The WWE Championship a world heavyweight championship created and promoted by the American professional wrestling promotion WWE. It is one of two world titles in the WWE, alongside the WWE Universal Championship.
The original world championship of the promotion, it was established by the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation on April 25, 1963 as the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship, following the promotion seceding from the National Wrestling Alliance. The inaugural champion was Buddy Rogers. Since its inception, the title has undergone many name changes due to company name changes and title unifications. It is the oldest championship currently active in the WWE, and is presented as being the promotion's most prestigious title, with many matches for the title having headlined pay-per-view events – including WWE's flagship event WrestleMania. It is also considered one of the most prestigious professional wrestling championships of all time.
From its inception until 2001, it was promoted as WWE's sole primary championship. An additional world title, the WCW Championship, was added after the then-World Wrestling Federation's purchase of World Championship Wrestling in early 2001. The titles were later unified as the Undisputed Championship. After the first brand extension in 2002 and the promotion becoming the WWE, the championship became exclusive to SmackDown, and the World Heavyweight Championship was created for Raw. ECW became a third brand in 2006, adding the ECW World Heavyweight Championship. Over the course of the first brand extension, the WWE Championship switched between brands, usually as a result of the annual draft. The ECW Championship was deactivated in 2010, and the World Heavyweight Championship was unified with the WWE Championship in 2013. The championship was again the sole world title of WWE until the reintroduction of the brand extension in 2016.
The WWE Championship was introduced in 1963 with Buddy Rogers becoming the inaugural champion on April 29. However, its origin is attributed to events that began in the National Wrestling Alliance, a promotion with various subsidiaries. In the 1950s, Capitol Wrestling Corporation was a subsidiary to the NWA and by 1963, CWC executives held a controlling stake over NWA operations. During this time, Buddy Rogers held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, the world title of the NWA and its subsidiaries, until January 24, when Lou Thesz defeated Rogers for the championship. Following a dispute over the result, CWC seceded from the NWA and became the World Wide Wrestling Federation. The WWWF World Heavyweight Championship was then established as having spun off from the NWA title when the recognition was awarded to Buddy Rogers following an apocryphal tournament in Rio de Janeiro, defeating Antonino Rocca in the finals. Affiliated with the NWA once again, the WWWF was renamed to World Wrestling Federation in 1979, and after conclusively ending its affiliation with the NWA in 1983, the championship became known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship and later simply as the WWF Championship by the 1990s.
In 1991, World Championship Wrestling, another subsidiary to the NWA, established the WCW World Heavyweight Championship to complement the NWA's world title. WCW then seceded from the NWA and grew to become a rival promotion to the WWF. Both organizations grew into mainstream prominence and were eventually involved in a television ratings war, dubbed the Monday Night Wars. Near the end of the ratings war, WCW began a financial decline, which culminated in March 2001 with the WWF's purchase of WCW. As a result of the purchase, the WWF acquired the video library of WCW, select talent contracts, and championships among other assets. The slew of former WCW talent joining the WWF roster began "The Invasion" which effectively phased out the WCW name. Following this, the WCW Championship was unified with the WWF Championship, at Vengeance 2001 in December. At the event, Chris Jericho defeated The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin to win the WCW Championship and WWF Championship respectively. Consequently, Chris Jericho was named the final WCW Champion and the subsequent Undisputed Champion as the WWF Championship became the Undisputed Championship in professional wrestling with no other prominent world heavyweight title to dispute the recognition.
