The Intercontinental Championship has always played second fiddle to the WWE Championship, but if we take a look back at the company’s history, most Intercontinental Champions do go on to win the WWE championship. Essentially, the IC belt is like a trial run to see if the superstar has what it takes to carry the load. It’s a belt that can catapult a wrestler into super stardom. The question is; how can we gauge what constitutes as a successful title run?
There are two main factors that go into judging a successful title run. The first one is, longevity. If the wrestler is entrusted to carry the second most important belt in the company for a large amount of time, then they are clearly doing something right and probably have a ton of upside. The second factor is the success the wrestler achieved after his Intercontinental title reign, more specifically, if he used it as a spring board to the WWE championship. The second factor is also key because there have been some wrestlers that were given long IC title reigns, yet their careers stayed stagnant or they simply faded off. Shelton Benjamin. for example. held the belt for a combined 354 days during his two title reigns, but he didn’t generate much interest and simply became an afterthought. This was an extremely difficult list to make and there will be some scrutiny! Without further ado, here’s the top 10 Intercontinental Champions in WWE history.
10. “Double J” Jeff Jarrett
Jeff Jarrett is unfortunately going to be remembered by casual WWE fans as the dude that would walk to the ring hand in hand with Debra, while carrying a guitar in the other one. On special occasions, he would sometimes break the guitar over his opponents head. Jarrett held the belt six times for a combined total of 298 days as Champion. He captured his first IC Title from Razor Ramon at the 1995 Royal Rumble. Jarrett and Ramon would go on to have an entertaining feud there they would go back and forth, dropping and regaining the title to each other. Oftentimes, when the belt switches hands so frequently, it diminishes the credibility, but not in this case, because their matches never got stale. It’s unfortunate that Jarrett’s last IC title match was a ridiculous “Good Housekeeping” match against Chyna, which he lost.
9. Pedro Morales
Pedro Morales is an unique case because he did everything backwards. Wrestlers generally use the IC Championship as a stepping stone on their way to the WWE Championship, but Morales successfully did the reverse. He won the WWE Title in 1971 and won the IC Title when he returned to the WWE in 1980. I emphasize the word “successfully,” because he is actually remembered more for his IC title runs than his WWE title run. He had two title reigns and held onto the belt for a combined 619 days.
8. Chris Jericho
Jericho perhaps used the IC championship to catapult his career more than anyone else. He had nine IC Championship reigns (yes, nine), and was crowned the first ever undisputed WWE Champion. It was undisputed because he was the first wrestler to hold both WWE and WCW Heavyweight titles at the same time.
During his IC title reigns, it’s not like he was just biding his time before he would move onto bigger and better things, he put on some incredible matches. A personal favorite was his ladder match against Chris Benoit, en route to winning his fourth Championship. A truly captivating match where you lose yourself in the action and momentarily forget that wrestling is pre-determined.
7. Bret “The Hitman” Hart
Bret Hart‘s WWE Championship runs overshadow the fact that he was the IC Champion for 290 days during two title reigns. Compared to certain superstars on this list, 290 days doesn’t seem all that spectacular, but you have to take into account who he beat to win his first IC title. He landed a patented Sharpshooter, forcing Mr. Perfect to tap out, after a barnburner of a match. Mr. Perfect was one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions ever (we’ll get to him later), so it was extremely monumental when the Hitman ended his reign.
6. Shawn Michaels
For whatever reason, fate constantly intertwined the careers of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Whatever Hart did, Michaels would swoop in and try to do it better. The numbers do not lie though. Hart held the belt for a combined 290 days, while Michaels held it for 406. Hart had two title reigns, Michaels had three. The two bitter rivals did, however, help build each others careers as they put on some fantastic matches. Their Iron Man match is so highly touted, but it’s forgotten that they faced off in the first ever Ladder Match for the IC title, at Wrestling Challenge, in 1992. Michaels came up a little short, but the match set the tone for what was to come between the two rivals. As much as they loathed each other outside of the ring, they had an inexplicable chemistry inside of it.
