In December 1988, Ted Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions, which had promoted under the name "NWA World Championship Wrestling". While the promotion remained a member of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), the use of the NWA name was gradually reduced on televised programming, in favor of the name "World Championship Wrestling", or "WCW".

On January 11, 1991, Ric Flair defeated Sting to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, and was recognized as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. The new championship was not initially represented by its own title belt, and WCW continued to use the NWA World Heavyweight Championship title belt. Because of this, WCW regularly claimed the NWA World Championship lineage for its own championship.

Flair fired from WCW, status of NWA World Title disputed

On July 1, 1991, a creative disagreement with WCW Executive Vice President Jim Herd led to Flair leaving WCW for Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation. When Herd refused to return his $25,000 deposit (that was left with the NWA), Flair kept the "Big Gold Belt" that had represented the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. WCW was forced to create its own title belt (a championship belt owned by Dusty Rhodes with a gold plate tacked on its faceplate with the words "WCW World Heavyweight Champion"), which was awarded to Lex Luger after he defeated Barry Windham in a cage match for the vacant championship at The 1991 Great American Bash. Shortly after the Bash, an original WCW World Heavyweight Championship belt was created.

In late 1991, WCW sued Flair for using the Big Gold Belt on WWF television, but later settled out of court, paying Flair $38,000 for the amount of the NWA deposit, plus interest. Flair returned the Big Gold Belt to WCW. The Big Gold Belt was used for the revived NWA World Heavyweight Championship, a co-promotional gimmick between WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling.

WCW leaves the NWA, retains use of Big Gold Belt

In September 1993, WCW left the NWA over a dispute regarding the other NWA members demanding that the NWA world champion be available for booking, and due to the use of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship on syndicated programming recorded months in advance. By fall 1993, Rick Rude was appearing at the "Disney Tapings" as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, despite the fact that in regards to the storyline, Flair was still champion. After leaving the NWA, WCW kept the Big Gold Belt, and it was renamed the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship.

Hulkster's WCW debut and win, NWO's first championship invasion

At StarrCade 93, Flair won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, by defeating Vader. WCW decided to unify the WCW World Heavyweight Championship (represented by the new belt) and International Championship (represented by the "Big Gold Belt"), by having Flair wrestle Sting in June 1994. Flair won and the WCW International Heavyweight belt replaced the old WCW World Heavyweight Championship while the International Heavyweight Championship itself was dropped. When Hulk Hogan entered WCW and won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship (now represented by the "Big Gold Belt") from Flair, Hogan helped WCW become the top wrestling company in the United States. However, by 1995, when the NWO was formed after Hogan "betrayed" WCW, he always got a chance for the title thanks to Eric Bischoff, his kayfabe sympathiser. As a result of the NWO's dirty wins, the title was unofficially renamed the NWO World Heavyweight Championship. By 2001, WCW suffered a succession of failures after the January 4, 1999 Fingerpoke of Doom on Monday Nitro and worsened with Bischoff's replacement, Vince Russo.

Buyout of WCW, title renaming and retirement

On March 2001, Vince McMahon's WWE (then known as the WWF) acquired WCW and chose their World Title as one of the active titles of the then WCW brand. Then it was known as the WCW Championship, lasting from Booker T's fourth and last WCW reign on March 26, 2001 to The Rock's second reign on November 5 that same year with the title. But after Team WWF defeated Team Alliance at Survivor Series, the (kayfabe) owners of both WCW and ECW, Shane and Stephanie McMahon were fired by their father Vince in storyline and The Rock was re-regconised as the World Champion from November 5 till after Chris Jericho won the World title from The Rock and unified the WWF title defeating Stone Cold Steve Austin at Vengeance 2001 thus retiring the World Championship on December 9, 2001 and forming the WWF Undisputed Championship.