Saturday, August 20, 2022

Orville Brown and the First NWA Title Belt (1948)

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

The NWA's early history with the various belts that represented their world heavyweight title is a bit odd, because even though the organization was formed in 1948, they didn't actually own their own title belt until 1959, as outlined in the book Crown Jewel (available on Amazon and from the Mid-Atlantic Gateway Book Store.) Before that, they used various belts that belonged to others.

In an earlier article, I wrote about my pilgrimage to the Hotel President in Waterloo, Iowa, and the historic events of July 18, 1948 at a wrestling card in that same city.  July 18, 1948, is a day that holds a special place in pro wrestling history, as a group of five Midwest wrestling promoters led by Iowa promoter Paul "Pinkie" George met at the Hotel President to forge the documents that chartered the National Wrestling Alliance. Later that night, they all attended a card at Waterloo's Electric Park that featured a heavyweight title defense by Orville Brown against Joe Dusek, a match which I argue was the first de facto defense of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

The first belt used as the NWA Heavyweight title belt was actually a modified belt created in 1936 that had been used to recognize an earlier claim to the world championship. It was the Midwest Wrestling Association (MWA) belt, and it was the belt worn into the ring in Waterloo on July 18, 1948 when champion Orville Brown defended against Joe Dusek. Brown was the MWA Heavyweight Champion at that time as recognized by the MWA based in Kansas City. But because of the events at the Hotel President earlier in that day, it was in a practical sense the first defense of the new National Wrestling Alliance title.


Screen capture /

The MWA championship belt (seen in this late 1930s photo above with champion John Pesek's photo) was modified to represent the name of the new NWA organization by placing new plates that said "National" and "Alliance" over "Midwest" and "Association," the the original words cast on the belt.

Screen capture /

If you look closely at the image above, you can see the two new National Alliance script plates attached where Midwest and Association were. That's champion Orville Brown's photo in the center oval.

Brown wore this modified belt as NWA World Champion until his career was tragically cut short by an automobile accident in late 1949, just weeks before a scheduled title unification match with Lou Thesz, who was also a claimant to the world title out of St. Louis. At that point Thesz was recognized as NWA champion. He began using his own world title belt that he had been presented by St. Louis promoter Tom Packs in 1937 (known commonly now as the "Thesz belt") to represent the NWA world title belt from that point forward. 

The "Thesz belt" was recognized as the NWA title belt until 1957 when Thesz stepped down as NWA kingpin, losing the title to his handpicked successor Dick Hutton. Thesz owned his belt and did not allow the NWA to keep using it as their title belt, taking it with him on tour of the far east. Hutton, known as the champion without a belt, briefly used promoter Al Haft's WLW-TV title belt as his championship belt during his reign. The NWA finally had their own belt made in 1959 (the belt covered in my book Crown Jewel), the first belt the NWA actually owned, presented to then champion Pat O'Connor.

For more on the Midwest Wrestling Association / National Wrestling Alliance belt, see this feature from the Antiques Roadshow on PBS.
  Thanks to William Murdock for his assistance with this article. And thanks as always to Tim Hirnbaker and his book "National Wrestling Alliance."