With the upcoming Money In The Bank Pay Per View, it’s time to take a look back on the past seven years of the gimmick match that has had more impact on the modern WWE than any other creation since the Royal Rumble. The ramifications of each MITB can be felt through the year but not always in a good way. Stick with me as we look back at how MITB has altered the landscape in WWE.
April 3rd 2005. Wrestlemania 21. This is the first ever Money In The Bank match and it was a doozy. Chris Benoit, Edge, Kane, Shelton Benjamin, Christian and the match’s kayfabe architect Chris Jericho fought for over 15 minutes in an effort to climb one of the ladders and unhook the briefcase that led to a World Title shot at a time of their choosing. Those of you familiar with your modern WWE history will know that Edge was the one that scaled the heights and brought home the infamous case. Little did any of us know at the time that we had witnessed a match that I would argue has changed the shape of the upper midcard in WWE and altered forever how wrestlers break through the glass ceiling into the main event.
This article is not a recap of the ten MITB matches that have taken place since that date although we will touch on all of them. Instead this column will highlight a number of key areas that have been altered, enhanced or destroyed by the existence of this match. Sure, it’s an almost guaranteed fun encounter but do the cons outweigh the pros? Would it be better if this match was mothballed at least for a few years? I will let you decide your own answer to that.
Mo’ Money – The positive aspects of MITB
It cannot be denied that the match itself has given us its share of great moments. The ones that spring to mind first are Shelton Benjamin’s sprint up the ladder in 2005 and Jeff Hardy’s crazy antics in 2007 when he snapped a ladder (And Edge) in half! But the real beauty of this match is that the moments that happen as a result of the stipulation are even more memorable and exciting than the match itself. Who can forget CM Punk cashing in his first MITB case on Raw against Edge on June 30th 2008? What about RVD using his opportunity to bring John Cena into his backyard, ECW One Night Stand 2006 and beat him for the belt in front of thousands of rabid Extreme fans who were likely one Cena three count away from burning the place to the ground. And of course the moment when Edge first showed us what a MITB cash in looked like. But more on that one later.
Mo’ Mania, Mo’ PPV
For six years, the MITB was a staple of Wrestlemania and was always one of the most highly anticipated matches on the card. It was a great booking mechanism for WWE as it allowed them to gather a bunch of midcarders and higher and fling them into one match, safe in the knowledge that the gimmick itself was a selling point that you could add to these wrestlers and create a marquee match that they simply wouldn’t have been able to sell as well if the workers involved were thrown in to regular matches. In essence, MITB plus the Wrestlemania stage was like a shot of stardust to the WWE midcard and created Mania highlights that may not have been possible otherwise.
In 2010, the success of the match saw it spun off into it’s own Summer Pay Per View where we got two of the matches on each event (One for Raw, one for Smackdown) Say what you want about gimmick PPVs (And I’ve said plenty) but for me, the one that does work is MITB. Similar to the Royal Rumble, it has set stakes and a set format that allows the brand of the gimmick to feel bigger than the match itself, rather than simply shoehorning a selection of cage matches into a regular PPV. This branding, coupled with the traditional stipulations of the match allow it to sit alone as a new gimmick PPV that actually works. If handled right, it could become as much of a WWE tradition as the Rumble. Now if only they would restrict it to one match per event….
As mentioned in the intro to this piece, Edge was the first winner of the MITB back in 2005. Famously he waited nine months to cash in, taking advantage of John Cena after a gruelling Elimination Chamber match and leaving with the not only the belt, but also a brand new persona.
Between his heel turn at Taboo Tuesday 2005 and his title win, the booking of Edge was almost flawless. From his clashes with Chris Benoit and Shawn Michaels to pairing with Lita and feud with Matt Hardy, the rise from stale babyface to sly main event heel was impressive and a huge credit to WWE creative. I would argue that what put him over the edge (excuse the pun) was his MITB cash in. It was timed perfectly. The briefcase had been underplayed for weeks leading into the event. Even when he deliberately got himself disqualified in his Intercontinental Title match with Ric Flair at New Years Revolution, most of us didn’t call what was going to happen later in the night. When he came out and hit Cena with those two spears it was both shocking and incredibly logical from a booking standpoint. Really, perfect storytelling. Not a twist for the sake of twists sake (Russo), instead it was a well thought out curveball that magnified the interest on Edge hugely. And it worked too. Ratings immediately jumped for Raw and Edge never looked back. He parlayed his Ultimate Opportunist angle into a whole character and repeated the cash in trick the following year when he defeated the injured Mr Kennedy for the briefcase and promptly cashed in on The Undertaker on the May 11th 2007 Smackdown after ‘Taker had been badly beaten down by Mark Henry.
