World Heavyweight Championship turns five years old

World Heavyweight Championship turns five years old

While there was no birthday cake in the locker room, Sept. 2 was an anniversary for one of WWE's most sought-after honors.

On Sept. 2, 2002 in Milwaukee, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff bestowed the new WWE World Heavyweight Championship on Triple H to give the Raw brand its own signature champion after WWE Undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar declared he would only compete on SmackDown.

Although new, the honor had an extensive history. It was directly descended from the former WCW World Championship, which came to WWE from the company's purchase of WCW in 2001.

Before it was the WCW World Championship, the title was also the National Wrestling Alliance's World Heavyweight Championship. The NWA lineage is traceable back to George Hackenschmidt, who first won the title in 1904. Legendary wrestlers Frank Gotch, Lou Thesz, Bronko Nagurski, and Harley Race also held the NWA championship in the prime of their careers.

When WCW ended its relationship with the NWA in the early 1990s, Ric Flair was recognized as the first-ever WCW World Champion. Since that time, top names such as Hulk Hogan, Ron Simmons, and Bret Hart carried the championship prior to WCW's demise.

During the 2001 invasion of WCW and ECW, the WCW World Title changed hands six times in a WWE ring before Chris Jericho unified it with the WWE Championship at Vengeance in December 2001.

Since its reincarnation in 2002, top WWE Superstars such as Shawn Michaels, The Great Khali, Edge, Batista, Triple H, King Booker, Undertaker and Rey Mysterio have worn the prestigious championship. It has changed hands 16 times, and Triple H leads the locker room with five championship reigns.

While only five years young, WWE's version of the World Heavyweight gold has already had a ringside seat for some of our most memorable and competitive matches.

And as SmackDown's signature championship, the title will likely celebrate many more birthdays on future champions' waists, for some yet to step in a WWE ring, and some yet to be born.

PHOTOS: World Heavyweight Title Gallery

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