Belt Collecting: The Legend of the J-Crown Championship

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With Austin Aries adding his sixth Championship last night, adding the DEFY Championship to his collection that includes the Impact World Heavyweight Championship, IPW:UK World Championship, Defiant Championship, WSW World Championship, and Impact Grand Championship, he’s only four titles behind the most decorated champion in recorded pro wrestling history, Ultimo Dragon, who held 10 different titles during an 2 month period from December 1996 to January of 1997. Alongside the WCW Cruiserweight Championship and NWA World Middleweight Championship, Ultimo Dragon also held the prestigious J-Crown Octuple Unified Championship, a NJPW title that featured the unification of eight different global junior heavyweight titles. Instead of unifying with a new belt of its own, it’s title holder instead carried all eight individual titles, making Ultimo Dragon’s combined haul during that period at a staggering ten championships.

THE J-CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP: CREATION

Photo: NJPW

Originally suggested as an idea to NJPW management by Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, the concept for the J-Crown Championship was executed over a four day tournament (that coincided with 1996’s G1 Climax Tournament), and featured eight different title holders competing for the chance to become the first unified J-Crown Champion. The title featured Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger (Michinoku Pro British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight Champion), The Great Sasuke (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion), Masayoshi Motegi (NWA World Junior Heavyweight Champion), Negro Casas (CMLL/NWA World Welterweight Champion), Shinjiro Otani (UWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Champion), Ultimo Dragon (WAR International Junior Heavyweight Champion), Gran Hamada (WWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Champion) and El Samurai (WWF Light Heavyweight Champion). Ultimo Dragon, at the time of the tournament, was also the NWA World Middleweight Champion, but it was not on the line for this tournament. On August 5, 1996, The Great Sasuke defeated Ultimo Dragon in the finals, officially unifying all eight of the entrants titles as the J-Crown Octuple Unified Champion.

Photo: NJPW

THE J-CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP: ULTIMO DRAGON

Ultimo Dragon was originally denied his chance at the J-Crown, when he was pinned by The Great Sasuke in a 14-minute affair in the J-Crown finals at G1 Climax ’96, but it wouldn’t be his last chance. On October 11, 1996, he would defeat Sasuke for the J-Crown at a Wrestle Association R (WAR) event, Osaka Crush Night. Along with his NWA World Middleweight Championship, which he’d won in late 1994, it brought his belt collection to nine titles. On December 29, 1996, he upped that total to his peak of 10, when he defeated Dean Malenko at WCW’s Starrcade ’96 for the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. Heading into 1997, Ultimo Dragon was now the most decorated champion in the world (and history).

THE J-CROWN CHAMPIONSHIP: THE COLLAPSE

Photo: NJPW

In January of 1997, Ultimo Dragon lost the J-Crown Championship (and all of it’s eight belts) to the title’s creator, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, at Wrestling World ’97 at the Tokyo Dome on January 4, 1997 (the precursor to what is now Wrestle Kingdom). Liger defended the J-Crown, but on June 6 of that year, he lost the WAR International Junior Heavyweight Championship to Yuji Yasuraoka at a WAR event, dropping the J-Crown down to seven titles. A month later, Liger lost the now septuple J-Crown titles to El Samurai, who then lost it himself to Shinjiro Otani in August. Otani would be the last holder of the J-Crown Championship. In November of 1997, the WWF decided to reactivate it’s Light Heavyweight division and needed to recall the original belt that was still being defended in Japan, effectively withdrawing the WWF Light Heavyweight title from the J-Crown, reducing it one more to only six belts. Otani decided to dissolve the belt, keeping only the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title and vacating the remaining five championships back to their respective promotions.

Photo: NJPW

CAN AUSTIN ARIES BEAT THE RECORD

Photo: Austin Aries

He’s got six titles, but can Austin Aries realistically hit ten belts (or eleven to break the record), before the storyline wears thin and the belts start to get returned to their home promotions? Aries has already shown up in Ring of Honor to challenge for the ROH Television title, so there’s a potential seventh. Now feuding with Lucha Underground Champion Pentagon Jr. in upcoming Impact tapings, could Aries have possibly been a part of the top secret tapings for Lucha Underground’s Season Four and challenged (and won) the title? With Aries working closely with Impact, and appearing for two Impact-friendly indies in Canada, Border City Wrestling (BCW) in Windsor and Destiny World Wrestling (DWW), could he add their top two titles (Impact’s Kongo Kong is the BCW Can-Am Heavyweight Champion, although WWE UK Champion Pete Dunne is DWW’s current reigning Champion). Austin Aries has also appeared for MLW (who just got a television contract) and House of Hardcore (who just crowned their inaugural HOH Internet Championship), adding two more possible belts of contention. And with Nick Aldis touring the globe on his Ten Pounds of Gold journey defending the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, is that something that Aries could challenge for and potentially add to his collection? The record is well within his grasp, with enough potential titles within reach that by the end of 2018, Austin Aries could actually tie – or potentially¬†beat –¬†Ultimo Dragon’s ten belt record.

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