The National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Heavyweight Championship is the primary title in the NWA. Its lineage has been traced from the first "World Heavyweight Championship," which traces its lineage to Georg Hackenschmidt's 1905 title and Frank Gotch's 1908 version.
With many "territories" appearing across the United States, the NWA was formed in 1948 as an overall governing wrestling body. Like franchises, these territories had the option of NWA membership. The promotion owners had to recognize the NWA heavyweight, junior heavyweight, and light heavyweight champions as world champions while retaining their own ownership and top champion.
Every year, the NWA World Heavyweight Champion would travel to each territory and defend the title against the territories' top contender or champion. The purpose of the world champion was to make the top contender look good and still hold the title. The NWA board of directors, comprised mostly of territory owners, decided when the title changed hands via a vote. By the late 1950s, however, the system began to break down. As Lou Thesz continued to hold the title, other popular wrestlers such as Verne Gagne became frustrated over the lack of change. There were also disputes over the number of appearances the champion would make in different regions.
On June 14, 1957 in Chicago, Lou Thesz defended the world title against Canadian wrestler Édouard Carpentier in a two out of three falls match. Thesz and Carpentier split the first two falls. In the third fall, Thesz was disqualified by referee Ed Whalen who raised Carpentier's hand in victory. The NWA later voided the title change based on the disqualification. Thesz defeated Carpentier by disqualification in a Montreal rematch on July 24. It had been planned that the NWA would present Thesz and Carpentier as rival champions in different cities following a similar pattern to the successful title dispute matches between Thesz and Leo Nomellini. Carpentier would also be able to make appearances in the US as champion while Thesz was on an overseas tour. However as a result of various disputes within the NWA, Carpentier's manager, wrestling promoter Eddie Quinn, left the organization in August making Carpentier unavailable to the NWA. The organization dealt with the situation by announcing 71 days after Carpentier's win in Chicago that it did not recognize Carpentier's win and had never recognized it. Quinn started promoting Carpentier as the true NWA world champion based on the match with Thesz. In 1958, Quinn started shopping Carpentier around to promoters interested in leaving the NWA. A victory over Carpentier could give a local champion a credible claim to the world championship of wrestling.
Verne Gagne who had been trying to become NWA World Heavyweight Champion for some time wrestled a match in Omaha, Nebraska on August 9, 1958. The title change was recognized by those NWA affiliate promotions that would later evolve into the American Wrestling Association (AWA) in 1960. This disputed version of the NWA World Heavyweight Title was later known as the World Heavyweight Championship (Omaha version). The title was unified with the AWA World Heavyweight Championship on September 7, 1963. The AWA title continued to exist until the AWA ceased operations in 1991.
The Boston NWA affiliate known as the Atlantic Athletic Commission arranged a match between Killer Kowalski and Carpentier in 1958. Kowalski's victory created what was after known as the ACC World Heavyweight Title and later the Big Time Wrestling (Boston) World title which was active until 1975.
The NAWA/WWA in Los Angeles recognized Carpentier as NWA champion in July 1959 as part of gradually splitting from the NWA. On June 12, 1961, Carpentier lost a match to Freddie Blassie which created the basis for the WWA World Heavyweight Championship (Los Angeles version). The title ceased to exist when the WWA returned to the NWA on October 1, 1968.
World Wide Wrestling Federation
The World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), which later evolved into World Wrestling Entertainment, was the major wrestling promotion in the northeast United States in the early 1960s. Vincent J. McMahon's Capitol Wrestling Corporation, the precursor to the WWWF, seceded from the National Wrestling Alliance for a variety of reasons including the selection of the NWA World Heavyweight Champion and the number of dates wrestled by the champion in the promotion. Ostensibly, the dispute was over "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers losing the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to Lou Thesz in one fall instead of a best-of-three — the format in which NWA World Heavyweight Championship matches were traditionally decided at the time. Capitol Wrestling Corporation executives held majority control over the NWA while in NWA board of directors at the time. Following Lou Thesz's World Heavyweight Championship win, Capitol Wrestling Corporation seceded from the National Wrestling Alliance and became the World Wide Wrestling Federation. "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers was then recognized as the first WWWF World Heavyweight Champion.
World Championship Wrestling
When Ric Flair won the NWA World title in 1981, he traveled to other NWA territories and defended the belt. He would drop the belt and regain it, as the NWA board of directors decided. On more than one occasion, Flair lost and regained the belt without the official sanctioning of the NWA. In most cases (such as the case of Jack Veneno), these "switches" are ignored. However, as of 1998, the NWA recognized the Flair-Race switch that had occurred in 1984 in New Zealand and Singapore.
