who is iwgp champion?
The IWGP World Heavyweight Championship (IWGP世界ヘビー級王座, IWGP Sekai 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 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 a 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 belt in NJPW and one of the most respected in Japanese professional wrestling, being 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 mid-card 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 equaled, 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 in the "Double Gold Dash" on January 4 and 5, 2020, 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 or otherwise unified them, but his request to defend them separately was denied by NJPW, leading Naito to accuse them of trying to unify both titles.
Upon winning both titles at Wrestle Kingdom 15 in Tokyo Dome on January 4, 2021, Kota Ibushi announced his ambitions of unifying both titles. In an 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 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 unveiled on March 30, during the Road to Sakura Genesis tour. At the event, Ibushi was presented with a new single championship belt, retiring both the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championship belts in the process.
The creation of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship was heavily criticized by fans and critics. Various NJPW wrestlers including former IWGP Heavyweight Champions, Tetsuya Naito, Kazuchika Okada and Jay White felt that the titles should have not been unified in the first place, with Naito and Okada referring that the legacy of both IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships would be completely erased. This was further complemented 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 winning the title from Kota Ibushi, Ospreay defended that the title should be meant to set a new standard and usher in a new era.
Meanwhile, following Ibushi's title loss to Will Ospreay in his first title defense on April 4 at Sakura Genesis, after a month, Ospreay who had recently won the championship was forced to vacate the title due to a neck injury suffered in a title defense against Shingo Takagi, while also returning to the United Kingdom for rehabilitation. Ahead of a match to crown a new champion at Dominion 6.6 in Osaka-jo Hall, former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada in an interview, on June 4, claimed that the title was cursed, with the spirit of the former IWGP Heavyweight Championship lineage affecting the new title, which Okada dubbed the "IWGP Curse" (IWGPの呪い IWGP no Noroi). At the event on June 6, Shingo Takagi defeated Okada to win the vacant title.
On August 14 at Resurgence, Will Ospreay made his return from injury, proclaiming himself to be the "real IWGP World Heavyweight Champion", before stating that he would be appearing on NJPW Strong defending his title. After Kazuchika Okada won the 2021 G1 Climax, during a press conference, instead of receiving a briefcase containing a contract for a title shot at the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom, Okada asked NJPW Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi to be awarded the fourth version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship which Ibushi had retired in March, to represent the contract, which he would have to defend for the rest of the year, which he accepted. On November 13 at Battle in the Valley, Will Ospreay confronted Okada and invited him to challenge for his ‘real’ IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, proclaiming Okada's retired IWGP Heavyweight Championship belt as meaningless. Okada declined, stating that it should be Ospreay challenging him. This led to Ospreay proclaim that he would face the winner of the main event in the first night of Wrestle Kingdom 16 for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at the second night on January 5. On January 4, 2022, on the first night of Wrestle Kingdom 16, Okada defeated Shingo Takagi to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Following the match, Okada payed respect and retired the old IWGP Heavyweight Championship and replaced it with the current IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. The following day, Okada defeated Will Ospreay to retain the the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship and certified himself as the 'real' IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.
Since Wrestle Kingdom, more wrestlers began showing a sympathetic attitude towards the championship belt, with Tetsuya Naito, who attempted to win the title in May, and Jay White began accepting the belt and have a positive attitude towards it. Later that month, Kota Ibushi, the inaugural champion, openly stated on his Twitter account that he did not agree with the unification of the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships and that the plan to unite both titles did not come from him but instead by NJPW's creative team.
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 of the IWGP crown from the second design. The plate also includes two wings, which marks the concept of flight into the world at large, symbolizing the third design of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The Lion Mark represents 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 is 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 April 8, 2023, there have been seven reigns shared among six 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. Afterwards, he was forced to vacate the title due to suffering a neck injury while defending it. Shingo Takagi has the longest reign at 211 days, he won it at 38 years old.
SANADA is the current champion in his first reign. He defeated Kazuchika Okada on April 8, 2023 at Sakura Genesis 2023 in Tokyo, Japan.
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