Welcome to part three of our History of the WWF Intercontinental Title. In part two, we looked at the period between Pedro Morales return to the company through to the end of 1982, a time in history which featured two reigns for Morales as well as one for Don Muraco. Today we pick up the title’s history from the start of 1983.
Part two of our history of the Intercontinental Title concluded with the current champion, Pedro Morales, drawing with Don Muraco, a former champion, via a double DQ to round off 1982.
1983 began for the WWF with a show at the Hartford Civic Center with all three titles on the line. However, it was the tag team champions Chief Jay & Jules Strongbow who recorded the only clean win over the Black Demon & White Angel. In the show’s main event, Don Muraco defeated WWF Champion Bob Backlund by count out while Pedro Morales regained his IC title thanks to a double disqualification with Superstar Billy Graham.
Three days later, at Monmouth College Center, Morales would get his win over Graham thanks to DQ which was followed up five days later with another double DQ. In between, Muraco would score a count out win.
On the 22nd of January, in a show televised on the MSG Network and the USA Network, Don Muraco challenged Morales for the IC title. The end came when the champion, sporting an injured knee, attempted to slam his long-time foe but his leg gave out and Muraco landed on top and scored the pin. As well as ending Morales’ 14-month reign with the gold, it also marked his first pinfall loss at MSG for the best part of two decades.
Following regaining the gold, Muraco feuded with his manager Captain Lou Albano’s former protégé, Jimmy Snuka. This programme would lead to the infamous match at MSG October 17. Following the match, with Muraco won, Snuka dragged his opponent back into the ring and hit his Superfly Splash from the top of the 15-foot cage. It was a moment that future WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley witnessed from the crowd and that partly inspired him to enter into the wrestling profession.
As champion, Muraco would engage in feuds with the likes of Bob Backlund, Rocky Johnson as well as Tony Atlas. His arrogant heel persona drew a great deal of heat from the crowd who witnessed his matches, causing fans to cheer whichever babyface talent tried, but ultimately failed, to take the gold from off of Muraco’s waist. To increase hate, he would dedicate before the match started the impending Piledriver finisher to either the man he was feuding with or whichever heel announcer was calling the match. It was a neat addition to his character and further cemented his position as a top heel in the company.
1984 brought a fresh challenger in the shape of Tito Santana, a former tag team champion in his first run with the company. Santana returned to the World Wrestling Federation in 1982. He had been part of the World Wrestling Federation in 1979 and found success teaming with Ivan Putski. The pair would defeat Johnny Valiant and Jerry Valiant to win the WWF Tag Team Championship at Madison Square Garden in October of ‘79. The duo would go on to hold the gold for almost six months before dropping them to the Wild Samoans in April the following year. Santana would remain with the company until later that year before leaving.
Upon his return in 1984, the Mexican-American wrestler entered a programme with Don Muraco over his Intercontinental title, become the latest babyface vying to win the gold from the Hawaiian champion and was suitably cheered on by the fans wherever the pair wrestled.
In the midst of this programme, at the Philadelphia Spectrum in late January, Santana fought The Iron Sheik to a double disqualification for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship when both men shoved down the referee after Sheik brought a steel chair into the ring.
Almost 15,000 fans turned up to the Boston Garden on February 11, 1984, to see a show headlined by Santana once again challenging Muraco, a show which also featured WWF Champion Hulk Hogan defeating The Iron Sheik and Andre the Giant teaming with WWF Tag Team Champions Tony Atlas & Rocky Johnson to defeat Sgt. Slaughter, Mr. Fuji, & Tiger Chung Lee.
In that main event, Santana would eventually triumph when he countered an attempted tackle from the champion with a sunset flip at the twelve-and-a-half-minute mark to win the gold, becoming the first Mexican-American wrestler to win the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship.
That moment of making history is something Santana speaks passionately about. Being interviewed by ‘Cult of Whatever’ in 2013, Santana stated: “I’ve always felt really proud to be a Mexican-American and I represented all Hispanics from South America, Central America, and Spain. The thing I was proudest of was just being a good role model, I knew I was a person who wasn’t ever going to make the front page for getting busted for drugs or doing something illegal, I was so proud to be who I was and a role model for my heritage.”
After a series of unsuccessful rematches, Muraco took a hiatus from wrestling in August 1984. After successfully defending the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship against Muraco, Santana would be targeted by Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and it is that feud with Valentine where we will pick this up in part four.
You can read all previous ‘History of the WWF Intercontinental Title’ pieces here.