As the 1980s drew to a close, Jim Crockett Promotions (the main NWA territory) made a failed bid to go national and almost filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to compete with the WWF. Ted Turner purchased the company, because it was a high rated program on his WTBS cable station. Completing the deal in November 1988, Turner began changing the company to his World Championship Wrestling (WCW) vision. WCW stayed in the NWA, but Turner slowly phased out the NWA name. The NWA organization existed only on paper at this point; on television it was portrayed that the NWA World Heavyweight Championship simply became the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
Due to a falling out with WCW Executive Vice-President Jim Herd, Flair was fired from WCW in 1991 while still being recognized as the NWA Champion. Flair took the NWA belt with him, because it was his belt (It was a design JCP had ordered for him in 1985, when he started displaying it), as well the fact that WCW and Herd had the $25,000 bond Flair had paid on it. A match was held for the vacated WCW World Heavyweight Championship within two weeks of the departure, but no mention was made of the NWA title. Flair was stripped of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship by the NWA board of directors shortly after he signed with the WWF in September 1991; a board had been reconstituted, as most members had gone out of business or been bought out by JCP/WCW. Flair displayed the "Big Gold Belt" on WWF television, calling himself the "Real World's Heavyweight Champion." After winning the WWF Championship, the "Real World's Heavyweight Champion" angle was dropped. WCW, which had subsequently filed a lawsuit against the WWF to prevent them from using the Big Gold Belt on television, eventually dropped the action. Flair stated on the 2008 released Nature Boy Ric Flair: The Definitive Collection DVD that the $25,000 he initially deposited with additional interest totaling $38,000 was never paid back to him, and as a result, Flair kept the "Big Gold Belt".
During Flair's departure from WCW, the company had made a new WCW World title belt. After a year hiatus, the NWA board authorized WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling to hold a tournament to decide a new NWA World Champion using the a new Big Gold Belt, now owned by WCW. Turner's company still maintained its WCW World Championship, thus having two World Heavyweight titles present in the same promotion. The tournament was won by Japanese wrestler Masahiro Chono. From 1992 to 1993, the NWA belt was defended in Japan and on WCW television. Flair returned to WCW in March 1993 and regained the belt from Barry Windham in July 1993; that same year, WCW recognized the Ric Flair-Tatsumi Fujinami NWA title changes in 1991. Disputes between WCW management and the NWA Board reached the breaking point in the summer of 1993 over a variety of issues, not the least of which was a storyline by WCW to have the title switched to Rick Rude.
On September 1, 1993, WCW withdrew their membership from the NWA but kept the title belt which they owned. A court battle decided that WCW could not continue to use the letters NWA to describe or promote the belt, but it did possess a right to the physical title belt and its historical lineage by a goodwill agreement between prior boards of directors and WCW (and its prior incarnation Jim Crockett Promotions). Per this ruling, the title belt dropped the recognition as being the NWA World Heavyweight title but continued to be billed as the World Heavyweight Championship by WCW. Soon after, the Big Gold Belt was defended without any company affiliation, even being referred to as the Big Gold Belt for a short time, until it became known as the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship. This title was recognized as the championship of a fictitious entity known as "WCW International", which served as a replacement for the NWA Board, until the title was unified match. Ric Flair WCW World Champion defeated Sting WCW International Word Champion on June 23, 1994.
Despite losing WCW as its flagship program, the NWA picked up new members and remained in existence as a legal entity. After nearly a year, the organization scheduled a tournament to crown a new champion, and brought back the "Domed Globe" belt from the '70s to early '80s to represent this new champion.
Eastern / Extreme Championship Wrestling
After WCW withdrew from the NWA, their Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) territory became the most televised wrestling show still within the NWA. As such, the NWA decided to hold the tournament for the vacated NWA World Heavyweight Championship through ECW. The tournament was held at the ECW Arena in August 1994 and won by ECW Heavyweight Champion Shane Douglas. (At the time, the ECW title was considered a regional title). Douglas appeared proud to become NWA World Heavyweight Champion, until he turned and threw the belt down and started slandering the NWA, then picked up the ECW Heavyweight title and proclaimed himself ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Almost immediately thereafter ECW withdrew from the NWA and became Extreme Championship Wrestling. In the 2005, ECW documentary Forever Hardcore, Douglas claimed that part of the reason that he decided to toss down the NWA title was because of derogatory and slanderous comments that then-NWA head Dennis Coralluzzo had allegedly been making regarding his professionalism.
