Who is the greatest IWGP Heavyweight Champion in NJPW history?
NJPW’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship has been called one of the most prestigious titles in professional wrestling. First introduced in 1987, there has been a total of 72 reigns with 29 different wrestlers holding the belt over the last 30 years.
With so many top names from across the world marking their names in history, here is a look at the Top 10 IWGP Heavyweight Champions.
10. Jay White
Even though White’s reign as Heavyweight champion was short, you can’t deny that it made an impact on NJPW in 2019. When White challenged Tanahashi for the title during the New Beginning’s tour, it split New Japan fans. Many believed that Tanahashi would never lose his beloved title on the first defence. Whereas, others thought that they would see a Switchblade shock reminiscent of the Rainmaker shock in 2012. The latter would prove to be correct as White beat Tanahashi at the end of the tour in February 2019.
From there, we saw a heel championship run with people trying anything to beat NJPW’s biggest villain. However, the success of the reign focused on the story-telling and the cockiness of the Switchblade throughout.
In the end, White’s reigned without any successful defences. Yet, Jay will be known as the man who single-handily sold-out Madison Square Garden, because he will never let us forget it. The desire to beat White led to an intense New Japan Cup which will be the first of many future titles for White.
9. Antonio Inoki
In a list looking at the top 10 IWGP Heavyweight Champions in NJPW, you have to mention the first-ever champ Antonio Inoki. During the 1987 IWGP Champion Series, Inoki defeated Masa Saito in the final of the tournament to become the champion and cementing his name in history.
Inoki would go on to hold this title for over 300 days with defences against several wrestlers from across the world such as Riki Choshu, Crusher Bam Bam Bigelow, and Steve Williams. However, Inoki would then relinquish the title in 1988 after fracturing his foot. He would never capture the beloved title again in his career.
Despite this, Inoki held the record of longest reign and number of successful defences for several years. It was a record that was only broken by The Great Muta in 1992. So, although Inoki only held this title once in his career, he was still one of the names associated with the title and will forever be etched in the history of the IWGP championship.