|IWGP Heavyweight Championship|
he IWGP Heavyweight Championship (IWGPヘビー級王座 IWGP Hebī-kyū Ōza) is the top singles championship in the New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) promotion. "IWGP" is the acronym of NJPW's governing body, the International Wrestling Grand Prix. The title was introduced on June 12, 1987, in the finals of an IWGP tournament, which was won by Antonio Inoki.
Since its inception title has been considered to be the most prestigious championship belt in NJPW and one of the most respected in Japanese professional wrestling and its promoted as NJPW's sole primary championship. The championship has been represented by four different belts. The current fourth generation belt was introduced in March 2008. The title forms what has unofficially been called the "New Japan Triple Crown" (新日本トリプルクラウン Shin Nihon Toripuru Kuraun) along with the IWGP Intercontinental and NEVER Openweight Championships. The championship has headlined several pay-per-view events, most importantly in the Tokyo Dome and has been defended in MMA matches, when NJPW was on its period of decline.
Title changes happen at NJPW-promoted events. Big Van Vader, Salman Hashimikov, Scott Norton, Bob Sapp, Brock Lesnar, A.J. Styles, Kenny Omega and Jay White are the eight non-Japanese wrestlers to have held the title, with Hashimikov being the first and only Soviet-born champion, while Omega is the first Canadian-born champion and White is the first New Zealander-born champion.
The early version of this championship was introduced in 1983 for the winner of the IWGP League 1983. Since then, the championship was defended annually against the winner of the IWGP League of the year. Wrestlers such as André the Giant and Hulk Hogan have also won the title has part of the tournament. Antonio Inoki would become the inaugural champion on June 12, 1987, after winning the 1987 IWGP League by defeating Masa Saito in the finals. The following champions would be forced to relinquish the title due to an inability to participate in title defenses. NJPW would hold a new tournament to determine the new champion.
Since its establishment, the title has been defended in the biggest arenas in Japan such as Ryogoku Kokugikan, Osaka-jō Hall, Nippon Budokan and Tokyo Dome and has also been defended for the first time in the United States on December 12, 1988, when Tatsumi Fujinami defended the title against Tommy Lane.
Establishment, Feud with UWFI and first Golden eraEdit
In March 1991, Tatsumi Fujinami made history, as he defeated Ric Flair to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, making him the very first man to hold the IWGP and NWA World titles simultaneously. After Fujinami lost the title to Riki Choshu on January 4, 1992, NJPW created the Greatest 18 Championship to complement the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and was awarded to Choshu during his reign, but after losing the title to The Great Muta on August 16, Muta retired the title, in order to focus on his IWGP Heavyweight Championship title defenses. During Muta's reign, the title was defended in a double title match against Masahiro Chono for the IWGP and NWA World Heavyweight Championships on January 4, 1993, in the Tokyo Dome, which Muta won becoming the wrestler after Fujinami to win them. His next title defense would be at the Nippon Budokan on June 15.
In 1995, NJPW had a feud with shoot style wrestling promotion UWF International, which featured the title being defended during the feud. The title would be defended in the Tokyo Dome on January 4, 1996, drawing 67,000 fans in attendance, which was the largest crowd and gate in Japanese wrestling history at the time. Three months later, Nobuhiko Takada defeated Keiji Mutoh, with 64,000 fans in attendance, in a unification match, where Takada's Pro-Wrestling World Heavyweight Championship was on the line to capture the title. With Takada, the championship would be defended for the second time outside of NJPW, during a UWFI, with Takada retaining the title against Shiro Koshinaka on March 1. Takada would lose the title to Shinya Hashimoto on April 29 in the Tokyo Dome, which marked the end of the feud between NJPW and UWFI. During Hashimoto's reign, NJPW would create the second design of the title, replacing the previous one created by Antonio Inoki. Hashimoto's reign was also notable for being the longest reign in the title's history at 489 days.
