Considering the lineage and prestige behind New Japan’s IWGP Intercontinental Championship, it might be surprising that in the grand scheme of things, it is a fairly new title. Whereas New Japan Pro Wrestling was founded in 1972, the Intercontinental title was only established in 2011.
In 2010 NJPW came to an agreement with US promotion Jersey All Pro Wrestling. This agreement was for a working relationship between the brands. This led to the announcement on January 4th, 2011 of the first US tour called NJPW Invasion which would take place between May 13-15 in New Jersey, New York City, and Pennsylvania.
The following day, the company announced that they were going to be introducing the new Intercontinental title. The first champion would be determined in a bracket-style tournament across the three days with the champion being crowned on the final night in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
This was an extremely exciting announcement in so many ways.
Firstly, it introduced a secondary title in the company. NJPW had only ever had the IWGP Heavyweight as a singles title to aim for as a heavyweight apart from the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. It was something that those on the mid-card could strive too and similarly for those top-caliber stars when they were not in the IWGP Heavyweight picture. Secondly, it was a huge step towards Western expansion for the country. It came as a nice surprise for American fans who had only been able to watch the product on NJPWWorld.
On April 8th, 2011, the participants for this tournament were announced. These participants were NJPW wrestlers Toru Yano, Hideo Saito, Yujiro Takahashi and Tetsuya Naito (known as No Limit) and a young Kazuchika Okada who was on an excursion from TNA. There were also US wrestlers Josh Daniels, Dan Maff and more famously former WWE performer MVP.
In the first round of competition on May 13th, MVP submitted the future Rainmaker Kazuchika Okada. Tetsuya Naito unsurprisingly pinned Josh Daniels. Toru Yano pinned Dan Maff. Yujiro Takahashi surprisingly pinned Hideo Saito. Looking at the results here, everything seemed to be quite expected.
MVP was the established star and was leaps and bounds more experienced than a young Okada.
Toru Yano at this time was at his peak in the heel stable CHAOS. He was causing havoc and picking up wins. In terms of Naito and Takahashi, this was towards the end of their time as No Limit, a successful team that became the first to hold both the Jr and Heavyweight tag titles. This explains the booking and having Yujiro win. At the time, he was a huge star alongside Naito and worlds away from the Tokyo Pimp.
The second night brought NJPW fans two semi-final matches. In the first match, MVP managed to submit Tetsuya Naito to continue the dominance of the former WWE star. In the second match, the sneaky Yano pinned Yujiro in less than ten minutes. Once again, No Limit had failed to achieve success. It may have contributed to Yujiro’s turn on Naito later in the month. However, this set the stage for the final night with the final being between MVP and Toru Yano.
On the final night, Philadelphia was treated to some amazing matches ahead of the final match of the Intercontinental championship tournament. Kenny Omega beat Jushin Thunder Liger for the Jersey All Pro Wrestling Light Heavyweight Championship. Lance Archer made his debut. Apollo 55 retained their Junior Tag Championship alongside singles, tag and a hardcore match between Togi Makabe and Rhyno.
However, the match that everyone was waiting for was MVP v Toru Yano to become the inaugural IWGP Intercontinental Champion.
Going into the final, the US crowd was firmly behind MVP booing the sneaky, mischievous Yano.
The match wasn’t long, only lasting under 10 minutes. However, it was a good quality match. From the get-go, Yano cemented his heel status with a jump start. Then avoiding MVP at any cost by going outside the ring and trying to get MVP to go at his pace. This only frustrated the former WWE superstar. With his patented forearms, speed and strength, MVP managed to get the match back on track to some extent.
Although the match was very much what we would expect, in terms of Yano’s antics, it was very different to the Yano we know and love now. He used everything back then as he does now. But it didn’t have the same cheekiness and Yano innocence he possesses nowadays. That basically helps us accept anything he does as being quirks.
This just helped him get more heat and made the crowd explode even more when MVP got the win in the end.
It may have not been the best technical match NJPW has given us, but it was a great start to the title. It had a bit of everything, including Red Shoes Unno slapping Yano in the face.
Even with Yano’s antics and rule-breaking, in the end, it was MVP’s determination and the crowd’s support that got him the victory. Like his other opponents, MVP submitted Yano to become the first-ever IWGP Intercontinental champion. He had captured the IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Winning this cemented MVP’s place in the IWGP Intercontinental Championship history, a title he would hold for 5 months defending it against and defending it twice against Toru Yano. He would eventually lose the title in October 2011 during the Destruction tour to Masato Tanaka.
However, it was just the start for one of the most prestigious titles in New Japan history.