Comparing the Intercontinental and United States Championships

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December 20, 2012

You could write a book solely on the history of the United States Championship, and its pages would include a who’s who and the where’s where of wrestling history. The title is, in its own way, as storied as the country it’s named after: a prized possession of promotions and Superstars both past and present, and a unique gold standard among its fellow sports-entertainment titles.

Currently adorned with the stars and stripes of Old Glory herself, the United States Championship’s illustrious history dates back to the regional territories and an inception in the Mid-Atlantic NWA territory, where WWE Hall of Famer Harley Race was crowned the inaugural champion in 1975 when he defeated Johnny Weaver. The title would linger in some form or another across the next four decades, including a stint in WCW where the title rested around the waists of Ric Flair, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Eddie Guerrero and Goldberg. The title immigrated to WWE as part of WWE’s acquisition of WCW in 2001, and was promptly unified with the Intercontinental Title by Edge at Survivor Series 2001 (WATCH).

Two years later, the U.S. Title was revived by Guerrero and it’s been a WWE fixture ever since, garnering a new significance in the process. Where the Intercontinental Title (to which the U.S. Title is often compared) has traditionally signified the Superstar who is next in line for World Title–level competition, the U.S. Championship instead became the mark of a fast-rising star. If the Intercontinental Title is traditionally contested by veterans ready to reach the peak, then the U.S. Title is the coming-out party for Superstars on the rise. Several U.S. Champs found themselves winning either World Championships or Money in the Bank contracts (John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, Daniel Bryan) shortly after their reigns ended. Simply put, if the “Stars and Stripes” were around your waist, you were the Superstar to watch out for. (Given his prodigious strength and brutal skill set, the WWE Universe shouldn’t be surprised if the current champion, the mighty Switzerland export Antonio Cesaro, finds himself breathing similarly rarified air in the near future).

The title has also become extremely coveted among the new guard of WWE. Consider Zack Ryder, whose meteoric ascent through the ranks of WWE in 2011 was marked by his feverish pursuit of Ziggler’s United States Championship. A year’s worth of hard work paid off in December 2011, when The Ultimate Broski captured the title in an impassioned contest at WWE TLC (WATCH). Consider Ziggler himself, for that matter, who held the Star-Spangled championship for close to 200 days in 2011 and took advantage of the spotlight to cement his reputation as a “five-tool” competitor in WWE. He captured a Money in the Bank contract less than a year after losing the U.S. Championship.

But like its namesake country, the best part of the U.S. Title is that its history is still being written. Despite the title’s longevity, there’s a sense of youth and promise about its current that makes it the most fascinating title competition in WWE. It’s more than an individual achievement; it’s also a harbinger of greatness to come. It’s the first of many titles, the first of many accolades and the beginning of a Superstar’s own personal legacy within the squared circle. And for the WWE Universe to doubt such a thing would be, well … un-American.

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