WWE: The Top 10 Intercontinental Champions of All Time
The Intercontinental Championship has always been one of the most prestigious titles in all of the WWE. It has been held and defended by some of the all-time greats in the business. In many cases, holding the IC Title has been a springboard to eventually capturing the WWE Championship.
With so many legends, Hall of Famers, and future Hall of Famers having held the title, it is only natural to debate about who were the 10 best Intercontinental Champions of all time.
For me, one the best things about WrestleMania XXVIII was that the Intercontinental Championship was going to be defended. No, I was not thrilled or excited about Cody Rhodes defending the title against The Big Show.
But, I was very pleased to see the WWE decide to showcase what has traditionally been one of the most important singles titles in the industry.
The IC Title used to be a staple of WrestleMania. In fact, from WrestleMania I through XVIII, the IC Title was defended at every event with the exception of WrestleMania XII.
But, from that point on, the IC Title became inconsequential. From WrestleMania XIX through WrestleMania XXVII, the IC Title was defended only once, at WrestleMania XXV.
How did that happen? How is it that the championship that produced possibly the greatest match ever between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III get put on the back burner?
Why did the belt that was fought over in the first truly great ladder match in WWE history not seem to matter any longer?
It is hard to say. The WWE Championship has always garnered more attention and prestige than the IC Title. But, once WCW was acquired and the World Heavyweight Championship was created, the Intercontinental Championship almost faded away.
Hopefully, having the IC Title defended at WrestleMania XXVIII is the beginning of bringing the championship back to its rightful place in the WWE's title hierarchy.
With that being said, let's turn back the pages of history and take a look at the Top 10 greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time.
Selecting the Best of the Best
The problem with these Top 10 lists is always how subjective they are.
The wrestlers who I think are the 10 best Intercontinental Champions of all time might not be the same ones you would have listed.
Or maybe they are, but your order would be different than mine.
Everyone has their own opinions and everyone is entitled to their opinions. This is obviously not the first, or last, time a "Greatest Intercontinental Champion of All Time" list has been done.
But, this list is a little bit different than others I have seen. To try and add an additional level of legitimacy to this list, I wanted to take a moment to divulge what I was looking for in ranking these great champions.
I looked at several factors. Some of them are obvious, such as the length of a championship reign, or how many reigns a particular champion had.
I also looked at factors that any list like this should consider, such as ring skills, wrestling proficiency and technical ability.
But, the WWE is not all about how skilled one is in the ring. It takes charisma, mic skills, acting skills, and the ability to communicate the storyline to the fans while helping the fans suspend their disbelief as much as possible.
I also looked at the type of IC Champion the wrestler was. In other words, was he a fighting champion or did he hold onto the title, for as long as he could, using cheap methods such as by getting disqualified or counted out too often or having his manager steal victories for him.
And then there is the intangible quality that all of these champions have. That certain
something" about them that helped them get over, not just as an Intercontinental Champion, but with the fans as well.
The best of the best were great at eliciting an emotional and passionate response from the fans. Whether that response took the form of rabid cheers or scathing boos, the best of these champions made obtaining the desired result seem almost effortless.
I also can say that as a WWE fan since around 1980, I have seen all of these champions perform, either live or on TV.
So, my memory of them, and the type of champion they were, might stem from a very different perspective from someone else who grew up watching the WWE during an entirely different generation.
But, these are the various factors I considered in compiling this list.
Before we get to the Top 10, though, let's take a look at some of the wrestlers who came close, but did not make the cut.
The Intercontinental Championship has been held by so many great wrestlers that this list could easily be a Top 20 or Top 25 of all time. Limiting the list to the Top 10 of all time, while being quite a bit more challenging for the author, naturally left a lot of true greats off of the list.
Something had to give.
Some of the great Intercontinental Champions who did not make the list, but deserve to be mentioned anyway are:
Pat Patterson—The first Intercontinental Champion
Chyna—The only female ever to wear the IC belt, on two occasions no less.
Cody Rhodes—Despite losing the belt to The Big Show at WrestleMania 28, Cody held the title for 236 days, the fourth longest reign of an Intercontinental Champion who only held the belt once (so far). Like him or not, Cody Rhodes brought a level of legitimacy back to the IC Tilte that had been missing for quite some time.
