Ten Pounds Of Gold: The History Of The NWA World's Heavyweight Championship: Part Four
Paul is here with part four, and this one is a long read, so get comfortable.
It's Monday, which means it is time to delve back into the history books again as we continue our look back through the history of possibly the world's most prestigious title, the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship.
Some will argue that the WWE World Championship is more prestigious, and there is an argument to be made for that. However, when you consider that the WWE Championship essentially broke away from the NWA Title, it could be argued that the NWA Title is more prestigious as a result, at least in this writer's opinion.
In any case, there are of course other prestigious titles out there. The IWGP Heavyweight Championship is one that garners a lot of respect also, and will no doubt be the subject of an article like this one somewhere down the line, and the Ring of Honor World Championship has also amassed an impressive reputation since its inception in 2002. Over time, there is no doubt that the All Elite Wrestling World Championship will also build a prestige and respect that is already beginning to show.
Of course, these are just the active titles, and does not take into account other defunct titles that have been retired or discontinued over time. Some of those will be briefly covered in the coming weeks of this series, and others will get their own time to shine later down the line.
For now though, let's get back to the NWA World Title, as we pick up from where we left off last with Kerry von Erich holding the belt.
So, sit back, relax, and read on as we once again take a trip through time to the 1980's.
When Kerry von Erich won the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship, it felt like a defining moment in his career. Despite having a hugely successful career in the Texas territory for World Class Championship Wrestling, NWA Big Time Wrestling, and World Class Wrestling Association, this was the big prize, and one that really put him on the map. During his time in the Texas territory Kerry won 37 Championships, with the NWA World Title being the big one, and as mentioned in last week's article had one reign as WWF intercontinental Champion also.
Kerry's reign with the NWA World Title was to be short-lived though, as just 18 days after winning the title, he lost it back to Ric Flair at a live event in Yokosuka, Japan on May 24th, 1984. According to the decision made by the NWA Board of Directors, Kerry's reign was only ever meant to be a short one, and he was to drop the title back to Flair before the Night of Champions supercard five nights later.
So, with Flair back in control of the NWA World Title, he took on Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat at the aforementioned Night of Champions show on May 29th and successfully defended the title in what was described as an outstanding match. It's hard to imagine these two ever having a bad match, as their chemistry together in the ring was so brilliant.
After defeating Steamboat, Flair continued to defend the title. By early 1985, Jim Crockett Promotions was taking more control over NWA territories, and controlling much of the decisions when it came to the Champion. As such, Flair was their choice due to his being a major star. On February 14th, 1986, while still the Champion, the belt design changed and Flair was presented with the "Big Gold Belt" His reign continued and he held the title for a little over two years altogether before dropping it to Dusty Rhodes on 26th July, at the second of two Great American Bash shows in 1986. It was during this feud, which continued for several months, that led to the legendary "Hard Times" promo from Dusty in October 1985. It's worth noting that around this time Dusty became the booker of JCP, which would also eventually merge with WCW around 1988, but more on that later.
This was to be Dusty's final reign as NWA World Champion, and it lasted just 14 days before dropping it back to Ric Flair, who then went on to hold the title for another 412 days. It's hard to believe that at this point this was only Flair's fifth reign.
Flair's fifth reign was ended on September 25th, 1987, on an episode of NWA World Wide Wrestling, a syndicated TV show emanating from Detroit, Michigan. This was the only time the title ever changed hands on this particular show, and the man who took the title from Flair on that day was Ron Garvin.
