Whatever Happened To: the Intercontinental Championship
When I started this column a few months ago, I knew there were two pieces I wanted to examine. Firstly, how a man who is by all accounts the most sound wrestler on the roster is now struggling to make it through a segment on Main Event. Secondly, how, what was once considered the most prestigious belt in all of wrestling, has been allowed to sink to the position it currently is in.
In reality, the Intercontinental Championship was the belt to own. Owning Pat Patterson's championship meant one of two things, that you were either a fan favorite who could do no wrong a la The Godfather. Or, you were destined for greatness and immortality, such as nine time Intercontinental Champion and the greatest Intercontinental Champion of all time: Chris Jericho.
Fast forward to today and you'll understand why the IC strap is a far cry from the prestigious position it once held. Try as they might, WWE Creative have put the belt in ladder matches, Elimination Chamber matches and have even resorted to putting on a person who was once the biggest rising star in WWE since Kurt Angle, Daniel Bryan.
Of course, it wasn't always like this. Even five years ago, the Intercontinental Title was the belt to hold, at times holding more prestige and fan interest than the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. With guys like Jericho, Cody Rhodes and The Rock holding the belt, theres a lot of star power to attempt to emulate. But WWE tried; oh God did they try.
During a somewhat tame multi-man ladder match, Daniel Bryan ascended to the Heavens to retrieve the hideous white belt. While the highlight of the match remains Dean Ambrose almost getting his neck broken, Daniel Bryan and WWE would go to epic lengths to get the IC strap back to the top of the mountain. Former Intercontinental Champions, Bret Hart, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and (much to the dismay of Hulk Hogan) confirmed homosexual and the first Intercontinental Champion Pat “Astroglide” Patterson.
The Intercontinental Strap seemed poised to return to its rightful spot amongst the stars, albeit around the waist of one of the most overrated wrestlers of the last decade, but that is a topic for another article.
With the WWE United States Championship now resting on John Cena's coffee table underneath weeks worth of WhataBurger coupons and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship rescued from the clutches of Brock Lesnar, all seemed well in the world of the WWE title hunt.
High atop his perch on the Blarney Stone, Sheamus sat, his talons piercing the hard granite as though they be Excalibur. Upon one gaze of the light Daniel Bryan emitted, he would forever be denied rest. He remained for months; stirring, yearning, burning for the right moment to strike. Concluding that the best time to fuck up everything was a mere weeks after DB cinched the Intercontinental Title, Sheamus would make his return, sporting a new look that was bound to be popular with the fans.
Now, whether or not you believe that Sheamus gave him the concussion or it was his lingering neck problems is irrelevant. The fact of the situation was this: Daniel Bryan was hurt. If it was a concussion, much like the episode of Rugrats where Stu gets a concussion and thinks he's a baby so the other babies try to give him another concussion so he'll go back to normal, you'll likely be left wishing you were watching a different show.
The belt was vacated while Daniel Bryan was to fade away to his rightful place in obscurity. However, the WWE United States Championship was making a power play. Being defended by John Cena on a weekly basis in an open challenge format, Cena would face numerous challengers for his prize. Stardust, Zach Ryder and Sami Zayn are amongst the select crowd known as “Almost Anyone” who would at some point challenge Cena in his United States Open Challenge. However, there was one who would stand out as the best.
Kevin Owens debuted in a mid-May episode of Raw, unannounced. After kicking the shit out of John Cena, he stomped on the United States Title in the middle of the ring, an act of defiance that even I went too far. As an aside, I personally feel that the disrespect that Owens showed towards the belt was far more offensive and detrimental to the sport and tradition of wrestling than the Reid Flair controversy as of late, but that also is a subject for another day.
Back to Owens, he would go on to beat John Cena in a non-title match and he would do it clean. Keven Owens seemed poised to rocket to the top of the roster, putting Seth Rollins title of “Top Heel” in serious jeopardy. However, the biscuit wheels on Owens' gravy train would soon crumble into dust.
After trading victories, Owens would eventually find himself at July's Battleground pay per view event. During this event Owens would slay the beast and John Cena's reign as face of the company came to a fitting and much needed end. Just kidding. Owens tapped. Owens tapped in the ring like a big fat pussy to one of the worst submissions on the roster. The feud was over. Like the parade of stars before him, Owens would never be the same again.
After a lackluster run from Ryback the belt would eventually rest around the waist of one Kevin Owens. The same Kevin Owens that slammed face first into the Cena wall. The same Kevin Owens who wins his matches by literally leaving the ring and getting himself counted out. That Kevin Owens.
Wade Barrett was a terrible Intercontinental Champion. Ryback was a terrible Intercontinental. Kevin Owens; Kevin Owens is a terrible Intercontinental Champion.
There is no sugar coating it; Kevin Owens has done nothing to bring the prestige and respect back to the belt that it deserves. The Intercontinental Championship is in no better shape than it was the day it was awarded to Wade Barrett. In fact, Luke Harper's incredibly short run with the belt prior to last year's Survivor Series is the only reign I fondly remember.
But how do we fix it? Can we fix it? Of course we can, and the answer is simple. If the Intercontinental Title was given the same type of treatment that the United States Championship was given, then perhaps this article would have been given a different title.
If we are to rescue the Intercontinental Title, we need the same force that saved the United States Strap. The power and credence that a big time star can give to a belt is obviously a very powerful thing. John Cena and Rusev brought the United States title back from the bring of extinction after cinching the title from the horrific reigns of Dean Ambrose and Sheamus. But who is the one that can save the belt? Is there any one person on the roster that can give the same sort attention and prestige that the United States belt has? Actually there are two of them.
Goldust has recently returned from a potentially career threatening injury and, much like he did when he was most recently active, he has never looked better. The Bizarre One was and still is one of the most impressive and fun performers on the roster, even after all these years.
Given Goldust's storied history and position as a fan favorite, a run with the white belt would surely bring some attention back to the IC strap. However, Goldust needs an opponent, a foil to test him as he claws his way back to the top of the mountain. The answer obviously is his brother, Stardust. Stardust was, in another life, one of the most impressive Intercontinental Champions of the modern era. A long term feud between the two would be a fantastic program, one the fantasy booker in me would love to see.
There is another though, perhaps one that would do even more for the belt than Goldust. Of course, if you really wanted to bring attention back to the white gold, turning to the greatest Intercontinental Champ of all time is an obvious choice. Kevin Owens needs to lose the belt and he needs to do it sooner rather than later, and what better person to drop it to than someone whom he has been working countless house shows with.
Chris Jericho's time in the ring is obviously coming to the end. While he will likely never reach the heights of The Undertaker, it's becoming more and more apparent that Jericho will likely exist as a special attraction in the future. Giving him one last run as champ would help save a legacy that he has seemed hell bent on turning to shit, as well as giving the fans a great reason to tune into Raw each week. Chris Jericho vs Luke Harper for the Intercontinental Championship on Raw? Sign me up.
Wins, losses, belts, titles. None of it seems to matter in WWE anymore, at least to the people running the place. If WWE wants to give us a reason to become invested in the product, change needs to start at the top, and this piece of history is in trouble. The Intercontinental Championship deserves much better and if change doesn't come soon, a unification match may be in the belts future.