The Best WWF Intercontinental Champions Of The 1990s
It’s been a long time since the Intercontinental Championship felt like anything of significant value. Outside of The Miz, who made it known how much value and history the belt had, the WWE seems to have forgotten about the title.
Shinsuke Nakamura recently held the belt for 201 days, but in no way did his impact compare to that of Mr. Perfect, Shawn Michaels, or The Rock – who all held it for 200+ days in the 90s. While the belt was first introduced in 1979, and was held by Hall of Fame-worthy wrestlers during the 80s, it was the champions of the 90s that really brought the title into the wrestling spotlight…
Long before the WWE allowed dual championships, The Ultimate Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI and simultaneously held both the Intercontinental Championship and the WWF Championship. This led to a tournament for the “workhorse championship”, which saw Mr. Perfect – aka Curt Hennig – defeat Tito Santana for the first of his two reigns with the belt. A combined 406 days with the belt came to an end with a loss to Bret Hart in one of the most memorable SummerSlam matches ever, in 1991.
As it should, the Intercontinental Championship helped catapult Hart into main event status after two runs with the belt. Rarely has the IC title been the closer to one of the big four PPV’s, but in 1992, Hart would defend his belt in a twenty-five minute classic against the British Bulldog in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. Hart’s win over Roddy Piper at WrestleMania VIII – which started his second reign – is considered by some to be one of the more underrated matches in the event’s history.
He may have had to betray his best friend and tag team partner, but when Michaels turned on Marty Jannetty, it was the best move of his career. For a total of 406 days and three separate runs with the IC title, Michaels would be part of some of the best mid-card title matches of the 90s. Over the course of his three championships, Michaels would only lose the title by pinfall once, as the other two losses came as a result of a substance abuse suspension and a real-life injury due to being attacked at a nightclub.
WrestleMania X featured arguably one of the greatest ladder matches in WWF/WWE history. After Shawn Michaels returned from suspension, he would battle Razor Ramon over who rightfully held the IC title. Ramon would win the first meeting, but a sequel would see the Heartbreak Kid take the belt at SummerSlam 1995. Although he would never win the World Heavyweight belt, Ramon’s 438 day, four-reign run with the IC title would cement his place in WWF history.
Before the 2000s, when the IC belt seemed to change hands rapidly, Double J would have the distinction of holding the belt on six different occasions (a record at the time). While that record has since been broken by Chris Jericho, it takes nothing away from Jarrett’s accomplishments. The most memorable moment of Jarrett’s 298 days with the title would be his loss to Chyna at the No Mercy pay-per-view.
During the mid-90’s nobody knew what to make of Dustin Rhodes and his new bizarre persona. Goldust’s controversial, sensual, mysterious, and somewhat inappropriate mannerisms would lead him to be one of the most compelling characters in WWF history. The longest of Goldust’s three runs with the title would be just 83 days, but the overwhelming interest in his unique character – along with his manager Marlena – would make him one of the most interesting characters of the decade.
Call him Hunter Hearst Helmsley; call him Triple H; call him the five-time Intercontinental Champion. The current Executive Vice President of WWE won his first WWF championship as Helmsley in a match over Marc Mero. Only two of Triple H’s five reigns would come during the 90s, which included a memorable ladder latch against The Rock at SummerSlam 1998. Hunter would turn his time as the IC champion into a spot in the main event scene for the remainder of his in-ring career.
After sitting in the shadows of his older brother for most of the 90s, the younger Hart brother Owen finally gained singles glory with the first of his two Intercontinental Championship runs, with a victory over Rocky Maivia. Hart would hold his own in a feud against Stone Cold Steve Austin leading up to their match at SummerSlam 97, in which he would eventually lose the title. Hart and Austin would battle back and forth over the next few months – and pay-per-view events – for the championship.
When reflecting on The Rock’s achievements, many wrestling fans will overlook the fact that he held the Intercontinental title twice for a combined 339 days. During his first run with the title, The Rock was known as Rocky Miavia, a baby-faced do-gooder. Although he would retain his belt during his first WrestleMania appearance, it wasn’t until he became “The Rock” that his character would take off. As the leader of the Nation of Domination, The Rock would engage in epic feuds with Ken Shamrock and Triple H, including a ladder match at SummerSlam 98.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Piper’s only individual championship run in the WWF (no, really, his one and only, unless you count the time he won the tag team titles with Ric Flair during his brief nostalgia tour in the mid-2000s) would last a mere 77 days. But he was so over in 1992 that his holding of the title felt like he elevated it, and prepared for it to be perceived as even more valuable by the time he dropped it to Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII.