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New Japan Pro Wrestling will take its signature event, Wrestle Kingdom, to new heights this year with the event taking place over two nights. Anchoring both nights will be a sort of mini-tournament to crown the first-ever, dual IWGP World Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Champion. NJPW has guaranteed that by the end of the second night, one man will hold both titles.
Who will that man be? Out of the four men in contention, all have their strengths...and their weaknesses. The key is that NJPW, thanks to its strong protection of all of its major stars, has created a scenario where it would be realistic for each man to walk out as the first double-champion in company history. Let's look at the four contenders.
Okada is the current IWGP World Heavyweight Champion and already a legend in the business at age 32. Okada has done it all and unlike the three other competitors, has firmly established himself as a dominant world champion. In a lot of ways Okada would be the worst person to end up as the double-champion, since he doesn't need the additional accolades to boost what is an already loaded resume.
At the same time, Okada as the figurehead of NJPW would be a logical choice to be the first ever dual-champion. NJPW has tried extremely hard over the last decade to make Okada a legend in professional wrestling, and Okada getting another feather in his cap is never out of the question. Due to his talent and remarkable durability, Okada has proven to be more capable than anybody to handling a big responsibility like the dual-championship; and while I wouldn't expect whoever wins the dual-title to hold both titles for long, if there is a performer capable of carrying the prestige of two championships and having meaningful title defenses back-to-back, it is Okada.
I think Okada's biggest stumbling block is that he is facing off against Kota Ibushi on night one of Wrestle Kingdom to defend his IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, with the winner of that match meeting the winner of the Intercontinental match on night two. Ibushi has come a long way in NJPW and if he were to be eliminated in the first round after winning the G1, it would be a big setback for him, unlike Okada who has built up a reputation so formidable that no loss could really sink him. Even though Okada is the most prominent wrestler in the tournament, I think he is unlikely to advance to night two.
Ibushi as the G1 Climax winner would probably be a lock to leave Wrestle Kingdom as the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion in any other year, but with the two night event ending with the dual-title match, things are different this time around. Ibushi fits every criteria a company would want for a top babyface; he is a great seller and gets the crowd emotionally invested in his matches, he is a phenomenal athlete and in-ring performer, he is handsome and he has shown the ability to draw when he has been put in the main event.
NJPW does have a habit of building up some of their top names slowly; a performer like Ibushi could be a contender for the world title and may lose many times before winning it for the first time. Even then, they may lose the title quickly to set up a long chase for the title as they seek to avenge their loss and have a "real" reign as champion. For performers making their Tokyo Dome main event debut, they typically don't win (like Kenny Omega) as the loss is used as a storyline to motivate them to get back and make up for their failure. Ibushi would see to fit that bill.
That being said, you don't want to set the talent back too far by having them lose the big match. It can be argued that when Tetsuya Naito lost in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom in 2018, it was a serious mistake and Naito went down a level that he hasn't quite gotten too since. Timing is everything in wrestling, and you need to strike when something is hot, and there is no telling how badly a loss may affect a wrestler's momentum, especially in a company like NJPW where wins and losses are taken very seriously.
This year's show does offer a logical solution that would allow NJPW to have its cake and eat it too. Ibushi could win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship form Okada on night one, only to lose the title 24 hours later on night two. This would allow Ibushi to accomplish his goal of winning the world title, but also have it be taken away from him shortly thereafter. That way, NJPW doesn't hurt Ibushi by having him lose in the main event of night one, but also allows him to come back next year even stronger as the challenger once again.
White is the most controversial member to be included in this scenario. Skyrocketed to the top as the top foreigner in the company to replace Omega, White never quite clicked with fans at the level NJPW expected, despite a collection of really good matches in 2019.White was pushed to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship probably before he was ready, having a short reign last year before dropping the title to Okada in April. Since then he has built a rivalry with Naito, leading to their Intercontinental Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom and being inserted into the battle to become the first dual-champion.
White would be the most frustrating choice to walk out of the Tokyo Dome as dual-champion, he is by far the least popular wrestler with fans and a lot of fans already feel like he has been pushed far harder than he deserves. White is a good worker with a lot of potential, but it would be a stretch to have him go over Naito and then either Okada or Ibushi on back-to-back nights.
The case for White is that initially, fans thought Okada was being pushed too hard until he ended up being the perfect choice for the role. White is extremely talented and full of potential, it isn't outrageous to think that he could win both titles and a year from now, it is widely agreed upon that he was the correct choice. He doesn't have the experience or the resume that the other three names do, so that future is harder to see than if Okada, Ibushi or Naito won both titles, but White is clearly going to be a major name for NJPW for years to come, so the company is going to invest in him.
The idea of holding both titles originated with Naito, who has been talking about being a dual-champion for most of the past year. Naito also really needs to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, to end his redemption story that began back in 2018 when he came up short (again) in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 12.
Naito did win the world title once before, defeating Okada in 2016 but only holding onto the title for a measly 70 days before dropping it back to Okada. Since then it has alluded him and although fans thought that he would regain the title at Wrestle Kingdom 12, he again came up short. While one of the most popular wrestlers in the company for the past decade, the lack of a substantial title reign has been a black mark on Naito's legacy. Some fans would even argue that NJPW missed the boat on Naito back in 2018 and he hasn't been the same since.
I'm not so sure that is true, but they definitely can't keep wasting opportunities to crown him. Naito has a limited shelf life and fans need to really believe that he is a top guy, and the longer he goes without holding the title, the less likely fans are going to believe that he can. More than anyone else, Naito NEEDS to walk out of the Tokyo Dome as the first ever dual-champion.
The elephant in the room for Naito is his personal health. It isn't a secret that his neck has been bothering him for a long time, and while he is still good enough to turn it on and have great matches, it is obvious to fans who watch him closely that he is hurting badly. It is unclear how much longer he can continue to perform without requiring major surgery, so it is a lot to ask him to shoulder the responsibility of being a dual-champion, especially if that means having multiple title matches on back-to-back nights.
As long as he continues to be able to wrestle, Naito is the logical choice to leave the Tokyo Dome with both titles. He needs the win the most to further his career and his legacy, and he can't afford to be passed over again.
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