Ten Pounds of Gold: The History of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship

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Photo: NWA

Last night at CZW Cage of Death XIX, Tim Storm‘s 414 day reign as NWA World Heavyweight Champion came to an end, when Nick Aldis (formerly Magnus in Impact Wrestling) was crowned the new World Champion to the shock of all those in attendance and millions of wrestling fans around the world. With this victory, Aldis became the 93rd NWA World Champion in nearly 70 years, joining a long list of some of the most revered pro wrestlers of all time. And while the NWA and its crown jewel, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, has had its ups and downs, it’s still a title that for many wrestling historians and fans symbolizes something great – a link to the glory days of pro wrestling’s beginnings.

THE NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE: THE GLORY YEARS (1948 to 1980s)

Orville Brown, the 1st NWA World Champion

NWA World Heavyweight Champions: Orville Brown, Lou Thesz, Whipper Billy Watson, Dick Hutton, Pat O’Connor, “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Gene Kiniski, Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race, Jack Brisco, Giant Baba, Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Tommy Rich, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair

Lou Thesz, 3x NWA World Champion

The National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) was founded in 1948 by promoter Paul “Pinkie” George when he corralled four of the United States’ most powerful and influential promoters to create one governing body to unite the territories – Ohio’s Al Haft, Minnesota’s Tony Stecher, Detroit’s Harry Light, and St. Louis’ Sam Muchnick. The five men unanimously agreed to recognize wrestling champion Orville Brown as the alliance’s official World Champion, and thus a governing body was created, that would unite over a dozen territories around North America and Europe. In 1960, Minnesota’s Verne Gagne would lead several northern US territories in leaving the NWA to create the American Wrestling Association (AWA), followed three years later by Vince McMahon Sr. and Toots Mondt‘s World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). While these two left the governing body and recognized their own separate World Champions, they still had members on the NWA Board of Directors and would still co-promote Super Fights between their respective stars versus NWA stars. And while AWA and WWWF held weight in their respective regions (Minnesota and New York), the NWA World Heavyweight Title was still widely considered the top prize in the industry.

7x NWA World Champion Harley Race

THE NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE: THE FRACTURE (The 1980s & Early 1990s)

9x NWA World Champion Ric Flair

NWA World Heavyweight Champions: Ric Flair, Harley Race, Kerry Von Erich, Ronnie Garvin, Ricky Steamboat, Sting, Tatsumi Fujinami, Masahiro Chono, The Great Muta, Barry Windham

Photo: WWE

When Vince McMahon Jr. took over the WWWF in 1984, renamed in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and severed all ties with the NWA, it set off a chain reaction in the territorial system. McMahon’s new WWF jumped head first into the emerging cable television boom and began buying up several NWA territories, mostly for their regional TV deals – in 1984 alone, he purchased Georgia Championship Wrestling and two Canadian NWA territories, Toronto’s Maple Leaf Wrestling and Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling.

NWA World Champion Ricky Steamboat

In order to combat McMahon’s rising power, Jim Crockett, owner of the NWA Mid-Atlantic territory, bought up territories like NWA Mid-South and Championship Wrestling from Florida, while Texas’ World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) seceded from the NWA and attempted to go on their own. Both endeavours would lead to near bankruptcy – Crockett would end up selling his business to Ted Turner in 1988, who renamed the company World Championship Wrestling (WCW), while Fritz Von Erich attempted a failed merger with ailing territories AWA and Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) in 1988. When the merger failed, Von Erich sold WCCW to CWA’s Jerry Jarrett, which he merged into the United States Wrestling Association (USWA), while Gagne withdrew the AWA, which ended up folding in 1991. USWA would close its doors in 1997. During the course of the 80s, the NWA lost most of its international alliances, as EMLL (the pre-cursor to CMLL), NJPW and All Japan all withdrew from the NWA’s governing body and decided to go on their own as well.

NWA World Champion Sting

While WCW still honored the NWA as it’s governing body in Turner’s early years of ownership, it would withdraw from the NWA in 1993, leaving only a handful of territories left under the NWA banner. In what many consider the death knell that ended the NWA’s dominance for the past 40 years, in 1994 one of their strongest remaining territories, Philadelphia’s Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW), withdrew from the NWA following an NWA World Heavyweight Championship tournament final that was supposed to crown the new World Champion following WCW’s departure. But after Shane Douglas won the title, he immediately threw it down and declared ECW was withdrawing and they were now going to be Extreme Championship Wrestling, and a new major promotion was born.

THE NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: THE VOID (The 1990s)

2x NWA World Champion Dan Severn

NWA World Heavyweight Champions: Shane Douglas, Chris Candido, Dan “The Beast” Severn, Naoya Ogawa, Gary Steele, Mike Rapada, Sabu, Steve Corino, Shinya Hashimoto

Following the ECW debacle, the NWA struggled to remain relevant as former allies like the WWF, WCW, ECW, NJPW and more began to distance themselves in terms of promotion, television coverage, PPVs and prestige. The remaining territories were hardly more than regional local indies in some cases. At the beginning of the Attitude Era in the WWF, the NWA briefly allied once again with their old territory with an NWA Invasion that saw NWA World Heavyweight Champion (and former UFC Champion) Dan Severn come to the WWF, as well as NWA Tag Team Champions The Rock & Roll Express. But the angle didn’t last long and soon the NWA was once again on it’s own.

