When it comes to their top accolades, New Japan is very selective. They put a real importance on their Championships like few other promotions do and only the very best reach the pinnacle of becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
The more prestigious a title is in New Japan the more difficult it is to obtain. Since 2011 the IWGP Heavyweight Championship has only been held by 6 different men. But there is a healthy amount of other titles across NJPW that have their own notoriety. From the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, a title that was defended in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8, to the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship that is forever entwined with the iconic Jushin Thunder Liger. Winning a title in New Japan is paramount to being successful and for these four men I have selected, I think they deserve the acclaim that comes with being a Champion.
I think it is criminal that Rocky Romero has never been the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion! As the fourth incarnation of Black Tiger, Romero did win the Championship but that was as Black Tiger and not as Rocky Romero. He is the most winningest IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion in history but he should be in the record books as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion too. And not just as a “thank you” for his tenured history and endless work with New Japan. Romero is still one of the best Junior wrestlers in the world today and would only improve the already legendary reputation of the title. His matches in the Best of Super Juniors last year are proof that Romero is still one of the best, notably his match of the year contender with El Phantasmo. Rocky has been a staple of New Japan wrestling for what seems like forever but he is only 37 years old! He still has plenty left in the tank and hopefully a future reign as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.
Toa Henare has his eyes set on one man and one title. Give him Shingo Takagi and a shot at the NEVER Openweight Championship. Henare was set to main event the first night of the New Japan Cup against Tomohiro Ishii and I firmly believe that would have been his breakout match. The New Zealand native has been putting all the pieces together in front of the New Japan audience without the benefit of international excursion and he is now prepared to be a prominent part of the New Japan roster. Henare is a name that will become synonymous among the big hitters of New Japan like EVIL, Ishii and Shingo sooner rather than later. NEVER title matches always have a very distinct feel to them that allows the competitors to offer something unique on any card and it is the perfect Championship to put the spotlight on somebody like Henare who is ready to smash down walls and announce his intentions to the world as a Champion.
Give the Stone Pitbull some prestige! Undoubtedly one of the most consistent high-performing wrestlers in the world, Tomohiro Ishii has been a constant for NJPW over the years. He has put on numerous match of the year contenders and is seemingly incapable of having a bad match. As much as I would relish seeing Ishii with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, I appreciate that may be out of reach for him. Over the years the IWGP Intercontinental Championship has been just as important as the Heavyweight, even being more important on occasion. When Ishii enters the ring it is to go to war and that is never truer than when there is a title on the line. Having Ishii hold the IWGP Intercontinental Championship would almost guarantee that whenever he defends the title it will the match of the night.
Zack Sabre Jr. joined New Japan in 2017 and was an instant success; with the assistance of Suzuki-Gun, he defeated Katsuyori Shibata for the British Heavyweight Championship on his debut. He won the New Japan Cup in 2018 but was unsuccessful when challenging Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and he finished with the joint-most points in the B Block of the 2018 G1 Climax. Even with all of these accomplishments he has never held IWGP gold. ZSJ is a very well established force in NJPW and now he is ready to tear a Championship away from whoever he can. He made his intentions clear when he attacked current IWGP United States Champion Jon Moxley. He even attacked the newly crowned IWGP Tag Team Champions with his Dangerous Tekkers tag mate Taichi. He has IWGP gold on his mind and it is likely only a matter of time before he gets his first reign with one of New Japan’s own titles. Before 2020 is out we could see the grand return of Zacky Two Belts.
You can find me on Twitter @CiaranRH. Thanks for reading.