The championship was established by the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) on September 1, 1979, after inaugural champion Pat Patterson unified (kayfabe) the WWF North American Heavyweight and South American Heavyweight championships. It is the third oldest championship currently active in WWE, behind the WWE Championship (1963) and United States Championship (1975). Although generally contested in the midcard at WWE shows, it was defended in the main events of presentations such as WrestleMania VI, SummerSlam in 1992, the third and eighth In Your House shows, and Backlash in 2001. It has been called a "stepping stone" to the WWE Championship.
In November 2001, the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship was unified into the Intercontinental Championship. In 2002 after the first brand extension, it became exclusive to Raw and the WWF was renamed to WWE. Later that year, the European and Hardcore championships were unified into the Intercontinental Championship, which itself was unified into the World Heavyweight Championship. The following year, however, it was reactivated for Raw, followed by the United States Championship's reactivation as a counterpart title on SmackDown. As a result of the 2017 WWE Superstar Shake-Up, the Intercontinental Championship became exclusive to the Raw brand.
The term "intercontinental" in the title originally referred to North and South America. In 1985, the championship belt design changed, the centerplate now centered on the Atlantic Ocean, in a map including western Africa and Europe. On April 10, 1989, the championship was first defended outside of North America, by Rick Rude against The Ultimate Warrior in Milan, Italy. On March 30, 1991, Mr. Perfect made the first Asian defense against The Texas Tornado at a WWF co-promotion with Super World of Sports in Tokyo, Japan. It first came to Africa on April 6, 1997, when champion Rocky Maivia pinned Savio Vega in Durban, South Africa. Shelton Benjamin made the first Australian defense on April 7, 2006, pinning Gene Snitsky in Brisbane.
WWF North American Heavyweight Champion Pat Patterson became the inaugural champion on September 1, 1979. It was said he had unified his title with the South American Heavyweight Championship, in a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, although both the tournament and South American Championship were entirely fictional.
On April 1, 1990 at WrestleMania VI, Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior defeated WWF Champion Hulk Hogan to win the world title, albeit the Intercontinental Championship was vacated (for the first time in the title history) soon after. Mr. Perfect would then go on to win a tournament to crown a new Intercontinental Champion.
On October 17, 1999, Chyna became the only woman to hold the Intercontinental Championship by defeating Jeff Jarrett at No Mercy. Following the World Wrestling Federation's (WWF) purchase of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in March 2001, the title was unified with the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship at Survivor Series, causing the United States Championship to become inactive. Then-United States Champion Edge defeated then-Intercontinental Champion Test.
In 2002, after the first brand extension had begun and the WWF was renamed to WWE, Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff began unifyng his brand's singles championships. On July 22, 2002, he announced that the Intercontinental Championship would be unified with the European Championship in a ladder match, which saw then-Intercontinental Champion Rob Van Dam defeat then-European Champion Jeff Hardy. On August 19, 2002, Bischoff made a six-minute gauntlet match for the Hardcore Championship, with the winner facing Van Dam in a second unification match the next week on Raw. Tommy Dreamer successfully retained his title in that match, but lost to Van Dam in a hardcore match the next week. As a result of the victories over Hardy and Dreamer, Van Dam is regarded as the last European and Hardcore champion in WWE history; these were his first and fourth reigns with those respective titles. On September 30, 2002, Bischoff scheduled another unification match, which would unify the Intercontinental Championship with the recently created Raw-exclusive World Heavyweight Championship. The match took place at No Mercy the following month and saw then-World Heavyweight Champion Triple H defeat then-Intercontinental Champion Kane, making him the Raw brand's sole male singles champion.
