After IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships were held together since January 2020, and with a successful defence by Kota Ibushi of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship on February 28 at Castle Attack, the two titles will be officially unified as of this spring.
A special press conference on March 1 heralded the announcement of the title, which will be known as the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. The IWGP Heavyweight Championship was first conceived in 1983 as the award in an annual tournament, before becoming a regularly defended title with Antonio Inoki its first holder on June 12 1987. The IWGP Intercontinental Championship was first won by MVP in a tournament final in Philadephia in May 2011. Kota Ibushi won both titles on January 4, 2021, becoming the 73rd Heavyweight Champion and 27th Intercontinental Champion; he will now also be recognised as the first IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi stated the following:
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.
Here is Kota Ibushi’s statement:
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.
All pics and videos courtesy of NJPW