New Japan Pro Wrestling have made the decision to unify their top two belts in the company, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
According to Tokyo Sports, a new belt, entitled the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship will take the place of the previous belts and begin a new lineage, beginning with current IWGP / Intercontinental champion Kota Ibushi.
For the past year, the IWGP and Intercontinental titles have been defended as one since Tetsuya Naito captured them both at Wrestle Kingdom 14 in 2020. After losing to and recapturing the belts from EVIL, Naito lost both titles to Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 15 who remains the champion today.
Ibushi has been a big advocate for unifying the belts, while Naito has been outspoken for keeping them separate. Naito in particular has a long and storied history with the Intercontinental Championship and, along with Shinsuke Nakamura, is largely responsible for elevating the IC belt to the current heights of today.
The decision has sparked plenty of reactions from fans, given that the lineage of both belts are incredibly prestigious. Names to have held the IWGP Heavyweight title include Antonio Inoki, Scott Norton, the Great Muta, Shinsuke Nakamura, Brock Lesnar, Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega. Names to have held the IWGP Intercontinental title include Shinsuke Nakamura, Tetsuya Naito, Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho and Hiroshi Tanahashi.
NJPW have stated that the lineage of both belts will be combined into one for historical record.
This means that the IWGP US Championship, the title currently held by Jon Moxley, is now the second most prominent belt in the company. The US title scene has been very barebones since the COVID pandemic hit, but with the removal of the IC scene, this could mean that NJPW are looking to utilize the US belt more in upcoming programming.
NJPW are set to introduce a new physical belt to replace the iconic Heavyweight and IC belts.
Ibushi’s first defence as unified champion is expected to take place at Sakura Genesis on April 4, and will be against the winner of the upcoming New Japan Cup.