Monday, May 3, 2021

Top Ten Things: Worst WWE Intercontinental Champions

Welcome back to Top Ten Things, here at!  I recently posted my list of the worst WWE Champions of all time, and now I'm back with its counterpart, counting down the ten worst Intercontinental Champions of all time.

The I-C Title has a rich history dating all the way back to 1979, when Pat Patterson was named the first champion (winning a fictitious tournament in Brazil, just as Buddy Rogers had done 16 years prior).  This secondary championship was used as both a major drawing card, particularly to headline "B team" house shows, and as a stepping stone/litmus test for future WWF Champions.  18 men have won this championship on their way to the WWE Title (and a few, like Pedro Morales, The Big Show and The Miz, won this belt after that one).  During the first two decades of this title's existence it was a pretty huge deal to win it.  Becoming the Intercontinental Champion was not only a major vote of confidence from the company, but it usually signified you were one of its workhorses.  During the Hulk Hogan era, the I-C Championship match was often the most technically impressive match on the card, the one the diehard fans most looked forward to.  But then around the turn of the century it began to devolve into more of a prop that almost anyone on the card could win at one time or another, and by 2010 it became almost a career liability for its wearer.  The I-C Champion was now one step above curtain jerker, and was often less likely to be included on PPVs than before he won the belt.  In recent years the company has made more of an effort to rehab the value of this once-prestigious championship, but it's still a long way from being what it was.

Regardless though, every era has had its share of stinker champions.  Here are the ten weakest Intercontinental Champions in history (according to me).....

1. Kerry Von Erich (1990)

Let me get this out of the way: I never thought Kerry Von Erich was any good as a wrestler.  The guy had literally two moves, the claw and the discus punch, and he used each of them roughly a thousand times per match.  In 1990 the WWF brought him in and renamed him The Texas Tornado.  That name is stupid.  What is he, Sy-Klone from He-Man?

Look at this asshole.  Actually I'd put the belt on him over Kerry....

Anyway, at SummerSlam 1990 the Intercontinental Championship match was scheduled to pit Mr. Perfect against challenger Brutus Beefcake.  But a parasailing accident left Beefcake with a shattered face, and a last-minute change to the card became necessary (Coincidentally Beefcake was supposed to challenge for the belt at SummerSlam two years earlier but suffered a kayfabe injury, leading to an identical situation).  Hoping to recapture the magic of The Ultimate Warrior's surprise I-C Title win in 1988, the company trotted out Mr. Tornado as Mr. Perfect's new challenger, and had him pin the accomplished veteran in five minutes.  Kerry won the I-C Title just one month after his WWF debut, and within a matter of weeks he was getting booed by live audiences.  That November they put the belt back on Mr. Perfect, and Von Erich spent the next two years floundering in the lower card before vanishing from WWF TV in late '92.  This situation should've been a valuable lesson to the company about not rushing a guy to the belt too fast, lest the crowd completely turn on him.  Sadly they've repeated this mistake many times, particularly with this title.

2. The Mountie (1992)

In the grand tradition of weak-as-fuck transitional heel champions, Jacques Rougeau, now playing the character of an evil Canadian mounted police officer (I guess Vince never watched Dudley Do-Right?) upset Bret Hart for the belt at a house show (Bret was going through contract negotiations and I guess they didn't want to allow for the possibility of him walking out with the belt - Jeezus, did Vince EVER trust that guy?).  Two days later The Mountie dropped the belt to Roddy Piper at the 1992 Royal Rumble.  This was by far the most significant thing Rougeau ever did as a singles wrestler, and it's a pretty shabby accomplishment.  He went on to lose a lot of matches over the next year before re-emerging as one half of The Quebecers and winning two Tag Team Titles.  Piper meanwhile, held the strap till the WrestleMania VIII classic match where he lost it to Bret.  I have to think that if Bret hadn't been undergoing contract negotiations he would've just kept the belt the whole time and we wouldn't even be talking about this now.

