Wednesday 25 June 2014

Money in the Bank 2014 preview

There's a chance Money in the Bank's hot streak could end this year. The last few instalments have seen the show develop into WWE's fourth biggest pay-per-special-event of the year, a combination of the titular gimmick's importance, very strong supporting cards, and memorable match-ups like Orton v Christian, Punk v Bryan, and Cena v Henry, and, of course, Cena v Punk. The bar has been set high.

This year's card is lacking in a few areas. The most obvious things to point to are the absence are CM Punk, who walked out in protest against sub-par booking (or something) and the absence of Daniel Bryan, who's recuperating after surgery on his neck. While Bryan will appear he won’t be wrestling, and he’ll only be on the pre-show event. They're big draws for WWE and this is the first major show the company's promoted without them that can't sustain itself on its own name. They were both available for the Rumble in January and WrestleMania succeeds primarily because it's WrestleMania (it could be argued that Rumble does too to an extent). Here WWE will get a decent indication of how important Bryan and Punk are to their bigger shows' levels of success.

The event is also suffering from a weak undercard. Beyond the two ladders matches, one for the WWE championship vacated after D-Bry's neck injury and the other for the traditional briefcase containing the magical contract, there's not much on offer. The decision to book two ladder matches with a combined tally of fifteen participants has severely limited WWE's options for the non-ladder bouts. They could have avoided that by bulking the briefcase collision up with big bump-takers who don't mean much to people (such as Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel) but while that would have created more options for non-ladder bouts it would also have made it a little easier to predict outcomes. No bump fodder's winning a briefcase.

Thankfully predictability isn't something affecting the WWE championship ladder match1. Four of the eight wrestlers look like conceivable winners, with another two being long shots. Only Alberto Del Rio and Kane look like absolute no-hopers tasked with making up the numbers. A year ago ADR was being used really well and would have looked like a potential winner. A lack of focus and disregard for the roster outside of select pushes had resulted in a disappointing tumble down the ranks for him. Meanwhile Kane is just Kane. WWE have been reheating him as a monster for months but the character is so ridiculous at this point that he will never again be the champion.

The four men I think have the good chance are Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns and John Cena. Sheamus and Cesaro are the men who aren't likely to win but could get it as a surprise. Selecting a winner is tough because WWE has so many options. They could go with perennial safe choice Cena or his backup Orton. They're accepted as headliners by viewers and could be used to stabilise the company's creative direction after a few floundering months.

Reigns could be rocketed to the top of pay-per-views to work defences against, well, everyone really. He's spent so long as a member of The Shield that every singles programme he could be placed in is fresh. Triple H and 'The Viper' would be the most obvious first contenders for him. Reigns v Bryan could be an exciting prospect too. It's happened before but never for the title and never with both men as crowd pleasers. Cena could (naturally) be left in reserve for a future 'Mania. A win at MITB followed by a lengthy run defeating everyone placed before him could turn Reigns into something special.

But somehow I don't think it's likely. WWE historically likes to create hot babyfaces by putting them through a lengthy title chase which sees them screwed out of winning the prize a couple of times. It's hard to argue with the approach as it's stood them in good stead over the years. It’s not the most inspired thing they could do though.

Most of the arguments that apply to putting the championship on Reigns also apply to Bray Wyatt. The only main eventers he's wrestled in a major setting are Bryan and Cena. He still has fresh matches waiting for him against Tripper, Orton, Batista and Reigns, as well as lesser mortals like Sheamus and Cesaro. Perhaps most importantly it could be used to squeeze one last PPV meeting between him and Cena onto our screens at Battleground.

The Wyatt character would be interesting to see as WWE champion. He's still being framed in storylines as a villain but he has a high level of crowd support (thanks partially but not exclusively to WWE not giving him much competition, due to their inability to push more than three fresh acts at once). His acknowledgement that the championship equates to power in WWE could be used as the basis for a feud with 'The Game'.

I think the answer to predicting this match lies in looking ahead to SummerSlam. The likelihood is that the champion will defend against Brock Lesnar at that show. He's the man that conquered The Streak and he was making noises about getting a title shot before WrestleMania so it feels like the right match to do. On top of that WWE have been sending out email polls asking whom fans would like to see 'The Pain' challenge for the strap at SummerSlam. Everything points to Lesnar being the SummerSlam foe of the WWE champion.

