WWE World Heavyweight Championship
|WWE World Heavyweight Championship|
The two title belts that currently represent the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
(December 2013 – present)
|Current champion(s)||Daniel Bryan|
|Date won||April 6, 2014|
|Date established||April 25, 1963|
The WWE World Heavyweight Championship is a world heavyweight championship within the professional wrestling promotion WWE. Established by the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in 1963 as the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship, it is the oldest championship recognized by the promotion, and is presented as being the most prestigious.
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 as having spun off from the NWA title when the recognition was 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 complement 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 recognised 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 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 win, Jericho would face Austin and won, 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 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 afterwords, superstars such as The Undertaker were drafted to Monday Night Raw main television programs, Raw and 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 WWE Undisputed Championship remained unaffiliated with either brand as competitors from both brands could challenge the WWE 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-WWE 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 WWE 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 Vince McMahon would run Smackdown. Flair and McMahon would participate in a draft lottery in which select members of the WWE 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 the 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 WWE Champion John Cena. The holder of the contract is guaranteed a WWE or World Heavyweight title match at anytime of their choosing. Rob Van Dam defeated John Cena to win the WWE 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 John Cena and Rob 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 the WWE Champion Triple H was drafted to SmackDown, moving the WWE Championship to the SmackDown brand. The following year, the title returned to Raw after Triple H was drafted back to the brand during the 2009 WWE Draft, and remained exclusive to the Raw brand since. When SmackDown's Batista won the title from Raw's John Cena at Elimination Chamber, it remained exclusive to Raw while Batista was transferred to the Raw roster.
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 Championships and two WWE champions. At the subsequent SummerSlam pay-per-view, Punk defeated Cena to solidify his claim on the title.
Since August 29, 2011, WWE indirectly ended the brand extension as the Raw and SmackDown wrestlers (including the WWE Champion) were allowed to appear on both shows; since then the title was no longer exclusive to any show.
On 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. With that the WWE Championship was renamed WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The unified championship retained the lineage of the WWE Championship.
Special custom belts have been created to match the characters of certain WWE champions:
- The Ultimate Warrior - white, blue and purple leather straps
- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin - Smoking Skull belt
- Edge - "Rated-R Superstar" spinner belt
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. Similarly, 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.
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. Furthermore, the belt also featured a silver tip on the end of the leather strap.
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) features a black strap with a large diamond encrusted WWE logo on the front with the word "CHAMPION" directly underneath, with WWE logo side plates. A distinctive feature of this belt is that there is no nameplate for the champion. Instead, the side plates can be customized to incorporate the current champion's logo/insignia.
Following the unification of the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships in 2013, the Big Gold Belt - which was used for the now-retired World Heavyweight Championship, and multiple other titles before that - is being used in tandem with the current WWE Championship belt to represent the renamed WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
The WWE Championship was the first world championship introduced into WWE 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 Mr. McMahon who won it at the age of 54. John Cena has held the title the most times with 11 championship reigns.
Daniel Bryan is the current champion, in his third reign. He defeated previous champion Randy Orton and Batista in a Triple Threat match (following beating Triple H earlier in the night to qualify for the title match) at WrestleMania XXX on April 6, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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