As a young kid, maybe 11 or 12, Tim Storm remembers sneaking back inside the Pine Bluff Convention Center in Arkansas after the evening’s matches were over to get a closer look at the wrestling ring in the center of the darkened room. Earlier on, he watched Andre the Giant win a brutal match over Ken Patera in the main event. He remembers watching in awe as Andre picked Patera up for a bodyslam and seeing Patera’s legs clip the kettle light above the ring, sending the fixture swinging wildly back and forth above them as Andre scored the pinfall victory. Sitting cloaked in darkness as the only light in the building flashed back and forth around one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, it seemed like something out of a movie. With building security not quite as stringent as it is today, Storm returned to the arena after the fans had departed. He climbed into the ring and stood on the second rope with his arms raised, imagining what it might feel like to be a wrestler.
“There was a fire lit inside me that night,” said Storm, now 52. “That was the spot that exploded in my brain, and I went, ‘I have to do that.’”
Storm didn’t make his pro debut until he was 31, but he knew, deep within his heart, he would someday answer his calling. “While other kids were getting up and watching cartoons, I was watching wrestling,” Storm said. “In the morning, I got Memphis Wrestling. In the afternoon, I got Georgia Championship Wrestling. At night, I got the Von Erichs and WCCW. At that point, I’m seeing the best in three different promotions on one given day.”
In his eyes, men like Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Dusty Rhodes, and Harley Race were celebrities. The NWA title belt they wore was magical. He dreamed of being a professional wrestler; he never dared to dream about being on the same list of men who held what was once considered the most prestigious championship in the sport.
Storm grew to 6’3”, 260 pounds and was offered an opportunity to attend Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, on a football scholarship. Wrestling would have to wait.
After graduating from OBU with degrees in communications and physical education, he entered the business world and worked his way up the ranks quickly. Still, the desire to be a pro wrestler burned within him. “I was the vice president of Jez Enterprises, and my boss wasn’t thrilled with the idea of me trying my hand at wrestling,” Storm said. “He didn’t think wrestling spoke well for his business. He did his best to discourage me.”
This time, Storm wouldn’t allow anything to stand in his way.
Though late to the wrestling game, his athletic background gave him a leg up when he began training in Paris, Arkansas, with Bill Ash—a trainer Storm said is “as old school as you could possibly get.” Storm then moved to Texas, where he was schooled in the lucha and Japanese styles from drills passed down to his trainers by Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko. “Because of that, I have two separate sets of trainings. I’ve been able to work either style and kind of mesh those.”
The one thing they couldn’t teach Storm was size. He had that in abundance. But Storm is also deceptively quick. Throughout his career, he has battled with big guys and with high-flyers, adapting to the style his opponent brings to the fight.
It was nearly half a century into his life that he realized winning that NWA heavyweight title was a real possibility. In October 2014, he beat Byron Wilcott for the NWA North American title. His reign lasted 177 days before he was finally beaten by Jax Dane. After Dane was forced to relinquish the title due to injury, Storm regained it by beating Andy Anderson in the final round of a tournament. When Dane returned to action, he beat Hiroyoshi Tenzan for the NWA heavyweight title in February 14, 2015, and reigned for 14 months.
In the finale of a four-match series with Dane, Storm finally captured the NWA’s grandest prize on October 21, 2016, becoming the oldest person to win that title. While Storm had the size, ability, and heart, he said his 20-year run-up to finally winning his most coveted championship took patience, adaptation, and plenty of learning.
The Arkansas-born wrestler’s first flirtation with the title came in 1996—his first year in the business—in a match against Dan Severn, who was just beginning his own dominant four-year run with the NWA gold. Storm came close to winning, but he just didn’t have the experience to get the job done. He had one more opportunity against Severn, one against AJ Styles, one against Tenzan, and four against Dane over the course of the past two years. That fourth time was the charm."
The NWA was purchased by Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan on May 1, the latest in a line of men who feel they can capitalize on what still is a prestigious brand.
“Being a world champion is an experience in itself,” Storm said. At a recent show, Storm met a fan who took a bus from Louisville, Kentucky, to Little Rock, Arkansas, just to get a picture with the belt. In Japan when he wrestled Ryota Hama, the fans didn’t boo him, but instead started chanting “NWA! NWA!” as he walked to the ring.
Storm laughed as he remembered that during a recent 60-man battle royal, guys would lock in with him just to say, “I can’t tell you what an honor it is,” or “I’m a big fan,” or “I can’t believe I’m in here with the world champion” before Storm reared back to punch them in the face and continue the fight.
Storm remembered a moment from a show when Homicide—a 24-year veteran and decorated champion across multiple promotions—approached him in the back, saw the NWA belt laying on top of his bag, and asked, “Is that it? Do you mind if I hold it?”
“The prestige is there,” said Storm. “There are those out there who would say it’s not, but for true wrestling fans and true lovers of the business, it’s there and it means something.”
Former NWA champions have noticed a special aura about the belt as well. Colt Cabana, who held the title in 2011 and again in 2012, still gets attention because of once having held the championship.
“To this day, people still come up to me with their NWA belts signed by Ric Flair and Harley Race and ask me to sign as well,” Cabana said. “In 100 years, when I’m gone, it’ll be nice that I’ll be on that list.”
The list of 53 wrestlers who have held the NWA heavyweight championship is filled with some of the all-time greats. While most people don’t know Tim Storm’s name—even Cabana didn’t know Storm was the current NWA champion—he said holding the belt will forever be his greatest accomplishment in the ring.
“Every time I get in the ring it’s a pleasure and an honor, but I can’t imagine a bigger honor than stepping in the ring as the NWA World champion,” said Storm, who also teaches eighth-graders U.S. history in Euless, Texas. “I’ve always been a wrestling fan. I love wrestling. I’m passionate about wrestling, and I consider myself a wrestling historian. To be a part of this makes it so much more special.”