The History of the IC Title (part 1)
September 5, 2005 by Colm Kearns
Following the positive feedback about my 'History of the WWE Title' I have decided to write a multi-part series chronicling the history of the Intercontinental title.
Over the years the IC title has been held by some of the best performers in WWE history, it has been defended in some of the finest matches the world had ever seen and it has provided a constant stepping-stone toward main event status. The current IC champion, Carlito, represents everything an IC champ should be - he is a talented midcard contender (and a possible future main eventer), he is over with the fans and defends the title fairly regularly. Every time Carlito steps into the ring to defend the IC title he is continuing the tradition that began twenty-six years ago with Pat Patterson.
In 1979, a youngster by the name of Ted DiBiase entered the WWF and was billed as the first North American Champion. The purpose of this new title was to give midcarders something to fight over and aim for, thus giving meaning and value to their matches and perhaps provide a stepping-stone to the next level. However, Vince McMahon discovered that other promotions had their own versions of the North American title and he decided he wanted something unique. So when Pat Patterson defeated DiBiase in August he soon thereafter ceased to be the North American Champion and was billed as the Intercontinental Champion (to explain the name change WWF invented a story about Patterson winning a tournament in Brazil).
Patterson's natural flamboyance, cocky attitude and knowledge of ring-storytelling made him an effective Heel champion until the spring of 1980 when Patterson was fired by his managed the Grand Wizard, who now had his new protege, Olympic strongman Ken Patera challenge the now Face Patterson. Patera defeated Patterson on April 21st to become the second ever Intercontinental Champion.
Patera held the belt for almost eight months before he dropped it to former WWWF World Champion Pedro Morales in December. This was a big moment for the IC title as having a main eventer like Morales win the belt greatly increased its prestige.
From December 1980 to January 1983 the title swapped between Morales and 'Magnificent' Don Muroco in a series of bloody battles. Muroco eventually won the war by taking his second IC title on January 22nd, 1983. Just like Morales had in his second reign, Muroco held the belt for over a year during which time his defenses included a historic cage match against Jimmy Snuka in Madison Square Garden.
Muroco was eventually dethroned by Mexican sensation Tito Santana. Santana will go down in WWE history as one of the 'fightingest' IC champions ever, defending the title on almost every show against all comers, including former World Champion the Iron Sheik, Paul Orndorff and Greg Valentine. It would be Valentine who would win the IC title from Santana in less than three minutes. Valentine was a good Heel champion, holding the title over nine months and continuing his feud with Santana. Ultimately this war culminated in a brutal cage match in July 1985 in which Santana recaptured the title. After the match an enraged Valentine destroyed the belt by smashing it off the cage. The replacement presented to Santana would be worn by every IC champion for the next 14 years.
Santana cemented his status as a fighting champion during his second IC title run, during which times his challengers included legends like Terry Funk and Cowboy Bob Orton. He held the belt seven months before losing it to a man that today many consider to be the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time - 'Macho Man' Randy Savage.
Savage was a phenomenal in-ring competitor and since coming to the WWF in 1985 he had gotten over as an arrogant and vicious Heel, flamboyant but madly possessive of his manager/girlfriend Miss Elizabeth. Savage's first feud after winning the title came with veteran George 'the Animal' Steele who had been showing his affection for Elizabeth by sending her gifts. Elizabeth was too kind to refuse these offering but Savage saw it another way and began to attack Steele on a regular basis. A match between the two was set for WrestleMania 2, and Steele, who previously would never have been considered IC title material had the full support of the fans who were disgusted by Savage's jealous rages. Nevertheless it was Savage who would walk out still the Intercontinental Champion as would be the case for most of the year. The value of the IC title continued to soar with Savage as champion - his matches were great and he even feuded with World Champion Hulk Hogan and gained a countout win over the champ.
Savage's most famous feud as IC champ was with Ricky 'the Dragon' Steamboat. The two were at odds with each other in early 1987 but Savage took it up a notch by crushing Steamboat's larynx with the timekeeper's bell. Steamboat returned several weeks later and defied doctor's orders by challenging Savage for a match at WrestleMania III.
