The 411 Wrestling Top 5 08.24.11: Week 138 – Top Intercontinental Champions
Posted by Larry Csonka on 08.24.2011
From Chris Jericho, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels to Randy Savage, Stone Cold Steve Austin and more, the 411 staff ranks their top 5 Intercontinental Champions of all-time! Check out the full article to see which champions made their lists and why!
Hello everyone and welcome to 411 Wrestling's Top 5 List. What we are going to is take a topic each week and all the writers here on 411 wrestling will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic, plus up to three honorable mentions. Most of our topics will be based on recent events in the Wrestling World, looking at those events that make us think of times past.
So, on to this week's topic…
TOP 5 INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONS~!
SHAWN S. LEALOS
5. HONKY TONK MAN - Let's start of by saying that I hated The Honky Tonk Man. Even when he was supposed to be a good guy, I hated him. When he became a bad guy because fans hated him, I still hated him. The fact that he held the IC title for 454 days made me hate him even more. But that made him a success because people paid to see wrestlers try to beat HTM. When Ultimate Warrior finally beat him, it was awesome. Now that people look back and think he might be the greatest ever, I still hate him. But he held the title a long time and that has to be worth something
4. .CHRIS JERICHO - While many men held the IC Championship longer than Jericho, no one held it more times, as Jericho was a nine-time champion. I can overlook the fact that his reigns have only averaged around 35 days apiece, or less than a month each reign, because Jericho is the best man alive at what he does (sorry CM Punk).
3. CURT HENNIG - Curt Hennig should have been the WWE World Champion. He was the AWA World Champion and had the skills of Bret Hart with ten-times the charisma and mic skills. Hennig would have been a Perfect Champion but, due to a bad back, it never happened. Instead, we got to enjoy a Perfect IC Title reign and Hennig was masterful every time he stepped into the ring. He held the belt twice in his WWE career for a total of 406 days.
2. RAZOR RAMON - I really wanted to put Bret Hart on this list but feel he was best known for his World Title reign, so I wanted to keep this about the IC title. Razor Ramon was a man known for fighting for the IC title throughout his WWE career. The classic ladder matches between him and Shawn Michaels was for this title. He held it on four occasions for 438 days and was dominant in the IC division. Forget the joke that Scott Hall has become and remember him from his WWE days, where the Bad Guy was one of the best things going.
1. RANDY SAVAGE - I can't believe Randy Savage only held the belt one time because, when I think of the Macho Man from my youth, I remember him as the IC Champion. That is probably because he held the belt for 414 days, second to only The Honky Tonk Man in average length per title reign. Unlike the HTM, Savage was a great fighting champion, although he was a great cheater as well. I still remember watching the match, at the time it happened, where he won the belt by hitting Tito Santana with a foreign object. I watched his great matches culminating with the greatest match in professional wrestling history against Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III. Savage only had one reign but is one of the greatest wrestlers ever and to me is the greatest IC Champion the WWE has ever seen.
HM: Mr. Perfect - You could always count on Hennig to deliver a great match!
HM: Razor Ramon - Helped innovate the ladder match and added importance to the championship.
HM: Steve Austin - Used the IC title to surge into the main event scene in 1997.
5. Tito Santana - Although not a lot of people remember Santana, he was a big deal in the mid-1980's as far as the IC title went. Tito was the man who lost to the Macho Man, but before that he took on a lot of competitors and actually was one of the top faces at the time. Several classic matches involving Santana and Greg Valentine can be found on the WWE On Demand service or with any tape traders, and Tito's loss of the title to the Macho Man was the first match I ever saw.
4. Macho Man Randy Savage - Randy Savage became a star the second he entered the WWF, but it was the IC Title that propelled him to a superstar. Savage defended the title as a heel and used Miss Elizabeth to cower from an attack and then cheap shot his opponents, as well as beating them violently such as using the ring bell to drop across Ricky Steamboat's throat in 1987. Steamboat's victory brought out one of the most famous matches ever and helped propel Savage to the main event in 1988 and the WWF Championship.
