37 years ago today the World Wrestling Federation debuted what would become the company’s most beloved title when the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship was introduced.
The “official” story goes that Pat Patterson, then the WWF North American Heavyweight Champion, won a one night tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on September 1, 1979 to unify the WWF’s North and South American Heavyweight titles, creating the new Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship (the champion of North and South America).
In truth, there was no tournament or match of any kind, not even an overseas show, and there never was a South American Heavyweight title. Pat Patterson, who had defeated North American Champion Ted DiBiase sometime between June 25 – July 2, 1979 to win the title, was simply given the new strap. The date is also suspect as Pat Patterson was advertised as being the Intercontinental Champion in August of ’79. As for the North American title? Well, that stayed active until 1981, in Japan, with only Seiji Sakaguchi ever holding the title.
To celebrate the 37th anniversary of one of professional wrestling’s all-time great championships, Throwback Thursday on WrestlingDVDNetwork.com journeys through the WWE Network archives to look at 10 of the greatest IC title matches of all-time, as well as a few hidden gems.
— WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:41:09)
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat w/George “The Animal” Steele vs. Randy “Macho Man” Savage(c) w/Miss Elizabeth
WWF WrestleMania III ? March 29, 1987
No list of great Intercontinental Championship matches would be complete without what many consider to be the greatest Intercontinental title match ever. While it was Hogan and Andre that brought the crowd to the Pontiac Silverdome, the most anticipated match of the night was the bitter Championship showdown between the late Champion Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat. After months of build-up fans were anxious to see the conclusion of the deeply personal story. They were not disappointed, as fans around the world were treated to a wrestling masterpiece. 29 years later the match continues to hold up as one the sport’s greatest matches and the benchmark all Intercontinental successors, for better or worse, are judged against. The match was voted the “Match of the Year” from both the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
— “Title For Title Ultimate Challenge Match: Winner Take All” (WATCH – 3:01:10)
Ultimate Warrior(WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion) vs. Hulk Hogan(WWF World Heavyweight Champion)
WWF WrestleMania VI: The Ultimate Challenge ? April 1, 1990
There may be no bigger match in the 37-year history of the Intercontinental Championship than this match from WrestleMania VI. Hulk Hogan was unquestionably the most popular WWF World Champion in the Federation’s then-27-year history while the late-Ultimate Warrior, the 13th Intercontinental Champion, was undoubtedly the most popular champion of the title’s near 11-year existence. In one of WrestleMania’s biggest matches the Intercontinental Champion prevailed, knocking off his one-time partner and claiming the WWF Championship world for himself. Though the match faced many hurdles, it exceeded expectations and created the kind of “WrestleMania Moment” that can never be reproduced. This match was voted “Match of the Year” by the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
— WWF Intercontinental Championship (WATCH – 16:09)
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. Mr. Perfect(c)
WWF SummerSlam 1991 ? August 26, 1991
Generally speaking, there are three Intercontinental Championship matches that most fans agree on are the very best: Savage/Steamboat from WrestleMania III; Bret Hart/Davey Boy from SummerSlam ’92, spotlighted last week in TBT’s look back at the best of SummerSlam; and this match from SummerSlam ’91. As good as this match is, it almost never happened. The late Curt Hennig hurt his lower back in the early-summer of 1991, leaving Hennig unable to even work out. As a result, Bret was responsible for selling the match on TV with Hennig only good for pre-taped matches and promos. The match, though, went off largely without a hitch. Bret carried his friend Hennig and brought the best out of the wounded champion to create a true masterpiece of wrestling; a match that still holds up to this day. This match was voted the first runner-up by the readers of PWI for 1991 “Match of the Year”.
— WWF Intercontinental Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 35:50)
Marty Jannetty vs. Shawn Michaels(c)
WWF Monday Night RAW #17 ? May 17, 1993
HBK and Marty Jannetty were to have feuded into WrestleMania VIII after Jannetty returned from the “injuries” sustained in The Rocker’s “Barbershop” breakup. But 6-months under house arrest for a fight with a police officer, and a charge of drug possession, put the kibosh on the angle and, for the moment, Jannetty’s WWF career. Jannetty would return to the WWF in late 1992 to finish the breakup angle but was once again fired after HBK and Jannetty’s Royal Rumble ’93 showdown for allegedly being under the influence. Jannetty would make a surprise return, however, on the May 17, 1993 edition of RAW during Shawn Michaels’ in-ring promo (10:07), setting up this classic match for later in the night. It was voted “Match of the Year” by the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
— WWF Intercontinental Championship (WATCH – 1:03)
Rocky Maivia vs. Hunter Hearst Helmsley(c)
WWF Thursday RAW Thursday LIVE ? February 13, 1997
This hidden gem took place three days before HHH was to defend the Intercontinental title against Ahmed Johnson at In You House 13: Final Four. Few, if any, expected Rocky Maivia to win the title much less steal the show, but that’s exactly what happened, becoming the youngest man to that point to win the coveted Intercontinental title in the process. As a result of Maivia winning the title the two would face-off again at IYH 13, where Rocky picked up another win. Though the angle would end after IYH 13, it was far from the end for Maivia and Helmsley. In reality this was the start of Helmsley’s push towards the “King of the Ring”, a push that was canceled the year before after the infamous “Curtain Call”. This match, however, remains an early classic in the WWF careers of both men, and a sign of the greatness to come.
