When the McMahon family first opened Capitol Wrestling Corporation in 1953, it would establish itself as a part of the northeast wrestling scene, that was a key area during the territory days. The fledgling promotion also joined the National Wrestling Alliance and would host early NWA Champion Buddy Rogers.
After Rogers lost the title in 1963, Capitol Wrestling Corporation would withdraw their membership from the NWA and change their name to World Wide Wrestling Federation. WWWF rejoined the NWA 8 years later, in 1971, but would sensationally leave again in 1983.
These actions caused significant tension between WWF and the NWA. With the WWF, under Vince McMahon Jr, looking to establish themselves as the biggest promotion in the country going against the Alliance of territory based wrestling promotions under the banner of the NWA.
As a result of the tension between the two factions, stars would routinely go back and forth between NWA-affiliated promotions and WWF shows. With WWF's steadily rising popularity, the promotion was able to buy their smaller territory rivals out, which often included their stars and television times in the local area.
The strength of WWF's booking ability and prestige meant that a large amount of NWA Champions found themselves on WWF payroll at one time or another. NWA Champions like Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Ric Flair, Dory Funk, and Sting have all spent time in WWF. However, despite their success in NWA promotions, it didn't mean that they would find success in the northeast based WWF promotion.
In the late 80s and early 90s, the NWA associated itself with Jim Crockett Promotions and World Championship Wrestling, as the company had control over the majority of the NWA territories. By the mid-90s, the relationship between WCW and the NWA broke down with the NWA establishing itself as independent again.From 2002 to 2007 the NWA was aligned with Total Nonstop Action. However, the NWA is once again working as an independent promotion with Nick Aldis in his second reign with the title.
#6 Ricky Steamboat
Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat was a wrestler ahead of his time, producing classic matches against the likes of Ric Flair and Macho Man Randy Savage. Steamboat wrestled for a variety of promotions including Jim Crockett Promotions and it's successor WCW. Steamboat also had multiple runs with the WWF but never reached the main event for the promotion.
Steamboat first made his name in NWA sanctioned Jim Crockett Promotions, he was booked as a babyface and wrestled against Ric Flair before Flair became the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. The two would continue to feud even after Flair became the World Title. However, in the middle of the 80s Steamboat left Jim Crockett Promotions and joined WWF.
In WWF, Steamboat became the Dragon. During his time in WWF, Steamboat won the Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion and had memorable feuds against Jake Roberts and Macho Man Randy Savage. In his third WrestleMania, Steamboat participated in the tournament for the vacant WWF World Heavyweight Champion but lost in the first round to Greg "The Hammer" Valentine.
After leaving WWF, Steamboat would join the successor to Jim Crockett Promotions in WCW. Within a month of returning, Steamboat became the number one contender to Ric Flair's NWA World Heavyweight Title, defeating him at the Ci-Town Rumble Pay Per View. He lost the title back to Flair and spent the majority of the 90s wrestling for WCW before retiring in 1994 for the first time.
#5 Terry Funk
Despite being best known as a "Hardcore wrestler" and a member of the famous Funk wrestling family, Terry Funk was a former NWA Heavyweight Champion in the 1970s and worked a program in WCW at the top of the card against Ric Flair. Funk held the title for over a year before he lost it to another NWA legend in Harley Race.
After wrestling for WCW, Funk wrestled for ECW. Funk won the ECW World Heavyweight title in 1997, 20 years after he won the NWA Heavyweight title. Funk defeated Raven for the title and hold it for almost 4 months before losing it to Sabu.
In WWE, Funk was used as a hardcore wrestler more than a serious main event talent. While his first run with the promotion saw him challenge Hulk Hogan for the WWF World Title, he never won the belt. When Funk returned to WWE in the late 90s as Chainsaw Charlie.
During this time he won his first, and only, WWE title when he teamed with Cactus Jack to win the Tag Team titles.
