The WWE Intercontinental Championship is a professional wrestling championship created and promoted by the American professional wrestling promotion WWE on the SmackDown brand. Along with the United States Championship on the Raw brand, it is one of WWE’s secondary titles. It was established on September 1, 1979 with Pat Patterson as the inaugural champion. Although generally contested in the midcard at WWE shows, it was defended in the main events of presentations such as WrestleMania VI, SummerSlam in 1992, the third and eighth In Your House shows, and Backlash in 2001. It has been called a „stepping stone“ to the WWE World Championship. The current champion is The Miz, who is in his fifth reign.
The term „intercontinental“ in the title originally referred to North and South America. In 1985, the championship belt design changed, the centerplate now centered on the Atlantic Ocean, in a map including western Africa and Europe.
On April 10, 1989, the championship was first defended outside of North America, by Rick Rude against The Ultimate Warrior in Milan, Italy. On March 30, 1991, Mr. Perfect made the first Asian defense against The Texas Tornado at a WWF co-promotion with Super World of Sports in Tokyo, Japan. It first came to Africa on April 6, 1997, when champion Rocky Maivia pinned Savio Vega in Durban, South Africa. Shelton Benjamin made the first Australian defense on April 7, 2006, pinning Gene Snitsky in Brisbane.
WWF North American Heavyweight Champion Pat Patterson became the inaugural champion on September 1, 1979. It was said he had unified his title with the South American Heavyweight Championship, in a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, although both the tournament and South American Championship were entirely fictional.
On October 17, 1999, Chyna became the only woman to hold the Intercontinental Championship by defeating Jeff Jarrett at No Mercy. Following the World Wrestling Federation’s (WWF) purchase of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in March 2001, the title was unified with the WCW United States Championship at Survivor Series, causing the United States Championship to become inactive. The United States Champion Edge defeated the Intercontinental Champion Test.
In 2002, after the first brand extension had begun, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff began unifyng his brand’s singles championships. On July 22, 2002, he announced that the Intercontinental Championship would be unified with the European Championship in a ladder match, which saw Intercontinental Champion Rob Van Dam defeat European Champion Jeff Hardy. On August 19, 2002, Bischoff made a six-minute gauntlet match for the Hardcore Championship, with the winner facing Van Dam in a second unification match the next week on Raw. Tommy Dreamer successfully retained his title in that match, but lost to Van Dam in a hardcore match the next week. As a result of the victories over Hardy and Dreamer, Van Dam is regarded as the last European and Hardcore champion in WWE history; these were his first and fourth reigns with those respective titles. On September 30, 2002, Bischoff scheduled another unification match, which would unify the Intercontinental Championship with the recently-created Raw-exclusive World Heavyweight Championship. The match took place at No Mercy the following month and saw World Heavyweight Champion Triple H defeat Intercontinental Champion Kane, making him the Raw brand’s sole male singles champion.
Over Bischoff’s objections, Raw co-General Manager Stone Cold Steve Austin reactivated the Intercontinental Championship on the May 5, 2003 episode of Raw and declared any former champion on the Raw roster eligible to enter a battle royal at Judgment Day for the title. Christian won the battle royal to win the championship and restore a secondary singles title for Raw wrestlers to compete for. Eventually WWE would do the same thing for SmackDown and created a separate set of titles for that brand; for its secondary title, SmackDown reactivated the United States Championship that had been unified with the Intercontinental Championship in 2001, placing the WWE name on it while claiming the lineage of the old WCW title of the same name (much as they did with the Cruiserweight Championship when that became WWE exclusive).
During the 2009 WWE draft on April 13, 2009, reigning champion Rey Mysterio was drafted to SmackDown, making the Intercontinental Championship exclusive to that brand. On October 2, 2011, at Hell in a Cell, Cody Rhodes introduced a modified version of the classic championship belt design with the white strap, with an added modern WWE „scratch logo“ and other embellishments. The first brand extension would end on August 29, 2011, and the title could be defended on both Raw and SmackDown. On August 18, 2014, the Intercontinental Championship belt design (along with all of the other championships in WWE) was updated with the new logo in place of the long-standing scratch logo. On May 31, 2015, the championship was contested for in an Elimination Chamber match for the first time.
In July 2016, WWE reintroduced the brand extension; during the 2016 draft Intercontinental Champion The Miz was drafted to SmackDown. Just days later, he sucessfully defended the title against Raw draftee Darren Young at Battleground, making the title exclusive to SmackDown.
In the early 2010s, WWE was criticized for their scripting of the Intercontinental Champions. In 2013, Darren Gutteridge of Pro Wrestling Dot Net wrote that the „title has proven an albatross for the past decade, with almost all title holders doomed to tread water, usually only beating people decisively when the title is on the line“. The albatross metaphor was also used to describe the title in 2014 by James Caldwell of Pro Wrestling Torch, while Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer said that year that „the [Intercontinental] title isn’t booked to mean much“. Various commentators in 2014 and 2015, including from The Baltimore Sun, Rolling Stone, PWInsider and Pro Wrestling Dot Net have pointed out that the Intercontinental Champion often loses non-title matches, while Mike Tedesco of Wrestleview questioned how Intercontinental Champions „losing too much“ is „supposed to bring prestige to the Intercontinental Championship“.
Following the brand extension on March 25, 2002, all titles in WWE became exclusive to either the Raw brand or SmackDown brand. The following is a list of dates indicating the transitions of the Intercontinental Championship between the Raw and SmackDown brands. The brand extension was discontinued on August 29, 2011, but it was revived on July 19, 2016.
The inaugural champion was Pat Patterson who, as the WWF North American Heavyweight Champion in September 1979 was also declared „South American Heavyweight Champion“ after „winning“ a fictitious tournament in Rio de Janeiro. Patterson unified the two championships into the Intercontinental Championship.
There have been 78 different champions. Chris Jericho has the most reigns with nine. Pedro Morales held the championship for a record total of 619 days and The Honky Tonk Man had the longest uninterrupted reign at 454 days, from June 2, 1987 until August 29, 1988. Dean Douglas had the shortest reign at just 13 minutes 52 seconds. Chyna is the only woman in WWE history to win the title. The youngest champion was Jeff Hardy, who won the championship at 23 years old, while the oldest champion was Ric Flair, who won the championship at Unforgiven in 2005 at the age of 56. There have been ten vacancies throughout the title’s history.
The current champion is The Miz, who is in his fifth reign. He won the title on the April 4, 2016 episode of Raw in Dallas, Texas by defeating Zack Ryder, who had just won the championship the night before at WrestleMania 32.