And here we are…the decade that started it all!
It was actually on 1st September, 1979 when Pat Patterson ACTUALLY WON the Intercontinental Championship in that legendary tournament in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (LOOK, it’s a much-more exciting tale than simply being awarded the belt, alright?). But Pat brought the title into the 1980s and the rest was history. So many Hall of Famers laid the foundations for future legends to follow them. Such glorious work in the 80s established the Intercontinental Title as a belt worth fighting for.
Now, in previous articles for this series, I’ve ranked the 10 best Intercontinental Champions of the 2010s, 2000s and 1990s (as well as including some honourable mentions). However, there were only 11 wrestlers to hold the Intercontinental Championship throughout the 80s, so it seems redundant to rank a Top 10 here and just include ONE Honourable Mention. Hence…here are my rankings of all eleven Intercontinental Champions of the 1980s from Worst-To-Best!
11. Ken Patera
Obviously, it’s hard to rank these eleven champions from worst-to-best given what an elite bunch of wrestlers they all were. And I really don’t mean to slight Ken Patera by ranking him last here. After all, Ken was an Olympic-Standard Athlete, an amazing weightlifter, a tremendous heel and the SECOND-EVER Intercontinental Champion. When he defeated inaugural champ Pat Patterson, Ken added more credibility and prestige to the belt; holding the IC Title for an impressive 230 day reign, whilst simultaneously being the NWA Missouri Heavyweight Champion.
But whilst Patera deserves his place in history, he sadly isn’t remembered anywhere near as much as the rest of the champions on this list. I would also argue that there are dozens more prominent & memorable Intercontinental Champions throughout all the decades than Ken Patera, which ultimately hurts his legacy. Nevertheless, Ken still remains a first-class IC Champion.
10. Rick Rude
Good Lord…Ravishing Rick Rude was everything. The perfect body, the perfect entrance theme, the perfect talk, and utterly sublime in the ring. During a “Super Posedown” challenge at the 1989 Royal Rumble with the Ultimate Warrior, Rude attacked the then-Intercontinental Champion with a metal-pose-bar to such heat, and perfectly set-up a title-showdown for WrestleMania 5.
The Ravishing One made history that night, handing Warrior his first-ever pinfall loss to become Intercontinental Champ (thanks to Bobby Heenan’s help). Rick enjoyed a great 148-day reign as champ before losing the title back to the Ultimate Warrior in a classic rematch at SummerSlam 1989. Rick Rude was one of the all-time masters of the ring, a legendary heel and thus a superb Intercontinental Champion.
And as Adam Pachitti once pointed out…who could EVER forget those airbrushed Intercontinental tights?!
9. Ricky Steamboat
The single-greatest babyface of all-time. One of the most dynamic, skilled & graceful workers who ever lived. And of course, a man who partook in arguably the single-greatest Intercontinental Championship Match of all-time. Maybe even the single-greatest match in the entire history of WrestleMania.
The build-up to the epic showdown at WrestleMania 3 was perfect. Intercontinental Champ Randy Savage viciously assaulted the Dragon, injuring his larynx with the ring bell. Several weeks later, Steamboat returned to stop Savage from doing the same to George “The Animal” Steele and challenge the Macho Man for the title. Fast-forward to WrestleMania 3, 93,173 fans in the Pontiac Silverdome witnessed an absolute five-star masterpiece, in which Ricky defeated Randy to win the Intercontinental Title in one of the most unforgettable triumphs in history.
Ricky Steamboat was now poised for a lengthy, glorious run with the championship, especially after return matches with Savage and bouts with Butch Reed. Alas, Steamboat only held the IC Title for 65 days. In reality, Ricky had requested time off to be with his wife and newborn son (which was fair enough!), and WWF granted the request but made him drop the belt to the Honky Tonk Man, and punished Steamboat by pushing him right down the card upon his return (how bitter of management…).
Although the Dragon’s Intercontinental Title reign may have been cut short, the epic victory alone cements Ricky Steamboat’s place as one of the greatest to have ever held this championship. 35 years on, people STILL talk about Savage/Steamboat!
8. Pat Patterson
In a piece on WWE Confidential from 2002, Gerald Brisco said, “There couldn’t have been a better selection for the first Intercontinental Champion than Pat Patterson. Pat set the standard for what an Intercontinental Champion should be”. And Brisco was right! Patterson will always be remembered for being the 1st-ever IC Title holder, and also for being one of Vince McMahon’s brilliant stooges during the Attitude Era. But in his prime, Pat was a tremendous brawler and an excellent mat-wrestler.
When Patterson became the first-ever IC Champ in 1979, he brought the title into the next decade and held it for an almighty 232 days. All the while establishing the workhorse-aspect/prestige of the belt by showcasing why wrestlers should strive to win it. Naturally, Patterson was also part of the first-major storyline surrounding the Intercontinental Title, when his manager the Grand Wizard attempted to sell his contract to Captain Lou Albano. Pat turned face during the angle when he insulted Albano and was subsequently attacked by the Wild Samoans. Patterson lost the championship to Ken Patera on 21.04.1980 (even though Pat had his foot on the ropes! Typical!). Although the late, great Hall of Famer’s work as Intercontinental Champion may have been surpassed by his successors, it was indeed Pat Patterson who made the belt mean so much in the first place.
