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WrestleMania 31 match card preview: Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match

Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship

Dean Ambrose vs. Bad News Barrett (c) vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper vs. R-Truth vs. Starudust vs. Dolph Ziggler

A return to prominence for a belt that has a storied WrestleMania history, or a circus sideshow to placate the fans and get a bunch of guys on the card? Is there a way it can be both?

The Road To WrestleMania 31

Creative wanted Bad News Barrett's return from injury to have a "moment", and the bare knuckles brawler claiming the white & gold strap for the fifth time was seen as an easy way to do it. The Brit beat Dolph Ziggler for the right to carry the strap again, which in and off itself should have been a nice rub. The Show Off, and his role as 1A babyface on the roster for the second half of 2014, did as much as anything to return some luster back to the title once held by the likes of Bret Hart and Randy Savage.

Unfortunately, the bad news for the former Nexus leader was that the powers-that-be would return to using the belt and the man who held it as a storytelling device. Barrett began losing non-title matches as a shortcut to giving the man who defeated him some legitimacy. When Dean Ambrose lost to the champ at Fastlane but took the title with him anyway, we seemed to have reached a new level of buffonery for both the Intercontinental championship and the Lunatic Fringe.

Throw in R-Truth at his Stepin Fetchit best, sneaking off with the belt at every opportunity like he was starring in a Looney Tunes short, and Ziggler, Luke Harper & Stardust booking themselves into the program by virtue of likewise snatching the title, and it looked like the kayfabe Authority couldn't care less about this secondary title (at least Stephanie McMahon bothered to show up and make a statement about the United States Championship feud, because John Cena) and the real life powers-that-be thought it was a joke.

But while we were all making Hardcore championship references - including WWE - the star of last year's WrestleMania showed up. Daniel Bryan inserting himself into the shenanigans not only pleased fans who'd been lobbying for an athletic showcase match between Dolph and The Beard, but it gave some legitimacy to the angle the company went with instead of Ziggler vs. Bryan.

The arrival of three time WWE World champion to the story didn't immediately eliminate the tomfoolery, but it did herald the beginning of some great wrestling. That culminated in a fantastic gauntlet match on Smackdown last week - where fans were finally treated to DB vs. DZ in the finals, and were not disappointed:

Ladder matches and the Intercontinental title have a long, storied history on The Grandest Stage of Them All. Many are predicting this one to steal the show. No pressure or anything...

What's at stake?

In the aggregate, it's those lofty concepts like history and legacy. But in reality, that is not all on this match. If Brock Lesnar and his 10 - 15 appearances per year contract retains in the main event, the winner of this one becomes one of the most important players in the company. If Roman Reigns (or Seth Rollins) walks out the champ, and the WWE title goes back to being the centerpiece of every Raw and most house shows, the IC belt is likely back to being an undercard bauble.

A win for Harper or Truth would be shocking, and probably telegraph a Lesnar loss. As talented and entertaining as both could be, neither has been positioned for a prominent run. Cody Rhodes new gimmick has proven ready for launch, but the fact that much of that has happened on YouTube as opposed to on television makes it seem like he doesn't have the confidence of the folks that matter behind the scenes.

Ambrose or Ziggler would be interesting choices. Both have shown flashes of being popular enough with audiences to merit taking a chance on them as main eventers, but the rumor mill has consistently churned out items claiming that they're not Vince McMahon favorites or that they've talked themselves into political hot water.

Which leaves our boy D-Bry. There's no way to paint his transition from the front page in New Orleans to the mid-card in Santa Clara as anything other than a step down. But following a considerable amount of time off due to lingering neck issues, he remains as over as ever. And he's precisely the kind of guy that has traditionally exceled with this very title. His becoming the workrate champion of the B-show almost makes too much sense not to happen - regardless of what's going on over on Raw.

Whoever leaves Levi's Stadium wearing that belt, let's just hope that they won it by ripping it down form its place above the ring, and not claimed it via petty larceny. The future of the championship first worn by Hall of Famer Pat Patterson will be much better off with less of this:

and more of this:

Can these seven men steal the show and reinstate the legacy of the IC title?

We'll start to find out tomorrow night at WrestleMania, and you can follow along all the way to 2016 in Texas with us right here at cSs!

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