In the match's aftermath, Corey Graves made note of the fact that for years, the Intercontinental belt was viewed as "the workhorse title" in WWE, and history backs him up. During the long reigns of Hulk Hogan in the eighties and early-nineties, the likes of Tito Santana, Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Mr Perfect, and Bret Hart anchored the cards with asterisk-obtaining masterpieces. It's one reason why fans of a certain age wish that more could be done with the Intercontinental belt today: it takes them back to a time when the strap truly *meant* something.
This list will look at the 10 best Intercontinental title matches of the 2010s. Spoiler alert: nothing from 2010 through 2013 made the cut, as aside from Cody Rhodes' lengthy reign (and restoration of an old belt design), the belt seemed more tertiary than secondary.
10. Daniel Bryan Vs. Dolph Ziggler (Raw, 30 March 2015)
A little more than 24 hours earlier, Bryan won the Intercontinental championship in a seven-man ladder match at WrestleMania 31. The idea was that Bryan would restore credibility to the long-neglected IC belt while John Cena would add prestige to the United States title. Sadly, Bryan would be sidelined shortly after this with the "career-ending" concussion, but he managed to deliver this hidden gem before then.
The two exchanged near-falls before the raucous post-Mania crowd, the height of which was the fans biting on one particular false finish following a Ziggler superkick. The two traded headbutts just as they had the night before, leading to Bryan winning on the Running Knee. Of course, nobody had much of a clue that they'd be watching Bryan's last significant TV win for three years.
9. Roman Reigns Vs. Samoa Joe (Raw, 1 January 2018)
The first great WWE match of 2018 came while many Americans had flipped over to the college football playoff games, not that most Reigns-haters were going to give it much benefit of the doubt anyway. A week earlier, Reigns had been disqualified for shoving a referee John Cone, and Cone just so happened to be the referee for this match as well. Since the stip was that Reigns could drop the belt on a DQ, many smelled a BS finish.
Instead, the result was a well-crafted 23-minute match that had the fans solidly hooked by the finishing sequence, which saw Reigns win with a Spear after escaping the Coquina Clutch.
8. Dolph Ziggler Vs. Cesaro Vs. Tyson Kidd (SmackDown, 11 November 2014)
Only 2500 fans in Liverpool got to witness firsthand one of the best free TV matches of the past five years. Ziggler was less than two weeks away from playing the role of Survivor Series savior, but for this moment, he was merely the Intercontinental champion trying to fend off two cagey heels.
The match was contested under rarely-used elimination rules, and was mightily fast-paced for an 18-minute bout. Cesaro was the first to go when Kidd pinned him following a Zig Zag, and Kidd went second after champ hit the move once more. In the five-year space between the two brand extensions, SmackDown hosted some rather enjoyable matches that flew under the radar, and this was easily among the greatest.
7. Luke Harper Vs. Dolph Ziggler (TLC 2014)
The 2014 TLC (rather, TLC&S, stupid stairs...) earned a mention in the intro for being a one-match show where the opener was awesome (this here match), and the remainder of the night was infuriatingly bad (exploding TV monitor, anyone?). Harper's brief run as Intercontinental champion came to a close following this wild stunt show of a Ladder Match.
Both men bled hardway at different points (Ziggler off of a catapult stunt), due to the physical nature of the match. Harper at one point seemed to all but break his wrist on a dive to the outside. The Cleveland crowd was wildly behind Ziggler, who was born in the city, and vociferously cheered him all the way into the finish, in which he regained his belt.
6. Ladder Match (WrestleMania 31)
It may not have been Savage-Steamboat or Shawn-Razor, or even Hogan-Warrior (yes, that was an Intercontinental title match), but it was easily the best WrestleMania IC title bout in a great many years. Bad News Barrett put the belt on the line against Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper, Dean Ambrose, Stardust, and R-Truth in what turned out to be one hell of an opening match.
