The History of the WWE Intercontinental Title pt. 5

Craig Wilson

Welcome to part five of our History of the WWF Intercontinental Title. In part four, we looked at the title’s history up to the end of 1985. Today, we pick up with Tito Santana still as champion but with a certain Macho Man Randy Savage vying to take the strap from around his waist.

Apologies for the delay, everyone, it’s been a fairly hectic time, allowing mostly for short reactive posts rather than being able to do the reading required for this. But it’s back, finally it’s back.

So, in part four, we left things at the beginning of 1986 with the strap still around Tito Santana’s waist but with Randy Savage, fairly new on the scene, challenging for it.

After coming close to defeating Santana on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event from November 1985, Savage went one better in February 1986.

On 8 February 1986, a sell-out crowd of over 16,000 fans turned up for a tapping at the Boston Garden headlined by a steel cage match pitting Bruno Sammartino against Roddy Piper. One of the biggest talking points of the show was the fifth match on the card, seeing Randy Savage once against challenge Santana for his title.

With the match over the ten-minute mark, Santana attempted a back suplex but Savage dug into his trunks and pulled out a foreign object, allowing Savage to pick up the win and, with it, the title belt.

Oddly, the next evening Santana defended the IC title in a victorious effort against Jesse Ventura in the penultimate match in front of 17,000 fans at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto while at the same time, in Landover Maryland, Randy Savage lost via countout against the Junkyard Dog. These match-ups would provide a guide to what was next for both Savage and Santana.

On 10 February, in a segment recorded at the Civic Center in Brantford, Ontario, Macho Man Randy Savage appeared with Miss Elizabeth as guests on Jesse Ventura’s ‘Body Shop’ show. However, the title celebration was interrupted by Santana and JYD in order to promo their upcoming match in Toronto at the beginning of the following month.

However, before we got there, Savage would defend the title against George Steele while in other cities it was Santana who would be defending the title, even in matches against Randy Savage – owing to these matches all taking place prior to the title change was broadcast on TV.

During this time, Savage even challenged WWF Champion Hulk Hogan in a title match a week before the title change was broadcast. The bout, a lumberjack match, saw a heavily taped up Hogan – suffering from injuries sustained at the hands of King Kong Bundy – leave with his gold still around his waist after an eight-minute tussle, thanks to Steele tripping Savage.

The feud between Savage and Steele had begun at the start of 1986 when ‘The Animal’ developed a crush on Miss Elizabeth, with that coming to the forefront during a ‘Saturday Night’s Main Event’ clash between two.

To mark the 30-year anniversary of WrestleMania 3, ESPN caught up with some of the main players of that show. Included in that was a look at the lead-up, including George Steele talking about his feud with Savage: “Randy would always be so uptight because I had to do something with Elizabeth. He would say, “That’s my wife!” I would say, “Hey, I’ve got a daughter older than her. Relax.” But just as I’d leave, I’d say, “I’d have some runs with some of these young broads out here.” And then I would leave, and he would [flare up in anger.] So I had him right where I wanted him. When he would come to the ring, he would be fired up. Really fired up.”

Throughout February, Savage would rack-up a number of count out wins over his foe. It came to a head on 18 February when after a squash win for Savage, Steele came to the ring and presented Elizabeth with a bouquet of flowers.

But according to his younger brother, ‘Leaping’ Lanny Poffo, Savage was not a fan of his programme with Steele: “Randy had been working with Steele, and he didn’t like the matches, because George liked to pander to his gimmick. George was a great athlete in his day, but he wrestled in a day where people liked to eat the turnbuckle.”

Within a two-week period at the end of February/beginning of March, Santana forced Savage to three-times submit to his figure-four leglock – once in a non-title bout, a tag match that saw the current champion team with Ventura against Santana and JYD and a six-man elimination match won by Tito.

In the lead up to 7 April’s WrestleMania II show, Savage would predominantly lose, albeit it via countout or disqualification, to Santana while his opponent on that sow, George Steele, would battle the likes of Hercules and Adrian Adonis.

At WrestleMania, in the New York part of the show, Savage would defeat George ‘The Animal’ Steele in the second match on the card. Although Steele has earlier kicked out of Savage’s trademark top rope elbow drop, he was able to get the win, and retain his title, thanks to the referee not seeing him having both feet on the ropes for leverage.

For much of the rest of the year, Savage would continue to battle Santana with the pair trading wins – although the latter were DQ or countout. He would also continue to tangle with George Steele. At the beginning of August, Pedro Morales would return to the Intercontinental Title scene and would pick up wins over Savage, albeit not via pinfall or submission so was unable to retain his former title.

It was at this time that Ricky Steamboat also entered the picture, racking up several wins over Savage. Towards the end of the year, Savage would also battle the likes of Dino Bravo, Honkytonk Man and Billy Jack Hayes as well as grabbing several countout wins over Roddy Piper.

The wrestling calendar for the Intercontinental Champion concluded in Baltimore on 30 December with Randy Savage headlining the show in a match against Bruno Sammartino. The bout saw the former WWF Champion win but only via countout meaning Savage would start 1987 with the gold around his waist. But would that year end with it still around his midriff? That’s what we’ll find out in the next instalment of our look at the history of the Intercontinental title.

You can read all previous ‘History of the WWF Intercontinental Title’ pieces here.

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