Don Muraco—The Magnificent One held the Intercontinental Championship longer than any wrestler, except for one. Over two reigns as champion, Don Muraco held the belt for 541 days. That is an impressive feat, no matter how one looks at it.
Shelton Benjamin—"The Gold Standard" held the IC Title on three different occasions, for a total of 354 days. A tremendously talented wrestler with a lot of potential, he made for a great Intercontinental Champion. Unfortunately for Benjamin, his IC Title reigns were pretty much the apex of his WWE career. After a good run as the United States Champion, he was released from WWE in 2010.
The Rock- The Rock is one of those wrestlers whose Intercontinental Championship reigns are somewhat forgotten because of all the success he attained as the WWE Champion and for his top billing status for WWE worldwide. Nevertheless, The Rock was a great IC Champion, holding the title for 339 days over two separate reigns.
Jeff Jarrett- Double J held the IC Championship on six different occasions and was involved in many great matches involving that title during those multiple reigns.
Rob Van Dam- RVD is also a six-time winner of the Intercontinental Championship.
Jeff Hardy- The high-flying Jeff Hardy is a four-time winner of the IC Championship.
Triple H- Another wrestler whose IC Championship reigns are forgotten due to the tremendous success he achieved as WWE and World Heavyweight Champion. "The Game" held the IC Title on five separate occasions.
There are others worth considering, such as Edge, Rick Rude, Randy Orton, Chris Benoit and John Morrison.
With a list like that of Honorable Mentions, though, exactly who did make the cut for the Top 10 Intercontinental Champions of all time?
10. Tito Santana
Tito Santana was one of the biggest fan favorites in the WWE in the early 1980s. He was very popular, engaging with the fans and demonstrated great in-ring proficiency.
In 1983, he began what turned out to be a very long feud with the Magnificent Muraco, who was the IC Champion at that time.
On Feb. 11, 1984, Santana would finally capture the Intercontinental Championship from Muraco. In the process, he became the first Mexican-American Intercontinental Champion.
Santana was one of those fighting champions mentioned earlier, and one of his biggest challenges came from Greg "The Hammer" Valentine.
Santana would drop the IC Championship to Valentine in September 1984. He would later regain the title from Valentine in an epic steel cage match in 1985.
In between, Tito won the first-ever WrestleMania match, as he beat The Executioner in the opening match at WrestleMania I.
Eventually, Tito would lose the title to Macho Man Randy Savage in February 1986.
Though he would never regain the title from Savage, Santana was far from finished. He would go on to win the Tag Team Titles with Rick Martel as part of the very popular team, Strike Force.
Santana nearly won the Intercontinental Championship a third time in 1990 as he reached the finals of a tournament to crown a new champion after the Ultimate Warrior vacated the IC Title following his win over Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI.
Alas, Santana fell short, losing to Mr. Perfect in the finals. Tito was never really in title contention again after that.
A very talented and charismatic, yet soft-spoken wrestler, Tito Santana held the title for 443 days (fourth longest overall) during his two reigns as Intercontinental Champion and he checks in at No. 10 on the list.
9. Bret "The Hitman" Hart
Bret "The Hitman" Hart is another of those wrestlers I mentioned earlier whose Intercontinental Championship reigns were somewhat diminished by their accomplishments later on in their career.
Without question, "The Excellence of Execution" is more widely known, and more highly regarded, for his accomplishments as a multi-time WWE Champion.
But, when one looks at the quality of the two wins Bret Hart had to capture his two IC Titles, you have to have him in the Top 10 as one of the all time great Intercontinental Champions.
Bret won his first Intercontinental Championship at Summer Slam '91 in a thrilling match with Mr. Perfect.
In one of the best IC Title matches ever, Bret reversed an attempt by Mr. Perfect at a leg drop to his groin, spun the champion over, and made Mr. Perfect submit to the Sharpshooter. The victory was made even more sweet as Bret's parents were in attendance that night.
As good as that match was, it was Bret's second IC Title win that might have been even better. At WrestleMania VIII, The Hitman squared off against Rowdy Roddy Piper, who is Bret's real-life cousin.