Sheamus, ADR and Kane can be ruled out of such a lucrative spot straight away. 'Great White' could win do a short reign and lose the title to Lesnar’s opponent at Battleground to swerve audiences (something I don't think WWE's above doing, sadly) but even that seems beyond Del Rio and Kane. Reigns and Wyatt would perhaps look a little out of place opposing 'The Beast' as a defending champion but defeating him could give them an incredible boost. The same goes for Cesaro, although in his case the fact that he and Heyman share an agent would put an interesting spin on things and gives him a slightly better chance of being the defending champ.

But the two guys best cut out for a match with Lesnar are Cena and Orton. We've seen Cena tangle with Lesnar a couple of times, once at Extreme Rules 2012 and once at Backlash 2003. It's not exactly overdone but it's also not fresh. Meanwhile Orton and Lesnar have never wrestled each other before. It's rare for WWE to have a fresh match between two such established names and while I don't think it would be a classic I do think it's more desirable than Lesnar v Cena. ‘The Viper’ versus ‘The Beast’ is the match I'd like to see.

It's not the match I'm predicting though. I can't envision a way it could be made to work. Why would The Authority, heel management figures, put their chosen one heel champion in a match with an unstoppable rage-monster who's also a heel? Orty could win the title and go face, but it's hard to see how that could come about in storyline terms and it's even harder to imagine crowds accepting it. People are perfectly happy booing him at the moment.

So I think Cena will win the title and defend it against Lesnar at SummerSlam. As a safety net and an act capable of making a match feel like it means something there are no other options. For the record I suspect he'll defend against Kane at Battleground. Because Kane seems to be WWE’s go-to guy for pay-per-view challengers at the moment. I've no idea why.

The final thing I'll say about the WWE title match is that I expect it to be very good. WWE's top three prospects (Reigns, Wyatt and Cesaro) are involved, as are the top two active stars, so there's no way it won't be impeccably laid out. I expect every one of those five to get memorable moments. Big bumps are practically guaranteed from Orton and Cesaro too: they're the only guys in the match both willing to and physically capable of taking them. Although Wyatt may have some steps or a ladder lobbed at his head again. That'd be a laugh.

The most noteworthy undercard match is the tag team title match. Jimmy and Jey Uso will defend against The Wyatt Family's Erick Rowan and Luke Harper. The Usos versus the Wyatts is a worthwhile match that WWE have done well to make mean something, foregoing their usual approach of simply announcing the thing or going with dull non-title wins over the champs for the challengers. They spun it off of the Wyatt versus Cena feud, something they don't do anywhere near enough considering how natural that approach feels and how effective it can be.

The time feels right for a title change. Jimmy and Jey have had the gold since March and Harper and Rowan have been steadily building as a duo pretty much since they made their main roster debuts in May last year. They are unquestionably the natural choice to beat the Usos. Changing the title holders here would escalate the feud, probably needed as even though this is their first PPV collision they've been linked for a month or so, and cement the Wyatt lads as a formidable pairing. The Usos could regain them on a RAW or at Battleground to keep things hot.

That said this is the first title match of what will probably be a lengthy series. Usually under these circumstances the champions, or champion, would retain by disqualification (or similar). It's entirely possible WWE will stick with their preferred formula. I hope not though. A bit of experimentation is what's needed at the mo.

The only other title match on the show will be the Divas title. Paige will defend against Naomi. There's potential here. Naomi is a more capable wrestler than her partner Cameron and is about as over as the former cheerleader for a man who pretends to be a dinosaur can be. Paige has had some belting matches in the past, but we haven't seen anything that's not average out it her since she rocked up on RAW nearly three months ago.

With ten minutes at their disposal and both women (though particularly Paige, because she’s the more skilled and experienced wrestler of the pair) on form they could do something special. With such a sparse card it's conceivable that they'll get the time. Hopefully everything else will come together if they do. No matter how long or how good the match I think Paige will retain. I don't think she'll lose the championship until there's a solid challenger in place. Although, for the record, I could imagine Naomi winning the title and being betrayed by Cameron, setting up the much anticipated Funkadactyl versus Funkadactyl feud.

Aside from the second ladder match the only other thing confirmed for the show is RybAxel v Goldust and Stardust. It’s still too early to say what WWE are doing with the Stardust character although my instinct is that it will end with a heel turn and a split for the brother team. I’ve no interest in seeing them face RybAxel. They defeated them in under two minutes in Stardust’s debut and I’m sure they’ll manage it again here. The match has been seen and wasn’t exciting.

Four matches on a card obviously isn’t enough. I expect WWE will add at least another two bouts to the show. One of them will almost certainly be Rusev v Big E. They’ve had a feud simmering away for the last month, much of which has played out on SmackDown. Considering ‘The Super Athlete’’s push it’s highly unlikely he’ll be left off such a sparse show and Big  is the natural opponent for him. They’ll have a good, hard-hitting hoss fight and Rusev will go over.

