Intercontinental Title roundtable: Randy Orton, Edge, Shawn Michaels and other former champions on why the title still matters
The Intercontinental Championship’s existence has long been a tumultuous one. Since its dubious introduction in a shady one-night tournament in Brazil, the title’s significance to the WWE Universe, and to the Superstars who held it, has shifted throughout the years. Sometimes the championship is the focal point of pay-per-view main events, and, as it was for a period in 2003, sometimes it’s not even active.
With interest in the title seemingly reborn as for the second WrestleMania in a row, the title will be decided in a potentially career-shortening Ladder Match, WWE.com spoke with eight iconic Superstars who helped bring credibility and consequence to the title, in order to help understand what the championship means when it’s at the height of its influence. Read on to find out what the seven Superstars are really fighting for on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
PAT PATTERSON: It’s a moment you’ll never forget for the rest of your life.
BRET HART: Oh, yeah, you never forget winning a title. To win the Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam  in Madison Square Garden was special. The wrestlers in the back would always watch us, and that’s when you know you have something special.
SHAWN MICHAELS: Yes I do. It was me and [The British] Bulldog. He was going to suplex me off the top and his back gave out, because the turnbuckle pad had been removed — and I might have had a handful of tights as well. [laughs] I could have not been more elated, because the workhorse of the company held that championship. Not just anybody held that championship.
RANDY ORTON: I beat [Rob Van Dam] for the Intercontinental Title in 2003, and that was the first title that I won in WWE. That alone made it very important to me. And to beat RVD for it? He was quite the competitor, and, obviously, one of a kind, so that was a notch on my belt big time.
CHRIS JERICHO: It was in 1999 and I beat Chyna for it a month after I debuted in WWE. It was a great way to be hated in and out of the ring. [laughs]
GOLDUST: To step into the ring against a great champion in Razor Ramon the very first time was a big deal for me. After it was all over and I’m sitting in the back and I’ve got this title in my hands that so many talented guys have held and now I’m holding it, I was proud of myself. I did something on my own, not as Dustin Rhodes not as Dusty Rhodes’ son, but a completely different character in Goldust.
SCOTT HALL: It was a real bittersweet moment for me. My dear friend and travel partner, Shawn [Michaels], was suspended. WWE had a battle royal to determine who would wrestle for the title, and I beat Rick Martel. It was weird for me, because it was Shawn’s title.
EDGE: I do. I had it for a day. I wrestled [Jeff] Jarrett at a Live Event at the SkyDome in Toronto and wasn’t supposed to. Christian and I had wrestled The Acolytes in the opening match and they told me that I would have to wrestle again, because [Ken] Shamrock couldn’t make it across the border. I beat Jarrett with the Spear and referee Earl Hebner said I wasn’t champion, because it wasn’t a contracted title match. The crowd in my hometown of Toronto didn’t expect to see me in an Intercontinental Championship Match, let alone win one, so they were booing. [WWE Official] Blackjack Lanza came out and told Hebner to give me the title. [laughs]
WWE.COM: Is there a specific match you remember from your time as Intercontinental Champion?
MICHAELS: That’s a tough one. I had so many with Razor Ramon culminating with the Ladder Match at WrestleMania [X]. The match with Jeff Jarrett at In Your House [2: The Lumberjacks] was a special one. Honestly, the one I had with Bret Hart when I was Intercontinental Champion and he was WWE Champion at Survivor Series  was fantastic.
JERICHO: I remember a Ladder Match with Christian for the title [at Unforgiven 2004]. I don’t remember if I won the match. All I remember is that I fell on the ladder and it penetrated me. I broke my coccyx, my tailbone. I couldn’t sit down for months. When I asked the doctor what he could do for me he said, “What do you want me to do? Put a cast on it?”
HART: Winning the championship from [Mr.] Perfect at Madison Square Garden was special. The match with Bulldog at Wembley Stadium was amazing. As my dad said, it’s great to have a good match, it’s better to have it in front of 80,000 people.
EDGE: The series with Christian, because we were both becoming singles wrestlers at the same time after being a comedy tag team and we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I don’t think the fans really wanted to see us against each other so if the fans weren’t into the match we would just keep hitting each other harder and harder. We ended up with a lot of scars from those matches. [laughs]
ORTON: I had several matches with Edge, and I had several matches with Shelton Benjamin, who was one of the greatest athletes I’ve ever seen in my life up-close. I had the title when I wrestled Mick Foley at Backlash in 2004, and that’s one of my favorite matches I’ve ever had. That point in my career, having the title and having those matches, I’ll always remember that.