#4 Kerry Von Erich
Kerry Von Erich is widely considered to be one of the most talented wrestlers to come out of the Von Erich family. Unfortunately, Kerry struggled with the same issues that plagued his family and his legacy is that of untapped potential. Kerry grew up wrestling in for promotions run by his father Fritz Von Erich. Kerry won the North American Heavyweight title in 1980 before being elevated to the NWA Main Event scene a few years later.
In 1982 after defeating NWA Legend, Harley Race, Kerry would feud with NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair. In 1984, Kerry would defeat Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight title at a tribute show to his brother David. Kerry would lose the title back a few weeks later at a House Show in Japan.
In 1990, Kerry became the first member of the Von Erich family to wrestle for Vince McMahon and WWE. Wrestling as the "Texas Tornado", Von Erich won the Intercontinental title from Mr Perfect at SummerSlam only a few months after making his debut.
However, Kerry failed to make the jump to becoming a major star in WWF, despite feuding with Ric Flair and participating in the 1992 Royal Rumble for the vacant WWF title.
Sting's inclusion is rather unfortunate. The iconic WCW wrestler shunned the WWF until very late in his career. Despite many former WCW wrestlers going to Vince McMahon's promotion in the years following WCW's buy out by their northern rivals, Sting remained one of the few that never made the jump.
Sting was a World Champion in both WCW and TNA, where he won the NWA World Heavyweight title in both promotions. He had numerous high profile feuds against WCW wrestlers like Ric Flair, Vader, and the NWO. After WCW was sold, Sting wrestled for TNA Wrestling and became the first member of the organisation's Hall of Fame.
Finally, in 2014, Sting made his WWE debut at Survivor Series. Sting would then enter a feud against the Authority Stable. Sting would face Triple H in his first ever WrestleMania in a losing effort, and only competed in a few more matches before wrestling Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Unfortunately, during the match Sting was injured and was forced to retire never having won a title in WWE.
#2 Dusty Rhodes
Dusty Rhodes is considered one of the best wrestlers of his generation, and is one of the greatest wrestling minds of all time. Dusty wasn't just a great wrestler, but cemented himself as a great wrestling mind for his role as a booker for Jim Crockett Promotion and WCW.
Rhodes would have three separate reigns with the NWA World Heavyweight title, taking the title from Harley Race twice and Ric Flair once.
What many fans don't know is that before wrestling for Jim Crockett, Dusty wrestled in Vince McMahon Sr's World Wide Wrestling Federation and often challenged Superstar Billy Graham for the WWWF Heavyweight Title, but never managed to win the title.
In 1989, Dusty returned to WWF as the "Common Man" Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes would eventually leave WWF in 1991, returning to WCW as a booker.
Rhodes would manage Ron Simmongs as he won the WCW World Heavyweight Champion, and later turn heel siding with the NWO in 1998. After WCW was sold to WWF, Rhodes began working for TNA and on the Independent circuit. He eventually returned to WWE on a legends contract.
#1 Harley Race
Behind Ric Flair, Harley Race is probably the most legendary NWA World Heavyweight Champion. Race sits two reigns behind Flair, with 8 World Heavyweight titles. Race dominated the title, in the late 70s, with long reigns with the title between 1970 to 1981. Race's last NWA title reign came in 1984 in New Zealand. Race only held the title for a few days before losing it back to Flair at Starrcade as a way of passing the torch.
In 1986, Harley Race made his WWF debut alongside Bobby "the Brain" Heenan and won the King of the Ring in his debut year. As the King, Race would make his opponents bow after they lost against Race. At his first WrestleMania, Race defeated the Junkyard Dog. In 1987, Race had a series of WWF World Heavyweight title matches against Hulk Hogan but failed to win the title.
After three years in WWF, Race returned to WCW but predominantly appeared as a manager as he wound down his in-ring career. Race would manage Lex Luger and Big Van Vader to WCW World Heavyweight Championships. Race was inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame in 1994, WWF Hall of Fame in 2004, and the NWA Hall of Fame in 2005.