A WrestleMania Preview THAT CAME FROM THE VAULT: Intercontinental Clusterkerfuffle

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WrestleMania 31 (or Just Push Play, as the company has decided to forgo numbers because they are too old-fashioned,) is taking place at Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium on March 29th, 2015. Which means it's time for The Classical to present a WrestleMania Preview THAT CAME FROM THE VAULT, continuing today with the Intercontinental Clusterkerfuffle.

Prestige is perception.

In the world of professional wrestling, the prestige of championships is usually built through victories and extended title defenses. But these are not viewed in a vacuum - context is always key and the context is the story told. The problem is that not everyone agrees on what the context, or even the story being told, “is” exactly.

Take the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in its current state: Some say Brock Lesnar’s run - with his rare appearances and title defense, legitimate championship background (NCAA, UFC), and Doomsday levels of invulnerability -- shine a brighter spotlight on the belt, while others (mostly those with neckbeards typing in all caps) argue his lack of presence on weekly programing, few title defenses, and perceived lack of “respect” for the WWE devalue the title.

And if the perception of prestige is this split for the top championship and its pretty unassailably legitimate champion, what hope does the Intercontinental title have to establish any in a world where 30 different people can 30 different opinions on why they don’t like something and still think they are somehow still in agreement?

On March 29th, seven men will will likely open WrestleMania 31 and try to do just that. Daniel Bryan, Stardust, Luke Harper, Dean Ambrose, R-Truth! and Dolph Ziggler will attempt to not only win Bad News Barrett’s IC title, but return to its supposed former glory. It’s the right group of performers to steal the show and give the crowd pleasing jolt of exciting athleticism on what could be a long day of story-centric matchups.

Ladder matches are rarely boring, and at worst great car-crash television. But as great as the match could possible be, can it give the belt prestige? And is it even fair to burden a match with that when we can’t come with anything near a consensus definition? The answer is of course, Randy “Macho Man” Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III. If you’re trying to answer a wrestling question, that is always the answer.

Now that is a match dripping with prestige. Two future world champions, two technical masters rising in fame, in a gloriously choreographed performance that featured 19-two counts and no wasted motion. The flamboyant champion, name and sunglass logo gracing his pink trunks, against the virtuous Dragon, in of course, starch white. The match ranked 3rd all-time in WWE’s recent “100 Matches to Watch Before You Die” feature, and is constantly cited by pro wrestlers themselves as their favorite match. It’s perfectly booked, with Macho’s heelish stalling and attempted ring-bell to the throat cheating offset by Steamboats golden arm drags and fighting spirit. Steamboat wins in an ultimate purist wrestling fashion, with a small package. A lovely reminder that the goal is to win, not hit the coolest looking move at the end.

Contrast this with that night’s main event, Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. The most famous wrestling match of all-time, and the apex of wrestling's popularity in the golden age of the sport. Hogan vanquishing the undefeated Giant after bodyslamming his 8’5”, 900lb body (numbers unverified) and then dropping his famous atomic leg drop. This was two real-life superheros clashing for heavyweight supremacy in front of 93,000 rabid fans.

Savage/Steamboat was the exact opposite - two cruiserweights with size and speed serving as proof of concept for wrestling as ballet. Both matches served as towering examples of how the art of wrestling can be wonderful and fulfilling in completely different ways. A body slam vs. a small package. Two gigantic living cartoons vs. technical brilliance. One could even argue this has always been the blueprint on how to book the two titles. And that could easily play out again at WrestleMania 31 as Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar is likely to be the type of punishing display of raw power that leaves you sore just from watching.

With rose-colored 20/20 glasses, the IC title has meant a metric ton in the past. This began the most noteworthy era of the championship, 87-92, and one that many fans and historians wish to return. The funny thing is, we remember the prestige, but the reality is shaky. Context matters. 65 days after Steamboat’s historic victory, he lost the belt to the fucking Honky Tonk Man on a tape-delayed episode of Superstars of Wrestling. Who then had a vice-grip on the belt for the next 454 until running into the Ultimate Warrior. Handing the belt to an Elvis impersonator I can’t even picture doing a wrestling move is not exactly working with the momentum from a top three match of all-time. But that odd decision hardly matters now. The match was so good it washes away all but the glory of that moment. And for Bryan, Ambrose, Ziggler, and company, that’s all that will and should matter.

Their only goal is to kick-ass and have the best match possible, setting a standard for WrestleMania 31. Prestige falls into that nebulous “I’ll know it if I see it” category, like pornography and the color of online dresses. It’s out of their hands. If the match is great and we find the new champion just, prestige is magically restored. Maybe we’ll look back and say this was the flashpoint when the Intercontinental title meant something again, even if the winner drops the belt to Adam Rose on Main Event two months from now.

It’s just too bad you can’t win a ladder match with a small package.

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