National Wrestling Alliance

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National Wrestling Alliance logo
National Wrestling Alliance logo

The National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) is the governing body for a group of independent professional wrestling promotions and sanctions various NWA championships. The NWA has been in operation since 1948. Prior to the 1980s, it acted as the sole governing body for most of pro wrestling, operating as the "franchise"-like "territory" system.


[edit] History

[edit] Territories

Further information: List of NWA territories

Before the National Wrestling Alliance was founded in 1948 there were many federations that claimed to have the “World” champion, but few of them had backing outside their home promotion. The concept of the NWA was to consolidate those championships into one true world champion of pro-wrestling, a champion that was recognized throughout the world by all federations. In 1948, Pinkie George, a promoter from the Midwest, founded the original version of the National Wrestling Alliance with the backing of five other promoters (Al Haft, Tony Strecher, Harry Light, Orville Brown, Paul George, Sam Muchnick). The newly-formed NWA Board of Directors recognized Brown as the world champion of the member promotions. During the reign of the second NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Lou Thesz, from 1949 to 1956, the championship was unified with several competing world titles, such as those recognized by the National Wrestling Association and American Wrestling Alliance (in Boston), and the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium version of the world title, thus legitimizing the NWA'a claim of their title being a “Unified World Title” with a lineage that continues to this very day.

Upon becoming the booker for Lou Thesz, in 1950, Muchnick, who was the head of the St. Louis Wrestling Club, became the new NWA President, and maintained that position until 1960, when Verne Gagne broke away from the NWA, and formed the AWA. Fred Kohler became NWA President after becoming the main booker for new NWA champion "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, succeeding Muchnick's replacement Frank Tunney, before Doc Karl Sarpolis, the NWA promoter in Amarillo, Texas, became the President after promoting a match in which the recognized NWA champion in Amarillo, Killer Kowalski, lost to Rogers in October of 1962. Buddy Rogers now became the most popular wrestler of his time, and dominated wrestling shows in the Northeastern part of the US. After Rogers officially lost his NWA title to Lou Thesz in 1963, the Northeast NWA promotion known Capitol Sports Wrestling (now WWE) was able to successfully break away from the NWA and recognize Rogers as their champion, which lead to Muchnick becoming NWA President once again.

The concept was very simple but also very effective in the days before any one wrestling promotion received nation-wide television exposure. The NWA members divided up North America (including the United States, Canada, and Mexico) as well as Japan, into territories that each promoter would “own” and operate in. Having a territory meant that no other NWA member could promote wrestling in that area, and if independent promoters tried to promote in the territory then the other member groups were obliged to send stars to help force the intruder out. Reportedly, threats of violence or physical retaliation were used against promoters who disregarded the territory system. If any member territory broke the NWA's rules they faced expulsion, and thus risked missing out on having wrestlers with household names appear in their territories. Thus the NWA used a "carrot and stick" approach to maintaining the territory system. For most promoters under the NWA umbrella, the benefits of membership were well worth the dues. Usually, the NWA President's territory was the main territory.

Beyond the benefit of having other promotions to draw on in case of an intruder, the territories also got periodic visits from the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. The World Champion did not have a “home territory”, as such, but would travel from territory to territory, and defend the title against the biggest stars in that territory. Many promoters would build up to the appearance of the World Champion weeks or months in advance, making the world title matches that much more special. In those days, each promotion usually had TV that showed on local stations in their territory only, which meant that the local fans only saw the world champion when he came to their area, and not all year round. It was not just the champion that would travel the territories, oftentimes wrestlers from a different area would come into a territory (often the heels / “bad guys”) and run an angle or two with the biggest faces (good guys) of the promotions. Also, if the locals ever got tired of a wrestler, he could go to a whole new territory and work with audiences who didn't know him.

[edit] Decline and fall of the territory system

Video tape trading and cable television paved the way for the eventual death of the NWA's regional business, as fans could now see for themselves the plot holes and inconsistencies between the different regional storylines, and the presence of stars like Ric Flair on TV every week made their special appearances in each region less of a draw. World Wrestling Federation (WWF) promoter Vince McMahon used these gathering trends, and talent raids, to turn his northeastern territory into a national federation. To compete against this threat, various NWA promoters, along with the AWA, attempted to co-promote shows under the Pro Wrestling USA banner. However, this eventually fell apart, and the AWA ended up in possession of the group's ESPN timeslot, and used it to broadcast its own weekly shows.

