Wrestling Gold: The History of the Original World Heavyweight Championship

Kyle SchadlerChief Writer IJune 19, 2013

Wrestling Gold: The History of the Original World Heavyweight Championship

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    Throughout the history of professional wrestling, the business has awarded championship belts in many divisions. While some have been forgotten over the years, some titles have stood the test of time.

    The WWE has seen almost 30 titles defended, but today, only six remain.

    TNA Wrestling began with three titles—the NWA World and Tag Team Championships as well its own X-Division title, but today, it owns its own belts and fans see six titles defended between its ropes.

    Ring of Honor Wrestling began with just two, but has since added another title to its ranks.

    While Shimmer has only been around for a few years, the most well-known all-women’s wrestling promotion currently holds two titles.

    Wrestling Gold will concentrate on the active titles of the companies listed, as well as the NWA World and Tag Team Championships, and any other active title the readers would like to see!

    For this edition of Wrestling Gold, I present the history of the original World Heavyweight Championship!

    Established in 1905 during the catch-as-catch-can and carnival days, Georg Hackenschmidt defeated Tom Jenkins for the recognition of being the first champion. Matches were typically two-out-of-three falls matches back then, with wrestlers really fighting it out for the belt.

    This title would pave the way for many of the world titles that fans see today. The World Heavyweight Championship shares a lineage with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, which in turn saw WWF/E, WCW and TNA Wrestling’s world titles break off from.

    The recognition of being the single World Heavyweight champion lasted for 51 years. The last seven years of which saw the champion was recognized as the NWA World Heavyweight champion. Those last seven years will not be included here, though, as it will be featured with the NWA title edition.

    Throughout the 44 years before the NWA, the original World Heavyweight Championship saw 26 official champions. At the same time, many wrestlers would lay claim to the belt even after they lost and defended their version of the title as well. As a result, it could be argued that the number is higher.

    Due to the confusion and various disputes over the title, and the fact that information this old could have holes in it, some facts may be different, missing or even wrong. If anyone has any information, please direct me to the source, and I will update accordingly.

Georg Hackenschmidt

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    Defeated: Tom Jenkins

    Where: New York City

    When: May 4, 1905

    Title Reign: 1,065 days

    Three years before this match, on September 4, Georg Hackenschmidt defeated Tom Cannon for the European Greco-Roman Heavyweight Championship. In 1904, he would be recognized as the World Heavyweight champion in England after defeating Ahmed Madrali.

    Then, on May 4, 1905, Hackenschmidt would defeat Tom Jenkins to be recognized as the World champion in North America.

    That same year, he won tournaments in German cities Hamburg, Berlin and Elberfeld, as well as in Paris, France and St. Petersburg, Russia, to be recognized as the World Heavyweight champion everywhere.

Frank Gotch

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    Defeated: Georg Hackenschmidt

    Where: Chicago, Ill.

    When: April 3, 1908

    Title Reign: 1,824 days

    Frank Gotch would hold onto the World Heavyweight Championship for five years until his retirement on April 1, 1913.

    A year later, the world was still without a champion. Gotch suggested a match between Americus and Fred Beell to determine a new champion, and the match was soon made.


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    Defeated: Fred Beell

    Where: Kansas City, Mo.

    When: March 13, 1914

    Title Reign: 55 days

    At the request of Frank Gotch, Americus vs. Fred Beell was set up to fill the vacant slot.

    When Americus defeated Beell, he was crowned the new World Heavyweight champion. 

Stanislaus Zbyszko

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    Defeated: Americus

    Where: Kansas City

    When: May 7, 1914

    Title Reign: Anywhere from 145 to 177 days, depending on when in October he left

    When Stanislaus Zbyszko left the United States in October 1914, he was stripped of his recognition as World Heavyweight champion.

    He would return in 1920, though, to regain that recognition.

Charlie Cutler

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    Defeated: Dr. B.F. Roller

    Where: N/A

    When: Jan. 8, 1915

    Title Reign: 178 days

    Charlie Cutler defeated Dr. B.F. Roller, who was claiming to be World champion since July 1913, to be recognized has World champion after Stanislaus Zbyszko left the country.

    A month after winning the title, he claimed Frank Gotch’s version of the championship as his own. His recognition with Gotch’s belt was only recognized in Omaha, Des Moines, Chicago and New York City. 

Joe Stecher

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    Defeated: Charlie Cutler

    Where: Omaha, Neb.

    When: July 5, 1915

    Title Reign: 642 days

    When Joe Stecher defeated Charlie Cutler, he became the first World Heavyweight champion to be recognized as champion everywhere since the retirement of Frank Gotch.

    In Springfield, Mass. on Dec. 11, 1916, Stecher defended his title against John Olin. Olin would stall throughout the matchup, which frustrated Stecher to the point of walking out of the match.

    As a result of him leaving, the referee awarded the match to Olin. Both wrestlers would go onto be recognized as World champion since Olin did technically defeat Stecher, but Stecher wasn’t actually pinned.

