It was one of the highlights of my wrestling fandom, being live in Pontiac Michigan to see “Macho Man” Randy Savage defend the Intercontinental Title against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at Wrestlemania III. Ever since that program, the IC belt has held a special place in my heart. There were many times that the belt and angle surrounding it was what I had the most interest in. I think I was more into the Intercontinental title when Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior were on top of the WWF and had their title for title match. So when I flash forward to today and see that the Intercontinental championship is largely an afterthought, it makes me long for the days when the belt had meaning. So what I would like to do today is look back at some of the wrestlers that I feel are the greatest Intercontinental champions in history.
This man is an obvious addition to the list so I decided to start with him. The story of how this came to be is quite interesting. Ricky Steamboat had just beaten Savage a few months earlier for the belt but now wanted to take time off to be with his then wife Bonnie (oh hindsight….) as she was pregnant with Richie. The decision was made for Ricky to drop the strap to Butch Reed but The Natural had gone missing just moments before match time. The story goes that Honky was walking down the hallway in the back as Vince was trying to figure out what to do and Hogan said “what about him Brother?” (Well I assume he said Brother), pointed to Honky Tonk Man, and the rest is history. His reign lasted one year, two months and twenty seven days which is a record that may last forever the way the WWE is booked now. The man with the Shake, Rattle, and Roll would intentionally get disqualified to save his title in matches against George “The Animal” Steele, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, and even Bruno Sammartino in some house shows. It was during Honky’s reign that, when he called himself the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time, he started to irk Randy Savage and started Macho Man’s babyface turn. The other story of Honky’s title is that he refused to drop the belt at Wrestlemania IV to Randy Savage, feeling that he had more to give with the title. This move culminated in the WWF Title Tournament being changed to have Randy Savage win and become the new WWF Champion and started the wheels in motion for the company’s greatest angle ever, The Mega Powers Explode. Summerslam 1988 would be end of the record long title reign for Honky Tonk Man as he dropped the belt to the Ultimate Warrior in 31 seconds at Madison Square Garden.
When Scott Hall came to the WWF in late 1992, he was pushed to the top in a feud with Randy Savage and then receiving a WWF title match with Bret Hart at the 1993 Royal Rumble. After that initial push, Razor would come down the card a bit, turn babyface, and win the vacant Intercontinental Championship on October 11, 1993 beating Rick Martel as they were the last two left in a battle royal the week previous on RAW. The title was vacated when Shawn Michaels left the company briefly and, when The Heartbreak Kid returned, the two had a legendary ladder match at Wrestlemania X. Over the next two and a half years Razor Ramon would lose and win back the IC title from Diesel and traded a briefly title switch with Jeff Jarrett in Quebec. Razor’s forth and final IC title win came against Dean Douglas when Shawn would once again vacate the belt without losing it in the ring. The man oozing Machismo would lose the belt once and for all against Goldust at the Royal Rumble before going to WCW and forming the nWo.
Outside of winning the WWF title, Curt Hennig’s initial run in the World Wrestling Federation was, well, perfect. Curt would debut in the WWF in 1988 after a series of vignettes and immediately began winning matches. He won an all to quick match at Wrestlemania V against The Blue Blazer, Owen Hart and then had a series of great matches with Bret Hart in the summer of 1989. As was customary at the time, Hennig would not get his first taste of gold until after Wrestlemania VI in 1990. When the Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan for both belts, the IC title was vacated and a tournament was held to crown the new champion. Mr. Perfect beat Tito Santana in the finals to capture the Intercontinental title for the first time and debut his new manager, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Curt would lose the belt to the Texas Tornado Kerry Von Erich at Summerslam as Von Erich was subbing for an injured Brutus Beefcake. In storyline, The Barber was attacked by Outlaw Ron Bass and had his face sliced open by his spurs, but in real life Beefcake had suffered a para-sailing accident and had to undergo facial reconstruction surgery. The substitution gave Heenan and Perfect something to complain about over the fall of 1990 until Hennig regained the title in December of 1990 on WWF Superstars with the help of Ted DiBiase. Mr Perfect would hold the title until Summerslam 1991 where he lost it to Bret Hart. Hennig had suffered a back injury which forced him into retirement for a year, and really was the same injury that caused his second leave from the ring. Curt hadn’t wrestled in the months leading up to the match and really only did the match to put Bret Hart over and drop the title.
