While many NWA championships are synonymous with pro wrestling legends, none of them have been so completely dominated by two of those legends like the NWA Women’s World Championship. And while the woman who would all but own this title for thirty years would not appear on the landscape until 1956, the National Wrestling Alliance Women’s World Championship found its roots in the 1930s with a woman who would own it for twenty.
Mildred Burke, for whom the current “Burke” World title belt design is pet-named after, was recognized by the National Wrestling Alliance as their champion sometime in 1950 and had been already considered World champion since 1937. A legendary grappler who wrestled well over two hundred inter-gender matches, Burke dominated all competition in her time in Al Haft’s Mid-West Wrestling Association as Mid-West Women’s Middleweight champion. It was that title that the NWA would recognize as their own women’s championship, along with Burke as their inaugural champion.
Burke’s influence over the sport saw her bring women’s wrestling all over the United States, Canada, Mexico and Japan. Sometime in the early 1950s she started the World Women’s Wrestling Association in Los Angeles, establishing herself as WWWA World Women’s champion and remaining undefeated until her retirement in 1956. Interestingly, All-Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (once the longest-running Japanese wrestling promotion, existing from 1968-2005) purchased the rights to the WWWA championship from her in 1970 and carried on both the tradition of that title and the belt design itself.
Her National Wrestling Alliance Women’s World Championship reign, however, would end in 1954 under an air of controversy. Having parted company with husband and NWA promoter Billy Wolfe, Burke found herself on the outside of the corporation she represented looking in. In an attempt by Wolfe to discredit Burke, June Byers, Wolfe’s daughter-in-law, had won a World championship tournament in April of 1953 to set up a best-of-three-falls match against Burke in August of 1954. The match degenerated into a legitimate shoot fight that was halted by the Atlanta Commissioner before the second fall was concluded and called a no-contest, but Burke would soon learn that the NWA now recognized Byers as champion. Though she would continue to defend her WWWA World title, her amazing twenty years as National Wrestling Alliance Women’s World champion were over.
Byers proved a popular and talented champion, but her own time as champion also became muddied. A number of NWA promoters from the northeast, including Vince McMahon Sr., stopped recognizing Byers as World champion in 1956 and she was subsequently stripped of the championship by the Baltimore Athletic Commission. Most of the other National Wrestling Alliance promoters, however, continued to recognize Byers as champion until her retirement a full eight years later in 1968. But as the politics continued to rage to a point where some NWA-affiliated territories would even recognize AWA World champion Penny Banner as champion after Byers’ retirement, a grappler named Lillian Ellison had won a tournament in 1956 to claim Byer’s championship. Although originally billed as Slave Girl Moolah, the woman soon to be known worldwide as The Fabulous Moolah had arrived.
Moolah, who had been trained by Mildred Burke years before, eventually dominated women’s wrestling so completely that it dwarfed even Burke’s monumental achievement. Her first reign of champion, from 1956 to 1966, lasted almost a decade to the day until a brief title loss to Betty Boucher in British Columbia, Canada, which appears (although the information is a little scattered) to last about three weeks. Recognized again at that time, she would travel to Osaka Japan in March 1968 and lose the championship to Tomoe Yukiko for about the same period of time she had lost it to Boucher. Her third reign started in April after a rematch in Hamamatsu, whereupon Moolah would then hold the championship for another ten straight years without defeat.
Moolah, by 1978, had controlled the championship for twenty-two years. After losing it in October 8th 1978 to a wrestler named Evelyn Stevens and regaining it just a day later, Moolah was now a four-time World champion who had dominated her sport for over two decades. She would continue to do so for another five years without interruption, and would hold by the end of her career the record for the longest total number of days as a World champion at 10,170.
And then, as things often do in the world of professional wrestling, the course of the championship changed radically.
In December of 1983, the World Wrestling Federation withdrew from the National Wrestling Alliance and purchased the Women’s World championship from Moolah. In a decision almost assuredly meant to separate themselves from the NWA as much as possible, they did not recognize the previous NWA World champions and Moolah was recognized exclusively as WWF World champion. Left without either a champion or a title belt, the NWA Women’s World Championship sat vacant for over two years.
