History Of The WWWF/WWF/WWE World Heavyweight Championship

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The Original World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship (1905-1956)

The original World Championship was made to determine the best “catch as catch can” professional wrestler in the world. George Hackenschmidt won the title in a tournament in 1905. He won several tournaments around the world to be recognized as a World Champion, and he was officially declared a World Champion in 1905.

The title was used for decades, even during World War I. Jim Londos held the title for 2,628 days between 1938-1946 through World War II.

The title belt took on more meaning in 1952. Lou Thesz unified three championships to become the Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion. He achieved this by winning three prestigious titles between 1948-1952, and they became part of the Original World Championship.

Thesz lost and regained the belt in 1956. In 1957, a disqualification ended a match between Lou Thesz and Édouard Carpentier, which ended the lineage of the original World Heavyweight Championship, as the NWA recognized Thesz as Champion, while other territories ignored NWA rules and claimed Carpentier was champion.


This was the last time the Original World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship was fully unified. The title was deactivated, and the NWA introduced the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, beginning a new lineage, and ending the old one.


The end of the original title made new World Championships, such as the NWA, the AWA, and WWA World Heavyweight Championships. The CWC (Capitol Wrestling Corporation) was affiliated with the NWA at the time, and would soon become the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation).

CWC seceded from the NWA to become the WWWF. (1963)

Even though CWC executives held a controlling stake of NWA operations in the early 60’s, a dispute broke out over the booking of champion Buddy Rogers against challenger Lou Thesz. The NWA wanted Thesz to go over in a singles match, while CWC wanted Rogers to lose in a best-of-three. After the NWA refused, and Lou Thesz beat Rogers for the title, the CWC split from the NWA, reformed as the WWWF, and made Buddy Rogers the inaugural champion.

It was decided to give Rogers the championship and claim he won it in a tournament in Brazil, but the tournament was completely fictional. Roger’s suffered from a mild heart attack, which greatly reduced his endurance, and the fans were not happy with him as champion. Vince Sr. decided to take the belt off him 22 days later, and put it on the immensely popular Bruno Sammartino.


Original WWWF World Heavyweight Championship (1963-1971)

The title was called the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship from 1963-1971. A new title belt was designed in 1963 for Sammartino.


WWWF Heavyweight Championship (1971-1979)

WWWF rejoined the NWA in 1971 and the title was renamed. The title design changed when Pedro Morales was champion, until a new one was introduced with an eagle on the main plate. WWWF made an updated gold version (shown in pic) of the original eagle belt in 1973, with the strap colour changing (blue, red, purple) between 1973-1983.

WWF Heavyweight Championship (1979-1983)

The WWWF dropped “Wide” from the company name, and became the WWF (World Wrestling Federaton) in 1979.

Bob Backlund was the champion during an era which introduced the “Big Green” belt. The design continued to be used until 1985. The eagle belt design faded out by 1983.


WWF World Heavyweight Championship (1983-1998)

The era is mostly known for the reigns of Hulk Hogan. The belt design changed seven times, and included the famous “Winged Eagle” belt design shown in the display picture.

From 1985-1988, Hogan’s belt had two designs, and they were only ever worn by him. The Ultimate Warrior introduced three coloured straps (white, yellow, blue) for the winged eagle belt between 1990-1991.


The Ultimate Warrior briefly unified the World and Intercontinental Championships in 1990, before vacating the latter.

WWF Championship (1998-2001)

Often remembered for the “Big Eagle” belt design, and “The Attitude Era”. The name of the title changed the day after Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XIV.


Steve Austin introduced his personal belt design, the “Smokin’ Skull” belt in 1998. The “Big Eagle” belt was redesigned (slightly) with more detail and the belt remained until 2002.

In 2001, following the purchase of WCW assets, the “Big Gold Belt” (previously representing the NWA/WCW World Heavyweight Championships) continued its lineage in the WWF Chris Jericho defeated The Rock for the WCW Champion (named the “World Championship” after WCW references ceased), and Steve Austin for the WWF Championship in the same night.

Undisputed WWF Championship (2001-2002)

Chris Jericho unified the WWF and WCW Championships to become the first Undisputed WWF Champion. The lineage of the WCW World Heavyweight Championship ended with the unification, and the WWF Championship continued to be represented by the “Big Eagle” and “Big Gold” belts. The two belts were replaced with the “Undisputed” Championship belt in April 2002.

Undisputed WWE Championship (2002)

Following a lawsuit over the initials “WWF”, the World Wildlife Fund won the rights to the initials, and the WWF was forced to rename itself as World Wrestling Enterinament (WWE). The title changed its name in May 2002, one month after introducing the “Undisputed” Championship belt.

In September of the same year, “Undisputed” was dropped, and the belt would simply be known as the WWE Championship. The belt design remained until 2005.

The WWE Championship would be defended on Smackdown, and a new “Big Gold Belt” was introduced to be the main title for Monday Night Raw. The championships switched shows several times through the annual draft lottery.

Just like the NWA and WCW Championships, the new belt was a spin-off from the previous, and created a new title lineage. Therefore, WWE’s version of the “Big Gold Belt” did not continue the championship history from WCW (and NWA). A new title history began, with Triple H becoming the inaugural champion after being awarded the belt by Eric Bischoff.

