Last week, New Japan Pro Wrestling revealed their latest championship belt to be added to the company: The IWGP United States Championship. The giant gold belt you’re looking at below, which is the first NJPW has created in five years. A tournament to crown the new champion will be held July 1-2, just in time for the company’s first tour of the United States. But when you make a new championship, especially one representing something outside of the country you call home, you’re going to get some positive feedback while also running into issues. Here’s what we think are the positives and negatives to the new belt.
More Exposure For NWJP In The U.S.
The WWE is going global and raiding talent. Shinsuke Nakamura was a big loss to NJPW and they took it as WWE going to war with the company as they expand globally. It makes perfect sense to see the company partner with groups like Ring Of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla to get a foot in the door here. Having a U.S. champion would make causal wrestling fans take notice that there is something beyond WWE, and if they get a taste of that product and like it, they may actually switch over and seek it out.
A New Belt To Help Build Interest In American Indie Wrestling
Diehard fans can tell you who the past five ROH champions have been, but casual fans can name you two at best. Most would also probably say Kevin Steen (Ownes), which is wrong since he hasn’t held the belt since 2013, and Adam Cole because he has the distinction of being the first three-time champion. Having an IWGP champion in the U.S. would create a buzz in the industry as a NJPW prize you don’t have to travel to Japan for eight months a year to win. And seeing how the belt would most likely stay in ROH, you now have a title to cause conflict with anyone who holds the ROH World Championship. Hell, if the company played it’s cards right, they could tour that thing to WCPW, the NWA, PWG, even Impact if they get their act together. And that’s something the WWE can’t do since they don’t play well with others. You’ll never see a WWE champion pop into any of these promotions for a one-off where they put someone over, but NJPW might.
An Excuse To Come Back
Here’s the thing when it comes to international titles: At some point, you need to defend them in the country they represent. (We’ll talk about the downside of that in a second.) NJPW are looking to branch out beyond their home country, totally understandable. So when you make a U.S. champion, it would seem likely that you would eventually return to said country to defend it on the home turf it represents. Which means we could start seeing NJPW come to the U.S. more frequently and get more of their brand of wrestling on a regular basis beyond their streaming service. Since the WWE have become picky as hell as to where they take the company for live shows and TV events, and NJPW isn’t too ashamed to hold events in more intimate venues, it isn’t too inconceivable that we could get a couple U.S. tours a year, much like how WWE does two European tours a year.
That Belt Is Ugly
Of all the wrestling companies in the world, the NJPW titles and trophies look like stuff you want to win. Most of their belts look like masterpieces of metalwork art (which include keeping the nameplates of former champions on the sides), the New Japan Cup and the G1 cup are iconic in Japan, even the tag-team tournament trophies people win in December to compete for the tag titles are great. Go look at all of those belts, and then look back at that belt above. It is an awful piece of gold on a red strap that looks just as bad as the U.S. title in WWE. It makes perfect sense that it looks like this because it reminds me of the way “American style” restaurants look and feel in Japan, which I’m sure is how they feel about our “Japanese style” restaurants here. If they had made a silver version of the IWGP belt and called it the U.S. belt, it would have been amazing. Instead… I cringe looking at it.
Relegating Talent To A Pointless Title
I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to think about this for a second: When was the old WWF European Championship ever an important championship? Go ahead, I’ll wait. …If the only thing that came to mind was when Al Snow dressed up as a different country each time, then you just explained why the belt didn’t matter. We could go on an entirely different article of the good and bad of that belt, but the point is it served little purpose and never elevated anyone. It was just a shiny prop for the WWF during the Attitude Era to say “look, we’ve gone global!” What’s worse, they barely defended the belt in Eurpoe at all, making it worthless to what it stood for in kayfabe. If NJPW doesn’t come to the U.S. frequently, then it’s a belt that will either be out of place in ROH or won’t be defended too often to matter, and that helps no one.
Being U.S. Champion Means You’re… What Exactly?
Unlike the WWE’s current championship structure, the IWGP belts are respected in Japan and have a distinction. The World belt is the king, the Intercontinental belt is a contender to the World champion and a centerpiece for outstanding talent, the NEVER belt is for the hardcore hitters on the rise, the Jr. title is for the high-flyers and possible future champions as they grow. Tag belts are the same in the tag division for World and Jr. So… where does the U.S. Champion fit into the grand scheme of things? Are they on the same level as the I.C. champ? I don’t think so because the pseudo point of an I.C. belt is to represent a specific area of the world leading up to the World title. This is a satellite title for a country that’s 11-15 hours away by plane. No one who wins this belt is claiming squatter’s rights on a #1 contender’s match. So beyond being this country’s version of an IWGP champion, what do they really represent?