IWGP Heavyweight Championship
|IWGP Heavyweight Championship|
Kazuchika Okada, three-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion, holding the title belt
|Current champion(s)||Kazuchika Okada|
|Date won||July 5, 2015|
|Date established||June 12, 1987|
|Promotion||New Japan Pro Wrestling|
The International Wrestling Grand Prix (IWGP) Heavyweight Championship is the top professional wrestling title in Japanese promotion New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). The championship belt was created in 1983, originally as a trophy to the winner of the annual IWGP League. Hulk Hogan (1983), Andre The Giant (1985), and NJPW founder Antonio Inoki (1984, 1986) were the only ones that held the belt before it became an official championship in 1987, with Inoki defeating Masa Saito in the finals of the annual IWGP tournament.
Throughout the history of the championship, several wrestlers have been forced to relinquish the title due to an inability to participate in title defenses. When a wrestler has been injured or unable to compete for other reasons, tournaments have been held to determine the new champion.
In 2006, Brock Lesnar was stripped of the title for being unable to defend it; however, Lesnar claims he was owed money by NJPW and kept the physical belt. He signed with Antonio Inoki's Inoki Genome Federation (IGF) in 2007, and lost the championship to Kurt Angle on the inaugural broadcast. Angle later lost the belt in a unification match to the NJPW-recognized champion Shinsuke Nakamura in 2008.
Title reigns are determined either by professional wrestling matches featuring wrestlers involved in pre-existing scripted feuds, plots and storylines or by other scripted circumstances, where wrestlers were awarded the title. Wrestlers are portrayed as either villains, known as heels, or fan favorites, known as faces or babyfaces, as they followed a series of tension-building events, which culminated in a wrestling match or series of matches for the championship.
The inaugural champion was Antonio Inoki, who beat Masa Saito on June 12, 1987. Hiroshi Tanahashi holds the record for most reigns with seven. Shinya Hashimoto's 489 days is the longest reign in the title's history. Shinsuke Nakamura is the youngest champion at 23 years and 288 days, while Genichiro Tenryu is the oldest champion at 49 years and 311 days. Six non-Japanese wrestlers have held the title. Overall, there have been a total of 26 recognized champions, who have had a combined 63 official reigns. Kazuchika Okada is the current champion in his third reign.
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