Ten Pounds Of Gold: The History Of The NWA World's Heavyweight Championship: Part Six
Today's look back takes us through the TNA time period between 2002-2007
Here we are again with another instalment in the history of the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship. We're getting close to bringing this series right up to date, with today's article covering 2002 - 2007. This was an active time for the title as a licencing agreement between the NWA and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling meant that TNA had the exclusive rights to both the NWA World's Heavyweight Title and the NWA World Tag Team Titles for these six years, even though TNA had never officially been an NWA affiliate.
I first heard about TNA around 2005, and it was seeing Christian with the NWA Title which brought the title to my attention for the first time. From that moment on the NWA Title was a firm favourite of mine considering its vast history which we have gone through over the last six weeks. It became my Holy Grail, and as a belt collector, became my number one target.
Unfortunately, getting hold of one was not easy as at the time replicas were not made, commissioning a top spec one would have cost far too much money, and bootleggers were not making quality versions unlike nowadays. I was finally able to get one in March last year and when it arrived, I felt like my collection was complete... At least for a few minutes until I decided which one I needed next, much to the despair of my wife!
I carried that belt to every show I went to that year, and would have carried it to more this year had COVID not decided to balls everything up for everyone! It's one of my top three favourite belts, the others being the White Intercontinental Championship and the fourth version of the Ring of Honor World Championship, often referred to as the one that Cody Rhodes held. Belt collecting is a fun but expensive hobby, and for me it led me to where I am today in researching championships history.
So that leads us nicely onto this week's article. Let's dive in!
Dan Severn's failure to turn up for a scheduled title defence on the first TNA Pay-Per-View left the NWA without a champion once again, and so TNA crowned a new champion at their first Weekly PPV on June 19th, 2002. A "Gauntlet for the Gold" match was announced, with the competitors being Malice, Ken Shamrock, Jeff Jarrett, Buff Bagwell, Lash Leroux, Norman Smiley, Gran Apollo, K-Krush, Slash, Del Rios, Justice, Konnan, Bruce (Alan Funk), Rick Steiner, Scott Hall, Steve Corino, and Brian Christopher.
Ken Shamrock emerged victorious and became NWA World Champion for the first and only time in his career. Shamrock, as most people know, is a legitimate fighter, having competed in Mixed Martial Arts, and also had a run with WWF in the 1990's, where he won a Tag Team Championship and an Intercontinental Championship, as well as winning the King of the Ring tournament. He also won several MMA Championships and tournaments throughout his career.
Despite his impressive list of accomplishments, his reign as NWA World's Heavyweight Champion lasted only 49 days, as he dropped the title at NWATNA #8 on August 7th to a man we all know and love, Ron Killings.
Before he was lighting up our screens and bringing smiles to everyone's faces as the record holding 44-time WWE 24/7 Champion (although by the time this drops that may have changed again!), the man now known as R-Truth was wowing fans for TNA. After a brief WWE run prior as K-Kwik, he joined TNA and was instantly one of their top stars.
As a student he was a standout, and was offered various college scholarships, but he dreamed of achieving success with music and so turned them down in order to pursue his dream. Unfortunately, he got involved in drug dealing to fund his music recordings, and ended up being jailed for 13 months after a series of arrests. After his release from prison, he met Jim Crockett at a halfway house, who attempted to persuade Killings to train as a wrestler, but he was determined to succeed in music. After two years of trying to build his music brand, he contacted Crockett and expressed interest in training as a wrestler, and Crockett helped this become a reality. He debuted in 1997 as a manager for Manny Fernandez, before becoming K-Krush for NWA Wildside, winning their NWA Wildside TV Title.
In 1999, he signed for WWE and stayed with them until 2002, spending the first year in developmental down in Memphis. When he was promoted to the main roster, he was teamed with Road Dogg and the two pursued the Tag Team Titles, but were not successful. After a couple of very brief Hardcore Title reigns, he was released in 2002.
Killings was a good champion, but his reign ended at 105 days when he lost the title to one of the founding fathers of TNA, Jeff Jarrett.
