The History of the Intercontinental Title
(Covering from 1979 until 2006)
Originally published in 2006
Written by Colm Kearns
Over the years the Intercontinental 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 IC champion should be a talented midcard contender (and a possible future main eventer), he should be over with the fans and defend the title fairly regularly. Every time the champion steps into the ring to defend the IC title he is continuing the tradition that began in 1979 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.
It’s 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.
The Ultimate Warrior was really over with the fans by the time he won his first Intercontinental title. As IC champion most of his title defenses were pretty poor but his immense popularity and the excitement he generated made up for it. Over seven months after his famous win over the Honky Tonk Man, Warrior walked into WrestleMania V as the IC champ and as yet undefeated in the WWF. His opponent for the night was ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude (with whom he had been feuding for the last few months). Rude was a talented wrestler but most fans were confident that it would be another successful title defense for the wild haired muscle man from Queens New York. They were wrong. Rick Rude pulled off what was then considered a major upset by ending Warrior’s unbeaten run (albeit with some help from Bobby Heenan) and winning the Intercontinental championship.
Rude made a good champion but his title reign lasted only until SummerSlam in August of 1989 when Warrior retook the belt in a much anticipated (and highly entertaining) WrestleMania rematch. By this time Warrior’s star was on the rise and as his prestige soared so did that of the Intercontinental title. His title defenses were high profile matches against the likes of Dino Bravo, Randy Savage and ‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Henning (not to mention several 30 second wins over Andre the Giant). In early 1990 Warrior became embroiled in a feud with immensely popular World champion Hulk Hogan. This rivalry culminated in a title for title all Face affair at WrestleMania VI. It was the main event of the biggest show of the year, featured the World champion and was contested in front of a live crowd of over 60,000 people, it was in short the biggest Intercontinental title match in history. Ultimately it was Warrior who would leave WrestleMania with both belts, this further added to the prestige of the Intercontinental title as it showed that the IC champ could compete on the level of the World champion.
Soon after WrestleMania Warrior vacated the IC title to focus on his duties as the WWF World champion. Vacating a midcard soon after winning a World championship was fairly commonplace up until about ten years ago (though previously it had been a compulsory rule as opposed to Warrior’s voluntary surrender of the IC belt) so this relinquishment did little to reduce the title’s value. An 8 man tournament was set up to fill the vacancy and the final came down to two time former IC title holder Tito Santana and ‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Henning. The two men wrestled on April 23rd 1990 in Austin Texas and when the dust had settled Perfect was the new Intercontinental champion.
When he became champion in 1990, Perfect a high profile star having battled with Hulk Hogan over the WWF World title just a few months earlier and having also previously held the AWA World title for a whole year in the late 1980’s. He had all the attributes to be a ‘Perfect’ Intercontinental champion, its a cliché but he was talented on the mic and even more so in the ring, he also had charisma to go with his great look. As champ he defended the title against Tito Santana and Brutus Beefcake on multiple occasions however he spent a lot of his time jobbing to Warrior in World title matches which took away from the idea (that had been created at WrestleMania VI) that the IC title holder could go toe to toe with the World champion.
Perfect was scheduled to face Brutus Beefcake at SummerSlam 1990 but a month before the event Beefcake was in a para-sailing accident that would keep him out of the ring for two years. Perfect looked to have no opponent for SummerSlam until he accepted the challenge of WWF newcomer and former NWA World champion Kerry Von Erich ten days before the PPV. At SummerSlam Von Erich shocked fans by upsetting Perfect in 5 minutes to win the IC title.
During his time as champion Von Erich continued to feud with Perfect and also feuded with Ted Dibiase. His bad blood with Dibiase would come back to haunt him as it was the ‘Million Dollar Man’ who helped Perfect regain the title from Von Erich in November. This time around Perfect held onto the belt for nine months despite the best efforts of Roddy Piper, Davey Boy Smith and others who attempted to wrest the title from him. He eventually dropped the title to Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1991 in Madison Square Garden. The match was undoubtedly a classic despite the fact that Perfect wrestled it in extreme pain due to a back injury, the brilliance of the match is a testament to his commitment and talent as a wrestler.
Like Perfect and Randy Savage, Bret Hart will be fondly remembered as one of the greatest Intercontinental champions ever. Bret will be forever associated with his multiple world title reigns and the Montreal Screwjob but this should not take away from his achievements as IC champ. Bret’s fantastic in ring ability was in evidence during his first IC title run in 1991; he defended the belt in quality matches against the likes of Ted DiBiase and Ric Flair.
So it came as a surprise when he lost the title to the Mountie two days before the Royal Rumble in January 1992. The storyline was that Bret had a fever and wasn’t at 100% in the match. The actual reason for the loss was that Bret was in negotiations for a new contract with WWF and had not yet signed, so they took the precaution of taking the belt off him.
