Well, not exactly. He was the reigning NWA World Champion who lost to Lou Thesz in a single-fall match (common now, but in those days a best two-of-three falls decision was common). Since the WWWF controlled the rights to Buddy Rogers and didn't like that "their guy" had to drop the belt to someone who wasn't "their guy", the WWWF split from the NWA and recognized him as champion based on the idea that his loss to Lou Thesz wasn't "legit". Then of course they came up with the bogus Rio De Janeiro tournament. Trivia: The WWE Intercontinental Championship was simply the old WWWF North American Heavyweight Championship re-named, but it also was justified in a fictional sense. The claim is that the IC title was created by a unification match between the WWWF North American champion and a (fictitious) "South American Champion", which also supposedly took place in Rio De Janeiro.