The two men battled ferociously and Bret was bleeding badly when he escaped Piper's lethal sleeper hold by pushing off of the turnbuckles, flipping himself on top of Piper and, though he was still in the sleeper hold, pinning Piper.
Bret would go on to be one of the greatest WWE Champions ever and would have a successful run in WCW as well.
All told, The Hitman would hold the IC Title for 290 days during his two reigns as champion and he comes in at No. 9 on this list.
8. Shawn Michaels
The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels, is considered by many to be one of the greatest WWE Superstars ever.
In fact, the WWE recently produced a DVD entitled "The Top 50 Superstars of All Time" and HBK was ranked No. 1.
When Shawn first started out in the WWE as a member of the middle-of-the-pack tag team The Rockers, envisioning him as the greatest WWE Superstar ever seemed pretty far-fetched.
What changed to vault Shawn Michaels from a tag team afterthought to a Hall of Famer?
His three Intercontinental Championship reigns are what really seemed to get the ball rolling for HBK.
After terminating The Rockers by throwing his partner, Marty Jannety, through a window, Shawn's career arched upwards dramatically. His quest for the Intercontinental Championship was a key reason for this.
In fact, his legendary rivalry with Bret "The Hitman" Hart had its origins as part of HBK's pursuit of the IC Crown. Michaels first challenged Hart when The Hitman held the IC Title in the first ladder match in WWE history. He came up short.
His ties to Bret Hart would continue, though, as HBK captured his first IC Title by beating the British Bulldog, who had beaten Bret for the title in a memorable match at Wembley Stadium at Summer Slam '92.
Shawn would then try and defeat The Hitman after Bret had captured the WWE Championship in a Champion vs. Champion match. Again, Shawn lost.
Michaels would drop the IC Championship to former partner Jannety, but would then recapture it less than a month later.
After being forced to vacate the belt, Michaels would engage in a feud for the ages with Razor Ramon for the IC Title. This feud would culminate in their epic ladder match at WrestleMania X, still considered by many to be one of the greatest ladder matches ever.
After a face turn, Michaels would capture his third Intercontinental Championship by beating Jeff Jarrett.
This would lead to HBK's last really great match as IC Champion, a second ladder match with Ramon at Summer Slam '95. Shawn would win this time in a match nearly as good as their first encounter.
But, Shawn was great on the mic as well. He had this almost effortless ability to make the fans love or hate him with only a few words. He was as charismatic as any IC Champion ever.
While Shawn Michaels would go on to also accomplish great things as a three-time WWE Champion (and one time World Heavyweight Champion to boot), it was his time spent as Intercontinental Champion that seemed to sow the seeds for his status as a legend.
Shawn Michaels would hold the Intercontinental Championship a total of 406 days over his three reigns and he comes in as the eighth greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time.
7. Chris Jericho
Nobody has won the Intercontinental Championship more times than Y2J.
Jericho has won the IC Title an astonishing nine times over the course of his illustrious WWE career.
In fact, there is not much that the Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rolla has not done.
While Jericho might be best known for beating The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin on the same night to become the first ever Undisputed WWE Champion, his accomplishments as Intercontinental Champion cannot be ignored.
Nor should they be. Jericho's IC Title matches have been some of the most entertaining and memorable in WWE history, and Y2J has beaten some of the industry's best along the way.
Some the more memorable Jericho matches involving the Intercontinental Championship include:
- Winning his fourth title by beating Chris Benoit in a ladder match at the 2001 Royal Rumble.
- His loss to Rob Van Dam to end his sixth reign as champion in a Steel Cage Match on Raw in 2003.
- Winning his seventh championship, and breaking Jeff Jarrett's record for most IC Title reigns, by beating Christian in a ladder match at Unforgiven in 2004.
- Those three weeks in June 2009 where Jericho won his ninth and final (so far) title by beating Rey Mysterio in a No Holds Barred match at Extreme Rules. A few weeks later, Mysterio would recapture the title in a Mask vs. Title match at The Bash.
There are many more great matches involving Jericho and the Intercontinental Championship, but those are some of the more important ones.
Beyond that though, Jericho is another rare wrestler who can hold the audience in the palm of his hand and effectively manipulate their emotions with a few words, moves or actions.
