With the renewed interest in the WWE Women’s and (to a lesser extent) Tag Team Titles, the historically mid-card titles in WWE have seemed to fall even further down the totem pole. This is a truly sad phenomenon considering the storied history of the Intercontinental Title with WWE. In analyzing both the losses and successes of this title, it is interesting to note the men (and one woman) who have held this prestigious title.
As such, this list will list the 8 best, and 7 worst Intercontinental Champions of all time. Covering over three decades of WWE wrestling, the Intercontinental Championship has been a huge part of pro wrestling history. On this list, you will see WWE Hall of Famers as well as little known wrestlers. By analyzing which of these superstars have been the best (and worst) Intercontinental Champs, perhaps we can decipher exactly what elements lead to successful IC Title runs, and eventually allow us to revive this now floundering title.
15. Best: Jeff Jarret
Many of you recent WWE fans may not even know who Jeff Jarret is, but in the late 90’s-early 2000’s he was one of WWE’s rising stars and a staple of its flourishing mid-card. Due to his position in the mid-card, Jarret obviously had plenty of chances to get acclimated to the traditional mid-card title, the Intercontinental Championship. In fact, during his relatively short time with WWE, Jarret would win the Intercontinental Title an astounding 6 times. This puts him in the realm of the all-time leader Chris Jericho, who has managed to win the title on 9 separate occasions (though admittedly over a much longer period of time). Had Jarret not decided to leave the WWE for greener pastures (greener pastures being a generous way of painting the horribly managed TNA), who knows how much he would have impacted the legacy of the IC Title.
14. Worst: Rikishi
To start out our list of the worst all-time IC champs, Rikishi is a perfect example of what makes for an unsuccessful title reign. For starters, Rikishi was the champion for 14 days. For those of you unfamiliar with the weekly schedule of WWE, that means that Rikishi won the title on Smackdown, and then a mere two shows later lost the title. This means that there was only a single Smackdown where Rikishi held the title for the entire show. While this list isn’t entirely predicated on time spent as champion, it’s hard to be a memorable champ in such a short amount of time. Rikishi’s a perfect example of this as his reign is entirely forgettable, thus earning his spot here.
13. Best: The Ultimate Warrior
I felt that the Ultimate Warrior deserved to be on this list of good Intercontinental Champions largely because of the way that he elevated the IC Championship to the main event scene. As most of you know, the IC and United States Titles are considered “mid-card championships”. This means that they are singles titles meant for those wrestlers who have not quite made their way into the more important main event story lines. The Ultimate Warrior, however, would challenge this longtime practice as his monumental rise while holding the mid-card IC Title would force WWE to place the Championship on a stage which had never been seen in the modern era. The Ultimate Warrior would eventually have to vacate the IC Title in his quest for the much more coveted World Title, but in that short period, he certainly raised the prestige of this traditionally overlooked title.
12. Worst: Triple H
Triple H is a future WWE Hall of Famer and one of the most influential superstars in the history of WWE. It may be surprising, therefore, to see him on our list of worst WWE Intercontinental Champions. The reason the King of King graces the bad side of our list is that his IC Title reign in 2002 is the perfect example of how a mid-card title should not be treated. Triple H won the title that year as part of his ongoing feud with the Big Red Monster Kane. Triple H was World Heavyweight Champion at the time, so when he defeated his nemesis for the IC Title, the two titles were unified, thus essentially eliminating the Intercontinental Title. We can look back at moments like this and clearly see the devolution of this Championship from its peak in the early 90’s.
11. Best: Bret Hart
If you’re going to talk about the best all-time Intercontinental champions, it would probably be wise to include the superstars who were most responsible for elevating the title to its prime heights in the early 90’s. One such superstar was obviously the most famous star of the early 90’s, Bret “the Hitman” Hart. With his traditional technical mastery, Hart was the superstar who kind of defined who the Intercontinental Champ should be.
I think Bret truly embodies the soul of the stereotypical IC champ as an incredibly talented guy who for whatever reason didn’t get the attention from WWE management that he deserved, at least at the time. Thankfully, as we are sure you know, Hart would eventually gain recognition from the WWE for his accomplishments and is considered to be one of their more cherished superstars.
10. Worst: Ken Shamrock
The reason Ken Shamrock makes our list of bad WWE Intercontinental Champions is because the former MMA fighter was able to mess up not only the outstanding traditional of the Intercontinental Title but also because he did so after being set up spectacularly by WWE management. A bonafide star in his own right by the time he made it to WWE, the company tried to fast-track Shamrock by having him win a tournament for the Intercontinental Title after it had been vacated earlier that month. The problem with this is that Shamrock wasn’t a very compelling pro wrestler. As such he never connected with the fans and ends up being one of the most disappointing IC champs in recent memory.
9. Best: Honky Tonk Man
The Honky Tonk man may not have the accolades or big name recognition of other superstars who have dominated the Intercontinental Title scene, but this does not mean that he was any less influential in shaping the future of this prestigious title. An established heel wrestler, during Honky Tonk Man’s historic title reign (which amazingly lasted for over 300 days), he became a legitimate thorn in the side of the WWE Universe. The fans ardently hated (the sign of any good heel) this crappy Elvis impersonator, but he somehow always managed to win when his coveted title was on the line. Thus leading the fans to absolutely erupt when he would finally lose the title to another wrestler named on the good side of this list, the Ultimate Warrior.
