Turner buys WCW

In 1988, media mogul Ted Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions from NWA member Jim Crockett. Crockett had been promoting shows under the title of Georgia Championship Wrestling (and later World Championship Wrestling) that aired on Turner's TBS superstation. In light of financial woes within the company, Turner purchased it in order to retain one of the highest rated shows on his network.

Ric Flair was declared the first WCW World Heavyweight Champion on January 11, 1991 after defeating Sting for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Though WCW was still a member of the NWA and the belt awarded to Flair was that of the recognized NWA World Champion, WCW considered it "their" world title as well, and the organization claimed the lineage of the NWA Championship. It is important to remember that WCW and NWA were essentially two different organizations on paper (even though they recognized the same World Champion).

Ric Flair controversy

In July 1991, Ric Flair was fired from WCW after several creative disputes with Executive Vice President Jim Herd. Although Flair was stripped of the WCW title, he took the physical belt with him when he jumped to the rival World Wrestling Federation, since WCW had not returned his $25,000 deposit on the title belt. It was customary for the man designated to be NWA World Champion to put a $25,000 deposit on the title belt, which would be paid back when he lost the championship. Flair appeared with the belt on WWF television and declared himself "The Real World Heavyweight Champion". Flair was still recognized for a short time after his departure from WCW as the NWA World Champion, despite WCW's stripping him of recognition of their heavyweight championship, setting up a split between the titles.

Titles are split

WCW created a new title belt to represent the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, which was won by Lex Luger in July. Although Luger was the WCW World Champion, the NWA continued to recognize Flair as its champion until September, when he was stripped of it for signing with the WWF. Flair returned the belt when his deposit was paid back.

In 1992, the NWA authorized New Japan Pro Wrestling to use its annual G-1 Climax heavyweight tournament to decide the new NWA champion. Masahiro Chono won the tournament and the belt, which in turn was defended on television for a year (although less so for Chono and his successor Great Muta, who defended the title rarely, as Japanese titles often are).

WCW leaves the NWA

In August 1993, after "Ravishing" Rick Rude's planned win of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship from Ric Flair was revealed by the results of WCW's "Disney Tapings", the NWA objected to this break of kayfabe and WCW's refusal to allow the NWA World champion to defend the title in other NWA member promotions. WCW elected to leave the NWA in September. Since WCW owned the "Big Gold Belt" that had represented the NWA title for so long, WCW allowed Rude to retain the physical belt. The belt was defended for a short period of time as "The Big Gold Belt", and then named the "WCW International World Heavyweight Championship". In order to create a sense of legitimacy for the Big Gold Belt, WCW invented "WCW International", a fictitious subsidiary that supposedly represented World Championship Wrestling in its overseas affairs. As per the explanation, WCW International was run by a separate board of directors (named the WCW International Board of Directors) who guaranteed the legitimacy of the championship.

This new championship, along with the "proper" WCW World Title, were both regarded as top belts and were defended as such. No mention was made of the belt's previous tie to the NWA.

Rude lost the WCW International title to Hiroshi Hase in a match by New Japan Pro Wrestling in early 1994, but won the belt back the following week. Hase's short reign was thus more reminiscent of Giant Baba's NWA title reigns in the 1970s than the reigns of Chono and Muta in 1992-93.

Unification of the titles

Sting eventually won the WCW International Title from Rick Rude, only to lose it back to Rude. Rude was stripped of the title for cheating during the match and WCW officials were going to award it to Sting. Sting refused and said he wanted to win the belt in the ring against Vader, whom Rick Rude was originally slated to defend the Championship against at that same event before being struck with an injury. He defeated Big Van Vader at Slamboree to win the then vacant title. Ric Flair had possession of the "regular" WCW World Title and it was decided that the two titles would be unified. Sting and Flair then faced off at Clash of the Champions XXVII with Flair winning the match and unifying the two championships, with the WCW International Belt being used as the new "unified" belt.