The AWA World Heavyweight Championship was established in May 1960, after the AWA became a separate promotion from the National Wrestling Alliance, which had previously been a part of the NWA's Minneapolis, Minnesota-area presence. The first champion was Pat O'Connor, who was recognized as the first champion upon the AWA's secession from the NWA as O'Connor held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship as well, which he won on January 9, 1959. The creation of the AWA World Heavyweight Championship along with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship would pave the way for the creation of many other world championships in other wrestling promotions. American Wrestling Association and the title became inactive in 1990 and the organization officially closed down in 1991 with the title also being decommissioned. The championship is a downloadable title in WWE '13 and unlockable in WWE 2K14.
In 1996, Dale Gagner and his associate Jonnie Stewart, former American Wrestling Association employees, began using the AWA name in the state of Minnesota and formed an organization known as AWA Superstars of Wrestling, infringing on the AWA name. Finally, in April 2007 World Wrestling Entertainment filed a lawsuit against Dale Gagner and Jonnie Stewart, citing trademark infringement, as WWE owned all American Wrestling Association properties due to their purchase after the AWA's closure. In October 2008, the court ruled in favor of WWE. The court ruling prohibits Gagner and his associate from exploiting or trading on the AWA name or any other derivatives.