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One of the oldest professional wrestling associations still active in the world, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) was created in 1948 and served as the biggest governing body for professional wrestling for over three decades. Unlike modern organizations like WWE or the now defunct WCW, the National Wrestling Alliance - as its name suggests - is made up of an alliance of various local and territorial independent wrestling leagues. Although the NWA is still in existence, it is a mere shadow of its former glory days from the 1950s and 1960s.
The NWA was founded on the concept of unifying the various regional pro wrestling organizations that existed in the United States by the late 1940's. Its first true "world" champion would be its second title holder, the legendary Lou Thesz, whose belt was recognized in 1949 as a "world championship" by many of the major organizations of the day, including the AWA (American Wrestling Alliance) and the National Wrestling Association. The NWA would become the main governing body for the vast majority of professional wrestling groups in North America and Japan over time, and the NWA moniker would become well known as promoting only "legitimate" wrestling organizations; these promotions entered into deals with the NWA that entitled the NWA payment in exchange for guarantees that they would each be granted their own "territory". Another guarantee from the NWA to its member groups was the promise of aid in the form of nationally known stars making the rounds in their promotions to help drive any local competitors out of business. The NWA also helped wrestlers who had become stagnant in their home territory by negotiating trades between member promotions, allowing them a new venue to develop their persona or work a fresh crowd.
However, the NWA's best known promotional tactic - one that helped to unify its various regional members - was the unified NWA World Heavyweight Championship. The champion would travel to the various regional groups fighting the local champions, helping lend those champions even more credibility. Given the rather large number of promotions in the NWA at the peak of its success, being the world champion was a rather difficult job and required large amounts of traveling and a enormous number of matches per year. Prior to the spread of national television, having the champion visit a regional organization was considered a rare and important event, often drawing record crowds.
Various contractual disputes and antitrust lawsuits levied against the NWA throughout the 1960s would lead to many of its larger member promotions leaving the organization, starting with the American Wrestling Association in 1960 and the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1963 (though it would take decades before the WWWF would even begin to become a national powerhouse).
The second and nearly fatal blow to the NWA would come in the 1980s, as national television became the norm and many of the NWA's old promotional tactics became useless, with many key members abandoning the Alliance in droves. Plot holes and inconsistencies between the various member organizations became more readily apparent, and the NWA World Champion's appearance became less of a draw, since it was possible to watch matches from other territories. It was at this time that Vince McMahon purchased Georgia Championship Wrestling from the NWA and merged it with his father's company to form the World Wrestling Federation. With a near-desperate need to compete, and lacking trust in the NWA's steadily-declining promotional capacity, Jim Crockett Productions (JCP) began buying out various local wrestling organizations from the NWA; eventually, JCP itself was bought out by media mogul Ted Turner, who turned the company into World Championship Wrestling. Although it turned into a national promotion, WCW would continue to recognize the NWA's authority until 1993, when it finally broke off from the organization in full. On the international level, the NWA witnessed the defection of CMLL (Consejo Mundial the Lucha Libre), All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), and New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW).
Once considered the ultimate authority in Professional Wrestling, by the 1990s, the NWA was seen by many as a dying organization. A final effort to resurrect itself was attempted in 1994 with a national tournament involving its member promotions to crown a new NWA World Champion. Ric Flair, the previous champion, had been stripped of the title when he joined the WWF (though he did keep the actual belt for a short period after he left, since the NWA refused to pay back his deposit). After WCW formally withdrew from the NWA, the finals of the tournament were held by the NWA's most popular regional group, Eastern Championship Wrestling...which would withdraw from the NWA in the most unusual and most memorable form of any wrestling organization. When the NWA took control of the tournament's booking out of fear that ECW would monopolize the tournament, ECW heads Tod Gordon and Paul Heyman hatched a plan that came to fruition the night the tournament ended - Shane Douglas, the only other man in on the plan and the winner of the tournament, tossed down the NWA World Championship belt, declaring that the NWA was "an organization that died - RIP - seven years ago" (when JCP left the organization), and proclaiming the beginning of "the new era of the sport of professional wrestling" before declaring himself the new "ECW champion of the world". Days later, ECW formally withdrew from the NWA and renamed themselves Extreme Championship Wrestling...and the rest is industry history.
