FROM a small warehouse in Union City, New Jersey, the ultimate accessory for the world’s best boxers is painfully handcrafted.
The American company Sartonk is responsible for creating the incredible WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO championship belts.
Their story began 45 years ago, when Romanian immigrant Ardash Sahaghian started working in a downtown jewelry store.
His boss jeweler Phil Valentino asked him if he would be interested in making belts for emerging boxing organizations.
The first belt he made was a reproduction of a classic 1950s Rocky Marciano championship belt.
By the mid-1970s, when the boxing corps were established, Sahaghian was subsequently commissioned for almost all belts.
In 2017, after devoting his life to his craft, he passed away at the age of 95 – five years after being inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame as a Master Boxing Craftsman.
Now, it is his grandson Edward Majian who takes care of Sartonk’s production line. This is their incredible story.
THE GOLDEN PERIOD
Sahaghian, who is of Armenian origin, had a difficult life in Romania.
After being tortured in a communist prison camp in his homeland, he eventually fled with his wife, Nazeli, to South Africa and Brazil, before settling in the United States.
There, he became a shoemaker, leatherworker and toolmaker. Everything would put him in a good place for his future career as a belt connoisseur.
It was in a jewelry store owned by Paul Valentino Sr, a boxing fan with links in the sport who already designed belts for boxers, that he would find his vocation.
Critical Sahaghian didn’t like Valentino’s designs and told his boss he could do better.
“Take the key. You do what you love,” Sahaghian recalls, having told him Valentino in an interview with NJ.com before his death.
Between the 1970s and the 1990s, Sahaghian contributed to boxing’s golden era in the design of championship belts.
His work has been worn on the waist and shoulders of great champions including Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao.
Most recently, Mexican brawler Canelo Alvarez is decorated with Sahaghian’s WBA, WBC and WBO belts.
And despite losing his titles to Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua kept his belts designed by Sartonk.
The Ukrainian fighter was seen bringing them back to AJ after the fight, and will now receive his own. Every fight, once they become champions, has the belt in memory of their journey to the top.
“It really revolutionized the way championship belts are made,” revealed Henry Hascup, president of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.
He is the inventor or modern designer of these belts. He is very proud of his product. ”
DELIVERING THE BATTON
Benefiting from near anonymity, Sahaghian worked tirelessly until his 90s in a small workspace on the concrete floor.
He came five days a week, while his wife painted the belt medallions on his kitchen table.
But it was his grandson Edward Majian who knew he had to protect Sahaghian’s legacy.
In 2009, the company became Sartonk – derived from the Armenian word Zartonk which means “rebirth”.
The “Z” has been replaced by an “S” in honor of Sahaghian.
Majian, who had followed his grandfather into the studio for so long, took up the torch.
And the quality was also not allowed to slip.
The belts, themselves, are typically 44 inches long and weigh between three and four kilograms – Majian keeping a close eye on the procedures and his small staff.
An old-fashioned but reliable Singer sewing machine is used to create the intricate seams and patterns.
However, they start their lives as an organic rubber mold – and look more like a film reel than a championship boxing belt.
“The motto in which we work is our craftsmanship and the respect we have for these fighters,” said Majian.
“Boxing is the sport of the oppressed. These fighters do not come out of closed communities. For many, boxing has saved their lives.”
Majian calls the belts “the art of devotion” – gold plated and crystal studded to honor the warriors who wear them.
“We create symbols of victory and triumph,” Majian revealed.
“We all have this Rocky inside of us, waiting to be released.
“I often come across angry boxing fans who say there are too many belts.
“But each of these belts is something to aspire to, something that you work for.”
And you can bet the next time a boxer wins one, that’s exactly how he’ll see it, too.