Meanwhile, to hold off the threat of the WWF, promoter Jim Crockett Promotions decided to unify parts of the NWA, and create a national federation, by buying out some of the member promotions (or, in some cases, allowing them to quietly die out and simply absorbing their rosters). However, by 1988 this led him to bankruptcy, and he sold off the promotion to Ted Turner's Turner Broadcasting as World Championship Wrestling (WCW). In 1991, the flagship WCW realized the NWA needed it more than it needed the NWA, and left the Alliance. WCW continued, however, to claim certain aspects of the NWA's lineage. To make matters even more confusing, WCW spent much of 1992 and 1993 recognizing its own WCW World Champions in addition to the resurrected NWA Titles. In September of 1993, WCW severed its NWA connections for good, due to a lawsuit over whether or not WCW had the right to select NWA champions without supervision.

After the AWA's bankruptcy, and the departure of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), the NWA was a shell of its former self. Through the mid to late '90s, the all-but-forgotten organization was left with a small collection of independent federations during the peak of the Monday night ratings wars between the WCW and WWF.

[edit] NWA today

See also: NWA Hall of Fame

Today there is still a group of promoters which hold membership in the NWA and continue to use the NWA name, although (with the exception of New Zealand's Steve Rickard) no members are holdovers from the membership of the promotion's "glory days" of the 1940s-1980s.

In order to join the NWA, a promoter must have been operating for at least one year in a territory uncontested by any other NWA member, and their application must be approved by a majority vote of the Board of Directors, although there are numerous exceptions to this bylaw currently within the organization. In August, 2005, the presidency of the NWA was dissolved and the duties of the office assumed by the Board of Directors following the resignation of Ernie Todd, the promoter of NWA: Canadian Wrestling Federation. On his promotion's site, not only does he explain his reasons for resigning from the NWA and its Board of Directors, but he states that he will be joining AWA Superstars of Wrestling. Other members on the NWA's message board have posted their thoughts on Ernie's departure and his decision to join the AWA. It was announced on the NWA's website on Monday, October 10, 2005, that current NWA legal counsel Bob Trobich would become the new Executive Director to the NWA. As the new NWA Executive Director, Trobich will be the primary contact and decision maker for all NWA business.

[edit] Current major promotions

The NWA brand name has been seen most prominently in recent years in conjunction with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), a former NWA member promotion started by Jeff Jarrett and Jerry Jarrett in 2002 that later withdrew from the NWA in 2004. In 2004, TNA negotiated a new deal to license the NWA name and the use of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and the NWA World Tag Team Championship for ten years. As such, the NWA continues to recognize these titles and lists TNA champions on its web site.

The most visible NWA member promotion in the United States in recent times was undoubtedly NWA Wildside, which aired 300 consecutive weeks of syndicated television before closing in April 2005, when the promoter, Bill Behrens, signed a deal to work as a television syndicator for WWE.

The largest and most successful member promotion of the NWA was New Japan Pro Wrestling, which is the second largest and most profitable wrestling promotion in the world after WWE. NJPW is sanctioned by NWA member the legendary Antonio Inoki, who at times has also sanctioned Zero One and Universal Fighting Organization as NWA promotions. NJPW holds events consistently throughout Japan, and has also run shows in Europe and the United States.

[edit] History of the NWA Territories

Since its inception in 1948, a long list of promoters have been dues-paying members of the NWA, so many that a complete list is hard to come by. Some famous federations started out in the NWA and then split off to form their own independent organizations.

[edit] Breaking away from the NWA

in 1960 the American Wrestling Association (AWA) broke away from the National Wrestling Alliance due to a dispute over the booking of the world champion. Lou Thesz had been supposed to win back the championship, despite the popularity Pat O'Connor had attained after winning it in 1959 and successfully starting the television program Wrestling At The Chase. The AWA named the then-NWA World Heavyweight Champion Pat O’Connor the first AWA World Heavyweight Championship and then gave him ninety days to defend the title. When O’Connor did not defend due to contractual obligations to the NWA, he was stripped of the title and Verne Gagne, promoter of the AWA, was named the champion. In reality, Verne was the first active world champion for the AWA. Initially, the AWA promoted out of Minnesota, and usually only ventured outside their “home territory” when working with local promoters like Jerry Jarrett in Memphis, who booked the AWA World Heavyweight Champions through the late 1970s and 1980s. When Vince McMahon started to expand to a national level, the AWA tried to counter him by working together with various federations in the “Pro Wrestling USA” initiative. In the end, the AWA folded in 1991, when their attendance fell to unprofitable levels.

