Over the course of it’s life the WWE Intercontinental Championship has had the legacy of being not only the “Workhorse” title, but also the stepping stone towards the main event level of the company. 41 years ago in Rio de Janeiro (Depending on who you ask) Pat Patterson was either given or won the Intercontinental strap in a tournament by defeating the likes of Ted DiBiase (pre million dollars) and Johnny Rodz. Only going on to change hands for the first time outside of house shows at Wrestlemania 3 when Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat would win the title in an instant classic, and what some would define as one of the greatest Wrestlemania matches of all time. This such match would kickstart the legacy of one of the top titles in the wide world of wrestling, and set in motion a collection of some of the greatest (and some times headscratching) wrestlers that has stepped through the halls of Stamford, Connecticut; with that being said lets run through the top 6 wrestlers to have ever held the WWE (F) Intercontinental Championship.
6. The Ultimate Warrior (2 Reigns, 432 total days as champ)
Say what you will about the Warrior as a human being outside the ring (or even inside for that matter) but the former Jim Helwig certainly brought a level of shine and glamour to the IC title, taking it as far as the heights of a Wrestlemania main event against Hulk Hogan in a title vs title winner take all match. Warrior faced a murderer’s row of heels before even facing off against the Hulkster at the show of shows, people the likes of Rick Rude, Arn Anderson, and even Andre The Giant towards the tail end of the Giant’s career. However once he beat Hogan at Wrestlemania 6, Warrior was forced to vacate the title due to a kayfabe rule that forbid anyone from holding both the World and Intercontinental titles at the same time.
What keeps Warrior low on this list is his lack of being able to regain the championship post Wrestlemania 6 despite being in the company for two more years after the fact and even a stint in 1996 that included two more title shots that ended in count-outs.
5. Jeff Hardy (4 Reigns, 330 total days as champ)
Jeff Hardy is one of the prototypical Intercontinental Champions and someone that perfectly embodies what that title is all about, someone that will work their ass off in the ring, as well as someone who the company has big aspirations for in the future. However this is not how things started between Jeff and the IC strap, the younger Hardy boy’s first taste of Intercontinental gold would come as a swerve in a match vs Triple H on an April episode of Smackdown in 2001, just to lose it back to The Game that next Monday on Raw.
After a rather hazy stint in TNA for most of the mid-2000’s, Hardy would resurface back in WWE and would immediately insert himself in the Intercontinental picture with (the then) Johnny Nitro and later on with Umaga. Where Jeff gains points here is the fact that after his last reign (at time of writing) Intercontinental title reign ended at the hands of the Samoan savage Umaga, Jeff catapulted to not only the World Heavyweight title scene but also the WWE title picture with a move to Smackdown and a feud with a still capable Triple H. This is what it means to be the Intercontinental Champion to me personally speaking, being able to go consistently in-ring and then moving on to bigger and better things when the time comes.
4. Randy Orton (1 Reign, 210 days as champ)
Randy is the example I would use to speak towards making the most out of a short reign as champion, after having a slow start to his career due to injury, the future Legend Killer would make his presence felt by siding with Evolution in early 2003. By the end of that same year you would see Orton (along side Triple H, Batista, and Ric Flair) holding all the gold for the Raw brand, this would see things really start to get in gear for young Randy and his Legend Killer persona. 2004 would see Orton attack the likes of Harley Race (practically a sin in Orton’s native St. Louis) and start up a legendary feud vs Mick Foley for the Intercontinental Title that would see it’s blood soaked crowning moment at Backlash 2004 in a very brutal and very violent match versus the hardcore icon.
After having a stellar match vs Shelton Benjamin at Bad Blood, Randy Orton would lose the Intercontinental Title to Edge at Vengeance which would not see him down for long as he would almost instantly rise to the top of the card by challenging Chris Benoit for the World Heavyweight title (at the time treated at the top prize of the company in 2004) and then become the youngest world champion in company history at the age of 24. Over the course of 7 months Orton became the IC champ, had heart stopping moments with the belt, and then instantly afterwards rocketing to top guy status…..That is how you make the most out of a little bit.
3. Shawn Michaels (3 Reigns, 406 total days as champ)
Interestingly enough the concepts of Shawn Michaels, the Intercontinental Championship and Ladder matches are intertwined, a lesser known fact is that in the real first ever ladder match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels at a Wrestling Challenge taping was for the Intercontinental title that was held by the master of the Sharpshooter at the time. But this was before the Heartbreak Kid would even have one title reign with the Intercontinental strap under his belt (pun possibly intended), what people would come to define as the possible greatest match fought for the Intercontinental title was yet to come.
Following a very quiet suspension in late 1993 for steroids HBK would strike up a very hot feud with Razor Ramon for the very disputed status of the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania 10, only this time it would be competed for in a ladder match. Much like Steamboat and Savage at Wrestlemania seven years ago, the Intercontinental title had it’s moment in the spotlight thanks to the efforts of Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall, and it’s for that reason that Shawn rates as high as he does.
2. The Miz (8 Reigns, 597 total days as champ)’
This is something that if you had asked me about 15 years ago I would’ve never guessed would have happened, The Miz’s story is truly unique to him. Coming from MTV and the reality TV world, just to show up in the WWE through one of the last few seasons (and one of the most loaded up seasons if you look back at who was on the cast) of Tough Enough, and then showing up as the “host” of Smackdown; The Miz has had a strange journey through the years but after the start of the 2010’s Miz really came into his own as a performer (the less said about his face run in 2014 the better) and this is where the bulk of his title reigns come from. No other wrestler aside from the number one on this very list is as synonymous with the IC belt as the Miz, really taking to the belt as his own, and even treating as a world title during the times where Lesnar was on top and didn’t feel like working that particular night. I’ve mentioned so far of defining moments for not only the title but the wrestler, but I have yet to mention defining moments for both occurring at the same time, and strangely enough this moment happened outside of the ring. On Talking Smack The Miz cut a career defining promo where he put not only himself but the very Intercontinental title that he was holding on a pedestal, not only putting his name in the mouths of everyone that cares about promos in the very heavily scripted PG era of WWE, but also raising the prestige of a title that many had seen at the time as having lost some of it’s luster.
One last fact to cap off this entry with is the fact that when you look at his days as champion it is good enough to be number 2 on the record list for most days, only behind the original ‘Rock’ Don Muraco, what separates The Miz from Don is the fact that in the current era the title is competed for on a far more frequent basis than when Muraco held the belt.
1. Chris Jericho (9 Reigns, 318 total days as champ)
The number one wrestler for this list was an easy pick, Le Champion was raking in the gold far before he decided to release the hounds and that neckerchiefs looked good. Jericho is the one person with more reigns than anyone (at time of writing) with the only one near him being The Miz, however what separates Jericho over the Miz for me is the fact that WWE sees Chris as the ideal Intercontinental Champion. A point that is rather clear when you realize that they wouldn’t have given him the title this many times on accident, and yet this is a guy that isn’t just defined by the Intercontinental title, or even the various world titles he’s held over the course of his career.
Jericho has been able to seamlessly bounce around both the midcard and main event with plenty of gold to be had in both scenes, and this versatility can be seen in not just what title he holds but what gimmick he is in while holding said belt. Doing all of this while not losing a step in ring and then going on to becoming one of the best wrestlers possibly ever seen is why I name Chris Jericho as the best Intercontinental Champion.