Everyone knows Double J. From his time in WWE, WCW and of course TNA, he is a multiple time World Champion. Upon leaving WCW after his contract was not acquired when WWE bought them out, he created TNA with his father, Jerry. The plan for them was to create a viable alternative to WWE's more family friendly product, something for the more hardcore fans to enjoy. Jarrett's vision came to pass as TNA picked up a lot of traction early on, by promoting new stars that people had not really seen before or had not been given a fair chance. People like AJ Styles, Ron Killings, Sonny Siaki and a host of others all benefitted from this new company, and were able to raise their stock significantly.
In fact, between November 20th, 2002 and May 15th, 2005, the title was traded back and forth between Jeff Jarrett, AJ Styles and Ron Killings seven times, AJ and Jarrett winning three, and Killings getting another short reign.
It seems almost insulting to talk about AJ Styles in a manner which suggests you, the reader, may not know who he is, but in keeping with the theme of the articles, I will give a brief history of the Phenomenal One.
Allen Neal Jones, or AJ Styles as we all know him, was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina on June 2nd, 1977. Having been trained by Rick Michaels, AJ debuted in 1998, and made waves on the independent scene, competing for Georgia-based National Championship Wrestling as well as NWA Wildside. He briefly signed with WCW in 2001 before they went under, teaming with Air Paris in a tournament for the WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Titles, losing in the first round.
From there he found a home with TNA for many years, capturing many championships, becoming a five-time TNA Triple Crown Champion and a two-time TNA Grand Slam Champion, before moving on to have major success in Japan with NJPW, winning the IWGP Heavyweight Title twice. In early 2016, AJ made his debut for WWE as a surprise Royal Rumble entrance, and from there has gone on to hold the Intercontinental Championship, the United States Championship three times, and the WWE Championship twice. Add to this his titles from stints with Ring of Honor, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and a reign as British-based Revolution Pro Wrestling's British Heavyweight Champion, it's fair to say AJ has had an incredible career.
It should be mentioned that during that time period, Ray Gonzalez did briefly win the NWA World Title, but the reign was reversed and ignored as the wrong referee made the count in the match. This was likely the storyline at the time of the show going ahead.
By winning the title on May 15th, 2005, AJ marked his third reign as the NWA World's Heavyweight Champion, and walked into that years Slammiversary as the champion. Unfortunately, he didn't walk out as the champion, as he lost in the shows main event to ECW legend, Raven, himself a former ECW World Champion and multi time WWE Hardcore Champion.
Raven's storied career took him everywhere. From ECW, to WCW and WWF, winning titles wherever he went. He was involved in a famous feud with Tommy Dreamer in ECW, and also in the controversial angle of crucifying the Sandman, which angered a young Kurt Angle so much that he refused to ever associate with ECW again, as at the time he was just breaking into the business and didn't want his name dragged down.
A Philadelphia native, he debuted in 1988 as Scotty the Body in Memphis, before travelling to Canada to compete there. When he came back to the states, he was established as a top heel for Pacific Northwest Wrestling based in Oregon. He ended up signing for WCW in 1992, then WWF in 1993, before joining ECW in 1995. In fact, Raven would jump between the three promotions throughout the nineties.
Raven's reign as NWA World Champion lasted 88 days, before Jeff Jarrett claimed his fourth World Title by beating him at the BCW International Incident even in Canada on September 15, 2005, which ensured he would walk into TNA's biggest show, Bound For Glory, as the World Champion. At Bound For Glory, Jarrett lost the World Title to another ECW Original, Rhino, but his reign only lasted two days before Jarrett reclaimed the title on the next weekly PPV.
Jeff Jarrett would hold the title for the remainder of 2005 and beyond, losing the title to a man well known for five second poses and TLC matches; Christian.
Christian, or Christian Cage as he was known in TNA, is something of a wrestling legend. With his long-time tag team partner and best friend, Edge, the two of them won multiple tag team titles in the Attitude Era, as well as singles success during his second run with WWE by winning two ECW World Titles, two World Heavyweight Titles, and four separate Intercontinental Titles between 2001 and his retirement.
He most memorably won the World Heavyweight Title which had been vacated by Edge when he retired, beating Alberto Del Rio in a ladder match to claim the title. After this he was sporadically used in main event slots, before sliding down the card and becoming a staple of the midcard division. The majority of his career was spent with the larger companies, only spending a small amount of time on the indies over the course of a near 20-year career.
