|Current champion(s)||John Cena|
|Date won||April 7, 2013|
|Date established||April 25, 1963|
The WWE Championship is a professional wrestling world heavyweight championship owned by WWE. It is one of two main championships in WWE, complementing the World Heavyweight Championship. It was established under the then WWWF in 1963, and is the oldest championship recognized by the promotion. When Raw and Smackdown established distinct brands under WWE, the championship had moved between both brands, mainly due to the WWE Draft.
The WWE Championship was introduced in 1963 with "Nature Boy" 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 subsidiary to 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, the world title of the NWA and its subsidiaries 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, recognised 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
Undisputed championship 
By 2002, the WWF roster had doubled in size due to the overabundance of contracted workers from the original WWF, as well as those who had come across from WCW and ECW. As a result of the increase, the WWF divided the roster through its two 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.
Brand designation 
Following the events of the WWE Brand Extension, an annual WWE Draft was established, 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 both an ambiguity and a dispute in WWE over the presence of two WWE Championships. On the July 29, 2011 episode of SmackDown new WWE COO Triple H announced that CM Punk's claim to the WWE Championship was legitimate, meaning "there were two WWE champions." At the subsequent SummerSlam pay-per-view, Punk defeated Cena to solidify his claim on the title, only to lose the title moments later to Alberto Del Rio, who opportunistically cashed in his Money in the Bank contract after Kevin Nash attacked Punk. Also since August 29, 2011, with all WWE programming becoming "Supershows" featuring the entire roster, the title has been defended on both Raw and Smackdown.
Belt designs 
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
- John Cena - Spinner belt with free-motion "spinner" WWE logo in the center
- Edge - Modified "Rated-R Superstar" spinner belt
- The Miz - Spinner belt with the WWE logo turned upside down to resemble an "M", (which stood for 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. 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, became the WWE Championship's primary design from April 11, 2005, to February 18, 2013. The belt ceased to spin at No Mercy 2007 but span again during The Rock's feud with CM Punk. 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. Despite lasting for eight years, the belt was heavily subjected to much critisism, as it was seen as looking like a toy, thus denegrating the title's value. 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.
The side plate designs for holders of this belt include:
- The "Brahma Bull" logo of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
- The "Hustle, Loyalty, Respect" (left) and "U ₡ ME" (right) logos of John Cena
The WWE Championship was the first world championship introduced into WWE in 1963. The inaugural champion was Buddy Rogers, and there have been 43 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, & 4 days). Bruno Sammartino also holds the record for longest combined regins at 4,040 days. CM Punk also hold the record of holding the title for a maximum of 434 days, making him the longest combined reign in the modern era. 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 at the age of 54. John Cena has held the title the most times with 11 championship reigns; he is also the current champion, defeating The Rock at Wrestlemania 29 on April 7, 2013 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
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