One of the more odd things about the unification that gave us the WWE World Heavyweight Championship was the way WWE rewrote history to set up the match. While this is nothing new in the world of professional wrestling, WWE has been uniquely brazen about things that happened a little over a decade ago.
Before I can explain that, though, we have to go back further. The WWWF World Heavyweight Championship, best known now as the title that became the WWE Championship, came into being in 1963 with "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers as the first champion. WWE's new version of history stops there and diverges from both reality and how it was portrayed on television at the time.
The way that Stephanie McMahon and Triple H explained it at TLC is that Lou Thesz and Buddy Rogers had a match in 1963 where both claimed to be world champion coming out of it. From there, there were two major world titles that were never unified from this past Sunday.
That's not what happened, to say the least. Rogers was the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, which meant that, in theory, he should be defending the title in all NWA member promotions willing to pay the champion's standard percentage of the gate to book him. In practice, he was sticking with his home promotion in the Northeast plus a few other big cities. Unable to book the champion, some NWA members created new world titles.
The NWA board of directors voted to take the title off Rogers and give it to Lou Thesz. While Thesz was in his mid-40s, he was still well-known from when wrestling was on network television and was a legitimate submission wrestler. They knew that in a worst case scenario, he could handle himself.
For all of the NWA's wariness, to the point Thesz told Rogers "we can do this the easy way or the hard way," Rogers, as well as his promoters (Vincent James McMahon and Toots Mondt), went along with the plan, and the title was switched in Toronto.
With Rogers being a huge draw, McMahon still wanted him to be world champion in the northeast, so he withdrew from the NWA. At first, his plan was to just ignore the title change, but a monkey wrench was thrown into that scenario: Magazine photographer and editor Stanley Weston refused to budge on covering it. The magazines were big back then, and even bigger in the northeast, where the publishers were based, so McMahon had to get creative.
One week on TV, it was announced that Rogers was now the champion of the World Wide Wrestling Federation, having beaten Antonino "Argentina" Rocca to win a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This never actually happened, and they picked Rocca to "lose" because he was both the biggest babyface in the northeast for years and to take a shot at him for working for an opposition promotion that tried running against McMahon in the region. A few weeks later, Rogers lost to Bruno Sammartino and that was that.
As for the NWA title, it didn't become the WCW title and WWE's "World Heavyweight Championship" so much as they have a physical belt and design in common. On TV, it appeared the NWA and WCW titles were the same, but they were separate titles, at one point both titles were represented simultaneously by the same "big gold belt."
The NWA, being controlled by the board and part of a separate organization, kept going when WCW dropped out in 1993. It still exists, albeit as part of a different corporate entity, with the current champion being Rob Conway.
That takes us to 2001 and the other bit of history WWE has rewritten. WWE bought the assets of WCW, leading to an invasion angle that was blown off at Survivor Series that year. On the undercard, all of the other titles were unified, except for the lighter weight belts, where WWE's title was deactivated and replaced by the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. The two world heavyweight champions were in the main event.
The next night on Raw, Vince McMahon announced that the WCW Championship was being renamed the "World Heavyweight Championship." In addition, there would be a tournament to unify the two titles at Vengeance, the next pay-per-view event. Steve Austin would defend the WWE Championship against Kurt Angle while The Rock would defend the World Heavyweight Championship against Chris Jericho, with the winners unifying the titles in the main event. Jericho won the tournament, making him Undisputed Champion.
In 2002, the Undisputed Championship went from Jericho to Triple H to Hulk Hogan to The Undertaker to The Rock to Brock Lesnar. With WWE having recently split into separate Raw and SmackDown brands, the champion floated back and forth, but Lesnar "signed an exclusive contract" with SmackDown. To remedy the problem, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff brought back the WCW belt as the World Heavyweight Championship to number one contender Triple H.
It was confusing, but with two "brands," it made a certain amount of sense. After several years, the brand split slowly faded, eventually ending on TV in 2011, but still existing for the purposes of the house show tours until about a year ago.
And that's where we were until Sunday night.
I understand why WWE wanted to find ways to make Sunday's unification match more important, and why they'd play with history to do it. That's fine. But pretending Jericho never unified the titles when they constantly put over that accomplishment as recently as five months ago is ridiculous.