Early history (1948–1960)
poses with an older design of the championship in 1966
Every year, the NWA World Heavyweight 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, composed mostly of territory owners, decided when the title changed hands via a vote. By the late 1950s, however, 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, Thesz defended the world title against Canadian wrestler Édouard Carpentier in a two out of three falls match. 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 disqualification in a Montreal rematch on July 24. 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 promoter 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 promoters interested 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 Heavyweight Champion for some time, defeated Carpentier in Omaha, Nebraska on August 9, 1958. This was recognized as a title change by those NWA affiliate promotions that would later evolve into the American Wrestling Association (AWA) 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 Championship 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, later reforming in the early 2000s.
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.
Capitol Wrestling Corporation/World Wide Wrestling Federation (1960–1963)
Diagram showing the evolution of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship into other world championships
The World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), which later evolved into today's WWE, was the major wrestling promotion in the northeast United States in the early 1960s. Vincent J. McMahon's Capitol Wrestling Corporation, the precursor to the WWWF, seceded from the NWA for a variety of reasons including the selection of the NWA World Heavyweight Champion and the number of dates wrestled by the champion in the promotion. Ostensibly, the dispute was over "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers losing the NWA World Heavyweight Championship to Lou Thesz in one fall instead of a best-of-three — the format in which NWA World Heavyweight Championship matches were traditionally decided at the time. Capitol Wrestling Corporation executives held majority control over the NWA while in NWA board of directors at the time. Following Lou Thesz's World Heavyweight Championship win, Capitol Wrestling Corporation seceded from the NWA and became the World Wide Wrestling Federation. "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers was then recognized as the first WWWF World Heavyweight Champion.
Jim Crockett Promotions/World Championship Wrestling (1981–1993)
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 Jack Veneno), these "switches" are ignored. However, as of 1998, the NWA recognized the Flair-Race switches that had occurred in March 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 in an attempt to compete with the WWF. Turner Broadcasting purchased the company, because it was a high rated program on the WTBS cable station. Completing the deal in November 1988, Turner began changing the company to World Championship Wrestling (WCW). 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 by late 1990.
Due to a falling out with WCW Executive Vice-President Jim Herd, Flair was fired from WCW on July 1, 1991 while still being recognized as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. Flair took the NWA belt with him, because WCW and Herd had not returned the $25,000 bond Flair had paid on the belt. 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 to be 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's Heavyweight Champion." After winning the WWF Championship, the "Real World's 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. The belt was returned to WCW.
is a nine-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion
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 Pro Wrestling to hold a tournament 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 in July 1993; that same year, WCW recognized the Ric Flair-Tatsumi Fujinami NWA title changes in 1991. 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.
On September 1, 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 served as a replacement for the NWA Board, until the title was unified with the main WCW title.
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 1970s to early 1980s to represent this new champion.
Eastern Championship Wrestling (1993–1994)
After WCW withdrew from the NWA, their Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) territory became the most televised wrestling show still within the NWA. The NWA decided to hold a tournament for the vacated NWA World Heavyweight Championship through ECW at the ECW Arena in August 1994, which was won by ECW Heavyweight Champion Shane Douglas. After the match, Douglas threw the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt down and picked up the ECW Heavyweight Championship belt, proclaiming himself ECW World Heavyweight Champion. Almost immediately thereafter ECW withdrew from the NWA and became Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Smoky Mountain Wrestling and United States Wrestling Association (1994–1995)
Despite this blow to the organization, the NWA held another tournament in November 1994; in Cherry Hill, New Jersey hosted by promoter Dennis Coralluzzo and Smoky Mountain Wrestling. This tournament was won by Chris Candido and the title soon was recognized and defended in such independent promotions as 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 Severn in February 1995. 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., Harley Race, and Terry Funk, the competition level was relatively minor due to the lack of strong territories.
World Wrestling Federation (1998)
In 1998, Dan Severn became part of Jim Cornette's NWA faction in the WWF. Trying to get back in the national spotlight, the NWA made a deal with Vincent K. McMahon 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.
Independent circuit (1999–2002)
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, albeit with controversy.
Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2002–2007)
In 2002, Jeff and Jerry Jarrett formed NWA:Total Nonstop Action (NWA:TNA; now known as Impact Wrestling). The Jarretts 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 Jarretts put NWA:TNA on weekly pay-per-view. The NWA World Heavyweight Champion at the time, Dan Severn, was unable to appear on the inaugural TNA card, and he was stripped of the NWA title. Ken Shamrock was then declared the new NWA World Heavyweight Champion after winning a Gauntlet for the Gold battle royal. In 2004, NWA:TNA withdrew from the NWA, but retained the rights to use the NWA World Heavyweight and Tag Team titles on their shows while being obliged to adhere to rulings of the NWA board of directors. The agreement ended on May 13, 2007 with TNA creating its own championships.
