June 7th marked a monumental moment in modern New Japan Pro Wrestling, as Shingo Takagi captured the vacant IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. Usurping the company golden boy Kazuchika Okada, Shingo became an unlikely champion. Most IWGP Heavyweight Champions have gone through the rigorous Young Lion process, with Kenny Omega (reigning 2018-19) the most recent example besides the second ever World Heavyweight Champion, Will Ospreay.
Takagi was one of Dragon Gate’s grandest stars in his well-documented tenure there, holding the Open the Dream Gate prize a record-tying four times. However, it’s since 2018, when he jumped ship to New Japan, that his stock has exponentially risen. From a focal point of the Junior division to a stand-out performer of the Heavyweight ranks, Shingo has advanced through NJPW magnificacitly.
Now, he holds the biggest prize in the company. He is the World Champion. Shingo’s is an unlikely story because of his deep roots in Dragon Gate, but his journey to the championship is once which has captivated the NJPW faithful. Truly, Shingo Takagi is a fan favourite.
It’s testament to Shingo’s immense popularity that he’s seen as “deserving” of the top prize by many New Japan fans. While arguments over whether or not a wrestler can “deserve” a title reign or not can be had, Shingo has worked incredibly hard to be where he is today.
Held by the shackles of “mid-carder” by company higher-ups, it seemed as if Shingo was destined to forever be the nearly man. The “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” type, much like a compatible Tomohiro Ishii or Minoru Suzuki. However, the ‘Dragon’ has reached far beyond those boundaries with an amazing win over Okada.
In the clap-only crowd times we live in, crowd opinion and “overness” is harder to gauge, but the support for Shingo was clear to see, hear and believe as he pinned the ‘Rainmaker’ clean in the Osaka-jo Hall ring. The audible gasp as Red Shoes Uno counted the decisive three count is testament to the fan support Shingo has garnered during his ongoing NJPW stint.
Shingo is one of the very best wrestlers in the world, and is already an early contender for 2021’s Wrestler of the Year. Superb matches against the likes of Jeff Cobb, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Hirooki Goto, Will Ospreay and now twice Kazuchika Okada have highlighted an amazing six months for the ‘Dragon’.
Shingo has weathered NJPW’s recent storm and in that way he may just be “deserving” of this IWGP World Heavyweight Championship reign.
It’s undeniable that in the last year, and especially the last few months, NJPW has eroded some of its fan support, however Shingo’s title win has brought a revival of that. My own New Japan fandom was wavering as one bad booking decision followed another, but when I saw Shingo Takagi holding the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship while golden confetti fell around him, I fell back in love with the promotion.
Shingo’s title reign signals a brand new beginning for NJPW – a powerful rejuvenation from a shocking low-point for the promotion. Takagi is one of the most athletic, fiery, powerful and ultimately best wrestlers in the world, so it’s purely logical for him to capture IWGP gold.
In his first press conference after claiming the championship, Shingo set out that he’s not going to change, and instead is “going to fight the way Shingo Takagi fights, bring the fire and tear it up!” This is a positive sign for NJPW as Shingo has risen to the top by fighting in his unique, unrivalled style, so no one wants him to change now he’s reached pro wrestling’s ultimate pinnacle.
Shingo’s first challenger is lined up to be the inaugural IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Kota Ibushi. This promises to be an amazing match – one worthy of a championship main event. If Shingo continues his recent stellar form into his new title reign, then it will surely be a title reign to remember.
The ‘Dragon’ held the NEVER Openweight Championship twice from 2020 into 2021, with both being great reigns. This is a positive signifier of the possibility of a superb World title reign for Takagi, because at this point who can bet against him?
Finally the ‘Dragon’ flies higher than any other. He could very well be considered the best wrestler in the world, and therefore a surely excellent candidate for World Champion. It’s been a long and winding road for Shingo to reach the pinnacle of pro wrestling, but now, Shingo Takagi is undeniably Champion of the World.
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