5. The Honky Tonk Man
The Honky Tonk Man’s IC title reign was different…to say the least. The manner in which he won the belt was so unexpected. WWE had Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat defeat the Macho Man Randy Savage at WrestleMania 3. After taking the belt off of a superstar like Macho Man, you’d think that Steamboat would be poised for a long and prosperous title run, but it was not the case as the Honky Tonk Man won the belt off Steamboat two and a half months later. His title run was even more unexpected as he set an unprecedented record of 454 days as champion during a single reign.
The Honky Tonk Man was such a phenomenal heel because anytime he’d make his way to the ring, fans would actually get angry and passionately root against him, hoping that the reign would finally end. He would often times retain the belt by the cheapest of measures which would infuriate the fans even further.
4. Razor Ramon
Ey Chico…Razor Ramon clocks in at #4, but he had a lot of help on the way, in regards to the wrestlers he feuded with. Many of his matches were with wrestlers on this top 10 list. After Shawn Michaels returned from a suspension in 1993, he claimed that he was the rightful champion because he vacated the belt due to the suspension. This set up a Ladder Match between he and Ramon at WrestleMania 10, which was undoubtedly the greatest singles ladder match of all time. Ramon and Jeff Jarrett then went on to have a long and bitter feud where the belt was constantly changing hands. In wrestling lingo, “long and bitter” usually means intense and entertaining for the fans. Any time those two would lock horns, they’d captivate the audience with their brawling style and leave them wondering who would walk away with the belt. Razor Ramon was not as technically sound as Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart or Mr. Perfect, but he truly knew how to work a crowd, much like Hulk Hogan.
3. “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig
Mr. Perfect’s demeanor was very similar to that of The Honky Tonk Man while he held the belt. He was such a fantastic heel, that he would literally have fans throwing stuff at him as they wanted him to lose so badly. They were also similar because Hennig was no stranger to scoring cheap wins, which would send the crowd into a fury. The difference between Mr. Perfect and Honky Tonk Man, is that Hennig was a far more technically sound wrestler, and was so silky smooth in all his manoeuvres. Hennig also had the showmanship to go along with his in ring skills. His titan tron entrance video is one of the most entertaining of all time as he swooshes a “no look” free throw and throws a touchdown pass to himself. During his two reigns, he held the belt for a combined 406 days.
2. The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior’s run was eerily similar to that of Goldberg’s in WCW. These two superstars displayed the uncanny ability to absolutely thump opponents in mere seconds, not wrestle a lick, and still have the fans go into an absolute frenzy. The reaction was deafening when The Ultimate Warrior defeated The Honky Tonk Man in 13 seconds to win the Intercontinental Champion, ending the longest reign in history (also a testament to the job The Honky Tonk Man was doing as a heel). Warrior would go on to squash superstar after superstar, and the fans just kept eating it up. He was so “over” as a champion that he was given a WWE title shot against Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 6. Shockingly, Warrior cleanly defeated Hogan, setting him up to be potentially the biggest superstar of all time. Unfortunately for Warrior, his WWE title reign wasn’t nearly as successful. Much like Goldberg, once the writers started requesting Warrior to cut promos, his popularity started to dwindle. Simply put, his microphone skills were awful. He would have been much better off remaining a destroyer of very few words, like he was during his Intercontinental Champion days. At the same time, his interviews are some of the most entertaining because of the sheer insanity. He held onto the title for 432 days during two reigns.
1. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
One impeccable reign for the ages. Randy Savage had it all; the look, the in ring ability, the hot valet (that was actually his wife), and was he ever charismatic. He won the belt off Tito Santana in February, 1986 (another great champion, that makes me wish this was a top 11 list). “Macho Man” was such a fabulous champion because he defended the belt against everyone. What separates him from The Ultimate Warrior, is that most of Macho’s matches were classics, while the majority of Warrior’s contests were squash matches. Some argue that his match with Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania 3 was the greatest match of all-time, even though Macho was defeated. He definitely used his IC title reign, and this match in particular, to catapult his career as he was destined for greatness. His title reign lasted 414 days, and we thank him for the memories. R.I.P Macho Man.