Period of Decline and return of second title beltEdit
In 2001, during a PRIDE event, Kazuyuki Fujita was awarded the first version of the championship by Antonio Inoki, but the champion at the time was Scott Norton, leading to a unification match on April 9, which was by Fujita. His reign would end on January 4, 2002 at the Wrestling World, after Fujita vacated the title due to being an injury in his achilles tendon, marking the first time the title was not defended in the main event of the Tokyo Dome. Instead, the main event of the show was given to NJPW's rival Pro Wrestling NOAH's GHC Heavyweight Championship, devaluating the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
In April 2002, Yuji Nagata would set the record at the time with most successful title defenses with 10. He would lose the title to Yoshihiro Takayama on May 2, 2003 in a double title match for the IWGP and NWF Heavyweight Championships. Kazuyuki Fujita had revived the NWF Heavyweight Championship to rival the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. In this period NJPW focused on breaking away from their traditional strong style and direct towards a shoot style or mixed martial arts, which damaged the title and the promotion's image. On December 9, Shinsuke Nakamura became the youngest IWGP Heavyweight Champion in the title's history, at 23 years old. During his reign on January 4, 2004 at Wrestling World, Nakamura defeated Yoshihiro Takayama to unify the IWGP Heavyweight Championship with the NWF Heavyweight Championship. His reign would end, after Nakamura vacated the title, due to suffering from various injuries. On March 28, Sapp defeated Kensuke Sasaki to become the first African-American to hold the title. After successfully defending the title against Shinsuke Nakamura on May 3 at Nexess, Sapp forfeited the title due to having lost to Kazuyuki Fujita in a mixed martial arts fight, which again damaged the title reputation. During this time, NJPW had a started a interpromotional feud with All Japan Pro Wrestling, which featured a unfathomable bout in 2005 for the IWGP and Triple Crown Heavyweight Championships between IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Triple Crown Heavyweight Champion Satoshi Kojima, which Kojima won becoming the only wrestler to ever hold both titles simultaneously to that point (Keiji Mutoh would later accomplish the feat in 2008. However, he would hold the IWGP Championship as Keiji Mutoh, and the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship as his alter-ego The Great Muta). Three months later, Tenzan would defeat Kojima to regain the title, bringing it back to NJPW. He would lose the title to Kazuyuki Fujita on July 18. Fujita would give the second version of the title until July 11, giving it to Shinya Hashimoto's family, after he had passed away, leading NJPW to create a third version of the title in the United States, which was inaugurated on September 30 by NJPW President Simon Kelly Inoki.
In 2006, Brock Lesnar was stripped of the title for being unable to defend it; however, Lesnar claimed he was owed money by NJPW and didn't want to lose the title to Hiroshi Tanahashi, keeping the physical belt, which forced NJPW to return to the second version of the title. Lesnar signed with Antonio Inoki's Inoki Genome Federation (IGF) in 2007 and lost the championship to Kurt Angle on the inaugural broadcast.
Second Golden Era and rise back to dominance, Double Gold DashEdit
After Brock Lesnar vacated the title, NJPW would host a six-man tournament to crown a new champion. Hiroshi Tanahashi would defeat Giant Bernard in the finals of the tournament to become the new champion. Tanahashi's reign would mark NJPW returning to its strong style roots and rise back to be the top promotion in Japan. Matches for the title were only accepted for wrestlers at a minimum weight of 220 lb (100 kg) under the IWGP Heavyweight Championship rules. However, Koji Kanemoto challenged Tanahashi for the title on February 18, 2007, allowing wrestlers with less than 100 kg to challenge for the title, eliminating the weight restrictions rules.
During Shinsuke Nakamura's second reign as champion, Nakamura defeated Kurt Angle in a unification match on February 17, 2008, at the Circuit2008 New Japan Ism tour to win the IGF version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship or the IWGP 3rd Belt Championship, known in NJPW, unifying it with the NJPW version of the title. On March 2 at Pro Wrestling Zero1-Max's 7th-anniversary show, Nakamura defeated Pro Wrestling Zero1-Max's Kohei Sato. After the match, Nakamura handed the second version of the title to Shinya Hashimoto's son Daichi Hashimoto, to honor his father death, leading NJPW to create a fourth version of the title to replace the second version, which was unveiled on March 7. Nakamura lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) representative Keiji Mutoh on April 27. Hiroshi Tanahashi would return the title to NJPW, after defeating Mutoh on January 4, 2009 at Wrestle Kingdom III in Tokyo Dome. On May 14, 2011 at NJPW Invasion Tour, Hiroshi Tanahashi defended the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the first time in twenty-two years in the United States, defeating Charlie Haas. Tanahashi's reign was also notable, due to Tanahashi surpassing Yuji Nagata record setting successful title defenses, with 11. On May 3, 2014 at Wrestling Dontaku, A.J. Styles became the third American wrestler to hold the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Styles would lose the title to Hiroshi Tanahashi, who broke Tatsumi Fujinami's record for most reign as champion, with seven.