Two days later, at the Royal Rumble in Albany, New York, Roddy Piper defeated the Mountie for the title. Piper was a huge star in the WWF, but the IC title was the first championship he had won there, so this win meant a lot to both him and the fans.
A little over two months later, in the jam packed Indianapolis Hoosier Dome at WrestleMania VIII, Bret beat Piper in what was both a rare face vs face clash and a really good match. For the next four months, Bret defended the IC title on a regular basis, most notably in the series of good matches with Shawn Michaels. His biggest challenge was to come at SummerSlam 1992, in front of over 80,000 people in London, England – Bret would wrestle his brother-in-law ‘British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith, with the Intercontinental title on the line. Being in his home country, Bulldog clearly had the fan’s behind him, but he and Bret still had a lot to live up to; there match was to be the main event of a card that also featured Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior battling for the WWF title. Needless to day, Bret and Bulldog did not disappoint; they tore the house down with a fantastic match that still stands out today as one of the greatest in SummerSlam’s 17 year history.
Bulldog proved himself a capable champion and held the belt two months in a title reign that was most notable for a series of wins over a young Shawn Michaels. However it was Michaels who would ultimately come out of the feud victorious as he defeated Bulldog in an edition of ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’ on October 27th.
The mid-1990’s were not a good time for the WWF, a much publicised steroid trial did little to help their already decreasing popularity, during this time of low attendances and a small roster Michaels was a better IC champion than WWF could dare to hope for. He was a natural at getting heat from the fans and a fantastic in ring performer. He defended the belt in great matches against the likes of Tatanka (at Wrestlmania IX) and his old tag team partner Marty Jannetty. He also narrowly lost to Bret Hart in a wonderful WWF title match at the 1992 Survivor Series. His only detracting factor was his backstage attitude, which would come into play in the years following his first IC title win.
On May 17th 1993 in Madison Square Garden Michaels battled Jannetty in a match many regard as the best of 1993. The outcome saw Jannetty pin Michaels with an inside cradle to become the new Intercontinental champion. Jannetty’s joy was short lived as Michaels won the belt back less than a month later in Albany New York.
Only a few months after regaining the title Michaels was stripped of it by WWF on screen president Jack Tunney for missing mandatory title defenses. Stories vary as to why he was really stripped of the belt; some say he failed a drug test others say he refused to job, either is possible but neither definite.
What is definite however was that WWF was now left without an Intercontinental champion. To settle this vacancy a 20 man Battle Royal was set up in which the last two remaining competitors would battle it out one on one for the IC title at a later date. After much fast and furious activity the final four came down to popular rising star Razor Ramon, former AWA World champion Rick ‘ The Model’ Martel and the soon to be WWF Tag Team champions The Quebecers. The Quebecers attempted to double team Razor but ‘The Bad Guy’ turned the tables on them, he ducked Pierre’s clothesline which caused the unfortunate Canadian to eliminate his partner Jacques, Razor then made short work of Pierre and it was down to ‘The Model’ and ‘The Bad Guy’. They met two weeks later on RAW in an entertaining match that saw Razor defeat Martel to win his first IC title.
Razor would go on to be one of the most dominant Intercontinental champions of the 1990’s. His first major feud after winning the title was with IRS (Mike Rotundo) whom he defeated at the 1994 Royal Rumble. However he had a tougher challenge for his gold in the form of former IC champ Shawn Michaels. Michaels had returned from suspension and brought with him his own IC title belt. The storyline was that Michaels continued to call himself champion because he hadn’t been defeated for the belt but WWF authorities recognized Razor as the official title holder and he continued to defend the belt. This angered Michaels and he went to increasing lengths to aggravate the ‘Bad Guy’, Michaels interfered in his matches (including the bout against IRS at the Rumble) and brutally attacked his on screen friend the 1-2-3 Kid. Finally Razor could take no more and he accepted Michaels challenge.
The stage was set for WrestleMania X in Madison Square Garden, Razor and Michaels would clash in the first ever televised WWF Ladder match (in which both IC belts would be suspended from the roof). The match itself was a classic that set the standard for any future contest of this kind. Ultimately it was Razor who triumphed; retaining his Intercontinental title and destroying any claim Michaels had to being the ‘real’ IC champ in the process.
It was Michaels’ bodyguard Diesel who unseated Razor when he defeated him for the belt in April. During his reign Diesel gained a DQ victory over WWF champion Bret Hart in a really good match at the 1994 King Of The Ring. This win over an established main event star like Hart no only put Diesel over as a force to be reckoned with it also added to the prestige of the IC title. Diesel lost the belt back to Razor at Summerslam in Chicago after Shawn Michaels accidentally superkicked him.