A consummate professional, Chris has also, for the most part, been able to find a balance between his WWE career and whatever else he had going on, be it touring with Fozzy, or Dancing With The Stars, or whatever other endeavor he was engaged in at the time.
I dinged Y2J a bit because despite his record number of IC Title reigns, he only held the title for 318 days, which places him at No. 13 as far as longevity.
Nevertheless, Chris Jericho was a tremendous Intercontinental Champion and he checks in at No. 7.
6. The Honky Tonk Man
The Honky Tonk Man holds the distinction of having the longest Intercontinental Championship run of any single-reign champion.
The Honky Tonk Man won the title, in a shocking upset, from Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat a mere two and a half months after Steamboat's epic win over Randy Savage at WrestleMania III.
He then held on to the title for the next 454 days before finally getting thrashed by The Ultimate Warrior at SummerSlam '88.
Some would argue that fact alone warrants a Top 3 ranking for The Honky Tonk Man amongst the all time great Intercontinental Champions.
Others, and myself included, beg to differ.
While Honky's reign was long, it was far from distinguished. He rarely had a clean win during the course of his record-setting reign. More often than not, he held onto the title by way of countout or disqualification.
In fact, it was The Honky Tonk Man who mastered the so-called "Champion's Advantage," and he used it to great effect to hold off challengers like Steamboat, Bruno Sammartino and Randy Savage.
But, it was not all bad for The Honky Tonk Man. He was excellent on the mic, had great charisma and despite looking, sounding and acting like a Las Vegas Elvis impersonator, he was one of the best heels in WWE history.
People despised The Honky Tonk Man and wanted him to lose the title so badly, it may have been a major factor he reigned for so long. The WWE did a great job of building up a near sense of desperation for someone—anyone—to dethrone the hated champion.
When he finally did lose the belt to the Warrior, the reaction of the Madison Square Garden crowd was one of near euphoria.
Now, that is what I call showmanship.
Like him or hate him, The Honky Tonk Man deserves his place at No. 6 on this list.
5. Pedro Morales
Pedro Morales held the Intercontinental Championship longer than any other wrestler.
Over his two reigns as champion, Morales held the title for an amazing 619 days. In fact, Pedro's second reign as IC Champ lasted 14 months, longer than anyone other than The Honky Tonk Man.
Morales was a scientific wrestler extraordinaire, which is what we called some of the faces back in the very early 80s who had a great deal of technical skill.
He was extremely popular with the Puerto Rican community that was heavily represented at many events at Madison Square Garden in the 70s and 80s.
An interesting aspect of Pedro's reigns as IC Champion is that they happened near the end of his career. Unlike many of the wrestlers already discussed in this article, Morales actually won the WWE Title first back in 1971. After he returned to the WWE in 1980, he teamed up with then WWE Champion Bob Backlund to win the Tag Team Titles from the Wild Samoans.
The Intercontinental Championship then became the only title Morales had not won in WWE. When Morales captured the belt from Ken Patera in 1980, he became the first triple crown winner in WWE history.
From there, Morales would feud with such legendary stars as Superstar Billy Graham and the Magnificent Muraco. In fact, Pedro's feud with Muraco was one for the ages. Muraco won the title twice from Morales and Morales won the belt back from Muraco once.
For Pedro Morales, the Intercontinental Championship was the crowning achievement of his spectacular career. Too many people I talk to about WWE history do not know who Pedro Morales is and that is too bad.
He is a Hall of Famer, one of the best wrestlers ever, and absolutely deserves to be considered amongst the greatest Intercontinental Champions ever.
He checks in at No. 5 on my list.
4. Mr. Perfect
Mr. Perfect, also known as Curt Hennig, might not have literally been perfect—but he was one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time.
He held the title on two separate occasions for a total of 406 days.
One of the most technically sound wrestlers of his generation, the Perfect One exemplified everything we think of when we consider the all-time greats in the industry.
After trying, and failing, to capture the WWE Championship from Hulk Hogan, Mr. Perfect set his sights squarely on capturing the IC Title, which had been vacated after the Ultimate Warrior's win over Hogan at WrestleMania VI.
He would accomplish this feat by defeating Tito Santana in the finals of a tournament to crown the new champion. The master of The Perfect Plex would go on to defeat all comers for the next four months before losing the title to The Texas Tornado, Kerry Von Erich, at SummerSlam '90.