Christian's World Title run was longer than most had been in this period of time. At 126 days, it is the joint longest reign of the TNA period, a record held by Christian himself and the man who was displaying "Strangler" Ed Lewis tendencies and who he would lose the title to, Jeff Jarrett.
This would be Jarrett's sixth and last run as NWA World's Heavyweight Champion, and he tied Christian's record of 126 days with this reign. Jarrett won the last of his World Titles in a match that was exclusive to TNA, the King of the Mountain match.
Essentially a reverse ladder match, the aim was to hang the title belt on a hook above the ring, but to do so you first had to pin one of the other competitors to become eligible. Once eligible, you could take the title from the referee and attempt to climb the ladder and hang the belt, while the person you pinned served a two-minute penalty in the penalty box. The match had its critics over the years but it was unique and original. The NWA Title was defended in this type of match three times, each in June, between 2004 -2006.
With the title back in the hands of Jarrett, TNA was going from strength to strength, and had many notable names on their roster. One of those notable names would be someone who had held the NWA World Title once before, back in the nineties, "The Icon" Sting.
Having left WCW after their acquisition by WWE and refusing to sign for them, Sting took around eighteen months off before resurfacing with World Wrestling All Stars in 2002 as they embarked on a World Tour. He would eventually win their World Title, and successfully defended the title against Rick Steiner, Shane Douglas and Disco Inferno before losing to Jeff Jarrett in New Zealand. The title was then unified with the NWA World's Heavyweight Title, as Jarrett was Champion at the time. He signed for TNA in 2004, initially making sporadic appearances and recording pieces for interviews and angles before moving on to feud with Jeff Jarrett over the title. Sting would win the title from Jarrett at Bound For Glory in October 2006.
So, with Sting now the Champion, Jarrett quietly moved out of the title picture, and Sting would be the man to the carry the company forward. Well, at least for the next 28 days before he lost the title to "The Monster" Abyss at the Genesis Pay-Per-View.
Abyss had been a mainstay of TNA since the beginning, and was something of a cult hero for the fans. wearing a half mask not too dissimilar to that of Mick Foley's Mankind, Abyss was known for the more hardcore and brutal style of wrestling, taking part in many weapons-based matches and Monsters Ball matches. During his time with TNA, Abyss feuded with most of the top stars such as AJ Styles, Jeff Hardy, Jeff Jarrett and a host of others, all the while with Father James Mitchell by his side.
Having debuted in 1995, Abyss, under his previous names of the Original Terminator, Chris Justice and Prince Justice, competed on the independent circuit, mainly for Northwest Wrestling Federation where was trained, before moving onto NWA Wildside in 2001 and winning their Tag Team Titles with AJ Styles. in 2002, he made the move to IWA Puerto Rico, where he had a lot of success winning their Hardcore, Intercontinental and Tag Team Titles. During this time, he also made his debut for TNA, appearing at their first PPV, but under the name "Justice".
Abyss was with TNA both on and off screen for almost seventeen years, combining his time there with independent bookings and winning multiple titles such as the OVW Heavyweight Championship as well as numerous regional NWA Championships. He has since retired from in ring competition and is now a producer for the WWE. Given how much blood, sweat and tears the man put into the business, no one can deny he earned his opportunity with WWE.
It may not have been known at the time, but Abyss was the penultimate NWA World's Heavyweight Champion of the TNA era, as 56 days after winning the title, he would lose the title to Christian Cage for his second reign, which would clock in at 119 days. Abyss lost the title to Christian in a three-way elimination match involving himself and Sting.
As the Sacrifice PPV approached, it became public knowledge that NWA and TNA would be ending their association, and so TNA would be looking to crown the inaugural TNA World Heavyweight Champion at the PPV in a King of the Mountain match. Christian's reign came to an official end on May 13th, 2007 as Kurt Angle won the TNA Title. At this point, the NWA Title was declared vacant upon Christian's loss.
After a long period of activity, the NWA World's Heavyweight Title was vacant once again, and it would remain vacant for around four months, until it hit the independent circuit once more...
Thanks for reading this week's instalment. This was an interesting but tough one to write as we move into modern times and most people knowing all about this particular era, but next week we will delve into the more recent history of the title as it hit the independent scene and became embroiled in a year's long feud.
The previous articles in this series can all be found below if you have missed any:
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