Since its inception, the Intercontinental Championship has been a token of appreciation for a job well done. A key to the main event, a gimmick maker, a career definer a groundbreaker and show-stealer. Held by no less than a dozen Hall of Famers, the WWE Intercontinental Championship has been a cornerstone of the WWE. Originally intended to be the title which unified the WWF North American Championship with the South American Championship. Pat Patterson, incumbent North American Champion, became the inaugural Intercontinental Championship winning a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil September 1,1979…if WWE historians are to believed. From there, as they say, the rest is history.
Pat Patterson the Inaugural Champion
Pat Patterson held the Intercontinental Championship for an impressive 233 days. He lost it to Ken Patera in the first title exchange in its 40 years, ongoing, history. Patera dropped the title to Pedro Morales for the first of his first two reigns becoming the first former WWF Champion to hold the championship. He and the Magnificent Muraco exchanged the title making Don Muraco the first two-time IC Champion. It also made Morales the first triple crown champion in WWF/E. During his first reign, he beat future World Champion Hulk Hogan by count-out to retain the championship.
In his second reign, Morales set the bar high holding the championship for an impressive 425 days second only to The Honky Tonk Man (more on that later). Before Morales dropped the title back to Muraco. The next champion was Tito Santana in the first of two reigns. He dropped the title to Greg Valentine on “Maple Leaf Wrestling”, the first defense outside of the US and the first title on television. Santana beat Valentine once again becoming champion and the third two time champion.
On February 8. 1986 “Macho Man” Randy Savage beat Santana at a house show in Boston, MA after unsuccessfully challenging for the title previously. This began the third-longest reign in WWF/E history (414 days). His reign ended at Wrestlemania III marking the first defense on the exchange of the Intercontinental Championship on PPV. This matched not only ended the historic reign of the Macho Man it is still considered one of the greatest matches in Wrestlemania and WWE/F and wrestling history. This cemented the main event status of Randy Savage as he went on to hold the WWF Championship.
The Greatest Intercontinental Champion of All-Time
Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat held the title for 66 days before losing to The Honky Tonk Man. The Honky Tonk Man became the longest-reigning Intercontinental Champion to date. His reign lasted 454 days or 64 weeks, a fact he repeated ad nauseum once he surpassed first the Macho Man, his greatest rival during this time. He and Savage had several matches over the title in which Honky Tonk would cheat to keep his title. This reign puts The Honky Tonk Man, in his mind anyway, in contention as the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time.
After successfully defending his title against Brutus Beefcake, The Honky Tonk Man was threatened with an even greater challenger. He vowed to beat any opponent put in front. His reign came to an abrupt end at SummerSlam ‘88 when The Ultimate Warrior ran down to the ring beating him in an historic 27 seconds.
Behold the Ultimate Champion
Ultimate Warrior held the WWE Intercontinental championship until Wrestlemania 5 losing to Rick Rude with whom he feuded until SummerSlam where Warrior won the title a second and final reign winning the title at consecutive SummerSlam events. Warrior went on to feud with WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. At Wrestlemania VI in an “Ultimate Challenge” that set the stage for Ultimate Warrior to usurp Hogan as WWF’s biggest star. Warrior pinned Hogan after a “Warrior Splash” to win the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. It made him the only man to hold both the WWF and Intercontinental Championships. The WWF vacated the IC Championship because the rules forbade one man to hold both titles simultaneously.
After the title was vacated the WWF held a tournament to crown a new champion. Mr. Perfect defeated Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka in the quarter-final and former two-time champion, Tito Santana, securing his first of two reigns as champion. Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake was set to take on Curt Hennig at SummerSlam. When he was injured, Kerry Von Erich, competing as The Texas Tornado challenged Hennig for the title. He defeated Mr. Perfect at that year’s SummerSlam in his only reign before dropping the title back to Henig after three months with the belt.
The Best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be
Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart won the WWE Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect by submitting him via Sharpshooter at SummerSlam 1991 on his way to winning the King of the Ring tournament later that year. He entered into a feud with The Mountie who defeated him for the title after interference by manager Jimmy Hart. The Mountie was defeated two days later by Roddy Piper via sleeper hold at the Royal Rumble event.
Hart would when the title back from Piper at Wrestlemania in April that same year becoming the first of very few men to ever pin Piper’s shoulders to the mat. During this, reign he would go on to have the very first ladder match against Shawn Michaels by recovering the title which had been suspended above the center of the ring.
The British Bulldog was riding a surge of popularity in the UK having headlined several European tours. He became number one contender to brother-in-law Bret’s WWE Intercontinental Champion in time for SummerSlam in London at Wembley Stadium. This was the first PPV main event for Bret Hart as well as the first time the Intercontinental Championship headlined a PPV. British Bulldog came away with the way and the title. It was considered by many to the finest match of his career.
The Heart Break Reign
Shawn Michaels won the title from Davey Boy Smith at Saturday’s Main Event XXXI. He feuded with Brett Hart losing a WWE Title match at Survivor Series. Michaels then lost his own IC title to former tag partner Marty Jannetty. It took place on the new WWF flagship Monday Night Raw before regaining three weeks later. With the help of his new bodyguard Diesel who debuted that night interfering in the match, Michaels regained the championship. Michaels was later stripped of the title for failing to make a defense for 30 days.
Originally written by Tavish York