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Why Dethroning GUNTHER Properly is Just as Important as Ending Roman’s Reign

By 3 April 2024Opinion

By Joe Baiamonte

As the road to WrestleMania veers ever closer towards its final destination of Philadelphia, all eyes are seemingly fixated on the impending culmination of Roman Reigns’ near four-year marathon as Undisputed WWE Universal Champion. But there’s another title reign of increasing significance that could also be in jeopardy, and its one that could be in danger of ending in excruciatingly almost-perfect fashion.

With over 655 consecutive days logged as WWE Intercontinental Champion, GUNTHER has cemented himself as not just the greatest IC Champion of all time, but one of the greatest champions in WWE history full stop.

The man who could derail GUNTHER’s runaway train of an IC Title run at WrestleMania, Sami Zayn, is an underdog hero who, this time last year, fans had been clamoring for to dethrone Roman Reigns. Yet a little over 12 months later and we find ourselves in a position where Zayn potentially ending a historic title reign feels a bit…flat?

Of course, this is not to disparage Zayn or the overwhelmingly positive connection he has with the WWE audience. There is no shortage of confidence in the former Intercontinental Champion’s ability to create magic with the unbeatable Austrian. We should all be readying ourselves for a bona fide Match of the Year contender when the pair step into the squared circle at Lincoln Financial Field during the opening weekend of April. It’s just that, at a WrestleMania laser-focused on the finishing of stories, there is a final chapter Zayn’s number one contendership cruelly robs us of.

Out of the now almost innumerable challenges GUNTHER has chopped into oblivion over the past 21 months, none have come closer to conquering the Ring General than Chad Gable.

The Alpha Academy leader actually holds a victory over the Intercontinental Champion, albeit via count out so no title change occurred. But despite spending a large portion of the late summer of 2023 going down the ‘close but no cigar’ route, it does not appear that the Olympian will in fact be offered the chance to finish his own story at WrestleMania 40, despite their being a groundswell of support among fans for the former Tag Team champion to do exactly that.

So close, yet so far. Image: WWE

When Zayn overcame Gable at the conclusion of the number one contender’s gauntlet match on Raw recently, there was a collective reaction of confusion. It’s borderline impossible for crowds to be genuinely unhappy that Sami Zayn is in a position to achieve something historic once again. There are plenty among us who yearned for the Montreal native to be inserted into the World Heavyweight Championship picture for ‘Mania this year, after all. And Zayn’s longstanding reputation as an underdog, as the ferocious heartbeat of those who refuse to accept their pre-supposed roles, is one that has elevated him to believable main event status over the past 18 months. His Bloodline run and subsequent reunion with Kevin Owens has made him more beloved than ever before. But now his presence is interfering with another babyface in the ascendency, and though unintentionally, Zayn feels like he may be clipping Gable’s wings. Did the former American Alpha fly too close to the sun in his previous attempts to usurp GUNTHER?

Storyline wise, Gable is at least still involved in the programme. This week on Raw, the one-time Shorty G (seriously, what the hell was all that about?) offered to train Zayn for his title match at ‘Mania, following a GUNTHER assisted loss to Bronson Reed. It would appear we are verging into Rocky III territory with the story, playing into Philadelphia’s favourite fictional Italian’s battles with Clubber Lang in 1982. With an out-of-his-depth Zayn being enlisted as a trainee by Gable’s Apollo Creed, the idea may be, much like the film, Gable requests a favour from Zayn should the former NXT Champion remove GUNTHER from the top of the mountain.

But once again, Gable challenging Zayn for the IC title feels underwhelming. A story left unfinished. Gable’s journey is one of redemption rather than simply championship gold. In their last match, GUNTHER violently beat Gable in front of the Minnesotan’s crying daughter. It is this memory that has driven Gable ever since. It appeared as though it was the 38-year-old’s motivation when he began being booked in the direction of GUNTHER’s title once more in recent weeks. So why re-insert Gable back into the picture if not to deliver us a WrestleMania moment for the ages?

Just chopping onions, I swear. Image: WWEOf course, Zayn may not emerge victorious in the City of Brotherly Love. He may replicate Gable’s own shortcomings against the Imperium leader and encourage Gable to take one more shot at GUNTHER. Yet, again, would it not have made more sense to bring the curtain down on such a story at the biggest show of the year?

Ending GUNTHER’s Intercontinental reign is as important to book correctly as it has been getting him to this point in the first place. A near two-year run that has been booked to perfection without the slightest hint of missing the boat with the right opponent at the right time to drop the gold to. While Reigns’ four-year procession has been great for business, it has also not been without a plethora of critics pointing to moments where the Tribal Chief could or should have been unseated from the head of the table.

Much like a miraculously great ending to a film can make you think twice about whether what you just dedicated two hours of your life to was a turgid mound of tripe or, actually, somehow, a lowkey Oscar nominee, a flat ending to a masterpiece can leave the viewer with everything from despondency to deep-lying resentment. Very much a “we travelled ALL THAT WAY for this!?” sort of vibe.

GUNTHER has reinvented the Intercontinental Title into a main event level championship. Given the standard of talent who have chased the belt over the last two years, there is little reason for it to regress back into a prop to be passed around the mid-card. A Zayn victory would certainly maintain interest in the strap, and would guarantee a series of straight up bangers to boot, but *stares dramatically into the distance* at what cost?

A preview of how things are going to end at ‘Mania? Image: WWE

It is perhaps unfair to dismiss a potential high profile Sami Zayn title victory as an underwhelming alternative. In almost any other situation this match would be one of the most hotly anticipated on the WrestleMania card. Now there’s an unshakable “this is really good…..but” with Chad Gable on the sidelines of it all.

Who knows, maybe Gable The GUNTHER Slayer is still the endgame. Maybe the story is somehow going to be stretched out to his home state of Minnesota at WrestleMania 41 next year, if reports are to be believed regarding the next ‘Mania host city. But so rarely does every element of a storyline align so perfectly as it was appearing to do for Gable and GUNTHER’s final showdown. Pulling the trigger on Gable too late could leave the new champion with a mountain to climb when faced with an audience with whom he has lost the momentum he had between last summer and this spring.

A monumental reign deserves a monumental ending. The Rock can lay claim to the ‘Final Boss’ moniker, but the Austrian conducting his own personal symphony of destruction for the last two years has been the Shao Kahn of Monday Night Raw, violently bludgeoning all the poor souls who stray into his path. A Chad Gable trained Sami Zayn overcoming the odds once again would be heartwarming for sure. You would have to possess a heart made of coal to not cheer should The Underdog from The Underground vanquish GUNTHER in Philadelphia. But one look to ringside will tell you that another superstar could have been solidified in that role as conqueror. Rightfully beloved as Zayn is, he doesn’t NEED this title victory. Gable in his place could have been a ceiling shattering moment.

It is often said “it’s not the destination, but the journey”. But sometimes a journey is so breathtaking that only a destination of equal magnificence will satisfy. Let’s hope WWE’s recent detour still manages to veer back onto the right track.

WrestleMania 40 will emanate from Philadelphia, PA on 6th and 7th April, 2024, available only on Peacock, WWE Network and PPV.

Featured Image Credit: WWE