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We are the Champions
June 20, 2003

by Chris "Lucky" Lopez
OO Message Board Regular/Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


"There are champions... and there are world champions."

It is this phrase that introduces us to Jeff Jarrett, the man who until June 12 held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for the better part of a year. The video that leads Jarrett out for his title defense introduces us to a variety of locations around the world. Scotland, England, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Tennessee. These represent the distances the NWA Champion has traveled to defend his title. It is for this very reason that the NWA and TNA introduce him as the "Undisputed World Champion."

Okay. So we know it's politics and advertising. No matter how much TNA tells us Jarrett (or newly crowned champ AJ Styles) is the "undisputed world champion," we know that there are other guys. WCW, WWE, New Japan, AAA. Along with all the guys with real claims there is always going to be some new wrestling federation claiming to carry the championship, and every time that same company manages to book a match across the border, they'll claim to have the world championship. Yet, there was something about the claim that got me wondering whether there might be some truth to it.

After all, we have to pick somebody to be on top of the wrestling world. Sure, we know it's all fake, and no one is really fighting for these titles. But it's still important to maintain the illusion, if just to add to the overall feel. So how do we determine the champ? Any self-respecting "smart" has at least enough cynicism to know that all the companies will never get together and agree on a guy. That day is over.

So we have to do the job. Or rather I am going to waste my time and wonder.

The first task is to name our contenders. Since making a list of candidates based purely on my own familiarity and opinion would kill the notion of an academic study far too early into the experiment, I choose to rely upon www.Wrestling-Titles.com  (my default resource for all wrestling questions). The fine folks at Wrestling-Titles list a total of 7 current World Heavyweight Champions. I shall now introduce these belts as well as their claims to the title of "World Champion."

NWA World Heavyweight TitleA.J. Styles
The National Wrestling Alliance has the clear claim for lineage. Established in 1940, the title has absorbed 6 other recognized World Heavyweight titles over the years, including the National Boxing/Wrestling Association title — the title recognized by the National Boxing Association until 1930 — and most recently the World Wrestling All-Stars title, with a victory over Sting. In addition, the NWA title is the only championship that can claim direct lineage to the last Unified World Heavyweight title, existing between 1901 and 1956. Where the NWA hits a roadblock is in public image. Over the last 4 decades, defections by the World Wide Wrestling Federation, World Championship Wrestling, Extreme Championship Wrestling, New Japan Pro and All Japan Pro have all been successful — intentionally or not — in lessening the title's exposure and significance. It is only recently that the NWA has begun to establish a hold on wrestling again, rebuilding an organization of more than 20 federations, extending internationally to Japan, Canada and the United Kingdom and regaining American national TV exposure for the first time in a decade.

WWE World Heavyweight Title (Smackdown) — Brock Lesnar
World Wrestling Entertainment established its world title in 1963, when the World Wide Wrestling Federation refused to acknowledge Buddy Rogers loss of the NWA World title to Lou Thesz. In 1992, the belt continued to build its controversy by claiming to unite the "Real World Heavyweight Title" with it when Ric Flair departed NWA, claiming to still be their World Champion. In 2001, the WWF belt was finally united with another legitimately — as the "Undisputed" WWE title is created from the WWF and WCW titles. Eight months later the belt gave up its "undisputed" claim when a second WWE title was established.

WWE World Heavyweight Title (RAW) — Hunter Hearst Helmesley
This WWE title carries with it the lineage of the WCW World title at least in theory. The belt itself was unceremoniously established less than a year ago, effectively destroying the notion of an undisputed title and confusing the question of a WCW/WWF title unification. In addition, the title is built on the claim to have unified the WWF Intercontinental, WWF European, WWF Hardcore and WCW United States titles, a claim that is greatly damaged by the reestablishment of the IC and US titles within the same company. Whether the belt is the legacy of a series of WWF titles, the WCW title or simply an 9-month-old creation is rather unclear.

UWA World Heavyweight TitleCanek
Established since 1977, the Universal Wrestling Association title was first awarded to Lou Thesz. The federation closed in the 1990s, but the title remains active today, being defended in federations such as New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

CMLL World Heavyweight TitleMr. Niebla
Empressa Mexicana de Luche Libre is in fact the oldest existing promotion in the world, having been established in 1933. EMLL was a top member of the NWA until the mid 80s. The Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre was established in 1991, and with it the World Title.

