WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Jinder Mahal
WWE Universal Champion: Brock Lesnar
Global Force Wrestling Global Champion: VACANT
CZW World Heavyweight Champion: Shane Strickland
PWG World Champion: Chuck Taylor
Full Impact Pro World Heavyweight Champion: Fred Yehi
AIWF World Heavyweight Champion: Rodney Mack
!Bang! Funking Conservatory World Heavyweight Champion: No Available Listing
Juggalo Championship Wrestling World Juggalo Champion: Kongo Kong
NWA World Heavyweight Champion: Tim Storm
ROH World Champion: Cody
Women’s Superstars Uncensored World Champion Mercedes Martinez
AAA Mega Champion: Johnny Mundo (belt is often referred to as the AAA World Championship)
CMLL World Heavyweight Champion: Marco Corleone
International Wrestling Syndicate World Heavyweight Champion: Scott Jagged Parker
Destiny Wrestling World Champion: Pete Dunne
NJPW IWGP Champion: Kazuchika Okada
Big Japan Wrestling World Strong Heavyweight Champion: Hideki Suzuki
NOAH GHC Heavyweight Champion: Katsuhiko Nakajima
Zero One World Heavyweight Champion: Masato Tanaka
All Japan Triple Crown Champion: Shuji Ishikawa
IPW UK World Champion: Jimmy Havoc
RQW World Heavyweight Champion: Luke Hawx
WXW Unified World Champion: John Klinger
PROGRESS World Heavyweight Champion: Pete Dunne
ICW World Heavyweight Champion: Joe Coffey
Who is the Worlds Heavyweight Wrestling Champion? As you can see from the list above, it’s not exactly an easy question to answer. There are dozens of promotions spread across the world that claim their Champion is the best wrestler on the planet and seeing as wrestling is a subjective art form it’d be unfair to discount any of those claims but we still have to recognise that not all claims are exactly worthy.
As unpopular as it may be, I think Jinder Mahal currently holds the most prestigious World Championship belt at the time of writing and has the best claim to be the true World Champion of wrestling. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship has a rich history and is globally recognised. Of course, then we have New Japan Pro Wrestling’s IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. IWGP stands for International Wrestling Grand Prix but while it doesn’t formally declare its holder the World Heavyweight Champion like WWE’s title, whomever holds the IWGP belt is a world-renowned holder of one of the most precious prizes in pro wrestling. It’s also the only world title that the WWE recognises outside of their own and given WWE’s attempts at delegitimizing and destroying any pretenders to its throne, this is quite a compliment. WWE as a company sits at the top of the wrestling mountain, but they’re not so high up they can’t see their competition coming for them.
Something that needs to be said also is that while Jinder holds the gold in WWE, Kazuchika Okada is clearly the best wrestler in the world currently holding a version of the World Championship and as far as I’m concerned that’s not up for debate. Every one of his defences since winning the belt on June 19th, 2016 has been at least considered very good by most. Then you add in the fact that there is now a three-way debate between some fans over which of the three matches he had against Kenny Omega are the greatest of all time. For my money, at least it’s the greatest rivalry of the decade and while their final match at the G1 Climax wasn’t for the gold, the IWGP Championship has always been at the heart of the matter. Jinder Mahal has so far been involved in a lifeless feud with Randy Orton which many have said produced the worst match of the year, the Punjabi Prison Match at Battleground in June. Jinder isn’t anywhere near Okada’s level and while he’s risen admirably to the task on occasion, especially when it comes to cutting promos, he’s only in the position he’s in because WWE are anxious to create a star for the Indian market.
Of course, this being wrestling even Jinder’s position on top of the world isn’t so assured.
After the brand split of July 2016 WWE introduced their Universal Championship,this belt was to be defended by the top wrestler on Monday Night Raw after the then WWE World Heavyweight Champion Dean Ambrose was assigned to their Smackdown brand exclusively. Finn Balor was the first Universal champion, beating Seth Rollins for the new belt, only to have him quickly vacate it due to injury. Mid card wrestler Kevin Owens unexpectedly won the title in a hastily drawn up Fatal Four Way match on Raw a few weeks later. He’d hold the title for a few months, but more or less retained his position as a mid-card heel and his reign was often overshadowed by part time megastars like Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg turning up for big shows every few months.
It would actually be Goldberg who’d beat Owens for the title before losing it to current Champion Lesnar. Who would promptly disappear off our TV screens with the title as he’s wont to do. The WWE Universal Championship is less than a year old but when you look at its first annum objectively you could hardly say it’s worthy of its cosmological pretensions.