3. Dean Douglas (1995)

In October of 1995, Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels got into an altercation at a Syracuse bar that left him pretty badly beat up.  The kayfabe explanation was that nine dudes attacked him unprovoked in the parking lot, but in actuality he drunkenly mouthed off to a group of Marines and they let him have it.  Regardless, he was unable to make his scheduled PPV title defense against Dean (Shane) Douglas, and rather than simply vacating the belt, the company oddly announced Douglas as the winner and new champion by forfeit.  His first defense was against Razor Ramon and he lost, thus Dean Douglas is in the record books as having been Intercontinental Champion for 20 minutes.  Douglas had only been with the company for three months prior to this (Remember what I said about rushing guys to the belt?), there was no logic in him automatically winning the belt on a forfeit, and he left the company only two months later.  Shane Douglas played this silly character pretty well and could work a match, but the company stuck him in a no-win situation here.  Taking a new guy most fans aren't familiar with, having him win a championship without wrestling a match, and then having him lose said title 20 minutes later is just counterproductive.  Who's gonna take him seriously after that?  It's almost like they didn't want Shane to succeed.

4. The Godfather (1999)

1999 was the year the Intercontinental Title's value really began to depreciate.  First off, it was the height of the Vince Russo era, when rapid-fire title changes were the order of the day.  In 1998 the belt only changed hands twice, and one of those was necessitated by an injury.  In 1999 the title changed hands a whopping eleven times, by far the most single-year I-C Title changes up to that point.  This fact alone severely cheapened the title, but it didn't help that goofy, sexualized character wrestlers like Val Venis and The Godfather got a turn.  Charles Wright may have been a solid hand in the ring, but the Godfather persona wasn't presented as someone who had any interest in championships.  He was a sideshow attraction, like Hacksaw Jim Duggan or Koko B. Ware, there to get the crowd engaged, but not a believable titleholder.  Nonetheless he defeated Goldust for the strap and kept it for 43 days before Jeff Jarrett won it and began rebuilding its prestige a bit.    

5. Rikishi (2000)

Solofa Fatu went through numerous persona changes during his WWF run, but Rikishi was one of those comedic characters who managed to catch on with fans to a greater degree than anyone expected.  Briefly presented as a heel, Rikishi was soon attached to Too Cool, the hip hop dancer team of Grandmaster Sexay (Brian Christopher) and Scotty 2 Hotty.  The trio got over huge in late 1999/early 2000 and it quickly became apparent that Rikishi could be presented as a semi-serious competitor.  Therefore he was pretty quickly given the Intercontinental Title in a TV win over Chris Benoit and had a fairly intense feud against a repackaged Val Venis.  Problem was, Rikishi only kept the belt for two weeks.  Two lousy weeks.  Then Venis beat him for it, they had a memorable cage rematch at Fully Loaded, Rikishi failed to win back the belt, and they turned him heel three months later amid the "Who Ran Over Stone Cold?" angle.  His career never recovered, and by early 2001 he became just another also-ran.  Rikishi could've been a pretty strong I-C Champion had the company exercised a little patience in getting him there and actually let him keep the belt a while.  Alas, patience wasn't their strong suit at this time.  

6. Billy Gunn (2000)

After being half of one of the era's most wildly successful tag teams, Billy Gunn was sidelined with an injury in early 2000, and upon his return was given a brief singles push as "The One" Billy Gunn.  This generic babyface character didn't work at all and the fans didn't respond to him, but the company gave him a three-week Intercontinental Title run anyway in late 2000.  He quickly dropped the belt to Chris Benoit and was hardly utilized again until after the Invasion Angle the following year, when he and Chuck Palumbo formed a new team.  I'm not sure what the purpose of this I-C reign was, except as a transition to get the title from Eddie Guerrero to Benoit, but it didn't help either Gunn or the championship.

7. Albert (2001)

In 2001 the company broke the record for I-C Title changes, with twelve of them.  Yes, they averaged a new champ once a month.  The longest-reigning I-C Champion that year was Chris Jericho with a paltry 72-day reign, but the most nonsensical title change came when Albert (a member of X-Pac's X-Factor stable of jobbers) defeated upper midcarder Kane on an episode of Smackdown.  This came at a time when the Invasion Angle was just getting underway and random WCW and ECW stars were interfering in matches and backstage segments.  Albert however was not part of the invading force, begging the question, "Why have a notable star like Kane lose the belt to a bottom-card guy, rather than to an Alliance member like say, Lance Storm (who won the belt from Albert only 27 days later)?"  I'm guessing Vince simply didn't want a Kane losing to a Lance Storm and needed a transition guy?  Who the hell knows?  But Albert's reign amounted to exactly dick, and he wasn't even prominently featured for the rest of the Invasion Angle.

