By Midnight Guthrie
I’m sure you’ve read the hype for the upcoming NWA World’s Heavyweight title match between champion “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce and “The Rebel” Jeremy Wyatt at 3XW Divide & Conquer 2 on Jan. 27 in Des Moines.
You understand it’s a big deal because you may recognize the initials “NWA,” attributing it to names like Flair and Rhodes. Maybe when the subject of wrestling comes up, an uncle recounts for you the hundredth time about seeing the National Wrestling Alli-ance and “Handsome” Harley Race in Des Moines, years before he was called “King” in the WWF.
But, I’m guessing very few current 3XWrestling fans truly understand the history of the NWA in Des Moines.
This may come as a shock to many of you, but at one time Des Moines was one of the most important cities for professional wres-tling in the entire world.
Yes, the entire world. In fact, the first NWA World’s Heavyweight champion was crowned right here in Des Moines in 1948.
And on January 27, it will be defended in Des Moines for the first time in over a quarter century – 25 years!
The Origins of the NWA
To give you a little more history, we’ll start by looking back 104 years ago. In 1908 — 40 years prior to the founding of the NWA— Frank Gotch defeated George Hackenschmidt after over two hours of wrestling to become recognized as the undisputed World Heavyweight champion. Gotch, a farmer from Humboldt, Iowa, became one of the top sports stars in the world, amassing a for-tune rumored to be worth approximately $500,000 – which would be over $11 million dollars adjusted to today’s money!
Gotch, who never moved away from Humboldt despite his fame, retired as a champion in 1912.
Shortly after his retirement, the lineage of the World Heavyweight title became a total mess, with different promoters recognizing different champions all over the United States. By 1938, a minimum of six wrestlers were staking claim to the World Heavyweight championship. This led to frustration amongst fans and the popularity of pro wrestling as a whole started to suffer.
This continued until 1948, when Pinkie George, a Des Moines-based wrestling promoter, spearheaded the formation of an alli-ance of promoters to recognize one World’s Heavyweight champion, a champion who would travel to each of the different territo-ries throughout the country and face the best wrestlers available. George met with five other promoters from around the country in Waterloo, Iowa to share his vision and this group founded the National Wrestling Alliance. Eventually, upwards of 100 promoters joined the organization, covering almost the entire wrestling world.
Orville Brown was declared the first NWA World’s Heavyweight champion in Des Moines in 1948. Brown’s last defense of the championship came in Des Moines on Oct. 31, 1949, one day before injuries from an automobile accident would force Brown to retire.
Crowds of approximately 4,000 fans would pack the Des Moines Coliseum on Monday nights in the 1940s or the KRNT Theater on Wednesday evenings in the 50s for the wrestling matches promoted by George with the NWA title, now wrestling’s top champi-onship, being vied for in Des Moines upwards of five times a year.
George stopped promoting bouts in 1959, but the championship was still defended in Des Moines regularly through the late 1970s, including being fought for in the Coliseum prior to the arena being destroyed by fire. The Coliseum was located only a few blocks south of the current location of the Barratta’s@Forte Center, where Wyatt and Pearce will battle for the title on January 27.
It will be the first match for the title in Des Moines since “Nature Boy” Ric Flair defended against “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes on Oct. 2, 1986. The last defense of the championship in Iowa at all was Flair facing El Gigante in Sioux City, Iowa on May 21, 1991.
Still recognized in Japan, Mexico and Europe as one of the top Heavyweight championships in the world, the NWA World’s title has gone through some dramatic developments in the last 20 years here in the United States. Once featured as the top champi-onship in World Championship Wrestling (WCW), WCW broke off their NWA affiliation in 1993.
The NWA continued on through the 90s with the help of its many member territories. Former UFC star Dan Severn proved a dominate champion, winning the title in 1995 and holding it until 1999.
TNA Wrestling signed on with the NWA upon its formation in 2002, and the NWA World’s Heavyweight championship was featured as the top championship of the company until 2007, when they broke away from the alliance.
Enter Adam Pearce
In June 2007, “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce entered a tournament to crown a new NWA World’s Heavyweight champion. The star-studded competition included current WWE World champion Daniel Bryan, recent WWE signee and former Ring of Honor star Claudio Castagnoli, former WWE stars Aaron Aguilera (Jesus) and Brent Albright (Gunner Scott), British star Fergal Devitt and Japanese star Osamu Nishimura, among others.
Pearce outlasted the 15 other entrants over the course of four months to win his first NWA World’s Heavyweight championship, ce-menting his status as one of the best talents in the world.
Now a four-time NWA champion, Pearce has battled a “who’s who” of wrestling stars for the title all around the world over the past five years.
On January 27, he flies in from San Diego, California to battle “The Rebel” Jeremy Wyatt for the first time. Many fans consider Wyatt to be one of the best wrestlers in the Midwest today.
After years of dominating the Midwest, this is Wyatt’s first world championship match. Pearce, a 15-year veteran who’s known as one of the best speakers in all of wrestling, currently stars on the NWA Championship Wrestling from Hollywood television show.
Wyatt is no stranger to championships himself. Also known as “The Belt Collector” for the number of titles he’s won during his 10-year career, he is a two-time 3XW Heavyweight champion and recognized as the current NWA Central States champion, among many others.
Wyatt was recently awarded the 2011 Match of the Year award by MissouriWrestlingRevival.com for his phenomenal 73-minute Iron-man match – a match length unheard of in the modern-era of wrestling – with current 3XW Heavyweight champion Mark Sterling at 3XW’s Divide & Conquer in January 2011. Incredibly, this is the fourth straight year a match involving Wyatt has won the award.
And so the stage is set for another classic Wyatt match, perhaps the most historic of all. It’s his first-ever World’s title opportunity and it’s against a nationally-recognized opponent he’s never faced.
Quite frankly, I don’t have the words to describe the excitement I feel to have the NWA title back in Des Moines for the first time since 1986.
But on January 27 at Divide & Conquer 2, with decades of wrestling history in his rearview mirror, Jeremy Wyatt has the chance to do the once unimaginable;
Bring the NWA World’s Heavyweight title back home and make Des Moines one of professional wrestling’s most important cities once again.
My thanks to Tim Hornbaker at http://www.legacyofwrestling.com/and http://www.wrestling-titles.com/for assistance with researching the details for this article. Lots of phenomenal wrestling history at both sites, definitely check them out!