The Royal Rumble pay-per-view is most recognized by the bout that carries its name. As one of the original four, yearly events held by the WWE, the Rumble has become one of the most popular and enduring events.
But at the event the WWE’s oldest mid-card title, the Intercontinental title, has been contested in impressive encounters.
First introduced in 1979, the title has been held by such legends as Pat Patterson, Tito Santana, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Razor Ramon and Triple H, just to name a few. For years it was a stepping stone to the WWE title, a prestigious belt that was desired by wrestlers with greatness in mind.
In the 26 editions of the Rumble, the Intercontinental championship has been defended 11 times. This list ranks the best 7 of those 11 defenses.
Rankings are based on historical significance and quality of the action.
The best matches always have a compelling back story that engages the fans. This match from 1998 between The Rock and Ken Shamrock was no different.
Over several weeks Shamrock had scored victories over different members of The Nation of Domination. Then in a tag team bout with Mark Henry, Henry joined The Nation and Shamrock received a brutal beat down for a few minutes.
Shamrock took the early lead in the one-hour time limit bout. He knocked Rock around the ring with kicks, punches and clotheslines. But just as quickly, Rock regained control.
After a rush-in attempt by The Nation allowed Rock to hit Shamrock with brass knuckles. Shamrock managed to kick out and scored the pin on Rock.
The win got reversed when the referee found the brass knuckles in Shamrock’s tights.
While Shamrock has left the sport, Rock continues to be an influence. In this match, he sold every move by Shamrock and, even booed, still managed to electrify the crowd.
It was a sign of things to come.
In January 1997, then-Intercontinental Champion Triple H battled Goldust in a hard-fought, emotional battle.
At this point in his career, Triple H was portrayed not only as arrogant, but also as a ladies' man. He made a play for Marlena, then Goldust’s valet. She rejected his advances, and was hurt in a confrontation between the two.
When they met at the Royal Rumble, Goldust was the aggressor. He attacked Triple H outside the ring at the start of the bout, relentless in his attack. At one point, Triple H was slammed with the steel steps.
Several times the action spilled outside the ring, and those same steel steps came back into play.
At the end of the match, Mr. Hughes, Triple H’s bodyguard, distracted the referee. Triple H used the moment to kiss Marlena. Goldust responded by striking the Cerebral Assassin with the belt. Mr. Hughes pulled Triple H’s leg under the ropes to break the pin.
Another distraction by the bodyguard allowed Triple H to hit a pedigree and take the win.
The action is this bout was not the greatest ever seen. But, it was the emotional tie-in with Marlena that sold it with the fans. They were solidly behind Goldust, but the young Triple H showed signs of his future mind-game mastery in this bout.
The 1992 Royal Rumble match itself already had a wonderful reward attached to it: The winner of the event was to be crowned the new world champion.
On this night in January, Roddy Piper had the chance to win both of the WWE’s singles titles.
He would only walk away with one, but it was enough, as this was his first championship in the WWE.
Two days before the Rumble, The Mountie had defeated Bret Hart for the Intercontinental title. Piper, having just returned to the WWE, was in line for a title shot.
Piper was able to win the belt and then went on to the Rumble match. He entered at No. 15, and lasted 34 minutes before being eliminated by Sid Justice.
He would lose the belt to Bret Hart at WrestleMania. To this day, it remains his sole singles title in the WWE and one of his crowning moments.
The two former tag team partners collided at the 1993 Royal Rumble and gave fans an emotional match rife with history.
Marty Jannetty had struggled to find a place in the WWE without Shawn Michaels, already on the rise as a singles star.
Jannetty took the early lead over Michaels after he slammed the Heartbreak Kid’s head to the ground. But when the action spilled outside, Michaels went to work on Jannetty’s shoulder.
After he rammed him into the steel post outside, he stayed on the shoulder for some time. This slowed Jannetty down and gave Michaels the advantage.
Jannetty eventually mounted a comeback, which included an impressive suplex from the ring onto the floor. But even a slap from Sherri Martel and more offense couldn’t save the former Rocker.
Jannetty eventually fell to Sweet Chin Music and Michaels kept the belt.
This bout showed, painfully, how Michaels was a league above Jannetty and couldn’t be held down.
The 2000 Triple Threat Match for the Intercontinental title was an historic bout, put together to declare an undisputed champion.
In December 1999, there was an Intercontinental title match on SmackDown between Chyna and Chris Jericho. Jericho was the champion, having beaten Chyna at the Armageddon pay-per-view.
The bout ended in a controversial double pinfall, with the two declared co-champions.
At the 2000 Royal Rumble, Jericho fought Chyna and Hardcore Holly.
It was a hard-fought match that saw the momentum swing back and forth many times.
At one point, Chyna was thrown from the ring and Jericho locked in the Walls of Jericho on Holly. Before Holly could tap, Chyna broke up the submission. Later she launched a dropkick at a chair that Holly held, which bounced back into his face.
The match ended when Jericho used a bulldog on Chyna as she had Holly in the Walls of Jericho. One Lionsault later and he was the undisputed Intercontinental champion.
This match lands on the list due to the unusual and historic co-championship reign. Chyna held her own with the men, something the Ninth Wonder of the World didn’t get the chance to do later in the Rumble match.
William Regal and Edge had previously fought at Vengeance, and their bout at the 2002 Royal Rumble was a natural continuance of their feud.
After several run-ins and sneak attacks, Regal struck edge with brass knuckles during his RAW bout against Lance Storm. Regal challenged Edge for the title and Edge agreed to a match at the Rumble.
In their title bout, the referee found and confiscated brass knuckles from Regal. From there, Edge took the early lead and rocked Regal with bouncing blows, a clubbing clothesline and brutal back body-drop.
But once Regal took control, he began to clobber the reigning champion. He even managed a very impressive double-arm powerbomb.
A few minutes later Edge matched that move with a devastating DDT on the side of the ring apron.
The match continued to go back and forth between the two as each seemed to one-up the other in brutality and intensity. When Edge went for his spear, the referee got caught between the two and went down in a heap.
With the official temporarily out, Regal clocked him with a second set of brass knuckles. He scored the pin and the Intercontinental championship in an impressively physical bout.
The 2001 Royal Rumble Ladder Match between the Crippler Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho was everything one would expect it to be: brutal.
The two men pounded each other, fighting as if the mid-card title were a world belt. Jericho took several hard falls out of the ring and brutally thrown into the steel steps by Benoit.
But then the match took another step once the ladder began to be used as a weapon.
Benoit took ladder shot to the head and stomach. Jericho got Irish-whipped head first into a well-placed ladder in the corner.
After he fell outside, Benoit went for a dive from the ring to the floor, but Jericho countered with a chair shot to the head as Benoit passed.
The punishment continued with repeated blasts to the head with the ladder. At one point, Benoit was stretched across the top of a ladder.
In another high spot, Benoit caught Jericho in the Crippler Crossface in midair as he jumped from the ladder.
The bout mercifully came to an end when Jericho scaled the ladder and took the title.
Because of the intensity and skill of the two men involved, the prestige of the Intercontinental title was raised. For these two, it seemed, this was more than a mid-card belt.