Toy Stories: How to Make A Zubaz Ring

After generating a little bit of social media buzz, I got a few inquiries about this. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to add to our dozens of fans, I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about how I made


It’s utterly silly and also wonderful at the same time and customizing it brought me tons of joy, so I’m more than happy to share the process. Especially since I actually thought to take pictures every step of the way.

Be sure to join the Needless Things Irregulars at Atlanta Comic Con this Sunday!

First I should explain why I felt the need to repaint one of Mattel’s retro wrestling rings in this way.

I’ve mentioned this here before – most notably in my ongoing Mattel WCW Elite post – I am a huge fan of Brian Myers/WWE’s Curt Hawkins’ and Matt Cardona/WWE’s Zack Ryder’s Major Wrestling Figure Podcast. I started listening with the April 25th episode and just yesterday got caught up with the archives, which go back to the show’s launch in August of 2018. I was aware of the show prior to April, but despite already being a Hawkins/Ryder fan I just didn’t see how a weekly show about wrestling figures could possibly be entertaining.

Boy, was I wrong.

The guys have a tremendous chemistry and an unparalleled knowledge of wrestling figures. They’ve managed to keep a weekly show relevant and entertaining for almost a year now, a feat I didn’t think was possible. They also make an effort to interact with their listeners, through Q&As, giveaways, and of course merch sales. They are, after all, pro wrestlers.

I’m surprised they don’t do raffles.

Myers and Cardona have come up with an amazing variety of products. There are over a dozen great shirts available from and they’ve collaborated with creators like Zombie Sailor and Steel Cage Customs to create some truly unique pieces of memorabilia.

The first merch I had the opportunity to grab was a set meant to customize one of Mattel’s WWE retro rings. It included a full set of stickers to replace the factory set, as well as ring ropes and an additional sticker signed by the guys. This set had an ECW theme due to Myers’ love of the company. I don’t have a particular soft spot for Paul Heyman’s Philadelphia-based promotion, but by the time the set was offered I was invested enough in the podcast to want the merch.

Me being me, I knew I couldn’t just slap these stickers on a blue retro ring and call it a day. I’d have to do something special, unique, and memorable.

I might not be a huge ECW mark, but I definitely know the company. And when I think of ECW, when I think of hardcore wrestling, I think of Sandman. And I think of zebra-striped Zubaz pants. It seemed to me that a zebra-striped ring would be so weird and different and off-the-wall that I probably wouldn’t have to worry too much about somebody else beating me to the concept.

It may sound crazy, but that was definitely a concern. Lots of people are out there customizing these Mattel rings and there’s some amazing work, so having an unusual design made me feel a little better about how long it was going to take me to do this. I knew my summer vacation was going to delay me and if some other Major Mark posted a zebra-striped ring before I could, it would definitely have derailed the whole project.

This is how my mind works.

The set of stickers and ropes arrived the day before we left town and I had already ordered another retro ring from Amazon, so as soon as Phantom, Jr. and I got back into town I was going to be ready to execute this wacky plan.

By the way – if you have even an inkling of an idea that you might want to make a custom ring for yourself, act now. Mattel isn’t making any more, so what’s out there is it. Prices are already floating around thirty bucks on Amazon, despite the fact that K-Mart stores have them marked down to ten bucks or less. They’re technically still plentiful depending on where you live. But if you see one for less than thirty bucks, I’d jump on it now. I happened to luck out at The Augusta Toy and Comic Show and was able to talk a guy down to forty bucks for two, so I’ve got a couple more I can play with if I so desire.

With all of that out of the way, let’s get down to business.

From looking at the design of the central sticker and the red ring ropes I knew I wanted black ring posts and a red ring skirt. Aside from the mat, which I knew was where the zebra stripes were going, I had a personal rule I was going to follow for my paint apps – one color per piece.

For instance, I wasn’t going to paint the turnbuckle pads a different color from the posts. I wanted to maintain the simple and appealing aesthetic of the retro ring everywhere but that wacky zebra mat. I almost didn’t even paint the tables and steps a different color, but in my head that red and black contrast was going to look so good. And they are, after all, separate pieces.

