For something that Michael Cole repeatedly referred to as “the biggest Money in the Bank pay-per-view in the history of WWE”, it sure was a tedious opening – and a slow middle too. By the end, however, those lackluster earlier performances were distant memories thanks to the two marquee matches delivering on their potential, even if they both unfolded just as one might’ve expected. Those two bouts, the titular ladder match where the winner gets a guaranteed title match at a time and place of their choosing, and the main event singles match between Roman Reigns and back-from-injury Seth Rollins were almost definitely going to be closely connected, and that’s exactly how it turned out in Las Vegas for Money in the Bank 2016.
WWE Tag Team Championship: The New Day v. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson v. Enzo Amore & Big Cass v. and The Vaudevillains
The opening match was a sequence of botches. Enzo and Cass had more than a few fans of their own in the stands, even with the insurmountably popular New Day sharing the ring. AJ Styles’ entourage and The Vaudevillains played the quartet of heel characters in the match, and the latter of those tag teams often felt like an afterthought. The crowd popped when Cass literally threw his partner on more than one occasion, landing effective collisions on the array of opponents in the ring. Like a lot of matches of this size, there were countless miscues. The timing was off on more than a few rehearsed spots and the chemistry was never there no matter the combination of wrestlers in the ring. As should’ve been predictable, New Day retained their titles via clean pinfall, and they look primed to set the WWE record for longest reign as tag team champions around the time July’s PPV, Battleground, takes place. They’ll then have the belts for a full year by the time Summerslam comes around in August. They might as well just take the next seven or eight weeks off.
Baron Corbin v. Dolph Ziggler
Ziggler continues to shamelessly take the entire body of work belonging to Shawn Michaels and apply it to his own career. It feels like a strange crisis of identity, but of course the blame lies with Creative, not Dolph himself, or at least it would appear that way. He takes a lot of heat for this, and his MITB attire didn’t help. His blue and black striped tights looked like they were stolen right out of Michaels’ closet. I like him in the ring though, and he deserves better than a forgettable match with the hateable but still boring Baron Corbin. This one has the Vegas crowd getting the “BOOORING!” chants going, and while I hate that rude and entitled chant, they had a point. Corbin smartly began taunting soon thereafter, to give them someone to boo and to get them to stop with the chanting. He gets heads-up points for that, but the match was still a bore. He eventually dominated Ziggler with his End of Days finisher, putting Ziggs and the audience out of misery all at once.
Charlotte & Dana Brooke v. Natalya & Becky Lynch
Having just come back to the WWE in March after losing interest for over a decade, one of the standout differences, alongside the nucleus of amazing young talent, is how much the women’s division has improved. Real matches and storylines mean the ladies of the brand have come along way from the Stacy Kiebler versus Torrie Wilson bra and panties matches. This one still found a way to be pretty tedious, unfortunately. The ending set up for a new feud between the now certainly dissolved partnership of Lynch and Nattie. After the fire-haired steampunk was thrown into Nattie leaving her vulnerable to Charlotte’s attacks and a 3-count, Natalya took out her frustrations on Lynch post-match, and seemingly turned heel in the process. I wouldn’t be surprised if Charlotte also dumps Brooke as her protégé, since Brooke seems to be very loud about that right now, and Charlotte’s role as heel is to stand on her own and strike down anyone who threatens her. It’s all coming together to make room for Sasha Banks to win the title at Summerslam.
Apollo Crews v. Sheamus
Though the match itself wasn’t exceptional, it was good enough to accomplish its primary task. Crews has all the makings of a superstar in the WWE. He has the athletic ability, the look, even his name – Apollo Crews – it just sounds like a future heavyweight champion, doesn’t it? This match existed to showcase his talents and begin his push to and eventually out of the midcard. Defeating a former heavyweight champion in Sheamus is a smart play by the writers behind the scenes to get Crews’ name on people’s tongues. It’s very early, but he is my current favorite for Royal Rumble winner next year. An average match, sometimes it’s what the bout stands for that is most important, and what this one stands for is the WWE recognizing another elite young talent and helping him reach his potential.
