The current WWE Championship belt with default side plates
|Date established||April 25, 1963|
|Current champion(s)||AJ Styles|
|Date won||November 7, 2017|
The WWE Championship is a world heavyweight championship created and promoted by the American professional wrestling promotion WWE on the SmackDown brand. It is one of two world titles in the WWE, alongside the WWE Universal Championship that was created for the Raw brand as a result of the 2016 WWE draft. The title is currently held by AJ Styles, who is in his second reign.
The original world championship of the promotion, it was established by the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) on April 25, 1963 as the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship, following the promotion seceding from the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). 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.
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 title was introduced in 1963 with Buddy Rogers becoming the first champion. However, its origin is attributed to events that began in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), which had various territorial member promotions. In the 1950s, Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC) was a member of the NWA and by 1963, its executives held a controlling stake over NWA operations. During this time, Buddy Rogers held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship until January 24, when Lou Thesz defeated Rogers for the championship in a one fall match. Claiming the title can only be contested in a traditional two out of three falls match, the promotion disputed the title change, and thus seceded from the NWA and became the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). The WWWF World Heavyweight Championship was then established and awarded to Buddy Rogers with the explanation that he won a fictional tournament in Rio de Janeiro, supposedly defeating Antonino Rocca in the finals. After several years, the WWWF became affiliated with the NWA once again, and "World" was dropped from the championship's name. In 1979, the WWWF was renamed World Wrestling Federation (WWF), and then after conclusively ending its affiliation with the NWA in 1983, the championship became known as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Although the full name appeared on the championship belts until 1998, the name was often abbreviated to WWF Championship, which became its official name in 1998.
In 1991, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), a member of the NWA, established the WCW World Heavyweight Championship to replace the NWA's world title. In 1993, WCW 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 WWF purchasing WCW in March 2001. As a result of the purchase, the WWF acquired, among other assets, WCW's championships. Thus, there were two world titles in the WWF: the original WWF Championship and the WCW Championship, which was eventually renamed the "World Championship".
In December 2001, the two championships were unified at Vengeance. At the event, Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Kurt Angle to retain the WWF Championship, while Chris Jericho defeated The Rock for the World Championship. After this, Jericho then defeated Austin, unifying the WWF and World Championships, and becoming the first Undisputed WWF Champion; the Undisputed championship retained the lineage of the WWF Championship and the World Championship was retired. Subsequently, the Big Eagle Belt (formerly representing the WWF Championship) and the Big Gold Belt (formerly representing the World Championship) were used in tandem to represent the Undisputed Championship. Jericho held the championship for four months until he lost it at WrestleMania X8 against Triple H, who was soon after presented with a single championship belt.
The Undisputed Championship continued until the brand extension, which saw wrestlers being drafted to the company's main television programs, Raw and SmackDown, each show representing the brand of the same name, with championships assigned to and authority figures appointed for each brand. The holder of the Undisputed Championship was the only male wrestler allowed to appear on both shows.
In May 2002, the WWF was renamed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and the championships were renamed accordingly. At first, the championship remained unaffiliated with either brand as wrestlers from both brands could challenge the champion. Following the appointment of Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon as General Managers of Raw and SmackDown, respectively, Stephanie McMahon convinced then-Undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar to become exclusive to the SmackDown brand, leaving the Raw brand without a world title. In response, on September 2, Bischoff disputed Lesnar's status as champion, stating Lesnar was refusing to defend his title against the designated No. 1 contender, Triple H, and awarded the latter with the newly created World Heavyweight Championship, spun off from the Undisputed Championship. Immediately afterwards, Lesnar's championship dropped the epithet "Undisputed" and became known as the WWE Championship.
Over the course of the first brand extension, the WWE Championship was featured as the world title of the SmackDown brand twice and the Raw brand three times. In all but two cases, the WWE Championship switched brands as a result of the annual draft. In June 2006, the WWE established ECW as a third brand, featuring former Extreme Championship Wrestling stars, in addition to newer talent. When ECW's Rob Van Dam won the WWE Championship at ECW One Night Stand on June 11, 2006, the championship briefly became a world title of the ECW brand; the ECW World Heavyweight Championship was subsequently reactivated for the ECW brand upon Van Dam's title win. Van Dam held both titles until he lost the WWE Championship to Raw's Edge the following month. The ECW brand was disbanded in 2010, subsequently deactivating the ECW Championship. The first brand extension ended in August 2011.
Previously that year, a storyline saw CM Punk vowing to leave the company 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 title, and left the company with the physical championship belt. Subsequently, the championship was vacated and Rey Mysterio won an eight-man tournament by defeating The Miz in the finals 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 championship belt, disputing Cena's claim to the title. The two WWE Champions wrestled each other at SummerSlam; Punk defeated Cena to solidify his claim on the title.