Another promoter who broke away from the NWA and formed his own federation was New York promoter Vincent J. McMahon who ran the Capitol Wrestling Corporation. In 1963, the NWA World Heavyweight Champion was ”Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. Rogers had started his career in the northeastern territories, and several members of the NWA felt slighted by the fact that Rogers rarely defended outside this area. After much politicking, Buddy Rogers lost the NWA title in Toronto, causing McMahon to withdraw from the NWA and create the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). The WWWF claimed that Buddy Rogers won a title tournament in Rio De Janeiro, a tournament that did not in fact exist. This fiction was thought to look better than just awarding the WWWF title to Rogers. The WWE is still in existence today, and is, in fact, the largest wrestling promotion in the world.

In the 1980s, NWA member Georgia Championship Wrestling (GCW) was sold to Vince McMahon, Jr. and merged into the WWF. The WWF thus took over GCW’s long time TV slot on TBS. The purchase got the attention of Ted Turner who is a wrestling fan. Turner is reported to have approached Vince to buy a share in the WWF but to have been turned down. In turn, Turner bought Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP), which was one of the most powerful territories in the NWA. JCP was renamed World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and with the backing of Turner’s money grew into a national promotion. With time, WCW became the main NWA territory with the JCP versions of the tag-team, United States, and Television Champions being recognized on a national scale. Up until this point only the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship had had national recognition. WCW was still a member of the NWA, but with time felt that the NWA needed WCW more than WCW needed the backing of the NWA, especially since both WCW and the WWF toured the entire country instead of staying within a confined territory. In 1991, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship was officially renamed the “WCW World Championship” (and all other NWA titles were likewise renamed). The NWA continued to recognize the WCW World Champion as the champion of the National Wrestling Alliance until Ric Flair left WCW with the actual title belt in his possession to join the WWF. At this point in time, Ric Flair was stripped of the championship, and it lay dormant for a year, until New Japan Pro Wrestling hosted a tournament to crown a new champion, a champion that was recognized as the “NWA World Heavyweight Champion” on WCW broadcasts. In 1993, WCW withdrew completely from the NWA, and, despite Ric Flair's possession of the physical belt, made no mention of the NWA name on air after the split.

Another federation that withdrew from the NWA to operate on their own was Mid-South Sports, owned and booked by Bill Watts. After breaking away from the NWA, Watts renamed the promotion the Universal Wrestling Federation in a bid to expand nationally, but was eventually brought out by Jim Crockett Promotions in 1988, after going bankrupt.

In 1986, promoter Fritz Von Erich withdrew World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) from the NWA in a bid to become a national promotion. They joined up with another former NWA member, Continental Wrestling Association and the AWA to try to compete with WCW and the WWF, but soon fell apart due to interpromotional politics. WCCW and the CWA later merged to form the United States Wrestling Association. The USWA folded in 1997.

In 1994, Philadelphia-based Eastern Championship Wrestling (ECW) withdrew their membership from the NWA in spectacular fashion. As one of the most popular independent federations of the early 90s, they hosted a tournament to crown a new NWA World Heavyweight Champion after WCW had withdrawn from the Alliance. The finals of the tournament saw Shane Douglas defeat 2 Cold Scorpio for the world title. Then, in a shocking turn, Douglas turned around and throw the world title down, claiming that he did not want to be the champion of a federation that died “7 years before” (when JCP was sold to Turner). He then announced that ECW was no longer a member of the NWA, and that their new name was Extreme Championship Wrestling.

The latest promotion to split away from the NWA in a bid to become the "number two" national wrestling federation is Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA). TNA was founded in 2002 as NWA: TNA and quickly came to hold exclusive booking rights to the two NWA world titles (Heavyweight and Tag-Team). In 2004, TNA withdrew from the NWA, but cut a deal with the Alliance to keep the promotional rights to the NWA World Heavyweight and Tag Team championships until 2014, thus leaving the NWA without an official world heavyweight title for the first time since it’s inception.

