Today we have part 2 of our look at the history of the Intercontinental title. In part 1, we looked at the background of the title, the fictional tournament to crown the inaugural champion as well as Ken Patera’s reign with the gold. We pick up today with Pantera as champion but the returning Pedro Morales set to challenge him and run through to the end of 1982.
On May 6, 1980, Pedro Morales made his first WWF appearance in more than five years – since a victory over Butcher Vachon on March 1975. The Puerto Rican had significant success in his first run with the company firstly winning the vacant WWWF United States Championship then defeating Ivan Koloff on February 8, 1971, to win the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship, which was renamed the WWWF Heavyweight Championship when company rejoined the NWA in 1971.
Morales would go on to hold the title for the best part of three years before losing out to Stan Stasiak on December 1, 1973, a transitional title switch that 9 days later led to Bruno Sammartino regaining the title.
For five years from 1975, Morales was away from the WWWF and competed in NWA San Francisco, American Wrestling Alliance and Championship Wrestling from Florida as well as in Japan for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In 1980, he returned to the now renamed WWF. On August 9, alongside Bob Backlund, he won the WWF Tag Team Championship when the team bested the Wild Samoans at the Showdown at Shea 1980. However, their reign with the gold was short-lived due to Backlund also being the WWF champion and a rule stating that no heavyweight champion could hold a second title at the same time.
On December 8, 1980, Morales was advertised to face Ken Patera at MSG in a match featuring the inaugural Intercontinental Champion, Pat Patterson, as the special guest referee. It was the card’s penultimate match; the night was headlined by Bruno Sammartino defeating Sgt. Slaughter. Over 20,000 fans packed into MSG for the show but anything that happened that night was always going to be overshadowed by other events with the 8th of December 1980 being the night that a crazed stalker Mark Chapman shot John Lennon five times, hitting him four times in the back, before sitting beside the dying Beatle and reading J. D. Salinger’s ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.
At MSG, Morales would triumph over Pantera in just shy of 20-minutes. With this win, he became the first man in history to win the Triple Crown Championship, which along his United States Championship reign also meant holding all of the promotion’s titles during his era, a recognition that only he held for almost two decades. He would continue to briefly feud with Pantera, including a match that was stopped due to excessive bloodless. By the end of the year, he would also partner up with Pat Patterson against The Moondogs.
Early 1981 saw Morales rack up wins over the likes of Sgt. Slaughter, Killer Khan and Stan Hansen. This was followed by a short feud against The Moondogs, which ended with singles wins over the two members of the team. On March 26, 1981, Morales faced Hulk Hogan, dominating throughout the match, and winning by count out. The feud with The Moondogs resumed afterwards, with mixed results in tag team competition but another win over Moondog Rex
By the summer a new challenger emerged in the shape of Don Muraco. Muraco joined the company in early 1981 after making his name for reversing the figure-four finisher of NWA Champion Jack Brisco. Although he would lose that match, that reversal marked him out as a star.
When he joined the WWF, The Grand Wizard managed him. By June, he was feuding with Morales over the Intercontinental title. A crowd over 5,000 turned up at the Philadelphia Spectrum on June 20, to see Muraco win the title. The finish came when, with the referee knocked out, Muraco used a foreign object to knock out the champion and win the gold.
Subsequent rematches ended in one win, three losses and a draw. Morales began wrestling and defeating other adversaries, including George Steele, The Executioner and Larry Sharpe, besides the usual low card talents that he had consistently bested previously. However, the feud with Muraco was reignited and he earned two wins and a draw, leading to a titular rematch between the pair.
Morales would head into the bout on the back of wins over the likes of Greg Valentine and the Executioner and, on November 23, 1981, headed to MSG to face Muraco for the Intercontinental Title in a Texas Death Match.
It was in front of a packed crowd of over 21,000, which amongst other matches on the night saw Bob Backlund pin Greg Valentine to win the vacant WWF World Heavyweight title, that Morales regained the title after hitting Muraco with his own foreign object. In doing so, Morales became the first man to hold the title on two occasions. Morales would then be successful in four rematches against Muraco with Greg Valentine then becoming his main adversary.
As we kicked-off 1982, Morales picked up a win over his new foe via DQ. Although he would easily defeat lower card talent, his next match with Valentine ended in a draw before Valentine picked up the next win, again via DQ. The pair would continue to trade wins, albeit with finishes that prevented the gold changing hands, including a brass knuckles alley fight.
Morales had a brief respite from performing against Valentine when he entered into short programmes with Mr. Fuji, Mr. Saito and Lou Albano. The programme with Valentine resumed with Morales winning two more matches, a DQ loss and then a Texas Death match win.
During the summer of 1982, Morales entered into a short programme with Bob Orton Jr. before wins, in relatively quick fashion, over talent towards the lower end of the card. A short feud with Superstar Billy Graham followed then one with Buddy Rose before the year ended with Morales wrestling his old foe Don Muraco to a double DQ draw.
In part three, due next week, we’ll delve into the history books and see what 1983 delivers for the WWF Intercontinental Title.
You can read all previous ‘History of the WWE Intercontinental Title’ pieces here.