Wrestling championship lineage is a funny thing. At times, a championship will cite ties back to an early version at the turn of the century with only the flimsiest of evidence to support it. Other times, a title will have a logical claim of succession to a previous strap and yet choose not to recognize that connection. Sometimes the reasons are clear and sometimes they are not, and in a number of cases there are different opinions on the matter between the respected sources that we trust to decide.
The National Wrestling Alliance Illinois Heavyweight Championship from Central-States Championship Wrestling is one of these titles where different sources cite different opinions. Although there is an Illinois championship dating back to as early as 1904 – a championship tied to the NWA Midwest promotion (1998-2011) with their own Illinois Heavyweight Championship - the NWA Central-States Championship Wrestling version we look at today is not considered by all sources to be connected to that original title… but is still considered to be connected to the NWA Midwest title.
Yes, pro wrestling is messy. Its championships histories and lineages are no less so.
For the definitive answer, we look to Mr. Todd Humphrey, former promoter of NWA Central-States Championship Wrestling. As part of the NWA’s licensee era, Central-States had been granted the ability to create regional NWA titles, and since they were running in the East St. Louis area on the Illinois side of the river, they revived the NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship as their top title and the Illinois State Heavyweight Championship as their secondary belt. Humphrey, alongside partner Shane Somers, recognized the NWA Midwest version that had been conceived by the late Ed Chuman, who was Midwest’s founder and the Operations Director for Reggie Parks Championship Belts. This gave CCW a small amount of history to build upon but still enough of a clean slate to create something new. That “something new” came out in the form of a visually impressive belt that was designed to make a statement and be different than the norm, and yet retain an old-school feel. As both Humphrey and Somers are history buffs and were dedicated to preserving the prestige of the championships in their care, they looked to history for inspiration.
Working with JP Championship Belts, Somers came up with the idea for a Roman gladiator motif. The main plate is in the unique shape of a shield similar to what one might find on a law enforcement badge, and features the NWA lettering in bold above the Roman Coliseum and a Roman gladius (sword) surrounded by laurel leaves that is embossed right into the metal (laurel leaves being a Greek and Roman symbol of victory, often worn as crowns around the head by military commanders after great conquests). The words “ILLINOIS” and “CHAMPION” sit vertically on the sides of the plate, which is almost unique in design, and the word “STATE” is printed above the sword. As with the Missouri Heavyweight Championship last featured, the use of “STATE” in the name is usually left unspoken in title histories, but somehow lends an athletic credibility that helps this belt stick out further. The two side plates of this three-plate belt also bear the NWA initials in red over two crossed gladiuses, which are surrounded by laurel leaves and six blue gems around the edging.
If that was all that was featured on the belt, it would be enough to make it a home run design. But an added feature between the main and side plates made the championship unique to all others: the inclusion of two gladiuses, each pointed upwards above the top of the strap and connected delicately to the main plate. These were added to pay homage to the famed Winged Eagle belt, with the swords like the tip of the eagle wings. However, during the reign of second champion Shane Fury, one of the swords broke off through general ring use and could not be re-attached. The title remained with one sword for a time before it too broke off.
As mentioned, CCW traced the short lineage of their title back to NWA Midwest’s original version, which itself has only a little history. The inaugural championship match seemed likely to be a worthy way to kick off a new belt, though, as Colt “Boom Boom” Cabana defeated Reckless Youth in October of 2002. A lack of action seems to fall over the title from thereon in, though, as happens often with new championships; Marco Cordova would hold the belt twice in 2005, be stripped in 2007, and reinstated in 2010. The NWA Midwest version of the title then became the Zero-One United States Championship after a legal dispute with the NWA that saw NWA Midwest fold in 2012, and then-champ Bear St. Pierre was not retained as champion when NWA CCW stepped into the scene.
With their beautiful new title made, Central-States Championship Wrestling’s inaugural champion was crowned in April of 2013 when “Showtime” Shane Somers defeated Johnathan Hampton in a match in Jerseyville, Illinois. His reign would be short, however, as Shane Fury defeated Somers to win the title less than sixty days later. Fury lasted nearly a year as champion, with some records reading “stripped for a lack of title defenses”, but there is a story behind that: CCW had moved their operating area from Illinois to Missouri, and regrettably Fury did not have the right paperwork to wrestle in the “Show-Me State”. The title was freed up, and “Young and Dangerous” Evan Morris won a Battle Royal in 2014 to win the vacant strap.
Mitch Johnson is the final champion on record, who Humphrey cites, alongside Shane Somers, as amongst the best in-ring talent he has ever seen. Johnson, also the Missouri Heavyweight Champion, won the title in April 2015 with a win over Morris. However, as Central-States was operating in Missouri, they had allowed the Illinois Heavyweight Championship to go dormant. Central-States Championship Wrestling stopped running shows in 2017 as the Corgan era of the National Wrestling Alliance began, and the title now rests with Todd Humphrey.
NWA Central-States Championship Wrestling produced some of the more attractive championships of the modern era. It’s clear that in designing the NWA Illinois State Heavyweight Championship, great care was given to harken back to history and bring reflections of it to the present, and it’s a worthy belt for a promotion whose motto was “Where Old School and New School Collide.”
- Tim “BC” Wood
[NOTES AND SOURCES]
As always, it is only with the aid of those who were involved in the championships that these bios can truly be unique. NWA GOLD would like to thank Mr. Todd Humphrey for his patience, kindness, and assistance in completing this article. As the former promoter of Central-States Championship Wrestling and the designer of the belt, his input was critical and truly appreciated.
Central-States Championship Wrestling Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/nwaccw
Wrestling Title Histories: https://www.wrestling-titles.com/.../mocw/ccw-il-h.html
NWA Illinois Championship on stand: JP Championship Belts. https://www.jp-belts.com/
Illinois Championship main plate, side plate, sword and champion photos: Todd Humphrey. Used with permission.