980, at Madison Square Garden, in a bloody match against Andre the Giant.
O’Neill stated that the photo-matching process is “like forensics.” One photo-matching company, Resolution, implements a three round research process, comparing images of the submitted piece of memorabilia to “over 30 external image databases as well as [their] internal database of nearly 1,000,000 images,” and that’s just the first round of research, and if they can’t 100% photo-match the object, it doesn’t receive their authentication.
According to O’Neill, “if they can’t say it’s conclusive, they won’t put their name on it,” but if they can, “that’s where premiums come in.” For example, a basketball jersey that hasn’t been photo-matched might sell for $5,000, while the same jersey that’s been photo-matched might sell for $15,000. For a basis of comparison, the lime green Savage jacket with a “likely” (not conclusive) photo-match sold at auction for $13,200. O’Neill estimates that Kovachis’ 1980 Hogan boots could sell right now, as is, for $30-50,000, but with photo-matching will be “one of the most elite ring-worn wrestling items ever sold.”
O’Neill is enthusiastic about the future of wrestling cards and memorabilia, and is dedicated to providing wrestling collectibles the premium platform that it deserves at Goldin. In addition to the 1980 Hogan boots, O’Neill spoke about two wrestling cards in particular that he’s excited about. One of these cards is the 2023 Panini Prizm WWE Black Prizm John Cena 1/1 and the other is the 2023 Panini Prizm WWE Black Prizm The Rock 1/1, this year’s version of The Rock card that sold in December for $126,000 and is live now on Goldin. O’Neill predicts this 2023 Rock card could come close to or even break the record set by the 2022 Rock card, since the 2022 card was graded a 7 out of 10 by PSA, while the 2023 card was graded a 9 out of 10, so while last year’s card was the debut Rock Black Prizm 1/1, this year’s card is in significantly better condition, and many collectors might prefer the image on this year’s card.
Some fans and collectors might ask, how is it that the 1982 Wrestling All Stars Series A #2 Hulk Hogan Rookie sold for $52,840 while the 2022 Panini Prizm WWE Black Prizm The Rock 1/1 sold for $126,000?
O’Neill has a logical response.
To start, O’Neill points out, even if it’s the most iconic wrestling card there is, there are over 2,000 known copies of the Hogan rookie, but there is only one 2022 Panini Prizm WWE Black Prizm The Rock 1/1, so exclusivity plays a significant role. After this, O’Neill states that Hogan is like the Mickey Mantle of wrestling, but for modern collectors, The Rock “transcends wrestling.” The Rock is the Michael Jordan of wrestling (and Roman Reigns is LeBron James), or to keep it in the same lane, The Rock is their Hogan, so that’s who they’re going to invest in.
It is part of O’Neill’s job to track every high-end wrestling card sale — not just at Goldin. He is confident that the 2023 Panini Prizm WWE Black Prizm The Rock 1/1 will be the “most sought after modern wrestling card available today.”
The 2023 Panini Prizm WWE Black Prizm John Cena 1/1, the 2023 Panini Prizm WWE Black Prizm The Rock 1/1, and Kovachis’ 1980 Hogan boots will all be auctioned on Goldin. If you have a wrestling collection you’d like to consign at Goldin, you can contact Ryan O’Neill at email@example.com. And if you’re interested in high-end replica wrestling belts, such as the Canadian Title, US Heavyweight Title, or the NWA World Tag strap, you can email Chris Kovachi at ckone165@Hotmail.com or join his Facebook group, Mulka Championship Belts.