3. The Honky Tonk Man - Honky was the longest reigning IC champion and possibly the most despised. The fact he beat Ricky Steamboat by cheating was bad enough, but the fact he'd continually get disqualified or counted out to retain his belt infuriated wrestling fans. As long as he held the title, people wanted him to get mauled and it seemed like nobody ever would be able to put down HTM until that fateful SummerSlam in 1988 when the Ultimate Warrior brought closure to the longest IC title reign in history.
2. Bret "Hitman" Hart - Bret's singles career was in full swing when he became the IC champion but it was this title that helped define some of his most famous matches and propel him into the main events. Hart wrestled against all different opponents such as Curt Hennig, Shawn Michaels, Roddy Piper, Ted Dibiase, and a list of others for the gold and was able to put on so many good matches he got elevated to the main event and the rest is history, leading to seven world championships and the Hall of Fame.
1. Shawn Michaels - HBK helped redefine the Intercontinental title during an era when interest in wrestling was waning from the 1980's boom period, and showed that a smaller guy could make an entertaining match. Shawn competed against the cream of the crop in the WWF at the time while establishing his heel persona, using the title to launch a career that would span four world championships and a Hall of Fame entry. From the "imposter" IC championship ladder match to the rematch a year and a half later, Shawn helped revolutionize a new type of match and a new style of wrestling that allowed the "smaller guys" to shine in the WWF spotlight. Shawn became IC champion as a midcarder with an uncertain future and a seemingly short-lived gimmick, but by the time he dropped the belt for the final time he proved he was the future of the company.
HM: Pat Patterson - Deserves a mention simply for being the very first IC Champion. He was able to hang onto it for nearly a year as well, before dropping the belt to Ken Patera.
HM: Ricky Steamboat - His sole reign as champion was forgettable, but being as it kicked off with the legendary Wrestlemania 3 match against Randy Savage, he should at least get a mention.
HM: Davey Boy Smith - Replace Wrestlemania 3 with Summerslam 1992 and Randy Savage with Bret Hart, and you could copy and paste my oomments for Steamboat to here.
5. Triple H - He may have won his first IC Title back in 1996 when he was plain old Hunter Hearst Helmsley, but it's his reign in the fall of 1998 that got him a place on the list. Here was someone who was getting solidly over in the midcard as leader of the iconic DX, and used this championship to push himself onto the next step. It doesn't exactly hinder things that he won the gold for the second time in a phenomenal, violent, criminally underrated Ladder Match against the Rock. He also deserves mention for briefly retiring the championship, beating Kane in a unification match with the World Heavyweight Championship.
4. Randy Savage - I'd like to think that even without the sentimental value of his tragic passing, people would still remember Savage as an all-time great Intercontinental Champion. He won the belt after a forgotten gem of a feud with Tito Santana, and held it with distinction for well over a year, engaging in memorable feuds with veritable legends Hulk Hogan, Bruno Sammartino and...erm... George Steele. His classic against Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania 3, and the fact he'd be WWF Champion just a year after losing the gold, further cements his spot on the list.
3. Bret Hart - With two reigns and few classics compared to his years as WWF Champion, I can't in good conscience put the Excellence of Execution any higher on this list. Then again, you can hardly blame Bret for a lack of five star bouts when you look at the litany of WrestleCrap he had to face for the duration of his championship reigns. Bret did provide us with some fantastic moments in the ring as well, from winning his first title in a scientific tour de force against Mr. Perfect, to a tense, bloody battle with Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 8, innovating the Ladder Match with Shawn Michaels, and finally dropping the title in a match for the ages at Summerslam 1992. Bret gave a lot as the IC Champion, and, much like everyone I've seen fit to be on the list, used it as a springboard to the WWF Championship.
