The Intercontinental Championship has been an enduring part of the WWE for nearly 40 years. The title has been a launching pad for major stars such “Macho Man” Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Diesel, The Rock, and Randy Orton. The championship provided all of those stars with an opportunity to prove themselves capable of carrying the weight of the WWE Championship. Intercontinental Champions like Tito Santana, Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect, and Razor Ramon may not have moved up to the top belt, but they proved themselves to be top caliber performers who put on amazing matches.
The Intercontinental Title was known as the “workhorse” championship because the best in-ring performers in the company were regularly tapped to wear the belt. The legendary matches contested for the Intercontinental Championship were a crucial part of the WWE’s evolution from a regional promotion to the largest sports entertainment company in the world. The title was briefly discontinued in 2002 before being revived the following year.
Since returning, the championship has not occupied the same position of prominence it once did, but recent champions such as Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, and The Miz continue to prove that the title is still a respected and significant part of WWE programming.
15 Who's The Longest Reigning IC Champion Of All Time?
The Honky Tonk Man held the Intercontinental Title for 454 days, from June 2, 1987 to August 29, 1988, which is longest single reign. However, Pedro Morales’ two reigns combine for 619 days. Morales held the championship for all but five months between December 1980 and January 1983. A former WWF Heavyweight Champion and Tag Team Champion, Morales’ IC Title victory over Ken Patera made him the first Triple Crown winner in WWE history. Morales’ standing as a former WWE Champion and proven main event draw was important in establishing the legitimacy of the title.
The second longest reigning Intercontinental Champion is Don Muraco, the man who took the title from Morales both times. Muraco’s two combined Intercontinental reigns total 541 days, nearly a 100 days ahead of The Honky Tonk Man.
14 A Family Affair
The history of the Intercontinental Championship is filled with family ties. Two-time champion Mr. Perfect was joined by his son, Curtis Axel, as the only father-son pairing to hold the title when the younger Hennig won the belt in 2013 (22 years after the elder Hennig’s last reign). Two pairs of real life brothers have also held the championship. Bret Hart (91-92) and Owen Hart (97) both enjoyed two reigns with the title. Their brother-in-law, The British Bulldog, also held the gold, ending Bret’s second run at SummerSlam 92 at Wembley Stadium. Brothers Goldust and Cody Rhodes also each held the championship twice, albeit 15 years apart. Fictional siblings have also gotten in on the act, as Edge and Christian have had five and four reigns, respectively. Their imagined family ties were incorporated into their feud over the title, as Christian used a fake accident involving their fake parents in order to betray Edge during the Invasion angle.
13 The IC Title Is Not Everyone’s Cup Of Tea
The Intercontinental Championship has provided a launching pad for several major WWE stars. A successful run with the belt proves that a wrestler can carry a match, propel an angle, elicit a crowd reaction, and develop a connectable character. However, an Intercontinental Title reign has never guaranteed success, nor has it been the only path to the top. Many of the biggest names in the WWE over the last 40 years have never held the title. Some, like Hulk Hogan, had no reason to contend for the belt. Others, like The Undertaker or Jake “the Snake” Roberts, did not need the IC Title to move them forward. As the WWE evolved more doors of opportunity opened, such as the King of the Ring, Money in the Bank, and the United States Championship. The brand splits have also prevented major names from being incorporated into IC plans. Notable superstars who have never held the Intercontinental Title include John Cena, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Ted DiBiase, Paul Orndorff, Sheamus, and Batista.
12 First WWE Title Defended In A Triple Threat Match
The triple threat match is a staple of today’s WWE programming, but the format was a novelty when it was introduced into the WWE 20 years ago, and the Intercontinental Championship lead the way. The first televised WWE triple threat match occurred on the June 23, 1997 Raw, with Owen Hart successfully defending over former champions Hunter Hearst Helmsley and Goldust. The inaugural IC Champion, Pat Patterson, was the referee.
