Before the NWA was founded in 1948, there existed many regional professional wrestling promotions across North America (each promoting its own "World" champion). None of them, however, had backing or recognition outside of their own respective geographic base-areas. The concept of the NWA was to consolidate the championships of these regional companies into one true world championship of pro wrestling, whose holder would be recognized worldwide. In 1948, Paul George, a promoter from the Midwest, founded the original version of the National Wrestling Alliance with the backing of five other promoters (Al Haft, Tony Strecher, Harry Light, Orville Brown, and Sam Muchnick). This newly formed NWA Board of Directors wanted Brown to be the first-ever NWA World champion. During the reign of the second NWA World Heavyweight Champion, Lou Thesz (1949–1956), the title was further unified with several more previously-competing "World" titles, such as those recognized jointly by the National Wrestling Association and the American Wrestling Alliance (in Boston), plus another version promoted from the Los Angeles Olympic Auditorium. This legitimized the NWA's claim that its title was a "Unified World Title," and its lineage continues to this day.
The NWA members divided up North America, as well as Japan, into territories that each promoter would "own" and operate in. Having a territory meant that no other NWA member could promote wrestling in that area unless special arrangements were made between the promoters involved. If non-NWA promoters tried to promote their show in an NWA territory, then the other member groups were obliged to send stars to help force the intruder out. Reportedly, threats of violence or physical retaliation were used against any promoters (and/or talent) who disregarded the territory system. If any member territory broke the NWA's rules, it faced expulsion, and thus risked missing out on having nationally-known wrestlers appear on their local shows. For most promoters under the NWA umbrella, the benefits of membership were well worth the dues. Usually, the NWA President's territory was the main territory of the entire alliance.
Beyond the benefit of having other promotions to draw on in case of an intruder, each territory also received periodic guest visits from the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. The champion did not have a "home territory" as such, but instead traveled from territory to territory, defending the title against the top stars of each territory. A number of former NWA World Champions often remarked that their primary goal was to make the top stars of each territory "look good" and give crowds the impression that those "local heroes" had the potential of being the champion by almost winning the title. Many promoters would build up to the appearance of "The NWA World Heavyweight Champion" weeks or months in advance, making the local World title matches that much more special, and the shows they headlined more lucrative. In addition, each NWA member promotion usually produced a TV show that aired in their territory only, meaning that the local fans only saw the World champion when he came to their area, not year-round. It was not just the champion that would travel the territories; often, wrestlers from a different area would come into a territory (often the heels / "bad guys"), and run an angle or two with its top local faces ("good guys"). Also, if the local fans ever tired of a wrestler, he could go to a whole new area and perform the same act for new audiences, who would think the act was brand-new. This storyline was often advanced in the area from which the competitor was departing as resulting from the outcome of an especially-highly promoted "loser leaves town" match.