|IWGP World Heavyweight Championship|
|The IWGP World Heavyweight Championship belt (2021–present)|
The IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (IWGP世界ヘビー級王座 IWGP Sekai hebī-kyū ōza) is a world heavyweight championship created and promoted by the Japanese professional wrestling promotion New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW). "IWGP" is the acronym of NJPW's governing body, the International Wrestling Grand Prix.
The title was established on March 1, 2021 to be the top title of NJPW. Its creation came as a result of the unification of the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships, as request by then champion Kota Ibushi, with the title carrying the legacies of both IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships to be the most prestigious championship belt in NJPW and one of the most respected in Japanese professional wrestling.
In June 1987, Antonio Inoki became the inaugural IWGP Heavyweight Champion, after winning the 1987 IWGP League by defeating Masa Saito in the finals. Since its inception title has been considered to be the most prestigious championship belts in NJPW and one of the most respected in Japanese professional wrestling and it was promoted as NJPW's sole primary championship.
Meanwhile, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship established by NJPW in 2011, through MVP's inaugural reign and the subsequent reigns of Masato Tanaka and Hirooki Goto, was largely a midcard title, remaining firmly behind the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Tag Team Championship in importance. However, after Shinsuke Nakamura captured the title from Goto, the title began gaining importance, culminating with the IWGP Intercontinental Championship match receiving top billing over the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at NJPW's biggest annual event, Wrestle Kingdom 8 in Tokyo Dome on January 4, 2014, leading Tokyo Sports to write that the Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championships were now equals, while Dave Meltzer wrote that Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi made the Intercontinental Championship feel like "the real world title belt".
Since March 2019, Tetsuya Naito had the desire to hold both IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships simultaneously. Meanwhile, after winning the 2019 G1 Climax Kota Ibushi also shared the same desire, culminating into the "Double Gold Dash" on January 4 and 5, at Wrestle Kingdom 14 in Tokyo Dome, where Naito defeated Jay White and Kazuchika Okada respectively, to become the first-ever double champion in NJPW's history. Afterwards, both IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships began being defended simultaneously. Naito intended to defend both titles separately, but his request was denied by NJPW, leading Naito to accuse them of trying to unify both titles.
Upon winning the both at Wrestle Kingdom 15 in Tokyo Dome on January 4, 2021, Kota Ibushi announced his ambitions of unifying both titles. In a attempt to prevent his ambition, Tetsuya Naito which he deemed unacceptable, challenged Ibushi to a match for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. This led to on February 28 at Castle Attack, Ibushi successfully defending the title against Naito. Two days later, during a press conference, NJPW Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi announced that both titles would be unified into the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship under a new lineage, while carrying both championships legacies, with Kota Ibushi being recognized as the inaugural champion. However at Ibushi's request, NJPW announced that Ibushi would make his last defense of the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships against reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion El Desperado, who had challenged him to a title match at Castle Attack, on March 4 at NJPW's 49th anniversary event, with the winner of the match being crowned the first champion. At the March 4 event, Kota Ibushi defeated El Desperado to become the inaugural champion.
Ibushi continued to hold the old IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championship belts, until on March 26, NJPW announced that the new title belt would be unvield on March 30, during the Road to Sakura Genesis tour. At the event, Ibushi was presented with a new single championship belt, retiring the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championship belts in the process.
The creation of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship was heavily criticized. Various NJPW wrestlers including former IWGP Heavyweight Champions, Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada and Jay White felt that the titles should had not been unified in the first place, with Naito referring that the legacy of both IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships would be forgotten. This was further complement by Ibushi's strained relationship with a large part of the NJPW roster including eight-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi. In contrast, 2021 New Japan Cup winner Will Ospreay did not oppose the concept of creating a new lineage for the championship. Instead, upon after winning the title from Kota Ibushi, Ospreay defended that the title should be to set a new standard and usher a new era.
Championship belt design
The belt design of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, reflects some similarities to the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships. The center plate, acknowledges the design of the previous IWGP Heavyweight Championship belts, with the upper part recalling the original circular IWGP Heavyweight design and the upper profile the IWGP crown form the second design. The plate also include two wings, which marks the concept of flight into the world at large, simbolizing the third design of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The Lion Mark represent the sun above and the Earth below, remarking to the fourth design. The Flames emanating from the sun are represented by a sword piercing the world below from top to bottom, which are on the center of the IWGP crown design. The title's side plates are related to the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, with each side plate representing a continent around the world.
As of June 7, 2021, there have been three reigns shared among three wrestlers with one vacancy. Kota Ibushi was the inaugural champion.
Ibushi has the shortest reign at 31 days, he won it at 38 years old. Will Ospreay is the youngest champion when he won it at 27 years, while he has the longest reign at 46 days, as he was forced to vacate the title due to suffering a neck injury while defending it.
|1||Kota Ibushi||1||March 4, 2021||Tokyo||31 Days||0||Defeated El Desperado to become the inaugural champion.|
|2||Will Ospreay||1||April 4, 2021||Tokyo||46 Days||1|
|—||Vacated||—||May 20, 2021||—||—||—||Ospreay vacated the title after being sidelined with a neck injury.|
|3||Shingo Takagi||1||June 7, 2021||Osaka||57+||1||Defeated Kazuchika Okada in a decision match to win the vacant championship.|
|†||Indicates the current champion|
|1||Shingo Takagi †||1||1||57+|