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6 Intercontinental Title Matches that made SummerSlam

Make no mistake: The WWE Championship is and always will be considered the top prize to any individual who laces up the boots and devotes his life to competing in the squared circle.

But when you’re talking about SummerSlam — especially the formative years of WWE’s annual warm-weather tradition — no championship has had as profound an influence as the Intercontinental Title. Whereas the WWE Title brings the prestige, it is the Intercontinental Championship that has been responsible for many of SummerSlam’s signature moments.

SummerSlam's best Intercontinental Title Matches |  View photos

Look back at six especially important Intercontinental Title Matches that helped turn The Biggest Party of the Summer into a must-see event.

The Ultimate Warrior defeated Intercontinental Champion The Honky Tonk Man (1988)

CM Punk’s 434-day reign as WWE Champion was mighty impressive, but even that feat falls short of The Honky Tonk Man’s 454-day tenure with the Intercontinental Title in 1987 and 1988. Just when it seemed like the WWE Universe was doomed to an eternity of shaking, rattling and rolling, destiny — thy is The Ultimate Warrior — asserted itself at SummerSlam 1988, and the self-proclaimed “Greatest Intercontinental Champion of All Time’s” world came crashing down.

Watch SummerSlam 1988 in 60 seconds |  SummerSlam 1988 photo gallery

Not only did The Ultimate Warrior end the historic reign, but he did so in spectacular form, needing only a half-minute to run through the guitar-playing grappler. Even though it will never be mistaken for a technical ring masterpiece, this match remains one of the most memorable stories to come out of the first SummerSlam.

The Ultimate Warrior defeated Intercontinental Champion Rick Rude (1989)

If The Ultimate Warrior’s trouncing of The Honky Tonk Man at SummerSlam 1988 was a bit lopsided, his showdown against “Ravishing” Rick Rude at the following year’s summer spectacular was anything but. Facing the double-tough Rude, the WWE Universe saw a different side of the galaxy-surfing Warrior. His signature moves — the press slam, the splash — were all there, but so, too, were rarely seen arrows in his quiver, such as a German suplex he used to plant “The Ravishing One.”

Watch SummerSlam 1989 in 60 seconds |  SummerSlam 1989 photos

Rude, who dethroned The Ultimate Warrior for the Intercontinental Title months earlier at WrestleMania V, brought his A-game as well, at one point dropping Warrior with a hybrid powerbomb/piledriver. In the end, though, The Ultimate Warrior simply would not be denied victory; by the closing bell, all you had to do was glance at the remnants of neon face paint on Warrior’s countenance to know he had survived a serious battle. With then-WWE Champion Hulk Hogan slated for tag team action that night, the unofficial main event billing belonged to Warrior vs. Rude.

Bret Hart defeated Intercontinental Champion Mr. Perfect (1991)

Bret Hart and “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig’s duel at SummerSlam 1991 was the exact type of match that cemented the Intercontinental Title’s legacy as the championship-of-choice for workhorses in the WWE locker room. Evenly matched doesn’t begin to describe the two Hall of Famers, both second-generation Superstars, who were near stylistic and aesthetic twins. (Years later, “Hit Man” would come to liken their battles to Mad magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” cartoons.)

Watch video highlights from SummerSlam 1991 |  SummerSlam '91 photos

The pure technical proficiency on display was astounding, riveting the WWE Universe in attendance that night in Madison Square Garden. Hart even broke free of the Perfect-Plex, Hennig’s trusted finishing maneuver, and went on to use his Sharpshooter to win his first singles title. Unbeknown to much of the WWE Universe, Hennig heroically fought the match while enduring intense back pain — a condition that wound up sidelining him for years.

Full match: Mr. Perfect vs. The Excellence of Execution

“The SummerSlam ’91 match personified what the title is all about,” WWE’s reigning Intercontinental Champion, and Hennig’s son, Curtis Axel, told WWE.com. “It was a technical, competitive match between two of the greatest WWE Superstars in history.”

British Bulldog defeated Intercontinental Champion Bret Hart (1992)

In the annals of emotionally charged championship victories, few hold a candle to The British Bulldog’s Intercontinental Title win over brother-in-law Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1992. In front of more than 80,000 Brits in London’s jam-packed Wembley Stadium — and with Diana Hart, Bret’s sister and Davey Boy Smith’s wife, watching intently — the Bulldog and “Hit Man” squared off in a contest that left onlookers breathless.

Watch the best of SummerSlam 1992 |  Photos from Wembley Stadium

The winning pinfall — a savvy reversal of Hart’s sunset flip attempt — did not prove Bulldog’s dominance over “The Excellence of Execution” as much as showcase his winning instincts. The resulting ovation was thunderous, and Hart and Bulldog’s eventual post-match embrace was damn near tear-jerking. The bout took home that year’s “Match of the Year” honors, as voted on by the readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine.

Full match: Brothers-in-law collide in London

The significance of the match as it relates to the Intercontinental Championship is immense, too: It was the first time in WWE pay-per-view history that a championship other than the WWE Title was featured in the coveted main event position.

Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels defeated Razor Ramon (1995)

By the time The Biggest Party of the Summer landed in Pittsburgh, Pa., in August 1995, SummerSlam was already well established as a premier event on the WWE pay-per-view calendar. Still, that didn’t stop Intercontinental Champion Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon from stealing the show and ensuring theirs was the title match everybody would remember.

SummerSlam 1995 video playlist |  View photos of SummerSlam '95

With the Intercontinental Championship hanging high above the ring, The Bad Guy and HBK battled in a Ladder Match, a reprisal from their legendary WrestleMania X match that carried the same stipulation and was waged for the same championship gold. As innovative and influential as their Show of Shows Ladder Match was, the rematch is widely considered to be even better. After the physical, hard-fought contest, which Michaels won, Ramon showed world-class sportsmanship by handing Michaels the title and raising his hand.

SummerSlam 1995’s WWE Title Match between Diesel and Mabel never stood a chance.

Watch the full Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match

Triple H defeated Intercontinental Champion The Rock (1998)

Today, the WWE Universe recognizes Triple H and The Rock as WWE icons who occupy that rare space between being full-time members of the WWE roster and WWE Hall of Famers. But during the height of The Attitude Era in summer 1998, neither The Game nor The Great One had yet captured a single World Title, let alone multiple World Titles. Rather, they were brawling over the second most prestigious title, the Intercontinental Championship, in a rivalry that culminated with a Ladder Match at SummerSlam 1998.

Watch the best of SummerSlam 1998 |  SummerSlam '98 photos

It was inside Madison Square Garden that Triple H and The Rock — 29 and 26 years old, respectively — gave the WWE Universe a preview of what the main event scene would look like in due time. Although both Superstars were clearly on upward trajectories prior to their showdown at the summer classic, their body-bruising, ladder-trashing Intercontinental Title match was ostensibly a coming-out party. If anybody had made the mistake of sleeping on Triple H and The Rock before Aug. 30, 1998, they certainly weren’t underestimating the pair after this clash.

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