Latrobe man’s championship belts worn by Hulk Hogan, eating champs
What do Hulk Hogan, the wild-eyed, shirt-tearing former pro wrestler, and Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, the reigning king of Major League Eating, have in common?
Both have sported the handiwork of Andrew Lazarchik, the founder of Wildcat Championship Belts.
The 40-year-old Latrobe man designs and fabricates ornate, high-end championship belts for World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contests, a slew of mixed-martial arts associations, fantasy football leagues and corporate clients.
Lazarchik was first drawn to championship belts as a kid with a passion for pro wrestling. He constructed his first belts out of dot-matrix paper, and they eventually evolved into a combination of roofing rubber and engraved brass-door plates. Now, it’s a living.
“It’s the fourth time they’ve ordered from me,” Lazarchik said as he pulled the crank of his heavy-duty press to fit grommets on a belt for Pacific Xtreme Combat, a mixed-martial arts league in Guam. He was standing in his workshop, a small room connected to the kitchen of his home in Latrobe.
He also was in the middle of filling a sizable order from Nathan’s, and his work spilled into his kitchen. His island countertop is covered with black plastic, and a plain tan leather strap lying across the plastic is soon covered in layers of hot pink acrylic paint for the women’s hot dog eating championship. The men’s belts are painted “mustard” yellow. Painted side plates for more than a dozen future hot dog eating contest champions lined chrome-wire shelving along one wall.
“There’s a few guys who are good,” he said, referring to his competition. “And there’s a lot who aren’t,” including some in Pakistan who are heavies in the fake purse trade.
“We all get along,” he said. “There’s plenty of business to go around.”
Lazarchik’s work has ended up in New York City, Hollywood, Canada, Finland, Dubai, Japan and Costa Rica. He said he’s focused a lot on corporate awards, some of which are given to sales teams, including Jeep’s western sales division.
He majored in graphic design at La Roche College. He sold his first belt on eBay in 2005. He taught himself leatherwork but mostly orders belt straps from a vendor. He designs the metal plates on a computer, and the designs are sent to metal shops.
Once the platelets are shipped back, he hand-paints them in his workshop. It takes two hours to paint something as detailed as the center plate for the Nathan’s belt. Constructing a belt is a 12-week process from beginning to end.
His low-priced economy belts go for $375, and the Nathan’s belt runs about $1,400.
He once designed and constructed a WWE belt just to show them he could do it. He recalled cornering longtime WWE ring announcer Howard “The Fink” Finkel at an event in Johnstown, saying, “Look. I’m legit. Here’s my business card. I make belts. Who do I need to talk to to sell belts to WWE?”
That encounter helped get his foot in the door. His work spread with the help of wrestlers The Blue Meanie and Beth Phoenix.
That chance encounter and subsequent work eventually led to his creation of a bedazzled $10,000 belt for the WWE Women’s Championship. It was unveiled at WrestleMania 32 in Arlington, Texas, in April 2016 in front of more than 100,000 fans.
“It was cool,” Lazarchik said. “Hey, I made that, and now it’s the focus of the wrestling world.”
His tight-quartered workshop is a pro-wrestling fan sanctuary. It’s adorned with photos of classic wrestlers such as Andre the Giant, from a 1985 bout in Hempfield, Papa Shango, Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Lex Luger, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff and “Mean Gene” Okerlund, the bald, mustachioed backstage interviewer for the WWF and World Championship Wrestling. A wooden 2-by-4 autographed by “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan hangs on the workshop wall above his computer.
Lazarchik keeps a replica of the championship belt Hogan won after he defeated The Iron Sheik to win his first title in 1984. Now, Hogan autographs and sells Lazarchik’s replicas, and one is displayed during Wrestlemania week in the WWE Hall of Fame.
There are also homages to new-age wrestlers, including an action figure of WWE Internet Champion Zack Ryder with an accessory-sized version of a belt Lazarchik designed and photos of WWE United States Champion Kevin Owens and four-time women’s RAW champion Charlotte Flair holding belts he’s made.
“It’s pretty neat to have something on your kitchen table on Thursday, and then it’s on live international television Monday night,” Lazarchik said.