Shingo Takagi defeated Kazuchika Okada to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship on Monday at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Dominion in Osaka-Jo Hall. The finish saw Shingo hit Okada with a dragon suplex followed by Last of the Dragon to win the vacant title at 36:04.
While one can never complain about an Okada title win, was putting the belt on Shingo the right call?
New Japan’s top prize has been cursed since they combined the Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles to form its new World Heavyweight Championship back in March.
In the title’s maiden voyage, Kota Ibushi lost it to Will Ospreay due to injury and took time off. A month later, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) stripped Ospreay of the title after he return to England to treat and rehab a neck injury.
Shingo and Okada were booked for the vacant title at Dominion. NJPW was hit hard by the pandemic in recent months with a slew of canceled shows and almost no international wrestlers.
A loss of funds and talent, along with a growing perception that the promotion has lost its creative mojo, left many believing they would play it safe by putting Okada at the helm once again.
However, amid a creative slump, a 6th Okada title reign would have been old hat. NJPW needs something new to reignite interest and excitement. A fresh face to pair with a new initiative.
The former Dragon Gate product has produced nothing but stellar matches since his NJPW debut in 2018. Fans are calling his bout with Okada in the New Japan Cup tournament match of the year.
Oftentimes, there is something special about a wrestler’s first reign as world champion. Once it’s over, wrestlers either stay in the world title picture with future reigns ahead or they, unfortunately, end up like Kofi Kingston.
The last three first-time IWGP Champions all had different trajectories. Many didn’t buy Evil on top, Kota Ibushi was destined for the lead role, and Will Ospreay has as many detractors as he has believers.
Shingo Takagi has everything going for him right now. It’s his first reign as champion, he’s not too banged up, and he’s arguably the most consistent performer in wrestling today. With his first title defense against Kota Ibushi set for a future date, NJPW would be wise to go all-in on their new investment in 38-year-old ‘Dragon King.’