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The American Wrestling Association (AWA) World Heavyweight Championship was a professional wrestling world heavyweight championship and the highest ranked championship in the defunct American Wrestling Association. All AWA trademarks, including the AWA World Heavyweight Championship, are now owned by WWE.

The AWA World Heavyweight Championship was established in May 1960, after the AWA became a separate promotion from the National Wrestling Alliance, which had previously been a part of the NWA's Minneapolis, Minnesota-area presence. The first champion was Pat O'Connor, who was recognized as the first champion upon the AWA's secession from the NWA as O'Connor held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as well, which he won on January 9, 1959. The creation of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship along with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship would pave the way for the creation of many other world championships in other wrestling promotions. American Wrestling Association and the title became inactive in 1990 and the organization officially closed down in 1991 with the title also being decommissioned. The championship is a downloadable title in WWE '13 and unlockable in WWE 2K14.

In 1996, Dale Gagner and his associate Jonnie Stewart, former American Wrestling Association employees, began using the AWA name in the state of Minnesota and formed an organization known as AWA Superstars of Wrestling, infringing on the AWA name. Finally, in April 2007 World Wrestling Entertainment filed a lawsuit against Dale Gagner and Jonnie Stewart, citing trademark infringement, as WWE owned all American Wrestling Association properties due to their purchase after the AWA's closure. In October 2008, the court ruled in favor of WWE. The court ruling prohibits Gagner and his associate from exploiting or trading on the AWA name or any other derivatives.

Championship History

  • Pat O'Connor - May 18, 1960
    • O'Connor held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, which he won on January 9, 1959, in St. Louis, Missouri; recognized as the first AWA World Champion in May 1960, but was given 90 days to defend the title against Verne Gagne or be stripped of the title.
  • Verne Gagne - August 16, 1960
    • Gagne was awarded the championship after Pat O'Connor failed to defend the title.
  • Gene Kiniski - July 11, 1961
  • Verne Gagne - August 8, 1961
  • Mr. M - January 9, 1962
  • Verne Gagne - August 21, 1962
  • The Crusher - July 9, 1963
    • The Crusher also won Omaha version of World Heavyweight Championship from Verne Gagne on February 15, 1963, in Omaha, Nebraska.
  • Verne Gagne - July 20, 1963
    • Gagne won both the AWA Championship and the Omaha Championship.
  • Fritz Von Erich - July 27, 1963
    • Von Erich won both the AWA Championship and the Omaha Championship.
  • Verne Gagne - August 8, 1963
    • Fritz Von Erich's Omaha Championship was not at stake. On September 7, 1963, Gagne defeated Von Erich in Omaha in a title unification match and the AWA World Heavyweight Championship becomes the surviving title.
  • The Crusher - November 16, 1963
  • Verne Gagne - December 14, 1963
  • Mad Dog Vachon - May 2, 1964
  • Verne Gagne - May 16, 1964
  • Mad Dog Vachon - October 20, 1964
  • Mighty Igor Vodic - May 15, 1965
  • Mad Dog Vachon - May 22, 1965
  • The Crusher - August 21, 1965
  • Mad Dog Vachon - November 12, 1965
  • Mr. Wrestling - January 8, 1966
  • Mad Dog Vachon - January 14, 1966
    • AWA president Stanley Blackburn reviews the match from January 8, 1966, and declares it "no contest" on January 14, 1966, since Mr. Wrestling's legs are on the rope while pinning Vachon during the final fall. Vachon later defeats Mr. Wrestling decisively for the title.
  • Dick the Bruiser - November 12, 1966
  • Mad Dog Vachon - November 19, 1966
  • Verne Gagne - February 26, 1967
  • Dr. X - August 17, 1968
  • Verne Gagne - August 31, 1968
  • Nick Bockwinkel - November 8, 1975
  • Verne Gagne - July 18, 1980
    • Gagne retired from active wrestling while still the champion.
  • Nick Bockwinkel - May 19, 1981
    • Bockwinkel was awarded the championship when Verne Gagne retired from professional wrestling.
  • Hulk Hogan - April 18, 1982
  • Nick Bockwinkel - April 24, 1982
  • Otto Wanz - August 29, 1982
  • Nick Bockwinkel - October 9, 1982

Vacated - The championship is held up on December 27, 1982 after a match with Jerry Lawler; it was given back to Bockwinkel after defeating Lawler in a rematch on January 10, 1983. Bockwinkel is retroactively recognized as having continued been champion during the period the title was held up.

  • Jumbo Tsuruta - February 22, 1984
  • Rick Martel - May 13, 1984
  • Stan Hansen - December 29, 1985
    • Hansen took the championship belt and defended it on All Japan Pro Wrestling's cards in July 1986.
  • Nick Bockwinkel - June 28, 1986
    • Bockwinkel was awarded the championship when Stan Hansen left the AWA.
  • Curt Hennig - May 2, 1987

Vacated - The championship was held up immediately after the match due to controversy over interference by Larry Zbyszko on Hennig's behalf, but the title is returned to Hennig days later after the AWA Championship Committee rules that there was no evidence of interference. On February 16, 1988, the title was again held up, this time due to a no-contest between Hennig and The Grappler in Portland, Oregon. Hennig would regain the title on March 5 in Portland, thanks to his replacement The Assassin defeating The Grappler in a decision match. AWA did not recognize this, which makes Hennig a one-time champion.

  • Jerry Lawler - May 9, 1988
    • Jackie Fargo was the special guest referee after getting more votes in a national telephone poll than Hennig's father, Larry "The Axe" Hennig. CWA (Memphis) owner Jerry Jarrett announced weeks before the match that Lawler promised to retire if he lost. Lawler later defeated Kerry Von Erich on December 13, 1988, in Chicago to win the WCCW World Heavyweight Championship, and become the first Unified AWA World Heavyweight Champion.

Vacated - January 20, 1989 - Jerry Lawler was stripped of the championship after the Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) split from the AWA.

  • Larry Zbyszko - February 7, 1989
  • Mr. Saito - February 10, 1990
  • Larry Zbyszko - April 8, 1990

Vacated - December 12, 1990 - The championship was stripped when Larry Zbyszko left the inactive AWA for World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Official kayfabe reason was that Zbyszko refused to defend the title on a tour of Japan.

Deactivated - January 12, 1991 - The championship was deactivated when AWA closed on January 12, 1991.

See Also

World Heavyweight Championship -- American Wrestling Association