The Intercontinental Championship is my favorite belt in WWE. Whereas the WWE Championship and the various Women’s Championships have these convoluted histories that will make you ask “Why does that count as the same belt?” the IC Title has a long, basically unbroken history of being the quintessential midcard belt, and it’s often the championship that brings the best wrestling to the card, regardless of what belt’s in the main event. This year, Finn Bálor faces IC Champ Bobby Lashley in a bid to regain the belt he briefly held. Will that match rank among these? It could, but we’ll see. Lashley may not be the most charismatic and exciting guy on the current roster, but Finn will singlehandedly make up for that if you give him half a chance.
11. The Rock versus Ken Shamrock at WrestleMania 14
This match might be higher if it wasn’t so short, but on the other hand, if it was longer the screwiness of the finish might feel like more of a problem. Basically, Ken Shamrock is a madman, and he doesn’t just want to beat the Rock with an ankle lock, he wants to rip the Rock’s foot off and beat him to death with it. Watching now, in 2019, it’s wild to see young Dwayne Johnson, future blockbuster movie star, as the underdog. That’s not to say the Rock doesn’t get some good shots in against Shamrock, but Shamrock’s the original MMA monster. After tapping out the Rock, Shamrock basically beats up the whole Nation of Domination and some refs to boot, and gets disqualified for his trouble, allowing the Rock to keep the belt.
10. Chris Jericho versus William Regal at WrestleMania 17
This match is a bit short as well, but let’s be real: Jericho versus Regal would still be worth watching today (even if Regal’s not allowed to take bumps), so in their prime it’s basically amazing to watch these guys work. The build to this match apparently involved Jericho peeing in Regal’s tea, which is some real 2001 stuff (not to mention a very Jericho move), but at the end of the day the match itself is exactly the technical spectacle you want it to be, even if the tea-pee-er manages to retain with a Lionsault.
9. Mr. Perfect versus Big Boss Man at WrestleMania 7
I don’t need to explain that Mr. Perfect was one of the best, most underrated workers in WWE history, right? I feel like pretty much everybody’s on board with that take these days. Big Boss Man is great too, especially at this point in his career, when he’d lost a bunch of weight and could move even more dynamically than when he was bigger. So these two guys in a ring together was bound to be one of the best things WWF had going in 1991, and it’s worth a revisit. Sure, the ending is a shmoz, but it’s a shmoz that involves the final WrestleMania appearance of André the Giant, so sentimentally it’s hard to object.
8. William Regal versus Rob Van Dam at WrestleMania 18
First of all, RVD is wearing the most bananas airbrushed 2002 gear ever. It has a dragon and a yin-yang! Amazing. Second, as you’d probably guess if you know these two guys at all, this match is brutal, intense, and hard-hitting. There are moments when you think RVD might be dead, but like Wolverine he’s unkillable. Toward the end of the match, Regal hits him with a suplex that basically crumples him up lie paper, but RVD still manages to rise and hit a Frog Splash for the win. He’d been Hardcore Champion already, but this match took Van Dam to a higher level.
7. The 7-Man Ladder Match at WrestleMania 31
I know you remember this one. It’s a spotfest in the best possible way, with Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett (the champion going in), Dolph Ziggler, Stardust, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper and R-Truth giving it their all and each getting their own moments to shine. Stardust is especially impressive, and it’s wild to look at the work Cody Rhodes was doing in that gimmick (which he didn’t even like) and how it hints at his post-WWE rise. Daniel Bryan wins of course, and it’s easier to enjoy that win now that he’s back in the ring, than it was when it looked like he was done forever pretty much immediately after this win. This match was so much fun that they basically tried to do it again the next year, but that Zack Rider win is even harder to watch when you know he lost it immediately and it did nothing for his career. If the Miz had won then, instead of the next day, that match would probably be on this list too.
