Last night at WWE Extreme Rules, The Miz defeated Dean Ambrose to start his seventh reign as WWE Intercontinental Champion. This win moved The Miz solely into second place as the most decorated Intercontinental Champion in WWE history, behind only Chris Jericho‘s nine runs as IC Champ. The Miz had previously been tied with Jeff Jarrett and Rob Van Dam at six. But where does The Miz truly sit in regards to the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time? In an era where belts move more fluidly than in the past, are number of reigns more important than longevity? Is Wade Barrett‘s five titles more impressive than Honky Tonk Man‘s one reign of 454 days?
THE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP
The Intercontinental Championship was created in 1979 as a new singles title for the then WWF, a rebranding that was an amalgamation of two previous WWF titles. Pat Patterson had recently won the WWF North American Heavyweight Championship from Ted DiBiase and went to Rio de Janeiro later in the year to crown a new WWF South American Heavyweight Champion, where he faced Johnny Rodz in the final (the entire tournament was fictional and never occurred). After winning the title, Patterson unified the two, becoming the inaugural WWE Intercontinental Champion (thus making the Intercontinental Championship the singles title to represent the Americas, both North and South). Patterson would hold the title for 233 days before losing to the WWF’s Olympian Ken Patera.
Since Pat Patterson’s win in 1979, seventy eight (78) different people have held the Intercontinental Championship in the titles 38-year history. So who have been the titles’ greatest champions? While lists of these natural are always subjective to the author’s tastes, here’s a ranking of our ten best, with our reasoning alongside.
THE GREATEST WWE INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONS OF ALL TIME
#10. The Magnificent Muraco
Don Muraco was a big star in various NWA territories in the late 1970s by the time he arrived in the WWF in 1981, where he immediately began a feud with Intercontinental Champion and WWE Legend Pedro Morales. He would defeat Morales, but the two would have a feud that lasted three years, with each trading the belts once more. His second reign was a whopping 385 days with The Magnificent Muraco becoming one of the WWF’s biggest heels. It was during his second reign that he feuded with “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka that featured the infamous Steel Cage match where Mrs. Foley’s baby boy was inspired to become a pro wrestler. With a combined 541 days as IC Champ in only two reigns, The Magnificent Muraco is behind only his archrival Pedro Morales for the most combined days holding the title.
#9. Rob Van Dam
When ECW Originals began to enter the WWE Universe following the demise of ECW in 2001 and the subsequent Invasion, many were worried about how many of ECW’s top stars would be treated – after all, former ECW World Champion Taz hadn’t exactly faired well when he came in earlier. But Rob Van Dam was a star from day one with WWE. He captured his first of six Intercontinental reigns when he defeated William Regal at WrestleMania X8 on March 17, 2002. Rob Van Dam was so dominant in the IC hunt, that five of his six reigns came within one year – his 5th title reign began October 27, 2003, just over a year after his first win. Van Dam’s high energy matches made the IC title a must-see defence when on television or PPV and his work paid off – he became WWE Champion in 2006, defeating John Cena.
#8. Pedro Morales
Pedro Morales was one of the WWE’s biggest stars during the 1970s heyday of the WWWF. When Bruno Sammartino took a leave from the industry, Morales became his successor as the company’s top babyface, winning the WWWF World Championship from Ivan Koloff in 1971 and holding it for an astounding 1,027 days (3 years!). He then became one of the earliest ambassadors of the Intercontinental Championship, holding the belt on two different occasions during his three year feud against The Magnificent Muraco. His 425 day reign as IC Champ is second only to The Honky Tonk Man, and his combined days of 619 days as IC Champ from both reigns is still the longest combined reign in WWE history.
#7. The Miz
Love him or hate him (and most seem to be in the latter), The Miz has made the Intercontinental Championship “must see TV” again for the first time in years. His nearly year long run as IC Champ in 2016 (broken into two reigns) established him as one of the very best heels in the industry today and his shoot comments, both on Talking Smack and in promos on television became viral sensations. Now that he’s the flag bearer on Raw – and with WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar off hunting in Canada – The Miz has an opportunity once again to make the IC strap the most watched title on Raw.