The top dogs
WWE and NJPW have a lot in common. The International Wrestling Grand Prix was originally that, a Grand Prix style tournament. Often times Antonio Inoki is listed as the first IWGP champion but the winner of the first IWGP tournament and the first man to hold the Championship belt was none other than a young Hulk Hogan. The man he beat in the finals was Inoki, who himself briefly held the WWWF World Championship, beating Bob Backlund only to have his reign disappear from the record books over time.
NJPW was the biggest wrestling company in the world in the mid-90s. The company that replaced it on top was the WWF. While the WWF faced stiff competition from WCW and before that the NWA, NJPW had a constant rival in All Japan Pro Wrestling. Both companies left their competitors in the dust. WWE confined WCW to the dustbin of history and while their precursory form the NWA still exists its barely a shadow of its former self. AJPW is doing slightly better but if you were new to the product you’d hardly believe that this was the same company who regularly sold out the Tokyo Dome into the early 2000’s for their big shows.
WWE and NJPW are the last giants left in their respective domains, even if they’re not exactly on the same scale. While NJPW is in the beginning stages of an expansion beyond the Japanese archipelago WWE is and has been a truly global presence for decades. But the fact remains, both companies emerged from eras of intense competition as the victor.
NJPW doesn’t have the worldwide profile of its biggest competitor but its becoming more visible every day, in some part thanks to WWE. As we’ve previously mentioned, WWE is quick to state the importance of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on its broadcasts to legitimise the backgrounds of certain stars they poached from the land of the rising sun. AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura both had considerable credibility with the WWE and its audience due to their IWGP title reigns in the past, bolstered by the fact that company icon Brock Lesnar is a former IWGP champion himself and the previously metioned NJPW legend Antonio Inoki was recently inducted in to the WWE Hall of Fame to boot. The first Universal Champion Finn Balor, while never an IWGP heavyweight champion was a superstar in Japan and his status there was used to build him into a star for WWE too.
Vince McMahon has always said he loves competition so maybe that’s why he’s ok with mentioning the IWGP Championship on his broadcasts? While NJPW is very far away from being serious competition to the WWE, you’re only the best if you’re better than somebody else. Even though they’re worlds apart on many levels Jinder and Okada are the only real world champions around and the differences between them makes the situation interesting to study.
The NWA World Heavyweight Championship was once unquestionably the most prestigious wrestling championship anywhere in the world. Even the mighty WWWF recognised the NWA title as the top prize in the business and for a time it was placed above their own title held by North East legend Bruno Sammartino. The US was populated with dozens of big time territories who all recognised the belt. When the NWA Champion went to Japan both NJPW and AJPW would treat the NWA Champion similarly.
The NWA withered and morphed into a twisted zombie in the late 80’s and early 90s. World Championship Wrestling grew out of the old Georgia and Carolina territories before cutting ties with the Alliance and crowning their own champion while still slyly claiming its new belt shared the heritage of the NWA title they’d abandoned. The NWA itself shrunk, struggling for relevancy in the 90s. The famous domed globe belt itself was crucified by ECW in a famous angle that seemed to nail shut the coffin of the once mighty alliance.
Still, diehard promoters, what was left of the NWA, picked up the tarnished title Shane Douglas had thrown down and placed it on up and coming wrestler Chris Candido. Candido would drop the title on his way to the WWF and was followed by Dan Severn. Severn held the title for over four years but would be forced to defend the title in car parks and armories in between Japan tours. While Severn was a great amateur wrestler he was never going to compete with the likes of Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan during his reign in terms of star power.
The NWA Championship became considerably less visible during Severn’s extended reign, though it did appear on WWF television when Dan was signed to the company in 1998. After Severn lost it to Japanese shooter Naoya Ogawa the belt seemed to pop in and out of obscurity for a few years before being picked up by Jeff Jarrett to be used for his new NWA TNA company. Like WCW before it, TNA would abandon the NWA title in favour of their own world championship eventually. Its got the richest history of any belt worn by any wrestler but you can hardly be the champion of the world if nobody actually knows your champion, right? Tim Storm is the current champion, but with all due respect had you heard of him before reading this piece?
