Originally designed in 1985 by silversmith Charles Crumrine and commissioned by Jim Crockett Promotions for NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair, the championship belt has three large gold plates with a distinctive name plate onto which the champion's name was etched. While not the first wrestling championship belt to incorporate a name plate, it popularized the concept. The original championship belt design was known for being unbranded as it only read "World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion" and bore no initials or trademark of its owning promotion.
In 2003, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) added its logo to the design for copyright purposes. Following the championship belt's introduction in WWE, the distinctive name plate feature of the Big Gold Belt was swiftly incorporated into the belt designs of other WWE championships.
NWA World Heavyweight Championship
The Big Gold Belt was first introduced in 1986 to replace the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt that had been used since 1973, historically known as the "domed globe" and nicknamed by both wrestlers and fans the "Ten Pounds of Gold". Jim Crockett Jr. of Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP) commissioned Charles Crumrine, a silversmith in Reno, Nevada that specialized in rodeo-style belt buckles, to produce it. The championship belt debuted on February 14, 1986 at a Championship Wrestling from Florida card called "Battle of the Belts II", where NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair defended the title against Barry Windham.
In 1988, JCP was purchased by media mogul and TBS founder Ted Turner. He established it as World Championship Wrestling (WCW) under partnership with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and continued promoting the NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair.
WCW World Heavyweight Championship
In January 1991, WCW officially recognized Ric Flair as their world champion in conjunction with the NWA's recognition. During this time, the Big Gold Belt represented the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as well as the newly established WCW World Heavyweight Championship. An exception to this arose in the spring of 1991. On March 21, 1991, Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Flair at the WCW/New Japan Supershow. Following this match, the NWA recognized Fujinami as their new champion. However, WCW did not recognize this title change. While Flair would defeat Fujinami at SuperBrawl I on May 19, 1991 to reunify the NWA and WCW world titles, during Fujinami's approximately two-month reign as NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Flair retained possession of the championship belt and it only represented the WCW World Heavyweight Champion.
"Real World's Heavyweight Championship"
In July 1991, Flair and WCW parted ways while Flair was still champion. The Big Gold Belt left with Flair due to a dispute with WCW Vice President Jim Herd in which Herd refused to return Flair's $25,000 deposit, a deposit per regulations that was required of reigning NWA World Heavyweight Champions and was to be returned after the conclusion of their reigns. WCW was forced to strip Flair of their recognition of world champion and introduced a new title belt design to continue to represent the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. The NWA followed suit and also stripped Flair of their recognition of world champion.
Flair soon signed with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) and exhibited the Big Gold Belt there, proclaiming himself "The Real World's Heavyweight Champion" until WCW sued, upon which Flair instead used a WWF World Tag Team title belt, digitized out on television, on the (kayfabe) orders of WWF President Jack Tunney until Flair won the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at the 1992 Royal Rumble, thereby unifying it with his own claim. Flair stated on the 2008 DVD release of Nature Boy Ric Flair: The Definitive Collection that the $25,000 he initially deposited with additional interest totalling $38,000 was never paid back to him, and as a result, Flair kept the Big Gold Belt until a settlement was finally reached with WCW.
With its return to WCW, the Big Gold Belt represented the NWA World Heavyweight Championship once again, being awarded to Masa Chono after his August 1992 tournament final victory over Rick Rude for the vacant title in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Meanwhile the new WCW World Heavyweight Championship belt design that had been commissioned after Flair's departure also continued to be used.
WCW International World Heavyweight Championship
In September 1993, WCW formally seceded from the NWA and with that the promotional rights to the NWA World Heavyweight Championship were returned to the NWA. With the Big Gold Belt remaining property of WCW, Ric Flair who won NWA World Heavyweight Championship in July was recognized by WCW as holding the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship, the world championship of a supposed subsidiary of WCW called "WCW International". The WCW International World Heavyweight Championship was represented by the Big Gold Belt until June 1994, when it was unified with the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. The Big Gold Belt became the WCW World Heavyweight Championship again. The Big Gold Belt remained the top title in WCW until the end of the promotion in 2001.