7. Greg Valentine
One of the toughest grapplers in both the NWA and the WWF, The Hammer was also a notorious heel who achieved great success as the Intercontinental Champion. His sole reign with the title (lasting a tremendous 285 days) is another singular run that stands above most multiple reigns in the championship’s lineage.
With the “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart as his manager, Valentine decimated Tito Santana’s knee to claim the IC Title on 24.09.1984. He was the first competitor in history to defend the championship at WrestleMania, pinning the Junkyard Dog with his feet on the ropes! Tito protested Greg’s cheating, and when the ref restarted the match, Greg walked out of Madison Square Garden with the championship, losing via count-out! That naughty Valentine…!
Tito eventually recovered from his injury and fiercely feuded with the Hammer in many matches for the Intercontinental Championship. After several long months, Valentine was FINALLY defeated for the belt in a historic cage match by Santana on 06.07.1985. Furious over the loss, the Hammer smashed the championship belt to pieces against the steel cage, which led to the creation of the classic Intercontinental Title Belt we all know and love. Greg Valentine is another Hall of Famer who made this championship mean so much.
6. Tito Santana
One of the stars of the Rock ’N’ Wrestling era, Tito Santana was a hugely popular mid-carder (even appearing in Hulk Hogan’s Rock ’n’ Wrestling cartoon!). He was also a super workhorse, and after a lengthy feud with the Magnificent Don Muraco for the Intercontinental Championship, Tito eventually won the belt to thunderous approval from the fans. He also became the first-ever Mexican-American to hold the IC Title.
Santana’s first reign lasted an almighty 226 days! Retaining the belt against Muraco in further rematches solidified Tito’s standing, and then came his personal rivalry with Greg Valentine, who he lost the belt to as well as being shelved. After several more months of pursuing his foe, Tito regained the title to even more acclaim in a brutal cage match. After Valentine destroyed the championship belt out of spite, Tito introduced the legendary modern-day design for the Intercontinental Title, and the rest was history. Santana’s second reign was another amazing run, lasting 217 days with his combined number of days as IC Champ totalling 441 days! Tito’s glorious run came to the perfect end in 1986 at the hands of Randy Savage in Boston Garden. One of the reasons why Tito Santana is in the Hall of Fame is because of everything he did for the Intercontinental Championship…and vice versa.
5. The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior wasted NO TIME in answering the Honky Tonk Man’s open challenge at the first-ever SummerSlam in 1988! In TWENTY-SEVEN SECONDS, the Warrior OBLITERATED the single-longest-reigning IC Champion to capture the title! At a raucous Madison Square Garden!
Following that unforgettable & explosive start, Warrior absolutely dominated those who stood before him. One of the most popular superstars of all-time, possessing superhuman power, strength, fury & intensity that few wrestlers have been able to match, Jim Hellwig’s first reign as Intercontinental Champion lasted an almighty 216 days. No one could effectively challenge the Warrior until Ravishing Rick Rude came along and became the first wrestler to actually pin him at WrestleMania 5!
Ultimate Warrior’s great feud with Rick Rude saw him improve even more as wrestler, and he regained the Intercontinental Title for a second time in a classic match at SummerSlam 1989! The Warrior continued to retain his title in rematches against Rude, squashed legions of jobbers, and even dominated Andre the Giant in a feud over the title! Warrior’s second reign took him all the way to the 90s and WrestleMania 6 (as we know!), where he went on to CLEANLY DEFEAT the Immortal Hulk Hogan! Thus becoming the first and only man to simultaneously hold the WWF World and Intercontinental Championships.
Two-reigns, a combined total of 434 days as IC Champ, vacating the championship after winning the WWF Championship? Yep, Jim Hellwig was indeed the ULTIMATE Intercontinental Champion!
4. Don Muraco
Making his WWF Debut in February 1981, this truly Magnificent wrestler wasted no time in making a name for himself. Four months later, Don Muraco aligned himself with the heelish Grand Wizard and beat none-other-than the legendary Pedro Morales himself to win his first Intercontinental Championship! Don and Pedro fought a long-and-bloody feud over the gold with Morales regaining the IC Title in a Texas Death Match on 23.11.1981; ending Muraco’s reign after an impressive 155 days.
Muraco left WWF for the NWA in 1982 but returned in Autumn 1982 with Captain Lou Albano now his manager, a mission to regain the IC Title and vengeance against Pedro Morales. On 22.01.1983, the Magnificent Muraco regained the Intercontinental Championship from Morales, and then embarked on a STAGGERING 384 day reign as champ! Murraco’s two reigns were not only long & successful, they were also brutal and bloody. Don engaged in violent wars with the likes of Bob Backlund, Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson, with the greatest moment being Muraco’s legendary cage match against Superfly Jimmy Snuka, which saw Don retain the title, only to receive a Superfly Splash from top of the cage! This brutal, despicable heel was finally defeated for the IC Title by Tito Santana on 11.02.1984, and although he would never regain the championship, Don Muraco reigned for a combined total of 539 DAYS as Intercontinental Champion throughout his two-reigns. Another proud Hall-of-Famer who gave his blood, sweat & tears to make the title what it is.
