WWE.com recently released its list of the top 25 Intercontinental champions of all time. All the greats are listed: Chris Jericho, Honky Tonk Man, Mr. Perfect and No. 1, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, who in my opinion is the perfect example of someone that exemplifies what the IC title used to mean -- the slow but steady springboard to the main-event level.
In October of 2011 I wrote a piece about the value of the Intercontinental title with regard to several superstars' careers, including breaking down how many title changes occurred each year and what percentage of IC champs went on to world-title prominence.
Somehow, as I look back at these articles, one thought prominently rings in my head: I don't care about the Intercontinental title anymore. I don't care about the U.S. title anymore.
The value of the “secondary” championship is truly lost, dare say to the point of no return.
There are several factors that have contributed to this -- the lack of title defenses, holders of the championship, past treatment of the championship, etc. It all plays a part.
Look at Raw this past week. In the tag-team title match between CM Punk& Santino Marella vs. Cody Rhodes & Daniel Bryan, Santino, the U.S. champion, stuck out like a sore thumb, seemingly injecting comedy in a serious situation (all I could think of seeing Santino in the ring was the song from Sesame Street -- “one of these things is not like the other...”). Unfortunately, it didn't feel like he belonged in that particular match, which seems ludicrous for a U.S. champion. Cody Rhodes, meanwhile, did feel like he belonged in that elite company, yet the Intercontinental title (even the cool retro design he brought back) seemed to be holding him back to a mid-card level he may not deserve, therefore placing him figuratively below Punk and Bryan.
Unfortunately, these secondary championships are having the opposite effect that they once had. Never once when the likes of Honky Tonk Man, Randy Savage or Mr. Perfect held the IC title did I feel like it was a waste or misplacement of talent. Today, I feel that way for both superstars holding secondary singles titles. It feels more like they are place-holding hardware that simply exists, stagnant in their careers as if those titles are meant to keep them somewhat relevant until something is thought of for them creatively.
Look at recent championship matches. Santino defended against Miz on the Extreme Rules pre-show. While I'm not opposed to (read: used to) title matches on pre-shows, I felt like it was a haphazard match put together, with no back story on why Miz even deserved a title shot in the first place. Cody Rhodes and Big Show met on two consecutive pay-per-views for the IC title, and the emphasis was on the “WrestleMania moment” and not the IC title. Part of Rhodes' schtick is that he wants to make the IC title relevant again, but he needs to defend the title more for that to happen.
In 2003, the IC title went dormant, with the main reason being too many title changes. That problem doesn't exist anymore, but I fear the status of the secondary title has become equally as tarnished, due to a lack of defenses.
What would I do to increase interest? Bring back and enforce the “30-day rule” regarding title defenses. At least once a month, the IC title and U.S. title should be defended on TV or PPV against a challenger we believe to be a threat to the champion or who we feel deserves an opportunity. Here, wins and losses matter. If Santino racks up multiple successful title defenses, we believe him to be more of a champion and he becomes more than just the guy who is funny. For Cody Rhodes, it goes a long way to rejuvenating the IC title and its prestige.
Think of who could get a push from winning these titles if they had the level of importance they did in the 80s and 90s. If Alex Riley were to dethrone Cody Rhodes, it would give him instant credibility and rebuild his reputation as a believable babyface. Today, fans would likely reject the victory and the IC title would fall further into despair. If Antonio Cesaro were to defeat Santino Marella for the U.S. title, it would seem like a good idea the night it happened, but after a few weeks of not defending the title it would begin to devalue Cesaro as a hot potential future main eventer. It's almost better that he doesn't win a secondary title unless the goal was to restore the title's importance as much as keep Cesaro strong in the eyes of the WWE Universe.
The same argument might also apply to the tag team championships, but for a different reason. For several years now, WWE has not seemed to care about the tag team division, having it simply to provide diversity on the card. I hope this is changing, because I for one care about tag team competition. Abraham Washington representing Epico and Primo in an effort to bring them to tag team prominence would be interesting to me, so long as the tag titles become the goal. Here also, title defenses against teams that look, feel and act like a tag team is the key. WrestleMania 5 is a good example of a quality show that featured several tag team matches involving teams that were actual teams.
Do I think any of this will happen? Maybe not. But I hope it does. Maybe I refuse to be the typical long-time jaded, cynical wrestling fan that assumes the worst of every situation and story line. I have hope we will once again care about the U.S. and Intercontinental championships.
Arda Ocal is an on-air personality on theScore TV in Canada. For the Month of May, he's running a 64-theme tournament to crown pro wrestling's #GreatestEntranceTheme. Find the brackets and vote daily here: