Money In The Bank 2014 has come and gone, and much like last year, opinions are decidedly mixed on where this particular PPV will rank. MITB always holds a special place of reverence for me personally, as it harkens back to the Attitude era with its use of ladders and grew out of a tremendous WrestleMania concept. In short, it's just different enough to give us as fans something unique to experience. There are never a shortage of buzzworthy moments when this date comes around on our wrestling calendars. This particular MITB was a bit unique in that it featured two ladder matches, one for the normal contract entitling the winner to a chance at the belt sometime during the next year and the other for all the marbles, those marbles being the unified WWE belts vacated due to Daniel Bryan's unfortunate injury. The card was a bit top-heavy, with only one other championship being defended, but would it overachieve? Just like 2013, I've divided the field between those performers who paid the rent or came up short. Let's get right to it with your Money In the Bank 2014 winners and losers:
Big Bucks: Tag Team Title Match
Not very much has distinguished the team of the Usos, well-meaning but fairly blasé good guys who pump up each other (and the crowd) with their entrance and then proceed to have serviceable, if not particularly memorable, bouts. It says something for the state of tag team wrestling right now in the WWE that despite their claims to the contrary, no team has been deemed worthy to unseat the champs as of yet. Enter The Wyatt Family, who have captured the imaginations of the WWE Universe with their unique presentation and triple dose of outright menace. It's been enough for WWE story smiths to have the Wyatts on the fringe, uninterested in titles, but that all changed yesterday, with all three members getting a shot at gold. The vignettes explaining that decision were a bit murky and convoluted, but not enough to suspend my disbelief.
It was perhaps halfway through the opening match that I reaffirmed my previous notion that the Wyatts don't really need belts, anyway. They have become that most rare of pro wrestling performers: athletes whose success (or lack thereof) in the ring doesn't matter a whit. The match itself was pretty well done: plenty of high spots demonstrating the physicality of both teams, and some truly excellent work by Luke Harper, who just might be the most underrated man on the entire roster at this point. While Erick Rowan still needs to work on his selling a bit (slapping your arm on the mat repeatedly to express pain becomes a touch monotonous), he delivered decently as well. The Usos played their part and played it well, and managed to retain their belts even when it looked like it wasn't going to happen. More importantly, the two teams started the show off with a bang and gave us some extremely solid action to get things going. Excellent work by all involved and a surprisingly solid title bout.
Chump Change: The Divas
Perhaps if I write it enough times, something will change. Then again, perhaps not. In one of the first times in my recent memory, we had not one but TWO divas matches on this card. There simply could not be a better opportunity for WWE's much-maligned ladies to bring their "A" games onto the national stage, right? Well, maybe. Match one featured Divas champion Paige taking on one-half of the Funkadactyls, Naomi. I confess to not watching enough (or any) of Total Divas to have a rooting interest in what goes on with the dancing ladies, but a breakup is imminent and was bashed over our heads in a way that made the actual match irrelevant. That isn't actually an insult, because the in-ring action wasn't particularly impressive anyway. Paige's booking since winning the title has been odd to say the least (a point furthered on Monday's Raw): she gets abused for a couple of minutes and pulls a submission win out of nowhere. Naomi was better than I expected, but it still wasn't very good. It appeared to be an afterthought of a match placeholding for the next plot twist.
The second match, Summer Rae vs. Layla for the right to be Fandango's main squeeze (tough to even type that out), was even worse. Once again the powers that be have gone back to the extremely empty well of divas vying over a studmuffin's affections to generate a feud. Said studmuffin was Fandango, who was mildly entertaining as a referee and made me feel I was watching some odd combination of GLOW and soft-core pornography. Summer had way better stuff to work with in NXT, the match was abrupt and oddly pointless, and very little was resolved. Worthy of a slot on a big PPV? Not so much. Unfortunate to think that Natalya and Charlotte could put on such a clinic a couple short weeks ago, and these would be the matches everyone saw instead. It says something when Lana is the most complex and entertaining woman on the show, and she's not even wrestling.
Big Bucks: Rusev vs. Big E
Speaking of Lana, I liked everything about the battle of the big men she presided over. Rusev has been introduced as a wrecking ball behemoth, and that's acceptable as the build to the next event. As some point, though, his opposition has to be given even a credible chance at beating him, and that happened here. Rusev has been an odd Ludvig Borga/Sylvester Terkay/Blanka from Street Fighter hybrid thus far, but he has been effective at generating heat, largely due to the astonishingly good job his manager has done in a rather unforgiving caricature of a role. Whether the Russia vs. USA overtones are resonating with anyone (it seems like a very old episode of 24 to me) is another story, but you know what you're going to get. And what you should get from any matches featuring Rusev is plenty of bare-knuckle power moves, in your face and up close.