2. Chris Jericho - With nine title victories to his name, Chris Jericho holds the record for most Intercontinental Championship reigns by quite some margin. It figures then that he'd have had some great battles for the belt. Standing out in my mind is his brutal Ladder match with Chris Benoit at the 2001 Royal Rumble, while his sublime series against Rey Mysterio in the summer of 2009 would have won match of the year plaudits had it not been for Michaels Vs The Undertaker. What's more, Y2J has brought something different to every reign, whether it be co-holding the title with Chyna or elevating new talent with Shelton Benjamin and Kofi Kingston. Jericho definitely deserves a place this high on the list.
1. Shawn Michaels - I really wanted to pick somebody other than Shawn Michaels, being as he's such an obvious choice, but you just can't argue at all with him being number one. He had numerous classics with this on the line, whether it be against Marty Jannetty, Razor Ramon, Jeff Jarrett, Bret Hart, or practically anyone else on the WWF 1992-1995 roster. He used it to elevate himself to the WWF Title, which for me is a crucial part of being a good IC Champion. And he did it all with a panache and style that probably only Randy Savage on this list could rival. Shawn is almost without question the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time.
These picks represent favorites of mine who I believe are the greatest IC champs, and are just my opinion.
HM - Shelton Benjamin: His run after defeating Chris Jericho at Taboo Tuesday 2004 was the last great Intercontinental run, and he put on some amazing matches while holding the belt. Check out the Triple Threat match at Vengeance 2006. HM - Razor Ramon: His ladder matches with HBK are legendary still to this day, and always worth watching to see how a ladder match should be done. He helped legitimize the belt, and the belt helped him become a bigger superstar. HM - The Rock: Had a great run with the IC title and put on great matches with Stone Cold and Triple H and a couple others. He really used the title to showcase his abilities and it was the reason why he became champ at Survivor Series 1998. He just barely misses the list, though.
5. Stone Cold Steve Austin - Stone Cold having the Intercontinental Title by itself is not very memorable, but what is memorable is what he did with it. He used the IC belt to propel himself into the main event scene and fuel the already scorching-hot feud with Mr. McMahon. Plus, he threw the title into the Hudson River when he was feuding with the Rock over it, and that was just great television. You could make a case for the Rock to be in this spot instead of Stone Cold, but I believe that Stone Cold is the bigger superstar of the two. The IC title did more for Stone Cold as a prop than it did for the Rock as a championship, but not by much, so he gets the spot.
4. Randy Orton - Like my #5, Randy Orton used the Intercontinental Championship to skyrocket to the main event. When he defeated RVD at Armageddon 2003 to win it, he would hold the belt for seven months and change and drop it to Edge at Vengeance 2004. What is memorable about his reign was his feud with Mick Foley and the IC title match that they put on at Backlash 2004. The match and the reign thrust him into the main event and showed the fans that he was main event caliber, and made the career of arguably the most over face in the WWE, save maybe for CM Punk.
3. Chris Jericho - It was very hard to place Jericho on this list. He definitely deserves to be on this list, as he has held the belt more times than anyone. However, none of his reigns are particularly memorable, save for the awesome feud between himself and Rey Mysterio during the summer of 2009. He could certainly be #1, but with 7 reigns not really meaning anything, it is too tough a case to make, therefore he sits at #3. Jericho certainly put on great matches as Intercontinental Champion, against William Regal, Christian, Shelton, Benoit, and Mysterio, but none of those matches are very memorable except his ladder match with Benoit at the Royal Rumble and his Title vs. Mask match with Mysterio. He had great feuds with those two, but again, with so many reigns not really meaning anything, he falls just short of the top two. However, I will say that he always gave good matches as champion, and even though some reigns weren't memorable, they certainly were enjoyable.
2. Shawn Michaels - Not many people are going to like this pick, but Michaels was every bit a great Intercontinental Champion as the rest of the list, except for #1. If you want to see how great he was, check out his stuff in 1992, when he was having great matches, or check out the RAW episode where he came out and issued an open challenge, only to have it answered by Marty Janetty. The crowd response to HBK's heel heat and the pop for Janetty were insane for that time period. Not only that, HBK had great matches with Jeff Jarrett, Mr. Perfect, and Razor Ramon as champ. When he was champ in 1995, he was showcasing every night in the main event why he would become arguably the greatest singles competitor of all time. Because he was IC champ, Michaels was made WWF Champion and his reigns as Intercontinental Champion led to one of the greatest careers ever.
