Ranking the Top 10 Greatest WWE Intercontinental Championship Ladder Matches
At WrestleMania 31 on Sunday, the Intercontinental Championship will be defended in a multi-man Ladder match involving Daniel Bryan, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler and others. With seven hungry competitors vying for the prestigious prize, Bad News Barrett will be at a distinct disadvantage.
Once the stepping stone to bigger and better things, the Intercontinental title was the hot ticket to the main event scene, but those days are long gone. Sadly, the midcard belt has been relegated to serving as a prop for the better part of the last decade, with its holders constantly losing non-title matches to further devalue the strap and its history.
Believe it or not, there was a time when the Intercontinental title wasn't treated like an afterthought and instead meant whoever held it was the workhorse of the company. That same strap put people on the map when it was put up for grabs in the legendary Ladder match.
From Shawn Michaels' battles with Razor Ramon to Rob Van Dam's breakout performances, the Intercontinental Championship is known for making careers, especially when ladders are in play. Whether Sunday's installment will live up to its predecessors remains to be seen, but if the following classic contests are any indication, the combatants will have their work cut out for them.
Each of these sensational selections is ranked based off the following criteria: the match's build, execution, the key players, aftermath, lasting impact and more.
10. Jeff Hardy vs. Carlito: Raw's 15th Anniversary Show
Truth be told, there really wasn't much meaning behind this particular meeting between Jeff Hardy and Carlito. On a night as special as Raw's 15th anniversary celebration, hosting a Ladder match was basically WWE's way of going all out.
Only days before he was set to face off against Triple H at Armageddon in one of the biggest matches of his career to that point, Hardy had to shift his focus to what was important at that moment: the Intercontinental Championship. He had reigned as champion for a solid three months but had hungry challengers knocking at his door for a title opportunity, including Carlito.
A former Intercontinental champion, Carlito was looking to take the title from Hardy and halt his momentum six days prior to the pay-per-view. Plus, with it being such a grand occasion, this was the perfect night for Carlito to reestablish himself as a worthy contender to the title.
The match itself was fun for what it was, but it wasn't anything more. It was never meant to be an instant classic, and in the time they were allotted, Hardy and Carlito contested a decent TV bout that saw Hardy use his experience in Ladder matches to his advantage and emerge victorious.
For a bit of trivia, this was the most recent Ladder match to take place on Raw, but it hopefully won't be the last.
9. Jeff Hardy vs. Johnny Nitro: Raw, November 20, 2006
One year prior to his clash with Carlito, Jeff Hardy was involved in another Ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship on Raw, this time with Johnny Nitro. The key difference between this bout and Hardy's encounter with Carlito, however, is that this match had several weeks' worth of build behind it.
Upon returning to WWE in August 2006, Hardy immediately set his sights on the Intercontinental title, a piece of gold he once held during his previous stint in the company. The only obstacle standing in his way was Johnny Nitro, a young up-and-comer who had made waves in the midcard division in Hardy's absence.
After weeks of chasing of the championship, Hardy finally gained possession of the prestigious prize when he beat Nitro for the belt on the October 2 edition of Raw, only to drop it back to him a month later. The very next week, on the November 13 Raw, Hardy regained the gold, setting the stage for an epic Ladder match on the subsequent show.
Having competed in more Ladder matches than any other individual throughout his career, Hardy obviously had the experience factor over Nitro, but that didn't stop the former MNM member from having an impressive outing. Even with Melina in his back pocket, he still failed to triumph over his archrival.
This was another case of the match being cut short due to it taking place on TV, but given the circumstances, they worked hard and delivered a match befitting the feud. It was also effective in proving that, even in defeat, Nitro wasn't one to take lightly.
8. Edge vs. Christian: No Mercy 2001
Unlike any other match you'll see featured on this list, these competitors were more than just rivals. Edge and Christian were two of the closest friends this business has ever seen, only split apart by the lust of a single strap: the Intercontinental Championship.
Longtime tag team partners and even better buddies, the friendship between Edge and Christian came to an abrupt end in late 2001, when Christian's jealousy about Edge's success as a singles competitor got the better of him. This led to a Ladder match between the two at the No Mercy pay-per-view, where the Intercontinental title was up for grabs, both literally and figuratively.
There was no match that could have fit the feud better. Edge and Christian had spent almost all of their careers to that point competing in Ladder matches, so it was the perfect way for their personal rivalry to culminate.
While the match wasn't as exceptional as you'd expect, given who was involved, it was still quite good. The in-ring action spoke for itself, with both competitors putting their bodies on the line, but for whatever reason, that night's St. Louis crowd didn't respond favorably.