The only supplies I needed for this project were:

*One can of Rust-Oleum Ultra Matte white paint + primer

*One can of Rust-Oleum Satin poppy red paint + primer

*One can of Rust-Oleum Semi-Gloss black paint + primer (I do not recommend this paint – more on that later))

*one roll of painter’s tape

In all honesty most of this was super easy, but just time-consuming in waiting for the paint to dry to apply more coats.

I decided to spray paint the white of the mat first since it was, in theory, going to require the most layers. Once the zebra stripes were done I thought the red of the ring skirt should go on last because it would be thick enough to cover the overspray and the mat would be the easiest thing to tape over; as opposed to painting the skirt before the zebra striping and having to tape over that.

While this way was easier, it didn’t work out as well as I wanted. The first issue was that the red was not thick. It was actually the thinnest of the colors I used and took several coats to not only cover the black and white, but to attempt to cover the actual thickness of the striping. This was a factor I had not considered.

So let me lay out how I did it so that you can see how not to do it.

First I laid down that matte white. It went on beautifully and just the thought of making an all-white ring excited me because it would just be one coat, no fuss. That paint is phenomenal. I gave that white about half an hour to dry. Once it didn’t feel tacky anymore I felt comfortable starting the next phase.

NOTE: I did this project in Georgia and it was hot and humid as f**k. Be sure to take your local climate into account when determining times between coats and decos. As a rule of thumb, once the paint isn’t tacky and you can rub your finger along it without resistance, you’re good to go. For paint to set to its permanent state takes about 24 hours. More on that in a minute. Also, don’t sweat on your project!

Next I tore up some tape.

Using painter’s tape to mask parts of a project you want left unpainted is the easiest thing in the world, but if you get creative you can achieve some really impressive-looking things fairly easily. To achieve the zebra striping I wanted I simply tore uneven strips off of the roll of painters tape. I’d start by ripping the loose end in half at the tip and pulling back and forth as I tore it off the roll, creating a random, jaggy pattern. Once I had a strip that felt long enough to place I’d rip it off and arrange it on the mat.

Next I’d go back to the roll and – surprise! – the half strip I’d left was another piece ready to go. Sometimes I’d place this alongside the other piece, lining up the straight, even sides. Sometimes I’d use it to make a new stripe. It all depended on how I ripped them and what I needed.

To sum up – I was simply ripping strips of painters tape in half and arranging them in a stripey design. I placed them so that none of the straight edges were visible – only the jagged, torn sides I’d been creating.

And this was where I made my first mistake.

I didn’t consider the orientation of the ring when I was laying my stripes. While I think the finished product look great, I do wish the stripes were horizontal. This is supposed to be Sandman’s pants, not an actual zebra.

Another mistake I made was in not accounting for the actual thickness the coats of black would create on top of the white. The black stripes are raised a bit, and while the red did eventually cover up the visual elements of the stripes, it didn’t totally cover the physical elements. It’s good enough and to be honest if you’re not looking you probably wouldn’t notice. But if I were doing this again I’d paint the ring skirt first.

I’d also buy a different kind of black spray paint. As a matter of fact, I’d make a point of going to an actual hardware store rather than relying on Walmart (ugh) to have what I need.

I didn’t really want semi-gloss black. I would have preferred matte or satin. But when the store didn’t have those I convinced myself that the ring posts, tables, and steps would be better a bit shiny and that I didn’t want two different glosses of black on my ring.

Unfortunately, this black sprayed on kind of thing and gloopy and there are bubbles and drips on the ring posts. If I were doing a professional job I’d sand them down with a fine grit and redo them. Fortunately for my hobbyist self I was able to angle the bubbly bits facing away from how I’ll have the ring displayed at home. Nobody but me will know.

Well, me and now you guys, I guess. Dammit.

There are small pieces inside of the turnbuckles on one of the ring posts that are designed to conceal the knots you have to tie in the ring ropes. I just left them in while I was painting and then, once I assembled the ring, very carefully eased them out of their housings in order to place the ring ropes. It’s a bit tricky, but it worked well and I didn’t lose any paint. I still have my knots covered and the turnbuckles and posts are a nice, uniform black.

The steps and tables seemed to take the black better. Although I was being a little more careful and doing wider sweeps with the nozzle.

Which brings up a point I suppose I should mention – give yourself a very large work surface. I covered our patio table with large amounts of cardboard taped securely in place – you don’t want a strong wind to blow your freshly painted project into the grass or a stray dog poo. I had plenty of room to not only apply paint, but also to move parts away to dry while I painted other parts.