#6. Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart
Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart only held the strap twice before heading off to the World Championship scene, but his two runs as Intercontinental Champion perfectly showcased that technical ability could be as big a draw in the WWF as character gimmicks. His feud with Mr. Perfect to win his first IC title is required viewing for any wrestling fan and more often than not stole whichever show it was on. During his second reign, he had established the IC title as the title to follow, resulting in his match versus The British Bulldog for the title headlining SummerSlam ’92 to a whopping 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in London, England. The Intercontinental title, following reigns from Hart and Perfect, would go on to arguably it’s most prestigious era ever in the New Generation and early Attitude Era thanks to the foundations established with the match qualities started by those two.
#5. Mr. Perfect
Like they say, it takes two to tango. If Bret Hart’s two reigns helped slingshot the IC title to greater prestige in the mid-90’s, it was the work that Curt Hennig – aka Mr Perfect – did in building it when he captured the vacant title in 1990 in a tournament final against Tito Santana. The IC strap had come off a disappointing run from the Ultimate Warrior (who had vacated it after beating Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania VI that year), with it seemingly becoming a gimmick belt. But Perfect’s technical prowess established it as the belt for the workhorses, defending it frequently against some of the best mat technicians in the WWF. He feuded with Kerry Von Erich during his first reign, but it was his textbook classics versus Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart than finally showed the world that technical wrestling, if done properly, could steal the show. And in the process, made the Intercontinental Championship one of the most prestigious belts in the company.
#4. Razor Ramon
Make way for the Bad Guy. Razor Ramon – the Scarface inspired persona of Scott Hall – was a Superstar whether he was a heel or a face, becoming one of the most popular Superstars of the New Generation. He claimed his first Intercontinental title by defeating ‘The Model’ Rick Martel in a match to fill the vacant championship (Shawn Michaels had been stripped of the title for a wellness policy violation). When Michaels returned, the two engaged in an epic feud that culminated in the Ladder Match at WrestleMania X to determine the undisputed Intercontinental Champion, which Razor won. Feuds with Diesel, Jeff Jarrett and Goldust earned him three more titles, making Ramon one of the 90s most dominant Intercontinental Champions.
#3. The Honky Tonk Man
For 454 days – from June 2, 1987, when he took the title from Ricky Steamboat, until his loss to the Ultimate Warrior on August 28, 1989 – there was no one who could dethrone The Honky Tonk Man for his Intercontinental Championship. He fought back challenges from Randy Savage and Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake, as well as months of battles with the Warrior, before the Warrior finally bested him in 1989. To date, Honky Tonk Man still holds the record for longest individual reign as Intercontinental Champion, a feat that definitely makes him one of the top IC champs in history.
#2. Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage
For many new fans to the WWF in the 80’s Rock N’ Wrestling, the crowning of ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage as Intercontinental Champion in 1986 was a turning point for the title and the company. For many of the younger fans, it was a changing of the guard – prior champs like Pedro Morales, Pat Patterson and such were holdovers from the heyday of the 1970s. Tito Santana – the man Savage defeated for the title – was a popular Superstar in his own right, but no one had the pomp and circumstance that ‘Macho Man’ brought to the title. With the endearing Miss Elizabeth as his side, it was hard to cheer against a talent so entertaining and athletic as Randy Savage, despite him being a heel. By the time his 414 day reign ended – at the classic match with Ricky Steamboat from WrestleMania III – Savage had raised the prestige of the title so much that he himself was now primed for the main event. The next WrestleMania, he would win the World Championship. It was Randy’s success that branded the IC strap as a gateway to the main event, rather than a consolation prize for elder statesmen.
#1. Chris Jericho
Okay, so it may seem like we here at Last Word on Pro Wrestling may have a man-crush on Chris Jericho, as we declared him as the best graduate from ECW last week. But the man simply defined the Intercontinental Championship for the past two decades. He’s held the title a record nine times, still two more than The Miz. But while the IC had long been regarded as the stepping stone title to the World Championship main event, Chris Jericho became the first wrestler in history to successfully return to the IC hunt following a run as World Champion. Jericho was already a four time IC Champion when he captured his first WWE Championship – the same night he unified it with the WCW World Heavyweight Championship to become the first Undisputed World Champion – but he would go on to win the title four more times after becoming a main event player. Since Jericho, other wrestlers like Triple H, Daniel Bryan, JBL, Ric Flair and Dean Ambrose would go after the IC title again after tasting World Championship gold, but it was Jericho who made the IC title it’s own entity that was equally worth winning and not just a stepping stone.
Obviously lists like these are subjective so let us know in the comments below! Who are your favourite Intercontinental Champions of all time? Let us know!
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