By 2002, the WWF roster had doubled in size due to the overabundance of contracted workers. As a result of the increase, the WWF divided the roster through its two main television programs, Raw and SmackDown!, assigning championships and appointing figureheads to each brand. This expansion became known as the Brand Extension. In May 2002, the WWF was renamed to World Wrestling Entertainment and the championship became known as the WWE Undisputed Championship. Following these changes, the WWE Undisputed Championship remained unaffiliated with either brand as competitors from both brands could challenge the WWE Undisputed Champion. Following the appointment of Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon as General Managers of the Raw and SmackDown brands respectively, Stephanie McMahon contracted then-WWE Undisputed Champion, Brock Lesnar, to the SmackDown brand, leaving the Raw brand without a world title. On September 2, after disputing the status of the Undisputed Championship, Eric Bischoff announced the creation of the World Heavyweight Championship, having spun off from the Undisputed title. Immediately afterward, the WWE Undisputed Championship returned to being the WWE Championship.
In the summer of 2011, after John Cena lost the WWE Championship to CM Punk at Money In The Bank 2011, and Punk left WWE(briefly), Mr.McMahon held a championship chase to decide a new champ, with Rey Mysterio winning the title, later in the night Cena won the title back, Punk then returned and caused controversy over who was rightful champ. Triple H (COO of WWE) announced a match to decide the Undisputed WWE Champion at SummerSlam 2011, Punk beat Cena again, afterword Alberto Del Rio cashed in the Money In The Bank Briefcase. During Del Rio's first regin, he called it The Undisputed WWE Championship, but after it ended, it ceased to be called the Undisputed WWE Championship.
Custom belt designs
Special custom belts have been created to match the gimmicks of some champions:
- "Superstar" Billy Graham (red leather strap)
- The Ultimate Warrior (white, blue, and purple leather straps)
- Sgt. Slaughter (blue leather strap, later changed to original black strap at WrestleMania VII)
- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin ("Smokin' Skull" belt)
- John Cena (Spinner belt with free-motion "spinner" WWE logo)
- Edge (Modified "Rated-R Superstar" Spinner belt)
- The Miz (Modified spinner design with upside down WWE logo simulating the letter M)
A much larger version of the belt was created for André the Giant before WrestleMania III, although he never wore it as champion. A custom championship belt was designed and constructed for The Rock which featured his trademark Brahma Bull logo in the center, but it never appeared on television. Similarly, Edge had originally designed an entirely different custom belt than the "Rated R Spinner" design he used for his second reign; however, the plans were scrapped due to time constraints. The "Spinner" belt's design has become the WWE Championship's primary design since April 11, 2005, although, since No Mercy 2007, the centerpiece no longer spins. The physical belt itself originally indicated the brand it was designated to. When it was first introduced, it featured a unique side plate design that read "SmackDown," though it was then replaced with one that read "Mon-Nite Raw" when John Cena was drafted to the Raw brand. When the title once again became SmackDown's primary championship after Triple H was drafted to the brand in 2008, the "Raw" plate was replaced with a duplicate of the opposite side plate that simply reads "WWE Champion." Furthermore, the belt also features a silver tip on the end of the leather strap.
On the February 18, 2013 episode of Raw, The Rock unveiled a new WWE Championship belt. The new title (Which was partially designed by Orange County Choppers of American Choppers fame) features a large black strap with a large diamond encrusted WWE logo with the word "CHAMPION" directly underneath. Instead of a nameplate, the current title belt features customizable side-plates that fits the wearer (i.e. The Rock's "Brahma Bulls" logo and John Cena's "You Can't See Me and Hustle, Loyalty and Respect" logo).
The WWE World Heavyweight Championship was the first world championship introduced into WWF in 1963. The inaugural champion was Buddy Rogers, and there have been 44 different official champions overall. The longest reigning champion was Bruno Sammartino who held the title from May 17, 1963, to January 18, 1971, for a total of 2,803 days (7 years, 8 months, and 1 day). Bruno Sammartino also holds the record for longest combined reign at 4,040 days. The shortest reigning champion was André the Giant who officially held the title for 30 seconds. The youngest champion is Brock Lesnar, who won the title at the age of 25. The oldest champion is Mr. McMahon who won it at the age of 54. John Cena has held the title the most times with 12 championship reigns. There have been ten vacancies throughout the title's history.