List of early world heavyweight champions in professional wrestling

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A diagram showing the evolution of various world heavyweight championships

The World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship was the first recognized professional wrestling world heavyweight championship created in 1905 to identify the best catch as catch can professional wrestler in the world. The first recognized World Heavyweight Champion was George Hackenschmidt, who officially won the championship on May 4, 1905 by defeating Tom Jenkins in New York City, New York,[1] the championship remained active for the next 51 years with the last recognized reign beginning on November 9, 1956.

Several of the championship reigns are also recognized by the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) under the NWA World Heavyweight Championship's lineage.[2] World Wrestling Entertainment's (WWE) current World Heavyweight Championship's lineage can also be traced back to it.

The WWE World Heavyweight Championship's origin can be traced back to the NWA Championship after an incident in which the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) at the time left the NWA after refusing to recognize Lou Thesz as NWA Champion after he beat Buddy Rogers in a one fall match – The NWA World Title matches usually followed a best-of-three fall format – Vincent J. McMahon, the WWWF's owner created the WWWF Championship and awarded Rogers the belt proclaiming he won it in a (apocryphal) tournament in Brazil.[3] The WWE's World Heavyweight Championship was subsequently created after then-WWE Champion Brock Lesnar became exclusive to the SmackDown Brand.

WWE's World Heavyweight Championship was a successor to the WCW World Heavyweight Championship and the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as well as being spun off from the WWE Championship.[4][5][6]

The now defunct American Wrestling Association (AWA), World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) were also home to World Heavyweight Championships with origins that can also be traced back to the World Heavyweight Championship.

In WCW, the WCW World Heavyweight Championships origin is traced back to a match which took place on January 11, 1991 where Ric Flair defeated Sting for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, when WCW pulled out of the NWA in early 1991 Flair was recognized as the first WCW World Heavyweight Champion.[7][8] The WCW International World Heavyweight Championship can be traced back to an incident in WCW's final split with the NWA in 1993, Flair's NWA World Heavyweight Championship reign was continued to be recognized with the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship.[9]

In ECW, the ECW World Heavyweight Championship's origin is attributed to a tournament which was held to crown a new NWA World Heavyweight Champion in 1994 in NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling although its inaugural champion was Jimmy Snuka who won it two years prior.[10] On August 27, 1994 Shane Douglas participated and won the tournament and discarded the NWA World Heavyweight Championship proclaiming himself the new Extreme Championship Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion despite having won the Championship five months prior, because of this event ECW withdrew from the NWA and renamed itself Extreme Championship Wrestling. The championship was also competed for on the ECW brand of WWE.[10][11]

In AWA, the AWA World Heavyweight Championship was established in May 1960, after the AWA became a separate promotion from the National Wrestling Alliance, which had previously been a part of the NWA's Minneapolis-area presence. The first champion was Pat O'Connor, who was recognized as the first champion upon the AWA's secession from the NWA as O'Connor held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as well, which he won on January 9, 1959. The creation of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship along with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship would pave the way for the creation of many other world championships in other wrestling promotions. American Wrestling Association and the title became inactive in 1990 and the organization officially closed down in 1991 with the title also being decommissioned.

Total Nonstop Action Wrestling's (TNA) World Heavyweight Championship (the TNA World Heavyweight Championship) can also be traced back to the World Heavyweight Championship. TNA formed in May 2002 and formed a partnership with the NWA, allowing TNA control of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and NWA World Tag Team Championship. On June 19, 2002 TNA crowned the first NWA World Heavyweight Champion under their banner, after Ken Shamrock won a Gauntlet for the Gold match at TNA's first Weekly Pay-per-view.[12] On May 13, 2007 NWA severed ties with TNA after the then-current NWA World Heavyweight Champion Christian Cage and the then-current NWA World Tag Team Champions Team 3D (Brother Ray and Brother Devon) after Christian Cage refused to defend the NWA World Heavyweight Championship against wrestlers from the NWA territories.[13] The TNA World Heavyweight Championship was first won by Kurt Angle who won it at TNA Sacrifice by defeating Christian Cage and Sting.[14]