Mr. Perfect would win the title back from Von Erich in November 1990. Perfect's second reign as champion was one of the most impressive ever. There were some cheap wins along the way, to be sure, along with some less than optimal results, such as his loss via disqualification to The Big Bossman at WrestleMania VII.
But, through it all, no one could question the talent that Mr. Perfect displayed in the ring.
And, no one could really question Mr. Perfect's skills as a performer, actor and showman. The promos he would cut, showing his superior skills in everything from shooting hoops, to throwing darts, to his talent on the golf course, are still some of the best and most entertaining promos ever.
Mr. Perfect was the perfect heel for many years. Ultimately, a bad back and a broken tailbone would force him to drop the belt to Bret Hart at SummerSlam '91 and he was never really the same after that.
Mr. Perfect is also one of two wrestlers on this list who passed away far too young. He died in 2003.
Gone but never forgotten, Mr. Perfect, Cool Curt Hennig, is a Hall of Famer and one of the best of all time.
He ranks as the fourth best Intercontinental Champion ever.
3. Razor Ramon
Razor Ramon, also known as Scott Hall, held the Intercontinental Championship on four separate occasions, for a total of 438 days. That places him fifth on the list as far as total number of days a wrestler has held the prestigious IC Title.
While Ramon was probably not as technically sound as others on this list, such as Bret Hart or Mr. Perfect, the quality of the feuds, and the matches those feuds produced during Razor's title reigns, are a major factor in ranking him at number three.
After spending the early part of his WWE career as an obnoxious heel who resembled a cross between Danny Zuko from Grease and Tony Montana from Scarface, Ramon turned face—and his fortunes changed completely.
He won his first IC Title by beating Rick Martel in October 1993 to capture the title that had been vacated by Shawn Michaels. After Michaels returned from a suspension, he and Ramon would feud over who was the true IC Champion.
That issue would be resolved at WrestleMania X when Ramon defeated HBK in one of the best ladder matches ever.
But, their feud was far from over. Michaels would introduce Diesel (Kevin Nash) into the equation. In real life, the three men, along with Triple H, and The 1-2-3 Kid (Sean Waltman), were forming The Kliq. As far as kayfabe was concerned, however, the feud was white-hot.
Diesel would eventually win the IC Title from Ramon, but Ramon would recapture the title from Diesel at Summer Slam '94 after Michaels accidentally nailed Diesel with Sweet Chin Music. This seemed to mark the end of Razor's feud with Michaels and Diesel.
Ramon would then engage in a bitter feud with Jeff Jarrett over the Intercontinental Championship. Ramon would lose the title to Jarrett and then win it back in another ladder match victory, only to lose it back to Jarrett a few days later.
This ping-ponging of the championship did not diminish the quality of the battles between the two great champions, and the fans were the ones who really won.
Ramon would finally lose a ladder match as he was unable to recapture the IC Title from Shawn Michaels at Summer Slam.
He would win his fourth and final Intercontinental Championship from Dean Douglas before dropping the belt for the last time to Goldust in 1996.
Ramon would leave the WWE soon thereafter and change the industry as we knew it when he formed the nWo with Kevin Nash in WCW.
Ramon's ring skills, in my opinion, were always underrated. You could say the same as for his abilities as a performer. But, I am not sure anyone other than Scott Hall could have pulled off The Bad Guy persona any better than he did.
For three years, Razor Ramon was involved in some great matches, some of them even attaining legendary status. The fact that most of them involved the Intercontinental Championship justifies Razor Ramon as the third best Intercontinental Champion of all time.
2. The Ultimate Warrior
I already know that many of you will disagree with me as to this selection, but hear me out on this first.
The Ultimate Warrior was the most dominating Intercontinental Champion ever.
Never before, and probably never again, have we seen an Intercontinental Champion run roughshod over the competition like the Warrior did.
It all started with a resounding destruction of The Honky Tonk Man, in all of 13 seconds no less, at the first Summer Slam in 1988. The Warrior's dethroning of The Honky Tonk Man produced one of the loudest ovations I have ever heard a wrestler receive.
