WWE World Heavyweight Championship
|WWE World Heavyweight Championship|
The default version of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt
|Current champion(s)||Brock Lesnar|
|Date won||August 17, 2014|
|Date established||April 25, 1963|
The WWE World Heavyweight Championship is a world heavyweight championship created and promoted by the American professional wrestling promotion WWE. The championship was established by the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) on April 29, 1963 as the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship, following the promotion seceding from the National Wrestling Alliance.
It is the oldest championship currently recognized by the promotion, and is presented as being the most prestigious title in WWE, with many matches for the title having headlined pay per view (PPV) events - including WWE's signature PPV event WrestleMania.
For the period between 2002–2013, the title was one of three world titles in WWE, along with the World Heavyweight Championship and ECW Championship (2006−2010). But following the decommissioning of the ECW title, and unification with the World Heavyweight title, it is once again promoted as WWE's primary championship.
The title was introduced in 1963 with Buddy Rogers becoming the first champion. However, its origin is attributed to events that began in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), which had various territorial member promotions. In the 1950s, Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC) was a member of the NWA and by 1963, CWC executives held a controlling stake over NWA operations. During this time, Buddy Rogers held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship until January 24, when Lou Thesz defeated Rogers for the championship. Following a dispute over the result, CWC seceded from the NWA and became the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). The WWWF World Heavyweight Championship was then established and awarded to Buddy Rogers following an apocryphal tournament in Rio de Janeiro, defeating Antonino Rocca in the finals. Affiliated with the NWA once again, the WWWF was renamed to World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1979, and after conclusively ending its affiliation with the NWA in 1983, the championship became known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship and later simply as the WWF Championship by the 1990s.
In 1991, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), a member of the NWA, established the WCW World Heavyweight Championship to replace the NWA's world title. WCW then seceded from the NWA and grew to become a rival promotion to the WWF. Both organizations grew into mainstream prominence and were eventually involved in a television ratings war, dubbed the Monday Night Wars. Near the end of the ratings war, WCW began a financial decline, which culminated in March 2001 with the WWF's purchase of WCW. As a result of the purchase, the WWF acquired the video library of WCW, select talent contracts, and championships, among other assets. The slew of former WCW talent joining the WWF roster began "The Invasion" which effectively phased out the WCW name. Following this, the WCW Championship (which had become known simply as the "World Championship") was unified with the WWF Championship at Vengeance 2001. At the event, Chris Jericho defeated The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin to win the WCW Championship and WWF Championship respectively. Jericho, recognized by WWE as the final WCW Champion, went on to hold both the Big Gold belt (representing the "world championship") and the WWF title belt (representing the WWF championship) under the single Undisputed banner. WWE recognized these belts as representing separate championships until the introduction of a single belt by Triple H in 2002.
In 2001, after Team WWF beat Team Alliance (WCW/ECW) at the Survivor Series of that year, the superstars of The Alliance would become an essential part of WWF programing. There were two world champions, with The Rock holding the WCW Championship, and Stone Cold Steve Austin holding the WWF Championship. It was announced that the PPV following Survivor Series of that year would be a WWF Vengeance that would carry the slogan "One Undisputed Champion". It was announced that there would be three matches to unify the WCW and WWF Championships. It was announced that Kurt Angle would challenge Austin for the WWF Championship, and Chris Jericho would face The Rock for the WCW Championship. Austin would win against Angle, thus retaining the WWF Championship, and Jericho would beat The Rock to become the new WCW Champion. Following his victory, Jericho would face Austin and win, thus unifying the WWF and WCW Championships. Jericho would hold the championship for four months until he would lose it at WrestleMania X8 against Triple H. Ric Flair awarded the new Undisputed WWF Championship belt on the first Raw after the draft to Triple H. Triple H would go on to hold the title for a month until he would lose it at Backlash 2002 against Hulk Hogan. Many would hold it afterwards; superstars such as The Undertaker were drafted to Monday Night Raw main television programs, WWE Raw and WWE SmackDown!, assigning championships and appointing figureheads to each brand. This expansion became known as the Brand Extension.
In May 2002, the WWF was renamed to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and the championship became known as the WWE Undisputed Championship. Following these changes, the Undisputed Championship remained unaffiliated with either brand as competitors from both brands could challenge the Undisputed Champion. Following the appointment of Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon as General Managers of the Raw and SmackDown brands respectively, Stephanie McMahon contracted then-Undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar to the SmackDown brand, leaving the Raw brand without a world title. On September 2, after disputing the brand designation of the Undisputed title, Eric Bischoff announced the creation of the World Heavyweight Championship, spun off from the Undisputed title. Immediately afterward, the Undisputed Championship became known as the WWE Championship.
Following the events of the WWE Brand Extension, an annual WWE Draft was established. 2002 saw Ric Flair and Vince McMahon heading up the Raw and SmackDown brands respectively. Flair would run Raw and McMahon would run SmackDown. Flair and McMahon would participate in a draft lottery in which select members of the WWF roster are reassigned to a different brand. After three years on the SmackDown brand, the WWE Championship switched brands during the 2005 WWE Draft Lottery, in which WWE Champion John Cena was drafted to Raw while the World Heavyweight Champion Batista was drafted to SmackDown. On June 11, 2006, Rob Van Dam used his Money in the Bank contract at ECW One Night Stand for a WWE Championship match against the champion John Cena. The holder of the contract is guaranteed a WWE or World Heavyweight title match at anytime of their choosing. Van Dam defeated Cena to win the championship, moving the title to the now defunct ECW brand, a WWE brand established from purchased assets of the Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion. On July 3, 2006, Edge defeated Cena and Van Dam in a Triple Threat Match to win the WWE Championship. However, with Edge being a member of the Raw brand at the time, the title returned to Raw due to the circumstances. After the 2008 WWE Draft, WWE Champion Triple H was drafted to SmackDown, moving the championship back to the brand. The following year, the title returned to Raw after Triple H was drafted back to the brand during the 2009 WWE Draft.