Razor would hold the title for the next five months during which time he successfully defended it against many different challengers most notably then King Of The Ring Owen Hart and former World champion Bob Backlund. However his number came up at Royal Rumble 1995 in Tampa when he lost the belt to Jeff Jarrett. Jarrett (who would go on to hold the belt a further 5 times) won the match with a small package, the match had been restarted when Jarrett goaded Razor into continuing after the ‘Bad Guy’ was counted out. This set up their rematch at WrestleMania XI in which Razor gained a DQ victory but Jarrett kept the title.
Surprisingly it was not Razor but Bob Holly who succeeded in wresting the title from Jarrett though not in the manner he no doubt hoped for. Holly pinned Jarrett in a title match in April but after the match it was discovered Jarrett’s feet were on the ropes during the pin. The result was declared null and void and the belt was held up. To clear up this controversy the two had a rematch in Moline Illinois, the eventual result saw Jarrett defeat Holly to become a 2 time IC champion. A month later Jarrett lost the title to Razor Ramon in Montreal. Ramon did not have much time to bask in the glory of his third IC title win as Jarrett won the belt back three days later.
At the July ‘In Your House II’ PPV Jarrett defended the title against Shawn Michaels in a bout that a lot of fans will agree was the best match of 1995 and the finest of Jarrett’s long career. It was a fantastic 20 minute encounter that saw Michaels pin Jarrett to capture his third Intercontinental title.
Although he had been IC champion twice before this was the first time Michaels had been a face champion but he was proving to be a good on; at Summerslam he beat he retained his title against Razor Ramon in another classic Ladder match and in September he teamed up with WWF World champion Diesel to win the Tag Team titles. Sadly WWF’s plans for Michaels were thrown awry when in October when Michaels was genuinely attacked by a group of thugs outside a nightclub in Syracuse New York. Injured Michaels was forced to forfeit the title to number 1 contender Dean Douglas (known elsewhere as Shane Douglas) at the October In Your House PPV. Later in the same night Douglas lost the belt to Razor Ramon. On that night Razor set the record for the most IC title wins (which would later been surpassed) and Douglas became the shortest reigning Intercontinental champion.
Razor successfully defended his title for the rest of 1995, his opponents included his former partner the 1-2-3 Kid and future World champion Psycho Sid. But his toughest challenge came in a strange form, in January he began feuding with the bizarre Goldust who had begun showing his not so platonic affection for the ‘Bad Guy’, this aggravated the Razor and eventually he challenged Goldust to a match at the 1996 Royal Rumble all of this was part of Goldust’s plan however, a plan that paid off when he defeated Razor (with a little help from the 1-2-3 Kid) for the IC title.
Goldust managed to hold on to the belt for three months before he seemed to have lost lost it to Savio Vega. Vega hit Goldust with the title belt and covered him for the win but a second referee disputed this call and as had happened in the Jarrett/Holly situation of 1995 the title change was ruled null and void and the champion would be decided in a rematch. Goldust was victorious in the rematch thanks to Steve Austin‘s interference. There was no question about the legitimacy of WWF rising star Ahmed Johnson’s title win at the King Of The Ring in Milwaukee. Johnson pinned Goldust after a spinebuster and his signature Pearl River Plunge. WWF were building Johnson up as their next big thing and gave him a run with the IC title not only to push him but also to see how he’d to with the responsibility of being champion.
Two months later Ahmed was attacked and injured by WWF newcomer Farooq and the title was declared vacant. One month later Marc Mero beat Farooq in the finals of an 8 man tournament to become the new Intercontinental champion. After the match Mero was congratulated by former IC title holder Mr. Perfect.
But one month later Perfect proved his alliance with Mero was a hoax. Perfect was scheduled to return to the ring to wrestle Hunter Hearst Helmsley but he feigned injury and convinced Mero to wrestle in his place and put the title on the line, Mero seemed to be in firm control of the match until his so called friend Mr. Perfect blasted him with a chair thus allowing Helmsley to win the title. Helmsley made a good champion, after successfully keeping Mero at bay for the remainder of 1996, he started 1997 by feuding with Goldust. This was an entertaining rivalry that included matches between the two at the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania (by which time Helmsley had lost the title). In February he lost the belt to talented rookie Rocky Maivia. Maivia may have been good in the ring but despite being booked as a face he was hated by fans for his ‘goody two shoes’ attitude and he bombed as champion. After a successful defense against The Sultan (who would go on to future success as Rikishi) at WrestleMania he dropped the belt to Owen Hart in April.