Title history[edit]

Reign The reign number for the specific set of wrestlers listed
# Indicates what number the reign is
Event The event promoted by the respective promotion in which the titles were won
N/A The information is not available or is unknown
# Wrestlers Reign Date Days held Location Event Notes
Hackenschmidt, GeorgeGeorge Hackenschmidt
May 4, 1905
Hackenscmidt won a world championship tournament to become the first champion. Hackenschmidt won several other tournaments in Paris, France; Hamburg, Germany; Saint Petersburg, Russia; Elberfeld, Germany; and Berlin, Germany in the same year. He also won the European Greco-Roman Heavyweight Championship title from Tom Cannon on September 4, 1902 in Liverpool, England. He won the recognition of being the World Heavyweight Champion on January 30, 1904 in London, England by defeating Ahmed Madrali. Hackenschmidt defeated American Heavyweight Champion, Tom Jenkins, on May 4, 1905 in New York City, New York to become the recognized World Champion in North America.[15]
Gotch, FrankFrank Gotch
April 3, 1908
Gotch held the title for five years until April 1, 1913. He was the sixth longest reigning World Heavyweight Champion in history behind Bruno Sammartino, Jim Londos, Lou Thesz, Verne Gagne (who all held their World Titles for over seven years) and Bob Backlund (who held his for nearly six years).[1]
April 1, 1913
Vacated due to Gotch's retirement
Stecher, JoeJoe Stecher
July 5, 1915
Stecher defeated Charlie Cutler to become the first widely recognized world heavyweight champion after the retirement of Frank Gotch.[16]
Caddock, EarlEarl Caddock
April 9, 1917
Stecher, JoeJoe Stecher
January 30, 1920
Lewis, EdEd Lewis
December 13, 1920
Zbyszko, StanislausStanislaus Zbyszko
May 6, 1921
Lewis, EdEd Lewis
March 3, 1922
Munn, WayneWayne Munn
January 8, 1925
Zbyszko, StanislausStanislaus Zbyszko
April 15, 1925
Though Zbyszko defeated Munn to win the championship, Munn continued to be recognized as World Heavyweight Champion in Michigan and in Illinois.[24]
Stecher, JoeJoe Stecher
May 30, 1925
Lewis, EdEd Lewis
February 21, 1928
Lewis defeats Wayne Munn on February 2, 1928 in Michigan City, Indiana for the Michigan/Illonois World Heavyweight Championship version. Lewis defeats Stecher on February 21, 1928 to end the dispute.[26]
Sonnenberg, GusGus Sonnenberg
January 4, 1929
The recognition of being the World Heavyweight Champion was withdrawn from Gus Sonnenberg by the wrestling section of the National Boxing Association in 1929 for failing to meet real title contenders.[27]
George, Ed DonEd Don George
December 10, 1930
Lewis, EdEd Lewis
April 13, 1931
Lewis lost the American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship by disqualification to Henri Deglane on May 4, 1931 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, but still recognized as World Heavyweight Champion in Illinois. Lewis also defeated the title claimer, Wladek Zbyszko, on November 2, 1931 in Chicago, Illinois for the title. Lewis continued to win the New York State Athletic Commission World Heavyweight Championship by defeating Jack Sherry on October 10, 1932.[28]
July 30, 1935
O'Mahoney defeated Jim Londos to win the New York State Athletic Commission World Title. Mahoney continues to win the AWA World Heavyweight Championship (Boston version) by defeating Ed Don George (who had beat Deglane on February 9, 1933) on July 30, 1935 in Boston, Massachusetts to become the Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion.[29]
Shikat, DickDick Shikat
March 2, 1936
Baba, AliAli Baba
April 25, 1936
On April 29, 1936 it was announced by the New York Times that Ali Baba would not be recognized as World Heavyweight Champion in the New York State by The New York Athletic Commission however it was announced that Ali Baba and Dave Shikat would face each other on May 5, 1936 at Madison Square Garden for the World Heavyweight Championship. Ali Baba went on to win the professional wrestling bout and thus be recognized as the World Heavyweight Champion.[31][32][33]
Levin, DaveDave Levin
June 12, 1936
Detton, DeanDean Detton
September 29, 1936
Nagurski, BronkoBronko Nagurski
June 29, 1937
Nagurski was recognized as the Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion by "The Ring" magazine.[36]
Londos, JimJim Londos
November 18, 1938
Londos retires as World Heavyweight Champion in 1946.[37]
January 28, 1946
Londos wrestled his last match on this date, defeating Lord Albert Mills.
Thesz, LouLou Thesz
May 21, 1952
Thesz unified 3 championships to become the Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion, the National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship which he won on July 20, 1948 by defeating Bill Longson,[38] the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship which was awarded to him on November 27, 1949,[12] and the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium World Heavyweight Championship which he won on May 21, 1952 by defeating Baron Michele Leon.[39]
Whipper Billy Watson
March 15, 1956
Watson defeated Lou Thesz by Count Out to win the world title.[40]
Thesz, LouLou Thesz
November 9, 1956
Édouard Carpentier defeated Lou Thesz by disqualification on June 14, 1957 in Chicago, Illinois when Thesz cannot continue the match due to a back injury. The NWA rules states that a title cannot change on a Disqualification and Carpentier gives the title back to Thesz. Edouard Carpentier was then recognized as World Heavyweight Champion in Omaha, Nebraska and in Boston, Massachusetts. He was then later recognized as the World Heavyweight Champion by the World Wrestling Association in Los Angeles, California. This was the last time the World Heavyweight Title has been unified and to date has never been fully unified again. The Omaha version of the World Title was later unified with the AWA World Heavyweight Championship. Lou Thesz defeated Edouard Carpentier in a rematch by disqualification on July 24, 1957 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for the title.
July 24, 1957
Lineage continued over to the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

