Wrestling fans of a certain age—like me—probably remember when the Intercontinental Championship meant something in the WWE Universe.
Not long ago, the prestigious title was the second most coveted prize in the then-World Wrestling Federation. The WWE used the belt and the storylines surrounding it to help propel men like Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Steve Austin and The Rock to superstardom.
Back in the good old days, there were many times where I would look forward to the Intercontinental Title match more than the main event or WWE Championship match. Bouts and feuds like Rock vs. HHH, Hart vs. Perfect and of course Savage vs. Steamboat are some of the most memorable and classic in wrestling history.
Lately, a number of factors have diminished the title’s importance. These factors include the presence of a second “major” world title, a lack of defenses on television and pay-per-view, but mainly poor booking and a lack of emphasis on the strap’s significance.
Still, the glory of the Intercontinental Championship shines through every now and then. In recent years, guys like Jeff Hardy, John Morrison, and most recently Dolph Ziggler, have been part of programs that prove the belt still has plenty of worth and meaning to both fans and wrestlers alike.
Too often, it seems like the title is just thrown on anyone in order to give that individual something to do. That seems to be the case with Wade Barrett, a worthy champion but a man with little to no direction. The Englishman’s feud with Ezekiel Jackson is lackluster at best, and it seems like Barrett is simply holding the title…well, I’m not sure why he’s holding the title.
Many fans and contributors to this site have sought in vain to find some way to make the Intercontinental Championship relevant again. We’ve seen superstars come and go from the title scene, yet no one, with the exception of Dolph Ziggler, has been able to provide the gold with a sense of prestige and purpose.
It’s the Internet Wresting Community’s version of The Sword in the Stone legend. The Intercontinental Championship is Excalibur and the WWE creative team serves as the cold, bland, uncreative rock in which the title is entombed.
This past Monday on Raw, I saw the strap’s King Arthur. Finally pushed to the brink by The Miz’ verbal abuse, Alex Riley turned face by pummeling his former employer and leaving him unconscious in the middle of the ring.
We already know Riley has what it takes to make it in the WWE. While he’s still green, he’s good in the ring.
He competed in his first main event this past Sunday at Over the Limit, helping Miz deliver an absolutely brutal beating to John Cena. We’ve seen him impressively hold his own on the mic with the likes of Cena and Miz, two of the top stick guys in the company today.
We know that, given the right direction, Riley can succeed at a high level.
What set Monday night apart for me, however, was the reaction of the Portland crowd as Riley laid into the former champ. The pop was tremendous and by the end, the fans were chanting his name. Alex Riley appears to officially be “over” with the WWE Universe.
That’s great news for SmackDown, where A-Ri is officially on the roster. If such crowd support continues, it gives the blue show a big lift to have a new rising face among the ranks.
Furthermore, it’s great news for the Intercontinental Championship.
As I said, Riley is still a new superstar and has his rookie moments. He’s not ready to be part of the main event picture on his own. Too often these days, the WWE jets guys straight to the top, skipping the mid-card titles. These guys have a main event program before they are ready, only to eventually be de-pushed into obscurity.
This booking not only diminishes the mid-card belts, but also the main event titles by crowning too many undeserving champions. In the past, the WWE used the Intercontinental Championship as a means to prepare rising stars for the main event.
WWE has a great opportunity to build Riley the “right way.” He’s on SmackDown, where a heel holds the Intercontinental Championship. I assume a program with The Miz is imminent, but when that is over, Riley can go after Barrett’s title.
Have him win a Number One Contender’s match or a Battle Royal to legitimize his claim to the gold. Make the match for SummerSlam, where Riley can win the title on a major stage.
This feud alone can bring credibility back to the Intercontinental Championship. Strong programs against the likes of Sheamus, a rejuvenated Ted Dibiase, or an up-and-comer like Justin Gabriel, can further cement the title’s relevance.
Make Riley a target.
Have heels come after him. Show that other wrestlers want a shot at winning the belt.
Personally, after some solid defenses, I’d love to see a program over the title between Riley and Cody Rhodes. The son of the American Dream already seems destined for the main event stage, and this feud could help push both men into the World Heavyweight Championship picture.
Rhodes can hate Riley for being a handsome blue-chip athlete who is loved by the fans. In other words, opposites attract, and this could be a tremendous rivalry that picks up later at the highest level.
Based on what we saw and heard Monday night, I believe Alex Riley is the man who can go to SmackDown and make the Intercontinental Championship the prestigious, sought-after title we all know it should be. He showed an edge in his beatdown of The Miz, and it seemed like the fans were 100% behind him.
Only time will tell if the WWE agrees.