How Money in the Bank has become one of the most anticipated pay-per-views of the year.
As a wrestling fan with a tight budget, I am one of the many people who have to play it safe with his purchases and viewing habits when it comes to watching pay-per-views. Before I got married, I took pride in buying every WWE DVD release possible to quell my love for match collections and keep up with the next monthly pay-per-view. Slowly but surely, as bills got tighter and our family grew to three, I had to make a fiscal decision to limit my to-do list. The first purchases to go were the monthly shows, because not only were they readily available a week after airing in ripped clips on YouTube and Daily Motion, the best or most interesting matches were usually put in more convenient DVD compilations later on. The WWE makes it easy for you to skip monthly shows by spreading the wealth in other collections if you wait for the good stuff to come. I have not bought a Survivor Series PPV since 2008 and not even SummerSlam since 2009.
Sure, I still order a pay-per-view and let it sit in my DVR every now and then, but if I really like a show, I will earmark it as a future purchase. The only WWE pay-per-views that are worthwhile from year to year outside of the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania are Elimination Chamber, which takes place in the fruitful time between those two big shows, and Extreme Rules (formerly titled Backlash), which takes place right in the basking afterglow of WrestleMania. Not every Elimination Chamber or Extreme Rules show is a home run, though (The most recent two were considered barely above average by many reviewers), so I passed on buying them. Even T.L.C., the last pay-per-view of the year for WWE since 2009, has had surprisingly good cards that got me intrigued, but I did not bite.
There is one sole exception, however: I have bought every Money in the Bank pay-per-view that has been put together on DVD.
Money in the Bank has been a fixture in the WWE Universe before Vince McMahon even adopted the phrase “WWE Universe.” It was in 2005 on Raw when Chris Jericho proposed a ladder match for WrestleMania 21 in Los Angeles, which Eric Bischoff agreed to do under the stipulation that multiple superstars would fight to climb the ladder and retrieve a briefcase. In that briefcase is a title shot at either the WWE Championship or the World Heavyweight Championship. The first Money in the Bank ladder match was a phenomenally violent and breakneck affair that nearly stole the show at WrestleMania, and it ended with newly heel Edge grabbing the case. And here is where Money in the Bank became one of the best ideas the WWE has thought up in the last ten years: You can cash in the briefcase to enact your title shot at any time, regardless of what has happened to the champion beforehand. The possibilities were endless, and Edge was the first one to take advantage on John Cena in January of 2006, winning his first world title. It began a run that legitimized his Hall of Fame career and may have given Cena his best and most entertaining rival.
After that, Money in the Bank became a go-to match on the WrestleMania card. Rob Van Dam won the next one at WrestleMania 22 in Chicago, cashed it in on Cena at ECW One Night Stand, and won the WWE Title. Mr. Kennedy won a great Money in the Bank match the next WrestleMania in Detroit, but he got injured, so Edge swooped in, stole the briefcase, and won the World Heavyweight Championship against a beaten and tired Undertaker. That feud would culminate in the main event of WrestleMania XXIV, where CM Punk won the next Money in the Bank briefcase. He actually won the match two years in a row, and cashed in to win the World Heavyweight Championship on two different occasions. Even Jack Swagger made good on his promise only days after winning Money in the Bank at WrestleMania XXVI and shocked everyone by pinning Chris Jericho to win the World title on Smackdown.
Five years had passed since the first ever Money in the Bank ladder match, and every winner actually achieved the impossible dream, winning their first ever world championships in the WWE. It was not only one of the most fun and wildest matches in the company’s history, it had significant historical value upon its outcome. The winner of that match was the chosen one, the man who would eventually unseat the champion and take his earned spot within the next year. And you never had a clue when it was actually going to go down, which made it that much more fun.
It was no surprise, then, that WWE announced early in 2010 that they were going to schedule a Money in the Bank pay-per-view at Kansas City, Missouri. Many fans were somewhat perturbed by the news, quickly mentioning that the two most recent ladder matches at WrestleMania did not rise to the quality of their previous incarnations. I clearly remember the mundane feeling when Jack Swagger won Money in the Bank in a match that really lacked in star power (The biggest name in the match was Kane). Now there were going to be two Money in the Bank ladder matches on the same pay-per-view only four months removed from an otherwise forgettable one at WrestleMania. Clearly, WWE was drying up a previously plentiful well by doing this, right?
But actually, it turned out the WWE knew what they were doing, for once. The inaugural 2010 show was very well-received. The very first match on the card was a 26-minute ladder match from the Smackdown roster that included the Big Show getting doused with piles of ladders, an unforgettable leg drop by Kofi Kingston on the announce table, and Kane winning a hard fought contest to thunderous applause. Not only that, but Kane cashed in the briefcase to pin an exhausted Rey Mysterio, who had just beaten Jack Swagger in a terrific match, to win the World title. It got the whole crowd buzzing, and we still had a WWE Title match and another ladder match to go!
The Raw side of things was even more entertaining and found innovations with the ladder that, even after five years of doing this stuff, you still did not expect. The Miz won the briefcase in a 20-minute match that included Edge, Chris Jericho, Randy Orton, and Mark Henry. It was one of Miz’s proudest moments in the company as he did an emotional interview afterwards that showed legitimate gratitude for being the next chosen one (Miz eventually main evented WrestleMania XXVII as the WWE Champ after cashing in the briefcase in November). The one irony of the first ever Money in the Bank PPV is that it ended with a title match between Cena and Sheamus in a cage, involving the Nexus, which had become the new hot faction in the company one month earlier. The match was better than decent, but the main event was the two ladder matches, which more than delivered. It was graded by many as one of the WWE’s best pay-per-views in 2010, if not the best. The fact that Money in the Bank was not lumped in with the overload of WrestleMania gave the two ladder matches more match time, giving them room to breathe and stand out on their own, and it worked beautifully. A couple of months after the show aired, I immediately bought it on DVD and I did not regret it.
If the solid and crowd-pleasing card for the first Money in the Bank pay-per-view did not rope in WWE fans, the 2011 rendition really did the job. It seemed like a good show on paper with CM Punk challenging John Cena for the WWE Championship. Weeks before the show, Punk announced that his match with Cena in his hometown of Chicago would be his last one with the company as his contract expired that night. That angle was met with groans under the rumors that Punk was planning to leave the company months beforehand and the eventuality that Punk would lose to Cena as his going-away present.
Then came June 27th, 2011. If you are a pro wrestling fan, you know exactly what I am writing about. Punk went on an infamous tirade against his employer seemingly on the way out that was so cutting edge and controversial that it rattled fans, WWE employees, and even mainstream media about whether his blasphemy was scripted or a complete break from the norm that only Punk and a few others knew about. It did not take long for Mr. McMahon himself to take part in the proceedings and embark on a phenomenal final segment on Raw before Money in the Bank with Punk and Cena. If Punk lost to Cena after his defiance against the WWE, order would be restored. But if the talented Punk won the title on his last night with the company and ran off into the sunset with the WWE Title, chaos would ensue and Vince would fire Cena. The game had suddenly changed, and it had the entire wrestling industry buzzing and frantically setting their remotes to Sunday night. The show did 195,000 buys, 30,000 better than the previous year’s. Magazines like GQ were interviewing Punk as he geared up for his “last night with the company.” Dave Meltzer reported that the hotel full of wrestlers in Chicago had a “WrestleMania-like” feel, wanting to show this newly tuned-in audience what they could do. I did not need to buy this DVD. I ordered Money in the Bank 2011 the first chance I could.
The show not only did not disappoint, it surpassed the hype. The two Money in the Bank ladder matches were even better than the really entertaining two from the year before. Like The Miz winning his title shot, the two newest victors were Daniel Bryan on Smackdown (surprisingly) and Alberto Del Rio on Raw (unsurprisingly). The matches were wild and full of big names like Sheamus, Miz, Mysterio, Kofi, and Kane, and the Smackdown match in particular was extremely high risk. Mark Henry continued his push to the top with a domination of the Big Show. The Chicago crowd was so pumped up to see their hero fight Super-Cena that they were more than audible when Kelly Kelly wrestled Brie Bella in a throwaway match. Meanwhile, Randy Orton and Christian were embroiled in an underrated feud for the World Heavyweight Championship that continued with a great match in which Christian won the title on a sneaky technicality.
After three or four good to great matches, we had the most anticipated WWE main event in years with Punk vs. Cena. The crowd was foaming at the mouth upon Punk’s emotional entrance as Cena walked straight to the ring, title in hand, with no celebratory poses. This had a big fight feel, and it wound up being a more hotly contested battle than even the most cynical fans anticipated. The match went over 30 minutes with one exhilarating near fall after the next as it garnered Meltzer’s first five-star rating for a WWE match in 14 years. The match ended with Mr. McMahon demanding that head of talent relations John Laurenitis ring the bell circa Montreal Screwjob on Punk when Cena put him in the STF. Cena, a man of his word, stopped Laurenitis to ensure that the victor would win the match fair and square. All the while, Punk recovered, gave Cena his signature Go To Sleep, and pinned Cena to win the WWE Championship and threw the sold-out hometown crowd into an absolute frenzy. Punk took the title, hopped into the crowd like a thief in the night, blew a sarcastic farewell kiss to Mr. McMahon, and disappeared into the night as we faded to black. Money in the Bank 2011 has been viewed by many as the greatest triumph of the PG Era of the WWE, a perfect pay-per-view in every way, shape, and form. The show was so great that the next month’s SummerSlam, a wonderful show and the best SummerSlam in years, received timid reviews at the time because it paled in comparison to the brilliance of the previous show.
