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Guest Column: The K Files – History of the Intercontinental Championship

Welcome back to another edition of The K Files. I’m your host, Dr. David K bringing you some background on the history of the Intercontinental belt. We’re on the brink of the Elimination Chamber PPV where there will be the throw-away match between Kane and champion Drew McIntyre. Rather than look at the two careers of these two, let’s focus on the prize that is going to come to the winner of this bout

The Intercontinental Championship came into existence in 1979, when Pat Patterson “defeated” Ted DiBiase Sr. (in a tournament that never really happened) to unite both the WWF North American Heavyweight Championship and the South American Heavyweight Championship. Neither of these belts saw much glory on their own, as Ted Dibiase was awarded the N.A. Heavy Championship when he signed with the WWF three months earlier. What came from this merger, however, would be a lineage of wrestlers that would be known as some of the Legends of today. Early reigns of the belt were considerably longer than reigns of it’s competition over in WCW with the United States Championship. From September 1979 until April of 1990, there were 15 different Intercontinental Champions … while in WCW there were 27. The belt had a bit of honor to it, as champions who had Intercontinental gold were looked upon with dignity like the World Champion. Matches such as Steamboat/Savage at Wrestlemania III, Bret Hart/Mr. Perfect at Summerslam 1991, Michaels/Razor Ramon Ladder Match at Wrestlemania X are on the top of many All Time Great lists.

Unfortunately, time’s change, and so must the belts. When the WCW merger happened, the flood of talent would split the WWE into two brands, and the Intercontinental belt became the third/fourth belt to be sought after. It became more about holding gold rather than holding this belt with so much history. Sure, most wrestlers don’t want to be in the same sentence with the Honky Tonk Man or Ahmed Johnson. But guys like Pedro Morales, Don Muraco, Tito Santana, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Chris Jericho, HHH … these guys were among the many that gave it dignity. They weren’t using it as a step-stool into the limelight … when they wore the belt, they did it knowing that was the big show. That’s when they knew they made it.

There were some notable feuds that made the belt prestiguous as it was, and while the biggest feud for the belt will always be contested, it’s hard to forget the nasty feud that led to the match at Wrestlemania III between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat. Both Pro Wrestling Illustrated and the Wrestling Observer would name this 1987’s Match of the Year. This was Steamboat’s first taste of gold in the WWF, and would end the 414 day reign of Savage (one of 4 men to hold the belt for over a year). The nasty feud that involved a storyline injury to Steamboat’s larynx would span from November of ’86 to their instant classic in March of ’97. Neither man would hold the belt again after these reigns, however their feud put the title into the Main Event picture.

In the modern era, it’s hard to find any champion greater than Chris Jericho, the penultimate Intercontinental champion. While many would consider this an opinion, nobody held the belt more than he did with nine reigns. During his 318 days of holding the belt, he would defend it against greats like Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Jeff Hardy, and Rey Mysterio. At the time, the Main Event picture was full with guys like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and The Undertaker … but Jericho was used to stealing the spotlight in a different role. When he spent time in WCW, he was considered a cruiserweight, and stole the show with matches with Malenko, Guerrero, and Mysterio. He did what was good for business, a trait he still has to this day.

While we may or may not see Jericho with that title around his waist, the unfortunate reality now is the belt is just a placeholder on Smackdown. Instead of writing meaningful feuds behind the belt, it’s often looked at as a joke, as in the case of Santino Marella’s mocking of the Honky Tonk Man during his title reign. This sideshow act made the belt the Bronze medal of the WWE, rather than a tool to create a whole group of guys who could elevate eachother. It’s hard to say at this point if the belt will ever be brought back to the level of respect it once had, but watching a five-time winner of the Wrestling Observers Worst Feud of the Year compete with an upstart rookie with a bright future IS NOT the answer. Hopefully we’ll see something good at Wrestlemania, and a turn of luck for the title.

