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AEW's First World Champion - Brief History of "World Champions" (1905-2019)

posted Sep 4, 2019, 6:33 PM by Wrestling Scout
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Last night at AEW's "All Out" show, they crowned their first World Champion when Chris Jericho defeated Hangman Page.  It is a beginning point for a new championship title, but these sort of starts are not all that unusual.  Dating back nearly one hundred and fifty years, there have been men claiming to be, promoters advertising and companies declaring that not-all-that-allusive "World Champion" billing.

In the early twentieth, "World Champion" claims were different.  Someone needed to build a reputation beating some of the top wrestlers and do some traveling to support their claim.  While debating about the "shoot versus work" aspect of this pioneer era seems a bit futile.  There were several men who might have made such claims, but the first one of note was George Hackenschmidt.

Hackenschmidt lost to American Frank Gotch, who eventually retired as the top claimant.  Therefore, the "World Championship" became a hotly debated item.  By the late 1920s, the pro-wrestling seen was fractured and promoters, athletic commissions and other organizations began weighing in on who the legitimate "World Champion" was.
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(American Wrestling Association) 

(New York State Athletic Commission)
Dick Shikat -1929

(National Wrestling Association)
Jim Londos - 1930

MWA (Midwest Wrestling Association) - Ohio
John Pesek - 1931

The power struggle between the Eastern promoters began to change when the National Wrestling Alliance was formed.  This new group soon developed into a powerful monopoly in the post-war years.  While regional groups broke away and established their own claimants, the NWA World Champion became the standard across the world.

While Orville Brown was the initial champion, it was his immediate successor, Lou Thesz, who took the NWA World Championship from just another regionally recognized "World Championship" to the prominence it enjoyed for the next forty years.

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(National Wrestling Alliance)

As the challenges of the road and the potential of lucrative opportunities abroad faced Lou Thesz, he and promoters decided that he would help establish some regional stars as "World Championship" claimants.  After a while, he would return and reaffirm his standing as THE World Champion.  Edouardo Carpentier was the appointed star and he and Thesz had some controversial decisions that allowed Carpentier and promoters to make a claim.  It was his claim that was used in Omaha, Boston and Los Angeles to establish those "World Championship" titles in the late 1950s.

Omaha - 1957
Boston - 1957
WWA (Los Angeles) - 1959


WWA (Indianapolis)

In the 1960s and 1970s, the NWA was still strong, but overseas 
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there were new opportunities to make money in pro-wrestling.  The JWA had long recognized the NWA champion and even its successors - All Japan and New Japan - continued to do so into the 1980s.  The WCW in Australia, the IWE in Japan, the UWA in Mexico and the CWA in Central Europe or Joint Promotions in the UK all established champions.  They brought in an established foreign star who helped establish their own local hero.

WCW (Australia)

IWE (Japan)




UWA (Mexico)
Lou Thesz - 1977

CWA (Austria)
Otto Wanz - 1977

Joint Promotions (Britain)

By the mid-1980s, the pro-wrestling landscape had changed.  
The WWF had used their own lineage to establish a champion and the NWA had largely been taken over by Jim Crockett Promotions and the champion did not make the rounds as frequently.  Therefore, the most established offices created their own "World Champions."

Rick Rude - 1986


New Japan / IWGP


All Japan / Triple Crown

By the 1990s, the old territories had died out, strong promotions were established and occasionally new ones were created.  The new "World 
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Champion" even became an angle.  In ECW, the WWE and TNA, the controversial recognition of a new champion was often a substantial storyline.  It might have a hint of reality to it, but it was rarely a matter of a double-cross as it might have been decades ago.

Ric Flair - 1991

Konnan - 1991



WWE Undisputed

WWE World Heavyweight
Triple H - 2002

Low-Ki - 2002

Kurt Angle - 2007

El Mesias - 2007