NWA and TNA's agreement though is ending early requiring TNA to return the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and World Tag Team Championships to the NWA in 2007

[edit] Regional promotions of the past

Several smaller promotions that were once cornerstones of the NWA ceased to exist as the WWF and WCW grew to national levels. Pacific Northwest Wrestling (PNW) was one of the main NWA territories into the 80s, but, due to the aging of promoter Don Owen and dwindling profit, PNW closed down in 1992. Another territory that was once considered a main territory of the NWA was promoter and two-time NWA President Sam Muchnick’s St. Louis-based promotion, the St. Louis Wrestling Club, which ran until 1982 and was then sold to a promotion that Jim Crockett Promotion absorbed in 1985 in their attempt to create a national federation. NWA Mid-America, booked by Nick Gulas, and the Continental Wrestling Federation, booked by the Fullers, both folded in the 1980s, but were long-time members. Southwest Championship Wrestling out of San Antonio, Texas was a member from 1978 until it was bought by WCCW in 1985. When Detroit promoter and NWA Member Ed Farhat made several wrestling appearances as the Sheik in an “Outlaw Territory,” his promotion, Big Time Wrestling, was expelled from the NWA, since that was against the charter of the NWA. Another American former NWA member is Ohio Valley Wrestling, which was a member until it was made a WWE developmental territory in 2001.

The NWA is not an organization restricted to the United States alone. At various points, promotions in Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, Japan and Australia were members of the Alliance, further strengthening the “World” aspect of the group. Frank Tunney Sports was a Canadian promotion that was a long-time member of the NWA, with it’s promoter serving as the NWA President in the early 1960s. Frank Tunney Sports withdrew from the NWA when it was incorporated into the WWF in 1984.

Another Canadian federation that was a key player in the NWA, until being bought by the WWF in the 80s, was Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, Alberta. When Stampede was reborn in 1999, it did not become a member of the NWA. Another Canadian territory, encompassing Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, was known as the Eastern Sports Association, and operated only in the summer months. The federation dissolved in 1977, and promoter Al Zink’s subsequent ventures into wrestling were not affiliated with the NWA. Out of Vancouver, British Columbia came promoters Gene Kiniski and Sandor Kovac’s NWA All Star Wrestling, which was a member until 1985, and then recognized a fictitious sanctioning body known as the “Universal Wrestling Alliance".

In Mexico, the primary NWA member was Empresa Mexicana de la Lucha Libre (now called CMLL). Founded in 1933, it precedes the creation of the NWA. EMLL joined with the NWA later on, but broke away from the group in 1980. Despite not being a member of the NWA since 1980, CMLL still recognizes three titles with NWA lineage: NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship, NWA World Middleweight Championship & NWA World Welterweight Championship, which are all unsanctioned and only defended at CMLL events.

In the Caribbean, long-time promotion the World Wrestling Council, owned by Carlos Colon and based out of Puerto Rico, was a member from 1973 until 1988, when the territory concept became semi-obsolete due to WCW’s growth. Rival Puerto Rican promotion International Wrestling Association, founded in 1994 by Victor Quiñones, was a member of the NWA from its inception until its withdrawal in 2001.

The NWA’s presence in Japan was established in 1953, when legendary Japanese wrestler/promoter Rikidozan founded Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance, which quickly became the main promotion in Japan. In 1972, JPWA’s two top draws Giant Baba and Antonio Inoki left to form their own federations, All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) and New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) respectively. As a result, JPWA soon folded. AJPW became an NWA member upon its inception in 1973, and stayed with the Alliance until the late 1980s. NJPW was also a member of the NWA at various points between 1975 and 1985, mainly in order to gain control of the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship. In 1992 and 1993, NJPW joined with the NWA once more to re-establish and promote the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, but left the NWA when WCW withdrew.

NJPW returned to the NWA in 2004, again mainly for the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship, and it is not a connection that is strongly emphasized these days. Between NJPW's departure in 1993 and its return in 2004, NWA representation in Japan was scattered among a few independent promotions: International Wrestling Association of Japan (1994-96); Wrestle Yume Factory (1995-97), Universal Fighting Organization (1999-2000); and Pro Wrestling ZERO-ONE (2001-04).

[edit] Titles in the company

[edit] External links