Jericho had a similar entrance to Razor Ramon in the World Wrestling Federation. Jericho started off debuting against The Rock in 1999 and was then transitioned down the card. Jericho would win his first of a record nine Intercontinental titles in December 1999 by beating Chyna, yes Chyna. The new Millennium would get better, ironically for the Millennium man, as Jericho would finally rid himself of Chyna after Wrestlemania 2000 and get some matches with Chris Benoit. Benoit and Jericho would trade title wins in May of 2000 and Y2J would win his fourth Intercontinental title (crash TV anyone?) at the Royal Rumble 2001 by beating Chris Benoit in a tremendous ladder match. That reign would come to an end in April of 2001 by Captain Insecurity, Triple H. This was before Hunter thought he was too good for the belt. Jericho was a mainstay in the Intercontinental title picture as he beat Rob Van Dam for the belt in both 2002 and 2003, and also won the title from Christian in 2004. After a few years off, Chris would come back and beat a just suspended Jeff Hardy for the belt in 2008 and would beat Rey Mysterio in 2009 for his most recent IC title run. As much as Jericho was a target by the political nature of WWF in 2000, his talent allowed him to persevere and his classic ladder match with Benoit alone gets him on this list, in my opinion.
Bret is the classic example of working your way up the card. After the Hart Foundation won the WWF Tag Team titles and competed in the tag division for many years, it was time for Bret to break into a singles run. This would be Bret’s second time as a singles competitor as he had a feud with Bad New Brown and Mr. Perfect in 1988 and 1989. After a Tag Team Title loss at Wrestlemania VII in Los Angeles against The Nasty Boys, the Foundation disbanded and Bret focused on singles career once and for all. As noted previously, Hart won his first IC title against Mr. Perfect at Summerslam 1991. He would hold the title until January of 1992 as he would drop the title to The Mountie at a house show. In storyline, it was said that Bret was sick and had a 100 degree fever but in real life, Bret was being courted by WCW and Vince was afraid that he would leave the WWF with the Intercontinental title (WOW…sound familiar?). Bret would regain the title at Wrestlemania VIII by beating “cousin” Roddy Piper in a great match where Bret kayfabed his blade job to avoid getting in the kind of trouble Ric Flair would get in that night.
The Hitman’s second run with the belt would end at Wembley Stadium in London England at Summerslam 1992 in a classic bout with The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith. This is one of my personal favorite matches of all time and would mark the last time Bret would have the IC title as he won the WWF title in Saskatoon Saskatchewan in the following October. Bret’s reign with the IC title would stand out for me as it may have been the last time that the Intercontinental Champion had consistently great WRESTLING matches. Shawn Michaels would go on to have some great matches with the belt, but he did have a different style than Bret and Mr. Perfect before him. The technical wrestling of the Intercontinental title division from 1990 to 1992 is something that I will always remember fondly.
As I had mentioned previously, these are who I look back upon as the greatest Intercontinental champions of all time. In September of 1984, at the London Gardens, a seven year old Addie saw his first ever title change live. That change saw Greg “The Hammer” Valentine beat Tito Santana for the Intercontinental title in a quick match and then, post match, attacked Santana putting him in the figure four leglock. This caused Tito to be stretchered out of the ring to the back and was such an impressionable moment on me that Tito instantly became one of my favorite wrestlers and I could not wait to see him get his revenge and win the title back. Santana would get the title back the following summer in 1985 in a cage match. In the post match, Valentine smashed the belt against the side of the cage, smashing it to pieces. This caused the WWF to create a new belt for the champion, and Tito was the first man in the fall of 1985 to wear the Intercontinental design that Cody Rhodes just recently brought back to the WWE, my personal favorite look for the title belt. Tito would lose the title to Randy Savage six months later in the Boston Garden in the early stages of heel referee Danny Davis’ storyline. This would mark Tito’s final singles title in the WWF, although he would go on to win the Tag Team belts with Rick Martel as Strike Force and would be a mainstay of the WWF roster for many years to come.
So those are the men that stick out most to me and define what the Intercontinental title is all about. There have been other greats that have worn the belt, such as Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart, Rob Van Dam, and Rick Rude, but their contributions to the title were not as meaningful to me as the men listed above. I will note that conspicuous by his absence in my list is Shawn Michaels. I debated putting him in but I felt that, while he no doubt had great matches, the fact he failed to drop the title in the ring twice worked against him too much to warrant inclusion with the other champions.
Agree? Disagree? Did I miss something? I’d love to hear from you at email@example.com