The World Heavyweight Championship
is the name given to a number of unrelated titles in professional wrestling
Although numerous titles in many different promotions have used the term "World Heavyweight Championship", it is almost exclusively used as a moniker for the title that is under competition between the main event wrestlers. Despite the name, the territorial nature of early professional wrestling meant that few promotions could actually claim the "World" part of the title, in the sense that the title could potentially be defended against any challenger anywhere in the world. Thus, few belts are considered to be "world championship" belts.
The presence of a title considered to be a World Heavyweight Championship is one of the factors that makes its promotion one of the major promotions in professional wrestling. However, it is to be noted that numerous major promotions have top championships that are not considered world (nor heavyweight) championships, and the presence of a world championship in a promotion's shows does not instantly make a promotion a major one, as a World Heavyweight Championship may be shared between several promotions.
Most of the recognized World Heavyweight Championships today are derived from the version held by Georg Hackenschmidt in 1905 and Frank Gotch in 1908. In particular, many of the titles considered major today have some connection to the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, created in 1948. In particular, all four of North America's largest promotions in the 1990s and 2000s (WWE, WCW, ECW, and TNA) have or had top belts that were spun off from the NWA lineage.
Nomenclature of World Heavyweight Championships
The term "World Heavyweight Championship" can apply to any major belt in general, or to a specific belt in particular. This often creates confusion, as is the case of Ric Flair
, who is billed as a 16-time World Heavyweight Champion but does not have 16 reigns of the World Heavyweight Title
that is defended on WWE under its Raw brand.
The name of the promotion is often preceded to the phrase "World Heavyweight Championship" as the championship's complete name (as in the WWE World Heavyweight, WCW World Heavyweight, or ECW World Heavyweight Championships) - however some are correctly known simply as the "World Heavyweight Championship" without qualification, possibly because they are competed for in promotions where an existing World Heavyweight Championship is present (as was the case of the American Wrestling Association in the 1960s and 1970s and World Wrestling Entertainment today). The NWA Championship is often quoted as the "World's Heavyweight Wrestling Championship", and the physical title belt itself carries this moniker.
List of World Heavyweight Championships
Numerous promotions have claimed their top championship belts as "World Heavyweight Championships" but are not considered to be world titles. Unfortunately, due to no official universally accepted method of determining what constitutes a world title, there is no way to determine who truly has world title status. The most commonly agreed upon "World Heavyweight Championships" are those recognized by Pro Wrestling Illustrated
Meanwhile, other belts have recognition as a "world championship" despite not being a "World Heavyweight Championship". These other world titles often include various other classifications, including weight classes (e.g., World Cruiserweight Championship) or stipulations (e.g., World Television Championship).
Often, subordinate belts to world titles are designated as national, international, or regional titles. Examples of this include:
Active World Heavyweight Championships
There are currently three titles that are recognized as World Heavyweight Championships (according to Pro Wrestling Illustrated
magazine). These titles are:
- WWE Championship (1963-Present) - Originally titled the World Wide Wrestling Federation World Heavyweight Championship, the belt was spun off from the NWA in 1963 when WWWF left the National Wrestling Alliance. The WWWF rejoined the NWA in 1971, and until 1983, the title was demoted to regional status. The World Wrestling Federation Championship (as it was known after 1983) was recognized as a world championship, and all holders of the title during the previous time period (1963-1982) have been recognized as having held a world championship. The title was temporarily known as the WWE Undisputed Championship, when it was merged with the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. It is now known simply as the WWE Championship. The WWE Championship is currently defended on SmackDown having come to the brand from Raw following the 2008 WWE Draft. The current WWE Champion is Triple H.
- World Heavyweight Championship (2002-Present) - Spun off from the WWE Undisputed Championship as the successor to the WCW World Heavyweight Championship and makes a claim to the lineage of George Hackenschmidt's 1905 version. The title was made for the WWE's Raw brand when the WWE Championship was made exclusive to their SmackDown brand. The title was moved to the SmackDown brand as a result of the 2005 WWE Draft Lottery, but returned to the Raw brand in 2008. The current World Heavyweight Champion is Chris Jericho.
- TNA World Heavyweight Championship (2007-Present) - The top championship in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, created when the NWA stripped the championship from the TNA wrestlers on May 13, 2007. It was immediately given world status by PWI. The current TNA World Heavyweight Champion is Samoa Joe.
World Heavyweight Titles that lost recognition
- AWA World Heavyweight Championship (1959-1990) - the top championship of what many consider to be the leading promotion of the 1960s. The title was defunct from 1991-1996, was revived in 1996, but did not regain World Title status. A new promotion started in 1996 claimed to have rights to the AWA Championship and started a new title, AWA Superstars World Heavyweight Championship, claiming it to have the same lineage. The legality of this in question however as World Wrestling Entertainment purchased the AWA trademarks and video library, and have since sued the new promotion. Larry Zbyszko was the final AWA Champion to have the reign recognized as a World title by PWI.