IWC World Heavyweight TitleCibernetico
Established in 1977, the International Wrestling Council Title has been held by Cibernetico since November 2000, leading to a question of its activity (as well as its listing as a current world title instead of a dormant one).

WWA World Heavyweight TitleRayo de Jalisco Jr.
Established in 1986, Mexico's World Wrestling Association closed sometime in the in the early 1990s. In 1994, the title returned to action in Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion but was vacated again in 1999. In March of 2003, the title was once again returned to action, long outliving its federation.

(Surprisingly our infallible information source does not list any Japanese titles as World Titles. In the interests of being fair and detailed I will attempt to determine what titles, if any, deserve to be considered using my wits and 11th grade research skills.)

International Wrestling Grand Prix World Heavyweight TitleYoshihiro Takayama
The IWGP Tournament was held annually from 1983 to 1987 and featured the best of the world such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Antonio Inoki. In 1987, the final tournament transitioned into the first IWGP Champion. The IWGP title is the mantelpiece of New Japan Pro-Wrestling and has recently absorbed the NWF World Heavyweight Title, a belt that claims a legacy going back to 1970, and which was vacated by Inoki in 1981 so that he could enter the initial IWGP tournament.

Unified Triple Crown Heavyweight TitleShinya Hashimoto
The reigning championship of All Japan Pro Wrestling, the title is the result of a 1989 three-way champion match unifying the Pacific Wrestling Federation Heavyweight title (est. 1973), NWA United National Heavyweight title (est. 1970), and NWA International Heavyweight title (est. 1957).

(It should be noted that neither of the remaining two Japanese promotions I would have considered — Michinoku Pro or Zero ONE — have world championships, instead choosing to support the legitimacy of the NWA World Champion.)

There is one other major event that must be addressed in an effort to clear up each particular title’s lineage.  In the first half of 1991 a title puzzle that had been reduced to only two pieces became much more complicated.  In the early part of that year the NWA’s territories had greatly lessened in number.  World Championship Wrestling had become its focal point and the NWA Title began to be referred to as the “WCW World Title.”  On
March 21, 1991, Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Ric Flair in Tokyo, to win the NWA World Title. WCW, disagreeing with the decision, chose to award Flair the new WCW World Title and there became two recognized World Titles within the NWA.  The problem was short lived, however, as Flair won the NWA title back from Tatsumi on May 19th, unifying the titles.  Then on July 1st, Flair, holding both the NWA and WCW World Titles, departed from WCW amidst contract disputes.  He was immediately stripped of the WCW World Title and Lex Luger was awarded the belt.  The NWA followed in kind and stripped Flair of the NWA Title when he signed with the WWF.

The situation, while confusing at first glance, is simple enough to sort out as far as lineage, but the true confusion comes not from any Titleholder at all.  When Flair signed with the WWE he remained the recognized NWA World Titleholder.  The actual date when the NWA stripped Flair of the Title differs from September 8th – the day that he joined the WWF – to October depending on the account, but a new champion was not crowned until August ’92 in Masahiro Chono.  In the interim Flair debuted on WWF television, World Heavyweight Title belt in hand, and proclaimed himself as the “Real World Champion.”  When Flair won the WWF title in January ’92 he had no legal claim to the NWA and WCW Titles, yet the public still saw a WWF champion whom had never been defeated for his WCW and NWA belts, while finding that the NWA was short a champion of their own.  WCW’s Title was a mere 6 months old and suffered no more than a bruise from this incident, but the NWA Title suffered far more.  Flair’s departure left the NWA Title vacant for the first time in its 50-year history and began a 10-year decline for the Title that included multiple vacancies, dormant periods and a lack of major exposure.

So with the title cases laid before us, who is the most deserving of those presented? If I were able to make the standards by which we decide, I would choose to rely on three main factors: legacy, prestige and competition. I think it's fair to first eliminate the WWA, CMLL, UWA, IWC and IWGP titles based purely on an issue of longevity. If a World Champion were to be crowned, I would dare say that those champions that can trace their legacies back 40 years or more should be given a bye past younger titles. The World Champion is to be the best in the world, and with him he should carry the memories and names of the greats that came before him.