Similarly, we have the All Japan Triple Crown. This was once one of the premier titles in pro wrestling. All Japan Pro Wrestling as previously mentioned, was a fierce rival of NJPW. They would frequently trade the top spot in Japan and for a long time being the Triple Crown champion made you a big deal. Similar to the IWGP title, it didn’t actually formally declare its holder to be the “world” champion but the title holder was globally recognised. The Triple Crown is made up of three championships: the Pacific Wrestling Federation World Heavyweight Championship, the NWA United National Championship and the NWA International Heavyweight Championship. It also holds a very proud legacy with Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, Stan Hansen, Terry Gordy, Mitsuhara Misawa and Kenta Kobashi among the former champions.
While it’s fair to say the company and its title are shadows of their former selves, AJPW is on the rise after many years in the wilderness. In recent times AJPW ace Kento Miyahara has turned a lot of heads during his title reigns and main event runs. While it seems unlikely that All Japan will fill the Tokyo Dome ever again I do live in hope that they’ll regain some of their former glory. They’ve outlasted a lot of companies and have bounced back from a seemingly terminal period in their history but they have a long way to go before the Triple Crown holder is held in the same regard as the IWGP or WWE Champion.
Both of these titles have priceless history behind them to help with their claims but what about the new range of challengers out there?
The New Breed
When WCW and ECW perished a void opened up in the world of wrestling for an American champion not recognised by WWE.
TNA had some legitimacy back in the mid-2000’s, at one point bringing said legitimacy to the old NWA title. Like WCW before them they named their own TNA World Champion. TNA was never much of a success, surviving on the buoyant bank account of Bob Carter. They’ve changed hands multiple times over the last year and recently have mutated into Global Force Wrestling, a company which is struggling to get off the ground.
Ring of Honor World Champion Cody Rhodes has a decent claim. Through his association with the Bullet Club, his years spent in WWE and his famous family Cody has quite a profile in the current wrestling scene. ROH has always had a high profile amongst hardcore wrestling fans but it has never broken out of its niche market. In 2017 though they have pulled large crowds to shows, they have good television coverage and their association with NJPW has been a major plus too. Their belt has been defended internationally frequently enough and ROH has promoted shows outside of the US frequently giving it a limited global reach. Still, you’d be hard pressed to say its on the level of the WWE title.
Pete Dunne currently carries three belts around in his mouth two of which declare him to be the world champion. He won the PROGRESS World Heavyweight Championship in November 2016 and just recently picked up the Destiny Wrestling World Championship on a trip to Canada. PROGRESS is mainly based in London but recently they’ve staged successful shows in Germany and the US so their claim isn’t so flimsy. Destiny Wrestling on the other hand are an indie promotion that are unlikely to leave Canada anytime soon. Ironically Dunne is probably most renowned for his WWE United Kingdom Championship, a new regional title sanctioned by Vince McMahon and Co. Wrestling in 2017 is confusing.
What’s also confusing is that PROGRESS bothered to mint a World Championship in the first place. After the collapse of ECW and WCW dozens of pretenders jumped to fill the void with their chosen world champions from the regional promotions like CZW to Andrew McManus’s World Wrestling All-Stars which did legitimately run cards worldwide before it was swallowed by TNA. By the end of the decade, naming a world champion had become kind of uncool but both PROGRESS and Scotland’s Insane Championship Wrestling have forged ahead with world titles and done fairly well for themselves. While ICW infrequently promotes outside of Scotland, they have drawn crowds of over 6,000 to their shows which even ROH haven’t been able to do yet.
The wrestling business is changing. The indie promotions I’ve been discussing aren’t the only ones experiencing a boom period, live independent wrestling is on fire the world over right now. The internet has brought wrestling fans closer together and erased the geographical boundaries that have previously limited a wrestler or promotions exposure. You don’t need WWE’s budget to reach millions of fans anymore, you just need a tweet to go viral.
WWE is going through a strange period too. While it seems that other companies are experiencing boom periods WWE is slowly sliding into a depression. Television ratings are down along with live attendance even though there are still millions of people out there hungry for pro wrestling. As fans, we’ve witnessed quite a few drastic changes to our beloved sport throughout the ages and while this one hasn’t been as dramatic as the death of WCW it could have far reaching consequences.
The future of the wrestling business is uncertain, as with all things. But something we can see from the past is that nothing lasts forever. We’ll always have one or two clear world champions but the belts that signify that honour may not always be the same. Though main eventing WrestleMania or Wrestle Kingdom will give you a solid claim no matter what. Who is the World Heavyweight Champion? I could give you an answer today but it’d probably change tomorrow anyway.