8. Ric Flair (2005)

I hate honorary title reigns.  Hate them.  They're wrestling's equivalent of a lifetime achievement award, and Ric Flair winning the Intercontinental Title in 2005 at the age of 56 was like Al Pacino finally winning a Best Actor Oscar for Scent of a Woman.  Right guy, wrong fuckin' year.  Flair defeated Carlito (who had become a pretty damn good hand in the ring and would be pushed fairly hard over the next year) at Unforgiven, then got involved in a horribly ill-conceived feud with former protege Triple H (Hunter turned on Flair because...he was old, I guess?), and they had two PPV matches.  The Title was on the line in the first match, which Flair won, and then for some reason the rematch was non-title, I guess because Hunter was winning and he didn't want the Intercontinental Albatross around his neck.  It's a pretty sad state of affairs when a title has become so devalued you can't put it on a main event guy.  Unless of course that guy is 15 years removed from his prime.  Flair dropped the belt to Shelton Benjamin after five months (most of which was uneventful) and went back to being a nostalgia act until his 2008 "retirement tour."

9. Santino Marella (2007 & 2008)

So remember what I said about hotshotting a title onto a new guy?  This has happened many times in WWE, but the worst example was in 2007, when Vince McMahon decided to handpick an opponent from the crowd to challenge then-champion Umaga (I believe this was supposed to give Umaga an easy win).  This particular RAW episode emanated from Italy, and Vince picked a "fan" named Santino Marella from the front row, who proceeded to upset the champ with help from Bobby Lashley (with whom Vince and Umaga were feuding at the time).  This was idiotic on so many levels.  For one thing, within the fictional wrestling universe, a fan would never be cleared to wrestle a match.  He'd have to undergo a physical exam, sign release forms absolving the company in case of injury, etc.  Second, how much does this scenario tank the value of that belt if a guy the boss literally picked out of the crowd can win it?  Third, Santino was thenceforth booked as a comic relief character, and thus should've been kept as far away from all championships as possible (You never saw 1994 Doink the Clown with a title, did ya?).  He lost the belt back to Umaga a couple months later, but won it again in 2008, in an intergender tag match where both the I-C and Women's Titles were on the line.  Beth Phoenix pinned Mickie James to win Marella the belt, which was by now strictly a title for bottom feeders.  These two reigns may have done more damage to the Intercontinental Title than any others.

10. Zack Ryder (2016)

WWE spent much of 2015 trying to restore some prestige to the US and I-C Titles, with John Cena holding the former for much of the year and Daniel Bryan winning the latter at WrestleMania 31.  Sadly Bryan suffered a career-ending (for awhile) injury only a month after winning the belt, and instead it was up to Ryback, Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose to take up the slack of making the I-C belt matter again.  Owens and Ambrose in particular did just that, and Owens was set to defend the belt at WrestleMania in a 7-man Ladder Match.  But just before 'Mania one of the participants, Neville, suffered a leg injury and he was replaced by jobber-to-the-stars Zack Ryder.  So what happened at 'Mania?  Well of course, since there was a last-minute substitute in the match, he won the belt just to get a big feelgood crowd pop.  Nevermind that the one real feud represented in the bout was Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn, and a Zayn win not only would've achieved the same goal, but that feud would've strongly elevated the Intercontinental Title.  Imagine a blazing, personal rivalry over the championship?  It'd be like the old days when the title really meant something.  No, instead Ryder got the win despite having been booked into oblivion for literally years, and the very next night on RAW he lost the belt to The Miz.  So to recap, WrestleMania 31 saw the mega-over Daniel Bryan walk away with the belt to make it relevant again, while 'Mania 32 saw 2016's answer to Barry Horowitz win the belt when the company had no plans to push him, ever.  What a difference a year makes.  Not surprisingly Ryder didn't do anything else of note in WWE, and the Intercontinental Championship still frequently goes undefended on PPVs.

Well that's my list of crappy I-C Champs.  Comment below with your thoughts, and thanks for reading!  Join us on Facebook, MeWe and Twitter!

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