In December 1988, Ted Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions, which had promoted under the name "NWA World Championship Wrestling". While the promotion remained a member of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), the use of the NWA name was gradually reduced on televised programming, in favor of the name "World Championship Wrestling", or "WCW". On January 11, 1991, Ric Flair defeated Sting to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and was recognized as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. The new championship was not initially represented by its own title belt, and WCW continued to use the NWA World Heavyweight Championship title belt. Because of this, WCW regularly claimed the NWA World Championship lineage for its own championship.On July 1, 1991, a creative disagreement with WCW Executive Vice President Jim Herd led to Flair leaving WCW for Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation. When Herd refused to return his $25,000 deposit (that was left with the NWA), Flair kept the "Big Gold Belt" that had represented the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. WCW was forced to create its own title belt (a belt owned by Dusty Rhodes from the then-defunct Florida Championship Wrestling used as the PWF Heavyweight Championship with a gold plate tacked on its faceplate with the words "WCW World Heavyweight Champion"), which was awarded to Lex Luger after he defeated Barry Windham in a cage match for the vacant championship at 1991's Great American Bash. Shortly after the Bash, an original WCW World Heavyweight Championship belt was created.
In late 1991, WCW sued Flair for using the Big Gold Belt on WWF television, but later settled out of court, paying Flair $38,000 for the amount of the NWA deposit, plus interest. Flair returned the Big Gold Belt to WCW. The Big Gold Belt was used for the revived NWA World Heavyweight Championship, a co-promotional gimmick between WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In September 1993, WCW left the NWA over a dispute regarding the other NWA members demanding that NWA world champion be available for booking, and due to the use of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship on syndicated programming recorded months in advance. By fall 1993, Rick Rude was appearing at the "Disney Tapings" as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, despite the fact that in regards to the storyline, Flair was still champion. After leaving the NWA, WCW kept the Big Gold Belt, and it was re-named the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship.
At Starrcade '93, Flair won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, by defeating Vader. WCW decided to unify the WCW World Heavyweight Championship (represented by the new belt) and International Championship (represented by the "Big Gold Belt"), by having Flair wrestle Sting in June 1994. Flair won and the WCW International Heavyweight belt replaced the old WCW World Heavyweight Championship while the International Heavyweight Championship itself was dropped. When Hulk Hogan entered WCW and won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship (now represented by the "Big Gold Belt") from Flair, Hogan helped WCW become the top wrestling company in the United States. By 2001, however, WCW suffered a succession of failures.
During Hogan's 1996–1997 run as champion, the title was spray painted with the NWO initials and referred to by New World Order members as the "nWo" World Heavyweight Championship.
In March 2001, the World Wrestling Federation purchased World Championship Wrestling. Soon after, "The Invasion" took place in which the WCW/ECW Alliance was ultimately dismantled. During the "Invasion", only four WCW titles remained active, including the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, which was referred to simply as the "WCW Championship".
After the "Invasion" concluded at Survivor Series in 2001, the title was unbranded as the "World Championship". The title was then unified with the WWF Championship at Vengeance where Chris Jericho defeated The Rock and Steve Austin to win the unbranded World Championship and the WWF Championship respectively. As a result, Chris Jericho was recognized as the last WCW World Champion, and he became the first Undisputed Champion in the World Wrestling Federation.