WWE.COM: How did your time as Intercontinental Champion prepare you for the future?
JERICHO: During one of my reigns, Kurt Angle and I main evented one of the WWE Live Event tours while the WWE Championship Match main evented the other. If you want to be WWE Champion, you are going to have to main event shows and I had experience doing just that.
HALL: Being the Intercontinental Champion meant you were wrestling WWE main events and that meant you had more exposure to Vince McMahon. Vince taught me how to speak and present myself on TV and that stayed with me.
MICHAELS: First and foremost, there is a difference between carrying a championship and carrying yourself as a champion. You want to have championship-worthy matches and that work ethic stays with you.
HART: It gave me confidence. It gave me the confidence to carry the WWE Championship later. I really feel that I was at my peak at that point in my career, when I was Intercontinental Champion.
ORTON: It puts your name on the marquee and gets people to realize this guy’s going to be around, he’s going to be a contender one day for the World Heavyweight Championship.
RICKY STEAMBOAT: By that time, I was already a main eventer. I was ready to be World Champion when I won the Intercontinental Title. I was ready for years before I won the WCW World Championship. I would have loved to have been WWE Champion, but I guess it wasn’t in the stars.
WWE.COM: Who do you think of as the consummate Intercontinental Champion?
HALL: Pat Patterson, because of the knowledge he had. When I was Intercontinental Champion, he would pull me aside and say, “You have good matches every night, but you are in main events now. You have to give the fans something special when you perform.” And he taught me and other people how to do that.
JERICHO: Ricky Steamboat. Before I got into the business, I saw Ricky Steamboat as “the” Intercontinental Champion and knew he was the second most popular Superstar in WWE. I wondered why he didn’t wrestle Hulk Hogan for the WWE Championship.
HART: Mr. Perfect is the best champion I saw. There was also Randy Savage.
MICHAELS: The guy I think of most is Randy Savage. Even though he went on to be a phenomenal WWE Champion, it’s hard for me to remember a time when the Intercontinental Title meant more. I looked at it as ever-so-slightly behind that WWE Championship at 1A, and Randy is the one that took it to that level.
STEAMBOAT: Look at the whole package: his voice, his robes, Miss Elizabeth. The way he represented himself and the Intercontinental Championship was as strong as the WWE Champion.
GOLDUST: [Savage vs. Steamboat from WrestleMania III] is probably one of the top — if not the top — match out there for people to watch on WWE Network.
STEAMBOAT: Even by today’s standards, WrestleMania III was on such a big stage. We just became so determined to raise the bar. The result is a match that people still talk about almost 30 years later. Our match was way ahead of the industry at that time. We had over 20 pinfall attempts in less than 20 minutes. We were always trying to pin each other. It was a great story.
WWE.COM: What does the Intercontinental Title mean to the history of WWE?
HART: It’s the wrestler’s championship. It’s more about wrestling ability than showmanship. If you look at the lineage of the Intercontinental Championship and compare it to the lineage of the WWE Championship, the Intercontinental Champions were better wrestlers.
JERICHO: That title makes you the heir apparent to the WWE Championship. If you can prove yourself as a champion, it’s your gateway to the WWE Championship. When I won the Intercontinental Championship from Rey Mysterio in 2009 after being World Heavyweight Champion, I didn’t look at it as a step down. We made the Intercontinental Title mean more than the WWE Title. If the situation was right, I would love to be a 10-time Intercontinental Champion.
HALL: The Intercontinental Title put the “sports” in sports-entertainment and the WWE Championship was the entertainment. Intercontinental Title Matches were good matches and long matches. WWE Championship Matches were six to eight minutes long. It was the wrestlers’ title and the WWE Championship was the money title.
STEAMBOAT: If you look at the who’s who of Intercontinental Champions, there were a number of guys who held the Intercontinental Title and then went on to be WWE Champion: Pedro Morales, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels just to drop a few names.
EDGE: Being Intercontinental Champion meant you were being groomed for main events. The title wasn’t less important than the WWE Championship. It needs to be that again and can be with the right champion.