It’s Friday! It is the day where most of us try to forget about our jobs and think about a weekend filled with relaxing and fun activities. For some of us, we feel like champions, having conquered a long week. For others, it is merely a break before resuming the daily grind.
I have no idea where I am going with this.
It is Friday, and we are two days away from WrestleMania, and it is time to highlight the two mid-tier championships which will be contested over on Sunday. While RAW was not the best go-home show in pre-WrestleMania history, at least it did its job of pushing the undercard of the event.
United States Championship Match
Ryback vs. Kalisto
Not a WrestleMania match I thought I would see, but after considering it for some time, it makes sense. We have the classic “David vs. Goliath” sort of idea, but maybe a bit of Rey Mysterio vs. Big Show or Kane or Kevin Nash or any other big guy you can think of. Ryback has gone under yet another persona change, while Kalisto is simply on fire as a singles performer.
Ryback. The Goldberg joke is very much alive and kicking. Based on his new personality bit, it is more apparently now than ever. It is more than the look, it is the demeanor of being the big brute who wants to steamroll his was back into the main event. Do not forget, it was only a few years ago he had a long feud with CM Punk over the WWE Championship. While Ryback came up short, it did show a sign of possibility.
Sadly, he tenure with Curtis Axel cut that short, and being paired with Paul Heyman, shockingly did nothing for his career. Sometimes the Heyman magic just doesn’t always work. One could blame Ryback, for simply not having enough heat nor appeal. Ryback vanished for a while, then returned to full babyface mode and live crowds loved it. It confused me a bit, as though the majority of wrestling fans suddenly had their memory wiped like in Men in Black. Chants of “Feed Me More” once again echoed arenas. I like Ryback, he has talent, it just needs to be nudged in the right direction. He seemed to be doing fine as a face, but perhaps WWE Creative just did not have enough for him to do as a fan favorite.
Changing him back to a heel might seem a desperate and a move lacking creativity. However, take a look at him now. No “Big Bully Busick” gimmick here. Here was have a guy who comes out, beats up his opponent, and leaves. I like this. He cuts “honest” promos, simply saying he wants championships. He respects others but will do what he has to in order to win. Past few weeks saw a bit of a sinister side, but this is what is needed.
Kalisto is on fire going solo, and hopefully this is a sign of better things to come for him. The Lucha Dragons are a fun team to watch, but Sin Cara is known for his personal Botchamania Highlight Reel and is the less entertaining of the two. Kalisto has a fresh vibrant persona who fans can get behind. His surge in popularity I feel is due to breaking the dull, repetitive cycle we originally had with Rey Mysterio. At one time he drew excitement from fans. He became World Heavyweight Champion! As he got older, as time drew on and the company changed, the novelty wore off. I do not feel Kalisto should warrant similar concern, as long as he is booked right and continues to dazzle fans.
He is in an intresting situation. A win might look too obvious, but a loss would make sense in the big guy/little guy match. This is a situation where WWE is in a corner no matter what the outcome. If Kalisto wins, the fans cheer and then say “of course he was going to win, he’s the little underdog.” But if he loses, it’s “of course he was going to lose, they are pushing Ryback.”
My opinion, the outcome is less important. I want to see the story of how the match plays out. If Ryback completely demolishes Kalisto, then we can groan. But if we get a true back and forth title bout, then we can at least say it was a good performance.
Intercontinental Championship Seven-Way Ladder Match
Stardust vs. Sin Cara vs. Zack Ryder vs. The Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
Well, this is a bizarre one. I am not talking about Goldust. I expected a ladder match at Mania, but did not quite expect the selection of superstars we have here. Ziggler, Miz, Zayn, and Owens makes sense. The addition of Ryder, Stardust, and Sin Cara is interesting. Stardust I can see since he has been a consistent challenger for the mid-tier belts, and Sin Cara is likely due to his tag partner Kalisto being a singles champion. Zack Ryder. Zack. Ryder. Woo woo woo, you know it. He is in a freakin’ ladder match, at WrestleMania. Who would have thought this possible? Seriously. He’s not in some battle royal, he is in a featured championship match! This is awesome. Shame, Neville is missing out, and shame Titus O’Neil is still on suspension. Although if he was not suspended, I would have considered him a possible winner for the Andre the Giant Memorial. Seeing him in the Ladder Match would have been a real treat though.
