The WWE Intercontinental championship celebrates its 35th birthday today. The Inertcontinental title has wrapped around the waists of some of the greatest workers in WWE history. Its present value may be diminished but its place in history remains strong.
The WWE recently ranked the top 25 champions in I-C history on WWE.com. I did my own ranking a few years ago here on the CCB. Our top ten was very similar, yet we couldn’t be further apart on our overall first choice. My number one champion, Magnificent Muraco didn’t even make their .com top ten. How does a man who held the title for a combined 541 days over two title reigns not even break the top ten? However, we weren’t far apart on number two as I ranked Randy Savage two while they had him at one.
When I started watching wrestling in 1982 the intercontinental title was just as much a focal point of WWE or WWF television at the time as was the world title. Quite frankly the intercontinental title had more visibility as the I-C champ appeared on weekly television more often than the world champ. It was the feud for that title which grabbed my attention more than any other, specifically the challenger. It didn’t get much better than the Magnificent Muraco as far as I was concerned.
Even as a kid I liked an entertaining heel more than a white bread babyface. Muraco was the man as far as I was concerned. Today I still can sit back and enjoy a Muraco promo or match from that period as he (as well as the combination of him and Lou Albano) was just that good in and out of the ring. There really weren’t many others better.
Muraco’s feuds with Pedro Morales, Rocky Johnson, and especially Jimmy Snuka were the show stealers for me. I didn’t care about Bob Backlund’s title matches or Andre the Giant’s freak show feud against another big man. I just wanted to see the Magnificent one in action whether it was on Saturday morning television eating a hot dog destroying a jobber or coming within inches of losing his title at the Spectrum. The Intercontinental title was put on a bannister for me from day one thanks to Muraco.
As I got older and wiser to pro wrestling the I-C title remained my favorite title series. The title quickly evolved into the “worker’s title” as wrestlers from that era will tell you. Hulk Hogan gave you the show, but the intercontinental title gave you the wrestling. Tito Santana, Greg Valentine, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Curt Hennig, Ricky Steamboat, and Davey Boy Smith epitomized this ethic and only got better with the pressures of the championship.
Ironically if you poll longtime WWE fans you will likely find more intercontinental title matches in their top ten greatest WWE matches of all-time than WWE world title bouts. Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage, Bret Hart vs. Davey Boy Smith, Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect all find their way into those lists and showcase how great that 1980s-early 1990s era of the intercontinental championship truly was.
The belt got derailed in the mid-1990s and took a serious step back to the WWE championship. Yet through the efforts of some the greatest workers in WWE history, the prestige of the championship was reborn in the Attitude Era. Steve Austin, Owen, Hart, Edge, Chris Jericho, The Rock, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Jeff Hardy, and William Regal put the worker back into the worker’s championship.
Unfortunately the championship has probably seen its lowest value over the last several years. I can’t understand how the same guy who booked this championship with such prestige 25 years ago has reduced it to a meaningless championship for bottom feeders. The era of Valentine, Muraco, Savage, and Steamboat has given way to the era of Big E. Langston, The Miz, Curtis Axel, Kofi Kingston, Ezeikiel Jackson, and Bad News Barrett.
And that would be the best birthday present this little title born out of a phantom tournament in Rio de Janeiro could ask for.
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