This takes us to All Japan-Pro’s United Triple Crown. The titles within can be traced back to the 50s and have indeed included great champions from the NWA and PWF. In addition, All Japan is a company whose reputation has made its way to many American wrestling fans, mainly through its associations with the NWA and WCW in the 1970s and with the AWA in the 1980s. Yet the prestige of a world champion should be more than a passing familiarity, and All Japan and Pororesu has simply failed to make a real impact into the American wrestling fan psyche in the same way that the WWF/WWE and American wrestling has affected Japan. American fans are simply not aware of it, even if the very product they are watching is heavily shaped by it. The World Champion must be perceived as on top by all wrestling fans across the globe, and far too many fans simply would not recognize the United Triple Crown title.

This takes up to the clear leading contender in World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE has the lineage, having established their title 40 years ago and managing to keep it on top for its entire existence. Former WWWF/WWF/WWE champions are the greatest of the business. WWE is also the hands down leading global wrestling federation. The company has a presence in any part of the world to which they venture, and those that they don't eagerly anticipate their arrival. WWE is the "big league" of wrestling, financially, commercially and when it comes to competition. The WWE World Title would be the hands down winner of this competition, if not for two things.

There is no WWE world champion. In their efforts to expand their own world into two separate sections, they have effectively lost a leading man. The World Champion must be able to claim that he is the best in the world, and yet there is no man who can claim that he is the best within WWE. The drastic upheaval of the WWE title scene in the past year has horribly confused the legacy that the belt carries. Which belt carries the legacy of the WWF title? Which carries that of the WCW title? Do either of them carry the legacy of the US and IC titles now that they have been reinstated? When WWE decides they wish to choose a man to lead them, than they may make their claim on the World Champion title.

In addition, WWE fails in the issue of competition. While the competition is fierce within their own company, the WWE champion has not dared to leave his own company since the 1970s. WWE has no need to extend beyond its own reach, and thus does not unless it is to build on its own foundation. A true World Champion must be one that competes across the world and is undisputed because he would gladly confront anyone who would dare to argue. It was when the WWWF left the NWA that they realized that it suited them better to have a champion under their control, and there is no logical reason for them to give up on that notion any time soon.

And there's the National Wrestling Alliance. One thing that is hard to debate is that they have the lineage. The NWA World Heavyweight Championship has been a mainstay for the last 80 years and can claim lineage even further. During some of that time, the NWA title may have even been considered the default world championship. Those days are long past, however, as the NWA was ravaged by 10 years of chaos and inner turmoil.  The ’91 stripping of the Title from Flair resulted in the first vacancy of the Title’s history, one that lasted until August of ‘92.  A year later the NWA would again strip Flair of the title, this time due to WCW’s resignation from the NWA.  The result was the title’s second vacancy in a year and WCW creating the illusion of unification when they united Sting’s WCW World Title and Flair’s “WCW International” World Title, a title given to him in the wake of the NWA stripping.  The Title remained vacant for another year before a tournament was held in August ’94 to crown a champion.  The tournament saw Shane Douglas winning the NWA World Title but ultimately refusing the belt, choosing to throw it down and elevating the now dormant Eastern Championship Wrestling World Title in the infamous moment that saw ECW’s departure from the NWA and the birth of Extreme Championship Wrestling.  Chris Candido would end the third NWA Title vacancy three months later but the Title belt would stay around Dan Severn’s waist from ’95 to ’99 without major exposure or extensive competition.  The next four years would see two more vacancies due to injuries to Naoya Ogaawa and Steve Corino and finally the NWA Board unanimously voted to strip Dan Severn of the title in May ’02 when he was unable to commit to a title defense in Jerry Jarrett’s new NWA territory in June.

The NWA title has been in the hands of Jarrett’s Total Nonstop Action for a year now.   TNA has given NWA their first regular television exposure in 10 years as well as a string of high profile and highly competitive champions.  Former champion Jeff Jarrett has taken the Title across the globe and defended it against challengers from every company and country he has visited, including a defense that saw him unifying the NWA Title with the WWA Title with a win over Sting in May.  The Title held by Ron Killings, Jarrett and Styles is the same Title held by Lou Thesz, Buddy Rogers and Flair all those years before but without the same impact.  The last year has done good to repair some of the damage done to the NWA Title over the last decade but has still more do.  While the lineage of the belt is intact and competition continues to grow, the prestige of the championship is only in the early stages of its return.  The NWA champion is simply not important enough to be the World Champion, not in the same way that a WWE champion would be. For that reason, too little respect is given when AJ Styles is named NWA Champion. The history is there, but it has become far too distant a history and the NWA must work to reestablish itself amongst an audience with a short-term memory.

