The news was first reported by Tokyo Sports, then confirmed at New Japan’s Mar. 1 press conference – the company is officially unifying the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight titles currently held by Kota Ibushi. He’ll be presented with the newly created IWGP World Heavyweight championship prior to his first official defense at Sakura Genesis on April 4.
Since 2020’s Wrestle Kingdom 14, the two belts have been held by the same wrestler. Tetsuya Naito defended them together over the next year, briefly dropping and regaining them from EVIL before losing both to Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 15 in January. The storyline heading into their Intercontinental title match this past weekend at Castle Attack was Naito’s desire to separate the belts against the reigning champ’s wish to unify them.
Ibushi is getting his wish.
He’s also asked that he be allowed to defend the current titles one last time against IWGP Junior Heavyweight & Junior Heavyweight Tag champ El Desperado at this week’s Anniversary show. I wouldn’t bet on him losing regardless of whether NJPW officials honor that request or not.
In addition to a new belt design, the IWGP World Heavyweight title will “bring forward the lineages” of the two championships it replaces. However that works, this effectively caps the Intercontinental championship’s active run at a decade (it was first won by MVP in a 2011 tournament), and the Heavyweight title’s at 24 years (officially recognized as New Japan’s top belt since Antonio Inoki won a tournament for it in 1987).