Monday 20 June 2011

Moving On Up

The Money in the Bank match has become a good indicator of what WWE’s plans for the future are. In fact the only bigger indicator is the Royal Rumble match, which traditionally reveals who will be in one of the company’s two world title matches at WrestleMania. While the Rumble tells you who will be involved in a big WrestleMania match Money in the Bank is far more sporadic in its revelations: you don’t know when or where the winner (or winners, since the gimmick bout received its own event last year) will take their championship opportunity.

For those who don’t know the idea is a simple one: a multi-man ladder match is held with a briefcase hanging above the ring. The winner is the man who climbs a ladder and retrieves the briefcase, with their prize being a match for any WWE championship within the following calendar year, at the time and place of their choosing.

Since they first came up with the idea in 2005 (the match was first held at WrestleMania 21 and featured six combatants) it has been used to launch main event careers (Edge, CM Punk, The Miz) and create surprising moments on pay-per-views and television shows. Edge cashing in the very first Money in the Bank briefcase against John Cena after an Elimination Chamber bout set the tone for future cash-ins: it created a big surprise and was the realistic thing to do. Every subsequent cash-in with the exception of Rob Van Dam’s defeat of John Cena at One Night Stand 2006 has broadly followed the pattern established then.

At last year’s inaugural Money in the Bank pay-per-view it was decided that two of the titular matches would be promoted. It could easily have been overkill (as it has been with events hosting two Elimination Chamber or Hell in a Cell matches in the past) but both contests were laid out differently enough to make the event enjoyable rather than repetitive. I expect they’ll try to do the same this year.

Where they’ll find it difficult to emulate last year’s success is in the fallout of the event. Two men walking around with guaranteed title shots devalues the prestige of the victory. The writing team realised that last year, which is why Kane won the SmackDown ladder-fest and cashed in his title shot later on in the evening. This allowed for a shock on the MITB show itself and also meant the Miz’s victory in the RAW brand ladder match wasn’t overshadowed.

That was an effective way of skipping around having two ‘Mr Money in the Bank’s, but will WWE do the same again this year? It’s possible but I don’t think it’s too likely. I would say the likelier chain of events will be that one MITB winner will announce on the July 18th RAW or the July 19th SmackDown taping that they intend to take their shot at SummerSlam. That way WWE immediately sets up a SummerSlam main event and leaves just one briefcase holder to push as a future champion.

Will the trend of every person cashing in the briefcase winning their match continue? It’s too early to say, not knowing who’s doing the cashing in, but I think there’s a good chance this year that one of the winners will lose their match. Last year there was talk of Miz cashing in and losing against Randy Orton, then putting the title on him in a rematch. Luckily that didn’t happen: I don’t think Miz as a performer was perceived strongly enough by fans to be able to survive such a booking decision. But the fact that it was discussed shows that the writing team are considering fresh ways of using Money in the Bank winners.

This is all assuming that two bouts are promoted again. WWE could easily decide they don’t have enough people to promote two credible ladder bouts (because they don’t). They will want to crown two victors though: doing so makes the job of the writing team easier in terms of creating surprising moments and building future stars. I imagine they’ll end up doing two matches to get the two winners they want, but that they will at least consider decreasing the number of participants in each match.

The announcement regarding the number of ladder matches will probably come this evening on RAW so we won’t be left wondering for long.

Assuming they do have two ladder matches, who is likely to win? That’s the big question. With four weeks of TV between now and the Money in the Bank pay-per-view they could very easily select someone who currently looks like they don’t have a chance and build them up into a legitimate contender. Ted Dibiase for example. I don’t think many people would think much of his chances if the show was this weekend, but with four weeks of build he could be a potential winner (please note I don’t actually expect Dibiase to win, with or without a four week push).

From RAW I’d say the biggest contenders are Alberto Del Rio, Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler. They are the men who’d benefit most from the win. A Del Rio victory would fit nicely into the proposed idea of announcing a SummerSlam match on the July 18th RAW, whereas both Kofi and Dolph are competent workers who could and should be promoted to the thinning main event ranks to help the company prepare for the future. Of the three I’d say ADR is the most likely victor, based on the rumours of him facing Cena at SummerSlam and the strong push he’s had since debuting for the company last year (although that push has slowed considerably since he was senselessly moved to RAW). Kofi strikes me as a strong possibility too: his loss of the US title could be seen as a way of freeing him up for a top level run in a few months time.

Men like John Morrison and R-truth are possibilities for being in the match itself but I can’t see them winning. Truth has just been involved in a WWE title feud while Morrison has been the recipient of so many stop-start pushes that I think he’d only be booked to win if he was going to become the first ever person to cash-in the briefcase and lose. 

The Christian v Orton feud has been so well received that I expect WWE will want to keep it going for at least another month, possibly longer. There are multiple ways they could do that but one that I like is Orton facing somebody other than Christian at the MITB pay-per-view as Christian competes in, and wins, the SmackDown ladder match. Christian could then come out and challenge Orton either at the Money in the Bank show (yes, like Kane, but I’m not entirely convinced WWE won’t repeat that booking decision) or at the SmackDown taping a few days later. Or he could announce a SummerSlam match. Or tease it out for a while to keep the feud alive. A Christian win provides a lot of possibilities.

The rest of the SmackDown roster is fairly thin for potential winners. The only other realistic choice at the moment is Sheamus. If anyone else were to win they would have to build them up throughout the rest of this year and first part of next year to turn them into a credible opponent for the champion. If that’s the case then I think the likeliest winners are Daniel Bryan, Cody Rhodes, Wade Barrett and Ezekiel Jackson. Bryan and Rhodes are talented enough but would need a strong push to establish them as top guys. Barrett and Jackson may not be the best workers but they’re both big, and that’s what Vince McMahon likes (plus Barrett has above average promo skills to help him). 

It should all become clearer in the next few weeks, as matches and Money in the Bank participants are announced. There’s potential for a lot of twists and changes with this event, and hopefully WWE will use that to their advantage and fill the ladder matches (or match) with people who could genuinely win, rather than two candidates and a bunch of nobodies. Right now I’m hoping for Christian and Del Rio wins (or just a Christian win if there’s just one ladder match). Both men should be featuring heavily in the company’s future plans and MITB victories would create short and long term storylines.

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