Bygone Belts: Exploring The Obscure Wrestling Championships You’ll Be Surprised Existed

This Sunday marks the return of Clash of Champions, a night when every Raw title will be defended, so what better time to shine a light on some of wrestling’s lesser-known titles? We’re all well-acquainted the major WWE championships, and you may have a soft spot in your heart for retired belts like the WCW Cruiserweight or WWF Hardcore Championships, but what about the truly obscure titles? The slightly strange titles? The ones nobody remembers?

Here’s a few titles that were defended in major U.S. promotions that you’ve probably never heard of, or possibly thought you just imagined …

WWF International Heavyweight Championship

Years Active: 1959 – 1985

The WWF International Heavyweight Championship actually predates the main WWE Heavyweight Championship, as it was first won by Antonino Rocca back in 1959 when WWE was still known as the Capitol Wrestling Corporation. The belt served as a top title for CWC for a while, until they officially broke away from the NWA, became the WWWF and crowned their first WWWF World Heavyweight Champion in Buddy Rogers.

The WWF International Heavyweight Championship would be put on ice for years, but would mysteriously resurface in 1982. From then on, the title would mainly be defended in Japan as part of a partnership between WWF and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Japanese legends like Tatsumi Fujinami and Riki Choshu held the belt, but when WWF and NJPW ended their partnership, the title disappeared for good.

NWA World Midget’s Championship

Lord Littlebrook with the somewhat less than 10 pounds of gold.

Years Active: 1949 – 2009

Hoo boy. Okay, so the NWA World Midget’s Championship may no longer be terribly politically correct, but we’ll get through this together. Little person wrestlers have been a staple of the business since the beginning, and were legit draws in the ’40s and ’50s, so they certainly deserved their own belt. The NWA World Midget’s Championship is actually one of the oldest and most prestigious belts on this list, having been active on and off since 1949 and held by legendary short-statured stars like Sky Low Low and Lord Littlebrook.

WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship

Years Active: 1965 – 1985

WWE has always been a big guy promotion, but as far back as the mid-’60s, they had a belt for smaller, more agile competitors. In 1978, Tatsumi Fujinami won belt and took it to New Japan Pro Wrestling, where it became the company’s most hotly-contested title, being traded by the likes of Fujinami, Tiger Mask and Dynamite Kid. The belt was officially retired in 1985, but it served as the predecessor to the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, the most prestigious Junior Heavyweight/Cruiserweight title in the world. So yeah, the Cruiserweight Classic wasn’t the first time WWE made a big impact on the world of “little guy” wrestling.

NWA World Brass Knuckles Championship

Years Active: 1960 – 1984

Now here’s a title for manly men! Men who like to punch each other in the face with brass knuckles! Rarrr! There were actually several versions of the NWA Brass Knuckles Championship, but the longest-lasting and most “prestigious” was the one defended in the NWA’s Florida territory. As its name implies, the belt was only put on the line in brass knuckles matches and held by pug-ugly mugs like Blackjack Mulligan and Dirty Dick Slater. Presumably the belt was retired when fans started to question why these guys punching each other with brass knuckles every night weren’t, y’know, dead.

WWF World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship

Years Active: 1978 – 1989

Yup, WWE had an official shoot fighting championship 15 years before UFC even existed. Essentially created as a vanity belt for Antonio Inoki, who promoted himself as a legit tough guy, the title was, supposedly, only defended in shoot wrestling matches, although most of them still had their fair share of fakery and theater. Inoki held the title for over a decade without a break, before retiring the belt in the late ’80s when his in-ring career began to wind down. (“Wind down” in wrestling terms, of course. Inoki didn’t have his final match until 1998.)

WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship

Years Active: 1983 – 1989

Despite the fact that we’re in the midst of the much-ballyhooed Women’s Revolution, WWE remains gun shy about pulling the trigger on new WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships. They had one back in the ’80s, though! The mid-’80s were an interesting, underrated era for women’s wrestling in WWE – you had the road-hardened Fabulous Moolah proteges, younger stars like Wendi Richter, and elite Japanese badasses like the legendary Crush Gals all mixing it up together. The WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship may not be well-remembered today, but any belt held by the Jumping Bomb Angels is plenty prestigious in my eyes.