Across the ring from Rusev was poor Big "I lost my last name and a ton of matches since then" E, who appears a ways away from those halcyon days as Intercontinental Champion. Big E has taken to exhortation and heavy-breathing promos that, while adding a bit to his character development, strike this viewer as a cross between D-Von Dudley and Creflo Dollar. As mentioned above, what Big E needs to do is show up and administer hard-hitting pain, straightforward and simple. The patriotic overtones are fine, but let's get down to business already. The match featured Rusev looking human (and bleeding!), before eking out a win over his challenger. I particularly enjoyed the ending, which featured Big E nearly escaping Rusev's Accolade finisher only to have the strongman reapply it to perfection. Both men looked really good in the process, and that's the whole idea.
Chump Change: Adam Rose
Reports have filtered out that Vince McMahon is not satisfied with Adam Rose's character, and those reports might be correct given the booking on Sunday. Remember when Rose debuted after all the hype on Raw, facing down Jack Swagger with his party posse and getting the last laugh? It occurred again at MITB, except this time having poor, unfortunate Damien Sandow dressed as Paul Revere substituting for Swags. Was it only one year ago that I watched Messr. Sandow snag his own contract for a title shot? Sadly, it feels like an eternity. Damien appears to enjoy what he's doing, which is all well and good, but a pay-per-view loaded with this much midcard didn't need an excuse for another layer of filler.
My misgivings about Sandow and his current malaise aside, the angle itself was equally puzzling. Rose's Brandish banter and colorful sidekicks aside, his in-ring work hasn't shown much development since his first appearances on mainstream WWE TV. He likes to party, he is capable of doing Nestea plunges that would make your neighborhood retreat jealous, and...well, that's about it. There are certainly the makings of a gimmick here, for sure, and it's different enough that it might get over. But will it stay over? Different matter entirely, and based on the tepid to lukewarm responses here, one leans toward the negatory. Book Rose in a real feud and let's see what he can do with it. As for Sandow, the less said the better.
Big Bucks: Rollins vs. Ambrose
The entire focal point of the first MITB match was definitively how the two former Shield members would fare once they stared each other down from across the ring, and it did not disappoint in the least in that regard. From the minute the opening bell struck, Dean Ambrose was all over Seth Rollins, and despite the presence of plenty of other capable hands in this match, it was clear that the contract would be lost or won with these two men. Ambrose, for his part, did an outstanding job delivering another epic promo before the match even began, further evidence that he's got a long and storied career ahead of him after this feud. Regardless of his innate ability to play the heel, WWE's presentation of him as a revenge-seeking crazy man is working and working well. Rollins didn't match that effort with his cue-card-reading attempt at emotion during his own promo opportunity, but I'll gladly forgive him that if he continues to work at this level. His ability to take abuse and land big moves is top-notch.
The match itself featured plenty to like, including inventive use of ladders and each combatant getting an opportunity to shine. Of particular note to me were Jack Swagger powerbombing Rob Van Dam off the ladder and applying the Patriot Lock to Dolph Ziggler while he climbed, but it was evident it was Rollins's show from the gate. In addition to being slammed on and through a bridge ladder in a spot that must be seen to be believed, he was also superplexed by rival Ambrose off the tallest ladder in a Kodak moment if ever there was one. Ambrose refused doctor's orders mid-match to come back at the height of the action, and looked a lock to take hold of the briefcase until The Authority's henchman Kane stepped in and delivered the win to Rollins. I can't say I like that ending for what it was, but I appreciate making Rollins look strong and weak in the same evening. More importantly, Ambrose may have been the hottest guy on the card with the crowd, and this feud looks stellar. Extremely well done in some circumstances that had to be challenging for all involved.
Chump Change: Bryan's Return
We get it already, the WWE doesn't really know what to do with Daniel Bryan. They grudgingly kowtowed to popular consensus and bestowed him with the title, only to have his injury derail the hasty program with Kane. But bringing him back for his first public comments since surrendering the belts on a pre-show? Logic escapes me. An interview segment conducted by Michael Cole brought back in a few short moments what we've been missing since DB went on the shelf, and that part I greatly appreciated. What I appreciated less was Bo Dallas' interruption and segment with the former champ. Bo's gimmick is a bit too Simon Dean-y for my taste, but is at least completely separated from what his big brother is up to these days. It's also been met with ennui by the fans. Bryan gamely engaged with Bo for a bit in an impromptu "comedy" segment, but the die was cast.
