The circumstances surrounding this year’s Money in the Bank are unique for two distinct reasons, one concerning the long term outlook of the match, and the other a short term issue. First: what purpose does Money in the Bank serve? And has it overstayed its welcome?
Over the years, the importance placed on who walks away from the ladder match as the winner has dwindled. Since Dean Ambrose successfully cashed in against Seth Rollins—who had just defeated Roman Reigns mere minutes earlier for the WWE Championship in 2016—Baron Corbin and Braun Strowman spent back-to-back years unsuccessfully cashing in their attempts. The next year saw Brock Lesnar, who wasn’t even in the match, walk out at the end of the bout and just…win. Otis won the briefcase during the fun “Covid race to the top of the building” 2020 match. WWE clearly had no intention of building any sort of momentum or story with his victory, however, and 193 days later he “lost” the briefcase to The Miz in court or something? The Miz’s cash in did mean something, ending Drew McIntyre’s WWE Championship reign that started at the empty PC WrestleMania against Brock.
Then came Big E’s win.
Big E and Riddle shared favorite odds to win the 2021 Money in the Bank match, with Big E coming out on top. Fans were salivating at the stories that could be told with Big E carrying around the briefcase. With his distinct personality, Big E could be the type of babyface that could gloat about holding a contract that gave him a world title match at any time, unlike most good guys. It would feel genuine, and with a connection to the audience, Big E’s cash-in against longtime champion Roman Reigns would be met with thunderous ovation.
That’s not what happened, however. Yes, Big E cashed in to win the world title. Yes, the crowd ate the title change up. But Big E won the WWE title, not the Universal title. He defeated Bobby Lashley, not Roman, despite the fact Big E wasn’t even a member of the Raw roster when he cashed in. Instead of establishing and developing a story involving the growth of Big E, WWE made him tweet before Monday Night Raw that he was going to cash in at the end of the broadcast. While it made Raw must-watch, it was the laziest attempt at a story they could have came up with.
So, as I asked, what’s the point of this match? It’s not about who wins or loses their world title match, at least not necessarily. What matters—and what’s ultimately the point of this match—is story. While same-day cash-ins are fun and necessary at times (because the early cash in itself leads to a story), WWE has to capitalize on this opportunity of making the winner of this year’s edition of Money in the Bank about story. It’s all about story in pro wrestling.
Despite who wins, the focus has to be on the story WWE tells after the victory. If it’s a babyface who wins, make him defend the right to the briefcase, so by the time he’s able to put away fierce competition en route to cashing in, it’ll feel that much more deserved when he finally beats the champion; or, likewise, crushing if he falls short (Because, let’s face it, WWE loves to deny their babyfaces feel-good moments). If it’s a heel, WWE should give him an original take on the bad-guy-gloating trope, making the fans sad when he’s able to hold on to the briefcase despite the best efforts of our heroes.
Now, despite this situation, it is perhaps the short-term issue that is more important and obviously more pressing. After all, someone has to actually win the damn thing. But the elephant in the room stands 6’3”, 265 pounds and he’s holding both world titles. The winner of this ladder match will presumably have to cash in against this man, but who in the hell on this roster feels important enough to actually beat him, even in a gimmick manner such as a cash in?
Roman’s rise to the top has been long and well-documented, but it is absolutely undeniable that he is not simply a star, not one of the stars, but rather the star. The atmosphere changes when he enters the fray and the fact that he’s been able to maintain that for over two years puts him on a pedestal that rises higher than those MITB briefcases ever could hang. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Because, while WWE has done an uncharacteristically patient job of elevating Roman, they’ve done little in the way of building up a suitable challenger to actually beat him. It speaks volumes that fans are sort of just waiting around for The Rock to have a break in his movie-shooting schedule for anyone to take him down. Let that sink in: fans must depend on the biggest star in wrestling history to beat our current world champion.
But The Rock’s not in the Money in the Bank ladder match. Neither is Cody Rhodes, who would have been the clear-cut favorite to win the match and challenge Roman for the WWE title, the accolade that always eluded Cody’s father, and the entire Rhodes family. After defeating Seth Rollins three times, Cody felt like the rightful heir to the throne and the first man to stand on even ground with the champ. But he got hurt, and he’s out for the foreseeable future. Back to the drawing board.
WWE has an awesome responsibility of delivering in the 2022 Money in the Bank. We’re at a crossroads with how they want to present this match and its winner. It feels now how the Royal Rumble felt several years back after multiple lackluster Rumble performances. WWE is all about telling stories, or so they say – so tell us one.
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