Following the end of the first brand extension in August 2011, both the WWE Champion and World Heavyweight Champion could appear on both Raw and SmackDown. In November 2013, the night after Survivor Series, then-World Heavyweight Champion John Cena made a challenge to then-WWE Champion Randy Orton to determine an undisputed WWE world champion. Orton defeated Cena in a TLC match at the TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view on December 15, 2013, to unify the titles. Subsequently, the unified championship was renamed WWE World Heavyweight Championship and retained the lineage of the WWE Championship; the World Heavyweight Championship was retired. Orton and subsequent champions held both championship belts until a single championship belt was given to then-champion Brock Lesnar in 2014.
After Dean Ambrose became champion in June 2016, the title's name was reverted to WWE Championship. In light of the return of the WWE brand extension the following month, Ambrose was drafted to SmackDown. Ambrose then retained his title at Battleground on July 24 against Raw draftees Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, making the title exclusive to SmackDown. On the July 25 episode of Raw, to address the lack of a world title for the brand, the WWE Universal Championship was created; Finn Bálor became the inaugural champion at SummerSlam. After the unveiling of the Universal title, the WWE Championship was renamed WWE World Championship, but reverted to WWE Championship in December 2016 during AJ Styles' reign.
The title changed hands for the first time overseas when AJ Styles defeated Jinder Mahal for the championship in Manchester, England on the November 7, 2017, episode of SmackDown Live. This was also the first time in nearly 15 years that the championship changed hands on an episode of SmackDown; the last time was in 2003 when Brock Lesnar defeated Kurt Angle for the title.
Following the events of the first WWE brand extension, an annual WWE draft was established in 2002, with Ric Flair and Vince McMahon heading up the Raw and SmackDown brands respectively. Further individuals acted as General Manager of Raw and of SmackDown in subsequent years. Each year, the General Managers participated in a draft lottery in which select members of the WWE roster were assigned to a brand. The revived ECW became a third brand from 2006 to 2010. On August 29, 2011, WWE ended the brand extension and wrestlers (including all champions), were then free to appear on any program.
On May 25, 2016, WWE announced that SmackDown would move to Tuesday nights and go live starting July 19 and also receive a unique set of wrestlers and writers, as opposed to Raw, thus reintroducing the brand extension. The draft took place on the live premiere of SmackDown. On the July 18 episode of Raw, SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon named Daniel Bryan the SmackDown General Manager and Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon named Mick Foley the Raw General Manager.
The following is a list of dates indicating the transitions of the WWE Championship between the Raw, SmackDown, and ECW brands.
|Championship moved to the Raw brand.|
|Championship moved to the SmackDown brand.|
|Championship moved to the ECW brand.|
|Date of transition||Notes|
|September 2, 2002||WWE Undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar signs with SmackDown and the title becomes exclusive to that brand.
The championship was renamed the WWE Championship, and the World Heavyweight Championship was created for Raw.
|June 6, 2005||During the 2005 WWE draft lottery, World Heavyweight Champion Batista was drafted to SmackDown while WWE Champion John Cena was drafted to Raw.|
|June 11, 2006||Following WWE's planned revival of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) as a third brand, Rob Van Dam was chosen by ECW Representative Paul Heyman to move to the new brand. At ECW One Night Stand, Van Dam cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE Championship and bring the title to ECW. The ECW World Heavyweight Championship was subsequently reactivated for ECW.|
|July 3, 2006||Edge won the WWE Championship, thereby bringing it back to Raw.|
|June 23, 2008||WWE Champion Triple H was drafted to SmackDown during the 2008 WWE draft.|
|April 13, 2009||WWE Champion Triple H brings the championship back to Raw following his drafting to the brand at the 2009 WWE draft.
The ECW Championship, along with the brand, was deactivated in 2010.
|August 29, 2011||End of first brand extension.
The WWE Champion and World Heavyweight Champion could appear on both Raw and SmackDown.
The championships were unified in December 2013, subsequently retiring the World Heavyweight Championship.
|July 19, 2016||Reintroduction of the brand extension.
WWE Champion Dean Ambrose was drafted to SmackDown during the 2016 WWE draft.
The WWE Universal Championship was created for Raw.
