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    Thursday, March 4, 2021

    Cafe Puro Roundtable: The Intercontinental Conundrum

    Kota Ibushi's request to unify the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental belts was fulfilled by NJPW...or was it? (Photo from NJPW1972)

    NJPW and CyberFight unleashed a torrent of information and Smark Henry is here to cover some of last week's highlights of the puroresu world.

    Kota Combines The Belts

    The Castle Attack event went by in a breeze. Not too much happened in Day 1 of the show, Okada conquered EVIL while Day 2 was filled with a crazy final half full of title matches that determined the future of New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

    Kota Ibushi defeated Tetsuya Naito to retain the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. I'll be honest: the Naito-Ibushi matchup has become stale for me. Castle Attack's biggest revelation was the announcement that came just today at the post-event press conference. 

    New Japan formally granted Ibushi's request to merge the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental belts, and Kota Ibushi is now considered the first IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. The lineages of both belts will be merged and not erased. Combining the belts brings up a very interesting situation. Now that the belts are combined and considered as one world title, does this mean the likes of Hirooki Goto and Minoru Suzuki are now world champions?

    Personally, I am not the biggest fan of the unification of the two belts, but it does have a purpose. The NEVER Openweight Championship was meant to become what the IC belt eventually became and that is to be the 1B to the 1A of the Heavyweight belt. After the NEVER experiment failed, the belt became the Strong Style belt for the longest time. It was only recently that then-champion Shingo Takagi made the belt a legitimate belt for any weight class.

    I wanted to get the opinion of my fellow puroresu fans to get their opinion on the unification and the Intercontinental Belt.

    Here's former Cafe Puro columnist Lance Tan Ong with his thoughts on the Intercontinental situation:

    Are you a fan of the Intercontinental Belt being merged with the Heavyweight Belt?

    Lance: In my opinion, I'm not necessarily a fan of what they did to both titles, but at the same time, I understand why they did what they did. New Japan had a good thing going with having different titles and building enough prestige to them, good enough to be main event-worthy in certain shows. And when you consider what they put their bodies through, having that kind of flexibility can help recover their bodies when they don't have to switch themselves to "main event performance mode."

    Is Shinsuke Nakamura's legacy in NJPW ruined by the fact that it is no longer its own belt?

    Lance: Nakamura's efforts certainly are not in vain. As a matter of fact, with his star power, he managed to make the title a true symbol of excellence when he was champion, and champions that came after him benefitted from that rub. At the time, New Japan entrusted Nakamura to make the championship mean something, and to that end, he successfully fulfilled that mission in spades. It was because of his run that all other former champions added that prestige into their resume, which benefitted everyone involved. But at the end of the day, there is always that problem of effectively streamlining their championship scene while the IC title was active. In a way, I guess Nakamura did too much of a good job.

    What current NJPW Belt could take the place of the IC Title as New Japan's 1B Championship and what would you have done to fix the double belt dillemma?

    Lance: If I have it my way, it should be the NEVER Openweight Championship as the US Heavyweight remained a symbol of the company's US expansion. However, I think it's time to drop the NEVER branding and consider officially sanctioning it under the International Wrestling Grand Prix, renaming it as the IWGP Openweight Championship. It's proven to be the true workhorse championship, not limited to weight classes, and is the true standard banner on fighting against any and all comers. It helps that the former champions are greats in their own right. So yeah, if there's any title that needs to become the clear number two, it's the Openweight.

    What do Fans Think?

    One image describes the feelings of what Super J Cast presumes to be the Japanese Fans. I'll let you be the judge.

    I really don't understand why NJPW is pushing through with the unification. The previous lineup of belts was fine. The US title is finally being defended in the United States as it should be. NJPW doesn't need to have the US Championship in Japan all the time. 

    The NEVER belt is perfect as the Openweight title and I agree with Lance, the NEVER belt needs to become an officially-sanctioned title and change its name to the IWGP Openweight Championship. Let's face it. NEVER has been dormant for years and I don't see that changing any time soon.

    However, I'm still not a fan of the Intercontinental belt being merged with the Heavyweight belt.

    I like how every belt in New Japan has a purpose. The Heavyweight Championship is for the 1A Stars. Intercontinental is for the 1B Stars. The Junior Heavyweight title serves its purpose as well. The NEVER championships are fun because it gives us inter-division matches in its singles and tag team belts. If there were belts to unify in NJPW, it would have to be the Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Belts.

    The Junior Tag Division is too tiny to be sustained. Combining the Jr. Tag with the Heavyweight Tag belts would give us fresh matchups all around.

    What comes next?

    Now that the belts will be merged, we only have one more big event before Ibushi is formally crowned as the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion: The Anniversary Show.

    New Japan's Anniversary Show is known for its annual tradition of the IWGP Heavyweight Champion facing the Junior Heavyweight Champion in a non-title singles match. This year, NJPW is breaking with tradition and putting both titles on the line!

    Prior to the double title match, we will already have an idea of who could face Ibushi next when Round 1 of the New Japan Cup begins on the same night. 

    Like many other fans, you might be wondering why NJPW is shoving everything and the kitchen sink in their schedule. I have a gut feeling that the onslaught of shows is a way to make up for lost revenue. With NJPW only being allowed to fill up venues to half capacity, they decided to run shows two nights in order to earn more money.

    The winner of this year's tournament will face Kota Ibushi, or maybe Despy?, for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at the returning Sakura Genesis event in April.

    You know what? I am already confused about the situation. Could we really see Desperado somehow win both belts and keep them apart? Not everyone is a fan of Ibushi combining both belts, but it looks like we will have to wait until Thursday to see exactly how New Japan will get out of this double belt situation.

    In Other News...

    CyberFight, the parent company of DDT Pro-Wrestling, Tokyo Joshi Pro-Wrestling and Pro-Wrestling NOAH, announced last week that they will be holding a super-show on June 6 later this year. The show will be called CyberFight Fest and will feature title matches from all three companies mentioned earlier.

    Prior to the announcement of the event, CyberFight dropped a cryptic tweet mentioning how they had an urgent announcement to make. I was so scared the CyberFight would sell off one of the wrestling companies they own at the moment. Boy was I glad to hear that not happen! DDT and NOAH get to live another day and they are going to attempt to take on NJPW with their own supershow. 

    Not only will we get each company's main titles being defended, we're also getting inter-promotional matches and much more in Saitama Super Arena.

    The NJPW title unification and CyberFight Festival announcement are just some of the big announcements that occurred in the past week . We hope you get a better idea of what's going on in the puroresu world. What do you think of this week's events? Who do you think advances in Round 1 of the New Japan Cup? Share your thoughts below!


    Steven Tan (@steviesaidyup) works for an e-commerce company by day and operates The Geeky Juans podcast and blog by night. He's a fan of the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, comic books, and the Moomin franchise. You can find more of his geeky thoughts on Twitter.
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro Roundtable: The Intercontinental Conundrum Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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