WWF Canadian Championship

Years Active: 1985 – 1986

Be proud, fellow Canucks; the WWF gave our proud poutine-munching nation its very own title back in 1985! Which existed for all of five months. And had exactly one champion. Who was Dino Bravo. Yeesh. Well, we still have Bret Hart and Renee Young.

Yes, as WWF was expanding back in the mid-’80s, it bought up Montreal-based International Wrestling, and since the McMahon family was close with the owners, they gave their top star Dino Bravo a title. I assume Bravo gave it up when his fellow Canadians got all shirty about him parading around with his fancy belt like he was all that and a bag of ketchup chips.

WCW World Six-Man Tag Team Championships

The Freebirds weren’t exactly in their prime when they won the Six-Man Titles.

Years Active: 1991

Surprisingly, the WCW World Six-Man Tag Team Championships had nothing to do with the lucha libre invasion of the late ’90s. No, the Six-Man Tag Belts were a thing that existed for around nine months back in 1991, and mainly existed to give The Fabulous Freebirds something to do on house shows. Eventually The York Foundation won the belts, and the title died of apathy.

WCW International World Heavyweight Championship

Years Active: 1993 – 1994

Some rather confusing history behind this one. Prior to 1991 the WCW Champion technically held both the NWA and WCW World Heavyweight Championships, although the champ only carried the infamous NWA “Big Gold Belt.” When Ric Flair hightailed it to WWF in ’91, he took his big shiny belt buckle with him, causing a separation of the NWA and WCW Titles. WCW had a new belt made, but then Ric returned, Big Gold Belt in tow, so suddenly the company had two straps kicking around.

WCW withdrew from the NWA shortly after Ric’s comeback, but wanted to keep the recently-reacquired Big Gold Belt, so they said it represented “WCW International,” a foreign branch of the WCW that didn’t actually exist. The title, which was largely defended in Japan, was held by some pretty respectable names, including Ric Flair, Sting, Rick Rude and Hiroshi Hase, but WCW (rightfully) dropped the whole confusing two titles scheme after a couple years.

WCW Women’s Championship

Madusa vs Akira Hokuto-WCW Women's Title Finals by TSteck160

Years Active: 1996 – 1997

WCW was never exactly a hotbed for women’s wrestling – the only truly memorable moment the company mustered was Madusa tossing the WWF Women’s Title in the trash, which didn’t portend great things. That said, WCW did have a women’s title. The title was first won by Akira Hokuto at Starrcade ’96, then rarely seen or mentioned on American TV until it was forgotten altogether in late 1997.

WCW Women’s Cruiserweight Championship

Toshie Uematsu vs Malia Hosaka by krazyeman

Years Active: 1997

Actually, WCW had two women’s championships in the mid-’90s. It’s hard to say what the point of the WCW Women’s Cruiserweight Championship was, since, presumably, most of the ladies competing for the regular WCW Women’s Championship were under 220 pounds. The Women’s Cruiserweight Title was just vaguely defined as a belt for smaller-than-usual women. Bet Alexa Bliss wishes they’d dust it off. Much like the main WCW Women’s Championship, the Cruiserweight belt was first won on American WCW TV by Toshie Uematsu, then taken to Japan and promptly abandoned.

ECW FTW Heavyweight Championship

Years Active: 1998 – 1999

In early 1998, ECW World Heavyweight Champion Shane Douglas was beset by injuries, and so were most of his viable contenders (shocking, I know), so in order to keep some sort of championship in play, Paul Heyman had up-and-comer Taz declare himself the ECW F*ck the World Heavyweight Champion. According to storylines, the FTW Championship wasn’t recognized by ECW, but it was defended just like a regular belt, and many fans saw Taz are a more legitimate champ than the aging Douglas. Eventually Taz would win the real ECW Title and retire his belt, but given ECW’s general attitude, they really should have stuck with the F*ck the World belt.

There you are, a few titles you definitely won’t see defended at Clash of Champions. What are some of your favorite underappreciated or obscure championships? Let’s talk titles, below.

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