Ziggler and Miz are sharing a life-raft. Let’s go back to the RAW after WrestleMania 29. When Dolph Ziggler cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Alberto del Rio, and the crowd freaking lost their minds. Look at him now, struggling to maintain whatever standing he has left. There is no doubt he works really hard to keep the fans entertaining and even harder to keep management from further burying him. He is a two-time World Champion. Clearly at some point, WWE had a lot of faith in him. However, injuries mounted and these days consecutive injuries often diminish said faith. As much as I would like to see Ziggler have another Mania Moment on his resume, it will likely come in the form of some high-risk impact bumps, not through victory.
As for The Miz, he is an antagonist and it is what he is good at. I am not sure how he was ever turned face in the first place, but his return to an arrogant character has been a benefit for both himself and for fans. This time around, one has to admit the novelty of his character has worn off, as he certainly does not draw the same ire and hatred as when he became WWE Champion. Remember Angry Miz Girl? That moment is long gone. He did seem to achieve a comparable form of hate during his enslavement of Damien Sandow. Again, that is now over and Miz finds his character in the unenviable position of being demoted or getting another chance to be granted a major victory. Taking the Intercontinental Championship in the Ladder Match is not out of the question, as keeping it on a heel character allows more faces to chase the title.
Speaking of heels, we have Stardust. Yes, yes. He is booked as heel, but we love the creep-o anyway. A win here would be unexpected, and welcome. Having a championship could increase his standing and enhance the gimmick. He is also a great worker in Ladder Matches too. Like Miz and Ziggler, I feel WrestleMania and beyond will see whether he stagnates or earns a new path.
Sin Cara. This worries me. If he wins, I would be astonished. WWE pulling the two-singles champions in a Tag Team move? It has been done before, but this would be the strangest pairing. I worry because Sin Cara is infamous for botching big spots, more often injuring himself than anyone else, and I am not sure this is a good thing. As part of the Lucha Dragons, he does not have to carry the entire burden of a match on his own, but in a Ladder Match situation I worry about the possible disaster which could unfold. Yes, I am being harsh, but I am being honest. Look, if he wins, and the Lucha Dragons have two singles championships instead of the Tag Team Championships, then kudos to them for earning the trust of WWE creative staff. The novelty will wear off after a couple months, but this scenario I would not rule out.
Zack. Ryder. Zack. Ry. Der. This is astonishing and I jump for joy here. This is incredible to see the former United States Champion placed in a major match. I really want to hold out hope for a victory here. I really do. I mean it. This would be the most unexpected finish in Ladder Match history. In recent history. Ryder is no jobber. Sure, he has been placed in that position for some time now, but it was not too long ago he was standing, U.S. title over the shoulder, in the ring with Daniel Bryan, then-World Heavyweight Champion and CM Punk, then-WWE Champion. It was history. Never going to see it again. Zack Ryder is talented, and while not a main-event caliber sort of wrestler, he can certainly be a mid-tier champion and carry a match. He is fun to watch, he is entertaining. He might take a sick bump on Sunday. He might deliver some awesome spots. He may also get killed. This one is too tough to call, only for my fleeting hope of victory.
Sami Zayn is a contender. We have seen this from day one where his feud with Owens carried over from NXT onto the main roster. Zayn seemed to have a few rough showings upon his return, but a match like this could instantly erase that from history and send the fans collective jaws to the floor. Zayn is a performer and as his first WrestleMania, will put on one hell of a show. Expectations of crazy spots aside, is this what he is there for or will he win his first WWE belt at WrestleMania? This is a hard one to call. One might think it is obvious, just to continue the feud with Owens, or perhaps a loss will make Zayn into a more persistent title chaser? Will he benefit more with a Mania victory, or would a prolonged feud be a better angle?
Lastly, the Big KO. Kevin Owens. The one-man wrecking ball is going to drop bodies and deliver some sick spots. I expect him to either try to “sit out” as much as possible, garnering a lot of heel-heat, or he gets in the ring and destroys everyone without mercy. For a big guy, he can, and if allowed, will pull off some unbelievable stuff. Some have complained his antics are growing stale, and I disagree. Owens is a jerk. Plain and simple. He calls you stupid and smacks you for being stupid. He is obnoxious, wants to get his way, and does whatever he can to do it. To be honest, Owens has Paul Heyman guy written all over him. Could you imagine the verbal wreckage they would cause? The big question is, will he retain? Hard to say right now. Looking at who is in the match, a title change seems likely. This would give Owens the rights to complain, as all heels do, about never being pinned. An angry Owens is an entertaining Owens. This one will certainly be a tough one to call, and if played out right, could be the match of the night.