Ron Garvin, or Roger Barnes to give him his birth name, was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada on March 30th, 1945. He began his wrestling career in 1962, wrestling under his birth name. He became "Ron Garvin" in the mid-sixties when he began teaming with Terry Garvin as the Garvin Brothers, and the duo picked up numerous tag team championships. What made this team a little strange was that they were managed by their "older brother", Jimmy Garvin, who was actually Ron's stepson, and in the 1980's Ron and Jimmy had an intense feud with the Rougeau's on the Montreal circuit.
by 1984 Ron Garvin had joined JCP, and feuded with many of their top stars of the time, including the Jim Cornette led Midnight Express, and at Starrcade '85 he teamed with Jimmy Valiant to take on the Midnight Express in an Atlanta Street Fight. In this match though, he was not Ron Garvin, but dressed in drag and wrestled as "Miss Atlanta Lively". by 1987, Garvin was regularly teaming with Barry Windham and feuding with the Midnight Express over the United States Tag Team Championships. He briefly teamed with Jimmy Garvin during this time too as Jimmy turned face, but ultimately whichever combination face the Express, despite winning non-title matches they were never able to capture the titles.
Garvin's feud with Flair began in 1987, with flair lusting after Garvin's valet, Precious. When Flair won a match with the stipulation that he would be allowed to take Precious on a date, Garvin ambushed him as "Miss Atlanta Lively". Flair once referred to Garvin as having "Hands of Stone" which gave Garvin his first moniker in wrestling as "The Man with Hands of Stone". They would trade victories throughout 1987 in matches that were both incredible and intense, and would sell out arenas wherever they went. The feud took a major twist when Garvin was able to beat Flair and claim the NWA World Title from him. Garvin won numerous titles throughout his career, but this would prove to be his only major World Title win.
Garvin's reign would last just 62 days, as he would lose it back to Ric Flair on November 26th, 1987. Flair began another lengthy reign as NWA World's Heavyweight Champion, but things took a turn when Jim Crockett Promotions was bought by Ted Turner and renamed World Championship Wrestling on November 21st, 1988. Three months after the purchase and rebrand, Flair lost the title once again, this time to a man I mentioned briefly earlier; Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat.
Anyone who has ever watched professional wrestling from the eighties and nineties should know the name Ricky Steamboat. A phenomenally gifted athlete and performer, Steamboat defined a generation with his wrestling acumen and his ability to cut serious promos which would add to the intensity of a program. He joined JCP in 1977, having previously worked for the AWA under his real name, Richard Blood. Steamboat has a mixed ancestry, as his mother was Japanese and his father English, but he was born in New York, which made him something of a unique performer at the time. His "Dragon" gimmick was actually given to him during his first WWF/E run between 1985 and 1988, and is influenced by his Asian features and his mother's heritage. After being introduced to the gimmick upon signing with WWF, he would then keep it for the remainder of his career.
During his early years with JCP, Steamboat did actually defeat Ric Flair for the NWA Mid-Atlantic Television Championship, just one of many titles he was able to win during his distinguished career. Their personalities played off each other perfectly. Steamboat, the quiet babyface, meshing with Flair's brash, cocky and arrogant attitude. Matches between the two were never short on quality, and stand the test of time in ways most matches could only dream of.
After spending three years in the WWF, where he won the Intercontinental Championship once, he returned to the NWA, or more specifically, WCW in January 1989 as a surprise tag team partner for Eddie Gilbert against then NWA World Champion, Ric Flair and Barry Windham. Steamboat would pick up the pinfall against Flair in this match and this would serve as the catalyst to reboot their years long feud, and a title match was set for February 20th at the Chi-Town Rumble. It was at this event that Steamboat beat Flair and became NWA World's Heavyweight Champion for the first, and indeed only, time in his career. During his time as Champion, he defended the title against Tiger Mask II in All Japan Pro Wrestling, and is the last man to do so in that promotion, and actually successfully defended the title against Flair in April 1989, albeit under some controversy.
As a result of the controversial ending to their prior title match, another match between the two was booked for the WrestleWar show in May. It was billed as their final rematch, and once again Ric Flair got the win to walk away with the gold. The series of matches between the two ring generals was heralded as some of the finest work the pro wrestling world had ever seen.
After defeating Steamboat and taking the title for a seventh time, Ric once again embarked on a long reign as Champion. holding the title for exactly 14 months before it was once again wrestled from his grip. This time the man who took the title was someone who until the very last days of his in-ring career was famous for having never set foot in a WWE ring. I am, of course, referring to the one and only, Sting.
