It’s finally here, wrestling fans. WrestleMania week, which means the final countdown is on for the biggest event in the calendar year. It also means the final Raw before WM, which naturally tries to pack several months’ worth of storylines into a couple of hours in a last-ditch effort to give some of the lesser matches a hint or two of intrigue. I’ll leave it to some of my TJR colleagues to determine whether or not that was successful. For my part, I’m breaking down each and every match you’ll see Sunday with some analysis and good old-fashioned speculation. You’ll get the build, the good and the bad, and what can and should happen. And some random commentary thrown in, naturally. Tonight it’s the breakdown of the I-C ladder match. Let’s do this.
Matchup: Intercontinental Ladder Championship Match– Kevin Owens (c) vs. Stardust vs. The Miz vs. Sami Zayn vs. Zack Ryder vs. Sin Cara vs. Dolph Ziggler
The Build: This match is actually a tale of two builds, and it’s reminiscent of the focus of the match itself. The obvious build is the absolutely stellar personal feud that brewed between current Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owens and “former” friend Sami Zayn. Assuming you’ve seen any of the lengthy and dynamite series of matches between the two while they were in NXT, you already know of what I speak. If you haven’t, in addition to now having what you need to do next planned out, know this: it’s everything that’s missing on plenty of the other matches Sunday. Which is to say high drama presented in a realistic way and two guys who will go balls to the wall to entertain the hell out of you in completely different ways. The fact that they are so comfortable together is strengthened even more by the intelligent way the WWE has booked their lingering feud since Sami Zayn showed up on the main roster. From their dustup at the Royal Rumble to Zayn’s return from injury to once again taunt his rival, it’s simmered to a rolling boil.
All of that, naturally, sets up nicely for one hell of a match on Sunday. But the other half of this equation are the additional five men competing for Owens’s belt as well, which sort of came together the last couple weeks on WWE television as Owens and his gruff personality alienated the Authority and allowed for everyone who’s anyone (or, not, as it were) to get a shot to shine and unseat KO-Mania. Dolph Ziggler’s been in the I-C mix for a while, so his presence here makes sense, and I suppose you could take a flier on The Miz for being previously in the WM limelight and having heat with a few of the other entrants. For the rest, the term mixed bag is a kind one. Sin Cara gets something to do while his tag partner defends the U.S. Title, Stardust vamps it up and wonders where it all went wrong, and Zack Ryder gets his really cool theme song played before inevitably being largely a non-factor. It’s sort of like going through that overstuffed Easter basket and finding out most of it is that cheap grass.
The Good: As mentioned above, who doesn’t want to see Owens and Zayn do battle with ladders involved? Considering that the two of them didn’t even need the benefit of foreign objects to captivate and wow us in their previous encounters, there can be little doubt magic moments are in store. This feud has already lasted quite a while and there’s absolutely no reason to end it anytime soon. Owens’s ability to be WWE’s next mega-heel grows with every passing second, and Zayn’s it factor bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain leader of the YES movement who recently hung up the boots.
As for the rest of the gang, there are some interesting stories to tell. Ziggler’s rise against the Authority and in particular his coming out party (even in a loss) against Triple H on a recent Raw demonstrates he’s very much in play for a large role post-WrestleMania. Whether he factors into the evening’s later events is anyone’s guess, but Dolph finds a way to make everyone look good and will unquestionably have some stellar moments in a match such as this. I’ll also defend the inclusion of Sin Cara, as it gives him a role at least a bit in the vein of his partner Kalisto. Just like his fellow Lucha Dragon, Sin Cara should have some heady stuff in the back catalog that lends itself to the use of ladders. While some of the entrants are a bit weird, particularly with the lack of build mentioned before, this has all the components of a memorable match. That’s what the WWE is shooting for when they bring the toys out.
The Bad: We all know it’s coming down to Owens vs. Zayn, right? Stardust and The Miz are good for one thing in this match, which is to attempt to fool you into thinking they have any shot. Certainly they will come within a hair of pulling the belt from the rafters before realizing that no heel will carry the strap better than KO is already doing it. As for Zack Ryder, I find it hard to say anything negative about the guy who’s done anything and everything to try to crack the code of getting a significant push, but bringing him from the outhouse into the penthouse in one fell swoop is hardly the way to engineer an out of nowhere victory for him. There’s only two solutions to what happens here, and neither of them involve the majority of the combatants. It doesn’t mean it won’t be entertaining, but it does mean it will be pretty damn predictable. Not good in a match where anything supposedly could happen with the amount of folks involved.
What Should Happen: Couple of different schools of thought on this, but Owens and Zayn are guaranteed to have a back and forth that ends with one of them happy and the other one looking for vengeance. I’d imagine Dolph Ziggler could factor into the mix somehow, but I can’t envision a scenario where it doesn’t come down to Owens and Zayn battling over the second most important title in the company. Whether they actually have to battle each other in the final moments, however, is a bit of a different story. I’d wager it makes solid sense for WWE to continue the slow burn between the two men with the significant backstory between them. If Owens wins, Zayn still has a shot because he didn’t actually lose by himself. If Zayn supplants Owens as titleholder, KO has an obvious grudge bolstered by his potential exclusion from the very end of the match. As to which way the wind should blow, the answer to me is simple. As much as I support what Owens has done, the crowd is infatuated with Sami and WWE is looking for the next Daniel Bryan moment in a major way. Owens will have ample time to recover his faculties and go back after what he thinks is his, and Zayn gets vaulted into the top tier with a high-flying circus match that plays to his strengths and gives him some oomph right from the get-go. Zayn stuns Owens again and walks out of Texas with his first WWE belt.
What Will Happen: For the first time in this rundown, I think the way it might be scripted dovetails nicely with what actually will happen. Owens is at his best when he’s pissed off and seeking retribution for some real or imagined affront, and Zayn swooping in and scoring the upset victory plays very well with that. WWE has been rightly criticized for failing to capitalize on some of their former NXT charges (including Owens himself, once upon a time) and have to be cognizant of that potential pitfall here. While the story can be told with Zayn chasing the gold a little longer if Owens keeps the strap at WM, it sounds a little grander this way. With the World Title likely to change hands later in the evening, the company might be a little reluctant to turn this one over too. It would be the right call to do so. Zayn has earned this moment, and there’s no better person to provide it than Owens. Let the games begin.
Random Rant: It’s like fish in a barrel at this point, but the “Celebrity Wing” of the WWE Hall of Fame always makes me cringe. I get that WWE is an entertainment company, and I also understand that bringing a variety of performers into the fold increases eyeballs and gets major play from news outlets. All of that said, it’s just a way to make the HOF the bigger butt of a joke that most of the world is telling anyway. While I will always defend pro wrestling and go toe to toe with the naysayers who critique from afar without understanding anything about what we enjoy, you have to admit they make it easy for scorn sometimes. I have nothing against Snoop Dogg, and I’m sure his presence at the induction all but guarantees his presence in some way during the Divas Title match in support of family member Sasha Banks. But even if I was totally on board, there’s two big things that bug me about this: First off, isn’t the Godfather already being inducted this year? Seems like character infringement. Secondly, Michael Cole was quick to hype that Rolling Stone had broken this burning news story. Nothing better than a desperate name drop in support of another hasty decision to include a personality that most wrestling fans don’t associate with the sport. Someone famous once said all press was good press. It wasn’t Vinnie Mac, but it should have been.
Cheap Pop: I have mentioned before the very excellent Main Event Madness podcast I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of, and I’ll be joining the crew again this Wednesday at 8 PM. Please check it out here and give it a listen. I’d love your feedback on it!