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The World Heavyweight Championship is the name given to certain championships in professional wrestling. Although various professional wrestling promotions have used the term "world heavyweight championship", it is almost exclusively used as a moniker for the championship that is under competition between the top contenders of major organizations. The territorial nature of early professional wrestling, in which promotions would each operate in different regional territories across the nation, suggested that few organizations could legitimately promote a World Heavyweight Championship, in the sense that the title could theoretically be defended against any challenger anywhere in the world. However, with the emergence of professional wrestling in mainstream and popular culture during the 1980s professional wrestling boom, many organizations grew to receive national and international exposure and thereby gained the platform to promote worldwide.


Most of the well-recognized World Heavyweight Championships today are derived from the first recognized version held by Georg Hackenschmidt in 1905 and Frank Gotch in 1908. Established in 1948, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) directly traces its lineage to these reigns, thus making it the oldest active world title. With many regional territories appearing across the United Statesmarker, the NWA was formed in 1948 as a governing body in professional wrestling, operating as a talent and brand name franchiser for the territory system. Though promotions that were members of the NWA retained their ownership and recognition of its champions, they were to recognize the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as the premier title over their own. The American Wrestling Association (AWA) was formed in 1960 from NWA territories that began to secede from the NWA during the late 1950s. Unilaterally, the AWA established the AWA World Heavyweight Championship and awarded the recognition to NWA World Heavyweight Champion Pat O'Connor only to later rule that O'Connor had forfeited the title to the AWA's Verne Gagne. The title along with the AWA became inactive in 1990 and was officially decommissioned in 1991. The NWA World Heavyweight Championship has since served as the foundation from which other world titles have originated. Consequently, titles that spun-off from the NWA World Heavyweight Championship lineage, are connected to the historical reigns of Georg Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch as well.

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is home to three such active world titles; the WWE Championship, World Heavyweight Championship, and ECW Championship. The WWE Championship was introduced in 1963 when Capitol Wrestling Corporation, the precursor to WWE, seceded from the NWA and became World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). The WWWF World Heavyweight Championship was thus established as being produced from the NWA title when recognition was awarded to Buddy Rogers after he had lost the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to Lou Thesz. WWWF was renamed to World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1979 and the title became known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship and later simply the WWF Championship. Similarly, the WCW World Heavyweight Championship of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was introduced in 1991 and was established when the recognition was awarded to NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair, thus being produced from the NWA title. WCW seceded from the NWA in 1993 and became a rival promotion to the WWF, growing into mainstream prominence along with them and eventually being involved in a ratings war. Meanwhile, due to WCW's secession from the NWA, WCW opted to recognize Ric Flair's NWA World Heavyweight Championship reign at the time of the secession as the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship, which was then used for a fictitious WCW subsidiary until it was decommissioned in 1994. Ultimately, WCW was bought-out by the WWF, and the WCW World Heavyweight Championship was unified with the WWF Championship in 2001. Chris Jericho become the final WCW Champion and the subsequent WWF Champion, defeating The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin respectively.

The WWF Championship became the Undisputed Championship in professional wrestling with no other prominent world title to dispute the claim until 2002. The WWF was renamed to WWE and its title became the WWE Undisputed Championship while WWE was divided into franchises or "brands" known as Raw and SmackDown, which act as complementing promotions under WWE. The WWE Undisputed Championship was then designated to a single brand, becoming simply the WWE Championship after the World Heavyweight Championship was created, spun-off from the WWE Undisputed Championship, and established while being designated to the other brand. The World Heavyweight Championship was thus indirectly produced from the NWA title. The ECW Championship, originally of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), was first introduced in 1992 in Eastern Championship Wrestling, the precursor to ECW. However, it was officially established in 1994 and produced from the NWA title when the promotion seceded from the NWA and became Extreme Championship Wrestling after Shane Douglas relinquished the NWA World Heavyweight Championship immediately after winning it and instead proclaimed himself the ECW World Heavyweight Champion. After ECW closed in 2001, its assets were subsequently purchased by WWE, and in 2006, the franchise was relaunched as a WWE brand complementary to Raw and SmackDown with the title being recommissioned and designated to the brand.

In Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), a promotion founded in 2002, NWA titles held a dominant role through an agreement, which allowed the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to be operated within the promotion after TNA's NWA affiliation had ended in 2004. The agreement was abruptly voided in 2007 and Christian Cage was stripped of the title by the NWA.TNA then introduced the TNA World Heavyweight Championship and awarded the recognition to Kurt Angle while also recognizing NWA reigns recorded in TNA. Also founded in 2002, Ring of Honor (ROH) is a promotion that grew from the independent circuit of professional wrestling to become one of the major organizations with the ROH World Championship being established.


The name of the promotion is often preceded to the term "world heavyweight championship" as the complete name of the title. Examples of this included the ECW World Heavyweight, WCW World Heavyweight, and WWF World Heavyweight Championship. However, some are also correctly known simply a the "World Heavyweight Championship" without bearing the name of an organization. In some cases, this occurs in organizations where other World Heavyweight Championships are also competed for, as was the case in the AWA during 1960s and 1970s, the NWA and WCW in the early 1990s, and in WWE today.

Due to the term "world heavyweight championship" being applicable to any World Heavyweight Championship in general or to a specific one in particular, this often creates confusion over which championship is being referenced when the term is used. This is often the case when noting the accomplishments of Ric Flair, who is recognized as being a 16-time World Heavyweight Champion. The actual reference is made to Ric Flair's accumulated NWA, WCW, and WWE Championship reigns, and does not pertain to the SmackDown brand's World Heavyweight Championship.

Other championships have also been referred to as simply "world titles" despite not being World Heavyweight Championships. These often include championships with various classifications, including stipulation-based or weight class. Examples of such championships include the ECW World Television Championship and NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship.

Promotions can also recognize subordinate titles to World Heavyweight Championships that are often designated as regional, national, or international championships. Examples of these subordinate titles include the NWA North American Heavyweight Championship, WWE United States Championship, and WWE Intercontinental Championship, which are regional, national, and international subordinates respectively.

Active prominent championships

Championship Promotion Date Est. Current champion Notes
ECW Championship WWE


(July 26, 2009)
NWA World Heavyweight Championship NWA Blue Demon, Jr.

(October 25, 2008)
ROH World Championship ROH Austin Aries

(June 13, 2009)
TNA World Heavyweight Championship TNA A.J. Styles

(September 20, 2009)
World Heavyweight Championship WWE

The Undertaker

(October 4, 2009)
WWE Championship WWE

John Cena

(October 25, 2009)

Other notable championships

  • WSL World Heavyweight Championship - The top title in Wrestling Superstars Live. It was introduced in 1996 when Dale Gagner and Jonnie Stewart formed an organization known as AWA Superstars of Wrestling, infringing on the AWA name. Finally, in April 2007 WWE filed a lawsuit against the them, as WWE owned all AWA properties due to their purchase after the AWA's closure. In October 2008, the court ruled in favor of WWE. Gagner and Stewart were forced to rename their organization. The current champion is Keith Walker

  • WWC Universal Heavyweight Championship - The top title in the World Wrestling Council. The championship was established in July 1982 as the WWC World Heavyweight Championship. It achieved its current name after a match billed to decide the "The Champion of the Universe" between WWC World Heavyweight Champion Carlos Colon and NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair. The current champion is Glamour Boy Shane.

Inactive prominent championships

Championship Promotion Date Est. Date retired Notes
AWA World Heavyweight Championship AWA
WCW World Heavyweight Championship WCW
WCW International World Heavyweight Championship WCW

Other notable championships

  • USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship (1988-1997) - a United States Wrestling Association title. It consisted of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship and WCWA World Heavyweight Championship. While the owning promotions of both championships would end their titles' connection with the USWA Unified World Heavyweight title, the USWA continued to recognize the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship.

See also

External links


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