List of combined reigns[edit]

Rank Wrestler No. of reigns Combined days
1 Ed Lewis 4 3,073
2 Jim Londos 1 2,628
3 Joe Stecher 3 1,959
4 Frank Gotch 1 1,824
5 Lou Thesz 2 1,651
6 George Hackenschmidt 1 1,065
7 Earl Caddock 1 1,026
8 Gus Sonnenberg 1 705
9 Bronko Nagurski 1 507
10 Stanislaus Zbyszko 2 346
11 Dean Detton 1 273
12 Whipper Billy Watson 1 239
13 Danno O'Mahoney 1 216
14 Ed Don George 1 124
15 Dave Levin 1 109
16 Wayne Munn 1 97
17 Dick Shikat 1 54
18 Ali Baba 1 48

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Champion Wrestler Quits, Exhausted" (PDF). New York Times. 1908-04-04. Retrieved 2009-05-24. 
  2. ^ "NWA World Heavyweight Championship". National Wrestling Alliance. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  3. ^ Will, Gary; Benaka, Matt; Oliver, Earl; Zadarnowski, Andrew; Fitzgerald, Jason; Dean, Joe. "WWWF/WWF/WWE Heavyweight Title History". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  4. ^ "World Heavyweight Championship turns five years old". World Wrestling Entertainment. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  5. ^ "Triple H's first World Heavyweight Championship Reign". World Wrestling Entertainment. Retrieved 2009-06-11. 
  6. ^ Nemer, Paul (2002-02-09). "Full WWE RAW Results - 9/2/02". Wrestle View. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  7. ^ "Ric Flair's first WCW title reign". World Wrestling Entertainment. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  8. ^ Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal; Benaka, Matt; Oliver, Earl; Zadarnowski, Andrew; Fitzgerald, Jason; Solo, John; Dean, Joe. "WCW World Heavyweight Championship". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  9. ^ "International World Heavyweight Championship". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  10. ^ a b Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal; Benaka, Matt; Westcott, Brian; Roelfsema, Eric; Dean, Joe; Fitzgerald, Jason. "ECW - Eastern Championship Wrestling/Extreme Championship Wrestling Title History". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  11. ^ "Shane Douglas' first ECW Championship reign". World Wrestling Entertainment. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  12. ^ a b Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal; Benaka, Matt; Oliver, Earl; Westcott, Brian; Sullivan, Richard; Zadarnowski, Andrew; Dean, Joe; Fitzgerald, Jason; Gonzalez, Manual. "National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship History". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  13. ^ "NWA/Trobich strips TNA/Cage/Team 3D of NWA branded Championships". National Wrestling Alliance. Retrieved 2009-06-26. 
  14. ^ Sokol, Chris (2007-05-14). "World title picture muddied after good Sacrifice". Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  15. ^ "Hackenschmidt Is Wrestling Champion" (PDF). New York Times. 1905-05-05. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  16. ^ "Stecher beats Cutler in Teo Straight Falls". The Chicago Tribune. 1915-07-05. Retrieved 2009-06-14. 