Steve Borden is a wrestling legend. From his days as a surfer dude to his Crow-inspired gimmick in the nineties, Sting amazed fans all over the world. Beginning his career in 1985 at the age of 26, the Omaha native started with the Continental Wrestling Association as Flash, before moving onto the Universal Wrestling Federation in 1986 where he became Sting and found early success by winning three UWF Tag Team Titles. At one point, Sting was being primed to win their Television Title, but once UWF was bought by JCP, head booker Dusty Rhodes chose to unify the UWF TV Title with JCP's own, and instead chose Shane Douglas to be the transitional champion so as not to tarnish Sting's growing reputation.
Sting was seen to be one of the few UWF guys who could be a potential star, and as such he was retained by the NWA, and they began to build him up as a main event level guy. In the build-up to winning his first World Title, Sting would face Ric Flair on numerous occasions, never quite coming out on top but showing himself to be a serious contender and threat to Flair's crown. He continued to be booked in title matches again NWA United States Champion Barry Windham and NWA TV Champion Mike Rotunda, winning the latter championship.
Sting was feuding with the Four Horsemen in 1990 when an injury cut short his storyline. This led to a scenario where WCW, the dominant NWA affiliate at the time, wanted Flair to drop the title to Lex Luger at WrestleWar, however, Flair refused, saying he had promised Sting he would hold it until his return. Flair was true to his word, and Sting captured the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship for the first time on July 7th, 1990, at the Great American Bash.
Sting was a great champion for the NWA, and carried the title well, but his reign, as seems to be the case when taking the title from Flair, was a relatively short one. Just 188 days later on January 11th, 1991, Flair was once again the NWA World Champion, and was also officially recognised as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion too, with the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship belt representing both.
Flair's latest run was interrupted by a brief run by Tatsumi Fujinami, after flair lost the title to him during Starrcade in the Tokyo Dome on March 21st of that year, and while the title was briefly defended alongside the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, which Fujinami held, neither the NWA or WCW initially recognised this reign or title change.
Considering the level of respect Fujinami held as a competitor, this seems to me like it was incredibly disrespectful towards someone of his calibre. The title change was eventually recognised, albeit briefly, before it was switched back to Flair on May 19th. Fujinami had an incredible career, holding the IWGP Heavyweight Championship six times, as well as numerous other titles such as the IWGP Tag Team Championship, WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, and the WCWA World Heavyweight Championship. He was also inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2015. Bret Hart has been quoted as saying in the past;
"I always wanted to be the great wrestler that Tatsumi Fujinami was."
It's safe to say that whether his NWA World Title reign was recognised or not, Fujinami left a lasting legacy on the professional wrestling world.
Going back to the NWA World Title, Flair was once again in possession of the title, and in fact, NWA and WCW initially credited this as one continuous reign. But by September 8th, 1991 Flair lost the championship again... Well, kind of.
World Wrestling Federation had been chasing Flair for some time, and eventually got their man after Flair was fired from WCW over contract disputes, namely them wanting him to take a substantial pay cut, and wanting him to shave his head, wear a diamond earring and rename himself Spartacus, in order to "move with the times"
Flair vehemently opposed this, as he was still easily their top draw, and had even been head booker for a time until resigning the role in 1990. WCW management took the action of firing Flair two weeks before 1991's Great American Bash and declaring the WCW World Title vacant. However, Flair was still recognised as the NWA World's Heavyweight Champion until November 8th when they vacated it. It should also be noted that an NWA board had to be rebuilt for this, since most of the original board had gone out of business or been amalgamated into JCP/WCW. In another interesting twist to this, Flair began appearing on WWF television with the "Big Gold Belt" and declaring himself the "Real World's Heavyweight Champion", and WCW attempted to sue Flair to get the belt back stating it was their property, however Flair countered this by saying that as he was never given back his $25,000 bond deposit that all Champions had to give at the time, this meant that he owned the belt. This carried on until a settlement was reached with WCW, and Flair became the WWF Champion.
