World Heavyweight Championship (WWE)
|World Heavyweight Championship (WWE)|
The World Heavyweight Championship belt, which was represented by WWE's modified version of the Big Gold Belt
(September 2002 – December 2013)
|Date established||September 2, 2002|
|Date retired||December 16, 2013|
The World Heavyweight Championship was a professional wrestling world heavyweight championship owned by WWE. It was one of two top championships in WWE, complementing the WWE Championship. The belt design was also used along with that of the WWE Championship to create the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, which assumed the title history of the latter belt, until August 18, 2014.
The title was one of six to be represented by the historic Big Gold Belt, first introduced in 1985. It was established under the Raw brand in 2002, after Raw and SmackDown became distinct brands under WWE, and moved between both brands on different occasions (mainly as a result of the WWE Draft) until August 29, 2011 when all programming became full roster "supershows". Its heritage can be traced back to the first world heavyweight championship, thereby giving the belt a legacy over 100 years old, the oldest in the world.
WWE introduced its World Heavyweight Championship in 2002, by Eric Bischoff with Triple H becoming the inaugural champion on September 2. However, its origin is attributed the first world heavyweight championship, and then to events that began in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), which had many different territorial promotions as members. In the late 1980s, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) was a member of the NWA, having been formed by the purchase of Jim Crockett Promotions, which had absorbed many other NWA members, by Turner Broadcasting, which aired WCW's programming. During this time, WCW used the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as its world title. The WCW World Heavyweight Championship was soon established when the recognition was awarded to then-NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair in 1991. In 1993, WCW seceded from the NWA and grew to become a rival promotion to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), itself a former member of the NWA. 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 World Heavyweight Championship was unified with the WWF Championship, the WWF's world title, at Vengeance in December. At the event, the WCW World Heavyweight Championship was decommissioned with Chris Jericho becoming the final WCW World Heavyweight Champion and the subsequent Undisputed WWF Champion after defeating The Rock and Steve Austin respectively. The WWF title became the undisputed Championship in professional wrestling until September 2002 with the creation of this World Heavyweight Championship, spun off from the Undisputed WWE Championship as the successor to the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.
By 2002, the WWF roster had doubled in size due to the overabundance of contracted workers. 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). Following these changes, the Undisputed WWE Championship remained unaffiliated with either brand as competitors from both brands could challenge the Undisputed WWE 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 WWE 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. Bischoff awarded the title to Triple H due to previously being Lesnar's scheduled opponent. Immediately afterwards, the Undisputed WWE Championship returned to being the WWE Championship.
Since its creation, the championship's history and reigns are often confused with other titles primarily because the championship does not bear the name of its designated organization. Contributing to this is the common usage of the terms "world championship" or "world heavyweight championship" in general for all acknowledged world titles. This results in allusions often being made to other titles including those of WCW and the NWA, amalgamating the history of this championship with the history of the belt that represents it. As affirmed by WWE, the World Heavyweight Championship is not a continuation of the WCW Championship, but rather its successor by way of the WWE Undisputed Championship, just as the WCW Championship spun off from the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Due to its relation to both titles, its lineage is connected with the earliest recognized world heavyweight championship. On the July 1, 2013 edition of Raw, WWE honored previous World Heavyweight champions, and included former NWA World Heavyweight and WCW World Heavyweight champions including Lou Thesz and Ric Flair, indicating it is considered by the WWE the successor of those titles.
Brand designation history
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 Raw brand, the World Heavyweight 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. After the 2008 WWE Draft, the WWE Champion Triple H was drafted to SmackDown, returning the WWE Championship to the SmackDown brand. On June 30, 2008, CM Punk used his Money in the Bank contract for a World Heavyweight Championship match against the World Heavyweight Champion Edge. This was done after Punk was drafted to Raw from the ECW brand. Punk defeated Edge to win the World Heavyweight Championship, moving the title to the Raw brand. The title remained on Raw until February 15, 2009 at No Way Out, when Edge won an Elimination Chamber match for the World Heavyweight Championship. However, with Edge being a member of the SmackDown brand at the time, the title was moved to SmackDown. On April 5 at WrestleMania XXV, the title returned to Raw after John Cena, a member of the Raw brand, defeated Edge and The Big Show in a Triple Threat match to win the World Heavyweight Championship. However, less than a month later at Backlash, Edge defeated Cena, bringing the title back to SmackDown. When Jack Swagger, who was at the time a member of the Raw roster, cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and defeated World Heavyweight Champion Chris Jericho on the April 2, 2010 episode of SmackDown, the belt remained exclusive to the SmackDown brand, and Swagger was transferred to the SmackDown roster.
On August 29, 2011, the brand extension was effectively ended, and all WWE programming became "Supershows" featuring the entire roster. With that, the World Heavyweight title (along with every other championship in WWE) became available for all wrestlers to compete for, and was defended on all shows.
On December 15, 2013, WWE Champion Randy Orton defeated World Heavyweight Champion John Cena at the TLC PPV in a TLC match to unify the titles. With that Orton was recognized the final World Heavyweight Champion, and the next day the title was officially retired by WWE. The championship belt remained in use as a component of the renamed WWE World Heavyweight Championship until August 18, 2014, when the Big Gold Belt was dropped in favor of a redesigned single title.
The inaugural champion was Triple H, and there were 25 different official champions overall. The longest reigning champion was Batista who held the title from April 3, 2005 to January 13, 2006 for a total of 282 days. Triple H holds the record for longest combined reigns at 617 days. The shortest reigning champion was Big Show who officially held the title for 18 seconds. The youngest champion was Randy Orton, who won the title of the age of 24. The oldest champion was The Undertaker who won at the age of 44. Edge held the title the most times with seven championship reigns. There were five vacancies throughout the title's history.
Randy Orton was the final champion in his fourth reign. He defeated John Cena in a TLC match at TLC: Tables, Ladders, & Chairs on December 15, 2013 in Houston, Texas to unify the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships.
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