However, this was not the first WWE triple threat match. That bout occurred on Jan 10, 1997, on a house show in San Jose, CA, when Helmsley retained the Intercontinental Title over Bret Hart and Steve Austin. Hart knocked out Austin with the IC belt to set up the pin fall. This little known experiment is often overlooked, as higher profile triple threat matches for the WWE Heavyweight Title were run on house shows in the weeks after the Royal Rumble. Shawn Michaels successfully defended over Hart and Psycho Sid in Dallas, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Montreal, and most notably Toronto’s Skydome. It was the IC Title, though, that introduced the WWE Universe to the triple threat match concept.
11 Dolph Ziggler Loses The IC Title To United Airlines
Dolph Ziggler was two weeks into his third reign as Intercontinental Champion when he made the cardinal mistake of checking the belt with his luggage. Ziggler made it to Brooklyn for the October 6, 2014 Raw, but his bag – and the belt – did not. Ziggler took to Twitter to joke about it at first, but the tweets turned to frustration as the day wore on and United Airlines still had not located his bag. He had to buy new ring gear to perform in that night, and luckily the WWE has replica belts for this very reason. Ziggler did not appear to get any real heat from the WWE for the error, but social media was not as kind. His judgment was mocked by tweeters, bloggers, and anyone with access to a comments forum. Ziggler is certainly not the first wrestler to make this mistake; in 2009 Chris Jericho left the IC Title at his hotel, and had to go out for his match wearing the Women's belt. Ziggler, however, made his error public in a world monitored by social media. Ziggler went on to hold the title two more times, but there has been no word on whether or not he was allowed to travel with the actual belt during those reigns. United Airlines, on the other hand, went on to see several of its miscues turned into viral disasters.
10 The Miz Is The Longest Reigning IC Champion Of The 21st Century
When wrestling fans were staring at their clocks on New Year’s Eve 1999, waiting to see if Y2K was going to be a real problem or just an inspiration for Chris Jericho’s nickname, few would have imagined that a future cast member of MTV’s The Real World would end up as the longest reigning Intercontinental Champion of the new century. But that is exactly what has happened. The Miz has enjoyed seven Intercontinental Title reigns that total over 400 days (and counting). That number is even more telling considering that two of those reigns were one day. A large part of The Miz’s success can be attributed to the fact that the Intercontinental Title has been devalued for most of the last 15 years, but it is hard to dismiss the man’s success. The Miz is in fast company: Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Triple H, Edge, Christian, Rob Van Dam, Randy Orton, Ric Flair, Jeff Hardy, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio, Daniel Bryan, and Kevin Owens are among those who have worn the gold this century.
9 A Truly International Championship
The Intercontinental Title has changed hands outside of the United States on 15 occasions (as compared to 7 for the WWE Championship). The IC Title has also been held by wrestlers of legitimate international heritage for nearly a third of its existence. Wrestlers who were born outside of the United States have held the belt for 3,810 days (over 10 years). The championship spent nearly half of these yeas in Canadian hands. The first champion, Pat Patterson, was Canadian, as were such notable champions as Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Edge, Christian, and Kevin Owens. Other real Canadian wrestlers who held the belt were portrayed as being from other countries: Rowdy Roddy Piper (Scotland), Santino Marella (Italy), and Val Venis (the World of Adult Entertainment). British wrestlers have also enjoyed significant time with the title, which is notable since no UK competitor has ever held any version of the WWE’s Heavyweight/World/Universal championships. The British Bulldog, William Regal, Wade Barrett, and Drew McIntyre have all worn the IC belt. Pedro Morales and Carlito both hail from Puerto Rico. Four-time champ Kofi Kingston is from Ghana (he was portrayed as being from Jamaica during his first reign), and two-time title holder Umaga was born in Samoa. This total does not include wrestlers born in the US with significant connections to other countries or territories, such as Tito Santana, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, and The Rock.