By this time Hart was a hated heel as a member of the Hart Foundation and he made great champion. He retained the title against the likes of Psycho Sid and Goldust, in the summer he began a violent feud with the by now hugely popular ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. Their long awaited match came at Summerslam in East Rutherford, New Jersy. Austin triumphed, winning his first singles title in the WWF but unfortunately he broke his neck during the match when Hart botched a piledriver. It says a lot for the toughness of Austin that he could finish the match at all.
This was bad for WWF, Austin their most popular star was poised for a dominant IC title reign which would serve as a precursor to his eventual World title win but his neck would keep him out of the ring for the next few months. Fortunately WWF would capitalize on this and Austin’s time as the rebellious face that WWF were afraid to let wrestle would skyrocket his popularity. As for the Intercontinental championship it was once again to be decided in an 8 man tournament.
The tournament final came at WWF’s Badd Blood PPV in St. Louis in October where Owen Hart battled Farooq in a rare all heel encounter. Austin (who was at ring side to present the winner with the IC belt) helped Hart grab the win when he nailed Farooq with the title. A month later at the Survivor Series Austin defeated Hart in an emotionally charged but quite short match to win his second IC title.
During his second reign Austin greatest challenger was The Rock (previously known as Rocky Maivia). Austin beat Rock at WWF’s PPV in December. However the next night on RAW WWF owner Vince McMahon (who was feuding with Austin at this point) demanded that the two wrestle in a rematch, Austin with his aversion to authority refused and McMahon demanded he forfeit the title to The Rock which he did and followed it up by stunning Rock and stealing the IC title. The next week Austin hurled the belt into a river.
While all of this may have cemented Austin as a huge rebellious face it certainly devalued the IC title which in the space of a week was voluntarily forfeited and tossed into a river. However over the next few months The Rock would prove more than capable of restoring the belt’s prestige. He began his reign with an awesome feud with Ken Shamrock, the two men wrestled for the title at the Royal Rumble and at WrestleMania XIV and both were solid encounters that saw Shamrock battle not only Rock but also fight off his cohorts in the Nation Of Domination and seemingly win the title only to see it returned to ‘the people’s champion’ minutes later when the referee reversed his decision. In June Rock and his ‘Nation’ began a war with Triple H‘s Generation X faction. Rock and Triple H wrestled each other in a really good 2/3 Falls match at Fully Loaded in July. By this point Rock had held the belt for 7 months and was a hugely over heel, the fans couldn’t wait to see him finally lose the title and they thought their wish had been granted when Triple H hit his signature Pedigree on Rock with the scores tied at 1-1 but unfortunately for the challenger the 30 minute time limit expired just as he had hit the move. Once again ‘the people’s champion’ had managed to slip away with his title intact.
The inevitable rematch was set for Summerslam in Madison Square Garden the very next month. It was to be a Ladder match (the first in WWF for three years) and fans who had witnessed the HBK/Razor classics had high expectations for this IC title bout. They were not disappointed, it may not have matched HBK/Razor in quality but it certainly wasn’t far behind. It was Triple H who came out of this show stealer with the belt. Not only was it a great match but it also had two major consequences, the first was that Triple H aggravated his knee and would spend the next few months on the injured list and the second was that it helped turn The Rock from one of the most hated heels on the roster to a hugely popular superstar, Rock was so charismatic that fans had practically been waiting on an excuse to cheer him and his fantastic performance in the Ladder match earned him the fan’s respect and gave them the excuse they had wanted.
Because of his afore mentioned knee injury Triple H was stripped of the title in October after going two months without being able to defend the belt. The title vacancy was to be settled in a one night tournament on the October 12th edition of RAW is WAR. By the end of the night it was the 1998 King Of The Ring Ken Shamrock who won the tourney beating Steve Blackman, Val Venis and X-Pac along the way. This win would set the tone for Shamrock’s reign as IC champ: dominant. He would go on to hold the belt for four months and during this time he defeated Mankind, Vader and Billy Gunn (in a good match at the 1999 Royal Rumble). In February of 1999 he lost the belt to Val Venis thanks to the crooked officiating of guest referee Billy Gunn.
1999 would not be a good year for the Intercontinental title; frequent title changes and sub standard champions would diminish the belt’s prestige over the next 12 months. Venis looked to be a competent champ but he lost the title a mere month after winning it to Road Dogg a popular and fairly talented wrestler but primarily a tag team star. Road Dogg managed to retain his title in a 4 way at WrestleMania XV but he didn’t go much further than that as he lost it to Goldust on the following night’s episode of RAW.
