At the turn of the 20th century there was one World’s Champion when George Hackenschmidt who was the European Greco-Roman Champion, defeated American Champion Tom Jenkins May 4, 1905 in New York City to be the first World’s Champion. He held the belt until losing to Frank Gotch on April 8, 1908 in Chicago. Gotch was regarded as the greatest wrestler of his time, and in 1913, Gotch retired and then the title became fragmented for the next three decades.
Promoters from across the United States had their own versions of a World Championship like the “New York World Title” which traded hands between, Joe Stecher, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Jim Londos, and Stanislaus Zbyszco in the early 1920’s. There was also a “Boston World Championship Title”, an “Omaha World Title”, the list goes on and on. For roughly three decades, no governing body existed to regulate these titles or the wrestlers working for the honor of being called a champion. Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s a few dominant wrestlers held most of these fragmented titles such as, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Jim Londos, and Joe Stetcher.
In 1929, the National Wrestling Association, the sister organization of the National Boxing Association was created. Gus Sonnenberg won the first recognized World Championship by defeating Ed “Strangler” Lewis. This championship served as the title held by Dick Shikat, Everett Marshal, Steve Casey, and eventually Lou Thesz.
In 1948 St. Louis promoter Sam Munchnik, decided once and for all enough was enough and he decided to sort out the wrestling picture once and for all. He and several Midwest promoters got together and agreed to work with one recognized “World Champion”, thus forming the National Wrestling Alliance. They would have one World Champion, who would travel to each territory and defend the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship against the promoter’s top stars.
The National Wrestling Alliance members named Kansas City wrestler and promoter, Orville Brown as the first Alliance World Champion on July 14, 1948 and decided to have a unification match between Brown, and National Wrestling Association “World Champion” Lou Thesz. As fate would have it however, Brown was involved in a career ending auto accident just weeks before the match, and so on November 27, 1949, Lou Thesz was awarded the first NWA Worlds Title and would spend the next few years successfully defending the title and unifying other titles to the NWA World’s Title.
Over the course of the next six plus decades the National Wrestling Alliance produced some of the biggest stars in wrestling history and some of its most honorable champions which include names like: Buddy Rogers, Pat O’Conner, Bobo Brazil, Loy Thesz, Dory Funk, Jack Brisco, Terry Funk, Harley Race, Gene Kiniski, Dusty Rhodes, Kerry Von Erich, Naoya Ogawa, Ric Flair, Sting, The Great Muta, Ricky Steamboat, Ron Killings, Dan Severn, Ken Shamrock, Jeff Jarrett, A.J. Styles, Christian, Adam Pearce, Kahagas, Rob Conway and more.
Since 1948, the National Wrestling Alliance has carried the banner of Professional Wrestling and we’re just getting started.