The Ballad of PWI’s World Title Recognition

Recently, Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) officially conferred World Championship status on The IWTV Independent Wrestling Championship and Pan-Afrikan World Diaspora Wrestling Championship. 

Since 1979, PWI has provided news and rankings with their highly selective World Championship distinction. This news took me down memory lane, recalling treks to the newsstand as a kid (RIP Bookends) to secure the latest issue. I still remember the first issue I ever purchased.

The magazine served as a kayfabe sanctioning body for the industry. Fans ate it up as it provided a sports motif, which made wrestling feel more legitimate. 

However, there is one time I vehemently disagreed with their ruling. 

In 1996, I was shocked to learn that PWI didn’t recognize the ECW World Heavyweight Championship as a true World Championship. Articles cited the promotion’s regional scope and lack of national television that made the title ineligible.   

ECW had syndicated television in most major U.S. markets and began airing pay-per-view events in 1997. The wrestling alternative heavily influenced the Monday Night War. WWE and WCW constantly signed away wrestlers from ECW, and WWE’s Attitude Era shared many commonalities with the ECW style.

In July 1999, PWI finally granted the ECW title official World Championship status as the promotion announced their national television deal with TNN. Taz was in the midst of his first title reign and scheduled for a pay-per-view title defense at Heat Wave against Tajiri.

IWTV is a good streaming service providing independent promotions a platform to distribute their content. However, their championship doesn’t feel like a title the PWI of old would recognize. Only the most diehard of hardcore enthusiasts know about the title, and even less are aware of the Pan-Afrikan belt.

Major League Wrestling’s (MLW) World Heavyweight Championship was recognized by PWI at the beginning of the year along with NOAH’s GHC Heavyweight Title. Promotionally, MLW is the little engine that could, and the GHC crown at one time was arguably Japan’s most prestigious title.

PWI’s recent assignments of world championship status don’t line up with the selective high standards of the past. However, the standards of the past don’t hold up to the high standards of today either.

The wrestling business is a different place in 2021 than it was 30 years ago. Internet streaming has opened things up exponentially. Independent wrestling is more influential than ever before.

Streaming services like Fite TV, New Japan World, Impact +, Dragon Gate Network, All Japan Pro Wrestling TV, Honor Club, Stardom World, WWE Network, IWTV mentioned above, and more have created a wrestling world without borders.

Promotions, wrestlers, and championships that didn’t or wouldn’t mean much back in the day are worth something today. PWI recognized that their own recognition needed to evolve.

What makes a championship in professional wrestling a worthy prize? Is it up to the promotion, fans, or a publication to decide? What about head-cannon: The choice to choose which titles an individual holds in high esteem?

In the end, it’s doesn’t matter which option anyone selects as long as they’re having fun. However, if you want a sanctioning body with your professional wrestling, Pro Wrestling Illustrated continues to augment the fun and excitement of championship pedigree.

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