The Intercontinental Championship has served as the second most important title in the WWE for many years, acting as a proving ground for future main eventers.
In the 50 years since a ‘tournament’ in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, ‘crowned’ Pat Patterson as the first champion, there have been numerous all-time classic matches for the title.
As Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles prepare to face off for the title in what could be yet another classic, we take a look back at the five greatest matches for the iconic belt.
Randy Orton vs Cactus Jack – Backlash 2004
Randy Orton and Cactus Jack’s Hardcore match at Backlash 2004 helped to legitimise a 23-year-old Orton with the fans, as he showed he could hang with the hardcore legend.
Evolution had been tormenting Foley for months, leading to a three-on-two handicap match at Wrestlemania between Evolution and the Rock ‘n’ Sock connection, with Evolution coming out on top. Foley challenged Orton to a Hardcore match at Backlash with Evolution banned from ringside.
Orton took a lot of punishment from Cactus, being busted open with a barbed wire baseball bat, being thrown off the stage and taking a back bump onto a pile of thumbtacks in the ring. The Viper also began to show the sadistic side that we have come to know from him, throwing Cactus into a barbed wire board before hitting an RKO onto the baseball bat for the win.
The match helped to solidify Randy Orton as a main eventer and served as a parallel to the Hardcore match that Triple H had with Cactus in 2000, helping to set up their feud later in 2004.
Chris Benoit vs Chris Jericho – Royal Rumble 2001
Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho in a ladder match, need I say more?
Well, I will.
Benoit and Jericho had an on-and-off feud following their match with Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 2000 for the Intercontinental Championship and European Championship. This match served as a blow off for their feud, with Jericho choosing the Ladder Match stipulation.
The pair had been wrestling together for years, which was clear to see in this match. The two Canadian’s utilised the ladder excellently, with Jericho drop-kicking the ladder into Benoit, Benoit missing a diving headbutt off the ladder and Jericho applying the walls of Jericho on the ladder.
This match also has the infamous spot where Benoit is smashed with a steel chair while performing a suicide dive – an impressive spot that is difficult to watch knowing what we do now.
Jericho wins the match as he pushed the ladder Benoit was climbing, sending him over the top rope and giving Y2J time to climb the ladder and claim the Intercontinental Championship.
Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat – Wrestlemania 3
When discussing legendary Intercontinental Championship matches, the first that comes to mind for many will be the Macho Man facing the Dragon at Wrestlemania 3.
This match put the Intercontinental Championship on the map and helped to make it the workhorse title that it would become. Alongside this, the match helped to inspire how Wrestlemania matches would be worked going forward, with numerous false finishes getting the crowd on the edge of their seats.
Savage went into the match as the longest ever Intercontinental Champion at 414 days. The Macho Man had sent Steamboat to hospital in the build-up to their feud as he attacked his throat with his elbow and the ring bell.
The match called back to this as Savage went to attack Steamboat with the ring bell again before he was stopped by George “The Animal” Steele at ringside. As Savage went for a scoop slam, Steamboat reversed it into a small package to claim the title.
At this point, this was the longest ever match at Wrestlemania, going almost 15 minutes, and was the first Intercontinental title change at Wrestlemania.
The matches legacy cannot be ignored and is a must-watch for all wrestling fans for its impact on the sport.
Bret Hart vs The British Bulldog – Summerslam 1992
Summerslam 1992 was a special night for the Intercontinental Championship, as it main evented a pay-per-view for the first time since Wrestlemania VI.
Bret Hart exemplified what it was to be the Intercontinental Champion in the ’90s, preparing him to become a main event talent and being the workhorse he is expected to be.
As Summerslam was set for Wembley, the WWF decided to put the hometown hero Davey Boy Smith in the main event for the title.
The Hitman transitioned into the de facto heel of the match superbly, stopping Bulldog in his tracks with his technical excellence, working the crowd up for Smith’s comeback.
Bulldog used his power to overcome the technical prowess of the Hitman, hitting a running powerslam and a variety of suplexes. Hart turned the tide once again as applied the sharpshooter to Bulldog, but he managed to crawl to the ropes and receive a huge pop from the crowd.
Bulldog won the match as he countered a beautiful sunset flip from Bret to get the three count. The Hitman lifted the hand of Bulldog after the match to pass the Intercontinental torch to his brother-in-law.
Bret Hart would go on to win his first WWF Championship just two months later as he beat Ric Flair at a house show and would go on to be the face of the new generation.
Razor Ramon vs Shawn Michaels – Wrestlemania X
Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels competed for the Intercontinental Championship in the first televised Ladder match in the WWF, and the two clique members creating magic at Maddison Square Garden.
Intercontinental Champion Michaels was suspended, and his title was vacated. The Bad Guy won a battle royal to crown a new champion before the Heartbreak Kid returned with his title, proclaiming himself to be the real Intercontinental Champion.
Both men utilised the ladder to try and grab the two titles above the ring, getting closer to titles with each attempt.
This match had a number of iconic moments that are still shown and lauded to this day, including HBK’s splash off the ladder and onto Ramon as well as the image of the Bad Guy holding both titles at the top of the ladder at the end of the match.
This match had the fans in attendance in awe as they’d never seen a match like this before. This match showcased what the ladder match can offer and serves as a blueprint for future classic TLC and Money in the Bank matches.
This match is also an excellent display of how the Intercontinental Championship should be used, allowing a young star to move to the top of the card in defeat whilst putting over the next potential main eventer.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @Dom_Hynes. Thanks for reading!