Any fans who may have hoped for some returned stability to the title when it resumed again in February of 1986 were surely disappointed. While Debbie Combs won a nine-woman battle royal in February to fill the vacant championship (apparently she won two, two days apart from each other; the events also included Sherri Martel and Candi Devine of eventual WWF and AWA fame respectively), a series of other champions would be recognized by different promotions throughout the National Wrestling Alliance over the coming years. While Combs would continue to defend her championship over the next eight years, Misty Blue Simms would be recognized as World champion by Jim Crockett Promotions (and WCW) from 1987-1989; LPWA World champion Susan Sexton and popular star Bambi would also be recognized in 1990; and Peggy Lee Leather would also claim the title come 1994. Bambi, who is recognized by JCP at this time despite Combs defending her title throughout the NWA, is considered a two-time champion by some sources and a three-time champion by others. For our purposes, NWA GOLD follows the Combs reign during this period, which includes a one-day loss to Malia Hosaka in May of 1996 before being stripped of the title in later the same year. Though she still claimed the title into 1997, the National Wrestling Alliance considered the title vacant in October of 1996. It would stay that way for four years.
Reborn in 2000, Strawberry Fields defeated Lelani Kai at the NWA 52nd Anniversary Show in Tennessee to fill the title vacancy, but unfortunately would vacate the title within the month due to injury. Almost two years later, Madison would defeat Bam Bam Bambi in British Columbia in August 2002, lose the title in October to Char Starr, regain the championship in December, and finally drop it to Lelani Kai in March 2003 at an NWA:TNA house show. Kai would be stripped after a few months for failure to appear at events, and Kiley McLean would win the championship in a match over Kameo that same night in June 2004.
McLean would hold the championship for around three hundred days in 2004, finally unseated by Lexie Fyfe in April 2005. Fyfe would hold it until October, when Christie Ricci took the title from her in a three-way match that included Tasha Simone at the NWA 57th Anniversary Show. Her only reign was impressive at well over four hundred days, before MsChif took the title in January of 2007. After losing it to Amazing Kong after only four months as champion, she would return almost a year later to unseat her as champion in April of 2008. Tasha Simone would get her turn as champion in July of 2010, ending Kong’s eight hundred day reign; she’d serve briefly until La Reina de Corazones took the title in Texas, but was unable to defend. Simone would return as champion for a second reign that would last one year exactly, dropping it to Tiffany Roxx in a No-Disqualification Match in November of 2011. Rox would serve until December, when Simone would regain it in a Steel Cage Match.
Kacee Carlisle would carry the title for over four hundred and sixty days in 2012, and Barbi Hayden would carry it over three hundred and eighty days following her win January 2014. It’s Santana Garrett that perhaps makes the biggest splash in this period, though, winning the NWA Women’s World Championship in February 2015 and three other titles over the next several months. Amber Gallows (often wrestling as “Amber O’Neal” elsewhere) would win a four-way match in December 2015 that included Garrett, and would run with the belt until September 2016, when she would meet the human wrecking machine known as Jazz.
“The Phenom” Jazz was one of the more dominant and marquis talents to hold the championship, serving as National Wrestling Alliance Women’s World champion for almost a thousand days. Her reign as champion has her in the record books as the third-longest championship reign for the title, behind only Moolah and Combs. Jazz’s reign existed in a strange bubble of sorts for the NWA, as her title was for a time “frozen” by the company during negotiations for the sale of the brand between Bruce Tharpe and Billy Corgan. Having had several successful title defenses against some other high-level talent in the past, she was eventually set to defend as champion again before she was forced to vacate the title for medical and personal reasons in April of 2019. She recently announced her retirement from wrestling on The Chris Van Vliet Show.
