Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: The Trials and Tribulations of the NWA World Title Ã¢â‚¬â€œ NWA, 1940-present
The National Wrestling Alliance’s first recognized champion was Orville Brown, who won the belt during July of 1940. However, at this point in time the NWA was still fairly fragmented, so there are still smaller promotional champions who claimed to be that promotion’s version of the world champion. As a matter of fact, Brown’s 1940 reign is noteworthy because the NWA was not organized officially until 1948! Brown was recognized as the NWA World Champion by Pinkie George, a promoter who would go on to found the current NWA. When Brown lost the title in 1947, he was noted as being George’s heavyweight champion for seven years.
The issues with smaller promotional titles would continue until November 27, 1949. That was the night that Lou Thesz was awarded Brown’s title after Brown was injured in a car accident less than a month before their unification match. In 1948, Thesz had won the National Wrestling Association’s heavyweight title. Thesz would go on over the next three years to win the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium’s World Title, as well as defeating Georgeous George, the AWA Boston’s world title (although the belt itself was not on the line). Thesz was now the NWA’s undisputed world heavyweight champion.
Regardless, there were speed bumps along the way. In June of 1956 Thesz lost the title to Edouard Carpentier after suffering a back injury. In July, Carpentier’s home promotion withdrew from the NWA, and the NWA returned the title to Thesz; voiding all mention that Carpentier had ever held the belt (although the “officialÃ¢â‚¬Â history on the NWA’s homepage does now mention the incident).
In late 1962, Bobo Brazil won the title. During his match with champion Buddy Rogers, Rogers had claimed that he was injured. Brazil refused the belt, preferring a clean victory. Brazil was soon awarded the title after Rogers was examined by a doctor who found no sign of any injury whatsoever.
January 23, 1963 saw another blow to the belt. Buddy Rogers had lost the belt back to Lou Thesz after an unusual one-fall match (title matches back then were normally contested as best two out of three falls). Several promoters in the northeast (notably Toots Mondt and Vince McMahon Sr.) refused to acknowledge Thesz’s win. They seceded from the NWA and made Rogers the first champion of their new promotion Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the Worldwide Wrestling Federation. The WWWF would rejoin the NWA in 1971. (They withdrew again for good in 1979.)
The title would go through smooth seas for nearly three decades after Rogers’s loss. The next problem would occur on September 8, 1991. That was the day that WCW’s heavyweight champion, Ric Flair, began appearing for the rival WWF.
Flair was stripped of the title on the way out, although he retained physical possession of the belt (which immediately found its way onto WWF programming). Although Lex Luger had defeated Barry Windham in July of that year for the WCW World title, the NWA did not recognize the title change. As a matter of fact, the belt would remain vacant for nearly a year Ã¢â‚¬â€œ until a Japanese tournament crowned Masahiro Chono as the new champion (WCW had officially withdrawn from the NWA at this time, although they would soon work out a new deal.)
In 1993, problems started again. One of the conditions for an NWA world champion was that the champion would be required to defend the belt in various other member territories, which WCW was unwilling to allow their champion (at the time, Ric Flair) to do. In addition, WCW had planned (and taped!) Flair losing the world title to Rick Rude.
Another rule was that the NWA board of directors had to approve each title change. WCW also refused to do this. Finally fed up after the NWA refused to recognize Rude’s win, WCW left the NWA permanently in 1993.
Another blow came the next year. Jim Crockett had organized a tournament to determine a champion for the still-vacant belt which would be held in Eastern Championship Wrestling. Shane Douglas defeated 2 Cold Scorpio in the finals. After being awarded the belt, Douglas threw it down and announced his support for the newly-named Extreme Championship Wrestling world title. ECW followed this up by immediately withdrawing from the NWA as well. The next champion would be Chris Candido, who defeated Tracy Smothers in a tournament in November of 1994.
From there, the belt entered a nearly seamless transition period (although one without the prestige it had once enjoyed). Finally, champion Dan Severn was stripped of the belt in 2002.
The next champion was crowned on the inaugural Total Nonstop Action pay-per-view as Ken Shamrock defeated Malice (also known as WCW’s the Wall). This is also noteworthy because the NWA Board of Directors gave over control of the title to TNA.
In March of 2007, the NWA began to grumble again. Their chief complaints were nearly identical to the ones they issued against WCW over a decade before. The NWA champion was not defending the belt against local wrestlers. TNA had stopped promoting local NWA shows on their television programs. (To be fair, this had occurred in 2004 after TNA’s switch from weekly pay-per-views to a having a weekly show on free television and after TNA officially split from the NWA. TNA and the NWA did have an agreement, however, that TNA could continue using the NWA’s world and tag team belts until 2014).
The NWA is now demanding the titles’ return. Challengers for the NWA world title (currently held by Christian Cage) are mounting through videos posted to the NWA website. The first was the American Dragon Bryan Danielson. He has been followed by Bobby Jo Marshall, Chance Prophet, Brent Albright, Karl Anderson, Adam Pearce, and (WCW’s) Psicosis.
Believe it or not, this can actually work out for the best for both promotions. TNA needed these belts when it was founded. The belts instantly gave TNA’s champions a proud lineage, and helped to give the fledgling promotion legitimacy. TNA is now nearly five years old. Any benefits they received from the history of the NWA titles are dwindling as they build their own legacy. At this point, TNA would be best served to have their own versions of the world and tag team belts.
The NWA titles themselves have already benefited as they were returned to the public eye after nearly a decade’s absence. The problem, however, is that the NWA now has no major “centralÃ¢â‚¬Â promotion. The belt, however, has several worthy challengers. Bryan Danielson made his name in Ring of Honor. Brent Albright is a former Ohio Valley Wrestling standout as well as a recent WWE roster member (under the Gunner Scott moniker) and a current member of Ring of Honor. Psicosis is another former WWE star who is also well remembered from his time in WCW and ECW. Adam Pearce is another ROH member who made his name in Southern California and Florida.
Having names like these could help the NWA’s name to stay in the public eye, especially if they grant permission for the title to be defended at shows such as Ring of Honor (which one thinks would be a possibility if Danielson, Albright, or Pearce won the title). However, the titles will still inevitably being fading from the general public’s mind if the NWA cannot establish ties with a nationally known promotion that sees the belts defended on television. This is a problem that is also affecting the current AWA. Without any sort of TV outlet, the fans have forgotten the belt, which has lost almost all of its former prestige.
What does the future hold for the NWA titles? It’s almost certain that they will be returned to the NWA. Past that, it remains to be seen whether they will grow to new heights of glory or begin another slide into an era where its glories are only consigned to history.