At WrestleMania III, in front of over 70,000 fans, on the same night that Hogan slammed Andre, Steamboat and Savage absolutely tore the house down with a battle that is now regarded as one of the greatest WWF/E matches ever. It was a 15 minute emotional roller coaster in which the amount of near falls reached double figures and ultimately it was Steamboat who reversed Savage's bodyslam into an inside cradle, thus, claiming the victory, the title and putting an end to a match many fans will tell you is the best they ever saw.
With his popularity and superb wrestling skills Steamboat could have been one of the greatest Intercontinental champions ever but the birth of his son meant that he dropped the title in June to the Honky Tonk Man so he could spend time with his family away from the ring.
Its common knowledge that the Honky Tonk Man held the Intercontinental title longer than anyone else in history (fifteen months) but whether or not he was "the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time" is up for debate. He defended the belt on a fairly regular basis against an assortment of challengers that ranged from Bam Bam Bigelow to Randy Savage to even Hulk Hogan but the vast majority of Honky's title defenses ended with him intentionally getting disqualified or counted out so he kept the title. Initially this increased the fan's interest as to who would beat Honky but they soon grew tired of these cheap finishes. Another things was Honky's in-ring skills, or lack thereof.
To fans who had seen the IC title contested in five star classics, Honky's mediocre DQ losses paled in comparison. So the belt's value continued to decrease under Honky but fans could see light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Brutus 'the Barber' Beefcake.
Beefcake had been feuding with Honky for months and had defeated him (via DQ) at WrestleMania IV; they were set to meet again at the inaugural SummerSlam and it seemed this would be the time when Beefcake would get the job done and take the title. Fate intervened in the form of Ron Bass, who viciously attacked Beefcake before the match, leaving Honky with no challenger. The wrestling world let out a sigh - it seemed that Honky would escape with his title again, but their fears abated with the appearance of the Ultimate Warrior, who dashed down the aisle and demolished Honky, ending his 15-month title reign in just 27 seconds.
by Colm Kearns ..
Thank you for doing one of my favorite titles justice. I'm looking forward to when you get to my favorite I-C champion, Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame candidate and The best WWE worker of 1990, Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig. Keep up the good work.
Nick Currier wrote:
I for one am elated to see you writing a history of the IC title. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the history of the WWE title series. You are an exceptional columnist and i just wanted to express my gratitude for being able to read such quality columns. I look forward to part 2.
Once again keep up the great work!
George Pickering wrote:
Colm, you've done it again! I've already praised your last series of columns about the World Title, and here I am again, saying......well done! It's great to see you around doing columns for OWW. Your knowledge has helped new fans who thought Shelton Benjamin was the first IC champion. If you want I could help you around. Maybe if I do some history on defunct titles like the Hardcore title, European, Light Heavyweight, etc.......your choice.
Joshua Shibata, wrote:
I just wanted to say great article (as well as ur previous series on the World
title)...I would like to add though that Honkey Tonk man was not oirginally
supposed to have the title after Ricky. The night was booked to have "the
Natural" Butch Reed beat Ricky for the IC title but fate would have it Reed
would show up without his wrestling attire (stupid huh") and coincidently Honkey
over heard what happened and inserted himself into the IC match. HTM would ALSO
be the one would come up with DQ finishes to all of his matches becasue, as the
story goes, HTM was only suppposed to have the title for a few months before
dropping it to Jake the Snake and later Brutus. BUT HTM had the idea of being an
heel champ that would always win with DQ finishes causing the fans to pay more
money to see him eventually lose. The bookers liked the idea and that allowed
HTM to be the "longest" regining IC title champ.
I do believe that Honky is one of the best I-C Champs ever, though. He was one of the most over heel champions, and fans were always willing to pay to see him get his Comeuppance. Although his ring skills weren't great, almost everyone concurs that Hogan was one of the best World Champions in WWE history, and he was hardly a technical master. I think the same can be said of Mr. Ferris with his Intercontinental title reign. Have a great day.
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