On June 19, 2016 at Dominion 6.19 in Osaka-jo Hall, Kazuchika Okada won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the fifth time. During his reign, Okada defended the title against Kenny Omega on January 4, 2017 at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in Tokyo Dome. At 46 minutes and 45 seconds, the match was the longest in the history of the January 4 Tokyo Dome Show. Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer gave the match a six-star rating in his Wrestling Observer Newsletter, adding that Okada and Omega "may have put on the greatest match in pro wrestling history" and that it was the best match he had ever seen. The match was also praised by the likes of Daniel Bryan, Mick Foley and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Okada and Omega would face each other for the second time on June 11 at Dominion 6.11 in Osaka-jo Hall, which ended in NJPW's first 60-minute time limit draw in 12 years. This match was rated 6¼ stars by Dave Meltzer, higher than their previous match, making it the highest rated match by Meltzer at that time. Okada's reign would also be notable for being the longest reign in the title's history with 720 days, breaking the previous record of 489 days, held by Shinya Hashimoto. He also broke Hiroshi Tanahashi's record of 1,358 combined days as champion, ending his reign with 1,516 combined days as champion and also broke Tanahashi's record of eleven successful title defenses, with 12 successful title defenses, after defeating Tanahashi on May 4, 2018 at Wrestling Dontaku, earning a 5 1/2 Star rating from Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Okada would lose the title to Kenny Omega on June 9 Dominion 6.9 in Osaka-jo Hall in NJPW's first two out of three falls match in 39 years and the first to hold with no time limit. The match received a seven-star rating from Meltzer, which remains the highest rating ever given toward a match. Omega also became the first Canadian wrestler and the fourth wrestler from North America to win the title. Omega would lose the title to Hiroshi Tanahashi on January 4, 2019 at Wrestle Kingdom 13 in Tokyo Dome. Tanahashi would break his record by winning the title for the eight times and becoming the wrestler to cash in the Tokyo Dome IWGP Heavyweight Championship challenge rights certificate at a Wrestle Kingdom event. Tanahashi lost the title to Jay White on February 11 at The New Beginning in Osaka, becoming the first New Zealander-born champion and the first wrestler from Oceania to win the title. In April, heading to the G1 Supercard in the Madison Square Garden, NJPW restored the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. On April 7 at G1 Supercard in New York, United States, Okada defeated White to win the title, marking the first time the title changed hands outside Japan.
During this time, in March, Tetsuya Naito had the desire to hold both IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships simultaneously. In August, after Kota Ibushi won the 2019 G1 Climax, he announced his intentions of challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships in both nights of Wrestle Kingdom 14 in Tokyo Dome. Naito's desire was derailed by Jay White, who also wanted to main event the second night of Wrestle Kingdom 14 and become the first-ever double champion in history, leading Naito to lose the IWGP Intercontinental Championship to White on September 22 at Destruction in Kobe. On November 3 at Power Struggle, Okada suggested a fan vote to determine whether the main event of the second night of Wrestle Kingdom 14. The dual championship match for the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships won the vote, resulting in Naito receiving his championship rematch at the event. In the build-up to the event, the dual championship match being billed as "Double Gold Dash". On January 4, 2020 in the first night of Wrestle Kingdom 14 in Tokyo Dome, Okada defeated Ibushi to retain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, while Naito defeated White to win the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. The following day, in the second night of Wrestle Kingdom 14, Naito won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and successfully defended the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, after defeating Okada, becoming the first double champion in NJPW history.
Reigns and StatisticsEdit
Overall, there have been 66 reigns shared among 28 wrestlers. The inaugural champion was Inoki, who defeated Masa Saito on June 12, 1987, in a tournament final. Hiroshi Tanahashi holds the record for most reigns, with eight. At 720 days, Kazuchika Okada's fourth reign is the longest in the title's history. Okada has the most successful defenses in that reign with 12 and with a combined four reigns, also holds the record for most days as champion at 1,516. Kensuke Sasaki's fourth reign holds the record for shortest reign at 16 days. Over his seven reigns, Tanahashi successfully defended the title 28 times, the most of any champion. With zero, Big Van Vader's first and third reigns, Salman Hashimikov's only reign, Riki Choshu's first reign, Tatsumi Fujinami's third and fifth reigns, Masahiro Chono's only reign, Genichiro Tenryu's only reign, Scott Norton's second reign, Hiroyoshi Tenzan's first and third reigns, Kensuke Sasaki's fourth reign, Kazuyuki Fujita's third reign and Manabu Nakanishi's only reign are all tied for least successful defenses.