1. Bret Hart - Who else could it really be? If you argue with my pick, that's fine. I will then ask you to watch SummerSlam 1991 and SummerSlam 1992 to see Bret Hart win the IC title from Mr. Perfect and lose the title to Davey Boy Smith in the greatest IC title match not at WrestleMania. If you still argue with me, consider that Perfect was in really bad shape at that match and he still gutted it out and Hart put on a great match with him. That was the match that really sold Hart to the fans. His match with Davey Boy Smith is still legendary to this day. The only match that could top it with emotion might be Punk/Cena, but that is only because Punk was in his hometown. If you are talking about superstars using the IC title to springboard into the main event and become WWF/WWE/World Heavyweight Champion, the biggest name to do that is Bret Hart. Others may have found a way to eventually hold the biggest prize, but Hart made himself with the Intercontinental Title and in my belief would not have enjoyed the success that he did without it. He is in my mind the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time.
Jeremy Thomas HM - Santino Marella: HONK-A-METER! HM - Mr. Perfect: It's unfortunate that he can never be considered for Greatest World Champion, but at least he has his legacy here. HM - Razor Ramon: It will be the championship he's always known for and his run was very good.
5. Pedro Morales - Poor Morales always seems to be left out of the pack when discussing the great champions. Morales held the title longer than anyone else, and unlike many later champions he did it with only two titles. This was back during the era where there weren't a ton of titles floating around to dilute the significance. Morales helped build the IC title to what it was thanks to his feud with Don Muraco and he was also the first person to ever hold it twice. He absolutely deserves his spot on this list.
4. Rick Rude - The Ravishing One may not be everyone's choice to put on this list, as his run was a little less than five months and he only held the belt once. However, you have to remember that he did it by ending the first title reign of the Ultimate Warrior, who was unstoppable at the time. When he lost it back to Warrior at SummerSlam, it was thanks in part to "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. In-between he had a fabulous run with the belt and remains one of the title reigns I remember most strongly.
3. Chris Jericho - Jericho has to be considered for anyone's list because he has the most title reigns of all-time with nine. I think what really pushes him over the top though is the quality of matches he had, and the work he did to try and elevate the belt. Jericho had some great matches as Intercontinental Champion and he really did try to restore some sort of relevance to the title. That relevance would eventually be frittered away every time he lost it, but if not for his efforts, I would imagine fans would care about the belt even less than they do now.
2. Randy Savage - You could probably flip a coin to decide the #1 and #2 spots, but for me Savage bubbles just a tiny bit under. His reign with the belt was one of the most memorable of all-time and ran for an astounding 414 days. During this time he had two absolutely legendary feuds, one against George "The Animal" Steele and the other against Ricky Steamboat. Add in the fact that he lost the title in what is considered by many to be the greatest match in WrestleMania history and he's an easy top two placement.
1. Honky Tonk Man - WWE makes a lot of statements that are terrible hyperbole; it's simply the nature of the larger-than-life business. When they trumpeted the Honky Tonk Man as the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all-time for years…that wasn't one of those overstatements. Honky gave the belt heat like no one had ever seen and I daresay that few people benefited from an IC Title run the way he did. More to the point, no one helped others benefit the way he did either. Honky has a reputation for being an asshole these days, and it's largely earned. However, the fact that he was as hated of a heel as he was meant that during his run with the title, he was the perfect guy to help mid-level faces get more over with the crowd and see if they could get that push toward the main event. Everyone loathed Honky and wanted to see him lose it, so of course it was built up for years until finally the Ultimate Warrior got over on him. Aside from all that…just look down at that picture below this and behold that title belt. That's amazing shit right there. I maintain that Honky's run with the belt was the pinnacle of the title's greatness.
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