In July 2011, CM Punk was involved in a storyline where he vowed to leave WWE with the WWE Championship when his contract expired on July 17, 2011 (the date of the 2011 Money in the Bank pay-per-view). At the event, Punk succeeded in defeating the defending champion John Cena to win the championship, and left the company with the physical title belt. With the championship seemingly vacated by Vince McMahon the following night on Raw, Rey Mysterio won an 8-man Championship Tournament by defeating The Miz in the finals on the July 25 episode of Raw to be crowned the new WWE Champion, only to subsequently lose it later that night to Cena, for the latter's record ninth reign. However, following Cena's win, Punk returned to WWE with his own title belt, thereby creating the presence of two WWE Champions. At the subsequent SummerSlam pay-per-view, Punk defeated Cena to solidify his claim on the title.
On August 29, 2011, WWE ended the brand extension as wrestlers (including all champions), were than free to appear on any program.
Following a challenge made by then World Heavyweight Champion John Cena the night after Survivor Series to determine an undisputed World Champion, December 15, 2013 at the TLC: Tables, Ladders, & Chairs pay-per-view, WWE Champion Randy Orton defeated World Heavyweight Champion John Cena in a TLC match to unify the titles. Subsequently, the WWE Championship was renamed WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The unified championship retained the lineage of the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship was retired.
Special custom belts have been created to match the characters of certain WWF/WWE champions:
- The Ultimate Warrior – white, blue and purple leather straps
- Stone Cold Steve Austin – Smoking Skull belt
- Edge – "Rated-R Superstar" spinner belt
- The Miz - The 'W' which represented WWE, Turned upside down to 'M' to represent The Miz
A much larger version of the belt was created for André the Giant before WrestleMania III, although he never wore it as champion. A custom championship belt was designed and constructed for The Rock, which featured his trademark Brahma Bull logo in the center as an answer to Austin's Smoking Skull Belt, but due to creative reasons it never appeared on television.
The "Spinner" belt's design, which featured a gold and diamond bling-bling style reflecting Cena's hip hop character at the time, became the WWE Championship's primary design from April 11, 2005, to February 18, 2013. The physical belt itself originally indicated the brand it was designated to. When it was first introduced, it featured a unique side plate design that read "SmackDown", though it was then replaced with one that read "Mon-Nite Raw" when John Cena was drafted to the RAW brand. When the title once again became SmackDown's primary championship after Triple H was drafted to the brand in 2008, the RAW plate was replaced with a second "WWE Champion" side plate. Edge had originally designed an entirely different custom belt than the "Rated R Spinner" design he used for his second reign, however the plans were scrapped due to time constraints.
On the February 18, 2013, episode of Raw, The Rock unveiled a new WWE Championship belt. The new title (which was partially designed by Orange County Choppers of American Chopper fame) The championship featured a large cut-out of the scratch WWE logo (encrusted with diamonds) inside a large irregular heptagonal plate. The word "CHAMPION" appeared underneath the logo in large letters. On each side was a divider bar and a large plate. By default (mainly when the title was vacant), the side plates consisted of a red globe with a WWE logo underneath a crown. The reigning champions all had their logos onto the side plates as a similarity of the name plate feature.
The Big Gold Belt – which was used for the WCW Championship, World Heavyweight Championship, and other championships – was used in tandem with the WWF Championship belt after Chris Jericho unified the WWF and WCW Championship at Vengeance 2001 to form an undisputed championship. Raw owner Ric Flair presented Triple H with a single Undisputed WWE Championship belt on the April 4, 2002 episode of Raw. Following the unification of the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships in 2013, the Big Gold Belt was used in tandem with the WWE Championship belt to represent the renamed WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
On the August 18, 2014 episode of Raw, reigning champion Brock Lesnar, who had won the title the night before at SummerSlam was presented with a single WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt, which had a slightly updated design as a result of WWE adapting a new corporate logo originally used for the WWE Network. It features a large center plate dominated by a cut out of the WWE logo inside an irregular heptagon with the words "WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION" along the bottom edges, in very small print. The large side plates, like the previous design, feature removable round sections, allowing the holder's personal logo to be added to the belt; the default sections feature gold and red world maps with the WWE logo over them, with the only difference being that this new title's original side plates do not feature a crown at the top of the plates. Like with the Undisputed Championship, the Big Gold Belt was retired with the unveiling of the new belt.
The WWE World Heavyweight Championship was the first world championship introduced into WWF in 1963. The inaugural champion was Buddy Rogers, and there have been 44 different official champions overall. The longest reigning champion was Bruno Sammartino who held the title from May 17, 1963, to January 18, 1971, for a total of 2,803 days (7 years, 8 months, and 1 day). Bruno Sammartino also holds the record for longest combined reign at 4,040 days. The shortest reigning champion was André the Giant who officially held the title for 30 seconds. The youngest champion is Brock Lesnar, who won the title at the age of 25. The oldest champion is Vince McMahon, who won it at the age of 54. John Cena holds the record for most reigns with 12. There have been 10 vacancies throughout the title's history.
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