In 1942, Frank Garbutt, vice president of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, hired former California State Athletic Commission inspector Alvah "Cal" Eaton as the promoter of the Grand Olympic Auditorium at the advice of his secretary, Aileen LeBell. Eaton and LeBell married in 1948, and over the following years the couple became major professional wrestling and boxing promoters in Southern California. By the early-1950s, the Eatons, along with Hugh Nichols, Johnny Doyle, and Mike Hirsch (collectively known as the "California Combine"), dominated professional wrestling in Southern California, leading to a United States Department of Justice antitrust investigation in 1955 and 1956.
On July 24, 1957, Lou Thesz defeated Édouard Carpentier under controversial circumstances to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, the principal championship recognized by the National Wrestling Alliance. The decision was challenged by some members of the National Wrestling Alliance who continued to recognize Carpentier as World Heavyweight Champion.
In 1958, the Eatons created the North American Wrestling Alliance as a new vehicle for promoting professional wrestling in Los Angeles. Eaton at the time was still a member of the National Wrestling Alliance, the national league that dominated professional wrestling in the United States, but had not paid dues since 1955. In October 1959, Eaton and LeBell withdrew from the NWA, recognizing Carpentier as the inaugural World Heavyweight Champion backdated to June 14, 1957, when Carpentier had originally won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. The promotion was renamed Worldwide Wrestling Associates in 1961.
The promotion ran events throughout Southern California, with the Grand Olympic Auditorium as its base. Bookers included Jules Strongbow, Freddie Blassie, Mr. Moto, and Gory Guerrero. The promotion developed a working relationship with the Japan Wrestling Association and New Japan Pro Wrestling, resulting in many talent exchanges. Aileen Eaton introduced a system of paying wrestlers a proportion of the gate rather than a guaranteed fee, boosting profits and encouraging wrestlers to help promote the events. The promotion also pioneered the use of closed-circuit television to show matches to fans who were unable to secure tickets for live events, an early precursor to the pay-per-view model that emerged in the 1980s.
In 1963, WWA World Heavyweight Champion Bearcat Wright faced Freddie Blassie in a bout that Wright was scripted to lose. Instead, Wright headbutted Blassie, dazing him, and then legitimately pinned him. Wright was subsequently stripped of the championship which was then awarded to Edouard Carpentier.