A Money in the Bank Preview? Why Not?

MITB2013In many respects, Money in the Bank is the most compelling pay-per-view the WWE has.

Of course, no one questions that WrestleMania is the premier event.  But whereas ‘Mania is largely a “state of the union”-type show that tells us where the industry is in a given year, Money in the Bank has evolved into the event that tells us where the industry is going over the next year, if not beyond.

That goes not only for the Money in the Bank ladder matches, but for the rest of the card as well.  At the first MITB-specific pay-per-view, The Miz won the WWE Title Money in the Bank match and went from being an amusing mid-carder to being the best heel the company had—and a WrestleMania main-eventer[1].  In 2011, Alberto Del Rio and Daniel Bryan won, signaling major pushes for both.  Meanwhile, C. M. Punk won the WWE Title against John Cena in the culmination of one of the better angles of the last five years.  That match, in turn, also set the stage for two solid years of Punk’s elevation to truly elite status.

Last year, the WWE came up with the semi-official idea of making the World Heavyweight Title contract MITB match a “futures” event, while the WWE Title MITB match was an “all-star” competition.  Dolph Ziggler and John Cena, respectively, won those briefcases.  We also got a Punk / Bryan match for the WWE title, and a continued monster push for Ryback.

As I said, whereas ‘Mania is a “snapshot” of the industry, Money in the Bank is the PPV to watch if you want to begin figuring out whether you’re going to enjoy the next nine months of WWE programming.  That brings me to this year.  This card, like the last two, is loaded with compelling stories that aren’t limited to the two ladder matches.

Let’s jump in:

The Shield (c) vs. The Usos — WWE Tag Team Championships:  It’s not exactly a secret that the WWE pays relatively-little attention to tag division, except when there’s a bigger picture in mind.  Here, the Shield have been built up beautifully, and Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns will continue to have success until the company is ready to split the group (read: until the WWE is ready to give Dean Ambrose the run at either of the big titles that he (and we) so richly deserve).  The Wyatt Family gives some hope that perhaps there’s going to be more investment in teams / trios in the months to come . . . but maybe not.  The more likely scenario is the one we’ve just seen unfold: A microwave push for a solid team.  That comes in handy when the champs need an opponent that isn’t a random pairing of two singles guys who don’t have anything better to do at the time (e.g. Team Hell No).  Winners: The Shield

Curtis Axel (c) vs. The Miz — Intercontinental Championship:  It kills me to say this, but The Miz should probably either be released or kept off television until such time as he can return as a heel.  Some guys can play both roles effectively, if not equally-well (Chris Jericho, Sheamus, C. M. Punk, to name three), some guys are destined to be faces (e.g. Ricky Steamboat), and others must be heels.  The Miz falls into that latter category, which is why the last year of his career has been extremely frustrating—as frustrating as if the Minnesota Vikings said Adrian Peterson would be playing outside linebacker this year.  Could he do it?  In a literal sense, yes.  He’s a superior athlete who could feel his way through it.  Would he be good at it?  Absolutely not.

Back to the match at hand, I think the company is committed to Axel in the short-term.  I’m not totally sold on him, but more Paul Heyman is always a good thing, so I have no complaints.  There’s no way he’s dropping the title this quickly, especially to the face version of The Miz.  Also, the favorite in the “Who will be the first to call Curtis Axel ‘Kurt Angle’ on TV?” prop bet is Vince McMahon.  Winner: Curtis Axel

Chris Jericho vs. Ryback: The current direction of Ryback’s character is make-or-break.  Taking a Goldberg-esque monster and turning him into an injury-prone heel is a risky proposition.  It could give his character a new dimension, or it could kill all the good things about the character.  I don’t feel like there are many outcomes in-between.

JerichoJacketI think this match will have a lot to do with determining which way that goes.  Chris Jericho is a dancer jobber with to the stars at this point.  The fact that Y2J actually got a rare win on television last Monday essentially seals his fate.  Jericho will, as usual, get a good match out of his opponent.  I actually think that the way this match is booked has the potential to be creative and interesting.  I’m curious to see where they’ll take Ryback next, whether it’s a step forward or a step towards oblivion.  I’m also wondering if the exchange between Ryback and Vickie was foreshadowing to her managing him.  I think that could work very well if executed properly, as Vickie is a good heel who should stay on television in some capacity.[2]

Speaking of the GM situation—There’s some (kayfabe) question about whether Kane will compete at MITB after the attack by the Wyatt Family.  If he’s officially removed from the match, then I expect new RAW General Manager Brad Maddox to make an announcement on WWE.com or on the PPV in which he declares that the winner of this match will get Kane’s spot.  It may not play out that way, but I suspect it will if the angle with the Wyatts calls for Kane to miss the ladder match.  Either way, Ryback will win.  Winner: Ryback

A. J. Lee (c) vs. Kaitlyn — WWE Divas Championship: Again, I have to give the WWE credit for doing a good job of devoting the time necessary to build up both of these characters.  The only thing I didn’t like hated was the one week where Stephanie inexplicably got involved in this conflict, even going so far as to imply that she could come back and win the Divas title any time she wanted (*barf*).