Earl Caddock

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    Defeated: Joe Stecher

    Where: Omaha

    When: April 8, 1917

    Title Reign: 1,361 days

    While Caddock defeated Stecher for the title, John Olin was still claiming to be the World Heavyweight champion as well. As a result, many title changes took place for Olin’s belt. They are as follows:

    • Ed “Strangler” Lewis defeated Olin on May 2, 1917, in Chicago. The match was billed as a title match, so Lewis was recognized as champion after winning.
    • WladekZbyszko defeated Lewis on June 5, 1917, in San Francisco. The match wasn’t actually billed as a title match, and Zbyszko only won one fall from the two-out-of-three falls match. After winning that one fall, though, he claimed the title.
    • Lewis then reclaimed the belt fromZbyszko on July 4, 1917, in Boston. He would lose it back to him on Dec. 22 in the finals of an international tournament. Despite losing the title, Lewis still claimed the championship.
    • Caddock, while holding another version of the title, defeated Zbyszko for the Olin title in Des Moines, Iowa on Feb. 8, 1918. Zbyszko continued his claim as champion and was later defeated by Lewis in New York City on May 19, 1918.
    • Caddock then defeated Lewis in Des Moines on June 21, 1918. I couldn’t find out which version of the title that match was for, though.
    • Zbyszkodefeated Lewis once again to end their dispute over the Olin version of the title on March 21, 1919, in New York City.
    • Joe Stecher then defeated Zbyszko for the title on May 9, 1919, in Louisville, Ky.

    It was certainly a confusing couple of years.

    Later on, Joe Malcewicz claimed to have defeated Caddock for the title in New York in Dec. 1919. The match did indeed take place, but not until Jan. 14, 1921, which was after Caddock lost the title. In other words, Malcewicz never won the belt.

Joe Stecher

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    Defeated: Earl Caddock

    Where: New York City

    When: Jan. 30, 1920

    Title Reign: 318 days

    After years of confusion, Stecher defeated Earl Caddock to finally end the dispute and become the fully recognized World Heavyweight champion.

Ed Lewis

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    Defeated: Joe Stecher

    Where: New York City

    When: Dec. 13, 1920

    Title Reign: 144 days

Stanislaus Zbyszko

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    Defeated: Ed Lewis

    Where: New York City

    When: May 6, 1921

    Title Reign: 301 days

Ed Lewis

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    Defeated: Stanislaus Zbyszko

    Where: Wichita, Ks.

    When: March 3, 1922

    Title Reign: 1,042 days

Wayne Munn

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    Defeated: Ed Lewis

    Where: Kansas City

    When: Jan. 8, 1925

    Title Reign: 97 days

    After Wayne Munn won the title, one promoter by the name of Ed White continued to recognize Ed Lewis as the World Heavyweight champion.

    Since there’s no mention of Lewis again until he won the official title, I’m assuming that his recognition by White just ended, possibly when he won the official version.

Stanislaus Zbyszko

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    Defeated: Wayne Munn

    Where: Philadelphia, Pa.

    When: April 15, 1925

    Title Reign: 45 days

    After Zbyszko defeated Munn for the title, Munn continued to be recognized as champion in the Michigan and Illinois.

Joe Stecher

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    Defeated: Stanislaus Zbyszko

    Where: St. Louis, Mo.

    When: May 30, 1925

    Title Reign: 996 days

Ed Lewis

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    Defeated: Joe Stecher

    Where: St. Louis

    When: Feb. 20, 1928

    Title Reign: 319 days

    On May 30, 1925, in Indiana, Lewis defeated Wayne Munn for his Michigan/Illinois version of the World Heavyweight Championship. When Lewis beat Stecher here, the dispute was ended and he was recognized as the official World Heavyweight champion.

    The next day, Lewis would become the first Boston AWA World Heavyweight champion. That title is not to be confused with Verne Gagne’s AWA.

Gus Sonnenberg

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    Defeated: Ed Lewis

    Where: Boston, Ma.

    When: Jan. 4, 1929

    Title Reign: 705 days

    Lewis’ Boston AWA World Championship was also on the line in this match, which Gus Sonnenberg won as well.

    Sonnenberg was stripped of his recognition as World Heavyweight champion by New York, Pennsylvania and 20 other athletic commissions in July 1929. The reason he was stripped of the title was because he wouldn’t meet real contenders for his title defenses.

    It’s not explained what “real” means, but since wrestling was catch-as-catch-can wrestling back then, my guess is that he didn’t fight wrestlers meeting the style or ones that weren’t qualified enough to receive a title shot. I can only speculate unfortunately.

    When a tournament was set up to crown a new champion, Sonnenberg declined to enter it.

Ed Don George

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    Defeated: Gus Sonnenberg

    Where: Los Angeles, Ca.

    When: Dec. 10, 1930

    Title Reign: 124 days

    Ed Don George defeated Gus Sonnenberg to become the new champion. Since Sonnenberg declined to enter the tournament to crown a new champion, I’m not really sure why he and Don George faced off to fill the vacancy.

    This match was also for Sonnenberg’s Boston AWA World Championship, so that could explain it.

