Throwback Thursday: Best of The Intercontinental Championship, As Seen on WWE Network

September 1, 2016 by Brock Allen

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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.

Best of the Intercontinental Championship on WWE Network
WWE - Rey Mysterio with Intercontinental Championship Belt

To celebrate the 37th anniversary of one of professional wrestling’s all-time great championships, Throwback Thursday on 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

Best of the Intercontinental Championship on WWE Network - Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan

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

Best of the Intercontinental Championship on WWE Network - Marty Jannetty Wins IC Title

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

Best of the Intercontinental Championship on WWE Network - Randy Orton Posing with IC Title

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

Best of the Intercontinental Championship on WWE Network - Rey Mysterio beats Chris Jericho for IC Title

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

Best of the Intercontinental Championship on WWE Network - Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose, Last Man Standing Match

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.


Final Thoughts

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.

Best of the Intercontinental Championship on WWE Network
WWE - Dolph Ziggler with Intercontinental Championship Belt

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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Watch the storied history of the Intercontinental Championship (and see it defended at BACKLASH) only on WWE Network. Your first month is FREE! Click here to subscribe to WWE Network.

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11 Comments left on this article...

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  1. Kay says:

    Great list!! Minor point, but the PWI 1993 Match of the Year was the Shawn/Marty rematch on July 19th with the instant replay (I cross-checked the issue itself to make sure I wasn’t misremembering it).

    Another strongly recommended title match!

  2. LP1 says:

    Another good article. You mentioned how the September 1, 1979 is suspect because Patterson was acknowledged as champion in August of 1979. That’s correct. Patterson was actually declared the IC Champion on the August 25, 1979 episode of “WWF Championship Wrestling”. The episode was taped 3 days earlier on August 22nd. During that episode Vince McMahon interviews Pat Patterson and the Grand Wizard at ringside and that’s when the Wizard explains how Patterson won the fictitious tournament in Rio De Janeiro. The Wizard actually says Pat won the tournament “last week”. So by their own storylines, he won the belt even earlier than the August 25th episode. Vince asks Patterson about the North American Title and Patterson says he doesn’t care what they do with that belt. The clip is on either Youtube or Dailymotion as I remember seeing it about a year ago.

    As for why lists September 1, 1979 as the day Patterson won the title, I have no idea.’s whole title history section is a complete mess. Either way I love these throwback columns every week, Brock. Brings back great memories. Good stuff.

    • Brock Allen says:

      Thank you, LP1, that means a lot. I think the mess surrounding the debut of the IC title shows just how important kayfabe was to the business. I’m sure someone said, “Why can’t we just debut a new strap?” But in that era where keeping the illusion of reality alive was still the most important thing, that was just not possible. But still, what a goofy way of doing it. While I still believe there’s a place for kayfabe in the modern product, especially with social media, I can’t see it ever being an excuse for good judgement the way it was 40 years ago.

      Again, thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. Bringing back memories and highlighting history is what these articles are all about. Half the fun is the research. One thread leads to another and another. Not an article goes by where I don’t learn something about this business that I didn’t know before, and I hope I can do the same for you, the reader. Sometimes, like last week, you guys teach me something, and that’s even better. Take care, LP1.

      • Justin says:

        If you read Road Warrior Animals book, a similar story is talked about. I believe Ole Anderson was booker & it basically was “We have this new tag title, were going to have The Road Warriors win them so were going to say The Road Warriors won a tournament to win them to explain a reason on why you have them.” And yet again it was a made up tournament that never happened.

  3. Nicolas Hébert says:

    Bret Hart and Mr. Perfect face off again in the semi-final of the King of the Ring in 1993. Another unbelievable match. But the Summerslam 1991 match was the best!

  4. Anan says:

    I agree about WM10 being left off. There’s other IC Title matches that are deserving of being on a list such as this. But I really can’t disagree with what ended up being on the list.

    Steamboat vs Savage, Bret Hart vs Perfect, Warrior vs Hogan are among some of the best IC title matches in history. Jannetty vs Michaels was a great one for TV. Hardy vs Nitro was a great rivalry that produced some great bouts. Kidd vs Cesaro vs Ziggler had 3 underutlized talents putting on one of the best SD matches. Mysterio vs Jericho, I loved that rivalry. Ambrose vs KO’s Last Man Standing which served as the Royal Rumble opener this past January has to be one of the best PPV openers from a non-wrestling classic perspective.

    The thing is some matches deserve to be on multiple lists. Bret vs Bulldog, the closing match of Summerslam 92. It’s an IC title match that was on the Best of Summerslam list. But deserves to be on this list too. I suspect it was left off because it was already on last week’s list.