Edges flirtation with MITB shot him to the top and he was able to play off that success and push for the next 6 years. Would he have seen that level of success without MITB? I’m thinking not.
What other match in WWE history has allowed for such drama to be drawn out for basically as long as they want it? As long as someone on Raw or Smackdown is clutching that briefcase then neither of the champions is safe. I for one love this aspect of MITB. It keeps you on the edge of your seat whenever a champ might be vulnerable. And credit to WWE in continually surprising us with the cash ins. By now we should be used to these and see them coming on a regular basis. We don’t. sure, there are some exceptions. I think it was easy to spot where CM Punk’s second cash in was coming, at the expense of Jeff Hardy at Extreme Rules 2009 but apart from that, they have been well done.
In terms of this sense of danger being present through a champion’s reign, the best example is surely The Miz who won the Raw title shot at the first MITB PPV in 2010. The sneaky heel psychologically terrorised both Sheamus and Randy Orton when they had the strap by constantly threatening to cash in on a weekly basis. It really added an extra dimension to two fairly dull title reigns. And when he finally cashed in on Orton, he was genuinely hated by the crowd. Especially the famous Miz Girl of course.
Mo’ ruined title builds
There was a time when winning your first world title really meant something. It was usually the product of a lengthy build from the midcard up, overcoming challenges, maybe winning the Intercontinental title while earning the love or building the hatred of the crowds. That was how it was done and it worked like a charm for WWE legends like Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels etc.
But not any longer.
No, the MITB win offers a shortcut to all that. Like a wrestling game of snakes and ladders. You get lucky and climb that ladder and voila, from being at square one, now you’re right near the top. Good case in point: Jack Swagger. The guy was a good midcard heel with a bright future before he won MITB. Suddenly, within days he was a World Title holder and it couldn’t have looked less phony. He had skipped too many squares. The fans didn’t invest in him because they hadn’t had the time and the reason to do so. With MITB winners, WWE has fallen into the trap that the belt maketh the man. Wrong. It solidifies him sure but the hard work has to be put in before that title is won. Not with MITB though. From midcard to world champion with one lucky ladder climb. But inevitably, as with Swagger, once you lose that belt then you’re just a slippery snake ride down to where you came from, maybe lower. Once you don’t have the belt you have nothing and a once budding career can be reduced to two years of jobbing to Santino and the like.
MITB title wins just prove that shortcuts don’t work. There is no replacement for proper build and this attitude to the contrary means we are left with a mid card that feels like a merry go round with everyone just going round and round. No purpose, no drive. MITB isn’t the cause of this but its usage is often a symptom.
Mo’ midcard exposure? Um, no.
What have the following matches got in common?
- Randy Savage Vs. Ricky Steamboat
- Bret Hart Vs Roddy Piper
- Razor Ramon Vs Shawn Michaels
If your answer is that they are all classic matches for the Intercontinental title at Wrestlemania then you win. The midcard title match was always a staple of Mania. OK, they couldn’t be as good as the aforementioned trio every year but they usually played a part in spotlighting the midcard guys on their way up on the grandest stage of them all. The IC belt was always the 'wrestling' fans wrestling title and it was always a pleasure to see the (usually) better workers go at it for this belt.
Not any longer. Because MITB swallows 6-8 of the top midcarders there is simply nobody of substance left to contend for the IC or US title belts most years. Because of this, the belt becomes simply an afterthought or not used at all. It’s obviously great that more guys get their Mania pay day but it has left a dent in Wrestlemania to me. Will they go back to how things were before now the MITB is no longer at ‘Mania? I think so and this year's Cody Rhodes Vs. Big Show bout is evidence to support that. I hope I’m right.
So what are your thoughts? Unquestionably, WWE have brought us a great concept and great match. But that match and the subsequent moments come at a high price. Basically the demolition of the midcard and hotshotting of the all important build to a first title win. Is that a price we should deem fair for moments like Daniel Bryan rising to the very top and Alberto Del Rio finally reaching his destiny?
Are WWE leaving Money on the table with this concept or are they cashing in big time?