The National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Heavyweight Championship is the primary professional wrestling title in the National Wrestling Alliance. 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. Currently under the direct control of the National Wrestling Alliance, the title has served as the centerpiece for other mainstream wrestling promotions in the past, including World Championship Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
Every year, the NWA World 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. The former champion, however, usually regained the title days to weeks later.
By the late 1950s, 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
. 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 disqualfication in a Montreal rematch on July 24th.
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 promotor 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 promotors interesting 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 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 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 title 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.
The WWWF, which later evolved into WWE
, was the major wrestling promotion in the northeast United States in the early 1960s. The promotion split from the NWA for a variety of reasons including selection of the champion and the number of dates wrestled by the champion in the promotion. In match terms, the WWWF left the NWA over "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers
losing the NWA World title to Lou Thesz in one fall instead of a best-of-three — the format in which NWA World title matches were decided at the time. Vincent J. McMahon
's territory refused to recognize Thesz as World champion and left the NWA. McMahon continued to recognize Rogers as champion and named Rogers the first WWWF World Heavyweight Champion
by awarding him the title, though the formation of the WWWF was brokered through the NWA itself.
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 Carlos Colon
), these "switches" are ignored. However, as of 1998
, the NWA recognized 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. Spending money it did not have, it failed keeping up with the WWF. Ted Turner purchased the company, because it was a high rated program on his WTBS cable station. Completing the deal in 1989, Turner began changing the company to his 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. (See The $25,000 deposit below
) 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 Heavyweight Champion." After winning the WWF Championship, the "Real World 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 totalling $38,000 was never paid back to him, and as a result, Flair kept the "Big Gold Belt". He also stated that he later gave the belt to Triple H
as a gift.
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 to hold a tournament for the vacant title. New Japan's annual G1 Climax
tournament was chosen to decide a new NWA World Champion using the 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 and regained the belt from Barry Windham
. 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
In September 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 was actually a parody of the NWA Board itself and was meant as a jab at the cabal of promoters who had tried to dictate terms to WCW.
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. By this time, the NWA was stripped of world title status by Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine.
Beginning of ECW
NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling
(ECW) became the most televised wrestling show still within the NWA, hence the vacated title and the tournament for it was held at the ECW Arena
in 1994 and won by ECW Heavyweight Champion Shane Douglas
. (At the time, the ECW title was considered a regional title) Shane 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. Douglas was still recognized as NWA Champion until ECW withdrew from the NWA, where he was officially stripped of the NWA title. In the 2005, ECW documentary Forever Hardcore
, Shane Douglas claimed that part of the reason that he decided to toss down the NWA World belt was because of derogatory and slanderous comments that then NWA head Dennis Coralluzzo had allegedly been making regarding Shane's professionalism.
Despite this blow to the organization, the NWA held another tournament in late 1994; in Cherry Hill Township, New Jersey
hosted by promoter Dennis Coralluzzo. This tournament was won by Chris Candido
and the title soon was recognized and defended in such independent promotions as Jim Cornette's 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 "The Beast" Severn
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., Race, and Terry Funk, the competition level was relatively minor due to the lack of strong territories. In the late 1990s, 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.
In 2002, Jeff
and Jerry Jarrett
formed NWA Total Nonstop Action
(NWA TNA). The Jarrett's 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 Jarrett's put NWA TNA on weekly pay-per-view. Because of a conflicting booking with a mixed martial arts card, the NWA champion at the time, Dan Severn, was unable to appear on the inaugural TNA card, and he was stripped of the NWA belt. A unique type of battle royal was held to fill the title's vacancy. Ken Shamrock
won the match and was declared the new NWA World Heavyweight Champion.
In 2004, NWA-TNA, now known as Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, withdrew from the NWA, but retained the rights to use the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and NWA World Tag Team Championship
on their shows. TNA could use the titles any way they saw fit while not incurring the rule of the NWA Board of Directors. While these titles were still defended in several NWA territories and feds, they were exclusive to TNA. Because of TNA's success on Spike TV
, Pro Wrestling Illustrated
(PWI) (as of the August 2006 issue) re-instated "world title status" back to both Heavyweight and Tag Team belts. The agreement ended on May 13 2007
with the NWA stripping the TNA-crowned champions of their titles.
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. 16 men competed for the championship, with Adam Pearce
finally winning the belt on September 1 2007
. 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 was Sean "XPac" Waltman, and the two wrestled numerous times over the title.
Ring Of Honor
On June 7
at the ROH pay per view, Adam Pearce
revealed the NWA 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, 2008, Ring of Honor World Champion, Nigel McGuiness would take on NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Adam 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".
On August 2, 2008, ROH Wrestler Brent Albright defeated Adam Pearce at the Death Before Dishonor VI event to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
On September 20, 2008, Adam Pearce began his second reign as champion by defeating Brent Albright at the "Glory by Honor VII" event in Philadelphia.
During the glory days of the NWA, the NWA World Heavyweight Champion was required to place a US$25
,000 security deposit to the NWA treasurer to ensure that the champion did not leave the NWA with the belt. When the champion lost the title, the deposit was returned, plus any interest
that has accumulated over time. There were a few exceptions where Ric Flair
and Dusty Rhodes
declined their deposit whenever they dropped the title because they knew that they were going to get the belt back in the future. Another was following Flair's firing from WCW in June 1991 when the company refused to return the deposit and Flair kept the belt before eventually bought back by WCW. (See 1990s above
The current champion is Adam Pearce
, who is in his second reign. He defeated Brent Albright
on September 20 2008
at Ring of Honor
's Glory By Honor VII