THE NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: THE TNA EXPERIMENT (Early 2000s)

NWA World Champion AJ Styles

NWA World Heavyweight Champions: Ken Shamrock, Ron (R-Truth) Killings, Jeff Jarrett, AJ Styles, Ray Gonzalez, Raven, Rhino, Christian, Sting, Abyss

NWA World Champion Raven

In 2002, the NWA signed a working agreement with Jeff Jarrett‘s new promotion, Total Nonstop Action (TNA), to be the NWA’s new flagship promotion, with the NWA’s main titles, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and NWA World Tag Team titles, being controlled by TNA. When Severn failed to appear for TNA’s first PPV taping, he was stripped of his championship belt and a tournament was held, where Ken Shamrock (Severn’s old UFC rival) was crowned the new champion. The TNA-NWA alliance lasted five years, until 2007, when TNA ended its alliance and created its own TNA World and Tag Team titles.

NWA World Champion Christian Cage (Photo: Matt Roberts)

THE NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: THE INDIE YEARS (2000s to Now)

NWA World Champion Adam Pearce

NWA World Heavyweight Champions: Adam Pearce, Brent Albright, Blue Demon Jr., Colt Cabana, The Sheik II (Ali Azzad), Kahagas, Rob Conway, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jax Dane, Tim Storm

NWA World Champion Colt Cabana (Photo: Shane M. Kidder)

Once again, the NWA was forced to return to the indie territories as it’s life support, but this time the indie scene was in far better shape than it had been following the 80’s territorial collapse. New promotions like Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW), Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) and CHIKARA had emerged (although not all would work with nor recognize the NWA’s authority). A new tournament was established and the finals took place in IWA Puerto Rico, that was scheduled to be Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) vs. Brent Albright, but due to injury Danielson was replaced by Adam Pearce, who ended up winning the NWA World title that night. On several occasions, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship would show up in Ring of Honor, including a champion vs champion match that saw NWA World Champion Adam Pearce defeat ROH World Champion Nigel McGuinness at ROH Battle for Supremacy in 2008, or Brent Albright beating Pearce for the belt at ROH Death Before Dishonor VI. Mexico also began to re-embrace the NWA, when Blue Demon Jr. won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, and it began to appear on rising new indie promotions like Championship Wrestling From Hollywood (CWFH). Even NJPW briefly played with an NWA alliance, with Satoshi Kojima winning the title at Wrestle Kingdom 8 in 2014. Hiroyoshi Tenzan also won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for a brief run in 2015. While this era of the NWA was nearly as unknown as the 1990s, in hindsight, the title was held by many worthy contenders.

NWA World Champion Tim Storm (Photo: CWFH)

THE NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: NOW

Photo: twitter.com/RealNickAldis

The wrestling was stunned earlier this year when former Impact Wrestling executive and Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan announced he had purchased the NWA’s rights and was working with former WWE and Impact creative Dave Laguna to bring the NWA back to glory. Corgan took over officially on October 1, 2017 and since, had promoted Tim Storm with more media coverage in the past three months than he’d received in the 365 days prior. The NWA World Champion once again appeared back with CWFH and CZW, at which he lost his title to the 93rd Champion, Nick Aldis.

THE NWA WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: FACTS AND FIGURES

Photo: NWA

Here’s some interesting facts and figures about the NWA World Heavyweight title and it’s champions.

  • Most Title Reigns:
    1. Ric Flair, 9; 2. Harley Race, 7; 3. Jeff Jarrett, 6; 4. Adam Pearce, 5; 5. Four tied with 3 (Lou Thesz, AJ Styles, Dusty Rhodes, Giant Baba)
  • Longest Consecutive Title Reign:
    1. Lou Thesz (1st reign), 1,934 days; 2. Dory Funk Jr., 1,563; 3. Dan Severn (1st reign), 1,479; 4. Gene Kiniski, 1,131; 5. Lou Thesz (3rd reign), 1,079 days
  • Most Combined Days As Champion:
    1. Lou Thesz, 3,749 days; 2. Ric Flair, 3,116; 3. Harley Race, 1,799; 4. Dory Funk Jr., 1,563; 5. Dan Severn, 1,559
  • First NWA World ChampionOrville Brown, July 14, 1948
    • First American NWA World Champion: Orville Brown
    • First British NWA World Champion: Gary Steele, September 25, 1999
    • First Canadian NWA World Champion: Whipper Billy Watson, March 15, 1956
    • First Japanese NWA World Champion: Shohei “Giant” Baba, December 2, 1974
    • First Mexican NWA World Champion: Blue Demon Jr., October 25, 2008
    • First New Zealand NWA World Champion: Pat O’Connor, January 9, 1959
    • First Puerto Rican NWA World Champion: Ray Gonzalez, April 3, 2005

 

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