The IWGP Heavyweight Championship, now unified with the Intercontinental Championship as the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, is regarded by many as the most prestigious championship across the wrestling world.
This is mostly down to the fact that the title scarcely changes hands, thus making the crowning of a new champion feel all the more remarkable.
NJPW’s current IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada captured his first world title a decade ago, defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi in February 2012 to begin his first reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
Okada is now undoubtably NJPW’s top star, however he recently revealed to Sports Illustrated that he was incredibly nervous before his torch-passing bout with “The Ace”.
“I was very nervous until I went up to the ring that day, I didn’t even have an appetite.”-Kazuchika Okada
Despite the overwhelming nerves, Okada made sure not to enter the biggest match of his career thus far with an empty stomach, revealing that he went to a restaurant in Osaka and ate a Japanese beef rice bowl known as gyūdon before capturing the greatest title NJPW has to offer.
Okada’s crowning moment brought an end to Tanahashi’s remarkable 11-defence title reign, and Okada quickly erased any doubt regarding his place at the top of the company. Even Tanahashi himself marveled at Okada’s charisma and ability to perform under the bright lights.
“It is more than even I expected. He excels in a visual sense, with athletic ability, and through his strength. I think he is now the spiritual pillar of New Japan Pro-Wrestling.”-Hiroshi Tanahashi
Okada’s first reign ended at the hands of Tanahashi just a few months later at Dominion, although the Rainmaker would recapture the title in April of 2013. Okada’s second stint with the golf lasted 391 days, cementing his place in the history books of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“I was happy when I was crowned for the second time. Now that I think about it, I think youth is also quite a weapon. I’ve been able to come here without injury for 10 years. I’ve overcome various things, and I will continue to overcome various difficulties moving forward.”-Kazuchika Okada
Okada is set to defend his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at the upcoming Dominion PPV against Bullet Club leader Jay White, with Okada looking to carry the NJPW flag into the future as the company celebrate their 50th anniversary.