Earlier this month, the United States celebrated Labor Day, the holiday for the workers. While that is a moniker that could be used for any wrestler, what about the top wrestlers who are capable of wrestling at a bit of a higher level? Or perhaps a certain group of people who have held what is known as the worker’s title. That would be the Intercontinental Title, which just happens to be celebrating its thirty ninth birthday this month.
While not the first midcard title the company has ever had, the Intercontinental Title is by far and away the most popular, prestigious and well known of them all. The title has been held by a who’s who of wrestling names, but also a who are you group of names that make you shake your head at the fact that they were the best idea the company had.
Today we’re going to take a broad look at the history of the title, looking at the benefits of having it around and what it can mean for a wrestler. Instead of looking at individual champions or the best of all time, we’ll be looking more at the title as a whole, which has more than enough history of its own. When you’ve been around for nearly forty years and have an identity that has been forged over time, there’s quite a bit of stuff worth talking about.
First of all, what is so special about the Intercontinental Title? As the nickname suggests, it’s the title for the workers instead of the big attractions. In other words, you’re not going to get the same kind of match out of the two titles. The WWF World Title was about the big spectacle of the champion (often a brawler more than a traditional wrestler) defending the title against either the evil villain of the month or the latest great hope to bring the title back to the side of good. That’s the one that is much more about the story, but as you know there is a lot more to wrestling than just storytelling. There is also, of course, wrestling.
Two of the great ones.
That’s where the Intercontinental Title came in. This title was much more about going out to the ring, burning the mat up, and then walking through the curtain so you could shout “FOLLOW THAT!” to the rest of the locker room. It often made for the most exciting matches around and that’s the kind of thing you just didn’t get in the World Title scene (not very often at least). A lot of the rivalries were more personal as well, with the title often changing hands multiple times in a single feud.
In addition to giving you some of the best wrestling anywhere to be found in wrestling, you would also get to see a lot of the future top level stars. Over the years, how many people have gone from the Intercontinental Title scene to the World Title scene? That’s the case with all kinds of wrestlers, including but not limited to Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H and several more names in the later years of the title’s history.
Of those people listed, Savage, Hart, Austin and Rock all went from being Intercontinental Champion to WWF World Champion in the span of a year (or just a few months in a few cases). It’s the case of these being being groomed up and reaching the point where you know what that they’re ready to be the top star. If a wrestler dominates the midcard, there’s a good chance that those same people are going to be able to take over one of the top star roles as well.
It can launch careers too.
That’s what the Intercontinental Title is often supposed to be: the stepping stone from the midcard to the World Title and the main event scene. That kind of title reign gives a wrestler credibility and it can help when they get to the top of the card. If the WWF World Champion is supposed to be the best wrestler in the world, at some point they need to have been able to go out there and tear the house down with a great match at one time or another. What better way to do that than by having them dominate the midcard scene, having one excellent match after another with a bunch of outstanding talents?
Finally, there’s the goal of being the Intercontinental Champion. Speaking bluntly, there are some wrestlers who are never going to be a World Champion. I don’t think it’s any secret that people like Tyler Breeze, Heath Slater and Mojo Rawley aren’t going to become World Champion. They’re just not that kind of wrestler and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you have a bunch of main event guys, you’re going to have a one match show instead of a full on card.
That’s where a midcard title comes in. Instead of trying to become the World Champion, there’s a very nice middle ground that you can shoot for instead. Would it be insane to have Breeze, Salter, Rawley or any other lower midcarder going after the Intercontinental Title, even in a quick one off program? Of course not, and that’s why it’s there. No one who knows what they’re talking about is going to buy the chance that one of these people is going to beat Roman Reigns and become World Champion. Is it that much of a stretch though to imagine them beating Dolph Ziggler on Monday Night Raw? It certainly shouldn’t be.
At the same time, consider what happened when the Intercontinental Title was retired for a few months when WWE lost its mind. From October 20, 2002 until May 18, 2003, the Intercontinental Title was retired for the sake of having one singles champion on Monday Night Raw. As luck would have it, the midcard languished because there was nothing for a lot of the lower level talents to do. It was either fight in whatever story they were given or find a partner and make a run at the Tag Team Titles. You can’t have everyone doing that at once and it got old in a hurry.
And it still works today.
That’s why you need something else for these lower level talents to pursue. With the creative process being as weak as it currently is in WWE, it’s a very smart idea to give them as many options as they can have made available for them. A midcard title feud is a great way to get some people off the bench and doing something, especially if you have one challenger after another going after the title.
The Intercontinental Title is something that has worked wonders for wrestlers over the years. You can have classic matches (Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog), incredible feuds (Tito Santana vs. Greg Valentine), rivalries that send both people launching up to the next level (The Rock vs. Triple H), a way to introduce someone new to the roster (Santino Marella) or just something to brag about (Honky Tonk Man, The Miz and Chris Jericho), but there are so many benefits to having the title around. Pick a few that you like best and see how well they can do for someone.
It’s a shame that the title has become what it has is now. The interesting thing though is it always seems to come back. Whether it’s Jericho vs. Rey Mysterio, Kofi Kingston vs. Ziggler or Seth Rollins vs. Ziggler, there will always be a rivalry that brings up that old feeling one more time. That’s because the wrestling is what people are going to be drawn to, no matter what else is going on. A good match is going to bring people into the tent and the story makes them stay. Here’s to the workers, who make us all come to the show.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the the Complete 2003 Smackdown Reviews.
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