For many, the Intercontinental title is an iconic built. During the peak years in the 80s it was seen as the worker’s belt and later became the first run on the ladder for future superstars. But that didn’t stop the WWE briefly retiring it, the focus of today’s piece.
After the Monday Night Wars were over, the WWE became the only major game in town. To give fans a bit of “competition” and help facilitate all the new wrestlers acquired from WCW on the roster, a brand split was implemented in 2002. At first, the WWE Undisputed world title was defended on both the Raw and Smackdown brands. When Vince McMahon and WWE creative felt that that way of booking the world champion was too convoluted, the decision was made to create a major title for each brand.
It all started when the then WWE champion Brock Lesnar became exclusive property of Stephanie McMahon and the Smackdown brand. Raw general manager Eric Bischoff decided (in kayfabe of course) to christen Triple H their version of the world heavyweight champion. He was awarded the old WCW “Big Gold Belt” and declared champion. As much as it was nice to see the WCW title resurrected by the WWE, it wasn’t in their initial plans.
The plans as they were, was to elevate the WWE’s secondary title, the Intercontinental championship as the Raw brand’s top title. Now for fans to accept the Intercontinental belt as a top singles championship, work had to be done to build it up. The WWE started doing that by having a series of title for title matches involving the IC belt and the various other smaller titles. The then IC champion ‘The Whole Dam Show’ Rob Van Dam was used to elevated the IC title initially.
RVD would first defeat the then European champion Jeff Hardy in a title versus title match, thus the IC belt absorbed the European title. Next, RVD defeated the reigning WWE Hardcore champion Tommy Dreamer in a title versus title match. That belt too was absorbed by Rob Van Dam’s Intercontinental belt. The IC belt became the only secondary title on the Raw brand and started to be the most sought after belt by everyone not vying for the WWE Undisputed belt.
Rob Van Dam would ultimately lose the IC title to Kane and the two would battle in a series of matches for that championship. When the decision to have Lesnar and the Undisputed championship a Smackdown exclusive, the plans were to elevate the IC belt as Raw’s top title and Raw would also get the tag team and Women’s title. Smackdown would have the Undisputed belt, their own version of tag team titles and the exclusivity of the Cruiserweight division.
The plan seemed to be good on paper but some apparently had issues with the Intercontinental belt being a top championship, namely Triple H. The plan all along was to make Triple H the top star on Raw. The rumors were Triple H had issues with being IC champion and be considered equal to Brock Lesnar on Smackdown. He allegedly lobbied to revive the big gold belt as his belt and become the WWE world heavyweight champion. That is why Triple H was just handed the world title by Eric Bischoff on Raw. The explanation given to fans was that since Triple H had won a number one contender’s match at SummerSlam to face Brock Lesnar.Triple H would be awarded the Raw’s version of the belt.
With the reemergence of the world heavyweight championship, the WWE felt there was no longer a need for the IC belt. A title for title match was booked between world champion Triple H and Intercontinental champion Kane. Triple H would defeat Kane and unify the world and IC belts into one. It was the ending to the long lineage of the Intercontinental title that began in 1979. It also established Triple H as the only male singles champion on the Raw brand.
The Intercontinental belt remained deactivated for the next seven months. In those seven months, there was an obvious outcry from fans who wanted to see this prestigious title reinstated. Without the IC belt in play and the only Raw singles title being the world championship, the mid card became lost with no direction. Only one wrestler at a time could challenge for the top prize, so the rest of the roster had nothing to really fight for. The experiment was an obvious failure. So in May of 2003, the decision was made to bring back the title back. All was right in the WWE universe again but we must never forget the seven months the Intercontinental title ceased to exist.
You can read all previous ‘Remembering When’ pieces here.