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Dolph Ziggler def. Luke Harper in a Ladder Match to become the new Intercontinental Champion

CLEVELAND — He’s back! Again!

Dolph Ziggler’s roaring comeback hit yet another crescendo at WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders, Chairs … and Stairs when The Showoff scaled a towering ladder to reclaim Luke Harper’s ill-gotten Intercontinental Championship and kick off a fourth reign with the prestigious title.

That  isn’t to say that getting the job done was a cake walk. Thanks to Harper, Dolph looked less like his smooth-operator self by the end of the night and more like your average back-alley brawler covered in lacerations and contusions. For all the obstacles in his way, though, nothing less than a victory would have settled for Ziggler, whose white-hot momentum as Intercontinental Champion hit a stall last month when Harper rode an assist from Seth Rollins to steal The Showoff’s title. Much as Ziggler regained his footing at Survivor Series by helping oust The Authority, he still couldn’t seem to get the title back off of the deranged swamp-dweller who pilfered it, as Harper exploited technicality after technicality to keep his position intact via losing to Ziggler repeatedly by countout or disqualification.

Photos:  Dolph brings the Intercontinental Title home

What a gift to Ziggler, then, that SmackDown GM-of-the-Week Santino Marella put the title up for grabs in a Ladder Match, which is kind of  The Showoff’s thing. The challenger walked to his hometown ring with the swagger of a man whose win was already a fait accompli. Instead of his trademark pink, Ziggler was clad in a Kent State Wrestling hoodie and the colors of the Cleveland Browns as a legion of fans in the mezzanine proclaimed their spot the “Ziggler Section” with a sea of signs.

It was a heartwarming homecoming, and Harper very nearly spoiled the party. Looking to step into Ziggler’s house and walk out with a win, Harper set the pace by throwing The Showoff head first into a ladder during an opening flurry before following up by tossing him over the ringside barrier and into the timekeeper’s area. The strategy put Ziggler on his heels early, which was where he stayed for a good portion of the match while Harper battered him ruthlessly with the ladders.

It took a Harper-esque burst of brutalism for Ziggler to get back in the race, and that’s exactly what he unleashed by cutting the champion’s suicide dive off with a ladder to the face. Harper’s grisly tumble onto that same ladder seemed to open the door for Ziggler moments later, though his fortune quickly reversed thanks to a powerbomb onto one ladder and a slingshot into another that left Ziggler’s mug the color of Santa’s suit.

Despite being dazed and confused, Dolph spent the remainder of the match strategically picking Harper apart, finding ways to knock him off the ladder underneath the title on numerous occasions. Nothing seemed to keep Harper down long enough for The Showoff to actually lay hands on the Intercontinental Title, and as he was allowed to linger, Harper’s own twisted instincts led to some very creative uses for the ladder. At one point, the champion mounted the implement over his shoulders and spun it like a propeller into Ziggler’s face; The Showoff countered by threading the rungs and planting a superkick on the champ’s chin.

As Ladder Matches often do, it came down to a two-way race up parallel ladders with the Intercontinental Title at stake. A battered Dolph had the lead on Harper, but the big man was still chugging strong and gaining speed. So Dolph channeled one of the great Ladder Match veterans, Shawn Michaels, with a mid-climb superkick to the ascending Harper. That, finally, was enough: the champ took a tumble, Dolph hauled himself up those last two rungs and grabbed theIntercontinental Championship  his Intercontinental Championship  once again.

So there he is: Dolph Ziggler, hometown hero, Ladder Match veteran, four-time Intercontinental Champion. NBD. It’s kind of his thing.