NJPW: Will SANADA ever become IWGP World Champion

FUKUOKA, JAPAN - MAY 04: SANADA looks on during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling 'Wrestling Dontaku' at the Fukuoka Convention Center on May 04, 2021 in Fukuoka, Japan. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)
FUKUOKA, JAPAN - MAY 04: SANADA looks on during the New Japan Pro-Wrestling 'Wrestling Dontaku' at the Fukuoka Convention Center on May 04, 2021 in Fukuoka, Japan. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images) /

SANADA has everything to be world champion, but will he ever reach the pinnacle?

At New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Dominion show, Los Ingobernables de Japon member Shingo Takagi defeated Kazuchika Okada to become the new IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. Takagi, of course, joined the group back in 2018 when he left Dragon Gate to be a member of the NJPW roster and to team with BUSHI in the Super Junior Tag League. The win was a major moment for Takagi, who many never knew if he’d become world champion or not. His prominence in the group also gained more value when EVIL turned on Tetsuya Naito to join Bullet Club.

The reason we bring this up is that for a very long time, SANADA was viewed as the man who would follow Naito in the group as a future IWGP World Heavyweight Champion (then IWGP Heavyweight Champion). And many believe that the win was possible over the last few years. But as we sit here now, both EVIL and Takagi have won the top belt while SANADA has only continued to come up short in his pursuit. So we ask, will SANADA ever reach the mountain top and become IWGP World Heavyweight Champion?

Looking forward, Takagi is likely to have a sizeable reign. When he loses that title, it’s very unlikely to be to his Los Ingobernables de Japon stablemate. Both Jay White and Will Ospreay tend to be notable names who could dethrone Takagi, which moves us ahead in our thinking of when it’s possible.

The interesting factor with SANADA is that he is a fan-favorite in Japan. “The Cold Skull” repeatedly has people on his side and has some of the best reactions anytime it’s his time to shine. His career, however, is a very interesting one. In his time in NJPW, he has never won a singles title, yet many believe he will eventually achieve that goal of being a world champion. His title runs in NJPW feature IWGP Tag Team Championship and NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Championship reigns, but nothing else. Once EVIL left the group, SANADA seemed he could capture gold with Takagi eventually, but that is not the case now.

As we saw at Dominion, SANADA is now set to pursue the IWGP Tag Team Championships with Naito. This is when it became a serious question of maybe it’s not “when,” but “if” rather than the other way around like many thought. SANADA has been ready for some time now to rise up the card and has a multitude of major wins and championship matches — but he’s failed in all of those.

SANADA has had four opportunities to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. He lost to Okada in the first three, while losing to Kota Ibushi earlier this year. These are also his only singles title opportunities in NJPW outside of his chance to take the RevPro Heavyweight Championship from Zack Sabre Jr. at the Wrestle Kingdom 14.  It’s become more of him being lost in the shuggle and only being necessary when needed. That’s a shame, seeing SANADA’s popularity and overall ability would have him on top of nearly any other company in the entire world.

So when we ask the question of SANADA ever becoming IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, we still believe the answer to be yes. “The Cold Skull” is only 33 years old and while some names have hurdled him in their efforts of accomplishing the goal that he also has, SANADA is too good to be denied the chance of running with the title and being the man for NJPW down the line.

Trying to identify when or how that may happen, SANADA’s rise to the top has to be through a G1 Climax win or the New Japan Cup. Giving him a run worthy of finally winning the title at Wrestle Kingdom would feel right for his eventual win. But winning a tournament like that is one thing, securing major wins is another. In SANADA’s career, he does not have as many major wins as it feels he does considering the major matches he has participated in. His record against Okada is 1-6. On his road to gold, that is a win he will need to obtain. Big wins matter and if they want to start a slow build to the hopefully inevitable reign, that time should be now. NJPW just has to be prepared to believe in him.

Once that time comes for SANADA, he will be IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.

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