The original WWWF World Heavyweight Championship belt design was originally a title belt used to represent a United States championship that Buddy Rogers had defended sometime prior to becoming the inaugural WWWF world champion. Due to this, the center plate was an outline of the continental United States, and there were two shield-shaped side plates with grapplers on them. On the center plate, there was a circle flanked by grapplers, and the circle was designed to contain a photograph of the titleholder. Above the circle was a shield with an eagle atop it with stars on opposite sides of the shield. The caption "World's Champion" was added below the circle. This version of the title belt was worn by the inaugural champion Buddy Rogers in 1963 and the second champion Bruno Sammartino. After Sammartino became champion, a new version on a blue strap was introduced. The enlarged center piece contained a crowned globe and two grapplers, and read "WWWF World Champion"; the two side plates commemorated Sammartino's title win. Sammartino wore this version for the duration of his seven-year reign. After defeating Sammartino in January 1971, Ivan Koloff held this version for three weeks before losing it to Pedro Morales.
During Morales's reign, the championship belt was updated several times. First, the 1971 design, on an indigo colored strap, contained three shield-shaped plates. Below the center plate, which read "World Heavyweight Champion" and had a cross at its center, a separate plate read "WWWF". This was replaced with another design in 1972. This version, on a red strap, read "WWWF Heavyweight Wrestling Champion" around the edges with an eagle at the center, while six side plates represented several countries. 1973 saw the introduction of another yet similar design; this one was on a black strap and contained two grapplers above the eagle. This version was subsequently held by Stan Stasiak, Bruno Sammartino, Superstar Billy Graham - who wore a red leather variation - and Bob Backlund. During the latter's reign, the promotion's name was shortened to World Wrestling Federation (WWF), but the physical championship belt still read "WWWF".
A new design was introduced in 1982, nicknamed the "Big Green Belt" due to its size and the color of its strap. It included eight (later ten) side plates dedicated to the previous champions. The center plate featured a wrestler holding up a championship belt with a globe behind him. This design, held by Bob Backlund, The Iron Sheik, and Hulk Hogan, was replaced first by the "Hogan '84" design in late 1984, then by the nearly identical "Hogan '85" design in early 1985. Both were called "Hogan" belts as they were only worn by Hulk Hogan. Both championship belts were similar in design to the NWA Television Championship at the time. They consisted of silver plates on a black strap, the center plate read "WWF" at the top. Below that was an eagle with two banners below it reading "World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion". The bottom read "Worldwide Wrestling" and above that was a name plate commemorating Hogan's title win, while the side plates noted previous champions. The difference between the '84 and the '85 designs were that the writing (except WWF) was in red on the '84, and black background was added on the '85 belt. The next year, the "Hogan '86" was introduced and was again only worn by Hogan. The center plate featured a globe in the center, along with Roman columns and olive branches. It read "World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion" and included the famous WWF block logo at the top, while four side plates had flags (two flags per side plate) representing the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Soviet Union, and Italy.
In 1988, just before ending his first championship reign, Hogan introduced another new design, the "Winged Eagle" championship belt, which became the primary design for the next decade with many wrestlers holding this version, and is considered the most popular design of the championship. Its nickname is derived from the eagle's wings seemingly coming off of the center plate, which included the block WWF logo and read "World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion". The championship belt also had four identical side plates. Apart from the usual black leather strap, The Ultimate Warrior wore white, light blue, yellow, and purple variations. Sgt. Slaughter continued to wear Warrior's purple strap. In 1998, after Stone Cold Steve Austin became champion, he was presented with a new design, often dubbed the "Big Eagle" or "Attitude Era" championship belt. The center plate was similar to the previous design, but became fully rounded, and the side plates were updated. When it was unveiled, it originally contained the block WWF logo and was on a blue strap, but was soon updated to the WWF scratch logo and on a black strap. In addition to the logo, it read "World Wrestling Federation Champion".
After Chris Jericho unified the WWF and WCW Championships into the Undisputed WWF Championship, the "Big Eagle" championship belt was used in tandem with the "Big Gold Belt", the former WCW Championship belt, until a single Undisputed Championship belt was introduced to champion Triple H on the April 1, 2002 episode of Raw. This new belt was designed by New York-based tattoo artist Keith Ciaramello. Taking inspiration from WCW, this design included a name plate, and like the previous two designs, it had an eagle atop the globe. It originally had the WWF scratch logo and read "World Wrestling Federation Champion"; after the promotion was renamed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in May 2002, both the scratch logo and wording were changed accordingly. The championship later became the WWE Championship in September 2002 when it became exclusive to SmackDown, while the Big Gold Belt was resurrected to represent the World Heavyweight Championship for Raw.