June 12, 1987
|325 Days||Tokyo||4||Inoki defeated Masa Saito in a tournament final.|
|—||Vacated||—||May 2, 1988||—||—||—||Due to Inoki fracturing his left foot.|
|2||Tatsumi Fujinami||1||May 8, 1988||19 Days||Tokyo||1||Defeated Big Van Vader to win the vacant title.|
|—||Vacated||—||May 27, 1988||—||—||—||Title held up after defense against Riki Choshu ended in a no contest.|
|3||Tatsumi Fujinami||2||June 24, 1988||285 Days||Osaka||7||Defeated Riki Choshu to win the vacant title.|
|—||Vacated||—||April 5, 1989||—||—||—||Vacated so the title could be decided in a tournament.|
|4||Big Van Vader||1||April 24, 1989||31 Days||Tokyo||0||Vader defeated Shinya Hashimoto in a tournament final to win the vacant title.|
|5||Salman Hashimikov||1||May 25, 1989||48 Days||Osaka||0|
|6||Riki Choshu||1||July 12, 1989||29 Days||Osaka||0|
|7||Big Van Vader||2||August 10, 1989||374 Days||Tokyo||4|
|8||Riki Choshu||2||August 19, 1990||129 Days||Tokyo||1|
|9||Tatsumi Fujinami||3||December 26, 1990||22 Days||Hamamatsu||0|
|10||Big Van Vader||3||January 17, 1991||46 Days||Yokohama||0|
|11||Tatsumi Fujinami||4||March 4, 1991||306 Days||Hiroshima||3|
|12||Riki Choshu||3||January 4, 1992||225 Days||Tokyo||4||This match was also for Choshu's Greatest 18 Championship.|
|13||The Great Muta||1||August 16, 1992||400 Days||Fukuoka||5||This was also for Choshu's Greatest 18 Championship.|
|14||Shinya Hashimoto||1||September 20, 1993||196 Days||Nagoya||4|
|15||Tatsumi Fujinami||5||April 4, 1994||27 Days||Hiroshima||0|
|16||Shinya Hashimoto||2||May 1, 1994||367 Days||Fukuoka||9|
|17||Keiji Mutoh||2||May 3, 1995||246 Days||Fukuoka||5||Mutoh previously won the title as The Great Muta.|
|18||Nobuhiko Takada||1||January 4, 1996||116 Days||Tokyo||1|
|19||Shinya Hashimoto||3||April 29, 1996||489 Days||Tokyo||7|
|20||Kensuke Sasaki||1||August 31, 1997||216 Days||Yokohama||3|
|21||Tatsumi Fujinami||6||April 4, 1998||126 Days||Tokyo||2|
|22||Masahiro Chono||1||August 8, 1998||44 Days||Osaka||0|
|—||Vacated||—||September 21, 1998||—||—||—||Due to Chono's neck injury.|
|23||Scott Norton||1||September 23, 1998||103 Days||Yokohama||4||Defeated Yuji Nagata to win the vacant title.|
|24||Keiji Mutoh||3||January 4, 1999||340 Days||Tokyo||5|
|25||Genichiro Tenryu||1||December 10, 1999||25 Days||Osaka||0|
|26||Kensuke Sasaki/Power Warrior||2||January 4, 2000||279 Days||Tokyo||0|
|—||Vacated||—||October 9, 2000||—||—||—||Vacated after Sasaki lost a non-title match to Toshiaki Kawada at Do Judge!!.|
|27||Kensuke Sasaki||3||January 4, 2001||72 Days||Tokyo||1||Defeated Toshiaki Kawada in a tournament final to win the vacant title.|
|28||Scott Norton||2||March 17, 2001||23 Days||Nagoya||0|
|29||Kazuyuki Fujita||1||April 9, 2001||270 Days||Osaka||2|
|—||Vacated||—||January 4, 2002||—||—||—||Due to an injured achilles tendon.|
|30||Tadao Yasuda||1||February 16, 2002||48 Days||Tokyo||1||Defeated Yuji Nagata in a tournament final to win the vacant title.|
|31||Yuji Nagata||1||April 5, 2002||392 Days||Tokyo||10|
|32||Yoshihiro Takayama||1||May 2, 2003||185 Days||Tokyo||3||This match was also for Takayama's NWF Heavyweight Championship.|
|33||Hiroyoshi Tenzan||1||November 3, 2003||36 Days||Yokohama||0|
|34||Shinsuke Nakamura||1||December 9, 2003||58 Days||Osaka||1||Nakamura defeated Yoshihiro Takayama to unify the IWGP Heavyweight Championship with the NWF Heavyweight Championship on January 4, 2004 at Wrestling World 2004.|
|—||Vacated||—||February 5, 2004||—||—||—||Due to Nakamura suffering various injuries.|
|35||Hiroyoshi Tenzan||2||February 15, 2004||26 Days||Tokyo||1||Defeated Genichiro Tenryu in a tournament final for the vacant title.|