AJ Styles v. John Cena
After an 0-3 start to his WWE PPV career, Styles finally got a boost to the win column, but not in the way he wanted. The fan favorite trope of an unconscious referee led to Gallows and Anderson interfering with Cena and putting him out of commission just seconds after Cena would’ve had the 3-count on Styles if it weren’t for the ref’s narcolepsy. Both wrestlers put on a great match even after a slow build that signaled we’d be in it for the long haul. Styles continues to be one of the most exciting in-ring superstars, while Cena continues to not get enough credit for his abilities, too. It’s easy to hate on jorts, but he’s really quite good when he has the talent with him inside the ropes. Styles is walking a strange line right now where it’s hard to tell if he’s a face or heel. Opposing Cena would seem like a heel thing to do, but we’ll know for sure when he reacts to his help from The Club. If he condemns them again, maybe even breaks things off with them, he’s a face, but if he grazes over the issue again, people will start turning on him. Overall, this was the first great match of the night and sets up intriguing narrative threads moving forward.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Cesaro v. Chris Jericho v. Kevin Owens v. Alberto Del Rio v. Sami Zayn v. Dean Ambrose
Before the match, it was abundantly clear the Ambrose should be seen as the favorite. Logic and promos both indicated he would win, because such a result would give fans several potential storylines with the other two-thirds of the stable formerly known as The Shield who would still be fighting later in the night. After being absent for much of the fight, rising to his feet only to knock off another ladder climber a few times, Ambrose emerged as the sole survivor of an awesome moment that saw all six wrestlers standing atop ladders, reaching for the coveted briefcase. Owens and Zayn continue to steal the show no matter what show it is, but it’s clear WWE wants them to come up together every step of the way. So neither of them were ever going to be likely victors. Cesaro isn’t over in the way that he would need to be either, and Del Rio had won this exact match previously. Jericho, meanwhile, is a joy in the ring as much as he is on the mic. His yelling and taunting adds a lot and has clearly influenced others to do similar things – both Owens and Charlotte do it a lot, too. He remains a borderline part-timer who exists to help push younger talent, however. Whether or not he’s happy with such a role, I’m not sure, but he shines it in regardless. Ambrose’s victory was very predictable, but thankfully the match along the way lived up to its hype, even with one or two botches on what was already destined to be a spotfest, like every ladder match.
United States Championship: Rusev v. Titus O’Neil
The placement of this match makes so little sense that I genuinely believe the WWE just tried pitting it against the waning minutes of the NBA Finals so their viewers would return in time for the main event, and they totally nailed that timing, by the way. I know it’s important to structure your peaks and valleys of a PPV, but this match was Corbin-Ziggler levels of boring and here it was playing penultimate match on the card. Rusev is a great champion, though, and it’s clear he will have the belt at least another two months before a currently unseen foe steps up to truly challenge him at – you guessed it – Summerslam. This match left the fun-to-lame ratio at an alarmingly low figure for the show overall, but the sad truth is that’s just the case with a lot of non-big four PPVs.
WWE Heavyweight Championship: Roman Reigns v. Seth Rollins
The final match, as stated earlier, was intertwined with the ladder match in ways that couldn’t be undone. Ambrose’s victory pretty much guaranteed that he would be cashing in tonight after this title fight, and that’s precisely what happened. Before that, Reigns and Rollins had another thrilling match as they’re both known to do. Reigns takes more negativity than any face champion in the history of WWE, but the truth is, like Cena, he’s actually good in the ring. He’s better than good, he’s great. He has a truly dominant presence, he sells his moves very well. He still sucks on the mic and may always do so, but when the bell rings, I’m reminded why Creative ignored fans’ pleas for months while pushing him to the top. Another end result of them stubbornly sticking to the script is this new three-way feud that was reborn tonight. After Rollins shocked the Vegas crowd with the clean victory over Reigns, Ambrose’s music cut in. The bell rang again, and an exhausted Rollins was, so soon after earning back the title he never lost, already defending it. And defend it properly he did not. A quick Dirty Deeds to the champ meant we had two new heavyweight champs in a matter of three minutes. Now Ambrose is the face of the brand for the first time in his career. He’s the least charismatic of the three former Shield brethren, even when you count Reigns’ absent mic skills. But the obviously forthcoming Summerslam triple threat match should be a worthwhile narrative thread, and a great match if everyone can stay healthy.
In total, Money in the Bank was several dollars short of stellar. The secret is MITB is basically a Royal Rumble redux. The winner of the titular match is thrusted into a main event-type of feud with the champion, and it all plays out two months later, at WrestleMania and Summerslam, respectively. That leaves next month’s Battleground as the filler PPV like Roadblock in February. While Money in the Bank had a few highlights from its top tier talents, it also failed to deliver interesting lead-up matches with the under-card and ultimately will be remembered for nothing except the final moments. Ironic then, that a show titled Money in the Bank felt more like a loan on our time. It should pay off in over the next two months, hopefully plus interest.
*Written by: Mark Delaney (@)