    What I’m surprised about is no Goldust match. He’s one of the best IC Champions, multi-time holder of that title. Same goes for Owen Hart. Yet neither are on this list. Austin, a WWE HOF’er whose IC title runs continued the launching of his career which began with his 1996 KOTR win. Yet none of his matches are here. No Shamrock vs Rock either and that was not only one of Shamrock’s best rivalry, but one of the better rivalries of 1998 and the whole Attitude Era. HHH vs Rock, 2 out of 3 falls from Fully Loaded 98, missing also. However when you have only 10 matches out of so many for a particular list, obviously some great ones will be left off. I”m not sure why the chosen limit is 10, all things considered. Still, great job on the list 🙂

    • Brock Allen says:

      Hello, Anan. I’m glad you liked the article.

      Firstly, yes Bulldog/Bret didn’t make this list because it was featured last week. As a DVD collector nothing gets under my skin more than a lazy, unoriginal match list that relies on repeats for padding. I also think it’s an insult to you, the reader, not to come up with an original list or to repeat a match that was used just 7 days ago. In fact the reason the Orton/Foley hardcore match didn’t make the cut because it was featured in April, I believe, in a ‘street fights, wars, and bloodbaths’ TBT prior to Extreme Rules. Avoiding repeats also forces me, the author, to think outside the box.

      Secondly, I made sure that only one match per wrestler, whether champion or challenger, was featured on the list. Just as the SummerSlam TBT could have easily been the Bret Hart or Undertaker show, this TBT could have been all Randy Savage, Bret Hart, and Chris Jericho. To me, that’s not a fun article, even if all the matches are classics. I also made a conscious effort to feature 5 “WWF” and 5 “WWE” so as not to have a ’90s- or 2000s-heavy article. I also tried to cover as much ground as possible from 1979 to 2016. Choosing the matches for some of these articles, like this one, is often the hardest part. And sometimes thinking outside the box and finding a hidden gem is more important than hitting the big ones everyone already knows (WM X, Fully Loaded 2/3, Owen/Austin, etc). For some subjects, like HIAC, repeated superstars and matches are unavoidable.

      Lastly, the “Best Of…” articles feature ten or sometime eight matches because it makes the most sense. I don’t do honorable mentions for the same reason. None of the lists are definitive and none of them are personal. I go into each list with a clear head and my own fandom on the back burner. These TBTs aren’t about me or what I like.

      Anyways, like I said, I’m glad you liked the article and took the time to leave a comment. Take care!

      • Anan says:

        Understood and agree with your points 🙂

        Regarding DVD repeats…..I get your view here and on one hand, agree with it totally. There’s been several repeats of matches on many sets. But I have to question that the possibility that WWE puts themselves into a corner where repeats are in. When you feature a 2 disc (or 3 if you’re still into DVD’s) and it’s one one topic whether that be a Superstar, a match, etc, unless you’re a wrestling purist or fan, or a fan of a specific match or talent that you want to see the hidden gems, humble beginnings, etc, you want to see the big matches which are the repeats. How many times have we seen HBK/Razor, WM10 released? Many times. But as much as it was repeated, it was repeated on the right sets. Is it lazy? Maybe, probably. But that doesn’t hide the fact that it fits. I would not want repetitions i it did not fit the set. If it does, I’m ok with it because you have disc space to fill up content with. That is now more so than before as their docs are noticeably a shorter length of time as opposed to past docs. The only way (seemingly) a whole DVD will be fresh is if it’s an Unreleased set like Vol.3 of The Attitude Era. They have the library to release Unreleased sets one after another however they wish to do that if they so choose. I think with The Network being their prime priority, discs are slowly but surely being phased out as the majority of us consume media digitally now.

        • Brock Allen says:

          I agree on the DVD repeats that they don’t have much of a choice at times. When it comes to the TBTs, I like to use as much of the Network vault as possible in a given article. Some TBTs have links to nearly 20 matches including the ten or eight that are featured. Anyways, I agree that there is fine line between necessity and laziness. Good points.

  5. Ruthless.Attitude.Eras.4Life says:

    Where’s WM X Ladder match!? Just asking.. 😉

    Great picks.. personally, my all time favorite IC champ match – along with the Title vs Title at WM 6 – is the Backlash 2004 hardcore masterpiece between Orton and Foley.
    After the horrible disappointing handicap match at XX, Foley truly put Orton in what is one of Mick’s greatest and certainly Ortons best matches.