Goldust wasn’t champion any longer than Road Dogg, he was defeated by The Godfather on April 12th and again in a rematch at Backlash (he left the WWF shortly there after). The Godfather was popular but he wasn’t popular enough to excuse the fact that he was a sub standard in the ring. Despite he held the belt longer than most had in 1999, his eventual loss came at the hands of Jeff Jarrett on May 25th in under 4 minutes.
Fans who despaired at the IC title’s recent loss of value saw a glimmer of hope in Jarrett’s victory. He was a more than competent in ring performer and an established WWF midcarder. But Jarrett’s title reigns in 1999 would be marred by pointless losses. The first of these occurred at a Toronto house show on July 24th 1999. Jarrett was to face Ken Shamrock but instead WWF decided to have Jarrett drop the belt to Edge to capitalize on the shock factor. The next night at the Fully Loaded PPV Jarrett recaptured the title. This may have served a purpose if it helped elevate Edge to singles stardom but it didn’t after his title loss Edge went back to teaming with Christian and would not become a successful singles wrestler for another two years.
One week after regaining the title Jarrett lost it once again, this time to European champion D’lo Brown. Over the next few weeks the two men had an interesting feud that teased that Jarrett’s long time manager Debra would leave him. This continued until Summerslam in Minneapolis where Jarrett with the help of Debra and D’lo’s former partner Mark Henry defeated won both titles. The next night on RAW Jarrett presented Henry with the European belt and thus began the D’lo/Henry feud. D’lo was popular and quite good in the ring so you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that WWF had big plans for him if they made him the first man to simultaneously hold the European and IC championships, sadly this was not the case after a final European title reign following a win over Henry D’lo did little of note for the rest of his WWF tenure. By the time Kurt Angle was billing himself as ‘Euro-continental’ champion six months later D’lo’s double belt winning feat was largely ignored. These pointless changes made the IC title look like a useless piece of metal that was traded between wrestlers with no meaning or value not something that had once been a prestigious prize used to help create future main eventers.
Two months after Summerslam the IC title reached its lowest point or reached a wonderful landmark depending on who you talked to. On October 17th female wrestler Chyna defeated Jarrett in a ‘Good Housekeeping’ match to win the Intercontinental championship. In the weeks leading up to this match Jarrett had been portrayed as a women beating sexist while Chyna was seen as a women fighting for equality in a man’s world. The ‘Good Housekeeping’ stipulation was made after Jarrett’s pronouncement that women should stay at home. The match itself was good for what it was and when Chyan pinned Jarrett after breaking his own guitar over his head the crowd at the Gund arena cheered loudly. Despite this fan opinions differed on the win; some fans thought that this was the first step towards gender equality in wrestling while others said that Chyna was only given the title because she was a woman and if she was a man no one would consider her a good enough wrestler to hold the title. Her defenders said that she was over enough with the fans to excuse this and while this was true in most cases there were exceptions, she was booed in her first match against Jarrett at Unforgiven and later against Chris Jericho (though this was probably due to Jericho’s own popularity). Also during her first title reign her only TV show defense was against perennial jobber Stevie Richards.
Despite these shortcomings Chyna had an entertaining feud with Chris Jericho, she defeated Jericho at the 1999 Survivor Series but failed to repeat this feat at Armageddon in December when she lost the title to Jericho. Jericho was a fantastic wrestler and his promos were nothing short of wonderful, his IC title win was the first step to the title regaining its prestige.
A little over two weeks after winning the IC title Jericho faced Chyna in a rematch on an edition of Smackdown!, the match ended when both competitors shoulders were down while two referees counted to three. The decision was made not to vacate the belt as would be usual but instead to declare Chyna and Jericho co-champions. This situation involved Chyna and Jericho making separate title defenses but if one of them were to be pinned then both would lose the title. This angle may not have led to any classic matches but it did reawaken fan interest in the belt, when they saw Chyna helping her hated rival Jericho to win so she could remain IC champ they realised how important it was. This situation was resolved when Jericho defeated Chyna and challenger Hardcore Holly in a Triple Threat match at the Royal Rumble in Madison Square Garden to become the undisputed Intercontinental champion.
Jericho’s joy was shortlived as he lost the title to European champion Kurt Angle at No Way Out in a more than good match a month later. During his run as champion Angle made several TV defenses and earned the ire of the WWF fans with his cocky but nerdy attitude. At WrestleMania in April Angle lost both his titles without being pinned in a two fall Triple Threat match featuring former WCW World champion Chris Benoit (who hit Jericho with a flying headbutt to capture the IC title) Chris Jericho (who pinned Benoit to win the European title).
