The WWE Intercontinental Championship is a professional wrestling championship created and promoted by the American professional wrestling promotion WWE on the Raw brand. Along with the WWE United States Championship on the SmackDown brand, it is one of the two secondary titles of the promotion. The title is currently held by The Miz, who is in his eighth reign.
The championship was established by the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) on September 1, 1979, after inaugural champion Pat Patterson unified (kayfabe) the WWF North American Heavyweight and South American Heavyweight championships. It is the third oldest championship currently active in WWE, behind the WWE Championship (1963) and United States Championship (1975), but the second oldest tenured championship, as the WWE has only owned the U.S. title since 2001. Although generally contested in the midcard at WWE shows, the Intercontinental Championship 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 the "stepping stone" to a WWE world championship.
In November 2001, the then-WCW United States Championship was unified into the Intercontinental Championship. In 2002 after the first brand split, it became exclusive to Raw and the WWF was renamed WWE. Later that year, the European and Hardcore championships were unified into the Intercontinental Championship, which itself was unified into the World Heavyweight Championship. The following year, however, it was reactivated for Raw, followed by the United States Championship's reactivation as a counterpart title on SmackDown. The title has switched between brands over the years as a result of the WWE draft; the 2017 Superstar Shake-up moved the title back to Raw.
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 April 1, 1990 at WrestleMania VI, Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior defeated WWF Champion Hulk Hogan to win the world title, albeit the Intercontinental Championship was vacated (for the first time in the title history) soon after. Mr. Perfect then went on to win a tournament to crown a new Intercontinental Champion.
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. Then-United States Champion Edge defeated then-Intercontinental Champion Test.
In 2002, after the first brand split had begun and the WWF was renamed WWE, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff began unifyng his brand's singles championships. On July 22, 2002, the Intercontinental Championship was unified with the European Championship in a ladder match, in which then-Intercontinental Champion Rob Van Dam defeated then-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 a match to unify the Intercontinental Championship with the recently created Raw-exclusive World Heavyweight Championship. The unification match took place at No Mercy the following month and saw then-World Heavyweight Champion Triple H defeat then-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 did 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).
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 split ended on August 29, 2011, and the title could be defended on both Raw and SmackDown. On August 18, 2014, the Intercontinental Championship belt, along with all other pre-existing championship belts in WWE at the time, received a minor update, replacing the long-standing scratch logo with WWE's new logo originally used for the WWE Network. 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 split; during the 2016 draft, then-Intercontinental Champion The Miz was drafted to SmackDown. Just days later, he successfully defended the title against Raw draftee Darren Young at Battleground, making the title exclusive to SmackDown. In April 2017, during the Superstar Shake-up, Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose was moved to the Raw brand, making the title exclusive to Raw.
Following the brand split on March 25, 2002, all titles in WWE became exclusive to either the Raw brand or SmackDown brand. The brand split was discontinued on August 29, 2011 but revived on July 19, 2016. The following is a list of dates indicating the transitions of the Intercontinental Championship between the Raw and SmackDown brands.
|Championship moved to the Raw brand|
|Championship moved to the SmackDown brand|
|Date of transition||Notes|
|March 25, 2002||Intercontinental Champion Rob Van Dam was drafted to Raw following the brand split.
The European Championship was unified into the Intercontinental Championship on July 22
|July 30, 2002||Chris Benoit defects to SmackDown as Intercontinental Champion|
|August 25, 2002||Rob Van Dam regains the championship, returning it back to Raw.
The Hardcore Championship was unified into the Intercontinental Championship on August 26
|October 20, 2002||At No Mercy, Triple H unified the World Heavyweight Championship and Intercontinental Championship.
The Intercontinental Championship was deactivated
|May 5, 2003||Raw Co-General Manager Stone Cold Steve Austin reactivated the Intercontinental Championship on the May 5 episode of Raw.
Christian won a subsequent battle royal for the vacant title at Judgment Day on May 18.
The United States Championship was reactivated for SmackDown in July 2003 as the Intercontinental Championship's counterpart
|April 13, 2009||In the 2009 draft, Intercontinental Champion Rey Mysterio was drafted to SmackDown|
|August 29, 2011||End of first brand split.
The Intercontinental Champion could appear on both Raw and SmackDown
|July 19, 2016||Reintroduction of the brand split.
Intercontinental Champion The Miz was drafted to SmackDown
|April 10, 2017||During the Superstar Shake-up, Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose moved to Raw|
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".
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 79 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 10 vacancies throughout the title's history.