One of the worst ideas to come out of NJPW was the merger of their two biggest titles. Then we saw the new belt design and it got worse. To catch you up to speed if you didn't already know, the company has decided to merge two of its championships into one belt. The decision came after the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship were captured by Tetsuya Naito back at Wrestle Kingdom 14, and the two belts have been carried around by whoever has been the main champ ever since. The company made the decision to deactivate both belts and merge them into a single title known as the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, which will start a new title history with its current holder, Kota Ibushi. The decision was met with mixed criticism, the majority of it online being that people did not favor it at all and would prefer to keep the IC Title separated from the top title. Last night at Road to Sakura Genesis show in Korakuen Hall, the old belts were retired and the new championship belt was revealed. And man, does this thing look bad.
Just for clarification, here is what the previous belts looked like before they were merged. These two titles had some of the best designs going for them as they looked like old-school boxing championship belts. They looked like prizes to be won for being the best at what you do in NJPW. This new belt has wings, it dropped the nameplates of previous champions, removed a lot of the regalness about it, and replaced it with square plates showing off parts of the world. Thankfully it kept the black leather strap and gems and didn't go for a ridiculous color like red. But you can see a significant difference between the three.
To be fair, it's not the worst design the IWGP title has gone through, but it does resemble one of the more ridiculous-looking versions of the belt. Once upon a time, the title once looked like a crown. It's the version of the belt they used for most of the '90s and the '00s until the most recent version was implemented in 2008 (both by choice and necessity). You can see that belt below being held by the amazing Yuji Nagata. In an article on their North American website, they talk about how this design was made to capture all four previous versions of the championship into one design, taking small elements here and there. It appears that they are trying to capture part of the spirit of the crown championship along with a set of wings from the third belt's design on both sides to help form the shape, but it doesn't come across that great.
It didn't take long for a lot of people to compare the belt to the ugly-as-hell WWE Diva's Championship, which was basically a pink and silver butterfly that has thankfully been garbaged. You'd think someone at NJPW would have taken a look at this design and said, "maybe we should go for something that doesn't look like another company's worst championship ever?" The biggest loss out of all this is the IC Title, as the mid-card needs a championship to fight for. As of when we're writing this article, the U.S. Title is currently in the hands of Jon Moxley, who is mainly performing for AEW and isn't defending the title much since the pandemic. And the NEVER Openweight title has slowly declined over the past year from being a hard-fisted title that anyone in any weight class could fight for to what feels like a prop around the waist of Hiroshi Tanahashi, who is an eight-time IWGP World Champion and really doesn't need it.
Now it is professional wrestling. One good story can cause the IC Title to be brought back from the dead. And for what it's worth, this story does make for an interesting circumstance that Ibushi basically stands alone with no one having a legit claim to the belt without going through hell to get there. Like Will Ospreay just did winning the New Japan Cup as he will go against Ibushi for the belt at Sakura Genesis 2021 on April 4th. But at the moment, everything about this from the circumstances to the design to the loss of history… It feels like the worst decision the company has made since putting the title on Brock Lesnar back in 2005. And trust me, that's saying something if you ever go look up what built to that and the aftermath of it. We'll see how the year pans out for the company with this change, but we're betting once the company gets back to business as usual with a bigger roster and a lot of the mid-card is just "there" with nothing to fight over but pride, that IC belt is going to be coming back in a hurry.