New Japan Pro Wrestling announced today that it will unify both the IGWP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championship to form the new IGWP World Heavyweight Championship. The decision comes after having both championships being held together since last January and its current champion Kota Ibushi pushing have both titles unified.
NJPW Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi’s released a statement regarding the huge announcement, providing details about a new championship belt and Kota’s first title defense as the first-ever IGWP World Heavyweight Championship.
Regarding Kota Ibushi’s desire to unify the IWGP heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships, and in light of the results of last night’s main event, NJPW has decided to uphold the request of the champion. The IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships will be unified, and their lineages brought forward under the banner of the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. There will be a new belt presented to the champion.
Kota Ibushi will be recognised as the first IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, and his first defence will take place on April 4 at Sakura Genesis in Ryogoku Sumo Hall, against the winner of the New Japan Cup.
The current NJPW dual champion Kota Ibushi also released a statement in regards to his request of unifying both titles being fulfilled.
“We’re one night on from yesterday’s match with Tetsuya Naito. We had completely different philosophies going into that match. I want to protect both of these titles and legacies. I want them both to remain, I want neither to disappear. Tetsuya Naito was going for the Intercontinental Championship. I don’t really know what his motivations were deep down, but in the end, this wasn’t something that could be decided by talking it out. It had to come down to a fight in the ring.
That’s what brought us to yesterday. It wasn’t just a normal fight. Not just a fight to see who the better man was, but a battle of our thoughts and emotions. I think through that match we have come to understand one another, but my position is not changing. I want to protect these two lineages by bringing them together.
I do have one thing I want to ask of the company. On March 4, I am set to face El Desperado in the main event of Anniversary in the Nippon Budokan. I know that he challenged me not just to a singles match but to the titles as well, and I would like to ask this of the company. Please let me put these two titles on the line in a title match.
Right now he is the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, and the tag champion as well. In his own right, he too is a double champion, so I want to see for myself just how good he is, and just how far he’s come since I faced him when he came into NJPW.
I will take any challenge against anybody at any time regardless of risk. I would be perfectly happy to face him today, right now, or tomorrow. But the match is set for the Budokan, so let’s do it at the Budokan.”
While the current champion was happy about the new announcement championship, his former challenger at Wrestle Kingdom 15, Jay White was not too pleased about the title unification.
-Wants to become a Double Champion.
-Becomes Double Champion.
-Realizes that means defending two championships.
-Doesn’t want to be a Double Champion anymore.
-Reverts back to being a Single Champion.
You supported him.
You get the “Champion” you deserve.
— Switchblade (@JayWhiteNZ) March 1, 2021
Both the IGWP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships have built a historical legacy throughout their existence. The IGWP Heavyweight Championship was created in 1987, with Antonio Inoki becoming the first-ever champion. Throughout its 33-plus year history, the list of champions includes The Great Muta, Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Kenny Omega, and Brock Lesnar. Hiroshi Tanahashi holds the record for most title reigns with eight. However, one of his biggest nemesis throughout his career, Kazuchika Okada holds the record for total combined days at 1,790. As for the IGWP Intercontinental Championship, it was created in 2011, with current WWE superstar MVP defeating Toru Yano to become the first-ever champion. After nine years, big names such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kenny Omega, and Chris Jericho. Five-time champion Shinsuke Nakamura, who has been synonymous with the championship, holds the combined days’ record at 901. However, Tetsuya Naito holds the record for most title reigns at six.
Aneil’s Take: With both titles being defended together for the last year or so, I guess it made sense to combine the championship. I honestly hate unifying championships especially with a historical title like the Intercontinental Championship. I think if someone is a double champion, they should defend both titles separately, similar to Seth Rollins did in 2015. However, with the Intercontinental Championship now defunct, this will elevate the IGWP United States Championship to the second-highest title in the company, which is currently held by AEW’s Jon Moxley. For me, it will be sad to see both championships gone as many great matches from either title being defended. When I think of the IGWP Heavyweight Championship, I think back to the classic matches between Kenny Omega and Okada. When I look at the Intercontinental Championship, I automatically think of Shinsuke Nakamura as well as Chris Jericho’s rivalry with Naito. I guess with the “forbidden door” open and New Japan heading in a new direction, it was time to start a new legacy.