— WWE Intercontinental Championship (WATCH – 1:11:56)
Edge vs. Randy Orton(c)
WWE Vengeance 2004 ? July 11, 2004
Edge had been out for over 13 months with the first serious neck injury of his career when he returned to challenge Randy Orton for the Intercontinental title. While Randy Orton is best remembered by today’s fans as a 12-time World Champion, Orton was, for a time, a tremendous Intercontinental Champion, returning the Intercontinental title to prominence after years of mediocrity while becoming the longest reigning Intercontinental Champion since The Rock’s 265-day reign in 1997 – 1998. Orton moved on the next month to become the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history at SummerSlam while Edge’s 5th Intercontinental title run, the 100th in the title’s history, was cut short in September by a groin injury.
— WWE Intercontinental Championship – “Ladder Match” (WATCH – 26:09)
Johnny Nitro w/Melina vs. Jeff Hardy(c)
WWE Monday Night RAW #704 ? November 20, 2006
Six days before Johnny Nitro and Jeff Hardy would meet at Survivor Series 2006 on opposite teams as part of “Team Rated RKO” and “Team DX”, respectively, the two squared off in a classic ladder match for Hardy’s Intercontinental Championship. This was Johnny Nitro’s first ladder match in WWE, but it certainly didn’t show. This often overlooked classic stole the show and established Johnny Nitro as a future singles star in WWE.
— WWE Intercontinental Championship – “Mask vs. Title Match” (WATCH – 24:11)
Rey Mysterio vs. Chris Jericho(c)
WWE The Bash 2009 ? June 28, 2009
The war between Jericho and Mysterio started on the May 1, 2009 edition of Friday Night SmackDown (currently unavailable on the Network) when Jericho got himself disqualified in a four-way World Heavyweight Championship number one contender’s match for hitting Rey with a steel chair. The two would face at Judgment Day 2009 where Jericho tried to removed Rey’s mask, but was unable to take the title. The next month at Extreme Rules the two would clash again, this time in a “No Holds Barred” match, where Jericho, after removing Rey’s mask, won his record 9th, and to date final, Intercontinental title of his Hall of Fame career, setting up this classic rubber match at The Bash. The mask gimmick had been done so many times that there was a genuine feeling that this time would be it, but it was not to be. Not only did these two steal the show, they reestablished themselves as major players in WWE. This marked Rey’s second and, to date, final Intercontinental title win, a reign that would last only 65-days.
— WWE Intercontinental Championship – “Triple Threat Elimination Match” (WATCH – 40:23)
Tyson Kidd vs. Cesaro vs. Dolph Ziggler(c)
WWE Friday Night SmackDown! #795 ? November 14, 2014 (TAPED: November 11, 2014)
No one expected this match, taking place 9 days before Survivor Series 2014 and on an overseas edition of Friday Night SmackDown!, to be much of anything beyond filler. What fans got, however, was an instant classic that blew the roof off the Echo Arena in Liverpool, and proved the three wrestlers in this match were for real. Full of great wrestling, solid psychology, and tremendous drama, this must-see classic is easily one of the greatest Intercontinental Championship matches of the last 5 years.
— WWE Intercontinental Championship – “Last Man Standing Match” (WATCH – 5:19)
Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose(c)
WWE Royal Rumble 2016 ? January 24, 2016
Dean Ambrose dethroned Kevin Owens at TLC 2015 in December, ending Owens death grip on the title at 84-days. The feud went nuclear as the new year began, leading to Ambrose challenging Owens to a “Last Man Standing” match to settle the score once and for all. Fans were anticipating something special and were treated to a hardcore classic that featured the kind of psychology and hatred rarely seen in WWE in 2016. A “Match of the Year” candidate, Owens and Ambrose stole show and further cemented their status as the future of the WWE.
There are few professional wrestling title belts as beloved as the Intercontinental Championship. As recent matches have shown, the spirit of the title is alive and well, with the competition to be champion as high as it’s been in years. Even during the down times the Intercontinental Championship has remained one of, if not the, most beloved championship in all of WWE.
That’s all for TBT this week, thanks for reading! If you’re already signed up for the WWE Network, check out these 10 classic IC title matches and leave us your comments below.
Until next week, see ya at ringside!
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