With that being said, here are some interesting notes and stats from the title. Remember as always to comment and leave as much feedback as possible, good or bad. I’m taking emails of suggestions and comments at MLBTopProspect@gmail.com, and follow the ongoing saga between me and Serena on Twitter, @DaveTheAwesome. It’s not nearly as interesting as John’s, but maybe eventually I’ll get my response from her. (NOTE FROM JOHN: YOU CAN DO IT!) Until next week, thanks for reading.

– Has been merged with titles over time, but now is a combination of the South American Heavyweight Championship, North American Heavyweight Championship, European Championship, and Hardcore Championship.

– Was merged with both the US Championship, and the World Heavyweight Championship, only to be later divided back into individual entities.

– 6 Members of each the Raw and Smackdown rosters has held the title, as well as 4 from the ECW roster

– Title has been vacated 8 times.

– The title has switched hands 7 times in February of the 126 total title changes

– St. Louis has seen two title changes, once in a tournament final with Owen Hart over Faarooq, and once with Edge over Christian in a ladder match

– Ironically, the title has switched hands in Europe 4 times

– Chyna is the only female to hold the belt, having held it 2.5 times. The half time was when she was co-champion with Chris Jericho, although this is not recognized officially by WWE

– Shawn Michaels officially forfeited the title in October, 1995 after being legitimately attacked outside of a nightclub in Syracuse, NY

– Ric Flair was the oldest to hold the title, at age 56, while Jeff Hardy was the youngest at 23 years old

– Carlito won the title on his first night as a part of the Raw roster

– The strap for the belt itself has seen many colors, from Gold, Purple, Blue, White, Black, Green, and Yellow

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  1. February 19, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    The IC title has always been my favorite belt. When I was a kid Razor Ramon was the the consistent champion, and for a while he was my favorite wrestler. I also really liked the design of the belt, and it really stuck out to me as something worth having. I completely agree with you that the brand extension kind of ruined it, but I think the damage began in 1999. In the build up to WrestleMania XV Shamrock, Val Venis, and Road Dogg, and Goldust all held the belt in the course of a few weeks. Then they gave it to the Godfather. Then Chyna. The hill starts here and the bottom still hasn’t been reached.

    But, regardless I saved up and bought a replica IC belt in 2001, and I will never forget who the champion was the day I received it…fucking Albert. I bought a replica Intercontinental belt and got it when Albert was champion. It’s locked in my basement now along with the other items from my past I’m ashamed of…Kris Kross Cd’s, laser dics player, and mentally retarded family members I keep chained.

  2. Ralph Emerson
    February 19, 2010 at 12:22 PM

    Aren’t there seven people on smackdown who have held the title or where you not counting drew? (Edge, Jericho, CM Punk, Rey Mysterio, Kane, John Morrison, and Mcintyre)

    • Anonymous
      February 19, 2010 at 5:21 PM

      At the time of writing, Edge wasn’t listed on the official Smackdown Roster

  3. sheffield mark#1
    February 19, 2010 at 12:59 PM

    as much as i understood in doing internet research is that the tournament in brazil was fictious, as fictious as the WWE South-america championship. another thing i dont get, if patterson unified the two america championships, how did he manage to loose the North-America championship to Seiji Sakaguchi in November 79 ?

  4. Aaron
    February 19, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    The belt did have a lot of meaning. It was belt that elevated guys in my childhood (Savage, Steamboat, Warrior, Bret, Michaels, etc) and the championship title defenses and changes were some of the better matches ever. Bret/Bulldog Summerlsam ’92 is one of the ebst matches in history. Yes, THAT good.

    I remember being fascinated by the color changes of the belt that Warrior did, Goldust changing the strap to gold, Shawn usually running with the white strap.. Seems like it mattered. Wasn’t soon after they change the design (while Rock held it I believe, his second run) that the title also started to go downhill. The design of the late 80’s to the middle/late 90’s was the best design. But I remember when they changed the design, it looked SMALLER. Almost making it seem less important.

