The History of the North American Championship in Wrestling

This past Wednesday, NXT General Manager William Regal announced the creation of a secondary NXT title, the NXT North American Championship. The first champion will be crowned at NXT Takeover: New Orleans in a 6-Man Ladder Match between Adam Cole, Killian Dain, Velveteen Dream, Lars Sullivan, Ricochet and EC3 (whose entrance overshadowed the title announcement itself).

While it may sound like a boring title name (many have suggested calling it the NXT Television Championship may have been a more fitting title and tribute to Dusty Rhodes), the North American Championship has been a revered wrestling title going back to the 1950s.


17x Western States North American Champion Dory Funk Sr.

Western States was the Amarillo, Texas chapter of the NWA, founded in 1946 by Dory Detton. Dory Funk, father of Dory Jr. and Terry Funk, became co-owner in 1955 and sole owner in 1967, where it remained in the Funk family until 1980 (Blackjack Mulligan and Dick Murdoch ran it the final year into 1981). In 1957, they finally initiated their own top title and it was the NWA North American Championship (Texas version), one of the first North American Championships on record. It would become the top prize in the Texas territory, until it was replaced in 1969 with the NWA Western States Heavyweight Championship. Dizzy Davis defeated Jim Wright on January 3, 1957 to become the first champion, but it was a title dominated by the feud of Dory Funk Sr. and Fritz Von Erich – Funk held the title 17 times, while Von Erich held it four.


4x NWA Hawaii North American Heavyweight Champion Sam Steamboat

In 1936, Al Karasick started Mid-Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii and joined the NWA in 1949, where it also became known as NWA Hawaii. In 1961, Karasick retired and sold the promotion to Ed Francis, who renamed it 50th State Big Time Wrestling. The following year, he created the Hawaiian version of the NWA United States title, but in 1968, it became the Hawaii version of the NWA North American Championship. Professor Toru Tanaka was the first man to hold the Hawaiian version, with Sam Steamboat being the most dominant champion, winning it four times (it was his similar appearance to Richard Blood that prompted promoters to rename him Ricky Steamboat). In 1978, it was renamed again, to the NWA Pacific International Championship.


When the Stampede North American Championship was created in 1968, it was originally supposed to be the company’s secondary singles title. Since Stampede Wrestling was allied with the NWA since 1948, they had always recognized the NWA Canadian Heavyweight Championship as the company’s top title. But in 1972, the NWA abandoned the Canadian title, and Stampede elevated their North American title to it’s top singles championship. Archie Gouldie won the title 14 times, while Leo Burke was an 8x champion. Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart was a 5x champion before heading to the WWF (becoming surprisingly the first Hart family member to win the top title in 1980, when traditionally promoter’s families were pushed to the top). When Stampede reopened after it’s closure in 1989, it regained its status as the top title from 1998 to 2008 (when it closed for good).

2x NA Champion Owen and 4x NA Champion Bad News Allen (aka Brown in WWF)


In the 1950s, Leroy McGuirk took control of the Southern territories of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, rebranding them all under the NWA Tri-State banner. McGuirk initiated the promotions top title in 1969, the NWA North American Championship (Tri State version), which Chuck Karbo won in a tournament. One of the earliest stars was Bill Watts, who held the title four times. In August of 1973, Watts left Tri State for Championship Wrestling of Florida and Georgia Championship Wrestling, defending his title there. While it was recognized in both of those promotions, Tri State stripped him of the belt. In 1975, Watts returned, unifying the Georgia/Florida version with the Tri State once again. In 1979, Watts bought the Tri State territory and renamed in Mid South Wrestling, with the belt becoming the Mid South North American Championship, with legends like Ted DiBiase (5x Champion), Junkyard Dog, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Magnum TA carrying the belt. The belt was retired in 1986, when Watts briefly changed Mid South to UWF (and subsequently absorbed by Jim Crockett into what became WCW).

9x Tri State/Mid South NA Champion “Cowboy” Bill Watts


In 1979, Ted DiBiase was one of the hottest wrestlers in the country, but his home promotion, NWA Tri State had stalled on pushing him as a major singles star. Although he’d won the Tri State North American Championship in 1976, he was being passed by by other stars like Paul Orndorff and Ernie Ladd. In early 1979, he left Tri State and signed with the WWF – his signing bonus was being rewarded as the inaugural WWF North American Champion, no match or tournament. That summer, DiBiase lost the title to Pat Patterson, who then unified the WWF North American Heavyweight Championship with the WWF South American Heavyweight Championship, after winning a (kayfabe) tournament in Rio de Janeiro in September of 1979. The resulting unification resulted in the creation of a new unified title, which became the WWF Intercontinental Championship.

Inaugural WWF NA Champion Ted DiBiase