“The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries. It is home to 2.4 billion people, and includes both advanced economies and developing countries. 32 of our members are small states, including many island nations. Our member governments have agreed to shared goals like development, democracy and peace. Our values and principles are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter. The Commonwealth's roots go back to the British Empire…” – from The Commonwealth at www.thecommonwealth.org
In 2003, NWA-TNA had control of the NWA Worlds and NWA World Tag Team championships, and they were not making the rounds often to the other NWA promotions. Due to television commitments and contracts with other outside promotions who were willing to pay the TNA appearance fees, smaller NWA promotions were just not seeing much action from the big championships. It was from this position that the idea for the NWA British Commonwealth Heavyweight Championship was born.
The title was originally conceived by promoters Andre Baker of NWA UK Hammerlock and Ernie Todd of the Canadian Wrestling Federation, both of whom wanted a belt that was akin to the NWA Worlds championship and which could be defended on both continents. They did not, however, want it controlled by the NWA Board of Directors. As both Baker and Todd’s promotions were based in the Commonwealth (the United Kingdom and Canada, respectively), the name had a large regional reach that spanned the globe without infringing on World title status: the sun, as they say, never sets on the British Empire. They soon made the title a reality.
The first match for the championship was between Spyder, representing the CWF, and Fergal Devitt of UK Hammerlock (best known now as Finn Balor in WWE, or Prince Devitt in NJPW) in October of 2003 at the National Wrestling Alliance 55th Anniversary Show in West Virginia. The promoters did not have a physical belt made at the time, and thus used an old NWA Florida championship as the title. An actual British Commonwealth championship was never made, and thus it was not defended thereafter.
In late 2003, Rodney Kellman (best known in the ring as Dru Onyx) was wrestling for Andre Baker in UK Hammerlock , and the two started discussing the idea of Kellman starting his own NWA promotion in Montreal, Quebec. Baker suggested Kellman contact Todd to discuss it further, and following his tour with UK
Hammerlock’s associate promotion of NWA Ireland, Kellman reached out to Todd about the potential promotion. The two spoke further about the idea as Kellman made a couple of tours with Todd’s Canadian Wrestling Federation.
At the time, only two Canadian promotions existed in the NWA: Todd’s CWF and Dave Republic’s Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling (ECCW). Todd and Republic were not always aligned professionally, and as ECCW was preparing to have an associate promotion in Montreal, Todd encouraged Kellman to start an associate promotion of his own in the Quebec area. Working with another promotion and buying into the NWA name rights through that company rather than become a strict associate, Kellman became the promoter of NWA Quebec, servicing the province from his home base of Montreal.
Kellman, a fan of the prestigious NWA titles from childhood, desired a title for his promotion beyond simple regional status. While his company controlled the NWA Canadian Tag Team championship, he wanted something bigger: something as close to the Worlds championship as possible, which could be defended in both NWA and non-NWA promotions alike, and all around the world. After internally kicking around some ideas like a “World Independent” or “World Catch” championship, Kellman remembered earlier conversations with Baker around the British Commonwealth championship. Reaching out to Baker and given the blessing to use it, Kellman then contacted legendary belt maker Reggie Parks to commission the championship, eventually working with Rico Mann.
Kellman went big with the look of his championship. Starting with the shape, he chose the big main plate style of the old World Class Championship Wrestling World championship. The crown on the top of the main plate helps convey an image of dignity, and the flag colours of the Union Jack stand prominently behind the continents, showing the Commonwealth locations span the globe. It immediately had the look of a World title, and was at the time the only championship to feature a flag on its main plate. Interestingly enough, the word “Heavyweight” is missing from that main plate: there simply wasn’t enough room to write it, and Kellman didn’t realize that it was not present until it was pointed out to him sometime later. Nevertheless, the championship was recognized as a Heavyweight title.
The side plates feature more of Kellman’s personal touches. In addition to the Commonwealth flags of Australia, New Zealand, India, Jamaica, Singapore and South Africa, he added Canada and Barbados (also Commonwealth nations) in a nod to his heritage. The final result, as crafted by perhaps the best belt maker in the world, was one of the more handsome championships the NWA had ever seen. It would be the eventual reach of it, though, that would make it one of the more prestigious.
At the 56th Annual National Wrestling Alliance show in October of 2004, Kellman (as Dru Onyx) fought Will Phoenix of Australia for the vacant title, starting the title off on the right foot by having two Commonwealth-born wrestlers face off for it. Onyx, victorious in that bout, subsequently defended it across Canada, England, Ireland and the United States, immediately expanding the reach of the regional strap. Other noted champions following Onyx in the years to come included Fergal Devitt, Karl Anderson, Alex Kozlov, and former NWA Worlds champion “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce. Kellman also credits Paul Tracey and Justin White, the latter a student of Kellman’s, with helping to expand the reach and importance of the championship: Tracey defended the title in Spain, France and the Netherlands in addition to Canada and the United States, and White (who won it from Kozlov when he was just eighteen years old) defended it during his reign in Canada, Ireland and the US.
A look at the full title history shows why the British Commonwealth Heavyweight Championship was at one point referred to as “the other Worlds championship”, having been defended in more countries and in greater frequency than the NWA Worlds championship itself. The Balor, Anderson, Koslov and White reigns were featured in California, as Dave Marquez (then in charge of NWA Pro and still a major player in the NWA today) reached out to Kellman and asked to use the title until their NWA Heritage championship became ready. In the years before and after, in addition to Canada, England, Ireland, and the United States, it was defended in Wales, the Netherlands and France. Kellman’s efforts made Baker’s and Todd’s original dream of a continent-crossing championship a reality.
Active from 2004 to 2007 with NWA-CWA (Championship Wrestling Association), and from 2007-2009 under NWA Quebec, the title was vacated in 2010 but was reinstated in 2013. Not recognized by William Patrick Corgan’s NWA, and soon to be replaced with a new belt that removes the NWA reference, Kellman intends to see the title defended as an interntional championship under his Torture Chamber Pro Wrestling banner all over the Commonwealth. Though the recent pandemic puts a possible October 2020 title defense in Barbados in jeopardy, Kellman has plans to also see it defended in Spain, Australia, and Canada in the future.
With its near-global regional positioning and history of being defended across seven countries and two continents, the beautiful NWA British Commonwealth Heavyweight championship remains one of the more unique championships in NWA history.
[My thanks to Rodney Kellman, aka Dru Onyx, for his gracious and patient assistance in compiling this biography. His Torture Chamber Pro Wrestling Dojo can be found on Facebook, and his personal page at https://www.facebook.com/bajanbomber/.]
[Photo Source: Rodney Kellman. Used with permission. Additional photos in the Regional Championships album.]