The IWGP Heavyweight Championship may very well be the most prestigious championship belt in all of professional wrestling. It’s not just the magnificent design of the title and the aesthetics to it, but the value instilled in the title. The New Japan Pro Wrestling approach with the title has been far different than WWE and many other promotions, with NJPW choosing longer reigns to tell longer stories and establish stars.
Longer reigns are always a good thing and the great part about it all is that NJPW knows when and when not to pull the trigger on certain superstars. Think about this – Between 2011 and 2019, there have only been six different IWGP Heavyweight Champions. With many long reigns, it’s been the stuff of legends, defended in some of the greatest venues ever, such as the Tokyo Dome.
Since there are many reigns exceeding 200-300 days, we decided to focus on the five longest IWGP Heavyweight Championship reigns of all time.
#5.) Yuji Nagata – 392 days
When Kazuchika Okada was defeated by AJ Styles in early 2014 for the IWGP Heavyweight title, it meant that his reign fell short of the then-4th longest title reign of all time. His reign ended at 391 days, one shy of Nagata’s first reign. For those who don’t know, Yuji Nagata was a very important figure for NJPW in the 2000s, being one of their major pillars.
In 2002, he defeated Tadao Yasuda, going on to hold the title for over a full calendar year before dropping it to Yoshihiro Takayama at Ultimate Crush 2003. With 10 title defenses, he was a true fighting champion.
#4.) The Great Muta – 400 days
With four reigns, Keiji Mutoh is the combined third-longest reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time. However, unlike Hiroshi Tanahashi, he had it spread out over just four reigns. However, no reign of his was longer than the first, which took place in 1992, when he defeated Riki Choshu in the 1992 G1 Climax Special.
He would hold it for 400 days but surprisingly had only five title defenses in that entire span of time. Even so, it’s crazy because his first and fourth title reign took place over the span of 16 years, with his last title win being at 2008. That speaks volumes of Muta/Mutoh’s longevity. In between that time, he was even the face of All Japan Pro Wrestling. He is a legend for a reason.
#3.) Hiroshi Tanahashi – 404 days
Hiroshi Tanahashi, simply put, is the most important figure in modern-day NJPW. It was Hiroshi Tanahashi who took the company out of the dark ages and brought it back to the forefront. A true people’s champion, Tanahashi has a whopping 8 IWGP Championship reigns under his belt, being the second longest combined reigning champion.
Tanahashi received another coronation at Wrestle Kingdom V in 2011 when he defeated legend Satoshi Kojima. He would successfully defend the title one year later at the Tokyo Dome against Minoru Suzuki. However, he was then challenged by the young upstart Kazuchika Okada, who had just come off his debut at Wrestle Kingdom earlier in the night.
While Tanahashi assumed that he would have to teach the naive kid a lesson, he was shocked a month later when the young Okada pulled off the upset, becoming IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
#2.) Shinya Hashimoto – 489 days
Up until late 2017/early 2018, Shinya Hashimoto held the record for the longest individual reign as IWGP Heavyweight Champion. If you’re not aware, Hashimoto belonged to NJPW’s famous “Three Musketeers”, comprising of himself, Keiji Mutoh and Masahiro Chono. Though he took a little more time than the other two to become a major player, when he did, he made a big splash.
He only had three reigns as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, but each were impactful in their own way. With an average reign length of 350 days per reign, Hashimoto was one of the most influential figures in NJPW history. His final reign lasted a whopping 17 months, holding 7 title defenses.
It was a monumental reign, one that ended at the hands of Kensuke Sasaki.
#1.) Kazuchika Okada – 720 days
Just shy of two years, it’s safe to assume that it’ll be a long time, if ever, before Kazuchika Okada’s monumental IWGP Heavyweight title reign record is ever broken. Simply put, Okada’s near-two-year reign is without a doubt the greatest World title reign in the modern era across different promotions. Apart from just facing the other top stars, Okada faced a whole mix and match of superstars, having to overcome major hurdles to get where he did.
This included two successful defenses at the Tokyo Dome, including the all-time classic with Kenny Omega. The match quality during his reign was on another level and it really represented the evolution of talent over the years. If Tanahashi was responsible for bringing NJPW out of the dark ages, then Okada is responsible for taking the company to new heights. The crazy part is that he achieved this reign between the age of 29 and 31.