Benoit may very well go down in history as the ‘fightingest’ champion ever. For the one month he held the title during his first reign he would defend it on every show be it RAW Smackdown or a PPV. This tactic backfired on Benoit when he lost the title to Chris Jericho on the May 5th edition of Smackdown. Unfortunately for Jericho he had earned the ire of the McMahon-Helmsley regime who were calling the shots on air in WWF at the time. On RAW less than a week after winning the title Jericho was forced to defend it against first Kurt Angle (whom he pinned), the Big Show (who he beat via countout) before finally losing to Chris Benoit.
Benoit reigned a month and a half during his second title run (which included a PPV victory over Jericho in a Submission match) before he dropped the title to veteran super heavy weight Rikishi Phatu (previously known as Fatu). Rikishi was no where near Benoit’s standard of wrestling but he was popular and his size along wit a DQ victory over World champion Triple H made fans take him seriously. Rikishi didn’t last long however, after two weeks he had lost it to the talented Val Venis. The two met again in a decent Steel Cage match at the Fully Loaded PPV that saw Rikishi execute an incredible splash from the top of the 20 foot cage, this did him more harm than good however and Venis was able to retain his championship. Also at this time Venis was feuding with the late great Eddie Guerrero and his ‘mama cita’ Chyna, this feud led to one of the oddest matches the Intercontinental title has ever been defended in; at Summerslam Venis and his manager Trish Stratus went up against Chyna and Guerrero with in a tag match with the stipulation that if Venis’s team won he would retain the title but if he or Trish were pinned then the person who got the pin would become champion. The end result saw Chyna pin Stratus to become the IC champ.
Chyna was more popular than ever at the time but the fact that she pinned Stratus didn’t help her credibility as champion much. To many fans this didn’t matter and they were both outraged and intrigued when she lost the title to Guerrero in a Triple Threat match on RAW in early September. The match was originally scheduled to be Chyna versus Angle but Guerrero had WWF commissioner Mick Foley put him in the match to ‘protect Chyna’. The match ended when the referee counted to 3 while Guerrero lay on the ground hugging Chyna while she was incapacitated with her shoulders down. Guerrero claimed this had been an accident but it was later revealed to be a reuse and he turned heel shortly thereafter.
After a good title run that included TV defenses against Road Dogg, Chyna and Val Venis Guerrero lost the title to Billy Gunn (who had recently returned from an 8 month stint on the injured list) on Smackdown in Florida. WWF had made a few attempts to push Gunn as a singles star (and would make a few in the future) and all of them failed. Gunn’s mic skills were decent as was his charisma but neither were enough to distract from the fact that he was not a very good singles wrestler. After a little over a month with the title Gunn lost it to Chris Benoit at December’s Armageddon PPV.
Shortly after regaining the IC title Benoit renewed his rivalry with fellow Canadian Chris Jericho. As I have previously documented the two had clashed before in a series of very good matches for the belt in the Spring of 2000 but their match at the 2001 Royal Rumble was to be perhaps their best ever. It was a classic Ladder match that managed to steal the show on what was an excellent PPV. The match ended with Jericho as the Victor thus winning his third Intercontinental title. This run may have been the best of Jericho’s seven IC title reigns, he followed his fantastic match at the Rumble with a victory in a good Fatal Four at No Way Out that featured not only Benoit but also Eddie Guerrero and X-Pac both if whom were returning from injury. At WrestleMania X-7 he defeated William Regal in an above average opening match. Shortly after ‘Mania’ Jericho dropped the title to established main-eventer Triple H. Being a perennial World title contender Triple H was a strange choice for IC champ, his win was to help establish he and his partner Steve Austin as the dominant force in the WWF by having them hold all the major titles simultaneously, Triple H undoubtedly proved a dominant champion holding the belt for the next two months (save for period of a few days where he lost the title to Jeff Hardy and then won it back). It is debatable whether having a main eventer like Triple H hold the belt increased its prestige or whether the belt was overshadowed by its holder who clearly didn’t need it to maintain his status as one of the company’s premier wrestlers.
Triple H’s fourth IC title reign came to an end when he lost the belt to Kane in a brutal Chain match. Kane was a big star but not a perennial World title contender and often made excursions into the mid card and feuded with stars of lower status. He made a decent champ, he held the belt for a month before losing it to Albert (later known as A-Train) thanks to interference from WCW star Diamond Dallas Page. Albert was certainly not every fan’s first choice for IC champion. He was big, intimidating and passable in the ring but he was neither over enough or good enough to match the standard set by previous champions.
Thankfully his reign was a short one, he dropped the title to Lance Storm who was part of the invading ECW/WCW alliance and an extremely talented technical wrestler. However Storm too held the title a mere month before he lost it to King Of The Ring winner Edge at Summerslam. This was a far cry from Edge’s almost pointless day long reign in 1999 by this time he was establishing himself as a singles star and winning the IC title was a big step towards making his mark in singles competition.