WWE made it known that the “Big Gold Belt” represented the history of wrestling, as it can be linked to active/deactivated championships, including the WCW, NWA and Original World Heavyweight Wrestling Championships.

World Heavyweight Championship (2002-2013)

The title was made to be the primary championship for Raw after Brock Lesnar was drafted from Raw to Smackdown, making the WWE Championship exclusive to Smackdown

Triple H unified the World Heavyweight Championship with the Intercontinental Championship in October 2002. The Intercontinental Championship was vacated as a result, and remained inactive for seven months. A battle royal at Judgment Day 2003 decided the new champion.

The title arguably became the main prize in 2004, as the WWE Championship was defended by JBL on Smackdown, while the World Heavyweight Championship was won by Chris Benoit, Randy Orton and Triple H. The main event of Wrestlemania XX was the triple-threat for the World Heavyweight Championship, not the WWE Championship match between Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero.

The title remained competitive with the WWE Championship for years, until it became more of a secondary title from 2010 onwards. Jack Swagger, Rey Mysterio and Kane held the title in 2010, and it never quite recovered. By 2013 it was seen as a secondary title, and many fans were asking for a unification.

WWE Championship (2002-2013)

The WWE Championship adopted the “Undisputed” belt to begin with. The “Spinner belt” was introduced in 2005 by John Cena, and many similar designs were used between 2005-2013. The “Spinner belt” lost the ability to spin in 2007, but the fans continued to call it the “Spinner belt”.

When ECW returned under the WWE banner, the ECW Championship was reactivated. Rob Van Dam defeated John Cena at ECW One Night Stand 2006 to become WWE and ECW World Heavyweight Champion. RVD held the belts for a few weeks, before losing both belts in early July 2006. Usually a belt would be vacated or unified, but in this instance, RVD held both championships and the title histories remained separate.

“Undisputed” WWE Championship (2011)

The official name of the title never changed in 2011, however it was called the “Undisputed WWE Championship” for a short time by wrestlers and commentators.

In 2011, two champions held the WWE Championship simultaneously. CM Punk was WWE Champion and left the company in kayfabe (in reality he was in contract negotiations). WWE planned to re-sign him, so they started an angle to create two champions and introduced a new belt; a direct replica of the original. A tournament was created to crown a new champion, which Rey Mysterio won. Mysterio accepted a challenge from John Cena on the same night. Mysterio lost the title to Cena, and he continued as champion.

CM Punk returned shortly after, and a match was set to decide the “Undisputed WWE Champion”. In the title history, CM Punk never vacated the championship, and Mysterio/Cena’s reigns ran parallel to his (the only time in history it occurred). CM Punk defeated Cena to end the parallel reign. To ensure no more conflict, Alberto Del Rio cashed in “Money in the Bank” after CM Punk’s victory, and became the new “Undisputed” WWE Champion.

– The undisputed term was made in kayfabe, an undisputed title requires two or more separate titles being unified together. WWE previously used this angle to decide the Undisputed Intercontinental Champion in 1993.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship (2013-Present)

The “Spinner” belt was replaced in 2013 with a new belt design, known for having the old “scratch” logo on its main plate. The belt was easily customizable, and became the template for the WWE Championship.

John Cena won the World Heavyweight Championship in 2013, and began claiming its prestige (despite its recent decline) matched the WWE Championship. A unification match was made for TLC 2013 between Randy Orton (WWE Champion) and John Cena (World Champion).

Randy Orton won the match to become the Undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion. “Undisputed” was quickly dropped in favour of WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The “Big Gold Belt” World Championship’s title history (2002-2013) was deactivated, meaning Randy Orton was (briefly) the final champion after defeating Cena.

The two belts continued to represent the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and its title history (1963-Present), for a short time. The “Big Gold Belt”, after many years of representing the NWA, WCW, and WWE in some way, was finally put to rest as WWE introduced the new (and current) WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt. The new belt has a similar design to the previous WWE Championship design, but uses the new logo instead of the old one.

The WWE World Heavyweight Championship is the only title in the business to be seen as a unified championship (although it’s not labelled as such), and the longevity and quality of the title history makes it the most prestigious.

Other World Championships can be traced back to the Original World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship, and the only way the original title could be resurrected in the business today, would be if the following titles unified: WWE World Heavyweight Championship, NWA World Heavyweight Championship, TNA World Heavyweight Championship and ROH World Championship. Only when those four titles (at least) are unified can anyone claim to be the World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion, and reactivate a lineage which ended almost sixty years ago.

Longest Reigning Champions

1. Bruno Sammartino – 2 times, 4,040 days
2. Hulk Hogan – 6 times, 2,185 days
3. Bob Backlund – 2 times, 2,138 days
4. John Cena – 12 times, 1,240 days
5. Pedro Morales – 1 time, 1,027 days
6. Bret Hart – 5 times, 654 days
7. Randy Orton – 8 times, 609 days
8. Brock Lesnar – 4 times, 579 days
9. Triple H – 8 times, 539 days
10. Stone Cold Steve Austin – 6 times, 529 days

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