Welcome back to the March to WrestleMania, where I’m breaking down each and every match you’ll see next Sunday. When last we met, we reviewed the Usos and the Dudley Boys. As before, you’ll get the build to the contest (such as it is or, frankly, isn’t), what’s good about it, what’s not so good about it, and a peer into the crystal ball of physicality concerning both what should happen as regards the outcome and what will actually happen at pro wrestling’s biggest event of the calendar year. I’ll also conclude with a little extra, a random point or two from the current headlines. Ready for another stop on the march? Let’s do it!
Matchup: Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback for the United States Championship
The Build: Let’s just cut to the quick and suggest that the less information present in the build portion of the program, the more likely it is that you’ll be catching said match on the pre-show or the first hour rather than later in the evening. It was true of the Dudleys/Usos (which has since been officially booked for the Network pre-show) and it’s true of the United States title defense as well. Kalisto’s rise to championship status has been one of the more interesting stories that very few are talking about, and he’s accommodated himself decently enough since being given the opportunity to cement his place with that series of matches with the returned Alberto Del Rio. It’s a bit of an odd kettle of fish, as Kalisto’s Lucha Dragons partnership with Sin Cara is quite popular with fans (especially the younger set) and his title reign is sort of that other thing that’s going on at the same time. It’s also unfortunate for the luster of the US belt. No offense to Kalisto, who’s a more than capable hand and has demonstrated as much with flashes of offensive brilliance, but he feels like a placeholder champion as that masked guy who’s not Rey Mysterio. Much has been made of the company trying to bank on a Latin star, so this is a bit like an unfinished experiment gone live.
For Ryback, the strange trip here has been equally abrupt. It wasn’t such a long time ago (though admittedly it feels like it rolling through the archives) that I was arguing vehemently against the decision to turn The Big Guy into The Bland Guy with a face flip. The WWE did exactly that, and now it feels like they want to walk that back and give Ryback some of the intensity and momentum he lost with that very decision. Or do they? This is the era of the tweener, after all, and Titan Tower has shown a propensity to favor the policy of balance with some of their characters. I’m blissfully unaware of what exactly Ryback is at this point. Some of his mannerisms have been heel-esque, after all, but not to a huge degree. He also worked as a full face at a house show in Pennsylvania last weekend. Anything that changes up Ryback’s bland ring presence is a welcome sight, but nobody feels fully committed here. It’s a bit of a mismatch on paper, with the undersized Kalisto putting his belt on the line against a much larger challenger, but we’ve seen how that plays out. Whether you are emotionally invested enough to care about this matchup or the United States Title at this point, though, is another story. And likely a more compelling one.
The Good: WrestleMania is all about doing the most with the opportunity you’re given, and both of these competitors have a clear shot at doing that. The disparate styles of the combatants allow for an entertaining story to be potentially told, and Kalisto in particular benefits greatly from the exposure of defeating an even larger opponent than ADR. If the Kalisto/ADR series of bouts was meant to get the message across that the guy has the stuff to be a serious US champ, this is logically the next hurdle to clear. For Ryback, he’s at a bit of a crossroads as discussed above. The lure of going full-on badass heel will loom large in front of all those cameras and eyeballs. Obtaining a title, even a secondary one, makes his strange arc a deeper and more validated choice.
The Bad: Contests like these have been a thorn in the side of WWE matchmakers of late, as they look remarkably one-sided in the ring given the ridiculous size disparity. The legitimate silliness of someone Kalisto’s size performing their signature Luchador moves against a cave beast like Ryback is obvious. While wrestling has always had a tenuous at best grasp on reality, this runs the risk of being something so incomprehensible that we tune out en masse to get our popcorn. Ryback’s mood swings have reminded this author of some other weird behavior, like Alicia Fox’s Raw meltdowns or Adam Rose’s multiple personalities. There is quite frankly no guarantee that anything comes of this storyline at all. That fact renders this match an academic exercise at best and a fruitless pursuit at worst.
For the reigning champion, it’s possibly even more dire news. While creative balances his successful tag efforts with Sin Cara on one side and his development and growth as a legitimate singles champion on the other, he suffers the unfortunately likely future of hitting the median on both fronts. There are the makings of a David/Goliath encounter here, as well as a shot at giving Kalisto some of the shine his reign has thus far lacked. If the idea is to make him more than mid-tier support staff, Ryback and his run will have to be sacrificed.
What Should Happen: If I was mapping this match out, I’d make Ryback the focal point. Kalisto’s run has been both improbable and entertaining, but he’s got a successful team to fall back on at the end of the day and the tag ranks are ripe for rapid ascendancy. This fair-to-middling approach to Ryback’s recent turn has been maddening in its speed and rudderless direction, and it’s time to sanctify the sins of the past and turn him full-fledged ogre. That could (and should) include a World of Warcraft annihilation of the United States champion. It inherently allows the belt to gain a bit of value and sets up the inevitable next chapter of finding someone to knock Ryback off his pedestal. It also allows for the match to follow a (dare I say it?) more logical line. If the company is willing to let Daniel Bryan take the hit in an encounter with the bigger Sheamus, why should this be any different? It plays perfectly with how they really feel. Let Ryback fully plumb the depths of his new darkness and scrape the former champion off the ring with a spatula.
What Will Happen: Now that the enjoyable aside is out of the way, I’d imagine we go straight shot on this. Ryback is being booked far too strangely at the current moment to be taken seriously as a championship contender, and Kalisto does continue to provide the Latin presence the company has been craving. Kalisto will brave the odds and find a way to leave with the same belt he walked in wearing, and the quest to find a credible challenger and provide a series of entertaining and critical matches will go on. You’ve seen it many times before. You’ll see it again WrestleMania Sunday. Are we to buy into the idea that Ryback’s extreme size advantage is worth anything? Doesn’t seem likely.