The WWE Championship is a professional wrestling world heavyweight championship in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). It was established under the then WWWF in 1963. After Raw and SmackDown became distinct brands under WWE, the championship has moved between both brands on different occasions, mainly as a result of the WWE Draft. The championship is generally contested in professional wrestling matches, in which participants execute scripted finishes rather than contend in direct competition. The belt is generally thought of as the most prestigious championship available today in professional wrestling.
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 (NWA), a promotion with various subsidiaries. In the 1950s, Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC) 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 (WWWF). 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 (WWF) 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 (WCW), 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 (WWE) 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.
Following the events of the WWE Brand Extension, an annual WWE Draft was established, in which select members of the WWE roster are reassigned to a different brand. After three years on the SmackDown brand, the WWE Championship switched brands during the 2005 WWE Draft Lottery, in which the WWE Champion John Cena was drafted to Raw while the World Heavyweight Champion Batista was drafted to SmackDown. On June 11, 2006, Rob Van Dam used his Money in the Bank contract at ECW One Night Stand for a WWE Championship match against the WWE Champion John Cena. The holder of the contract is guaranteed a WWE, World Heavyweight, or ECW Championship match at anytime of their choosing. Rob Van Dam defeated John Cena to win the WWE Championship, moving the title to the ECW brand, a WWE brand established from purchased assets of the Extreme Championship Wrestling promotion. On July 3, Edge defeated John Cena and Rob Van Dam in a Triple Threat Match to win the WWE Championship. However, with Edge being a member of the Raw brand at the time, the title returned to Raw due to the circumstances. After the 2008 WWE Draft the WWE Champion Triple H was drafted to SmackDown, moving the WWE Championship to the SmackDown brand. The following year, the title returned to Raw after Triple H was drafted back to the brand during the 2009 WWE Draft, and has remained exclusive to the Raw brand since. When SmackDown's Batista won the title from Raw's John Cena at WWE Elimination Chamber, it remained exclusive to Raw when Batista was transferred to the Raw roster.
In July 2011, CM Punk was involved in a storyline where he vowed to leave WWE with the WWE Championship when his contract expired on July 17, 2011 (the date of the 2011 Money in the Bank pay-per-view). At the event, Punk succeeded in defeating the defending champion John Cena to win the championship, and left the company with the physical title belt. With the championship seemingly vacated by Vince McMahon the following night on Raw, Rey Mysterio won an 8-man Championship Tournament by defeating The Miz in the finals on the July 25 episode of Raw to be crowned the new WWE Champion, only to subsequently lose it later that night to Cena, for the latter's record ninth reign. However, following Cena's win, Punk returned to WWE with his own title belt, thereby creating the presence of two WWE Championships and two WWE champions. At the subsequent SummerSlam pay-per-view, Punk defeated Cena to solidify his claim on the title.
Since August 29, 2011, WWE indirectly ended the brand extension as the Raw and SmackDown wrestlers (including the WWE Champion) were allowed to appear on both shows; since then the title was no longer exclusive to any show.
On December 15, 2013 at the TLC: Tables, Ladders, & Chairs pay-per-view, WWE Champion Randy Orton defeated World Heavyweight Champion John Cena in a TLC match to unify the titles. With that the WWE Championship was renamed WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The unified championship retained the lineage of the WWE Championship. On the June 27, 2016 episode of Raw, the title was referred to as the WWE World Championship. However, in December 2016, the title was again reverted back to WWE Championship.
WWE Championship tournament (2011)
(TV - July 18, 2011 Raw
(TV - July 18, 2011 Raw
(TV - July 25, 2011 Raw
|6||Alberto Del Rio||5:08|
WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament (2015)
Raw (Nov 9)
SmackDown (Nov 12)
Raw (Nov 16)
Survivor Series (Nov 22)
Survivor Series (Nov 22)
|Alberto Del Rio||14:05|
|Alberto Del Rio||pin|
|Alberto Del Rio||pin|
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)
- Daniel Bryan (Eco-friendly championship)
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).
- 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 13 championship reigns. There have been ten vacancies throughout the title's history. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship was the first world championship introduced into WWF in 1963. The inaugural champion was
- World Wrestling Entertainment
- Champion history - History of the wrestlers who have held the belt.
- Title matches - Matches in which the title was defended.
- Champion gallery - A gallery of all champions.