    It’s a new day (No Legacy pun intended) and there’s just too many titles. Th IC title was the only bel to have nexto the World title… HOnestly, the World title(s) are losing their meaning as well.. and Vince I think likes it in a way. Maybe titles are just an old and dated philosophy like Survivor Series and ECW in crazy Vince’s twisted head.

  5. widowmaker
    February 19, 2010 at 11:37 PM

    totally disagree on the belts. Rename the ecw belt(i.e call it the Canadian belt)and bring back the European belt on each brand and the reasons are :

    1) Letting the lesser midcards/rookies have the 3rd tier ones gives the secondary belts more prestige and the rub that used to go with it, plus refreshes the king of the ring.
    2) Way too many people on each brand to showcase over a couple of belts and a tag belt.
    3) WWE every year is making more and excursions into Europe. Need some kind of tangible payback that euro fans can buy into. Just keep it off the pay per views instead of the IC plus they love canada.

    • Oxide
      February 20, 2010 at 1:07 AM

      Whoa, dude/gal/robot, if they did that, then they would have to continue having 8 matches at Night of Champions. And if you look at the past, they went from 9 Championships to 8 within NoC 2007 and NoC 2008, and then 8 titles to 7 between Noc 2008 and NoC 2010. So if this pattern keeps up, then they will have cut down to 6 belts by the time we hit Night of Champions 2013! Undisputed Women’s Championship anyone?

  6. Brian W.
    February 20, 2010 at 1:09 AM

    I’ve been following wrestling for about 23 years, and I remember a point where the IC title had such prestige the holder of it was all but offically recognized as the number one contender to the World title. I specifically recall IC champ “Macho Man” Randy Savage vehemently mentioning this quite often, and this assertion was taken quite seriously. Savage’s reign as IC champ was a highpoint in many fans’ opinion, as he seemed to hold the belt is nearly as high regard as the World Championship, and many agreed with him, which was a huge thing considering Hulk Hogan was in the midst of his reign at the time.

  7. Oxide
    February 20, 2010 at 1:20 AM

    Hey Dr.K, how about a number on how many people left the WWE/F after losing the Intercontinental Championship? Jarrett, JBL, that’s two. Anyone else?

    ~ WARNING!!! Dr. David K is only a fictional character and probably does not have a doctorate-level degree. TAKE HIS KNOWLEDGE AS TRUTH AT YOUR OWN RISK! ~

    ^Insurance^
    Just in case you mess up your facts, doc. XP

  8. David M.
    February 20, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    Good article, but please check the meaning of “penultimate”- it means second to last in a sequence, not the superlative of “ultimate” (so the penultimate IC holder is John Morrison). That’s my only gripe, and that’s because I’m a nerd :)

  9. Brian Scalabrinyy
    February 20, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    Who are your favourite IC champs?

    some of mine:

    Bret Hart
    The Mountie (I’m not sure why)
    Mr Perfect
    Shawn Michaels
    Razor Ramon
    The Rock
    Y2J

    It’s lame that I can probably think of more wrestlers who I thought were bad IC champions than good. I even think Drew Mcintyre got it too soon. I should be exclusive to upper midcarders like Jo Mo, Rey Mysterio, CM Punk, Jericho, Sheamus, Christian, Kofi (roster split permitting).

    & the square design was way better than the ugly oval shape now!

  10. sim
    February 20, 2010 at 1:22 PM

    I don’t think Santino was mocking Honky Tonk Man per say but was his way of saying Honky Tonk Man is the greatest IC Champion until he won the title and now Santino will prove he is better than Honky Tonk Man by keeping the title longer than the Honky Tonk Man.

    If that story was done properly, it would have done wonders for Santino and the the title.

  11. Anon
    February 23, 2010 at 12:31 PM

    I’m the mountie. I’m handsome I’m brave and I’m strong. I’m the mountie. And I enforce the law.

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