8 The IC Title Is Not Short On Brevity
Several Intercontinental Title reigns have been long, but far more have been brief. Fifteen title reigns lasted less than 30 days. Among those are former WWE Champions The Big Show, JBL, Chris Jericho, and Rob Van Dam. Kurt Angle’s lone Intercontinental Title reign lasted only 35 days, while Booker T held the belt for 34 days. Razor Ramon, Jeff Jarrett, and The Mountie each had reigns that lasted two days. Other reigns have been even shorter. Two of The Miz’s 7 reigns were 24 hours, as was Edge’s first. Zack Ryder’s WrestleMania 32 fairy-tale win came to an abrupt halt the following night. One of Chris Jericho’s record 8 reigns lasted for less than two hours, as he won and lost the title on the October 27, 2003 episode of Raw. The shortest Intercontinental Title reign belongs to Dean Douglas, who won it by forfeit from Shawn Michaels in October 1995 at In Your House: Great White North, only to lose it to Razor Ramon in an immediate impromptu match. He held the title for approximately 15 minutes. Probably the most surprising fact is who owns the record for shortest combined reigns of any multi-time champion. That honor belongs to Kane, whose two reigns total only 57 days. It is not the most distinguished mark on the record of The Big Red Machine, but I’ll leave it to someone else to tell him that.
7 The First Major Men’s Title Won By A Woman
Chyna made history on October 17, 1999 at No Mercy when she defeated Jeff Jarrett in a Good Housekeeping match to become the first female Intercontinental Champion. In doing so she became the first woman to win a significant men’s championship anywhere. She repeated the feat less than a year later, when she and Eddie Guerrero defeated Trish Stratus and champion Val Venis in a tag team match at SummerSlam 2000 where the winner of the fall would walk out with the IC gold. Chyna’s first reign lasted nearly two months, before being ended by Chris Jericho. Her second reign was only a week, as Eddie Guerrero broke up with his mamacita by stealing a pin over her in a triple threat match. To date Chyna is still the only woman to hold the Intercontinental Title or any men's title in the WWE.
6 The IC Championship Is A Superstar Generator
The Intercontinental Championship has launched many of the WWE’s top stars into orbit. Holding the title has been transformative for many superstars, allowing them to grow as performers while proving that they can carry the responsibility of the main event. The year-long reign of “Macho Man” Randy Savage turned him into a star that the fans loved, forcing a face turn and catapulting him to the WWE Championship. Bret Hart’s performance as IC Champ was the reason Vince McMahon decided to give a shot at the top of the company. Shawn Michaels’ routinely amazing matches set him up as the face of the WWE in the mid-90s. The Rock’s 265-day reign allowed him to shed his Rocky Maivia persona and develop into the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment. Similarly, the IC Title allowed Randy Orton to go from bland to Legend Killer. His reign from December 2003 to July 2004 took him from a lackey for Triple H to a champion in the making. Not every Intercontinental Champion has immediately turned into a star; Edge, for example, held the title on 5 occasions without a breakthrough (Money in the Bank did it for him). However, the history of the Intercontinental Title is filled with champions who went on to become legends in the WWE.
5 SummerSlam Is The Grave Yard Of IC Title Reigns
Speaking of The Miz, he should be glad that the WWE is postponing his planned title defense against Jason Jordan at SummerSlam, because Intercontinental champions have had particularly bad luck at that pay-per-view. The Intercontinental Title has changed hands at SummerSlam 14 times out of 25 were it has been defended, including the first five events. Shawn Michaels was the only Intercontinental Champion between 1988 and 2004 to retain the title, when he defeated Mr. Perfect by countout (93) and Razor Ramon in a ladder match (95). Things started off badly for Intercontinental Champions at the first SummerSlam, when The Honky Tonk Man was crushed by The Ultimate Warrior in 30 seconds.
Besides the Warrior (who won both of his titles at the event), WWE legends who won the Intercontinental Title at SummerSlam include Bret Hart, The British Bulldog, Razor Ramon, Steve Austin, and Triple H. The list of those who have lost the title is equally as impressive. Fallen champions include Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect (twice), Bret Hart, Diesel, Owen Hart, and The Rock.