Nevertheless, the story they told with Edge exacting revenge on the friend who betrayed him was well executed. It's simply a shame we didn't see more of them in Ladder matches together before Edge's abrupt retirement in 2011 (aside from their involvement in the inaugural Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania 21).
7. Rob Van Dam vs. Christian: Raw, September 29, 2003
Years ago, it wasn't out of the ordinary to see a Ladder match take place on Monday Night Raw—as you can likely tell from reading this list. However, its placement on the flagship show instead of at a major pay-per-view never made it feel any less special.
When the Intercontinental Championship was revived in May 2003, there was a sudden focus on the long forgotten belt. A variety of Superstars challenged for the championship throughout the year, but no two talents desired it more than Christian and Rob Van Dam.
After regaining the gold from Booker T at a house show in August, Christian ran rampant while in possession of the Intercontinental title before colliding with RVD. The ring skills of both men were apparent, so the decision to have them face off in a Ladder match on the September 23 Raw with the title on the line was an exciting one.
On an otherwise terrible show that saw Jonathon Coachman face Jim Ross and a mediocre tag team title match, this particular edition of Raw was saved and spotlighted by the great Ladder match between Christian and RVD in the main event. On any other show, it may have been overlooked, but even then, they were given the chance to show what they were truly capable of. They delivered and then some.
The story of the match may not have been sensational, but RVD and Christian captured the crowd's attention and held their interest throughout. From flog splashes off the top of the ladder to moonsaults galore, it was a spot fest—but a highly entertaining one that concluded with the monumental moment RVD won the belt for the fifth time.
Furthermore, it proved the Intercontinental title could close out Raw shows if granted the opportunity.
6. Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper: WWE TLC 2014
Since the dawning of the PG era in 2008, the Intercontinental Championship has only been defended in a Ladder match twice—both occasions occurring at the annual WWE TLC pay-per-view. The first, at the 2010 installment, was too short to be anything of consequence. The second, four years later, made people look at the title in an all-new light (or at least temporarily).
By this point in the time, the prestige of the Intercontinental title had been heavily damaged, which was evident based off Luke Harper's win-loss record as champion. Still, that wasn't going to stop Dolph Ziggler from trying to make it mean something again akin to the 1980s and '90s, when that strap was all anyone ever wanted to win.
Ziggler's quest to regain the gold was only a month long, but he was clearly the fan favorite in his hometown of Cleveland, and that environment made this match all the more memorable. Both competitors set out to steal the show, and they were successful in doing just that.
Their brutal ladder shots to one another were downright disturbing and, at times, reckless. Ziggler has never been one to shy away from taking an insane bump, while Harper didn't hesitate in dishing out a cruel amount of punishment on the bleached-blonde Superstar.
To the roar of his hometown crowd, Ziggler ascended the ladder to claim his fourth Intercontinental title.
Through being battered and bruised, Ziggler and Harper came out of the match looking stronger than ever before. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of weeks before the belt was back to meaning absolutely nothing when Ziggler dropped it to the returning Bad News Barrett, who has since devalued it beyond belief.
5. Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit: Royal Rumble 2001
What would this list be without an appearance from Chris Jericho, arguably the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time?
For the first few years of his WWE tenure, Jericho was a mainstay in the midcard, often in contention for the Intercontinental title. Moreover, Chris Benoit found himself in a similar position throughout most of the early 2000s, meaning it was only a matter of time before they clashed.
As two of the best in-ring technicians in the business, a straight-up singles match between them would have been great. Instead, they opted to do battle for the Intercontinental title in a Ladder match, resulting in one of the most exciting bouts in the history of the Royal Rumble.
"High risk; high reward" was essentially the mantra for this matchup, as neither Jericho nor Benoit held anything back. That was made evident halfway through when Jericho connected with a super back suplex through the ladder onto Benoit, showing he'd do anything to take home that title.
It was insane action from start to finish, with the live crowd never getting enough of the human demolition derby that was occurring before their very eyes. Y2J proved his worth with a win on this night following a fantastic match that seemed to elevate the belt in the process.
In fact, the Intercontinental title changed hands more times in 2001 than any other year in year, so Jericho was the first of many new champions to be crowned that year.
Regrettably, the match doesn't have much of a lasting legacy, given Benoit's involvement, but for those who witnessed it live, they can support this bout's worthiness of its placement on this list.
4. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon: SummerSlam 1995
The iconic contest between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon from WrestleMania X is the one that most fans remember, but take nothing away from their equally excellent clash from 1995's SummerSlam event.