Return to the independent circuit
"Reclaiming the Glory" tournament (2007)
On May 22, 2007, the NWA announced a tournament, entitled Reclaiming the Glory, to fill the title vacancy left after the end of the NWA's relationship with TNA Wrestling. Sixteen men competed for the championship, with Adam Pearce finally winning the belt by defeating Brent Albright on September 1, 2007 in Bayamón, Puerto Rico. 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.
Ring of Honor (2008)
Blue Demon Jr.
, the first Mexican champion of the title, with the championship belt
On June 7, 2008 at the Ring of Honor (ROH) pay per view, Pearce revealed the NWA World Heavyweight Championship at the conclusion of his match, making it officially recognized in ROH. Following the event it was announced that on June 27, Ring of Honor World Champion, Nigel McGuinness would take on NWA World Heavyweight Champion, 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".
Brent Albright defeated Pearce in New York, New York at the ROH Death Before Dishonor VI event on August 2, 2008 to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Then on September 20, 2008, Pearce began his second reign as champion by defeating Albright at the ROH "Glory By Honor VII" event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He lost the title one month later to Blue Demon, Jr. in Mexico City.
Pearce and Cabana (2010–2012)
On March 14, 2010, Pearce ended Blue Demon Jr.'s 505-day reign as champion by emerging victorious over him and Phill Shatter in a match in Charlotte, North Carolina. Pearce held the title for nearly a full year before Colt Cabana defeated him at a taping of Championship Wrestling From Hollywood on March 6, 2011. Cabana held the title for forty-eight days himself until The Sheik beat him in Jacksonville, Florida at an NWA Pro Wrestling Fusion event.
On July 11, 2011, the NWA announced that it was stripping The Sheik of the world championship for refusing to make a title defense against Pearce. The defense, which Sheik claimed he was never told about, was to take place during the Ohio State Fair on July 31. Instead, a four-way match was signed that put Pearce, the #1 contender, against the NWA National Heavyweight Champion Chance Prophet, the NWA North American Champion Shaun Tempers, and Jimmy Rave for the vacant title. Pearce won and became champion for a fourth time. Once again, he lost the belt to Cabana, who defeated him at another Championship Wrestling From Hollywood taping on April 8, 2012.
Shortly thereafter Cabana and Pearce began facing each other in a series of matches that was dubbed the "Seven Levels of Hate" best of seven series. The fourth match of the series was a two-out-of-three falls contest held on July 21, 2012, in Kansas City, Missouri. The NWA sanctioned the match as a world championship match and Pearce emerged victorious to become a five-time world champion.
With both wrestlers even at three victories, the final match of the series was scheduled for October 27, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia at an NWA Warzone Wrestling event. Pearce wanted the NWA to sanction the match as a world title match, as they had done earlier. The NWA, however, refused to do this and did not want Pearce and Cabana to go forward with the match. They did anyway, with Cabana winning the match. Pearce and Cabana both broke kayfabe after the match, with Pearce saying that Cabana was the rightful champion and Cabana saying that he did not want the title as it was about the past and he was about the future. Pearce declared he did not want the title either and left it in the ring as the two exited the arena.
Ten Pounds of Gold (2017–present)
On May 1, 2017, it was reported that Billy Corgan had purchased the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), including its name, rights, trademarks and championship belts. The purchase was confirmed by NWA president Bruce Tharpe later that same day. Corgan's ownership took effect on October 1, 2017. At that point all existing NWA affiliation agreements were ended all NWA championships, except the NWA World Heavyweight Championship would be vacated in the months following the acquisition. Beginning in October, the NWA began its first YouTube series "NWA Ten Pounds of Gold", focused primarily around the NWA World Heavyweight Champion at the time Tim Storm, chronicling his travels across the United States, defending the championship. Since the NWA did not promote the individual shows they worked collaboratively with various promotions, putting on championship matches. On December 9, 2017 Nick Aldis won the championship on a Combat Zone Wrestling show. Following the championship change the "Ten Pounds of Gold" series focused on "The Aldis Crusade," a series of 20 title defenses over the course of 60 days in the spring of 2018, concluding with a title defense against Colt Cabana in Wenzhou, China. After "The Aldis Crusade" the "Ten Pounds of Gold" series, together with the "Being The Elite" web series produced by Cody and the Young Bucks focused on the build towards a championship match between Aldis and Cody as part of the September 1, 2018 ALL IN show, where Cody won the match and the championship.