The Ultimate Warrior would not really be challenged until WrestleMania V when, with the help of Bobby Heenan, Rick Rude stole the title from him.
A few months later, at Summer Slam, the Warrior would recapture the title, with some timely help from Rowdy Roddy Piper.
By the time Warrior won his second IC Title, he was being looked upon as an equal to Hulk Hogan. He was destroying everyone in his path. Even the once-unbeatable Andre The Giant was being squashed by The Warrior at house shows everywhere.
As far as I know, The Ultimate Warrior is the only wrestler other than Hulk Hogan to slam Andre The Giant. That should give some sort of indication as to the dominance of the Warrior.
Ultimately, the Warrior was so dominant that he was given a shot at Hulk Hogan and the WWE Title at WrestleMania VI. No other IC Champion has really been looked upon as a legitimate threat to the then-WWE Champion.
True, many other IC Champions have been given a shot at the WWE Title. But, only the Ultimate Warrior was considered to be a real threat to take the belt.
As we all know, The Ultimate Warrior, stunned everyone by cleanly pinning Hulk Hogan and winning the WWE Championship. As we also know, the Warrior was nowhere near as great a WWE Champion as he was a two-time Intercontinental Champion.
As far as his camera work was concerned, the Warrior fell far short of the mark. Many of his interviews were incoherent ramblings, or snorting, or any number of other odd behaviors. Despite all his shortcomings, he was a huge fan favorite and was able to rival Hogan as far as fan support was concerned.
Many people can't stand The Ultimate Warrior for his controversial comments outside the ring, and for his near lunacy in some of the things he says.
But, you can't deny how dominating The Ultimate Warrior was as the Intercontinental Champion. He held the title two times, for a total of 432 days, and left a trail of defeated greats in his wake.
Because of this, he comes in at number two.
1. Macho Man Randy Savage
While many of you might disagree as to The Ultimate Warrior at No. 2, I suspect many of you will agree with me as to the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time—the Macho Man Randy Savage.
Savage only had one reign as IC Champion, but what a reign it was.
His win over Tito Santana in February 1986 was certainly not the cleanest of title wins we have ever seen. But, what made Savage so good was how he defended the Intercontinental Championship against everyone.
As he did so, no one could deny just what a talent the Macho Man was. He used aerial attacks like no one before had ever really thought of. Sure, guys like Jimmy Snuka would use the turnbuckles (or maybe even the top of a steel cage), but not like Macho Man.
Combine all that talent with a real mean streak, and Randy Savage was easily the most dangerous man to hold the IC Title.
It did not hurt that he had the lovely Miss Elizabeth at ringside with him and her involvement always made Savage somewhat less of a heel no matter how hard he tried to be one.
Even with all his jealousy and insecurities on display, the relationship between the two made for the most enthralling type of entertainment possible.
There was something magical there between Savage and Elizabeth and it was probably made all the more genuine because they were married in real life. It is something we may never see again.
With Elizabeth at his side, but rarely interfering in his matches, Savage continued to pile on the wins, including some count out wins over then-WWE Champion Hulk Hogan.
Savage also successfully defended his Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania II by beating George "The Animal" Steele.
But, Macho's defining moment as Intercontinental Champion, ironically enough, came in defeat. After nearly ending Ricky Steamboat's career with one of his patented aerial attacks, the two would meet at WrestleMania III for the IC Title.
As we all know, Steamboat would win that match, a match many still believe is the greatest match of all time. Though he lost, anyone watching could see that Macho Man was destined for bigger and better things.
His talent and charisma were so evident, that the WWE decided that Savage would be the man to succeed Hulk Hogan as WWE Champion in 1988, something he accomplished in a tournament for the championship at WrestleMania IV.
On the mic, Savage had no equal. His voice and delivery are recognized by wrestling fans the world over. His over-the-top robes and equally gaudy glasses will never be forgotten. All of this combined to form the ultimate Intercontinental Champion.
His one reign lasted 414 days, the third longest reign of all time.
In 2011, we lost the Macho Man to a massive heart attack. He was only 58 and was just starting to mend some fences with the WWE.
Though he is not in the Hall of Fame yet, we all know he should be and, hopefully, will be one day.
Regardless, the Macho Man Randy Savage is the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time.