Wow. The response to Money in the Bank so far has been overwhelmingly positive, when's the last time that happened for a WWE PPV? I'm not even seeing much of the usual nitpicking from the most jaded of fans. What is happening?! Surely no show could be THAT good, right? Let's take a look.
Not surprisingly the Smackdown Money in the Bank kicked things off, these matches are always a great way to get the crowd on their feet and the raucous Chicago crowd was definitely ready to make some noise. Considering the level of talent in the ring (and Heath Slater), it's no surprise they delivered big for a fantastic opening contest. Ah I kid Pippy, you gotta give him credit for that nasty spill to the outside when Sheamus and Barrett tried to use a ladder like a pike and it didn't work out so well. Speaking of nasty spills, thanks for playing, Sin Cara, even dressing like the white Power Ranger couldn't stop the dreaded Sheamuszord... fella.
If I had to complain about anything, I'd say the match had a few lull periods, but the guys were getting thrown around like rag dolls, so I think we should cut them some slack there. Surprisingly long for a Money in the Bank match, they usually don't go longer than 15 minutes, but I think this one went almost 25? I suppose that was all to build up the anticipation for Daniel freakin' Bryan shocking the world and grabbing the briefcase! WHAT?! In my preview, I said the match was pretty much wide open (except Slater, naturally), but I did not expect this. Not at all. My personal pick was Sheamus winning and getting rebuilt as a major threat on Smackdown. Sure, he didn't really need it, he can be rebuilt without it, but it's not like WWE's opposed to playing things safe. I also saw Wade Barrett winning and finally establishing himself as a dangerous lone wolf, but he was almost completely ineffectual in this one. Cody Rhodes could've won and immediately hopped into a main event feud with Randy Orton, Sin Cara could've been established as Smackdown's next big good guy (since there's what, one?) but nope.
Daniel Bryan. The same Daniel Bryan who was unemployed this time last year, by the way. Daniel Bryan is guaranteed a World Title shot sometime within the next year and considering its success rate, he's almost guaranteed a title reign. Now I'm not saying this to be cynical, but I could see Bryan being the first guy to cash-in and lose. Not because WWE's going to "bury" him the internet would cry, but just because it has to happen sooner or later, right? And I think Bryan's integrity will be his downfall with the briefcase and that'll make for a great story; more on that later though. Regardless of the future, this is HUGE for Bryan and the red-hot Chicago crowd went absolutely ballistic when he grabbed that briefcase. It was an awesome moment and definitely set the tone for the night. Unbelievable.
Predictions: 0 for 1
Brie Bella vs. Kelly Kelly was what it was. I'm not sure why Eve was out there with Kelly when she wound up being a complete non-factor, but whatever. No, you weren't getting Flair/Steamboat here, but you gotta grade on a curve with the current crop of WWE Divas. WWE gives them no time to work on TV and then throws them out there for five minute matches on PPV... that's four minutes and thirty seconds longer than what they're used to! I like Kelly though and I think the Bellas have really stepped it up since LayCool split, so the match was inoffensive to me. Kelly retained, which makes sense, and even though the match didn't bug me, let's not act like the Divas division isn't just treading water until Kharma returns.
Predictions: 1 for 2
Mark Henry vs. The Big Show was a bit of a shocker. I figured Mark Henry would win, he had to win, but I didn't expect him to completely demolish the World's Largest Athlete. Mark Henry has had his ups and downs throughout his 15-year WWE career, but I'm confident the guy has finally found his niche. It's strange, he's not doing anything too different than any of the other times he's been a bad guy, but there's just something different about the way he's doing it. His moves look more painful, his mannerisms are more intimidating, it definitely seems like a fire has been lit. (Somebody's gonna get they fire lit!)
The post-match attack with Henry "Pillmanizing" Big Show's leg with a Vader Splash on a steel chair was even better than the match itself. (Somebody's gonna get a shin splint!) Give credit to the Big Show on that one, the look on his face when Henry dropped down on him, a mix of horror and surprise, was priceless. Big Show's wails, along with his "WHY WOULD YOU DO SOMETHING LIKE THAT?!" look in his eyes was exactly what Mark Henry needed to be firmly established as someone who is remorseless and very, very dangerous.
Predictions: 2 for 3
It seems like everyone I talked to preferred Smackdown's offering, but I thought Raw's Money in the Bank was the best in the match's six-year history. Loved Smackdown's match, even preferred its ending, but Raw's match was just awesome. It's really tough to keep these matches unique after so many years of TLC and the like, but I thought these eight guys came up with something really fresh, fun and brutally beautiful. Everyone starting off with ladders? Sweet. Everyone going flying outside? Evan Bourne's Shooting Star Press off the ladder in the aisle? Gorgeous! The Miz looking like he broke his leg? Terrifying.
Everything flowed so well and most importantly, I feel like they really told a story in this one, which is so difficult in these matches. Perhaps more accurately, they told several little stories: The Miz had an arc, Del Rio and Mysterio rekindled their rivalry, and the crowd was white hot for the blossoming Alex Riley. It all came together really well and the finale was absolutely perfect. I know some people are going to whine about "botching," but those people are silly and I thought the whole crazy set-up crashing down after Mysterio's mask was ripped off was a great visual. Nasty cut for Del Rio though, but he sold it like a pro and throwing Mysterio's mask into the crowd while looking so pissed off, capped it all off perfectly. You could see the frustration in his face and even if the collapse wasn't intentional, it tied into his story so well because he wasn't even supposed to be in this match, but goddammit, he'll win it anyway and prove to all of you that the WWE Championship really is his destiny. When I can feel that kind of emotion while sitting on my couch, you know you're doing something right. Again, both MITB matches were great, but something about this one really grabbed me.
