The IWGP Heavyweight Championship is the top belt in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Though New Japan was founded in 1972, the current title only dates back to 1987. From 1983 to 1987, the IWGP champion was the winner of the yearly New Japan tournament (The International Wrestling Grand Prix). From 1972 to 1983, New Japan was using the NWA titles, as New Japan was a part of the NWA during that time.
26 wrestlers have held the current IWGP Heavyweight Championship which dates from 1987. New Japan founder, Antonio “Never lost his first name (Cesaro)” Inoki, was the first ever champion. Coincidence?
Of those 26, only 6 of those wrestlers are non-Japanese natives. Pre-1987, there were only two other non-Japanese IWGP champions.
Join me as I take a look at the eclectic list of non-Japanese wrestlers who’ve had the honour of holding, after WWE’s World Heavyweight Championship, the biggest title in pro wrestling.
Let’s start from the start with the pre-1987 champions.