The WWE Intercontinental championship is one the most revered and perhaps the most respected title belt among professional wrestling fans. For the longest time it was this championship that produced the most anticipated and exciting matches. More times than not, those who wore this coveted title were able to elevate their careers as a result. As a kid I more excited for the IC title matches than I was for the world title matches. Today I’m going to list the Top 10 Intercontinental Champions of all time. This list is based on tenure as champion and their accomplishments beyond.
10.) Randy Orton: Before his days as the apex predator, the St. Louis native paved his way through the ranks as a member of Evolution. Orton received his first taste of championship glory when he defeated Rob Van Dam in December of 2003 to win his first and only Intercontinental championship. The milestone of his 210 day title reign was his hardcore match with Cactus Jack in 2004. Orton retained the title but the defining moment of the match was when Orton missed the RKO and landed on a sea of thumbtacks which no one saw coming since wrestlers wearing traditional trunks never touched the stuff. It was probably the most important bump of his career. He lost the belt in an exceptional match to Edge but it was clear he was ready to move on to the main event level as one month later, he became the youngest world champion in history.
7.) The Rock: His first IC title run was an average affair as the stereotypical all smiles babyface Rocky Maivia. He won the title from HHH on 2/13/97 and lost the title to Owen Hart on 4/28/97. His second run began as he started gaining some serious steam as a heel when he was awarded the title on 12/8/97 by Vince McMahon when Steve Austin was stripped of the title. The Rock had a streak of matches in 1998 where fans were itching for him to lose the coveted title. Just when you thought he was going to lose, the cocky young heel champion would pull a rabbit out of his hat and retain the title. Many felt he might surpass the Honky Tonk Man for longest reign until HHH spoiled those plans in an excellent ladder match at Summer Slam 1998. Although he lost, it was clear the people’s champion had out grown mid-card status and was destined for superstardom of the highest caliber.
6.) Pedro Morales: Any list that doesn’t include Pedro Morales needs to be deleted or thrown in the trash. Pedro Morales was already a superstar before he won his first Intercontinental championship as he had won the heavyweight and tag team titles prior. He was not only the first triple crown winner in WWF history, but he was the first person to win the title twice and holds the 2nd longest title reign in history. Morales had some intense matches with Don Muraco which resulted in both of his IC title losses in Philadelphia and New York. Morales was loved by his legion of Puerto Rican supporters and respected by fans everywhere as he is truly one of the all-time greats.
5.) Mr. Perfect: Perfect brought the IC title back to its former glory after the Ultimate Warrior spent 20 months accessorizing the belt. He won the title on 4/23/90 by defeating Tito Santana and regained the title in Rochester, NY on 11/19/90 against The Texas Tornado, who bested him for the title three months earlier. After defeating the Big Bossman with help from Bobby Hennan at Wrestlemania VII, his final match with the title helped make Bret Hart into a superstar as the two had one of the all-time great matches at Summer Slam 1991 in Madison Square Garden. It’s a shame he never went on to become the WWF Champion. He had everything you want in a professional wrestler.
4.) Chris Jericho: The man who beat The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night to become the first undisputed world champion also holds the record of most Intercontinental title reigns in history. From his first title win in 1999 against Chyna to his 9th title win over Rey Mysterio in 2009, Jericho has provided wrestling fans with a decade of remarkable matches as champion. His matches with wrestlers such as Christian, Rob Van Dam, Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio and Chris Benoit; including their ladder match at the Royal Rumble in 2001. Sometimes winning a secondary title after becoming world champion can seem awkward and almost like a step down. Jericho broke that rule as his matches proved to be a great reminder as to why this is considered the wrestling fans championship.
3.) Shawn Michaels: From his title-trading feud with Marty Jannetty to his house show matches across the country, Michaels delivered great IC title matches as a heel and babyface. Without question his greatest IC title match performance was the ladder match against Razor Ramon at WrestleMania 10. While he was not the recognized champion, it was a unification match as Shawn never lost the title in the first place. The story Ramon and Michaels told that night set the standard for all ladder matches that would follow. Michaels had outgrown the IC title ranks by the time he beat Jeff Jarrett for his third IC title and it was clear that bigger things were on the horizon for the Heartbreak Kid.
2.) Bret “Hitman” Hart: Known for his credentials as a tag team wrestler, Hart was highly regarded as a great in-ring mechanic and nothing else. His fortunes turned when he capitalized on his first singles run and went over on Mr. Perfect in an amazing match to win his first IC title at Summer Slam 1991. The Hitman earned his second title by defeating Rowdy Roddy Piper at WrestleMania 8. Perhaps his defining moment as champion was his title loss to the British Bulldog at Summer Slam 1992 in front of a record breaking crowd of 79,127 in Wembley Stadium. Like Savage, Hart’s title run put him well on his way to becoming the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.
1.) Macho Man Randy Savage: Out of all the athletes who held the Intercontinental championship, none went on to more bigger and better things than Randy Savage. The average person who doesn’t watch professional wrestling knows the power of the Madness. He made an impression like few ever will, and he has a laundry list of some of the most memorable matches in history. Randy Savage’s solo reign as IC champion began when he defeated Tito Santana at the Boston Garden and ended 414 days later at WrestleMania 3 against Ricky Steamboat. His body of work during this time made it impossible for him to go anywhere but up.