3. Pedro Morales
One of the most popular wrestlers of all time, this Latino star made so much history throughout his career. Having already been one of the longest-reigning and most successful WWF Champions ever, Pedro Morales won his first Intercontinental Title on 08.12.1980 and thus became the FIRST-EVER Triple Crown Winner in WWF History.
After defeating Ken Patera for the IC Title, Morales elevated the belt even further with his victories over Larry Zbyszko, Stan Hansen, Sgt. Slaughter, and Killer Kahn. His feud with Don Muraco (as mentioned previously) was bloody, brutal & legendary, and saw the championship switch between the two fierce rivals. Pedro became the first-ever TWO-TIME IC Champion after beating Muraco in the Texas Death Match, then reigned for an INCREDIBLE 424 DAYS! Morales continued to reign supreme as the Intercontinental Champion in rematches against the Magnificent Muraco (and other opponents), as well as enjoying a VERY heated-rivalry with Greg Valentine. Alas, despite being one of the most successful and revered wrestlers to have ever held the title, Pedro Morales’ time ran out in January 1983 when he lost the title again to his arch-rival Don Muraco. Pedro Morales reigned for a combined total of 617 days as Intercontinental Champion. It’s a record that may never be broken. Made by a true legend who will not only live on forever in the Hall of Fame, but in the hearts of fans. Pedro Morales wasn’t JUST one of the greatest WWF Champions of all time. He was easily one of the greatest Intercontinental Champs who ever lived as well.
2. The Honky Tonk Man
When the Honky Tonk Man proclaims himself the GREATEST Intercontinental Champion of ALL TIME…he has a MAJOR CLAIM that NO-ONE can match. His one-and-only reign with the IC Title lasted an INCREDIBLE 454 DAYS! The single-longest reign! It’s a record that may never, ever be broken!
Honky’s reign got off to a shocking start when he actually upset Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat to win the championship, and then he proceeded to royally p*ss off wrestling fans by retaining his title via disqualification and count-out losses to keep the belt (with plenty of help from Jimmy Hart and Peggy Sue!). Steamboat, Billy Jack Haynes, George “The Animal” Steele, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake…even Bruno Sammartino couldn’t take the IC Title from the Honky Tonk Man! Continuing to proclaim himself the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all-time, Honky Tonk lambasted all previous champions, especially Randy Savage, who turned-face and feuded furiously with the Elvis-impersonator over the belt.
After one year, two months and twenty-seven days…the Honky Tonk Man’s time finally ran out at SummerSlam 1988, where (as mentioned previously) the Ultimate Warrior CRUSHED HIM IN 27 SECONDS for the championship, and the fans REJOICED! Cool, cocky, bad…and ultimately successful! The Honky Tonk Man maybe the unlikeliest Intercontinental Champion of all time…but he’s also easily one of the Top 10 wrestlers to EVER hold it.
1. Randy Savage
What can we say about Randy Savage that hasn’t been said before? A first-rate wrestler, performer, character, superstar and talker, the Macho Man is also regarded by many as the DEFINITIVE Intercontinental Champion. And with the wonderful Miss Elizabeth by his side, Randy Savage’s legacy with-or-without the IC Championship lives on forever.
When Savage won his one-and-only Intercontinental Title, what followed was a MAMMOTH 414 DAY reign of PURE Macho Greatness! Upon defeating Tito Santana in the Boston Garden on 08.02.1986, Randy Savage truly defined everything an Intercontinental Titleholder SHOULD BE; an untouchable artist in the ring, proudly proclaiming the IC Belt as the SINGLE-BIGGEST-PRIZE in all of wrestling, and embarking on first-class title defences. The Macho-Man fought valiantly, tooth & nail or hook & crook, to retain the belt in rivalries with George “The Animal” Steele AND Bruno Sammartino! Randy even defeated then-WWF Champion Hulk Hogan whilst Intercontinental Champion (albeit via count-out)!
And then of course, there were his interviews. Savage’s promos were always funny, hypnotic, far-out and utterly brilliant, but talking-the-talk AS WELL AS walking-the-walk truly cemented the Macho Man as one of the greatest EVER to hold the IC Title. When Savage finally lost the championship to Ricky Steamboat in the timeless-masterpiece at WrestleMania 3, he was now PRIMED & READY for the Big One. And a year-later at WrestleMania 4, Randy Savage became the first-Intercontinental Champion to go on to become WWF World Champion.
Macho Man Randy Savage’s Intercontinental Title reign was simply one for the ages, and as unforgettable as the rest of his career/legacy. Both he and Miss Elizabeth will forever be missed and loved. OOOOOHHHH, YEEEAAAHHHH!!!
So…what do YOU think of this list? Agree with the rankings? Who were YOUR favourite Intercontinental Champions of the 1980s?
Next time, we’ll be ranking the Top 10 Intercontinental Champions of ALL-TIME! Then we’ll conclude the series with a list of the Greatest Intercontinental Title Matches of All Time!
See you again soon!
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