WrestleMania 31 Preview: Intercontinental Title Ladder Match

Welcome to Last Word on Mania month at Last Word on Sports! All month long we will be doing articles to build up for Wrestlemania 31 on March 29, 2015. Be sure to read everything this month by clicking this link. Enjoy!

WrestleMania has been known for housing some of the most spectacular ladder matches in wrestling history. From Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, to the Dudleys, Hardys, and Edge & Christian, to the former yearly tradition of Money in the Bank, ladder matches have been known to steal the show at the grandest stage of them all. This year’s ladder match promises to be no different, as some of the strongest young workers in WWE compete for the Intercontinental title. But would you expect anything less from a match between the likes of Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, Bad News Barrett, Stardust, and Daniel Bryan?

As good as this match is likely going to be, with quality workers, and the almost always exciting ladder stipulation, the build-up to it hasn’t been anything to write home about. With a storyline more reminiscent of a Looney Tunes cartoon than lead-up to a major battle, for arguably the second biggest belt in the company, on the biggest show of the year, the build has failed to produce any sort of heat or buzz for this match. As a result, the WWE has proceeded not to showcase the talent who are taking part in the match in the best possible light.

For starters, you have your champion, Bad News Barrett, being made to look like a non-entity, as he has lost every single match since Fast Lane; and even then he retained the title due to a disqualification when Dean Ambrose was destroying him.

On top of this, you have the the fact that most of the challengers in this match have taken turns stealing the title belt, as if proclaiming to be “the real champion”, when any sensible human being would realize that just because you are in possession of the physical belt, it doesn’t make you the champion. Not to mention; why anyone is actually fighting for this title is completely beyond me, considering anyone who wins the Intercontinental belt will likely be cursed to lose non-title matches week in and week out, despite being the champion. In other words, the story they are trying to tell us is that there are six idiots in a match with no understanding of how being a champion works, against a champion who can’t even win.

Inserted into the match for reasons that haven’t really been explained is Daniel Bryan. He joins the match fighting against wrestlers who he had no feud with, and it feels like its just a way to keep him on the Wrestlemania Card. The “B+ player” is a guy who the fans clearly want to see going after the World Title, but he is stuck pursuing the top mid-card belt. At least the other competitors in the match have been in the Intercontinental scene, but Bryan hasn’t been at that mid-card level for quite some time, and it feels like a step back for one of the WWE’s most cheered babyfaces.

Regardless of these faults within build, the quality of match should not be in question, but what is in question is just who will be the victor? Each participant has had a very different journey to get to this match, and unequivocally different odds of winning. Although the potential victor is not entirely clear from my vantage point, there is an obvious divide between the three who could win, and the four who don’t stand a chance at WrestleMania. Let’s start with the four who are the least likely to become champion in Santa Clara.

First of all, we have R-Truth. He has been a complete non-entity in the WWE for years. Before this storyline, R-Truth was barely seen on Raw and SmackDown, and completely non-existent on Pay Per View/Network specials. Even when he was on TV, he was very rarely seen on the winning side of things, only defeating the likes of Adam Rose, Bo Dallas, and Fandango. Yes, he has defeated Bad News Barrett recently, but most of the participants already have. On top of that, his most recent gimmick is guy who doesn’t know anyone’s name. I think it’s pretty safe to say he’s only in this match to be support, and has zero chance of walking away the victor.

Then, there is Stardust. He recently split and briefly feuded with Goldust. After Goldust defeated Stardust at Fast Lane, it seems as though this storyline has since been set aside, if not dropped, for the time being. One would assume the feud were to continue after WrestleMania, and I don’t see the Intercontinental title being involved if that were the case. If it has been completely dropped, he doesn’t seem to have a direction going forward, so he seems to be lost in the shuffle for the time being.

The last two who I don’t see having much of a chance are Dolph Ziggler and Luke Harper. They are the two most recent former champions who have yet to receive a proper rematch since losing the title. Back in December at the TLC(s) PPV, both of them pulled out all the stops in a ladder match for the Intercontinental title. One would think the both of them would be determined to top that performance, given it’s the biggest show of the year. Since that match, Luke Harper has been forgot about and put in a series of nothing matches, while Ziggler has been fired by The Authority, brought back, and proceeded to lose to The Authority in a six man tag match at Fast Lane. Although Ziggler recently was the victor in the Challengers Gauntlet match, neither man seem to look poised to regain the championship at WrestleMania.

The three men with the most chance of coming out victor are Dean Ambrose, Daniel Bryan, and Bad News Barrett.

The least likely of the three is Dean Ambrose. Although he was quite the hot superstar at the end of 2014, he has since cooled off, failing to get a major victory, despite main eventing countless pay per views. Constantly, he has been booked to be a complete loose cannon, and ultimately costs himself his matches in the end. One would have assumed his DQ loss at Fast Lane was to lead to him beating Barrett at WrestleMania for his big moment, but since the additions to this match, I’m beginning to question if that is truly the case. Obviously, that could still hold true, and he could be the victor, but I can’t help thinking that if they wanted the moment of him winning to be the logical conclusion in the story with Barrett, it would be in a singles match.

Then we have Bad News Barrett. From a storyline perspective, it seems to point in the direction of him retaining the belt. He has lost to everyone in the match, and been made look like he doesn’t have a chance of winning at all. The fact that he’s been made to look so weak in comparison to everyone else leads me to believe he will somehow find a way to squeak out the victory from the other challengers. It feels like a very WWE-like storyline, of the champion losing all non-title affairs, but winning when the belt is on the line. The only reason I can’t commit to saying that this is definitely the direction, is because of the last man in this match.

The most likely candidate is Daniel Bryan. His return has been completely botched, without question. I would argue his return should have been AFTER WrestleMania. The fact still remains, though, that he is the third biggest name in the WWE right now after only Cena and Lesnar, and, with WrestleMania being a large collection of the most hardcore fans, he most likely will be the second most cheered person at the show, next to Lesnar. After the negative crowd reaction from the fans at Royal Rumble and Fast Lane to his losses, I honestly see the WWE giving him the victory in order to appease the hardcore fans. I would not be surprised if this is done out of fear of stopping what could potentially be show-disrupting Daniel Bryan chants throughout the night. Arguably, this would be the best thing not only for the show, but the belt going forward, in an attempt to rebuild some sort of prestige, so that it can actually be a workhorse title once again. All of this could, however, be wishful thinking.

Regardless of who wins and who loses, there is one guarantee: these seven men will go out there with one objective, to the steal the show, just like every other WrestleMania ladder match that has come before.

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