This was followed up last night by Bo rehashing his own segment in his Mayberry-like way, and one can only hope that the end result is more entertaining than the legs of said journey. My issue here is not necessarily with Bo being in the segment, though it is puzzling (I've got an idea to help him along..put him in the ladder match in place of the injured BNB!) but moreso with the decision to book Bryan in this way. Even injured, Daniel gets a strong reaction from fans and it makes sense to capitalize on it in any way possible. What makes less sense is to waste that momentum in a preshow and then further muddy the waters by having him interact with someone not even relevant to the current storyline. Get back soon, champ. Please.
Big Bucks: Randy Orton
There was plenty of main-event talent assembled for the biggest match of the evening, as it boasted four former MITB PPV winners and five former heavyweight belt holders. It also brought quite a bit of the next big thing to the table, with Cesaro, Bray Wyatt, and crowd favorite Roman Reigns appearing in the big dance. I expected those gentlemen to step up when called upon, and they most certainly did. Cesaro hung from the ceiling, landed on a bridge ladder spot of his own, and delivered his signature uppercut to perfection. Wyatt was kept largely in the periphery, but delivered all of his patented spots (including Sister Abigail and, in an inspired moment of unintentional hilarity, the spider walk while guys had their hands on the belts above him). And Reigns got a chance to flex his muscles with the big boys, unleashing a spear that decimated Kane and landing his Superman punch on everyone but the Spanish announce team. Even a sequence that reminded me of the ending of It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (substitute the ladder for the fire escape, I'll wait) wasn't enough to keep anyone off the edge of their seats.
While I could use this space to lambast the choice of John Cena to come down with the belts, I won't. It was a logical choice for Brock Lesnar's SummerSlam opponent even before the poster leak and it's a known quantity that can deliver in big matches. Rushing Reigns for desperation sake does not make sense to me, particularly with as green as he still is. Besides, to do so would be a disservice to the work of Randy Orton in this match. Orton, busted open legitimately and accidentally by a ladder, spared no expense giving and receiving major damage throughout the match and found himself wearing a crimson mask in this PC era. He also told a great story, leaning on Kane figuratively and literally while navigating his way through the insane spotfest that this match has become. By the time JC had pulled the belts down and posed for the cameras, the real story was told to the side, as Orton called for a bottle of water and some towels to stop the consistent and heavy bleeding that took 12 stitches to close. I can't claim to be a fan of Orton's last reign, but I was thrilled with his work in this match full of Grade A talent. Star of the night in my book.
Chump Change: Stardust
The breakup of The Brothers Rhodes has been teased seemingly longer than their team has been together, but it took an unexpected turn when Cody assumed the Stardust guise after a failed series of partners bestowed upon his brother, Goldust. The introduction of Stardust was entertaining enough, with a backstage segment that gave Dustin an opportunity to work the comedy angle he's done very well with his character, and the ring work is serviceable: it IS Cody underneath that facepaint, after all. Perhaps I'm getting old and cynical, but the idea of the announcers being unaware of it being Cody is inane at this point. Keeping the brothers together is fine with me: it's been Goldy's best work in ages and given the younger Rhodes a chance to shine that he was not getting in the singles spotlight. But this odd twist is just that: odd, and not in a good way.
For their match with Rybaxel, it was obvious attempts were made to keep Stardust out of the ring and therefore not allow his paint job to chip away to the point where it was his real face underneath. Rybaxel hammered away at Goldust for a lengthy amount of time before Stardust entered the ring, did a quick bit of high-flying, and landed the win for his team. I confess to not knowing where this whole thing is going, but again it seemed more an opportunity for a pre-show tag match than something we should be paying money for during a signature event. The pace and the timing were off, and it was ultimately disappointing. Shattered dreams indeed.
At the end of the day, the ladder matches delivered while the bulk of the rest of the card unfortunately did not. This is admittedly a difficult time for WWE, as they attempt to launch new stars while still putting out quality content with their established roster. That said, a couple of additions and tweaks would have gone a long way here. Parts of it were eminently memorable, but the overall was far from must-see. That money would have been better off in the bank, as it were.
As a postscript, things may be looking up! Chris Jericho returned on Monday. So did AJ Lee. So did The Great Khali. Well, two out of three ain't bad.