|36||Kensuke Sasaki||4||March 12, 2004||16 Days||Tokyo||0|
|37||Bob Sapp||1||March 28, 2004||66 Days||Tokyo||1|
|—||Vacated||—||June 2, 2004||—||—||—||Title vacated after Sapp lost a K-1 fight to Kazuyuki Fujita.|
|38||Kazuyuki Fujita||2||June 5, 2004||126 Days||Osaka||1||Defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to win the vacant title.|
|39||Kensuke Sasaki||5||October 9, 2004||64 Days||Tokyo||2|
|40||Hiroyoshi Tenzan||3||December 12, 2004||70 Days||Nagoya||0|
|41||Satoshi Kojima||1||February 20, 2005||83 Days||Tokyo||1||This match was also for Kojima's Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship.|
|42||Hiroyoshi Tenzan||4||May 14, 2005||65 Days||Tokyo||1|
|43||Kazuyuki Fujita||3||July 18, 2005||82 Days||Sapporo||0|
|44||Brock Lesnar||1||October 8, 2005||280 Days||Tokyo||3|
|—||Vacated||—||July 15, 2006||—||—||—||Title was vacated due to Lesnar being unable to defend the title because of "problems with a working visa." Lesnar refuses to turn over the championship belt, and later is recognized by the Inoki Genome Federation as their first champion, using the same belt.|
|45||Hiroshi Tanahashi||1||July 17, 2006||270 Days||Sapporo||4||Defeated Giant Bernard in a tournament final and they returned to the 2nd version of the belt.|
|46||Yuji Nagata||2||April 13, 2007||178 Days||Osaka||2|
|47||Hiroshi Tanahashi||2||October 8, 2007||88 Days||Osaka||1|
|48||Shinsuke Nakamura||2||January 4, 2008||114 Days||Tokyo||2||Nakamura defeated Kurt Angle on February 17, 2008 on the Circuit2008 New Japan Ism tour to unify the NJPW and IGF versions of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and two days later they showed the 4th version of the belt.|
|49||Keiji Mutoh||4||April 27, 2008||252 Days||Osaka||4|
|50||Hiroshi Tanahashi||3||January 4, 2009||122 Days||Tokyo||3|
|51||Manabu Nakanishi||1||May 6, 2009||45 Days||Tokyo||0|
|52||Hiroshi Tanahashi||4||June 20, 2009||58 Days||Osaka||1|
|—||Vacated||—||August 17, 2009||—||—||—||Due to Tanahashi fracturing his eye socket.|
|53||Shinsuke Nakamura||3||September 27, 2009||218 Days||Kobe||6||Defeated Togi Makabe to win the vacant title.|
|54||Togi Makabe||1||May 3, 2010||161 Days||Fukuoka||3|
|55||Satoshi Kojima||2||October 11, 2010||85 Days||Tokyo||1|
|56||Hiroshi Tanahashi||5||January 4, 2011||404 Days||Tokyo||11|
|57||Kazuchika Okada||1||February 12, 2012||125 Days||Osaka||2|
|58||Hiroshi Tanahashi||6||June 16, 2012||295 Days||Osaka||7|
|59||Kazuchika Okada||2||April 7, 2013||391 Days||Tokyo||8|
|60||A.J. Styles||1||May 3, 2014||163 Days||Fukuoka||2|
|61||Hiroshi Tanahashi||7||October 13, 2014||121 Days||Tokyo||1|
|62||A.J. Styles||2||February 11, 2015||144 Days||Osaka||1|
|63||Kazuchika Okada||3||July 5, 2015||280 Days||Osaka||3|
|64||Tetsuya Naito||1||April 10, 2016||70 Days||Tokyo||1|
|65||Kazuchika Okada||4||June 19, 2016||720 Days||Osaka||12|
|66||Kenny Omega||1||June 9, 2018||209 Days||Osaka||3||This was a two-out-three falls match with no time limit.|
|67||Hiroshi Tanahashi||8||June 9, 2018||38 Days||Tokyo||0|
|68||Jay White||1||February 11, 2019||54 Days||Osaka||0|
|69||Kazuchika Okada||5||April 6, 2019||274 Days||New York City, New York||5|
|70||Tetsuya Naito||2||January 5, 2020||146+||Tokyo||1||This match was a "Double Gold Dash" also for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.|
|†||Indicates the current champion|
|3||Keiji Mutoh/The Great Muta||4||19||1238|
|6||Kensuke Sasaki/Power Warrior||5||9||647|
|9||Big Van Vader||3||4||451|
|22||Tetsuya Naito †||2||2||216+|
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