The departure of ECW saw the end of the NWA as a truly competitive national professional wrestling organization; it was basically on the sidelines during the Monday Night Wars (as it lacked the money, the talent, or the promotional know-how to compete with its former members). In 2002, after the wars ended, Jeff Jarrett launched a new national promotion, Total Nonstop Action, which became a member of the NWA for the first two years of its existence. The NWA title itself, back in the national spotlight for the first time in a little under a decade, remained in use by TNA until 2007, when it was recalled by the NWA membership.
Although the NWA still technically exists, and its titles are still defended around the world, it is seen as nothing more than a loose collection of farm-league promotions, none of whom date back to before the 1980s. Given the massively-altered landscape of the pro wrestling industry as compared to the heyday of the NWA, it is very highly unlikely that the organization will ever return to its former glory.
Notable National Wrestling Alliance Champions:
- Lou Thesz
- Pat O'Connor
- Gene Kinisi
- Dory Funk, Jr.
- Harley Race
- Jack Brisco
- Giant Baba
- Terry Funk
- Dusty Rhodes
- Ric Flair
- Ricky Steamboat
- Shane Douglas (would be stripped of the title later that day)
- Dan Severn
- Jeff Jarrett
- A.J. Styles
- Adam Pearce
- Badass Decay: Oh so much, whereas the NWA was once considered the ultimate authority in pro wrestling with the champion recognized by the majority of promotions in the U.S., Canada, Japan, and Mexico it is now restricted to small scale independent promotions.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: The NWA has been the victim of this numerous times. Whenever a member becomes particularly successful they will end up leaving the NWA and becoming a rival. Exampls include the WWE, AWA, WCW, ECW, and most recently, TNA.
- Boring Invincible Hero: Lou Thesz is arguably the first of these in professional wrestling often going to great lengths behind the scenes to make sure he stayed champion in the 40's and 50's.
- Cool Mask: One of the first International members of the NWA was EMLL (now known as the CMLL) from Mexico which, true to lucha libre, had numerous masked wrestlers. More recently in the form of Blue Demon Jr. a masked luchador who was champ in 2008.
- Divide and Conquer: When Vince McMahon took over his fathers company the NWA did this to themselves. Although the leaders of the various organizations knew that together they could take out the WWF they were too paranoid to create a more unified body and decided to take on Vince one at a time.
- Older Than They Think: Many famous wrestlers start off in the smaller independent promotions which were/are still members of the NWA. Mick Foley debut as Cactus Jack began in the Memphis-based CWA, as did Sting and the Ultimate Warrior.
- Power Stable: One of the most famous stables in pro wrestling history, The Four Horsemen with Ric Flair, started off here.
- The Artifact: In the form of the NWA Light Heavyweight and Middleweight Championships. Originally a local title granted to then member CMLL for use within Mexico, it is still in use despite CMLL leaving the NWA in the 80's. CMLL refuses to return the belts.
- Hilariously the Light Heavyweight/Middleweight Championships are closer to true "World Titles" than any of the NWA controlled ones since they are occasionally defended in Japan (Ultimo Dragon was Middleweight Champion twice, and the Light-Heavyweight belt, along with the NWA Welterweight belt, was part of the J-Crown).
- The Remnant / The Determinator: Though reduced to a tiny fraction of its former prestige, give credit where credit is due. Almost every other wrestling promotion that's broken away has gone the way of the dodo, from the AWA and Jim Crockett Promotions in the 80's all the way to powerhouses like WCW and ECW in the early 2000's, with only a notable pair of exceptions. After being trashed by every member promotion that's gotten a whiff of success on the national scene, their World title treated as less than tin foil on television time and time again, nobody would have blamed the NWA leadership for throwing in the towel. But they've held strong, and with the rise of the internet, smaller promotions under the NWA umbrella who've never had an audience larger then a high school gym have been able to expose their product to a wider market without the need of traditional cable outlets, leading to a slight resurgence.
- Vestigial Empire: About as vestigial as vestigial gets. Went from having a stranglehold on professional wrestling across several different countries to having tentative oversight of a handful of regional promotions.
- You Look Familiar: A common tactic in the days before national broadcasting was to have a unpopular wrestler be traded to another promotion, often with their gimmick being altered to avoid being recognized.