Thanks to the significance of the ladder matches and Punk’s glorious moment in Chicago, Money in the Bank was not just another run-of-the-mill show in the doldrums of summertime anymore. It was a landmark franchise for WWE fans to drool over in the months between WrestleMania and the Royal Rumble. SummerSlam still has the glitz of taking place annually at the Staples Center in star-studded Hollywood, but the slate of matches for that pay-per-view has left a lot to be desired in previous years. Money in the Bank is, well, a pretty good bet if you want to see a really good three-hour WWE program. Even though last year’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view in Phoenix, AZ, did not come close to the 2011 show, it was still considered the best pay-per-view the WWE put on after Extreme Rules and WrestleMania 28. The storyline of the final match on the card was that all five of the combatants had previously won the WWE Championship: Cena, Big Show, Kane, Jericho, and Miz. Cena won the briefcase to some fans’ groans and cashed it in at the 1,000th episode of Raw one week later but did not win the title, becoming the first recipient of the briefcase to not hit the jackpot.
Many of the Money in the Bank ladder matches are filled out by young up-and-coming talent on the WWE roster, some of whom rise to the occasion (Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan) and some of whom never pan out (MVP, Matt Hardy). The Smackdown side of things last year was exactly that, as Ziggler won the briefcase in a match in which the only previous title holder in the match was Christian. The most memorable match turned out to be a wild and gruesome No Disqualification match between yearlong WWE Champ Punk and Daniel Bryan with spurned lover A.J. Lee as the special enforcer. It was praised unanimously as one of the best matches the company put on last year. The Baltimore Sun called the show “strong, if unspectacular,” which was still better than what WWE doled out to fans on pay-per-view for the remainder of 2012.
I feel like the WWE also feels the sense that they need to deliver on a consistent basis when it comes to Money in the Bank thanks to the solid outputs they have given fans since they started putting on the pay-per-view in 2010. Not only was Payback a very good show compared to previous WWE pay-per-views in the month of June, but the Raw the night afterward was an especially special event leading into Money in the Bank this year. Punk returned from a hiatus as a pseudo babyface after defeating Chris Jericho in his hometown, only to be met (and F5’ed) by another Paul Heyman guy in Brock Lesnar. It looks like WWE creative will hold off on the eventual Brock/Punk match for SummerSlam, but Punk has already laid claim to the annual ladder match with a pretty loaded rundown that includes Bryan, Kane, Orton, Sheamus, and two returnees in Christian and Rob Van Dam. Van Dam’s comeback being booked for the pay-per-view in Philadelphia weeks in advance goes to show you how careful the company is with making sure that the show hits the right notes.
To flesh out the card, the beloved Jericho, who created the Money in the Bank concept eight years before, is likely to wrestle one of his last matches for the company against Ryback before he takes another break to go on a music tour. Ziggler and Del Rio have now reversed the roles of good guy and bad guy as Ziggler tries to avenge the not-so-sportsmanlike way Del Rio took the World Heavyweight Title from him at Payback. The popular faction The Shield will be in action in a tag team titles match against the Uso’s. There is another Money in the Bank ladder match involving a lot of fresh faces that work primarily on Smackdown: Dean Ambrose, Fandango, Antonio Cesaro, Jack Swagger, Damien Sandow, Wade Barrett, and Cody Rhodes. Remember that every winner of the ladder match except for one has cashed in and won the championship, so someone’s name is going to be called up among those seven, only one of whom has won a world title before. And in what can be considered the main event, Mark Henry, who brilliantly faked his retirement on that entertaining Raw show after Payback to attack Cena, will challenge him for the WWE Title in what might be the biggest match of his career. What the show might lack in quality in some places, it will make up for in work rate, youth, and the high-stakes ladder match that has become quite the event for WWE fanbases every year.
SummerSlam will always be considered the most significant and historical pay-per-view of the summer season for WWE fans and management alike. But it definitely feels like the company is raising the bar to a high degree in anticipation of meeting the hype that Money in the Bank has created over the years. And you can bet that in about a month, I will be standing in line at a store buying the DVD without hesitation.