Predictions: 3 for 4
Christian vs. Randy Orton for the World Championship was everything an Orton hater like myself needed. After years of watching this guy get presented as the golden boy, all the Legacy bullshit, never losing a match, always acting like an asshole and certainly never looking vulnerable, Captain Charisma showed that turnabout is fair play. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out how Christian was the bad guy in this situation, he got forced into the situation by that gaggle of inexplicable Orton fans, caught a bad break in the rematch, got screwed by bad officiating in the next match, yet he wasn't entitled to one more shot? Please. And due to bad officiating all over the place lately, he had a little clause put in his contract that said if he got screwed or if Orton tried to weasel out of the match with a DQ, Christian would win the title. Seems fair to me and oh how glorious it was when Christian spit in Orton's face, like Orton has spit in our collective face for nine years, and caused the champ to kick him in the crotch. Way to be a man there, Randy!
Yeah, it's a BS way to win a title and I'm sure the purists are upset about it, but who cares? Christian is now a two-time World Champion and Randy Orton looks like a petulant child, not unlike his recent radio escapades. I'd call that a win-win and as a result, the Smackdown Blackout is OVER! Kick-Out!! will resume the weekly Smackdown review beginning this Friday with the coronation of our conquering hero, Captain Charisma! Hopefully he'll spit in Randal's face again... someone get me a gif of that!
In all seriousness, the match was another rock solid outing from these two but I kinda groan at the idea of these two fighting again, but after Orton's hissy fit, it looks like we'll be going for fifth straight match. After those actions though, Christian should file a restraining order and keep Orton away from the belt and give a much more deserving contender a shot. Notice how Daniel Bryan didn't run down to the ring and cash-in his MITB contract even though Christian had received two RKOs on the announce table? That's because he's a man of honor and integrity, not an unhinged lunatic lacking a moral compass, like ol' Randal. Christian vs. Daniel Bryan, SummerSlam... you know you want it, let's make it happen!
Predictions: 4 for 5
Main Event time! CM Punk vs. John Cena, WWE Title on the line and the match we all paid to see. If you ever doubted that the audience is the "third man" in a wrestling match, watch this match and see why you're wrong. From a technical, move-by-move analysis, this was neither John Cena or CM Punk's best match, but with the story, the hype, the importance, and most of all, the audience, this match became the best thing in a WWE ring since Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker.
This is why wrestling should not be considered a "sport," because it's so much more than that. These guys put on a great athletic contest, I'm not going to deny that, but the electricity surrounding the match is what put it into the upper echelon of what WWE can do. It's why Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant is still my pick for the greatest WrestleMania main event of all-time, energy like that can't be forced. Punk and Cena are masters of this and while they may go about it differently in the ring and on the mic, they both get explosive results. And it's the kind of thing you can only get in wrestling, you wouldn't see Kevin Spacey and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a mega blockbuster movie that satisfies both action fans and purist film fans, but WWE pulled it off here.
WWE gave us just about everything we expected in this match and turned it on its head. Many people expected a rehash of the Montreal Screwjob, which is beyond cliché at this point, but they teased it, only for Cena to clobber Johnny Ace (much to the delight of some folks in the unemployment line, I'm sure). They teased Del Rio cashing in MITB, as many people expected, but Punk kicked his head into the fourth row and ran off with the WWE Title. I was even starting to think we'd just see a clean Cena win after 47 Attitude Adjustments and half a dozen STFs, but Punk managed to escape them all and defeat Cena, fair and square, with one - ONE - Go To Sleep. Okay, one and a half, whatever.
This match ended exactly how I wanted it to end, but I never thought WWE would go with it. Punk continues to have John Cena's number, he managed to outsmart the attempted Money in the Bank cash-in and he left Chicago with the WWE Championship. Which he's keeping in his fridge, BTW. Did you know the WWE Title stays fresher 40% longer in CM Punk's fridge as opposed to around John Cena's waist?
The match itself, while great and I'm honestly not trying to sell it short, is almost (almost) irrelevant, because WWE has a big story on their hands now. A big story that has been perfectly executed from the start and that's not something we see very often. WWE's really good at starting something, but usually people have something to complain about on the next show. Not with this, Punk, Cena and Vince have kept this story unique and interesting with each passing week, in fact, it keeps getting better. This isn't something we're watching with cautious optimism of "ah... well, let's see where it goes," this is something genuinely engaging and I don't need to think about "where it goes," I can just sit back and enjoy it. That is a game-changer from the last few years, that is the direction I want WWE to go.
Predictions: 5 for 6
Unless you're the type that worries about the Divas matches, this card was perfect from top to bottom. Every match had a purpose, every result was satisfying and the main event more than delivered on the ridiculous amount of hype it had received. I'm really glad I voted with my wallet on this one because it was easily the best PPV of 2011 and it might wind up being one of the most talked about for years to come. I'm quite hopeful this is the PPV we'll look back on in a few years and say "that... that was the PPV that made wrestling fun again."