Today we have part 1 of our look at the history of the Intercontinental Title. Along the way, we’ll look at the stars that carried the gold and the matches that helped define the belt as the “worker’s title”. In this first piece, we take a look at the infamous, yet entirely fictional, title tournament in Rio De Janeiro.
For a while on the blog now, I had been keen to do a multi-instalment piece on something from the world of wrestling. Sure, the options are somewhat limitless. Although a look at some of the darker moments in wrestling history has already been taken by Brian Damage’s excellent ‘Wrestling with Sin’ series, there was still plenty to choose from. There was some the history of some of the finest families that have graced the squared circle or even a look at Vince McMahon’s land grab during the 80s.
Instead, however, I’m going to look at the nearly forty-year history of the Intercontinental title. From the demise of the North American title through to the present day via a fictional title tournament and a host of icons that have carried the gold.
But let’s go back to the beginning…
In 1952 Roderick James “Jess” McMahon and Toots Mondt created the Capitol Wrestling Corporation Ltd (CWC) and the following year the organisation joined the influential National Wrestling Alliance (NWA).
McMahon passed away in November of 1954 and his son, Vincent James McMahon, was brought on board. McMahon and Mondt soon had success on their side and were responsible for much of the NWA’s booking, in no small part to their prominence in the North East.
However, a dispute over who would be the NWA Champion led to the pair leaving and setting up their own promotion. And the World-Wide Wrestling Federation was born.
By the 1970s, the WWWF was doing excellent business, a lot of that down to the popularity of their world champion Bruno Sammartino.
In 1979, Capitol simplified the promotion’s name by dropping the ‘wide’ aspect and simply becoming the World Wrestling Federation. It wasn’t the only thing that happened that year in the now WWF.
February of that year saw the legendary Hall of Famer Ted Dibiase join from Mid-South wrestling. Upon his debut, at this point he was a babyface, he was awarded the WWF North American championship.
He would quickly enter a programme with Pat Patterson, another superstar who debuted in 1979. The villainous Patterson, under the tutelage of the Grand Wizard, would defeat Dibiase for the gold that summer after using brass knuckles to defeat his foe in Allentown Pennsylvania.
And this is the fun bit. The WWF announced that in a tournament that took place in Rio De Janeiro, Pat Patterson won the South American Championship and in the process unified that and the North American title to become the intercontinental champion.
That’s right, Pat Patterson won a fictional tournament and in the process unified the North American title with the fictional South American title to become Intercontinental champion.
Silly beginnings, no doubt, but behind the WWF World Championship and the US title, it is the third longest reigning title in the promotion’s history.
It was during Patterson’s reign as champion that he turned face, after a botched attempt by the Grand Wizard to “sell” Patterson’s contract to “Captain” Lou Albano for $100,000; Albano’s proteges, the Wild Samoans, attacked Patterson after he cut a promo insulting Albano.
On the house show circuit during early 1980, Patterson clashed with Albano on numerous occasions – being the victor in them all – as well as tangling with lower card talents such as Jose Estrada and Hussein Arab.
Patterson’s 233-day reign with the gold would come to an end in circumstances just as controversial as those under which he won it.
On April 21, 1980, more than 20,000 fans packed into New York’s Madison Square Garden to see a show also televised on the MSG Network. Fans attending were treated to appearances from the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Larry Zbyszko, WWF Champion Bob Backlund and Ricky Steamboat’s MSG debut. Elsewhere was a bout where Patterson put his title on the line against Ken Patera.
A highly decorated Olympic weightlifter, Patera became a “strongman” in professional wrestling in 1973, following the demise of his weightlifting career. He would predominantly wrestle as a heel and had various stints in the WWF, NWA and the America Wrestling Association. In 1977, he would challenge Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship. He is widely regarded as one of Sammartino’s last great challengers and would also unsuccessfully challenge Bob Backlund several years later.
Commenting in recent years on his battles with Sammartino and how popular the battles were with the fans, Patera is on record as stating: “Bruno and I wrestled in Madison Square Garden, and the place was completely sold out. There were thousands of people who couldn’t get in. They were breaking windows at Penn Station.”
But at MSG, on April 21, 1980, would be successful in his quest for a WWF title when he defeated Patterson after twenty minutes to win the Intercontinental title. The finish came when Patera hit a knee drop off middle turnbuckle onto the back of Patterson and with the referee still groggy after a collision with the champion did not notice Patterson’s foot was on the bottom rope.
Patterson would lose his rematch and soon found himself in a programme with Larry Zybszko while Patera would vanquish the likes of Johnny Rodz and even picked up a victory over WWF Champion Bob Backlund, albeit via count out.
On April 25, 1980, in St. Louis, Missouri, Patera would pick up his second title when he defeated Kevin Von Erich at a house show to win the NWA Missouri Heavyweight Championship. Recounting this success in 2010, Patera told WWE.com “I’m the only one to ever accomplish that feat but with both of those titles in my duffle bag, it did get a little heavy.”
The next challenger for Patera’s Intercontinental title would be around the corner in a former WWWF Heavyweight Champion but that’s where we’ll pick things up next time around…