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Cafe Puro (1/25/16): The Next Faces of the Intercontinental Championship


Pro wrestling in general is in a very unique position right now. By today, we would have a new WWE World Heavyweight Champion crowned by virtue of winning the Royal Rumble Match (the second time ever that has happened), and by the 1st of February, New Japan Pro Wrestling will be without the cornerstone of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship as Shinsuke Nakamura will jump ship to WWE.

For years, Nakamura has been synonymous to the championship he helped build and make just as prestigious as the company’s heavyweight championship. And with the company revitalized, Nakamura felt that it was time to leave the company and challenge the world now that it is in safe hands.

And suddenly, the atmosphere in New Japan has changed significantly. For the first time in years, the IC title scene has become a sea of opportunity, with many wrestlers in the roster being able to lay claim as the new face of the Intercontinental Championship. So for today’s installment, we will look at the different competitors that would most likely become the faces of the IC Title scene  for the next number of the years. Take note that we are using the term “faces” instead of just one “face,” as it would definitely more than one man to help build the championship to even greater heights. Nakamura has done his part, and now it is up to the current crop of stars to make the championship even more reputable than before.

Kenny Omega



The most obvious choice among the current crop, The Cleaner has laid waste to Nakamura and Styles during New Year Dash, and made his intentions known that he is graduating to the heavyweight division, challenging for the now-vacant Intercontinental Championship in the process.

In a storyline perspective, it makes perfect sense that he is considered being the number one guy considered to be the new IC Champion. He is, pound for pound, the strongest man in the company and an athletic dynamo to boot, putting even some of the heavyweight wrestlers to shame. And being a man capable of match of the night performances, he is one of the men who can help build up the prestige of the championship as he continues to take his career to new heights. Since he is now the new leader of Bullet Club, his championship reign will help Bullet Club gain some much needed momentum after WWE’s talent raid.

And lest we forget, in a PR perspective, Omega as champion is good for New Japan. He may speak English right now because of his association to Bullet Club, but he is a man that can easily pass for a Japanese citizen. He can speak Japanese fluently (since he is an avid watcher of Japanese anime and tends to visit Akihabara), has taken residence in Japan, and has built a strong rapport with the Japanese fans since his DDT days. When the time comes, he can make for a great ambassador for New Japan and help drive in new fans locally. In all honesty, if anyone deserves all the success in the world, it’s Kenny.

Plus, imagine Omega vs. Ibushi for the Intercontinental Championship.

Tomohiro Ishii



Ishii may have been the face of the NEVER Openweight Championship for the past year, but it might be time for the Stone Pitbull to look for new worlds to conquer.

The tank of New Japan would make for an interesting challenger for the Intercontinental Championship for a number of reasons. For one, he has been great friends with Nakamura for years, so him challenging for the title would have a sentimental value of dedication to his CHAOS brother. Secondly, we can experience the same kind of excitement he brings to the NEVER Title scene into the Intercontinental Title scene, which should make for some very intriguing bouts to say the least.

And let’s not forget how beloved Ishii is in the eyes of the fans. Ishii has an interesting “underdog” vibe to him despite being mostly dominating in his matches. Credit this to years of being pushed to the sidelines, only to finally break through in recent years. This would, in turn, help validate Ishii’s career and forever immortalize his legacy in the world of pro wrestling.

Tetsuya Naito



Naito may have lost at Wrestle Kingdom 10, but he has gained so much more since returning from his CMLL excursion

El Ingobernable is a man on fire, with fans finally taking up to his antics after years of being unappreciated as a face. So it would make sense that Naito finally gets the comeuppance he deserves and win a major singles title. He could challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, or he could always challenge for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Easily, he is one of the most interesting wrestlers in the company right now, and him winning the IC title can make for some unique encounters in the future. EVIL and BUSHI will also get to benefit from a Naito win since Los Ingobernables will be put in the spotlight by virtue of association.

Hiroshi Tanahashi



Now here’s a bit of a long shot. Tanahashi, no matter what they say, is still the big face of the company even after he said that he is no longer the Ace. Tanahashi’s name value alone is s high as it has ever been, so it would be unwise to put him in the sidelines for too long.

Tanahashi was a former IC Champion, but his reign was but a mere footnote in the legendary title run of Shinsuke Nakamura. This time around, Tanahashi will have the opportunity to make a new spin in his career and challenge for a title that he can help make even more prestigious in the long run. Plus, he’s just a damn good wrestler. Don’t think there’s a better excuse than that.

Minoru Suzuki



Here’s another man who has the potential to shake things up in New Japan. While the NOAH Invasion is far from over, there is an opportunity for the leader of SZKG to return to New Japan and make a bid for his first ever singles title reign in the company. Suzuki is simply too popular and too good not to make use of in a title program, and it would be wise to at least get him involved in the New Japan side of things once again. And with the departure of the company’s big names, they will need all the help they can get.

Imagine this: Takashi Sugiura holding the GHC Heavyweight Championship and Minoru Suzuki holding the IWGP Intercontinental Championship under the Suzuki-gun banner. Makes for an interesting cross-promotion program, don’t you think?

An outsider



Now for our wild card. Historically, if there is anything that works for most Japanese wrestling companies, it’s the storyline of an outsider winning another promotion’s championship, and defending it against all comers, leading to one guy winning the title from him and becoming a legitimate star at the same time. Many stars over the years benefitted from this kind of booking method, and can make for dream matches we never thought we would see.

This is the kind of booking that would shake things up in the world of pro wrestling. Imagine if an ROH star like Adam Cole wins the title, being able to bring the title to ROH programming? Or if a BJW star like Daisuke Sekimoto wins the title and brings it wherever he goes? Or maybe even a star from All Japan or Dragon Gate winning the title?

This would help expose overseas fans to the different promotions that Japan has to offer, and will result to big business for New Japan and their partner companies.

The company has been given a golden opportunity to build a new and refreshing Intercontinental Championship scene, and with this many choices and possibilities, at this point, they can’t go wrong.

Who else do you think deserves to be the face of the Intercontinental Championship? Sound off in the comments!


Images from NJPW
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Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.

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