August 27, 1994, Philadelphia, PA
In 1947, wrestling promoters across the United States sought to solve problems with multiple promotions fighting over territories. In order to do so they banded together to create the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), a governing body that would rule over professional wrestling, eventually across most of North America. A second goal of the creation of the NWA was that the organization created a unified championship title belt. The first title holder was Orville Brown, but his career was injured due to an automobile accident. Thus, Lou Thesz, the number one contender was crowned the new NWA Heavyweight champion. The NWA champion toured throughout North America, from small towns to big cities, and when the NWA champion visited, it was usually the highlight of the year for wrestling fans. Because it was a unified champion, the title belt actually meant something. When Vince McMahon, Jr. bought up or drove out most of the other territories in the business, his World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW) were the only national powerhouses left. Other promotions still in existence were considered independent promotions, (often referred to as the indies). While the NWA no longer had the same clout that it had for decades, many of these indie companies still wrestled under its banner. On October 11, 1988, Jim Crockett, Jr. sold ownership of his promotion to Ted Turner (which Turner renamed WCW). The sale included a non-compete clause that lasted for six years. Thus, in 1994, when the non-compete clause expired, Crockett looked to get back into the professional wrestling business. WCW had withdrawn from the NWA and the NWA title belt, at the time held by Ric Flair, was vacated.
Jim Crockett and Tod Gordon, the owner of NWA Eastern Championship Wrestling, discussed holding a tournament to crown a new NWA champion. As Gordon was the only NWA member with a television deal (SportsChannel Philadelphia), they proposed holding the tournament in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Eastern Championship Wrestling was based. Dennis Coralluzzo, the owner of the NWA New Jersey promotion and an NWA board member stepped in, however, claiming that Crockett did not have authorization from the NWA board of directors. Beyond whether or not Crockett had authorization, Coralluzzo and Gordon had a personal dislike for one another. Because Gordon’s promotion operated in close proximity to Coralluzzo’s, Dennis was alleged to have taken punitive action against Eastern Championship Wrestling, including calling or mailing videotapes to fire commissioners and other town leaders to show how brutal and unsafe Gordon’s wrestling shows were, thereby getting some of them cancelled. As such, there was a great deal of animosity between the two. Beyond their personal dislike for one another, Coralluzzo was also concerned that Gordon and Crockett wanted to monopolize the NWA title belt. Coralluzzo, therefore, decided that he would personally oversee the tournament.
The event was an eight-man tournament held at the ECW Arena, in Philadelphia on August 27, 1994. In front of a crowd of approximately 1,000 fans, Shane Douglas faced 2 Cold Scorpio in the finals and pinned him in 12:00 minutes after a belly-to-belly suplex. After being presented with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt, Douglas grabbed the microphone to give his acceptance speech.
“In the tradition of Lou Thesz, in the tradition of Jack Brisco of The Brisco Brothers, of Dory Funk, Jr., of Terry Funk: the man who will never die. As the real “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, upstairs tonight. From the Harley Race’s, to the Barry Windhams, to the…Ric Flairs, I accept this heavyweight title,” Douglas said. “Wait a second, wait a second. Of Kerry Von Erich. Of the fat man himself, Dusty Rhodes. This is it tonight, dad. God, that’s beautiful. And Rick Steamboat…and they can all kiss my ass! Because I am not the man who accepts a torch to be handed down to me from an organization that died – RIP – seven years ago. The Franchise, Shane Douglas, is the man who ignites the new flame of the sport of professional wrestling. Tonight, before God and my father as witness, I declare myself, the Franchise, as the new ECW Heavyweight Champion of the world. We have set out to change the face of professional wrestling. So tonight, let the new era begin: the era of the sport of professional wrestling; the era of the Franchise; the era of the ECW.”
In the middle of this diatribe, Douglas threw down the NWA belt onto the ring. He then picked up another belt with ECW emblazoned on it and pulled it over his shoulder. Coralluzzo was interviewed afterwards and said that he felt Douglas’ actions were disgraceful and that whether he liked it or not, he was still the NWA champion but that he would work to have Douglas stripped of both the NWA belt and the ECW belt, calling him undeserving of both. On the next episode of ECW’s television show, Gordon responded.
“I listened with great interest as the representative of the NWA board of directors took it upon himself to inform you that they have the power to force NWA-Eastern Championship Wrestling not to recognize The Franchise, Shane Douglas, as a world heavyweight champion. Well, as of noon today, I have folded NWA-Eastern Championship Wrestling. In its place will be ECW- Extreme Championship Wrestling- and we recognize The Franchise, Shane Douglas, as our World Heavyweight Champion. And we encourage any wrestler in the world today to come to the ECW to challenge for that belt. This is the ECW, Extreme Championship Wrestling, changing the face of professional wrestling.”
Thus, Extreme Championship Wrestling was born, and under the leadership of booker and promoter Paul Heyman, it would become the third biggest promotion in the United States. Despite Coralluzzo’s cautions, ECW would indeed push an extreme, hardcore style that included weapons matches and segments where wrestlers would be thrown off of balconies through stacks of tables. This hardcore style would eventually make its way into the WWF and WCW.
For the NWA, this was effectively a death knell. Although Coralluzzo put together a second NWA World Title Tournament in November 1994 (where Chris Candido was crowned champion), the prestige of the NWA belt had nearly been damaged beyond repair. Coralluzzo resigned the next year and was removed from the NWA board in 1999. The NWA title belt, once the only belt in professional wrestling that meant anything, floated around for several years, becoming the primary trophy for independent wrestlers across the country. In 2002 the NWA World Heavyweight and Tag Team titles were used exclusively by NWA: Total Nonstop Action). In 2012, the NWA ceased to operate as a governing body and its assets were purchased in 2017 by Billy Corgan whose promotion began operating under the NWA name.