The only other match available to WWE that would have any sort of meaning is Summer Rae v Layla. Summer got dumped by Fandango via Twitter, handily freeing up more of her time to go and film Total Divas and creating a similarly handy vacancy for the previously aimless Layla. Summer took the storyline dumping hard and, after inexplicably biding her time for over a month, returned to TV, locked lips with Fandango and had a brawl with Layla. It’s not the most thrilling plot ever to hit WWE television but there is at least a logical progression to it that’s easy to follow and that makes sense.

A mixed tag match could be produced but I think a singles match with Fandango at ringside is more likely. I hope it doesn’t end with him spurning both women and going off by himself because having a dance partner is one of the few things that sets him apart from everyone else at the moment. If it happens I’ll be picking Summer Rae to win. The only reason for that is that I think there are more plans for her than for Layla.

Finally there's the Money in the Bank ladder match, the one with the traditional "get a WWE title match whenever you want it, bro" contract on the line, represented by a snazzy briefcase. The men involved are, in no particular order, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Kofi Kingston, Jack Swagger, Rob Van Dam, Dolph Ziggler and Intercontinental champion Bad News Barrett. It's that line-up which has placed such strain on the rest of the card. The men involved in this match are the men WWE usually relies on for fleshing out its special event mid-cards. By pooling them all into one match they’ve limited themselves elsewhere.

This needn’t have been the case. If WWE made better use of the six hours of main roster programming they produce every week they could have a bundle of mid-card feuds going on amongst a group of over and diverse characters. That they seem so uninterested in giving anyone below the upper mid-card anything to do has resulted in them having very few options for fresh meaningful matches. If more wrestlers get over WWE has more chance of finding a new money-making star. For some reason they seem to be against doing this. Anyway, you can read more on the subject here.

The plus side to putting pretty much the entire mid-card into one match is that the match should be good. There’s a natural story to tell of Rollins trying to avoid Ambrose as he tries to win, and the match could also be used to launch a proper rivalry between Ziggler and Bad News after it was flirted with on the June 20 SmackDown and June 23 RAW. Sadly I think we’ll be without the enjoyable plot of Damien Sandow turning on Cody Rhodes that drove much of last year’s undercard ladder bout.

I think Kingston, Swagger and Van Dam can all be written off as potential winners. They’re there to make up the numbers and take some falls. In Kofi’s case that extends to doing something “wacky” with the ladders. While I’d like to say Ziggler’s got a chance of winning I don’t think it’s terribly likely. WWE have cooled on him considerably since this time last year. Which is a great pity considering how over he was (and is) and how talented he is.

Bad News Barrett could be in with a chance of winning the case. Since being reintroduced as an active competitor the night after WrestleMania XXX he’s been handled very well. He’s put on good matches and WWE have mostly presented him as a dominant force. He was apparently injured at the SmackDown tapings on Tuesday so it’s possible he won’t be in the match, but if he is I won’t be surprised by him winning.

He’s not my prediction to win though. That goes to Seth Rollins. Really I think it comes down to him and Dean Ambrose leaving with the briefcase. With that being the case the obvious WWE finish is to have Ambrose about to win only for Rollins to do something heelish to knock his former partner off a ladder and grab the case for himself. That “something heelish” would almost certainly be within the rules of the match but that won’t bother WWE. That approach would add to the Ambrose-Rollins animosity and set Rollins up as The Authority’s hand-picked rising star.

Of course, it’s also possible Ambrose could win, leading to Rollins assuring Triple H that he can rest the briefcase from him if granted a one-on-one match at Battleground. But this seems a little less likely somehow. Plus if Rollins has the case it opens up a storyline between he and Reigns if Reigns wins the championship.

So that’s Money in the Bank. A show that’s hard to predict winners for, which is never a bad thing, but that which looks pretty sparse on paper, which is never a good thing. I’m sure it’ll end up being above average: WWE seem to understand the show’s status and have put effort into the lader matches. But I hope the absence of a mid-card sparks some action regarding storylines taking place across the roster, and not just at the top.

Predictions summary:
John Cena to win the WWE championship
Seth Rollins to win Money in the Bank
The Wyatt Family to defeat the Usos for the WWE tag team championship
Paige to defeat Naomi
Goldust and Stardust to defeat RybAxel
Summer Rae to defeat Layla
Rusev to defeat Big E


1 I'll say here and now that referring to it as a Money in the Bank match is inaccurate: they’re fought for Money in the Bank contracts. This is a multi-man ladder match for the world title.

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