8. Worst: Curtis Axel
If you clicked on this article hoping to see horrible superstars that WWE mistakenly pushed enough to grant the prestigious Intercontinental Title, I present to you your sacrificial offering. When Curtis Axel debuted as part of the (soon debunked) New Nexus, it was with a considerable amount of hype. The son of the late great “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, Curtis Axel was so highly valued that WWE made him a “Vince McMahon” guy to boost his standing within the company. The issue with this of course being, Curtis Axel isn’t a very talented wrestler.
Aside from the comedic “Axlemania” gimmick he invented himself, Axel hasn’t been a very compelling superstar and the fans have recently treated him accordingly. Anytime WWE misses so hard on a prospect it is bound to get ugly, and Axel’s reign as Intercontinental Champion was just embarrassing enough to get him placed on our list at #8.
7. Best: Randy Savage
I have a hard time putting a superstar on the good side of this list because of one match, however, it’s hard to ignore the amazing match that Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat put on at WrestleMania 3 for the Intercontinental Title. Considered by many the greatest WrestleMania match of all time (and for some the greatest match of all time), this match was a masterpiece of professional wrestling that in many ways jumpstarted the career of Randy Savage. The momentum he gained here would eventually translate into a World Title opportunity and the huge Mega-Powers blowup between him and Hulk Hogan. Therefore, Savage not only served as a noteworthy Intercontinental Champion, but his match with Steamboat over the IC Title literally changed the course of the entire WWE.
6. Worst: Ricky the Dragon Steamboat
After reading the Randy Savage entry above, it’s hard to understand how his opponent for that historic WrestleMania 3 match (and the man that actually won the match) could make the worst portion of our list. However, while the match jumpstarted the career of the Macho Man, it did essentially nothing for the career of Ricky Steamboat. Following his win at WrestleMania 3 Steamboat would go on to a lackluster title reign which didn’t do anything to raise the prestige of the IC Title. Considering the platform he was put on after WrestleMania 3, this cannot be considered anything other than a disappointment and puts him squarely on the bad side of our list here at #6.
5. Best: Chris Jericho
Not only does Chris Jericho make our list of great Intercontinental Champions, but I also think that he could very well be the most underrated superstar in the WWE modern era. While he has never been given the main event opportunities that other superstars have (aside from a mismanaged loss to Triple H at WrestleMania 18), he has still managed to do just about every single thing worth doing in the WWE. Y2J recently won his first United State Championship by defeating Roman Reigns, but his most noteworthy contribution to the mid-card title scene is the fact that he has held the Intercontinental Championship a record 9 times (so far!). During his various title reigns, Jericho has been involved in many a memorable storylines and matches, thus making him one of the more entertaining (and therefore greatest) superstars to ever be crowned Intercontinental Champion.
4. Worst: Chyna
It makes me a little uncomfortable to put the only female winner of the Intercontinental Title on our list of worst champions, however, it was WWE Creative’s treatment of said first woman titleholder that puts her IC Title run on this list. Rather than highlight it as the landmark accomplishment that it was, they allowed her championship run (short thought it was) to devolve into a mostly comedic rivalry with Eddie Guerrero. Chyna’s stint as Intercontinental Champ should have been about a woman being extraordinary enough to win a significant men’s title, but instead, it became all about Eddie Guerrero getting roughed up by a woman almost twice his size. This was surely a missed opportunity on the part of WWE and I can’t help but place it on the bad portion of our list at #4.
3. Best: Razor Ramon
With the selections of Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat earlier on this list, we have already covered one of the most iconic matches ever to involve the Intercontinental Title. The other match which falls under this category is the ladder match between Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania. Voted match of the year, these two superstars revolutionized the ladder match, and at the end of the night it didn’t really matter who would grab the two (after losing the IC Title Shawn Michaels refused to give up his belt, causing both superstars to carry around their version of the Title) title belts hoisted above the ring. It is matches like this that would forever cement the legacy of the Intercontinental Title, which Ramon would go on to hold an impressive 4 times during his tenure with WWE.
2. Worst: The Mountie
I think the most amazing thing about the Mounties improbable Intercontinental Title run was that it began with his defeat of WWE Hall of Famer Bret “the Hitman” Hart. As part of an already ridiculous Canadian versus Canadian storyline, someone at WWE thought it would be a good idea for Hart to drop the title to the Mountie. Instantly regretting this decision, WWE had the Canadian law enforcer drop the title a mere two days later. Not only does the Mountie lose points for such an incredibly short title reign, but his career as a whole was largely underwhelming, unquestioningly making him the worst man to ever dawn the Intercontinental Title strap. Luckily the IC Title was able to survive the short reign of the Mountie, just in time for it to be taken to new heights by the men bracketing the Mountie on this list.
1. Best: Shawn Michaels
If you’re going to pick the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time, why not pick perhaps the greatest WWE superstar of all time. Long before Shawn Michaels was the bonafide main eventer that he was in his prime, he was both a tag-team and mid-card specialist. Not only would Michaels win an impressive three Intercontinental Championships, but he would be involved in some of the greatest matches and rivalries ever to revolve around the IC Title. Who can forget the amazing IC Title clashes HBK had with Bret “the Hitman” Hart? Or Michael’s death-defying leap from the ladder onto Razor Ramon at WrestleMania? Both of those men have already graced our list for their contribution to the Intercontinental Title’s legacy, so it is only fair that a man who was so integral in making these title matches must-watch TV, crowns our list in the #1 spot of greatest IC Title champs.