By this time Edge had engaged in a violent feud with his former partner (and on screen brother) Christian. The two met in the ring one month after Summerslam at Unforgiven in a match in which Christian somewhat surprisingly defeated Edge to become the new Intercontinental champion. A month later Edge regained the title in a Ladder match but only held it two weeks before losing it to Test a big powerful Canadian, decent in the ring but lacking a distinct character for most of his career. At this time however he was wrestling fairly well and had gotten over as a cocky heel and a traitor after he joined the WCW/ECW Alliance. His cheated title win set up a rematch with Edge (who by this time had won the WCW United States title) to unify the titles at the Survivor Series.
This would be a huge occasion for the IC title, the US belt was a prestigious championship in its own right and had been won by legends such as Sting, Rick Rude and Ric Flair. If the IC title was to survive the unification (which would happen if Team WWF defeated Team Alliance at the Survivor Series) then it would not only have its own treasured history but also carry that of the US title. In the event Edge defeated Test in what was quite a good match and Team WWF triumphed over the Alliance meaning that Edge was the Intercontinental champion.
Edge’s reign was thankfully longer this time round, he held the title two months during which he engaged in an interesting feud with William Regal that featured good stiff matches highlighted by Regal’s unique style. Regal won the belt at the Royal Rumble and then managed to defeat Edge again at No Way Out in February. A month later Regal lost the title in a rather disappointing match against former ECW star Rob Van Dam.
RVD made up for his disappointing win with a great feud with Eddie Guerrero (who had recently returned the company after overcoming his drug problem). Guerrero won his second IC title by defeating RVD in a good match at Backlash and then he retained it in a very good rematch the nest month at Judgment Day. A week later on RAW came the highlight of their feud when RVD retook the title in an excellent Ladder match that many fans call the best ‘free TV’ Ladder match if not the best Ladder match period. RVD’s second run with the IC title included a DQ victory over monster rookie Brock Lesnar at Vengeance. He lost the title a week later to Chris Benoit. One month following Benoit’s victory the two clashed again at Summerslam in a fantastic match the end result of which was that Rob Van Dam was once again the Intercontinental champion.
However less than a month after regaining the title RVD fell victim to former Undisputed World champion Chris Jericho who beat him via submission to win his fifth IC title. Jericho wouldn’t last long either though, he dropped the belt to Kane two weeks after his victory.
Sadly WWE management decided that the IC title the bastion of the midcard for over twenty years was no longer needed. The Intercontinental title which had been held by some of WWF/E’s greatest ever wrestlers and been contested over in some of the best ever matches was to be retired. To this day the motives for this decision are (at least to this writer) almost unknown. On air WWE had RAW General Manager Eric Bischoff announce a title unification match between Kane and World Heavyweight champion Triple H at No Mercy with the winner becoming the last IC champ and continuing on as World Heavyweight champion. On the night of the match WWF ran a fairly well produced music video tribute to the IC title (there was an extended tribute available on the No Mercy DVD) but sadly the match itself was nothing to write home about and no way to end a title as prestigious as the Intercontinental championship. It finished with Triple H pinning Kane to retain his World title, win the IC championship and unite the belts. It seemed to many a sorry fan that the title they had watched for so many years being defended by the likes of Shawn Michaels, Mr. Perfect and Chris Benoit was dead and buried.
To the surprise of very few the decision to retire the Intercontinental title was a very unpopular one among fans and some of the wrestlers who felt it gave more direction and meaning to the midcard. Thankfully and perhaps surprisingly WWE responded to this reaction by reneging on the retirement of the title and in May of 2003 RAW co-general manager (and former IC champ) Steve Austin reinstated the Intercontinental title on and edition of RAW. To crown a new champion Austin set up a Battle Royal at the upcoming Judgment Day event which would feature all of the former IC titleholders competing on RAW and multi-time WCW champion Booker T.
The match ended in controversial circumstances when it came down to Booker T and Christian, Booker tossed out the future NWA champion and had seemingly won the match but unfortunately for him the referee was unconscious. Christian seized the IC belt and used it to level Booker T and then threw him over the ropes to where the now conscious referee was watching to become the new Intercontinental champion.
For the next few weeks the Booker and Christian continued to feud with Booker coming close to winning the title on several occasions. Booker finally won the IC title on July 7th when he defeated Christian in a decent match on RAW. Sadly just as Booker seemed poised for a strong title run he suffered an injury and he was forced to drop the title back to Christian in a house show just a month after winning it. With booker injured, Christian feuded with Rob Van Dam. This culminated in a terrific Ladder Match on RAW in late September which saw RVD capture his fourth Intercontinental title.
