For a long time now, there have been certain wrestlers who easily and frequently win the Intercontinental title seemingly at will. Some have proven talent either with the WWE or prior to it.
Others win it due more to their backstage talents with the powers that be. Either way, fans can tire of the countless would-be world title runs fizzling into IC gold.
Similar to the long standing boundary of mach speed flight or reaching absolute zero temperature, shedding the IC stigma for better things can seem near impossible.
No matter how many Swanton Bombs, T-Bone Suplexes, or Samoan Spikes are done, the top of the title mountain seems to be the greatest challenge of them all.
The Intercontinental title has a history of holding good talent back. It can trace its roots back to the convergence of North and South American titles of 1979 and later accentuated by the European and Hardcore titles in 2002.
From the mid 80’s to the 90’s, it played 2nd fiddle to the Hulk/Warrior dominated world title. Some wrestlers such as Randy Savage and Bret Hart were able to cross the divide during this time. Those left trying include Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, Rick Rude, Davey Boy Smith, and Jeff Jarrett.
Despite his household name, the Hot Rod’s best reward wouldn’t be the best the business had to offer. All of Rude’s and Steamboat’s pre-WWE gold could not outweigh the one that eluded them in the WWE.
The trans-Atlantic hero, British Bulldog, was never rewarded with the top prize of the wrestling world. Double J-Double T ran roughshod over the IC scene but was a no-show beyond that.
It wasn't until the 21st Century that "Y2J" Chris Jericho took a suggestion from his theme song and decisively broke down the walls of this trend in 2001. Jericho’s crossing is different from others who’ve crossed.
There were many top guys around who were more popular (Austin, Rock, Angle) but Jericho’s long dedication to the business solidified his crossing of the divide. Fans celebrated when the WWE finally anointed the careers of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit with the ultimate wrestling prize.
Edge’s climb took eight years and five IC titles even though he felt destined to be world champ ever since the first day he laced up his boots. Most recently, Jeff Hardy had to endure ten years and four IC titles before being recognized as an official people’s champion.
Among those still struggling with the Intercontinental divide is William Regal. He’s had a long career that has been resuscitated many times but has only been close to carrying a brand with a title.
Despite Christian’s detour, he has only been considered Intercontinental material by the WWE. Umaga’s had a few runs as the dominant force nobody wants to face. He is due to continue his dominance past the IC picture.
There's not a match that goes by where Jim Ross doesn’t tell us that Shelton Benjamin is one of the best talents in wrestling. Whether he can be claimed one of the best of all time depends on whether he can go beyond the IC cycle.
The common reason why many are relegated to the Intercontinental belt is because the hopeful competitor is in the right place at the wrong time. Legitimate talent doesn’t get recognized if there’s a dominant force holding the world title.
Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Steve Austin, and other stars on the world title scene don’t leave room for others who’ve paid their dues in a less spectacular manner.
Yes, many have used the IC title as a stepping stone to move on, but there will always be a “what if?” group. Many who “walk that aisle” would still like to be able to even make it to the Intercontinental divide.
Being pushed down a rung by the ECW and World Heavyweight titles and squeezed in by the U.S. belt only decreases the value of the Intercontinental competition. The value of its unified history may never be fully realized but those who are fortunate to attain this goal must put their stake in what lies beyond.