After John Cena won the WWE Championship in April 2005, he introduced his own custom belt, the "Spinner Belt", which had a gold and diamond bling-bling style reflecting his hip hop character at the time. Although originally a custom belt for Cena, it became the WWE Championship's primary design from April 11, 2005 until February 18, 2013. The scratch WWE logo, placed between an eagle on top and the word "Champ" and a name plate below, could be spun like spinner wheels or a turntable in keeping with the hip-hop theme. The inner side plates read "WWE Champion", though before 2008, one side plate indicated the brand the title was designated to. The spinning function was phased out in later years and the logo set in a fixed place, most notably during The Miz's reign when the logo was turned upside down to look like an "M". The Rock commented negatively on the spinning function on the night the belt was retired.
On the February 18, 2013 episode of Raw, The Rock unveiled a new WWE Championship belt. The new title was partially designed by Orange County Choppers of American Chopper fame. The championship included a large cut-out of the scratch WWE logo (encrusted with diamonds) inside a large irregular heptagonal plate. The word "Champion" appeared underneath the logo in large letters. On each side was a divider bar and a large plate. Default side plates consisted of a red globe with the WWE logo underneath a crown, but they were replaced with the reigning champion's personal logo. This championship belt was used in tandem with the Big Gold Belt to represent the renamed WWE World Heavyweight Championship after Randy Orton unified the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship on December 15, 2013.
On the August 18, 2014 episode of Raw, reigning champion Brock Lesnar, who had won the title the night before at SummerSlam, was presented with a single championship belt. It has a slightly updated design from the belt introduced by The Rock in 2013 as a result of WWE adapting a new corporate logo originally used for the WWE Network. It includes a large center plate dominated by a cut out of the new WWE logo inside an irregular heptagon with the capital words "World Heavyweight Champion" along the bottom edges, in very small print. The large side plates, like the previous design, include removable round sections, allowing the holder's personal logo to be added to the championship belt; the default sections show gold and red world maps with the WWE logo over them, though they lack the crown placed on top of the plates in the previous design. The Big Gold Belt was retired with the unveiling of the new championship belt.
After the 2016 brand extension where the championship became exclusive to SmackDown, the similarly designed WWE Universal Championship was introduced for the Raw brand. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship was briefly renamed WWE Championship; the digitized belt in the pre-match graphic read "WWE Champion" below the WWE logo. It was then renamed WWE World Championship in July 2016 and the pre-match graphic was updated to read "WWE World Champion". In December 2016, the title was again reverted to WWE Championship; the pre-match graphic no longer includes the title's name. The physical belt, however, retains "World Heavyweight Champion" below the logo.
Custom championship belts have been created to honor certain reigning champions or match their characters. During Hogan's reign in 1986, he had a modified version of the Hogan '86 made, which included a picture of himself at the center. This was a short lived custom design as he reverted to the Hogan '86 version. A much larger version similar to the Hogan '86 championship belt was created for André the Giant before WrestleMania III, although he never wore it as champion.
A custom championship belt was presented to Stone Cold Steve Austin during his second reign, which included his "Smoking Skull" logo as well as rattle snakes. As an answer, The Rock also had a custom championship belt designed and constructed, including his trademark "Brahma Bull" logo, but due to creative reasons, it never appeared on television. The Spinner Belt, originally a customized belt for John Cena, remained the standard title belt from 2005 to 2013. During Edge's second reign, he introduced his own variation, the "Rated R Spinner" design, replacing the scratch WWE logo with his "Rated R Superstar" logo. Edge was going to have a completely new custom belt designed, but due to time constraints, it did not get made.
In what has become a tradition since fall 2014, WWE sends a custom WWE Championship belt (current design) to championship winners in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and others, with the team's logo on the side plates, which are non-removable. WWE may also present a custom belt to exceptionally notable people for their efforts in their profession.
The following are those that WWE has presented a custom championship to:
The WWE Championship was the first world championship introduced into the promotion in 1963. The inaugural champion was Buddy Rogers, and there have been 50 different official champions overall and 11 vacancies. The longest reigning champion is 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); Sammartino also holds the record for longest combined reign at 4,040 days.André the Giant is the shortest reigning champion, officially holding the title for 1 minute, 48 seconds. The youngest champion is Brock Lesnar, who won the title at the age of 25, while the oldest champion is Vince McMahon, who won it at the age of 54. John Cena holds the record for most reigns with 13.
AJ Styles is the current champion in his second reign. He won the title on November 7, 2017, in Manchester, England on SmackDown Live by defeating Jinder Mahal. This was the first time that the title changed hands on SmackDown since 2003 when Brock Lesnar defeated Kurt Angle for the title, and the first time the title changed hands outside North America.
After the July 22nd episode of Raw, Lesnar defected to Stephanie McMahon's SmackDown. Lesnar decided to remain exclusively on SmackDown, forcing Eric Bischoff's Raw brand to create its own World Championship.
The entire WWE roster was broken up into two separate camps, yahoo, with some rivalry (especially between future General Managers Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon) occurring.