Cody Rhodes may be a little premature for some in this category yet keep in mind that before his title run, there has been certain individuals such as Kofi Kingston and Wade Barrett who should both be on the verge of main event status yet Rhodes has established that for himself, thanks to his heel run as an intercontinental champion where it was seen as a calling to the old days where a young, promising athlete gained popularity by having the secondary title around his waist. He also reintroduced the classic white belt design and wrestling fans love their nostalgia.
One of the most spectacular workers of the late-eighties and early-nineties, Rude was a ladies man that all fellow men were somewhat envious of. Under the wing of Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Rude won the Intercontinental Championship over The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 5 (thanks to his manager) and despite his one reign only being 148 days, he had a successful feud with Warrior that may have benefited his opponent more than him. That was exactly what type of individual Rude was; besides having incredible success in NWA and WCW, he was not afraid to put guys over and was a genuine company guy.
How can we not include the first Intercontinental Champion? The Montrealer was crowned the first Intercontinental Champion after a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he unified the WWF North American and South American championships (which according to WWE, was never really a tournament to begin with). After his manager “The Grand Wizard” tried to sell his contract to Captain Lou Albano, he turned face and had more than a decent reign until April 1980, where Ken Patera defeated him – even though Patterson had his feet on the ropes.
Rob Van Dam’s success should not only be limited to his time with ECW because he had major success with WWE. Being able to adapt into the more professional and demanding work environment of the WWE, officials used Rob Van Dam properly (as they failed miserably to do so with other ECW alumni), which saw him win the Intercontinental Championship a whopping 6 times. He defeated William Regal for the title at WrestleMania 18 and since then, feuded with Booker T and Eddie Guerrero, whom he had some great matches with including a Ladder Match on Raw in the month of May in 2002. RVD can still hack it in today’s WWE and makes a strong case for Hall of Fame status because of his long-term contributions to the sports entertainment world.
One half of the ultra properly Hardy Boyz tag team, Jeff Hardy was a four-time champion, and won the World Heavyweight Championship twice and the WWE Championship once, proving that guys like him, Rey Mysterio, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan can win championships and defy the odds against them when it comes to their size and how a model champion should look like. His push in 2001 saw him win the title and defeat Triple H, who should be credited for propelling Hardy’s career even though he has made some pretty thoughtless mistakes since then. Nevertheless, winning the title as many times with the backing he had from the fans made him a popular champion.
Emerging on the scene as “The Bizarre One,” Dustin Runnels’ character of Goldust was one of the more ridiculous gimmicks that worked and still does to this day (hence his inclusion in the New Corporation’s feud with his family). Goldust returned to the WWE in the mid-nineties and beat Razor Ramon for the title at Royal Rumble 1996, after stalking him and leaving him provoking messages. He defeated the likes of Savio Vega and The Ultimate Warrior during his reign, and won the title again in 1999 over Road Dogg before leaving for WCW once again. He is a three-time champion.
“The Texas Rattlesnake” did not have a lengthily title run since he held the belt for a combined amount of 65 days over two title wins but he did prove to the company that you must put the strap over someone who the fans cannot get enough of – dying to see them week after week. Austin obliterated Owen Hart at Survivor Series 1997 to capture the title back from when he had to relinquish it (as well as the tag team championship he held with Shawn Michaels) after his devastating neck injury at SummerSlam 1997. Being forced out of the WWE Championship at the time, Austin was the go-to-guy to give the Intercontinental Championship to solidify his status.
Despite his heinous and shocking crime, “The Crippler” was a workhorse who was in the business for over two decades and won a boatload of titles in the process. He was the twelfth Triple Crown Champion and won his first Intercontinental Championship after only a month with the company at WrestleMania 2000 in a triple-threat match, pinning Chris Jericho for Kurt Angle’s title. He went through a lengthily feud with Jericho, and provided the public with excellent matches between two men who have climbed the ranks together and knew each other in the ring well. Benoit won the title 4 times.
The Intercontinental Championship ignited Edge’s career and despite what Triple h said about him not being able to “draw a dime” on Raw a few weeks back in Toronto, he was a solid WWE and World Heavyweight Champion, (winning a combined 31 championships in WWE) and those runs were so successfully thanks to his Intercontinental Championship run. He had won his first title over Jeff Jarrett at a house show in Toronto in July 1999, making it the first title he won with the company. Despite him dropping the title back to Jarrett at Fully Loaded the next night, he went on to win the title four more times, shortly after the epic tag team matches between The Dudley Boyz and The Hardy Boyz, with Christian by his side.
Curtis Hennig’s championship tenure makes him one of the premier heels to hold the strap and his son’s push with the Intercontinental title is a calling back to his time with the gold wrapped around his waist. With The Coach (John Tolos) and Bobby Heenan by his side at different times, Mr. Perfect was destined for main event status and to win the WWE Championship but the latter never happened. After going undefeated for the first year he entered the promotion, not long after he won the Intercontinental Championship in the final round of a tournament to declare a new champion after he beat two-time champion Tito Santana. He feuded with The Texas Tornado and Big Bossman during his time with the belt. He had won the title twice, and a run of a combined 406 days came to an end when he dropped the title to Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1991 because of an injury that kept him out of action for a long time. That match will go down as one of the best Intercontinental Championship matches of all-time.
The WWE Intercontinental Championship is supposed to be the most prestigious title besides the WWE Championship, and the most popular and successful superstars in history have once held the belt to eventually propel their careers into stardom. Although the title has not been used as a means to honor the second best competitors or those who are placed just a notch underneath the main event category (as it has been used before), the feud between Curtis Axel and CM Punk could eventually lead us to a revolution – hopefully. There are a number of honorable mentions like Pedro Morales, Don Muraco and The British Bulldog, although we count down the most popular and significant champions in title history through the course of two installments. Here is part one of the 20 Best Intercontinental Champions in history.