Interview with Justin Deming, Owner of WWE Title Belt Tattoo
Last week we published an article (available here) about an anonymous wrestling fan who had a tattoo of the old WWF Winged Eagle Championship Belt across his gut. The story spread accross the internet, eventually landing on the facebook page of Justin Deming, a 29 year old “Enabler” (the most accurate name for a bartender I have ever heard) and father of a ten month old son, who identified himself as the owner of the previously anonymous belly.
The reaction to the picture depended heavily on how you feel about wrestling and how you feel about tattoos. A lot of comments tried to paint Justin as a knuckle dragging mouth breather who married his sister. In reality he is somebody who is passionate about wrestling and also passionate about tattoos, so he decided to combine both in an extreme way. His passion has garnered notice from folks within the industry including Joey Styles, Tommy Dreamer and former WWE Creative Member Dave Lagana.
A lot of people were left with questions for Justin, so we sat down with him to ask him more about the tattoo that made him the most famous tattooed gut on the internet last week and about how he is handling his 15 minutes of fame.
What inspired you to get this tattoo?
Obviously, I’m a huge wrestling fan, but as a fan, I’d always been fascinated with the championships and the physical belts that represent them. There was a time, up through the nineties, that I could recite the title histories of every WWE title. I used to study the annual Pro Wrestling Illustrated almanac to fill in my knowledge of older title history. When I was twelve, I even had a letter published in (what I think was called) World of Wrestling magazine, asking what happened to the belts themselves when they were retired.
As an adult, I’ve had a long interest in tattoo culture, and knew I would eventually get a wrestling tattoo. I decided that the WWF Winged Eagle belt was the most iconic representation of “my” era of wrestling. As a symbol, it’s almost universally recognized, while as a tattoo, it’s unprecedented, unique, and frankly, epic.
How long has it taken so far?
As I discussed in the podcast with former WWE Creative Member Dave Lagana at IWantWrestling.com (listen here) I’ve been working on this tattoo almost once a month since November 2009. A tattoo this large, complex, and precise takes an enormous amount of “pre-production,” if you will, as well as a masterful hand, eye, and imagination. A good analogy for the preparation is the old saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” I wanted this to be a true representation and tribute to the actual belt, not a shoddy, budget reproduction. I’m lucky to have a phenomenal artist in Alan T. of Trader Bob’s in St. Louis. He was actually recommended by other tattoo artists, and I could not imagine a better fit for this project.
How much is left to do?
The tattoo still needs some shading on the back buckle, color on the back buckle and back two side plates, and of course detailing and coloring of the strap itself in-between the plates. Optimistically, I have at least a year left at the rate I’ve been going.
My artist, Alan Thompson is at a stage in his career where his work is so sought out and respected in the industry and culture that he stays booked up several months in advance. That being the case, it would be hard to work more often than once a month even if that was affordable. I really couldn’t have a better artist and partner in this journey than Alan, though. In addition to doing amazing work on a phenomenally complicated and complex tattoo, he’s also incredibly wise, funny, and kind, so the hours pass easily despite the physical pain.
What was your reaction when you saw that your belly was making it around the internet and how did you hear about it?
I was completely surprised. I’ve intentionally not put pictures online myself because I wanted the tattoo complete when the world saw it. I guess now the toothpaste is out of the tube there.
I was reading an article on the I Want Wrestling blog about wrestling tattoos, and when I scrolled to the bottom, I saw an old bar picture of my own belly that I had NO IDEA had been out on the Internet. That is a blog and podcast that I follow regularly, so the feeling can only be described as utterly surreal.
The same day, an old co-worker posted a message on my Facebook wall asking, “is this you?”. She worked with me when I’d only started the tattoo. I figured it would be the same article, but instead it was Black Sports Online, and a completely different picture. I don’t remember even taking the picture that’s on your site, though I recognize the bar it’s in, so there you go.
I was flabbergasted all over again. In the same day, two separate sites featured two separate pics of my tattoo – without me knowing it was floating around out there at all.
Have you ever had the opportunity to show off the tat to any WWE guys?
One WWE wrestler has seen the tattoo at this stage. It was when I was showing him that the I Want Wrestling picture was snapped. I’m not sure if I should say who the talent was or not (it’s not Randy Orton, who my brother wrestled in high school and is still waiting for his rematch). I don’t want to get anyone in trouble with WWE for having been in a bar.
I would love the opportunity to show more wrestlers in the future. Some of them are big fans of wrestling history as well as performers, and those are the talents that I would love to meet. I’d also love to see the reaction of Vince McMahon himself.
If you could take a picture with any of the guys who held that belt, who would it be?