6. Shawn Michaels versus Tatanka at WrestleMania 9
This is another match with a messy DQ ending, but it’s a lot of fun along the way. Tatanka, who was great by the way, really holds his own with HBK, while Sherri Martel and Luna Vachon are at ringside basically having their own fight. And let me tell you, there are no two women you’d rather have fighting at ringside than those two (it’s just a shame they didn’t get more chances to fight inside the ring). It’s really a shame the count-out ending is so unsatisfying, because while this match was happening I was really into it.
5. Finn Bálor versus The Miz versus Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 34
I considered disqualifying last year’s match due to recency bias, but these three guys are undeniable, and this represents the end of the Miz’s historic run with the IC Title, so I’d hate to leave it off. People call the Miz a coward, but this man stepped into the ring with the Night’s King from Game of Thrones and a human LGBT pride flag, both of which were both pretty fraught choices in their way. I was rooting for Finn when this happened, but the moment when Rollins hit him with the curb stomp, before doing the same thing to Miz and winning the belt, was undeniable.
4. Kurt Angle versus Chris Benoit versus Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 2000
This was a complicated match. Kurt Angle held both the Intercontinental Championship and the European Championship at the time, and he had to faces the two Chrises in a two-falls match, with the first fall being for the IC Title, and the second fall for the Euro title. Angle lost both, naturally, but he did it without being pinned or submitted himself. First Benoit wins the IC Title by pinning Jericho after a diving headbutt, which sure is a hard move to watch Benoit do in retrospect. Later on Jericho pins Benoit after a Moonsault, winning the European Championship. The stipulation may be complicated, but at the end of the day this is a rough, hard-hitting showing from three great wrestlers.
3. Ladder Match Between Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 10
I’m just going to say it: This match feels a little overrated, watching it in 2019. That’s probably unfair, because so many of the tropes of the WWE ladder match were established here, and would have looked a lot more innovative in 1994. I don’t have a way to watch it with 1994 eyes however, so I mostly see stuff I’ve seen before. Obviously though, Razor and HBK are great at doing all of that stuff, so it’s still a fun watch. Diesel also makes for a menacing presence outside the ring. This is absolutely a great match, and an important historical moment, but it didn’t reach the top for me.
2. Rowdy Roddy Piper versus Bret Hart at WrestleMania 8
I’m not the biggest Bret Hart fan (I love the Hart Foundation, but I’m more of an Anvil devotee), but fortunately Roddy Piper has enough charisma for two men. I expected this match to be good, and it was. What I didn’t expect is how brutal it is. Bret goes full Crimson Mask, and the mat gets so bloody I thought I was watching Starrcade. Both the Hitman and Rowdy Roddy were faces by this point, but everyone remembered what a heel Roddy had been in the past. That’s what makes it so dramatic when the ref is down and Piper brings the bell into the ring and contemplates hitting Hart in the head with it. He really seems like he might, but when the crowd chants for him not to, he listens and returns to the light. He still almost wins with a sleeper hold, but the always impressive Hitman manages to reverse it into a pin for a great-looking finish.
1. Macho Man Randy Savage versus Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania 3
I’m going to be up front here: I didn’t want to put this first. As great as Savage and Steamboat were, talking about this match as the greatest thing ever feels like a cliché, and symbolic of how pro wrestling culture so often valorizes things that happened 20 or 30 years ago at the expense of more recent work, just because nostalgia is so baked into the culture. Nevertheless, I rewatched this match with an open mind, and it’s just undeniable. In an era when most WWF wrestling was a lot of big dudes lumbering around, these guys move lightning-fast, and go at each other with an extremely believable ferocity. But this match isn’t just great by the standards of 1987. It absolutely holds up today. If you want to know why Ricky Steamboat is a legend among wrestling fans, or why Randy Savage is a legend to the entire world, this is the match that will make it clear (not that you shouldn’t watch more of their work too).
Those are my picks, but obviously I left some out. I welcome your suggestions for what should have gone on this list that I chose to omit, as well as what should have gone higher or lower. And when WrestleMania 35 happens on April 7, we’ll see how Finn and Lashley measure up.