Ed Lewis

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    Defeated: Ed Don George

    Where: Los Angeles

    When: April 13, 1931

    Title Reign: 1,536 days

    The next day in Los Angeles, Lewis defeated Don George for the Boston AWA World Championship. He would lose it on May 4 in Canada by disqualification to Henri Deglane, though.

    Lewis would also win another title during his reign, more specifically the New York State Athletic Commission World Championship from Jack Sherry on Oct. 10, 1932.

Danno O’Mahoney

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    Defeated: Ed Lewis

    Where: Boston

    When: June 27, 1935

    Title Reign: 249 days

    Later that day, O’Mahoney defeated Jim Londos to win the NYSAC World Championship and the National Wrestling Association World Championship.

    The following month on July 30, O’Mahoney defeated Ed Don George for the Boston AWA World Championship. As a result of holding all four championships at the same time, he was recognized as the Unified World Heavyweight champion.

Dick Shikat

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    Defeated: Danno O’Mahoney

    Where: New York City

    When: March 2, 1936

    Title Reign: 54 days

    After Dick Shikat defeated O'Mahoney, O’Mahoney was still recognized as champion in AWA Boston.

Ali Baba

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    Defeated: Dick Shikat

    Where: Detroit, Mich.

    When: April 25, 1936

    Title Reign: 48 days

Dave Levin

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    Defeated: Ali Baba

    Where: Newark, N.J.

    When: June 12, 1936

    Title Reign: 108 days

    Despite winning via disqualification, Levin was awarded the World Championship. Levin would then be recognized as the “true World champion” by a magazine called The Ring.

    The Ring was a boxing and professional wrestling magazine that covered the events and champions of both sports. After pro wrestling’s legitimacy started to come under question, the magazine began to cover boxing exclusively.

    After the loss, Baba still claimed the title as his own. He would lose that claim to Everette Marshall on June 26, 1936. There’s no mention of Marshall after this, so his claim to the title must not have lasted long.

Dean Detton

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    Defeated: Dave Levin

    Where: Philadelphia

    When: Sept. 28, 1936

    Title Reign: 182 days

    The Ring magazine recognized Dean Detton as the “true World champion” during his title reign.

Bronko Nagurski

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    Defeated: Dean Detton

    Where: Minneapolis, Minn.

    When: March 29, 1937

    Title Reign: 599 days

    The Ring magazine recognized Bronko Nagurski as the “true World champion” during his title reign.

Jim Londos

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    Defeated: Bronko Nagurski

    Where: Philadelphia

    When: Nov. 18, 1938

    Title Reign: Anywhere between 2,600 to 2,965 days, depending on when he retired in 1946

    The Ring magazine recognized Jim Londos as the “true World champion” during his title reign.

    It seems like Londos held onto the World Heavyweight Championship until his retirement in 1946, as there’s no mention of a champion until Lou Thesz’s unification of titles.

Lou Thesz

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    Defeated: Bill Longson; awarded, Gorgeous George, Baron Michele Leone

    Where: Indianapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles

    When: 1948-1952

    Title Reign: N/A

    Lou Thesz would actually win four different titles to become the Undisputed World Heavyweight champion. His title wins are as follows:

    • He defeated Bill Longson on July 20, 1948, in Indianapolis for the National Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Championship.
    • That NWA World Championship was then unified with the National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Championship when he was awarded the title on Nov. 27, 1949, in St. Louis. A unification match was set for Nov. 25 between champions Thesz and Orville Brown, but a car accident prevented Brown from competing in the match. As a result, the National Wrestling Alliance awarded their NWA title to Thesz.
    • The Boston AWA World Championship was then unified with Thesz’s two previous titles after he defeated Gorgeous George on July 27, 1950, in Chicago.
    • The last of the wins saw Thesz defeat Baron Michele Leone for the Los Angeles version of the World Heavyweight Champion on May 21, 1952, in L.A.

    All four titles would be unified, and the unified belt would live on in the National Wrestling Alliance as the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

Statistics and Final Thoughts

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    Most Reigns: Ed Lewis (4)

    Longest Reign: Jim Londos (2,600-plus days)

    Shortest Reign: Stanislaus Zbyszko (45 days)

    The original World Heavyweight Championship showcases some of the true pioneers of professional wrestling. The belt is historic, to say the least.

    Thanks to guys like Hackenschmidt, Gotch, Stecher and Lewis, pro wrestling came to the spotlight. If it wasn’t for them paving the way, there would be no Ric Flair, Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, CM Punk or AJ Styles. The list could go on and on. Essentially, they helped make and pave the way for the superstars of the future.

    If it wasn’t for this championship, you’ve got to wonder what would wrestling entail today. It made way for the National Wrestling Alliance to emerge, which itself helped create WWE, WCW and TNA Wrestling. Even ECW was a member of the NWA once, though the ECW World Championship was its own title.

    If the NWA was never created, who knows what would have happened. The early days at the carnivals and the wrestlers who competed back then are responsible for the global phenomenon that professional wrestling has become.

    Thanks for reading! Next up will be the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, and from there, will be the TNA World Championship, the WCW/[WWE] World Championship and the WWE Championship. I’ll see you as soon as the NWA title is finished!





    Title “Wrestling Gold” by editor Jeff D. Gorman

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