We last left the IWGP Intercontinental title vacant after Shinsuke Nakamura’s time as champion. He parted ways with the title that came to define the King of Strong Style and the company that created him. Where happens to the title from this point forward? This is the history of the IWGP Intercontinental Title, the fourth and final part.
History of The IWGP Intercontinental Title
It was only the start of the legacy of the IWGP Intercontinental Title. After Nakamura helped increase the prestige of the IWGP Intercontinental title, it was only going to help take the title to new heights in a new era of the company.
During the New Beginning show in Niigata on February 14th in 2016, there was a match to determine who would take the new, vacant title.
The match was between Hiroshi Tanahashi and the now Heavyweight and leader of Bullet Club Kenny Omega. This was the first singles match between the two with conflicting ideologies on wrestling and very different styles. Going into the match, it seemed as if the Ace was the heavy favorite. Tanahashi was already synonymous with the IC title and his feud with Nakamura. Alongside this, it was one of the first singles matches Omega had in the Heavyweight division. Going up against one of the biggest and brightest stars in that division in the form of Tanahashi was not going to be easy.
The Ace vs. The Cleaner :
A match many had dreamt about
Despite everything, Omega showed why he was one of the best in the world even then. In the match that went just under 30 minutes, Kenny hit Tanahashi with his finisher and won the match and his first heavyweight title.
Having Kenny hold the title after Nakamura was definitely a sign of a new era, an era of Bullet Club. Yet, despite holding the belt for 126 days, Omega only successfully defended the title once against Michael Elgin during the 2016 Wrestling Dontaku tour. However, this win against Elgin only fuelled, and he challenged for the title again at the 2016 Dominion show at Osaka-Jo Hall.
What was most exciting about the match set for Dominion was that it happened to be the company’s first-ever ladders match! This was a huge change for New Japan, who never really had many gimmick matches compared to other promotions. It was a brutal match lasting over half an hour, utilizing both men’s very different wrestling styles. Omega was more of a high-flying and technical mastermind than Elgin’s huge strength and power advantage. In the end, Michael Elgin won the title, and it was the first time in the belt’s history that consecutive gaijins held the title.
However, if there’s ever someone who wants to break a good party and cause some chaos, it’s the Ungovernable One: Tetsuya Naito.
History of The IWGP Intercontinental Title
It was the start of a new legacy.
After defeating Michael Elgin NJPW Destruction In Kobe in September 2016, the Los Ingobernables de Japon leader got his first taste of Intercontinental glory.
This marked Naito’s first reign with the belt, and it was a reign which is the second-longest in the title’s history at 259, just being beaten by Nakamura’s first 313-day reign. Alongside the longevity, Naito also successfully defended the title four times during this reign. These included matches against Ring of Honor’s Jay Lethal during the 2016 Power Struggle tour, a rematch against Michael Elgin during the 2017 New Beginning tour, and a match against Juice Robinson that April. It was a reign very much similar to that of Nakamura’s almost 5 years before.
However, it was also completely different from Nakamura because it was this reign that marked the historical death of the title. This was in a physical rather than symbolic way. Throughout this reign, he’d constantly treated the title with disgust dragging it on the floor and treating it with complete disrespect. This all came to a culmination at a show in May 2017; Naito just went crazy and started throwing the title around as if it was nothing, thus causing the title to just break.
Naito & His Relationship with the Title
This was a sign of what was to come in terms of Naito’s relationship with the title in the coming years. Naito eventually lost the title at Dominion 2017 to the man he’d successfully beaten at Wrestle Kingdom 11. This man played such a huge part in the title’s history. Hiroshi Tanahashi in a match that was such a contrast of ideologies, personalities, and styles.
Although losing the title, Naito had cemented his relationship with the belt. It would eventually rival that of Shinsuke Nakamura! The matches were continuing to exceed more than 25 minutes in length. The IWGP Intercontinental title was as prestigious as ever!