Kaitlyn will eventually get the title back, I think, but I’m not sure that happens on Sunday.  From a pure acting standpoint, A. J. Lee’s work in recent months is probably second only to Mark Henry’s on the entire roster.  I think she probably wins.  If she does drop the title, my assumption would be that the defeat would be linked to a split with Ziggler (you know, because a heel and a newly-minted face couldn’t possibly remain an item).  Like I said, though, I think that’s going to happen on RAW one week or at another PPV.  There’s already plenty happening on this card.  Winner: A. J. Lee

Dean Ambrose vs. Wade Barrett vs. Antonio Cesaro vs. Fandango vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow vs. Jack Swagger — World Heavyweight Championship Money in the Bank Ladder Match:  This one’s a relative crapshoot, so I’ll start by eliminating the guys who almost certainly won’t win.  Ambrose won’t win, only because he already has a singles title.  There’s no need to give him MITB as well, when it can be used to elevate someone else.  Fandango won’t win because he can’t really be taken seriously[3].  Jack Swagger won’t win because he’s already had one of these, and that push didn’t exactly pan out.  I don’t think he’ll get another shot like that.

Cody Rhodes is a (very) long-shot.  At some point, I still think WWE is going to give him a mega-push and a run at the World Heavyweight Title.  The fact that he’s won about two matches on TV this year doesn’t fill me with confidence that that moment will occur on Sunday.  I feel similarly about Cesaro.  I love to watch him work, he’s a tremendous athlete, and he’s been given new life via his association with Zeb Colter.  Having said that, a win for him, while welcome, would be a little out of left field.  It seems more likely that he and Swagger could become a viable tag team in the weeks to come.

DamienSandowSmirkThat leaves Wade Barrett and Damien Sandow.  I feel bad for Barrett.  I still think he has the potential to be a World Champion, and, had he not gotten hurt, he probably already would have been one.  Now, he’s more than floundering.  He’s one of those guys (see also Rhodes and, for some unknown reason, Ziggler) who seems to win about once a month on television.  If they’re ever going to kick-start his career, now would be the time.

Yet . . . it’s been a while since we heard anything about a “Barrett Barrage,” hasn’t it?  That’s why I think Sandow is the pick.

The only problem is that I’m hopelessly biased.  I love the gimmick, and find nearly everything he does to be very entertaining—and they’ve still barely scratched the surface with him.  Playing devil’s advocate, though, they (amicably) broke up Team Rhodes Scholars once, only to reunite them.  So, maybe . . .

Yeah, this one’s a crapshoot.  I like a bunch of dudes in this match (Cesaro, Sandow, Ambrose, Barrett), so I’ll more than likely be happy with the outcome.  An odd feature of this match is that everyone in it is a heel.  That should make for a crowd reaction that’s as hard to predict as the match itself (Swagger will be booed, but, beyond that, I have no idea which guy the audience will pick as their favorite—my guess would be Ambrose).  Gun to my head, I go with the Intellectual Savior of the Masses.

Sandow as “Mr. Money-in-the-Bank” would be a delight.  Perhaps he would insist on being called “Professor Money-in-the-Bank.”  Maybe he would have a briefcase for the briefcase.  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that Damien Sandow + Legal Documents = High-quality Sports Entertainment.  I will never tire of his weekly rants about calculating the ideal time to cash in, sandwiched between sharply-critical commentaries on the questionable admission standards of the nearby college or the hygiene-related practices of the locals.  Winner: Damien Sandow

Daniel Bryan vs. Christian vs. Kane(?) vs. Randy Orton vs. C. M. Punk vs. Sheamus vs. Rob Van Dam — WWE Championship Money in the Bank Ladder Match:   The obvious intrigue here is provided by the inexplicably-returning Rob Van Dam, winner of the second Money in the Bank match way back in 2006.  This is a very different RVD.  Older, heavier, and—let’s be honest—several years past his prime.

So, what is he doing here?

I think that’s one of the keys to understanding how this match will unfold.  Of the guys in this “All-Star” match, C. M. Punk is definitely at the top of the kayfabe food chain.  Even in a MITB match, we need an intervening, superseding force to take Punk out.  My guess would be that force is Brock Lesnar, in cahoots somehow with RVD, both of whom are “Paul Heyman guys.”  This would add to the cloud around the Heyman / Punk friendship, as well as building toward the inevitable Punk / Lesnar / Heyman issue.[4]  It could also lead to a Heyman stable consisting of Axel, Lesnar (when he’s around), RVD, and possibly someone else down the road.  All of that sounds to me like it has a lot of potential.

