When Drew McIntyre pulled out a win over Sheamus in WWE’s first-ever Good Old Fashioned Donnybrook Match ahead of SummerSlam, fans had to know that one way or another, WWE was going to get “The Celtic Warrior” on Clash at the Castle. Sure, he isn’t the same performer he once was, when he won the World Heavyweight Championship once, the United States Championship twice, and the WWE Championship three times over a six-year period from 2009-2015, but the pride of Dublin, Ireland continues to be one of the more reliable performers in the WWE Universe, with his matches with McIntyre consistently being a highlight of the late-Vince McMahon era.
Fortunately, with Gunther’s feud with Shinsuke Nakamura now over and a new opponent needed for Clash at the Castle, it was only right for Triple H, Adam Pearce, and company to book a Fatal 5-Way Match to decide on the next challenger for the Intercontinental Championship, with Madcap Moss, Ricochet, Happy Corbin, Sami Zayn, and Sheamus booked for the contest.
With a little over 20 minutes, some death-defying moves from Ricochet, and a Dax Harwood-esque injury angle with Zayn that resulted in a gigantic pop from his hometown crowd when he returned to the ring, Sheamus emerged with the win and a massive momentum swing heading into his midcard match at WWE’s first UK Stadium show since SummerSlam 1992.
That, as they say, is the good news for Sheamus; after 20 years in the business, he can finally become a WWE Intercontinental Champion, which he has challenged for on 12 occasions but has never won.
The bad news? To reach the prize that has eluded Sheamus up to this point, he has to best Gunther, “Der Ringgeneral,” who will all but certainly go down as the longest-reigning NXT UK Champion with an incredible 870-day run. No pressure, right?
This one should be special.@Gunther_AUT will defend the #ICTitle against @WWESheamus at #WWECastle!https://t.co/q7OEcbNYfb pic.twitter.com/vIh0mrD3b7
— WWE (@WWE) August 20, 2022
The IC Title is starting to feel special again in WWE.
There were times in the history of WWF/WWE where the Intercontinental Champion was considered more prestigious than the right proper heavyweight championship. It was held by the “Heartbreak Kid,” the “Macho Man,” and by Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and was been defended at basically every Pay-Per-View/”Premium Live Event.”
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
While the title has been defended over a dozen times over the last calendar year on SmackDown and house shows, it hasn’t been defended on a PPV/PLE since all the way back at WrestleMania 37 in April of 2020, when Apollo Crews beat Big E for the belt in a little over seven minutes in a Nigerian Drum Fight match that earned a three-star rating from Dave Meltzer over at The Wrestling Observer.
Needless to say, 16 months is a long time to not have a championship defended on a premier show of consequence; especially when the company in question averages a “Premium Live Event” per month.
Fortunately, Triple H has had it his mission to change the perception of the “midcard belts” in WWE, partially because he himself held the IC Title on five occasions and partially because Roman Reigns’ top-of-the-card mastery has left a bit of an absence for meaningful title matches that even the USA Network has taken notice of. When Gunther prepared to defend his belt against Nakamura, WWE put out one heck of a promotional video akin to the one they ran for the United States Championship, which you can read a transcription of below.
“A symbol that has changed through the years but remains timeless, with a storied past steeped in tradition for over four decades. Contenders have come and gone, but only those most worthy have held it high. As generations evolve from waves of change, the Intercontinental Championship has been a pillar of excellence. An everlasting presence that requires the very best and even more from its champion. A catalyst to superstardom, Hall of Fame careers, and iconic moments, a title that signifies pride and prestige. Tonight two decorated champions will write the next chapter in the historic lineage of the Intercontinental Championship.”
Goodness, that is one heck of a way to get folks excited about a match, a championship belt, and a championship run.
Will Gunther’s run with the IC Title live up to the men who came before him? Will the crown jewel of NXT UK maintain that show’s legacy long after the show is either canceled or renamed? Or will his run end like oh so many others in recent memory, with little fanfare and nothing to write about in the annals of wrestling history? That question will at least be partially answered at Clash at the Castle, as Gunther will be afforded his first chance to wrestle in the United Kingdom since he took down Nakamura at the O2 back in April.
Big highlight package for the US Title on Raw and one for the Intercontinental Championship tonight on SmackDown. Good to see WWE treating the titles like they matter again and have real history. pic.twitter.com/zbDrnwvRJb
— Let Them Wrestle (@LetThemWrestle) August 13, 2022