For a long time, the Intercontinental Championship was known as the workhorse belt. Given to the wrestler who could put on the best matches and always keep the crowd entertained through their ring work, some considered the Intercontinental Title an even greater compliment than the WWE Title. Legends like Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Randy Savage would all hold the belt in their careers.
At the beginning of the 2010’s though, it’s arguable that the Intercontinental Title wasn’t at the level it should be. Whilst fundamentally the wrestlers holding it like Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston would put on great matches, the title struggled for relevancy. Some of the wrestlers who won the title (Ezekiel Jackson comes to mind), weren’t a great fit for the title. It wasn’t until a fateful night in August of 2011, when Cody Rhodes would change the Intercontinental Title for the better.
As stated, the IC Title was going through a bit of a slump before Rhodes won the belt. The title spent much of 2010 on Smackdown, involved in a rivalry with Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler, with a mix of Kaval (Low-Ki), which produced good matches, but was rather repetitive. Kingston would defeat Ziggler so he could move into the World Title picture against Edge at the end of 2010 and start of 2011. Kingston would drop the belt to Wade Barrett before Barrett would drop the belt to a former member of the Corre, Ezekiel Jackson. Whilst I don’t dislike Jackson, he didn’t really symbolize a “workhorse” and wasn’t the greatest worker.
Insert current AEW star Cody Rhodes. Going through a character change after suffering a facial injury at the hands of Rey Mysterio, Rhodes was wearing a protective mask, embarrassed by losing his “dashing” looks. Rhodes would have people hand out paper bags to members of the crowd, whilst also bagging his opponents after winning matches. When Rhodes beat “Big Zeke” on the August 12, 2011 edition of Smackdown, it signified a change in the way the title would be present. Rhodes made the Intercontinental Championship feel like the most important title on the show. Rhodes would also be featured far more on Smackdown, making regular title defences whilst actually being involved in rivalries with high profile superstars.
The biggest change that Rhodes made whilst holding the title was the design. Personally, I was a fan of the current design, but the change that Rhodes introduced was far superior to its predecessor. Paid for out of his own pocket, Cody realised something needed to be done to bring relevance back to the title. Bringing back a retro Intercontinental Championship with a twist was a stroke of genius and immediately cemented him as one of the more important and notable IC Champions of the decade. With the introduction of the new belt, also brought a new Cody Rhodes, who dropped his “Undashing” persona after his feud with Randy Orton, and based his gimmick more around holding the title as a proud champion.
Rhodes had some notable feuds and performances as IC Champion. As previously mentioned, the Randy Orton feud produced some great matches and a compelling story for Orton who was out of the title picture at the time. One of the better feuds however, would be the one involving the return of Booker T to the ring. Whilst staying out of the ring, Booker made his grand return at TLC 2011 to face Rhodes for the title. Whilst Booker would be beaten on this occasion and also on Smackdown in 2012, Rhodes created magic with Booker, who at this point hadn’t stepped in the ring since the Royal Rumble in January 2011. Rhodes would later go on to have the most eliminations in the 2012 Rumble, before eliminating The Big Show in the Elimination Chamber.
Rhodes’s last rivalry in his first reign, against The Big Show, was far better than it had any right to be. Mocking Show’s previous Wrestlemania moments, and his subpar record at the show of shows, (3-8 at the time, but with no singles match victories), Show would fight back and defeat Rhodes at Wrestlemania 28 to win the Intercontinental Title, ending Cody’s reign at 236 days. Whilst this bothered me at the time, every story is better for having a good conclusion, which this provided. Not only did Show gain one of the only titles he hadn’t held, it also gave Rhodes a chance to potentially move up into the main event picture for the World Title. Or so we thought.
Rhodes would win the title back shortly afterwards at Extreme Rules 2012, before dropping it to Christian at Over the Limit 2012. Tragically, Rhodes would not go up into the main event picture, rather falling down the card into the tag team division to form Team Rhodes Scholars with Damien Sandow. Rhodes would never hold the Intercontinental Championship again, remaining in the tag team division with Sandow and Goldust, with a brief run as Stardust for the twilight of his WWE career.
Cody Rhodes’s impact on the Intercontinental Championship was undoubtedly one of the biggest of the 2010’s. A long reign involving quality title defences and great rivalries is what made the Intercontinental Championship so prestigious back in wrestling past, which Rhodes was seeking to recreate. One of the better champions of the 2010’s in general, Cody Rhodes reign with the Intercontinental Championship will go down as one of great significance.