While Jazz would bring the title into the Billy Corgan era, Allysin Kay would be the initial athlete to help define it. Facing Santana Garrett at the Crockett Cup in April 2017, Kay would win the title and be the first champion recognized by modern-day fans of NWA Powerrr. Her impressive hold on the title ended after two hundred and seventy-two days, when current champion Thunder Rosa won the belt at the NWA pay-per-view event Hard Times in January of 2020. Since that time, “La Mera Mera” has been defending her NWA title as furiously as the COVID situation allows, appearing in Mission Pro Wrestling and All Elite Wrestling with the strap worn proudly around her waist.
While there have been several versions of the physical championship belt, the current version – the aforementioned “Burke” – is likely the most iconic. The creation of Dan Beltzer of Belts by Dan (www.beltsbydan.com), it pays direct homage to Mildred Burke’s 1936 Mid-West Women’s Middleweight Championship belt that started it all. A three-plate, polished zinc design with laurel leaves, twin shields depicting wrestlers and red jewels encrusted on the main plate, the title prominently features a removable stacked piece designed to host a cameo picture of the reigning champion. In addition to the title’s name written in flowing banners, the year “1948” (the year the National Wrestling Alliance was formed) is stamped in the center of the plate, paying further homage to the “1936” stamped on Burke’s original title. Mounted on a white belt with the NWA logo stamped within the leather, the two white side plates also bear the logo of the National Wrestling Alliance. An amazing piece of belt design, the title belt connects the origins of women’s wrestling with the modern day.
As with so many wrestling titles, the history of the National Wrestling Alliance Women’s World Championship is filled with some of the most talented and dominant athletes in the history of the sport. Today, women’s wrestling is enjoying a renaissance period, and seventy-odd years later, the athletic prowess of inaugural champion Mildred Burke is being elevated by current champion Thunder Rosa. With her high-visibility appearances on AEW Dynamite and her current frequency of title defenses in this difficult time we live in, there should be no wonder why NWA GOLD has taken to calling it – with apologies to Mr. Aldis, of course – “the other Real Worlds Championship.”
- Tim “BC” Wood
[NOTES & SOURCES]
- I consider Wrestling-Titles.com (www.wrestling-titles.com) to be the most reliable source for wrestling title history, and have quickly come to trust them as the definitive site when other accounts differ. Their history of the NWA Women’s World Championship can be found here: https://www.wrestling-titles.com/nwa/world/nwa-wm.html
- “National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Pro Wrestling”, Tim Hornbaker.
- “Mildred Burke: She Never Met Her Match”, Alan Greenberg. https://www.wrestling-titles.com/personalities/burke_mildred/nevermatch81.html
- NWA World Women’s Championship [for reference of length of championship reigns in days): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NWA_World_Women%27s_Championship
- “Jazz Announces Retirement”, Jason Caley. http://alliance-wrestling.com/jazz-announces-retirement/
- Current belt information: http://leatherbydan.com/product/nwa-women
- Current NWA Women’s Championship: Dan Beltzer, Leather By Dan (http://leatherbydan.com/) Used with permission. http://leatherbydan.com/product/nwa-women
- Thunder Rosa with championship: United Wrestling Network. https://www.unitedwrestlingtv.com/
- NWA Women’s World Championship, original version photos: Pinterest. https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/477522366727496558/
- Mildred Burke with championship: https://medium.com/yes-wrestling/the-legacy-of-mildred-burke-28a3bd9c5d03
- NWA Women’s World Championship, version #2 photos: www.prowrestling.fandom.com
- The Fabulous Moolah with championship: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/31/Fabulous_Moolah_World_Champ_-_Heavyweight_Wrestling_-_31_August_1970_%28cropped%29.jpg
- NWA Women’s World Championship, version #3 photos: www.wrestlepedia.fandom.com; www.axelswrestling.jimdofree.com
- Allysin Kay with championship: Post Wrestling. www.postwrestling.com
- NWA Women’s World Championship, version #4 photos: www.prowrestling.com
- Jazz with championship: Alliance Wrestling. http://alliance-wrestling.com/the-real-reason-why-jazz-vacated-the-title/
- NWA Women’s World Championship, version #5-#7 photos: Pinterest. Users TBD.
- Tasha Simone with championship: www.wrestlingnewscenter.com. Photographer: Tia Blaylock.