The Intercontinental Championship boasts one of the richest lineages in WWE and all of sports-entertainment history, but 30 years after its inception, origins have remained murky … until now.
History has long stated that Pat Patterson, the North American Heavyweight Champion, defended his title in a tournament for the South American Championship in Rio de Janeiro. When the WWE Hall of Famer emerged victorious, he unified the two titles to become the first Intercontinental Champion.
This tournament, which has been said to have been held on Sept. 1, has long had its validity questioned by wrestling historians. We doubted it, too. But during a recent routine search of WWE’s archives, we stumbled across one lone file that included the tournament’s full results and just a few photos. As it turns out, the event did indeed take place on that day at Maracanãzinho Gymnasium, an arena that packed in more than 12,000 fans and is located directly next to the massive Maracanã Stadium soccer venue (Maracanãzinho translates into Little Maracanã in Portuguese).
According to our recent discovery, the seminal show that night featured an eight-man tournament including four WWE Hall of Famers and two other special attraction bouts.
In the opening round contest, Pat Patterson faced off with fellow Montreal native Butcher Vachon (see photo above). The younger brother of the savage Mad Dog Vachon, Butcher was in the twilight of his career in 1979. The multi-time tag team champion traveled to Brazil looking to add a singles title to his resume. But Patterson, the reigning North American Champion, was in his prime and defeated the younger of the two Vachon brothers. The scheming blond advanced to the semi-finals and retained the North American Title in the process.
In the second first round matchup, Patterson’s rival Ted DiBiase stepped into the ring against the monstrous Moose Monroe. DiBiase, years before his million-dollar inheritance, had entered WWE that year as the first North American Champion and almost immediately engaged in a bitter rivalry with Patterson. By the time the tournament had rolled around, the rookie had lost the title to his adversary and was likely hoping to gain a measure of retribution in South America. DiBiase defeated the beastly Moose Monroe to advance to the tournament’s semi-finals.
With the brackets beginning to take shape, WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz battled Gypsy Rodriguez (see photo above) to determine who would face Ted DiBiase. Rodriguez has mostly been forgotten by WWE fans, but was a frequent competitor of that era. Rodz is mostly known now for his Brooklyn training center where his pupils have included Tazz, Tommy Dreamer and Matt Striker. Although he’s remembered for a less than stellar win-loss record, the New York resident scored a rare victory over the obscure Rodriguez to advance.
In the final first round contest, The Great Hussein Arab took on the masked Mr. X for the right to face Pat Patterson. By all accounts, the faceless grappler was likely the man who would come to be known as WWE Hall of Famer Nikolai Volkoff. And in a twist of irony, Hussein Arab became the iconic Iron Sheik and future ally of Volkoff. It’s unclear how exactly the match went down, but it must have been a hard-hitting display by the two heavyweights, which ended in a double count-out.
After the first round had concluded, Greg Valentine defeated Dominic DeNucci in a non-tournament match that would also occur later that month at Madison Square Garden with the same result. Following the bout, Johnny Rodz met Ted DiBiase to determine who would advance to battle Pat Patterson, who had received a bye to the tournament final as a result of The Great Hussein Arab–Mr. X double count-out.
And this is where things seemed to have gotten interesting.
Patterson likely knew that DiBiase was hoping for an encounter with the man who defeated him for the North American Championship. And the Montreal native didn’t want any part of his bitter rival in a high-stakes match in the final. According to the archives we uncovered combined with Patterson’s well-known reputation, it is likely that the shrewd villain inserted himself into the contest. While there’s no confirmation, the referee’s back must’ve been turned as Patterson nailed his foe with a signature set of brass knucks, allowing Rodz to pin DiBiase for the victory.
Before the tournament final, another special attraction bout featured reigning WWE Champion Bob Backlund defeat one-half of the reigning World Tag Team Champions, Johnny Valiant.
In the main event at Mini Maracanã, Rodz was no match for the skilled Patterson, who easily defeated his opponent to unify his North American Championship with the new South American Championship, instantly creating the Intercontinental Title.
Finally, after 30 years, we have the answers to what happened on that day in the southern hemisphere. But what we uncovered next was most shocking of all …