History of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship (Part 3) – Origins

We’re now at the third part of my History of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and after Shinsuke Nakamura won the IWGP Intercontinental Title for the first time, the 313-day reign elevated the belt to something many had hoped it would be: a top prize in New Japan.

However, even after losing the title to La Sombra, Nakamura’s reign made the IWGP Intercontinental Title mean something. Furthermore, it meant something to not only the company but Shinsuke himself. This was further emphasized after the King of Strong Style won back the title only 50 days after losing it during the Kizuna Road tour in July 2013.

With Nakamura back with the belt he made prestigious, it seemed as if nobody could touch the Artist. However, if there was one person that could and would separate Nakamura from the title he held so dearly.

The Ace of the Universe, Hiroshi Tanahashi.

It created one of the most iconic feuds in the history of New Japan.

Before this match, the two men had met on a few occasions in their past as young wrestlers. They battled for the U-30 Neverweight championship and the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. However, this was for a completely new prize and one that Nakamura held dear to his heart.

During the first few years of the IWGP Intercontinental Title’s inception, the belt struggled to even get a match on the Wrestle Kingdom card. Effectively, this kept it off the biggest show of the New Japan calendar. However, with two top stars like Nakamura and Tanahashi, it not only got a slot at the Tokyo Dome but was also part of a double main event. They contested alongside the IWGP Heavyweight Championship match between champion Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito.

What made it an even bigger statement was the fact that much to Naito and Okada’s annoyance, the IWGP Intercontinental title match was voted by the fans to be the final bout of the night. Although classed as a double main event, by closing the show, the IC Title seen as the Main Event.

The match has been called a classic and one that will go down in not only Wrestle Kingdom but New Japan history.

It combined the two athletes’ styles perfectly. Meshed were the Japanese Strong Style of Shinsuke Nakamura and the more unconventional high flying, risk-taking style of Tanahashi. After just over 20 minutes, Tanahashi finally got the best of the Artist. He took the title of the person who allowed the title to get to the main event status.

This victory marked the first IWGP Intercontinental Title reign of Hiroshi Tanahashi.

Although only holding the title for 92 days, Hiroshi Tanahashi added yet another layer of prestige to one of the newest belts in wrestling. The complexity and caliber of the Wrestle Kingdom match elevated the title in many wrestling fans’ eyes. As seen now, it is the belt of New Japan royalty and legends.

However, this wasn’t to be the end of Tanahashi and Nakamura’s feud…It was only the beginning.

After the reign which only lasted about 3 months, who was the man who cut the Ace’s first Intercontinental title reign short?

It had to be the man who could never leave the championship for too long: Shinsuke Nakamura.

After winning the belt back of his rival Tananashi, Nakamura just seemed to have this magnetic force pulling him back to the championship. After Bad Luck Fale defeated Nakamura at Dominion, the King of Strong Style won the title back 92 days later at Destruction in Kobe. When Hirooki Goto went back after the title, defeating Shinsuke at Wrestling Dontaku, Nakamura just went back after the belt. Nakamura won it back during Destruction in Kobe on September 27th, 2015.

The King of Strong Style couldn’t leave his title for too long.

In total, Nakamura held the belt 5 times over his career in New Japan. This cemented him as being part of the title’s history. It was fitting that the final reign ended with Shinsuke vacating the title on September 27th, 2015 at the Destruction in Kobe show. From there, he decided to part ways with the company and head overseas to WWE.

Although leaving the company that molded him into the wrestler he was, Nakamura left a lasting legacy in New Japan. He also impacted the core of the legacy of the IWGP Intercontinental Title. Whenever anyone ever mentions the championship, his name will forever be linked to it. He held the title many times, making it his job to elevate the title as one of the top prizes in professional wrestling.

This concludes the third part of my History of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. I’ll be back soon with my fourth and final part.