Welcome to part four of our History of the WWF Intercontinental Title. In part three, we looked at the title’s history from the start of 1983 through to late 1984. Today, we pick up with Tito Santana as champion but with a new challenge, in the shape of Greg Valentine, right around the corner.
After successfully defending the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship against Muraco, where we wrapped up part three, Santana would be targeted by Greg “The Hammer” Valentine.
By 1984, Valentine was in his third run with the company. Initially wrestling on a casual basis for the then World Wide Wrestling Federation, under Vince McMahon senior, in 1978. He was given the gimmick of a methodical wrestling who storyline broke his opponents’ legs. He would also wrestle then champion Bob Backlund to a sixty-minute broadway before leaving in 1979.
Valentine returned in 1981 and continued to pursue Backlund for the title. On October 19, he was pinned by Backlund, but then handed the title belt by the dazed referee which resulted in the belt being held up, however, Backlund would defeat Valentine cleanly in a rematch the following month and, although continue to challenge the champion, Valentine would not win the belt. Following an unsuccessful attempt to win the Intercontinental title from Pedro Morales, he left the company once again in mid-1982, returning to Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling.
In 1984, Valentine was again returned to the WWF having recognised that Vince McMahon’s expansion plans would be a success and could lead to fame and fortune for him.
On September 24, 1984, in London, Ontario Valentine challenged Tito Santana for the WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship. The night was an All-Star Wrestling and Maple Leaf Wrestling taping and featured 3 appearances from Valentine over the course of the evening: two matches and an interview.
In the first bout, Valentine beat AJ Petruzzi in two and a half minutes via submission. The second match, for Santana’s title didn’t end up lasting all that much longer.
Having injured Santana’s leg in the lead-up to the match, Valentine capitalised on that injury to defeat the champion in less than three minutes to win the title following a knee to the back and hooking the injured leg. It came moments after Santana thought he had won, after his trademark flying forearm, only for Valentine’s leg to be under the ropes. As Santana celebrated, Valentine hit the knee and rolled up the champion. Following the win, Valentine put Santana in the figure four leglock, reinjuring him.
The third and final appearance from Valentine was as a guest on Piper’s Pit, alongside his manager Capt. Lou Albano, where Piper and Valentine buried the hatchet, with the host congratulating Valentine on becoming IC Champion, and Valentine returning the compliments to Piper on having injured Jimmy Snuka in MSG.
While Santana was sidelined having leg surgery, Valentine, now managed by Jimmy Hart, feuded with the Junkyard Dog. This programme continued to the inaugural WrestleMania. Having bested Buddy ‘The Executioner’ Rose in the opening bout, Santana came out during Valentine’s IC title bout with JYD after the champion retained using the ropes. After Santana’s protestations, the referee restarted the bout but Valentine walked out giving JYD the win via countout but retaining the gold.
After WrestleMania, Valentine and Santana would continue their programme with the champion being victorious although Santana did get a count-out win as well as a tag win, teaming with JYD, against Valentine and Paul Orndorff. Valentine would also, on occasions, team with Brutus Beefcake in a team that would later become known as The Dream Team.
The programme between the pair continued until the summer when a steel cage match was scheduled to headline the show on July 6, 1985, at the Baltimore Civic Center in Baltimore. In that main event, taped for Prime Time Wrestling and broadcast on the July 23, Santana won by climbing out of the cage at the ten-minute mark and kicking the door into Valentine’s face before dropping to the floor.
Enraged at dropping the title, the now former champion destroyed the title in the cage storyline forcing the company to create a new title. However, in reality, however, the WWF already had a new Intercontinental title belt ready to go.
After their steel cage match, both superstars moved onto new things. But in recent years, Santana was full of praise for the quality of the opponents he faced and singled out Valentine for warm words in an interview with Cult of Whatever:
“I had a good following, the fans always supported me wherever I wrestled, my popularity just kept growing and every time I stepped in the ring the reception I got was unbelievable. With the opponents I had to wrestle, it was pretty hard not to have a good match, the likes of Don Muraco, Mr. Perfect, and Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine, we ended up having the longest feud in the history of the WWF.”
While Valentine would continue to team with Beefcake, Santana would face a series of new challengers for his title including the likes of Terry Funk, Tiger Chung Lee and the occasional rematch win over Valentine and his new tag team partner Beefcake.
The month before Santana retained the title, Randy Mario Poffo, better known to fans as Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage joined the WWF. Having previously competed for the “outlaw” International Championship Wrestling (ICW), up his signing he was billed as “the top free agent in pro wrestling”. Initially, numerous established manager vied for his services before he chose Miss Elizabeth.
In late 1985, Savage started a feud with then-Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion Tito Santana over that title. Santana beat him on October 19, 1985, at San Juan, Puerto Rico. The November 2, 1985, episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event, he unsuccessfully challenged Santana for the title, Savage winning by countout.
He made his pay-per-view debut at The Wrestling Classic on November 7, 1985, participating in the 16-man tournament. He would defeat Ivan Putski, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and the Dynamite Kid, however, he would lose to the Junkyard Dog by countout in the final.
1985 ended with Savage continuing to challenge for Santana’s title and this programme would continue into 1986 and that is where we’ll pick up in the next instalment.
You can read all previous ‘History of the WWF Intercontinental Title’ pieces here.