4 The IC Title Is Not Afraid Of Heights
The Intercontinental Title has spent a lot of time hanging from the rafters. The championship was the first WWE belt to be defended in a ladder match. The very first such bout occurred at a TV taping in Portland, ME, on July 21, 1992, between IC Champ Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, as a way of demonstrating the concept to Vince McMahon. A few years later the company ran ladder matches on house shows between IC Champion Razor Ramon and Michaels, as well as Ramon and IRS. The first televised ladder match in WWE history was at WrestleMania X, between Ramon and Michaels, to settle their dispute over who was the real Intercontinental Champion. Since then the Intercontinental Title has changed hands ten times in ladder matches (and been defended in countless more), becoming synonymous with the match type.
3 The Continents Interconnected By The Title Are North America and South America
While the center plate on past Intercontinental belts has depicted all seven continents, the original intent behind the belt was to connect only North America and South America. The WWE was a member of the NWA when it introduced the North American Championship in 1979. Other NWA territories had North American Championships, so the WWE agreed to change the name of their new title. It did do through a fictional tournament held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on September 1, 1979, that unified the North American Championship with the South American Championship. It was not made clear why a tournament was necessary instead of a unification match between champions. Maybe it had to do with the fact that there was no South American Champion. In reality reigning North American Champion Pat Patterson was said to have won the tournament and awarded the first IC Title. No continents were depicted on the first belt. The classic version (pictured) added Europe and Africa, and later belts depicted all seven.
2 Who Did Pat Patterson Defeat To Become The First Ever IC Champion?
It is appropriate that one of the WWE's greatest ribbers is involved in one of wrestling's biggest farces. The tournament in Rio de Janeiro never happened, and the wrestling environment of the time did not require the WWE to create a detailed cover story. In 1979 the WWE was still a regional promotion based in the northeast United States. It did not have to worry about the news media outside of its market spoiling the tale of a fictional tournament in Brazil. Titles changed hands regularly at house shows without cameras present. The wrestling magazines of the era honored kayfabe, plus they could fall back on the excuse that they couldn't send a photographer to Rio. To show the limited effort the WWE put into the cover story, the tournament was supposed to have occurred on September 1, 1979, but the WWE ran an event that night at the Cape Cod Coliseum in South Yarmouth, MA. That house show was headlined by Bob Backlund successfully defending the WWE Title against… Pat Patterson.
WWE.com ran an April Fool’s story in 2013 detailing the entire tournament, with Patterson defeating perennial 70s jobber Johnny Rodz in the final, before revealing the ruse. Interestingly, the fictitious tournament where Buddy Rogers won the first WWE Heavyweight Title was also supposedly held in Rio de Janeiro. Maybe the tournament should have been booked at The Parts Unknown Dome instead.
1 Can I Get A Unification?
It is fitting that a championship born out of the joining of two titles should have a long history of being unified with others. The Intercontinental Title has been involved in five unification events since its inception. The first, of course, was its origins in the 1979 unification of the real WWE North American Title and the fictional South American Championship. The second occurred at the end of the Invasion angle, where the belt was unified with the WCW US Championship. Edge (representing WWE but holding the US Title) defeated Test (representing WCW/ECW but holding the IC belt) to merge the top two secondary championships of their eras under the Intercontinental name. The next unifications came in the summer of 2002. IC Champ Rob Van Dam defeated European Champion Jeff Hardy on Raw in July, then repeated the feat on the same show a month later when he beat Hardcore Champion Tommy Dreamer. The Intercontinental Title's good fortune ran out two months later at No Mercy, when champion Kane lost a unification match to World Heavyweight Champion Triple H in a match marred by the notorious Katie Vick angle. These rapid unifications occurred because WWE felt that there were too many titles in the wake of the first brand split. They soon realized the value of the Intercontinental Title, however, and reinstated it in May 2003. The title continues to thrive today as a significant springboard for WWE talent.