When Pat Patterson defended his newly captured WWE North American Championship in a Rio de Janeiro–based tournament in September 1979, he did more than unify it with the South American Championship to create the now-coveted Intercontinental Title. He also laid the foundation for an institution that has served as a symbol of excellence in WWE ever since.
It’s not the oldest title in squared circle history. It was never sanctioned by the NWA or actively contested outside the realm of WWE. Instead, its majesty rests in the monumental path it has taken to glory.
Think of the great icons who wore the Intercontinental Championship around their waists. Names like Shawn Michaels, Triple H, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior, The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Edge and current WWE Champion CM Punk. Before they were legends of the squared circle — forging their immense legacies as WWE Champions — every one of these Superstars held the Intercontinental Title. That’s because the illustrious prize has long been revered as a gateway to the greatest title in the world, the WWE Championship.
Then, there are those phenomenal Superstars who never quite reached the WWE Title. But the wars they waged over Intercontinental gold were often the best on the card and immortalized them and the Intercontinental Championship. Who could forget Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, who captured the title from Savage in one of the most memorable matches in WrestleMania history? Or The Honky Tonk Man, who upset Steamboat and made an art of finding ways to keep the championship in his possession for more than 14 months? That milestone remains the longest Intercontinental Championship reign.
Moreover, elite Superstars like “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith — whose feats in the ring were already well-known by the time they captured the Intercontinental Title — would wear it as a symbol of their established prominence and the respect they earned from the WWE Universe and their fellow Superstars alike.
But perhaps the biggest reason the title is so important has to do with the events in WWE history that helped write its legacy. No one can forget when The Texas Rattlesnake threw the coveted title in the river rather than hand it over to his adversary, The Rock — intensifying what would become one of the most legendary rivalries of all time. Then, of course, there’s Razor Ramon fighting HBK to declare an Undisputed Intercontinental Champion in a pioneering Ladder Match at WrestleMania X.
Chyna captured the championship to become the first woman to hold a traditional male title — before breaking further ground by having to share the title with the Superstar destined to become one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time, nine-time champ Chris Jericho.
There is no denying every title can boast a certain level of supremacy since, by their very nature, they are defined by the talented competitors who fought for them. But the Intercontinental Championship is also special because — more than any other prize — it simultaneously shows what a Superstar started as, what they have become and what they will be in the future.