  17. ^ "Stecher Tells "Inside Facts."". Los Angeles Times. 1917-04-10. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  18. ^ "Caddock Defeated In Fast Mat Bout" (PDF). New York Times. 1920-01-31. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  19. ^ "Lewis Captures Wrestling Title" (PDF). New York Times. 1920-12-14. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  20. ^ ""Strangler" Lewis Regains His Title". Hartford Courant. 1920-12-14. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  21. ^ "Zbyszko Wrests Title From Lewis" (PDF). New York Times. 1921-05-06. Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  22. ^ "Lewis Regains His Wrestling Title" (PDF). New York Times. 1922-04-22. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  23. ^ ""Strangler" Lewis Loses Mat Crown". Los Angeles Times. 1925-01-09. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  24. ^ "S. Zbyszko Defeats Munn For Mat Title". New York Times. 1925-05-16. Retrieved 2006-06-12. 
  25. ^ "Wrestling Title Is Won By Joe Stecher; Lewis Defeats Munn". The Victoria Advocate (Prescott, Arizona: Victoria Advocate Publishing Co.). 1 June 1925. p. 1. Retrieved 2009-06-14. 
  26. ^ "Lewis Wins Crown, Gets 2 Of 3 Falls". The Associated Press. 1928-02-21. Retrieved 2009-06-11. 
  27. ^ "Gus Sonnenberg Captures World Wrestling Championship From Strangler Lewis". The Hartford Courant. 1929-05-01. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  28. ^ "Wrestling Bulletin". Los Angeles Times. 1931-04-14. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  29. ^ "O'Mahoney Wins Over Jim Londos". The Hartford Courant. 1935-06-27. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  30. ^ "Dick Shikat Beats Danno O'Mahoney In First American Defeat For Irish Matman". Hartford Courant. 1936-03-03. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  31. ^ "Ali Baba Pins Shikat to Win Claim on Title". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1936-04-25. Retrieved 2009-06-14. 
  32. ^ "Shikat Recognized As Champion Here". New York Times. 1936-04-29. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  33. ^ Nichols, Joseph C. (1936-05-06). "Triumph Over Shikat Gains World Mat Championship for Ali Baba". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  34. ^ "Ali Baba Loses, Kicks Opponent". The Evening Independent (St Petersburg, Florida: St. Petersburg Times). 13 June 1936. p. 8. Retrieved 2009-06-14. 
  35. ^ "Dean Dutton Wins Title From Levin". Prescott Evening Courier (Prescott, Arizona: Prescott Courier, Inc.). 29 September 1936. p. 5. OCLC 15262241. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  36. ^ "SLAM! Wrestling Canadian Hall of Fame: Bronko Nagurski profile". SLAM! Sports. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  37. ^ "Londos Pins Nagurski; Captures Wrestling Title From Chicago Rival Before 10,000". New York Times. 1938-11-19. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  38. ^ Will, Gary; Duncan, Royal; Benaka, Matt. "National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  39. ^ Geyer, Jack (1952-05-12). "Thesz Defeats Leone for World Mat Crown". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-06-10. 
  40. ^ Oliver, Greg (2000-02-04). "Remembering Whipper Billy Watson". SLAM! Wrestling. Retrieved 2009-06-12. Thesz lost the title to Watson on March 15, 1956 in Toronto via a count out 

External links[edit]