DanielBryanAs for who does win, Daniel Bryan seems like an overwhelming favorite.  At least I thought so until RAW went off the air on Monday.  Bryan having downed Punk and Orton, sitting on top of the ladder with the briefcase, might as well have been accompanied by a flashing on-screen graphic that read “MISDIRECTION.”

Anytime WWE sells something to the audience that hard, I get nervous.  Bryan should win.  Of the others, Punk and RVD are the only ones who have any shot at all in my opinion, and I think Punk will be taken out by Lesnar, as I said.  Even though RVD has no real business winning, the fact that he has been so hyped at least gives me something to think about when it comes to predicting what happens.  Let’s also not forget that this show takes place in old-school ECW hotbed Philadelphia.

Still, the WWE has had Bryan opening and/or closing the show for weeks now, and it’s fairly obvious that he’s the best worker in the company at the moment.  The fact that management has also now recognized that leads me to believe that a Bryan WWE Title push is imminent, one way or another.  If RVD is 35, he probably takes it.  As it is . . .   Winner: Daniel Bryan

Quick Note: I’m assuming that the order of the matches will be done properly this year, with the titles up for grabs at the end, and the MITB matches taking place prior to the championship matches.  While I think that’s overwhelmingly likely, one alternative would be to have the WWE Title match before the end, and have the loser of that match get Kane’s spot in the ladder match.  Of course, since that’s Cena’s match, we know that will go on last.

Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler — World Heavyweight Championship:  I think I’ve given up on trying to figure out what the WWE braintrust thinks of Ziggler.  My personal belief is that he should be the biggest star in the company 12-18 months from now, but it seems like I was saying that 12-18 months ago as well.

Despite WWE’s horrible booking of Ziggler, especially when he had the briefcase or the title, he’s still over with fans.  Now, they’ve turned him face.  While I don’t think this is the best thing for the character, it at least signals that the WWE still has some kind of plan for him.  I just hope it’s not as awful as nearly all of the plans they’ve had for him during the last year.

Oh, and, if he gets another kayfabe concussion, I think I quit.  Winner: Dolph Ziggler

John Cena (c) vs. Mark Henry — WWE Championship: If anyone has earned a title run based solely on performance during a feud, it’s Mark Henry.  What was likely supposed to be a “flavor-of-the-month” opponent for Cena to dispatch heroically took a major left turn during Henry’s otherworldly “retirement speech.”  It’s well-established that I like Cena, but I’ll be rooting for Henry this weekend.  He deserves a WWE Title on his resume.  And, if you had told me in 2005 that I would be saying that about Mark Henry in 2013, I would have said, “I’M STILL WATCHING WRESTLING EIGHT YEARS FROM NOW?  WHAT THE F***?!?”

MarkHenryRAWOh, and I wouldn’t have believed the Henry stuff, either.

I may be thinking with my heart, here, though.  Cena is certainly going to hold the title for most of this year, and will probably be defending it at WrestleMania.  Henry has also gotten the better of Cena during their last couple of conflicts, which always screams “We’ll make you think the heel is credible so that you’ll order the pay-per-view, but, come on, the face goes over.”

Rooting with my heart or not, I’m picking Henry.  I didn’t expect him to beat Ryback at ‘Mania, and he did.  This one has a similar feel.  And, as I referenced, if anyone earned a re-write of how this was going to go down, it was Mark Henry with his recent promos.  Winner: Mark Henry

Final Thoughts: The odds of both titles changing hands is pretty low, especially on such a stacked card.  So, I probably got one or both of the top two matches wrong.  One last point, though—if Henry does win the title, it’s not out of the question that Bryan could cash in and open RAW on Monday as the new WWE Champion.  That could open up a lot of possibilities.  Most importantly, it would prevent WWE from having to go directly to a Cena / Bryan feud, with Bryan more over as a face with a better portion of the crowd than Cena.  Using Henry as a transitional champion would not only give Henry that title he so richly deserves, but would also allow WWE to get the title around Bryan’s waist with minimal awkwardness (e.g. the top face in the company being booed by an even larger portion of the crowd than usual.

I’m excited for this card.  I think every match has something interesting to offer, and most will have long-term repercussions.  Rarely can one say that, even about a WWE pay-per-view.

This show definitely has a lot of potential high points.  And a LOT LEFT IN THE TANK.

_____

[1] I could devote an entire piece to how much I miss that guy, but I feel like writing it would be too sad.
[2] Please make no mistake, though: As much as I was irritated by HHH, Steph, and the WWE Universe last Monday, I am looking forward to the Brad Maddox Era with inestimable anticipation.  He’ll be like a cross between a younger, weirder Eric Bischoff and Mike Adamle (except on purpose).
[3] Note that Mike Austin disagrees with me on this.  He says that the effect of having Vince’s backing / blessing can’t be underestimated.
[4] I wanted to call this a “shove triangle,” but I decided against it.  Except I just did.
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