Over Bischoff's objections, Raw Co-General Manager Stone Cold Steve Austin reactivated the Intercontinental Championship on the May 5, 2003 episode of Raw and declared any former champion on the Raw roster eligible to enter a battle royal at Judgment Day for the title. Christian won the battle royal to win the championship and restore a secondary singles title for Raw wrestlers to compete for. Eventually, WWE would do the same thing for SmackDown and created a separate set of titles for that brand; for its secondary title, SmackDown reactivated the United States Championship that had been unified with the Intercontinental Championship in 2001, placing the WWE name on it while claiming the lineage of the old WCW title of the same name (much as they did with the Cruiserweight Championship when that became WWE exclusive).
On October 2, 2011, at Hell in a Cell, Cody Rhodes introduced a modified version of the classic championship belt design with the white strap, with an added modern WWE "scratch logo" and other embellishments. The first brand extension would end on August 29, 2011, and the title could be defended on both Raw and SmackDown. On August 18, 2014, the Intercontinental Championship belt, along with all other pre-existing championship belts in WWE at the time, received a minor update, replacing the long-standing scratch logo with WWE's new logo originally used for the WWE Network. On May 31, 2015, the championship was contested for in an Elimination Chamber match for the first time.
In July 2016, WWE reintroduced the brand extension; during the 2016 draft, then-Intercontinental Champion The Miz was drafted to SmackDown. Just days later, he successfully defended the title against Raw draftee Darren Young at Battleground, making the title exclusive to SmackDown.
Brand designation history
Following the brand extension on March 25, 2002, all titles in WWE became exclusive to either the Raw brand or SmackDown brand. The brand extension was discontinued on August 29, 2011, but it was revived on July 19, 2016. The following is a list of dates indicating the transitions of the Intercontinental Championship between the Raw and SmackDown brands.
|Championship moved to the Raw brand.|
|Championship moved to the SmackDown brand.|
|Date of transition||Notes|
|March 25, 2002||Intercontinental Champion Rob Van Dam was drafted to Raw following the brand extension.|
The European Championship was unified into the Intercontinental Championship on July 22.
|July 30, 2002||Chris Benoit defects to SmackDown as Intercontinental Champion.|
|August 25, 2002||Rob Van Dam regains the championship, returning it back to Raw.|
The Hardcore Championship was unified into the Intercontinental Championship on August 26.
|October 20, 2002||At No Mercy, Triple H unified the World Heavyweight Championship and Intercontinental Championship.|
The Intercontinental Championship was deactivated.
|May 5, 2003||Raw Co-General Manager Stone Cold Steve Austin reactivated the Intercontinental Championship on the May 5 episode of Raw.|
Christian won a subsequent battle royal for the vacant title at Judgment Day on May 18.
The United States Championship was reactivated for SmackDown in July 2003 as the Intercontinental Championship's counterpart.
|April 13, 2009||Following the 2009 draft, Intercontinental Champion Rey Mysterio was drafted to SmackDown.|
|August 29, 2011||End of first brand extension.|
The Intercontinental Champion could appear on both Raw and SmackDown.
|July 19, 2016||Reintroduction of the brand extension.|
Intercontinental Champion The Miz was drafted to SmackDown during the 2016 draft.
|April 10, 2017||As part of the "Superstar Shake-Up", Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose moved to Raw.|
|April 16, 2019||Intercontinental Champion Finn Bálor moved to SmackDown during the 2019 WWE Superstar Shake-up.|
The inaugural champion was Pat Patterson, who became champion after unifying his North American Championship with a "South American Heavyweight Championship" in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in September 1979. Chris Jericho holds the most reigns with nine. The Honky Tonk Man is the longest reigning champion at 454 days while Triple H is the shortest reigning champion by unifying the title with the World Heavyweight Championship immediately after winning. Ric Flair was the oldest champion, while Jeff Hardy was the youngest champion. Big Show was the heaviest champion while Rey Mysterio was the lightest champion. Chyna is the only woman in history to win the title.
- World Wrestling Entertainment
- Champion history - History of the wrestlers who have held the belt.
- Title matches - Matches in which the title was defended.
- Champion gallery - A gallery of all champions.
- 2008 WWE Intercontinental Championship Tournament
- 2014 WWE Intercontinental Championship Tournament