New Japan History: The IWGP Intercontinental Championship

The IWGP Intercontinental Championship is considered to be one of the most prestigious prizes in all of professional wrestling. Introduced on January 5, 2011, this championship was brought in as a secondary title just below the IWGP Heavyweight Championship which is still considered to be the top belt in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

The IWGP Intercentonatal Championship Is Born

In May of the same year, New Japan decided that it was time to give the belt its first owner and therefore an eight-man tournament was held. The participants in the tournament were all very well-known performers: MVP, Kazuchika Okada, Josh Daniels, Tetsuya Naito, Dan Maff, Toru Yano, Hideo Saito, and Yujiro Takahashi. MVP and Toru Yano were the two who headed into the finals of this tournament where on May 15, the former WWE United States Champion, MVP defeated Yano to become the inaugural IWGP Intercontinental Champion.

The title was won by MVP in Philadelphia, U.S.A but he was set to defend it over in Japan in his upcoming matches. At that point in time MVP had already made his name in WWE and was a well-known figure in the world of professional wrestling. His time in New Japan saw him truly expand his horizons and show fans what he was truly capable of. Three days after MVP defeated Yano, a rematch was scheduled for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. MVP defeated Yano in what marked his first successful title defense but he was made to pay by Yano after the match as Yano took on the role of a barber and gave MVP a nice little trim setting up another match down the line.

IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Hiroshi Tanahashi with the first IWGP Intercontinental Champion, MVP

At this point, MVP had disbanded from Suzuki-Gun and had a touch of a lone warrior in his character. He was also already in a full-blown rivalry with CHAOS often having trios matches against them with different partners leading into his third encounter with Yano. On July 18, MVP defeated Yano for the third and final time bringing up his successful defense counter to two. Even though his rivalry with Yano was wrapped, he got involved in a feud with yet another CHAOS member, Masato Tanaka. Things were put on pause as the G1 approached where MVP had a very strong showing almost making it into the finals. After the G1 was done with Tanaka got his title shot on October 10 where Masato Tanaka defeated MVP to become the Intercontinental Champion.

After his stablemate Toru Yano had failed multiple times, Tanaka was successful in bringing over the mid-card title to CHAOS. From the start of his run, fans had a feeling that Tanaka would be holding onto the belt for a while and he was soon feuding with different wrestlers. He first clashed with Hirooki Goto at Power Struggle 2011 which Tanaka won in strong fashion. After this victory, Tanaka found MVP on his tail who was coming back for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship that he had dropped a month earlier. MVP challenged Tanaka to a match on December 12, 2011, but Tanaka had no intentions of dropping the title. Given that Tanaka wanted to hold on to the title so badly, he relied on his ally Yujiro Takahashi to help him win the match and make his second successful title defense.

Tanaka didn’t get time to breathe as his obligations to ZERO1 occupied him for most of December but he was nonetheless able to sneak in yet another defense against Tomoaki Honma in late December bringing the counter up to three. Tanaka soon found himself in yet another feud with Hirooki Goto over the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at the dawn of a new year. This time, however, the result was different. On February 12, 2012, at the New Beginning in Osaka Hirooki Goto brought an end to Tanaka’s 125-day long run as the IWGP Intercontinental Champion.

After winning the belt, Goto found himself being chased by Chaos as they wanted the Intercontinental Championship back with them. Therefore, Goto first faced the Tokyo Pimp Yujiro Takahashi for the Intercontinental Championship. After a hard-fought battle, Goto defended the title successfully. Soon, Goto was occupied with the New Japan Super Cup tearing through the tournament and earning a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Goto faced Kazuchika Okada in May of 2012 but came up short in his efforts to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

By this point, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship had taken the backseat and was slowly losing its spotlight. Nonetheless, after discontinuing his pursuit of the Heavyweight Championship, Goto defended the Intercontinental Championship successfully yet again against Tomohiro Ishii. Goto continued to feud with CHAOS but his next challenge would be one that wouldn’t be able to overcome. He faced the star of CHAOS, Shinsuke Nakamura on July 22 who won the IWGP Intercontinental Championship that night.

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