The only completely original item produced by Mattel for M.U.S.C.L.E. was a carrying case shaped like a championship wrestling belt. Carrying cases were at their height of popularity during the 1980’s, which probably made it an easy decision for Mattel. The belt was called the M.U.S.C.L.E. Battlin’ Belt.
According to the box, the belt was made in Mexico. This is the only M.U.S.C.L.E. product that was not manufactured either in Asia or the United States. The vast majority of M.U.S.C.L.E. was produced in Japan and possibly China. This includes the board game’s figures; however the balance of the set was made in the United States. While the Battlin’ Belt was manufactured in Mexico, its design likely took place at Mattel’s Hawthorne, CA headquarters.
The Battlin’ Belt was released with in two different boxes. The initial release was a window-box to display the actual belt, while the second release was a closed box. This information was discovered because of the Mattel catalogs.
The decision to remove the window from the box was likely a cost cutting decision. Unfortunately that decision covered up the most attractive part of the Battlin’ Belt – the gold buckle. The buckle featured the carrying case/ring at the center with four pictures of wrestlers and “Champion” written across the top. The figures in the top corners, left to right, are clearly Terri-Bull and Muscleman. However the figures in the two bottom corners appear to be the same unknown character.
The design of the belt was filled with rather questionable choices. The first odd design choice is that the belt only holds 10 figures. With a line of over 230 figures a child would need 24 belts to hold the entire set. The purchase of a 28-pack alone would render the belt useless.
The plastic cases that attach to the belt and hold the figures are also peculiar. The case has nubs on the back which are pushed through the holes on the belt. The top of the case clips onto the case securing it to the belt. This system is simple but the wear on the thinly connected top of the case is tremendous. Many frustrated children likely broke this hinged piece. Collectors with loose Battlin’ Belts should be very careful handling the small figure case tops. It is also a good question for perspective buyers to ask when buying a loose Battlin’ Belt online.
The Battlin’ Belt was positioned as both a carrying case and a wrestling ring. This built-in wrestling ring was advertised to have “flexible ropes”. Perhaps in the late 80’s these ropes were slightly flexible, but that elasticity has disappeared over 20 years later. When Mattel released the window-less box for the Battlin’ Belt, they removed the text from the front highlighting the ring aspect of the belt. The mention of the ring still appeared on the sides of the box.
At the center of the gold belt is the uncomfortably small wrestling ring. This ring barely holds two of the more standard M.U.S.C.L.E. figures and completely fails to hold some of the larger figures.
There is also a potential change in the product from pre-production to retail product. The Mattel catalogs and pictures on the sides of the Battlin’ Belt box show the cases to be perfectly clear. Both the loose sample and sealed belt shown above seem to have much darker cases. It is unknown if this change was a production choice or simply the result of plastic deteriorating over time. The UofM believes it is the former – a change in the design of the Battlin’ Belt.