The most memorable spot was easily Ambrose taking the world's scariest Powerbomb out of the ring and through a ladder bridge, a stunt that apparently cut the back of Ambrose's head open. The finish saw Bryan and Ziggler having a headbutt duel on top of the ladders (which was called back in entry 10), just prior to Bryan pulling down the belt.
5. The Miz Vs. Finn Balor Vs. Seth Rollins (WrestleMania 34)
Hey, another awesome WrestleMania opener, imagine that. Across more than 15 minutes, there was no shortage of action which is one of the real benefits of a multi-person match. Another great thing about this match is that the commentators didn't spend the entire first half of it discussing Miz's newborn daughter, which was much appreciated by this weathered soul...
The match continued the absolute tear Rollins has been on since unburdening himself from Jason Jordan, beginning somewhere around the two-hour gauntlet match, continuing through 'Mania and to this day. The near-falls toward the end especially worked, since all three men were viable winners, and the end result wasn't so predictable. The Curb Stomp to break up Balor's pinfall attempt on Miz was a nice touch.
4. The Miz Vs. Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens Vs. Sami Zayn (Extreme Rules 2016)
Fans were immediately raving about this match on pay per view night, even if most weren't thrilled that Miz had gone over on three ROH alums (The Miz wasn't quite earning the, 'he's improved so much', plaudits just yet). It's easy to see why: there were a number of spots that came from outside the box, and the pace was brisk enough to where every spot kept your eyes glued.
Little details, like Zayn's unfettered hatred (and subsequent targeting) of Owens, as well as Miz's sneaky resourcefulness, helped tell a story. Such nuances took this match to a different level than just the usual sequences of athletic spots and double-teams that 4-Ways and Triple Threats tend to have.
3. Dean Ambrose Vs. Kevin Owens (Royal Rumble 2016)
Ambrose and Owens had been feuding over the belt for several months, and the rivalry functionally culminated with this last man standing match (though Owens would win the belt three weeks later in a random five-way bout). It was a chance to let two brawlers with different degrees of CZW heritage just have an old-fashioned anarchic scuffle, minus the lightbulb tubes and weed-whackers.
In the end, Owens was pushed off the top rope, falling through two tables that he'd personally set up (oh, the fickle hand of irony). Giving the match a little extra credit was the fact that Owens was still selling his injuries when he appeared in the Rumble match later on. Then again, perhaps his pronounced limp wasn't selling at all.
2. Seth Rollins Vs. The Miz (Backlash 2018)
Compare the crowd during this match with the one that went apoplectic at the sight of Samoa Joe working one resthold after another on an ailing Roman Reigns. No disgusted chants needed to be volleyed at Rollins and Miz, who worked hard to keep that (at the time) rabid audience on the edges of their seats.
The Figure-four reversal sequence infused some true humanity (from the facial selling) into the match, giving the crowd more to chew on than just wrestling and counter-wrestling. The fact that Rollins kicked out of two Skull Crushing Finales made that second false-finish more astonishing since nobody thought he'd liberate himself more than once. Clearly, they want Rollins to have a touch of superhuman energy in his character since the chosen Superman has been felled repeatedly by the crowd's kryptonite.
1. The Miz Vs. Dolph Ziggler (No Mercy 2016)
There may have been more bells and whistles thrown into this match than in the more no-frills Rollins/Miz match, but consider the expectations: Rollins/Miz was looked at as a potentially very good match, while Miz/Ziggler wasn't exactly forcing people to make sure they had clear schedules on that Sunday night. This was the overachiever to end all overachievers.
Mauro Ranallo's frequent wordgasms in the wake of every instance of Miz's cheating, and every subsequent false finish had the home audience and the Sacramento crowd whipped into the same incredulous frenzy. Ziggler's win was actually cathartic, and you revelled in Miz's defeat, watching all of his underhanded tricks be employed for nothing. The visual of Miz lying still, head leaned on the bottom rope, eyes cold with sadness while Ziggler's music blared, made the match even better - the heel was sad that he lost, and we were glad that he did.