NJPW must handle Will Ospreay vacating IWGP World Title correctly

TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 15: Will Ospreay shows the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship belt during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling at Korakuen Hall on April 15, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - APRIL 15: Will Ospreay shows the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship belt during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling at Korakuen Hall on April 15, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images) /

On April 4, 2021, Will Ospreay defeated Kota Ibushi to become the new IWGP World Heavyweight Champion at Sakura Genesis. This was just weeks after the new championship that Ibushi pushed for NJPW to create had debuted.

Ospreay, the 2021 New Japan Cup winner, became the latest gaijin to have his name included as the top guy of NJPW. He was seemingly entrusted to be the man to help establish a legacy for the new gold, as Ibushi never got to successfully defend the new title.

At Wrestling Dontaku on May 4, just one month after winning the championship, Ospreay earned his first successful title defense. Unfortunately, that would end up being his last. On May 20, NJPW revealed that Ospreay now had to relinquish the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Ospreay will be heading back to the United Kingdom to receive treatment on his neck.

NJPW is without a world champion at a time when the promotion needs one the most.

All of this comes at a difficult time for NJPW. Injuries and COVID-19 have continuously forced the company to switch its plans on the fly and move events around. Things have not been easy since Wrestle Kingdom 14 in 2020, to say the least. Now, the company is left with a new championship that is in need of a legitimate reign to establish it as the new premier world title in all of wrestling, like its predecessor.

And that’s when the question must be asked: What should NJPW do with its vacated championship?

When it comes to crowning the new champion, we likely won’t have to wait too long, as Dominion goes down on June 6. Assuming the state of emergency in Japan is lifted, that should occur as planned. Given that it’s the second-biggest annual show in NJPW behind Wrestle Kingdom, it sounds like the perfect event to crown the next champion. The G1 Climax, as many have said on social media, would have been a fair choice but the tournament is still months away due to the Olympics.

If the company wanted, New Japan could hold a tournament that isn’t the G1 to crown the champion. They could put former IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champions into it, seeing as how the world title is the combination of both.

No matter what they pick, though, NJPW must go with a proven commodity to be their next IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. While having Kota Ibushi reclaim the title once again would be a reasonable thought, it may not be in their best interest at the moment. Of course, Ibushi getting a better reign this time around would be welcomed by fans everywhere. But it’s not what the title needs right now.

The best choice for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship is to go to the old reliable, which has been something fans have been clamoring for even when Ospreay was champion.

Kazuchika Okada instantly becomes the leading candidate due to the fact he was set to headline Wrestle Grand Slam alongside Ospreay, battling for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Okada has not held championship gold in any form since 2020 when he lost the title in the Double Gold Dash match against Tetsuya Naito. Since that moment, Okada hasn’t been much of himself.

After dropping the belt, 2020 was a lost year for him, as it was for a lot of wrestlers. But when it comes to someone like Okada, you almost always figure they will be at the top. Maybe that break from being the champion for NJPW is what would make him winning it again feel right. It has been reported by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer this year that Okada has been dealing with two slipped discs in his lower back. The multiple periods of rest over the last few months have hopefully allowed Okada to get back to being healthy, setting him up to potentially be world champion again.

Then there is “The Ace,” Hiroshi Tanahashi. Most recently, Tanahashi lost the NEVER Openweight Championship to Jay White, leading to him being without a direction moving forward. Believe it or not, the most decorated IWGP Heavyweight Champion in history has not held the top title in NJPW since 2019. If NJPW is looking to level their problems and get back on track, it’s difficult to sway away from one of their all-time greats as well.

Whether you go with Okada or Tanahashi in this situation, you are leaning on a proven commodity who can get NJPW back on track. That’s the brilliance here. While the want and need to make new stars in the likes of SANADA are necessary, that should come by defeating an established champion instead of winning a title that is vacated.

Go with the reliability and come out of it better than you expected.

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