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What Jay White’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship Win Means for the Future of New Japan

Jay White’s surprise IWGP title win is a tell of New Japan’s plans for their Madison Square Garden show this April.

Prepare for history to be made at Madison Square Garden this April.

The seeds were planted at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s New Beginning in Osaka show on Monday, when Jay White defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to claim the famed IWGP heavyweight championship for the first time.

White, at only 26, is an integral part of New Japan’s future. He is Bullet Club’s new leader, and positioned in a similar fashion to the way NJPW presented AJ Styles during his memorable run in the company from 2014-2016. After losing a top-tier talent in Kenny Omega to All Elite Wrestling, New Japan is seeking a young star to fill that spot. The IWGP title reign, even if it only serves as a transition to April, is an attempt to make White a made man in New Japan.

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Tanahashi’s days as a headliner are now past tense. His 38-day title reign is the shortest since Kensuke Sasaki dropped the title after holding it for only 16 days in 2004, which is the shortest reign in company history, and serves as confirmation that New Japan is looking to re-establish Kazuchika Okada as its premier star.

Okada lost the IWGP title to the now-departed Omega in a best-of-three falls classic in June, and he battled through storyline adversity that saw him fail to make the G1 Finals this past August. His mentor, Gedo, turned on him, and Okada suffered another indignity with a loss at January’s Wrestle Kingdom. The opponent who defeated him? Jay White.

While initially appearing as though Tanahashi would wrestle Okada at the New Japan/Ring of Honor “G1 Supercard” show at Madison Square Garden on April 6, the move to showcase White against Okada—for the most prestigious wrestling title in the “World’s Most Famous Arena”—is a brilliant maneuver and makes the most sense for New Japan’s long-term storytelling.

New Japan is still looking to build its popularity in the United States. The emergence of All Elite Wrestling hurts that effort, as the majority of AEW’s stars were top talent for New Japan, but the Madison Square Garden show is a golden opportunity to remind the wrestling world that New Japan, led by Okada, is the most elite pro wrestling company in the world.

For those who want to see history made during WrestleMania weekend, tune in to see Okada reclaim his title in the heart of New York.