Comparing the Intercontinental and United States Championships
When Pat Patterson defended his newly captured WWE North American Championship in a Rio de Janeiro–based tournament in September 1979, he did more than unify it with the South American Championship to create the now-coveted Intercontinental Title. He also laid the foundation for an institution that has served as a symbol of excellence in WWE ever since.
It’s not the oldest title in squared circle history. It was never sanctioned by the NWA or actively contested outside the realm of WWE. Instead, its majesty rests in the monumental path it has taken to glory.
Think of the great icons who wore the Intercontinental Championship around their waists. Names like Shawn Michaels, Triple H, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Ultimate Warrior, The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Edge and current WWE Champion CM Punk. Before they were legends of the squared circle — forging their immense legacies as WWE Champions — every one of these Superstars held the Intercontinental Title. That’s because the illustrious prize has long been revered as a gateway to the greatest title in the world, the WWE Championship.
Then, there are those phenomenal Superstars who never quite reached the WWE Title. But the wars they waged over Intercontinental gold were often the best on the card and immortalized them and the Intercontinental Championship. Who could forget Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, who captured the title from Savage in one of the most memorable matches in WrestleMania history? Or The Honky Tonk Man, who upset Steamboat and made an art of finding ways to keep the championship in his possession for more than 14 months? That milestone remains the longest Intercontinental Championship reign.
Moreover, elite Superstars like “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith — whose feats in the ring were already well-known by the time they captured the Intercontinental Title — would wear it as a symbol of their established prominence and the respect they earned from the WWE Universe and their fellow Superstars alike.
But perhaps the biggest reason the title is so important has to do with the events in WWE history that helped write its legacy. No one can forget when The Texas Rattlesnake threw the coveted title in the river rather than hand it over to his adversary, The Rock — intensifying what would become one of the most legendary rivalries of all time ( WATCH). Then, of course, there’s Razor Ramon fighting HBK to declare an Undisputed Intercontinental Champion in a pioneering Ladder Match at WrestleMania X ( WATCH).
Chyna captured the championship to become the first woman to hold a traditional male title — before breaking further ground by having to share the title with the Superstar destined to become one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time, nine-time champ Chris Jericho.
There is no denying every title can boast a certain level of supremacy since, by their very nature, they are defined by the talented competitors who fought for them. But the Intercontinental Championship is also special because — more than any other prize — it simultaneously shows what a Superstar started as, what they have become and what they will be in the future.
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.