RVD proved himself as good a champion as he had been before but on the October 27th edition of RAW he rather inexplicably lost the belt to Chris Jericho who was an established big star and really didn’t need the title. Perhaps even more inexplicably (from a booking standpoint) was that since Chris Jericho had cheated the win Steve Austin ordered an immediate rematch (inside a steel cage) which saw RVD recapture the title. This exchange made Jericho the shortest reigning IC champion (a minute shorter than Dean Douglas in 1995). While the two title changes in one night may have excited the fans it ultimately served no purpose rather than devaluing the title.
A more meaningful title change came two months later when Randy Orton defeated RVD in a good match at Armageddon in Florida. Orton was a talented young star and his title win was the first step towards cementing his status as a true midcard star. Over the next seven months Orton would prove himself to be one of the best Intercontinental champions of all time. His first major feud was a classic one, a bloody and lengthy battle with the legendary Mick Foley. It began following Foley’s refusal to answer Orton’s challenge in December; Foley would not appear in the WWE for the next month despite Orton’s taunts. His eventual return came as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble in which he rushed to the ring and hit Orton with a clothesline that sent both men to the arena floor and out of the Royal Rumble. The feud raged on and at Wrestlemania Orton pinned Foley in a 3 on 2 Handicap match. One month later the two finally met 1 on 1 for the title in a Street Fight. The match itself was a fantastic brutal affair that saw Orton retain following two RKOs. The next few months saw Orton defeat rising star Shelton Benjamin in a good match at Badd Blood in June before losing the title to Edge at July’s Vengeance. The match was decent but it saw the live crowd rather strangely cheer Orton which may have fuelled WWE’s decision to make Orton’s ill fated face turn a month later.
Edge’s fifth title reign included a win in a Triple Threat over Chris Jericho and Batista at Summerslam but in early September he was forced to vacate the title due to a groin injury. To settle the vacancy RAW general manager Eric Bischoff set up a Ladder Match between Chris Jericho and Christian at Unforgiven in September. The Ladder Match was good but nothing out of the ordinary, the finish saw Jericho facebuster Christian off the ladder and seconds later become the Intercontinental champion for the seventh time. In doing this he broke Jeff Jarrett’s five year record for the most IC titles held.
Jericho made a good champion but many fans felt he was above the IC title and should be competing in main events. Despite these reservations Jericho still made a good transitional champion and that he was, one month after winning the title he lost it to Shelton Benjamin in an entertaining encounter at Taboo Tuesday. Shelton would go on to become the longest reigning Intercontinental champion in six years and although he was undoubtedly a great champion he suffered from lack of a long and meaningful feud such as his contemporary Orton had with Mick Foley. At the Survivor Series he defeated Christian in a quality match but that’s as far as that feud went. He had a decent feud with Maven but it culminated in Maven being squashed twice in one night at New Years Revolution. A good but short feud with Chris Jericho led to a great match at Backlash. He also had several good TV defenses including a Triple Threat win over Christian and Jericho, three more than acceptable matches in a mini feud with Gene Snitsky and a DQ loss to the unpinned Muhammad Hassan. His incredible eight month run came to an end on June 20th when he was defeated by RAW newcomer Carlito Caribbean Cool.
When I began writing this article in late August I wrote that Carlito was an ideal champion; a talented midcard star who defended the title on a fairly regular basis, sadly although the information was true when I wrote it, it soon became outdated. Carlito had the talent and mic skills to be a good IC champ but beyond a few rematches with Benjamin during his first few weeks as champ he rarely defended the belt. In September he lost the title to the legendary Ric Flair in a decent match at Unforgiven.
At 56 Flair was the oldest IC champ ever, he was also one of the greatest wrestlers of all time and it seemed the IC title was merely a richly deserved ‘thank you’ gift to Flair. Flair proved more than that however, he began wrestling better than he had in years and defended the title against young talent such as Carlito and Trevor Murdoch. Unfortunately Flair began an excellent feud with his former ally Triple H and for a while the IC title was largely forgotten. This continued until January when Flair successfully defended the title against Edge (who would win the WWE title that same night). A little over a month later he lost the title to the now heel Shelton Benjamin.
Only time will tell whether or not Benjamin will prove as good a champion as he was in his first reign and how much the IC title will help his ascent up the card. We fans can only hope that Benjamin does justice to the legacy of the Intercontinental title every time he defends it. The IC title is a championship that has helped the careers of so many past stars and given us some of the greatest matches we have ever been privileged to witness. It has undoubtedly cemented its status as the greatest and most prestigious ‘secondary’ title in the world of pro wrestling. We can only hope that Benjamin and his successors will continue the tradition of great champions such as Perfect, Hart, Michaels, Benoit and all the others that have made the title great.
Written by Colm Kearns in 2007