The NWA International Junior Heavyweight Championship started in 1979. It was formed by a split in lineage from the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship caused by the first retirement of champion Nelson Royal the same year. The first champion, Steve Keirn, was recognized as World champion only by Florida, Los Angeles, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. This version was eventually taken to the latter promotion by Tatsumi Fujinami, who already held the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship.

In 1981 champion Chavo Guerrero Sr. left NJPW to go back to the United States, only to come back to Japan under the banner of All Japan Pro Wrestling, where it was renamed the International Junior Heavyweight Championship to avoid confusion and (along with being given a new belt design) in general line with AJPW's NWA titles. The championship became the cornerstone of AJPW's junior heavyweight division until its eventual replacement by the AJPW World Junior Heavyweight Championship, which kept the belt design.

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