- ECW World Heavyweight Championship (1999-2001) - spun off from the NWA belt when Shane Douglas, after being crowned the NWA champion, rejected the NWA title in favor of ECW's own title. The title earned world title status in August 1999; titles won before are not considered world title reigns by PWI. It was defunct from 2001-2006, but was recently revived by WWE for their ECW brand. The current ECW Champion is Matt Hardy.
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship (1948-1991 / 2002-2007) - also claims lineage of George Hackenschmidt's 1905 and Frank Gotch's 1908 version, defended in multiple territories and promotions since 1948, used in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling from June 2002 to May 2007. Although it was stripped of its World Title status by PWI in 1991, with the success of TNA, PWI restored its World Title status officially in its August 2006 issue since it began being used in TNA in 2002. Shortly after NWA and TNA severed ties, NWA was quietly stripped of its World Title status, while TNA retained theirs. The current champion is Adam Pearce.
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship (1991-2001) - NWA World heavyweight champion Ric Flair was recognized as the first WCW World heavyweight champion in January 1991, when WCW was in the process of separating from the NWA. Flair held both titles briefly before leaving WCW over a creative dispute in July of that year. The title was unified with the WWE Championship in 2001.
Other World Titles not recognized by PWI
Other titles claiming the name, but are not recognized by PWI include:
- 1PW World Heavyweight Championship – The top championship on the British promotion 1 Pro Wrestling. Claimed its status as a World Heavyweight title after it was defended in the United States. Was retired due to 1PW's original liquidation, but re-activated upon the return of the promotion, three months later.
- AAA World Heavyweight Championship -The recently created title for Mexican promotion Asistencia Asesoría y Administración. Promoted as the company's top title, it has never been defended outside Mexico, but they claim it to be the first world title out of Mexico.
- CWA World Heavyweight Championship (Catch Wrestling Association). Active between 1973 and 2000, the CWA World Heavyweight Championship changed hands in four countries and three continents, with both Europeans and North Americans holding the title.
- CZW World Heavyweight Championship – Combat Zone Wrestling's top title. Claims its status as a World Heavyweight title after it was defended in Japan, Germany, England, Mexico, Ireland and Italy - as well as America. The championship changed hands in all of those countries except Japan.
- FIP World Heavyweight Championship – Full Impact Pro Wrestling's top title. Became a World Heavyweight Championship following a defence of the title by Roderick Strong against British wrestler Pac at a Ring Of Honor show in Liverpool, England.
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship – Recognized by the National Wrestling Association from 1929 to 1949. It was unified with the National Wrestling Alliance's World title.
- Omaha World Heavyweight Championship – Recognized by promoters in Omaha, Nebraska in the late 1950s and early 1960s, following a dispute regarding the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. The Omaha version of the World Heavyweight Championship was unified with the AWA World Heavyweight Championship on September 7, 1963.
- PWG World Championship – The top championship in the Southern California promotion Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. Claims its status as a World Heavyweight title after it was defended in Kent, England and Essen, Germany on the European Vacation tour of 2006. It has since been defended in Takamatsu, Japan by then champion El Generico with the Dragon Gate promotion.
- ROH World Championship - Established in 2002 with the development of the new Ring of Honor promotion, today considered the third most important promotion in the United States. Claims World Title status since 2003 when it was defended in England. It has since been defended in Canada, Mexico, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Japan.
- WCW International World Heavyweight Championship - After severing all ties with the NWA, WCW changed the name of the NWA World heavyweight title to the WCW International World heavyweight title, declaring it to be the World heavyweight title of WCW International, one of its (fictitious) subsidiaries. It was unified with the WCW World heavyweight title in 1994.
- WWA World Heavyweight Championship - The WWA World heavyweight title was the premiere title for World Wrestling All-Stars, a short-lived company that claimed World Title status due to the fact it was defended outside of its country of origin more than in it. It was unified with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in 2003.
- WWWA World Heavyweight Championship - The top championship in All Japan Women's Pro Wrestling (AJW), the top women's promotion in Japan. Originally created for Mildred Burke's World Women's Wrestling Association of Los Angeles, California in the late 1930s, the belt claimed world status after Marie Vagnone lost it to Aiko Kyo in Tokyo, Japan on October 15, 1970. The championship was eventually renamed the WWWA Singles Championship, and was abandoned in 2005, when AJW closed.
- wXw World Heavyweight Championship – The top championship in the German promotion westside Xtreme wrestling. Claims its status as a World Heavyweight title after it was defended in the United States, Austria and various other European countries, the title changing hands in matches in the United States and Austria.