Nearly a year-and-a-half removed from their initial Ladder match, the bad blood between them was clearly far from over, but what's most interesting about this encounter was that it was originally never supposed to happen.
At SummerSlam, Michaels was set to defend the gold against Sycho Sid, only for the match to be changed a week prior to the event. As it turned out, it was the best change that could have been made to a horrible, horrible card.
Unsurprisingly, Michaels and Ramon stole the show yet again. What made this match different from its predecessor was how it was treated like a sequel to their first bout instead of just another match, making it feel like an epic clash for the Intercontinental title.
Despite their storied history, this particular match had very little build, but it was so great that it almost didn't matter. It also evened the score between the two, as HBK was successful in retaining his title on the night after coming up short the first time around.
Had Michaels not seemingly botched the finish by falling from the ladder when he wasn't supposed to (it was more awkward than awful), this would have been a perfect match.
3. Rob Van Dam vs. Eddie Guerrero: Raw, May 27, 2002
As noted earlier, during the early 2000s, the Intercontinental Championship still meant something—to the point that it served as a stepping stone to the main event scene. When two Superstars fought over it, you knew they were destined for great things, and that ended up being the case for both Eddie Guerrero and Rob Van Dam.
To further establish that fact, the highly anticipated championship clash between Eddie Guerrero and Rob Van Dam on the May 27, 2002 edition of Raw was given the main event slot. They had built up such a hot feud to that point that fans were anxious to finally see them settle the score, and with the title up for grabs, the stakes couldn't have been any higher.
Any expectations set by fans for this encounter were far and away exceeded, as RVD and Eddie went above and beyond to deliver a truly phenomenal match. They went all out, holding nothing back and taking every risk presented to them.
Based off the way they were working, you would have assumed you were watching a pay-per-view, but their drive and determination to solidify their spot spoke volumes about their willingness to succeed and made that championship matter.
This was another Ladder match that ended awkwardly following a semi-botched finish, but other than that, everything about this match was exceptional. It wasn't long after that Eddie was recognized as the world title-tier talent he was destined to be. RVD would go on to win world championship gold just a few years later as well.
2. The Rock vs. Triple H: SummerSlam 1998
Before they were world champions and headlining WrestleMania together, the Rock and Triple H were bitter rivals feuding over the Intercontinental Championship. With their respective factions also at odds with each other, there was no better way to settle the score than in a Ladder match with the title on the line.
Essentially, the names of the two competitors in this match should speak for themselves. Rock and Triple H always had amazing in-ring chemistry together, whether it was when they were feuding over the WWE title or over the Intercontinental title early on in their respective careers.
Moreover, both guys were looking to make names for themselves on the grand stage of SummerSlam. As the penultimate match on the card, they were determined to not only prove their worth as future stars but steal the show and ensure the main event wouldn't be able to follow it.
A case can be made that they were successful.
Perhaps the best part about the bout was the limited interference from the members of D-Generation X and the Nation of Domination. With some assistance from Chyna, Triple H was able to walk away the victor, but even he knew at that time that he had only won a battle and not the entire war.
It was the epitome of everything a Ladder match should be, including the aftermath. It was the very next year at WrestleMania XV that the Rock was in the main event defending the WWE Championship. The Game soon followed in his footsteps.
1. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon: WrestleMania X
There's no questioning that the inaugural Intercontinental Championship Ladder match held at WrestleMania X is also by far the best. If there is any doubt in your mind, see it for yourself. It was essentially flawless.
As a young up-an-comer at that time, Shawn Michaels embodied everything that the Intercontinental Championship was about, hence why he was the perfect person to be in possession of it. As a heel, he was unmatched in terms of charisma and in-ring ability, and that title was the ticket that took him straight to the WWE Championship the following year.
Elsewhere in the midcard, Razor Ramon was an established name who maintained possession of the prestigious prize when Michaels was out with an injury. Upon his return to TV, HBK was disgusted with his place on the card potentially being threatened, leading him to proclaim himself as the true Intercontinental champion as he had never technically lost the strap.
At what was a historic WrestleMania, Ramon and HBK contested a breathtaking bout that showcased the skills of both amazing athletes, all for the strongly desired Intercontinental title. Their incredible innovation and brilliant performances launched them into an all-new level of superstardom.
Nowadays, we get Ladder matches akin to this one, and it's likely we'll get something similar at WrestleMania 31, but fans hadn't seen anything quite like this before this night. HBK and Ramon deserve every bit of the credit for their impact on the business by paving the way for future Ladder matches, serving as pioneers for one of the most exciting match types in history.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.