WCW bought by the WWF
In March 2001, after the long and bitter rivalry of the Monday Night Wars, World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. bought out WCW. The Big Gold Belt became property of the WWF and continued to represent the abbreviated WCW Championship within the promotion during the period of the WCW/ECW "Invasion". After the conclusion of Invasion at the Survivor Series in November 2001, the WCW Championship being held by The Rock became known simply as the World Championship for the month that followed as the WCW name was phased out. The title was unified with the WWF Championship at Vengeance in December 2001. Chris Jericho became the final recognized titleholder and the subsequent undisputed champion in the WWF and professional wrestling.
Undisputed WWF Championship
Following the unification of the World Championship (formerly WCW Championship) and WWF Championship in December 2001, the Big Gold Belt and the WWF Championship belt were collectively used to represent the Undisputed WWF Championship (those who held the championship belts after Jericho are credited as having held only the WWF Championship). After Jericho was defeated by Triple H at WrestleMania X8, the two title belts were replaced by a single Undisputed WWF Championship belt (later WWE), which was first exhibited by Triple H on April 1, 2002.
Unbranded World Heavyweight Championship
By 2002, the WWF had been divided in what became known as the brand extension and the promotion along with its parent company were renamed to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The roster was divided into two franchises or "WWE brands", split between Raw and SmackDown!. The WWE Undisputed Champion appeared on both shows and defended against challengers from both brands. After SummerSlam in August 2002, WWE Undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar announced that he had signed an exclusive contract with SmackDown, ignoring the claim to the title's number-one contendership by Raw's Triple H. Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff said that the WWE Undisputed Championship was thus very much disputed, and he awarded the World Heavyweight Championship, in the form of the Big Gold Belt, to Triple H. A new version of the belt, incorporating a WWE logo for copyright purposes, was introduced in March 2003.
On December 15, 2013 at the TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view, the title was unified with the WWE Championship when WWE Champion Randy Orton defeated World Heavyweight Champion John Cena, and was officially retired.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
On December 15, 2013, the Big Gold Belt was used in conjunction with the existing WWE Championship belt to represent the unified championship known as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship (the name has since reverted to the WWE Championship). However, much like how Chris Jericho carried both physical title belts as Undisputed WWF Champion, the title history for the World Heavyweight Championship was retired as this lineage follows that of WWE's original world title. On the August 18, 2014, episode of Raw, a single, redesigned WWE Championship belt was presented to then-champion Brock Lesnar, and the Big Gold Belt was finally retired.
- The History of the World Heavyweight Championship, WWE Home Video, 2009.
- "WWE's "Ace of Belts" Dave Millican's 10 favorite championship titles". WWE.com. May 21, 2013. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
- "Ric Flair's first reign". WWE. Archived from the original on 2005-07-23. Retrieved 2007-03-20.
- (Pointing at WWF World championship belt) "That's why he is - and you can call him - the Real World's Heavyweight Champion." Bobby Heenan, postmatch interview, Royal Rumble 1992, Pay Per View TV broadcast by Titan Sports transmitted January 19, 1992. Quote occurs at 1:23
- "He'll be claiming to be the World Wrestling Federation Champion. He'll be claiming to be the Real World's Champion. He'll be claiming it all"- Ric Flair
"Call yourself the Real World's/ WWF Champion? Well I suppose I am!" - Randy Savage.
Postmatch TV interview comments, Wrestlemania VIII, Pay Per View TV broadcast by Titan Sports transmitted April 5, 1992.
- Flair takes Big gold to WWF - PW Insider.com
- WCW World Champion - Chris Jericho Archived 2008-02-15 at the Wayback Machine at WWE.com
- "WWWF/WWF/WWE World Heavyweight Title". Wrestling-titles.com. Archived from the original on 13 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-18.
- Clayton, Corey (2007-09-06). "World Heavyweight Championship turns five years old". World Wrestling Entertainment. Retrieved 2008-12-23.
- Unified titles - WWE.com
- Unified titles - WWE.com