|WWE Intercontinental Championship|
|Date established||September 1, 1979|
|Current champion(s)||Shinsuke Nakamura|
|Date won||August 13, 2021|
The WWE Intercontinental Championship is a professional wrestling championship created and promoted by the American promotion WWE, currently defended on the SmackDown brand division. It is one of three secondary championships in WWE, along with the United States Championship on Raw and the North American Championship on NXT. The current champion is Shinsuke Nakamura, who is in his second reign.
The championship was established by the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) on September 1, 1979, as a result of the WWF North American Heavyweight being unified with an apocryphal South American Heavyweight Championship, with Pat Patterson as the inaugural champion. It is the third-oldest championship currently active in WWE, behind the WWE Championship (1963) and United States Championship (1975), but the second-longest tenured championship, as WWE has only owned the U.S. championship since 2001. Although generally contested in the midcard at WWE shows, it has been defended in the main events of pay-per-views including WrestleMania VI, SummerSlam in 1992, the third and eighth In Your House shows, Backlash in 2001, and at Extreme Rules in 2018. It has been called a "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 introduction of 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 next year, it was reactivated for Raw, followed by the United States Championship's reactivation as a counterpart championship on SmackDown. In 2019, NXT was promoted as WWE's third major brand, adding their North American Championship as a third secondary title for WWE. The Intercontinental Championship has switched between brands over the years, usually as a result of the WWE Draft; the 2019 Superstar Shake-up moved the title to SmackDown.
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 7, 1989, the championship was first defended outside of North America, by Rick Rude against The Ultimate Warrior in Turin, 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 Heavyweight Champion The Ultimate Warrior defeated WWF World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan to win the world title, so the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship was vacated for the first time soon after. Mr. Perfect then won a tournament to crown a new Intercontinental Heavyweight 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 unifying 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, and 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 the modern WWE "scratch logo" and other embellishments. Following the end of the first brand split on August 29, 2011, 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 current logo that was originally used for the WWE Network. On May 31, 2015, the championship was contested 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. During the following year's Superstar Shake-up, Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose was moved to the Raw brand, making the title exclusive to Raw. Two years later during the 2019 WWE Superstar Shake-up, Intercontinental Champion Finn Bálor moved to SmackDown, making the title exclusive back to SmackDown. Later that year, the NXT brand, formerly WWE's developmental territory, became WWE's third major brand when it was moved to the USA Network in September, thus making the NXT North American Championship a third secondary title for the WWE.
On November 22, 2019, episode of SmackDown, Sami Zayn presented a new belt design to champion Shinsuke Nakamura. The redesigned Intercontinental Championship returned to being on a black strap with an entirely new center plate with an irregular shape. The center portion of the center plate features an oval-shape. The top half of the oval says "Intercontinental" and the bottom half says "Champion"; the word "Heavyweight" sits in a banner on the inner side of the oval above the word "Champion". At the center of the oval is a diamond shape, representing a wrestling ring viewed from above, with the WWE logo over a globe. On the sides of the center, plate is two halves of the globe. The left side features the continents of North and South America as well as Africa and Europe, while the globe on the left shows Asia and Australia; both globes show a portion of Antarctica. The rest of the center plate is filled with ornamentation. Like the majority of WWE's other championships, the belt features two side plates with a removable center section that can be customized with the champion's logos; the default side plates consist of the WWE logo over a globe.
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, and 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.
|Date of transition||Brand||Notes|
|March 25, 2002||Raw||WWF Intercontinental Champion Rob Van Dam was drafted to Raw during the 2002 WWF Draft.|
In May 2002, the WWF was renamed to WWE.
The European Championship was unified into the Intercontinental Championship on July 22.
|July 30, 2002||SmackDown!||Intercontinental Champion Chris Benoit was moved to SmackDown!.|
|August 25, 2002||Raw||The Intercontinental Championship was returned to Raw after Rob Van Dam defeated Chris Benoit to win back the title.|
The Hardcore Championship was unified into the Intercontinental Championship on August 26.
|October 20, 2002||N/A||At No Mercy, Triple H defeated Kane to unify the Intercontinental Championship into the World Heavyweight Championship. The Intercontinental Championship was subsequently deactivated.|
|May 5, 2003||Raw||Raw co-general manager Stone Cold Steve Austin reactivated the Intercontinental Championship.|
The United States Championship was reactivated for SmackDown! in July 2003 as the Intercontinental Championship's counterpart.
|April 13, 2009||SmackDown||Intercontinental Champion Rey Mysterio was drafted to SmackDown during the 2009 WWE Draft.|
|August 29, 2011||N/A||End of first brand split.|
The Intercontinental Champion could appear on both Raw and SmackDown.
|July 19, 2016||SmackDown||Reintroduction of the brand split.|
Intercontinental Champion The Miz was drafted to SmackDown during the 2016 WWE Draft.
|April 10, 2017||Raw||Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose was moved to Raw during the 2017 WWE Superstar Shake-up.|
|April 16, 2019||SmackDown||Intercontinental Champion Finn Bálor was moved to SmackDown during the 2019 WWE Superstar Shake-up.|
Main article: List of WWE Intercontinental Champions
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 allegedly winning a tournament in Rio de Janeiro. Patterson unified the two championships into the Intercontinental Championship. Since then, there have been 86 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.
Shinsuke Nakamura is the current champion in his second reign. He won the title by defeating previous champion Apollo Crews on the August 13, 2021 episode of SmackDown in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He won the title as "King Nakamura", but reverted to his original ring name on October 8, 2021 out of respect for the 2021 King of the Ring tournament.
The Intercontinental Championship's early years have been praised. Samuel Kendall of Comic Book Resources lauded the championship during this era, stating: "It was a foregone conclusion that the Intercontinental Champion was the workhorse of the company and the next in line for the World Heavyweight Championship." Steve Cook of 411Mania wrote that "nearly anybody that was a big deal in WWE held the championship at some point." Steve Austin said he considered the Intercontinental Championship to be as important as the world titles and he remains in possession of the physical belt that represented the championship during his reign because of its historical importance.
In the 2010s, WWE was criticized for its booking of the Intercontinental Champions. Chris Jericho said that WWE promoter Vince McMahon told him that "nobody fucking cares about the Intercontinental Championship" after he asked to be placed in a match for the title at WrestleMania 29 in 2013. Also 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 title.
The championship continued to receive criticism into the 2020s. Kendall panned the recent reigns as forgettable and wrote that the title had "turned into a prop to be lugged around, rather than a title that should bestow prestige." Cook wrote that it had been "treated as something of an afterthought" for the previous two decades.