That’s a great question. This belt was first held by Hulk Hogan and last held by Steve Austin. I have to say, the man who made THIS belt so important to me was the Champion when I first became an active fan: Bret “Hitman” Hart. He made everyone he wrestled look better, unlike a certain previous champion. Bret Hart was a wrestler you could believe in, and he never let his fans down. In my heart, he was wrestling’s last true hero. His late brother, Owen Hart, is actually my favorite wrestler ever, but Bret is definitely the man that made this belt a true championship.
When you planned this out, is the WWF Winged Eagle Belt the only one you considered?
Ironically, I’d have to say my favorite physical belt design is actually the classic WWF World Tag Team title. There was something so large and prestigious about those belts. Plus, I was a huge fan of tag teams, and couldn’t get enough tapes of Demolition, the Hart Foundation, and the Rockers. I still think it’s an absolute tragedy that the Rockers never held the championship – at least in acknowledged WWE canon.
When it came to tattooing, though, I am an individual, and knew I needed THE belt, for which I hold the same fondness. The chances of finding a tag-team partner for this kind of tattoo was exactly zilch, anyway.
Joey Styles retweeted the link to the story, and Dave Lagana still knows a lot of people in the industry, so you have some eyes on your belly. The question is, how would you like to see these 15 minutes of fame play out?
It’s hard to say what I’d like out of this sudden attention since it’s so unexpected. I do know that I’m not the only wrestling fan who secretly would love to be a part of the show, if not just peer behind the curtain. I’d love to someday work a match somewhere. I’d love the chance to pitch my creative ideas. I still write storylines down sometimes, which is true of lots of long time fans. We love to play fantasy booker. I’d love some acknowledgement from WWE when the tattoo is complete. In the short term, I’d certainly enjoy lots of Twitter follows. @DeyeMofo
I’m incredibly grateful for the chance to be interviewed on one of my favorite podcasts and to be featured on this website. That alone is a dream come true for this wrestling superfan.
A lot of people probably had some fun at your expense after seeing the pictures, what do you say to people who think you are, for lack of a better term, an idiot?
While most reactions have been very positive, there have certainly been some insults casually thrown around, too. even this website initially had a little fun at my expense (ed. note: Oops.). It’s to be expected. You must have a thick skin to get this kind of tattoo, no pun intended. I understand why some find it shocking and must see it to believe it. I understand how some people view wrestling and welcome a certain amount of snark. what do I say to the people who call me an idiot, who say that I, quote, make wrestling fans look worse than any toothless inbred ever could, unquote? I don’t say anything to them. Why bother? Why waste my own valuable time?
There are people in this world who behave like cynicism is the highest form of wit, and that genuine enthusiasm is embarrassing and beneath them. Especially when these pictures were anonymous, I see a type of person that just has to be the first to knock on something to try and elevate themselves. “If I say this isn’t cool and mock it, I therefore look much cooler than this thing that’s drawing attention.” If anyone truly feels better about themselves by trying to find the most creative way to insult a total stranger, go for it, give me your best shot. Either they’re trying to steal my heat to elevate themselves, or they’re repulsed and outraged that I don’t have to make the same safe, normal, bland, boring life choices everyone else does but I’m happier for it. Fans that appreciate the art and history of professional wrestling can enjoy my tattoo. Enthusiasts of tattoo art and culture can appreciate my tattoo. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you, and I make absolutely zero apologies to anyone who wants to look down on me for it.
You mentioned you were big into the tattoo culture, and tattoos are big in wrestling. Who’s ink in professional wrestling do you admire as a whole “body” of work?
I really admire Rey Mysterio’s pieces. He really has a grand vision behind his work, instead of just having a hodge podge of small tattoos. His spinal design is maybe the best tattoo out there in wrestling. I admire the concept and execution of his chain necklace piece, though the whole religious thing isn’t for me.
I also like CM Punk’s work, more for his personal pieces (like Misawa’s Emerald Boot) than the big logos, though I can’t help but love the Cobra logo.
Is there any individual tattoos on somebody that you like the most? and Is there any tats you have seen that have made you shake your head and wonder what they were thinking?
Going back to the mid-90s, I used to love Adam Bomb’s ADAM BOMB tattoo. It’s just so cartoonish and over-the-top and perfect.
I’ll just be honest in saying that most tattoos in wrestling and in general don’t appeal to me. If you have tribal, I’m just not into it, unless you’re Tomko and turn it up to eleven.
You work at a bar in St. Louis, want to tell everybody where they can go to see your tattoo?
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Sure! I work at the Silver Ballroom @silver_ballroom in St. Louis. We have 17 pinball machines, a nice selection of inexpensive drinks, and a jukebox predominantly filled with classic punk rock. We’re also known for being one of few places in the entire Midwest that you can find Australian Meat Pies, though as a vegan I’ve yet to eat one. I am the bar’s head “Enabler” and I have a blast doing it.
Thanks for the great questions. All fans of wrestling, tattooing, beer, zombies, and politics, please give my Twitter feed a follow! @DeyeMofo