This also allowed me to do big sweeps with the spray paint that started before I actually got to the pieces I was painting. I’d aim the nozzle just to the left or right of what I was painting and start spraying there. It wastes some paint, but it gives you the opportunity to see how the paint is coming out and control what you’re applying a lot better.

To get back to the stripes, once I had covered enough of the white mat area in painters tape stripes, I showed it to my wife to get a second opinion. It’s always a great idea to get another set of eyes to verify your work before doing anything permanent. I had been applying stripes and staring at the thing for about an hour at that point, so it was sort of burned in my brain. Fortunately she said it looked good and the black/white were balanced nicely, so it was onto the next step.

Using the same wide, sweeping strokes I sprayed black all over the top of the ring. It probably took about three or four coats to totally cover up the white, which is why the thickness of the black stripes was such an issue when I sprayed the red on later.

I gave the black about an hour to dry because I wanted to be sure none of the edges lifted up when I removed the painters tape.

It was very satisfying peeling that tape off. There’s probably a YouTube channel dedicated to people pulling painters tape off of painted things.

Some of the edges were a little fuzzy and less distinct than I would have liked, but that was a side effect of tearing the tape the way I did. Many of the pieces lost adhesion where I tore and didn’t stay flush with the mat while I was applying paint. Again – it’s not that noticeable and most people probably wouldn’t even perceive it as an error. And the only other method of doing this would be to hand paint the stripes, which would take a lot more effort and wouldn’t present as defined a look. Another one of my goals was to keep this ring looking as much like a manufactured toy as possible. I didn’t want anything to be hand-painted or have visible brush strokes.

Now it was time for some more masking.

I didn’t want to waste a ton of painters tape covering the mat, so I got a plastic shopping bag and carefully taped all of the edges of the area I wanted to cover. There’s a recessed ridge between the apron/skirt and the mat that I wanted to be sure to cover with red, but I also wanted the edge of the mat that went into that recess to remain zebra striped, if possible. So once I had the bag taped in place, I went around the entire perimeter of the mat and lined tape up as best I could into the recess. It was a small detail, but one that I wanted to try to get right.

As I mentioned, the red was not as thick as I had expected. Fortunately, though, it didn’t run or gloop up like the black did. After five or six careful, even coats that ring skirt looked great.

I left everything outside for an hour to dry, then very carefully moved all of the painted pieces downstairs to an isolated utility room to cure for at least twenty-four hours. I didn’t want to assemble anything until the spray paint had completely dried and hardened as much as it could.

Since I still had some daylight left I grabbed an old Castle Grayskull I’ve been wanting to customize for years and applied a few coats to it, but that will be a story for another day. Perhaps in October.

The next day, a bit nervously, I brought all of the parts upstairs with the stickers and ring ropes to assemble my ECW Sandman Tribute Major Wrestling Figure Podcast retro wrestling ring.

The first thing I did was place the central sticker, because I didn’t want to have ring posts and ropes in the way when I put it on. Little stickers are easy, but big stickers make me nervous. If you apply to much pressure when you’re lining things up and one side adheres in the wrong place, you’re done. And this sticker was irreplaceable.

Fortunately I applied it with no problem. The rest of the stickers were small and much easier.

Once all of the stickers were on I carefully plugged the ring posts into place, being sure not to scratch any of the surfaces. I could have used a clear coat on the whole thing to protect the paint, but I didn’t want my ring to be glossy.

Once the posts were in place I used one of the factory ropes that had come with the ring to measure and tie off each of the custom ropes. It took a couple of tries to account for elasticity to get the knots in the right place. Once I had them I carefully slid the pieces out of the turnbuckles, situated the ropes, and slid them back into place. After that it was easy to attach the ropes to the remaining three ring posts.

The final step was to attach the steps. And tables. I was careful about this, as well.

And that’s it, Phantomaniacs. It took more time than it did effort. I’d say this was probably about a six hour project, with most of the time being spent waiting for the paint to dry. The most time and labor intensive part was laying down the stripe design.

If I were to do another one, my process would be a bit different and it would likely be a little cleaner-looking in the end. But I am very happy with what I did and I feel like I have a unique and interesting take on something that nobody else will have.

Now I just need to decide what to do with these other two rings…

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