Going Global: How A Championship Becomes A World Championship

07.06.15 4 years ago 5 Comments

Wow, what a weekend. We’re a few days removed from July 4, and nothing on the internet stays a secret for long, so I don’t feel any spoiler-based anxiety about telling you that Finn Bálor is your new NXT Champion after winning the title at the Ryōgoku Sumo Hall in Tokyo, Japan. As good as the match was (seriously, I have to go back and watch it at least twice more today), there’s now a very important discussion we should be having about NXT. Consider the following: Bálor should now probably be referred to as NXT World Champion.

In pro wrestling terminology, a promotion’s top championship is only considered a world championship after a defense in a foreign country. You’re probably somewhat familiar with the world title lineage of places like WWE, WCW, and the National Wrestling Alliance, but who else can boast about having a world champion? Let’s take a look at some other internationally recognized titles, and how they got that way.

The Original World Wrestling Heavyweight Champion

The first recognized world champion precedes governing organizations like the NWA or the World Wide Wrestling Federation. In the early 20th century, George Hackenschmidt won numerous catch wrestling tournaments across Europe. By defeating American heavyweight champion Tom Jenkins in a 1905 bout held in New York City, he was finally recognized as not just a European champion, but as rightful wrestling champion of the world. His title was eventually woven into the lineage of the NWA, establishing their “Domed Globe” title as a world championship. In the years to come, multiple NWA offshoots would also name claim world-title status due to this history.

The 1950s And Onward

When professional wrestling started to become Professional Wrestling (as we know it today), title histories began to get severely cluttered. Vacated championships and crazy stipulations turn into footnotes that take up entire paragraphs, so forgive me for leaving some minutiae out. Lou Thesz’s run with the NWA world title took him to Canada multiple times in the mid-’50s. But eventually, an iffy disqualification finish with “The Flying Frenchman” Édouard Carpentier basically created parallel wrestling universes. The prime timeline led to the NWA heyday of Thesz, Buddy Rogers and Dusty Rhodes, not to mention a world championship that changed hands in Japan several times among the likes of Giant Baba, Jack Brisco and The Great Muta. Meanwhile, territories that recognized Carpentier as the winner gave life to the alternate reality known as the AWA. While primarily an American title, the AWA World Heavyweight Championship would be won twice in Tokyo, one time each by Jumbo Tsuruta and Mr. Saito. The AWA would go on to collapse in the early ’90s, but that wouldn’t deter other promotions in the decades to come. Titles in various promotions began racking up international defenses, eventually resulting in a proliferation of more world championships. Among them are…

Ring Of Honor

After crowning their first champion in 2002, Ring of Honor began to tour internationally. On a European tour in 2003, Samoa Joe would successfully defend the ROH Championship in London, cementing its status as a world title. Joe’s opponent was The Zebra Kid, incidentally. Oh, you don’t know The Zebra Kid? Well, you probably know his little sister. She’s been doing well for herself, I’d say.

Combat Zone Wrestling

In the early Light Tubes ‘R’ Us days of CZW, the promotion did quite a bit of European touring. After initially crowning their first champion in the spring of 1999, they landed world-championship status in 2001 when founder John Zandig lost the title to Wifebeater in Birmingham, England. I’m sure that was an interesting stop with the English customs department.

Pro Wrestling Guerilla

Southern California’s hottest independent promotion has done their share of traveling as well. After finding their first champion in 2003, PWG left the friendly confines of Reseda for a “European Vacation” tour in 2006, making stops in England and Germany. Joey Ryan would successfully defend the title there during his 400+ day reign. To this day, Ryan still has the record for most PWG title defenses, with a resounding 19.

At the end of the day, it’s easy to engrave “World” on a belt before “Champion,” but that kind of prestige can only be earned when a promotion goes international. Whether we end up getting an official name change or not, we should think about the NXT Championship on a new level. I really do hope they make it official, though, because William Regal could probably say all of this a lot more eloquently.

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