Which is a shame, since NWA fulfills the competition aspect of our "World Champion" that WWE probably never will. The NWA is built upon it. The NWA is not a single federation but rather an organized collection of many. Each NWA member exists independently of the others and has its own rosters, events and champions, but they all agree to accept that there is one man a cut above the rest. In return, that one agrees to become a member of the whole community instead of just his own. The NWA structure is a model of what would be necessary for our "World Champion" scenario — many independent organizations across the globe, all running their own worlds and yet willing to open the doors when the Champion comes knocking, anxious to make him part of their own.

So can there even be an Undisputed World Champion? In days gone by, it was not unheard of for the few World Champions around the globe to compete with each other. In 1978, AWA champ Nick Bockwinkel wrestled WWF champ Bob Backlund to a double count out. A year later, still champ, Backlund had a DQ win over NWA champ Harley Race. In 1981 Backlund confirmed his spot in history by taking on then NWA champ Ric Flair in another count out. In this day and age, such a contest is almost unthinkable. The simple notion of a WCW champion and a WWF champion facing off was earth shattering just a decade after it had last happened. WWE has made no effort nor had any need to work with its various competitors across the world since they established themselves over 20 years ago. If the #1 contender refuses to compete, does he halt the competition as a whole or simply force the other players to take him out of the game?

One of the things that drew me to WCW was how they made me half believe there really was a "wrestling world." The When Worlds Collide pay-per-view was co-sponsored with Mexico's Asistencia, Asesoria y Administracion and had a clear impact with an infusion of stars such as Konnan, Psychosis and Rey Mysterio Jr, who brought with them a whole new style of wrestling. Starrcade 95 saw a war with New Japan wrestling as the top stars of each company squared off to decide the first (and to date only) "World Cup of Wrestling." Again, we were exposed to a new style and new wrestlers, and we were left with stars such as Ultimo Dragon, Masahiro Chono and Kensuki Sasaki. When the nWo became too big for WCW, they sent shirts overseas where Chono, The Great Muta and their own "Sting" built a whole new branch that outlived the original. While the WWF/E was and probably always will be a world in and of itself, WCW and NWA did not feel the need to do the same.

Maybe it's a lesson that the self-contained company won. Perhaps there is only a limited amount of global success and longevity that can be spread across the wrestling world. WWE and its leader are aware enough to know that they must hoard as much of a limited resource as they can get their hands on. Of course, now the WWE is creating an even larger world for itself. If things go as planned, perhaps the WWE will be able to create a microcosm of a theoretical "global territory system." Imagine a WWE 3 years from now when the roster split has proven so successful that the two brands exist as entirely separate businesses, linked only by a company trademark and a silent owner watching from his Tower. What if he decided to venture into areas that he never has and sets the goal to reproduce the success of his business in Japan? A fictional situation, obviously, yet not one that is so far beyond the realm of comprehension. If you can't get the worldwide businessmen to come together, maybe just ignoring them and making your own rules is the only way.

Or maybe the best that can be hoped for is a committee of champions. Styles, Triple H, Lesnar, Hashimoto, and Canek... all of them are in the club. Some are more important than others and get extra perks. Some have inflated views of their importance while some silently grin at the knowledge that they are on the fast track to the top of their inner circle. Yet, they all belong to the club as relative equals because they all know that none of them has the capability or resources available to lead.

Still, I appreciate the effort NWA makes to stand by tradition. They keep up that little delusion I had — that the champ is to be respected and praised — before I matured and grew more cynical. So I vow this, as long as they are willing to send their champ across the globe and let him wrestle with stars from other feds I recognize (and some I don't), well then I'm willing to play along.

On a final note, anyone who has struggled through my pathetic attempt to find a champion should now treat themselves to "The Championship Puzzle" by Norman H. Kietzer.  Written in 1971 for Wrestling Monthly, it is a four-piece analysis of the same question I ask today.  Kietzer does a wonderful job of presenting the arguments for the NWA, WWWF and the now defunct AWA champions and explaining how the trouble ever started.  It is an interesting look at the same issue when it was still young and far less complicated than it is today.

[I apologize for any incorrect information on my part and point you to my resources. www.Wrestling-Titles.com, www.NWAWrestling.com, and www.pororesu.com. These are three wonderfully fun sites for the wrestling geek to kill time, learn some new (old) stuff and waste hours collecting information for a ranting hypothesis.]


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