So, with the title back in the hands of the National Wrestling Alliance, they had to crown a new champion, and they decided to do this by having the winner of the 1992 G1-Climax tournament in Japan declared the new champion. The eventual winner was Masahiro Chono, who beat Tony Halme, Scott Norton, Keiji Mutoh (or the Great Muta as he was also known) before beating Rick Rude in a 30-minute thriller in the final.
Chono was born in Seattle, Washington, but his family originated from Japan. He debuted in 1984 against his long-time frenemy Keiji Mutoh, before winning the Young Lions Cup in 1987. After accomplishing this, he started to branch out and went on excursions to Europe and North America. He was trained by New Japan Pro Wrestling, where he spent an incredible 26 years, while still taking bookings around the world. He won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship once, as well as seven IWGP Tag Team Championships, twice with Keiji Mutoh, and five times with Hiroyoshi Tenzan.
The next NWA World Title change also took place in Japan, as on January 4th, 1993, Chono's 145-day reign was ended by The Great Muta in a title v title match where Muta's IWGP Heavyweight title was also on the line.
Keiji Mutoh is a Japanese wrestling legend, and is one of only three men who can claim to have held the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship, AJPW's Triple Crown Championship, and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Shinya Hashimoto and Satoshi Kojima are the others, and by that virtue, we will get to them later.
Mutoh began his career in 1984, and on his first excursion to the United States, while wrestling as "The White Ninja", he won the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship, and the NWA Southeastern United States Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Mutoh's list of accolades is a long and glorious one, with nearly 50 championship and tournament wins to his name. He's had success all over the world with WCW, TNA, NJPW, AJPW and a host of other Japanese promotions. It's little wonder that he is regarded as a legend. Even now, at the age of 57, he continues to perform, most recently appearing at Wrestle-1's final event on April 1st, 2020.
Despite his stellar list of accomplishments, Mutoh's NWA World's Heavyweight Championship reign would last just 48 days, and he would lose the title in North Carolina on February 21st, 1993, to a man whose name has popped up a few times in the course of this series, and someone who Bray Wyatt knows very well; Barry Windham
As the son of Blackjack Mulligan, Windham had an incredible legacy to live up to. Born in Texas on Independence Day in 1960, Windham couldn't have wished for better trainers than his own father, and legendary NWA World's Heavyweight Champion, Harley Race. He debuted in 1979 against JJ Dillon, and spent the majority of his early career wresting for NWA's Florida territory. Like most of the wrestlers that have held the NWA World Championship, his list of accolades is a long and impressive one, and he held various titles while wrestling for NWA Florida, including the NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship six times. He would also taste tag team success with several different partners by winning multiple regional tag team championships, some of which he held with his brother-in-law, Mike Rotundo (more commonly known as Irwin R. Schyster, IRS)
Between 1984 and 1986, Windham would wrestle for the World Wrestling Federation, winning the WWF Tag Team Championships with Mike Rotunda and appearing at the first Wrestlemania, and for the American Wrestling Association.
As mentioned earlier in this article, he also formed a team with Ron Garvin when he joined JCP around 1986, feuding with the Midnight Express over the NWA United States Tag Team Titles, but they were unsuccessful in capturing them. Between 1986 and 1994 he split his time between WWF and JCP/WCW, capturing numerous titles and becoming a member of Ric Flair's legendary Four Horsemen stable around 1988.
In 1993 he finally landed the big one, the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship, at Superbrawl III. He held the title for 147 days, before a timely return to the NWA by none other than Ric Flair. Flair won the title from Windham on July 18th 1993, and this would be his tenth reign with the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship, but no sooner had he won it than things started to go very, very wrong for the NWA.........
Thanks for reading this latest instalment of our look back at the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship. We're getting to the really good bits now and I am beyond excited to cover next weeks' time period between 1994 and 2002.
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