Smoky Mountain Wrestling and United States Wrestling Association
Despite this blow to the organization, the NWA held another tournament in November 1994; in Cherry Hill, New Jersey hosted by promoter Dennis Coralluzzo and Smoky Mountain Wrestling. This tournament was won by Chris Candido and the title soon was recognized and defended in such independent promotions as Smoky Mountain Wrestling and the United States Wrestling Association. Holding the belt for a few months, he dropped the belt to Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) Dan Severn in February 1995. Severn held the belt continuously for four years, but only made sporadic defenses due to his UFC commitments. Although Severn had attempted to go the "traveling champion" route done by former champions Thesz, Dory Funk, Jr., Harley Race, and Terry Funk, the competition level was relatively minor due to the lack of strong territories.
World Wrestling Federation
In 1998, Dan Severn became part of Cornette's NWA faction in the WWF. Trying to get back in the national spotlight, the NWA made a deal with Vince McMahon Jr. to appear on WWF television. Part of Cornette's NWA stable was NWA North American Champion Jeff Jarrett, winning the vacant title by defeating Barry Windham on Monday Night Raw. The NWA's deal with the WWF never accomplished its intended purpose and McMahon ended it. The NWA belt went back to being defended on the independent circuit and remaining NWA territories.
In 1999, Severn lost the title to former Olympic judoka Naoya Ogawa, and the title picture became slightly more competitive. The champions nonetheless remained wrestlers from independents, regardless of whether they were from North America (Severn, Mike Rapada, Sabu), Asia (Ogawa, Shinya Hashimoto), or Europe (Gary Steele). The situation continued until early 2002, when Severn was able to regain the title from Hashimoto in Japan, albeit with controversy.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling
In 2002, Jeff and Jerry Jarrett formed NWA:Total Nonstop Action (NWA:TNA). The Jarretts worked out a licensing deal with the NWA and affiliated their promotion with the NWA World Heavyweight and Tag Team titles. While working out a cable deal, the Jarretts put NWA:TNA on weekly pay-per-view. Due to booking conflict with a mixed martial arts card, the NWA World Heavyweight Champion at the time, Dan Severn, was unable to appear on the inaugural TNA card, and he was stripped of the NWA title. Ken Shamrock was then declared the new NWA World Heavyweight Champion after winning a battle royal. In 2004, NWA:TNA withdrew from the NWA, but retained the rights to use the NWA World Heavyweight and Tag Team titles on their shows while being obliged to adhere to rulings of the NWA board of directors. The agreement ended on May 13, 2007 with the TNA creating its own Championship Titles.
Reclaiming the Glory
On May 22, 2007, the NWA announced through a statement on their official website, and through a video posted on YouTube, a tournament, entitled Reclaiming the Glory, to fill the title vacancy left after the end of the NWA's relationship with TNA Wrestling. Sixteen men competed for the championship, with Adam Pearce finally winning the belt by defeating Brent Albright on September 1, 2007 in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Pearce was active in defending the championship, but suffered from the same problems that had plagued the "new" NWA in the past. A lack of stable promotions within the NWA made it difficult to have a traveling champion, so most of Pearce's defenses took place in the NWA Pro promotion owned by David Marquez and John Rivera. Pearce's main foe in early defenses was Sean "XPac" Waltman, and the two wrestled numerous times over the title. Later, Pearce resumed his feud with Albright, which is yet ongoing today with both men exchanging the Number One Contendership.
Ring of Honor
On June 7, 2008 at the Ring of Honor (ROH) pay per view, Pearce revealed the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at the conclusion of his match, making it officially recognized in Ring of Honor. Following the event it was announced that on June 27, Ring of Honor World Champion, Nigel McGuinness would take on NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Pearce title for title at "Battle For Supremacy" in Dayton, Ohio. The match ended in a disqualification when the NWA rule of throwing an opponent over the top rope was enforced, therefore both men retained their respective titles, causing the crowd in Dayton to chant "Dusty Finish".
Brent Albright defeated Adam Pearce in New York, New York at the ROH Death Before Dishonor VI event on August 2, 2008 to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. This was the first time that the title changed hands in New York City. Then on September 20, 2008, Pearce began his second reign as champion by defeating Albright at the Ring of Honor "Glory by Honor VII" event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He would lose the title one month later to Blue Demon, Jr..
The NWA currently recognizes 89 individual World Heavyweight Championship reigns. Ric Flair holds the record with ten championships. Lou Thesz holds the record for most cumulative days as champion, with his three reigns totaling 3,749 days. Thesz's first reign is the longest in the history of the title, as he held the title for 1,941 days. Shane Douglas holds the record for shortest reign, as he vacated the championship immediately after winning it in favor of the newly created ECW World Heavyweight Championship in 1994; Douglas was the reigning NWA-Eastern Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Champion and the action split ECW from the NWA.
- National Wrestling Alliance
- Total Nonstop Action Wrestling
- Champion history - History of the wrestlers who have held the belt.
- Champion gallery - Gallery of all champions.