By Michael Battista
Wrestlemania 32, World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) biggest event of the year, not only blew away the fans, but also the seating record in the event’s 31-year history, with an announced attendance of 101,763 people.
But while I could talk about the amazing card, matches like Charlotte / Becky Lynch / Sasha Banks for the newly-created WWE Women’s Championship — which is replacing the WWE Divas Title — and Shane McMahon vs The Undertaker in Hell in a Cell, I won’t.
Instead, I want to focus on the match that kicked off this year’s event — The WWE Intercontinental (IC) Title ladder match.
This match broke me. My friends and I watched it together via Skype, but I was behind, due to our beautiful college’s internet. A message broke the silence.
“Oh my God! That finish!”
Twenty seconds later, screams and shouts of “Oh, my God” echoed from my open window, as I collapsed to my knees in shock and joy.
Seven men had entered the ring to compete in this match.
There was Kevin Owens, the defending IC champion and fan-favorite heel, or bad guy, whose sarcastic tongue could only be matched by his in-ring talent. Then there was Sami Zayn, the extremely talented and well-liked young man from WWE’s developmental program NXT. He had been described as “the heart and soul of NXT” by many in the company and looked to start a feud with Owens.
The others included The Miz, the former WWE Champion whose ability to piss people off is almost unfathomable, Dolph Ziggler, another fan favorite whose former World Title win left fans craving more as time wore on, Sin Cara, whose high flying skills and current tag team with United States Champion Kalisto have brought him back to relevance with fans, and Stardust, the strange character billed from the 5th Dimension whose polka dotted Wrestlemania attire paid tribute to his late father, wrestling great Dusty Rhodes.
And then there was Zack Ryder, the “broski” from Long Island, N.Y.
Ryder, who hadn’t won any title in WWE since 2011, seemed almost as though he didn’t belong in the match. His charismatic attitude and genuine determination to achieve success in the company has always garnered him support, especially after his self-produced internet show “Z! True Long Island Story” took off in 2011 and showed how charming a character he could be.
But as he stepped into the ring, Ryder almost seemed out of place. His sudden placement in the match screamed replacement to me, especially after Neville, the high flying “man that gravity forgot,” injured himself a few weeks back in a match against Chris Jericho. Even still, part of me wished to see him win.
Just over 11 minutes into the match, the entire ring and surrounding area was covered in the bodies of beaten competitors and broken ladders. The Miz had found himself atop the ladder in the middle of the ring, sitting and gloating as he reached for the title.
A single hand emerged from behind him, shoving him off into the ring below.
Ryder quickly climbed the ladder and snagged the belt from its swimming perch to the shock, amazement and joy of the crowd.
His theme music played and Ryder held the white belt high in accomplishment. He was quickly joined in the ring by his father, who had always been by his son’s side during his wrestling career, as the two embraced in a hug.
Ryder, who didn’t seem like he belonged at the match’s start, left AT&T Stadium as champion.
I think he said it best in a post-match interview.
“I just wanted to hear my (theme) music play at Wrestlemania,” Ryder said. “But I won the ladder match, I became the Intercontinental Champion, my dad came in (the ring), it was sick… This is everything I worked for. My whole life has lead up to this moment. If I retired today, I’d be a happy man for the rest of my life. I did it, I lived my dream. Woo woo woo, you know it.”