Friday, June 12, 2015

The TWB Roundtable: Money in the Bank

Our roundtable discussion looked a little something like this, maybe a little more civil. Only a little though
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Money in the Bank is on Sunday, and because it's one of the biggest events on the WWE calendar, I lit the beacons of Gondor and called in the staff for a roundtable discussion on the event, the match type, and other pertinent things. On today's discussion will be Lacy, Okori, Erica, Jim, Scott, and Baba T. Please enjoy the inaugural Wrestling Blog Roundtable.

TH: Hey guys, Money in the Bank is on Sunday. My how time flies; it seems only yesterday that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were fighting atop the ladder for the briefcase. Now they're fighting for the title. My how the kids grow up. But anyway, this year promises a whole new crop of guys fighting for the golden ticket. It's amazing to believe how recent an invention the briefcase is and yet how ingrained it's gotten in WWE's narrative structure. I have to wonder though, has it become WWE's signature star-building mechanism, and if so, is it a good thing?

Lacy: I do think it's a good thing, but I hesitate to call it the signature star-building mechanism. I think it CAN be, and that when done right it provides an instant story with suspense and momentum, a quick and easy way to get someone into the spotlight, buuuuuut the key there is "when done right." Obviously Seth Rollins is an excellent example of Money in the Bank paying off: his break with the Shield, his battle for the briefcase, his flaunting of it as part of his Authority swag, and his breathtaking cash-in at WrestleMania were all great. However, one need only look at the Money in the Bank winner who came before him - my beloved Damien Sandow - to see just how far in the other direction one can fall after winning the briefcase.

Of whom else can we say that a Money in the Bank win truly helped build a star? I would say Edge, CM Punk, and the Miz for sure, though Miz's star hasn't been as ascendant lately. And while Daniel Bryan didn't go straight from his win and cash-in to the heights he would eventually scale, I would say that it certainly started his ascent in the general public eye. But others? Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler ended up right back where they started, neither Randy Orton nor John Cena really needed their wins, and I felt that Rob van Dam's and Kane's wins were more "here's a little something for your years of service" than anything else.

I'm the on the fence about Alberto del Rio, though. In that case I definitely think WWE intended for it to be a star-building thing, but it didn't pay off the way they hoped (though, for the record, I absolutely loved del Rio).

So... I guess my bottom line would be that using Money in the Bank to build a star is great when intent and follow-through are present.

Okori: I also wonder if we're ever going to get to a place where the WWE really wants to make a strong anything again. Rollins is sort of a chickenshit heel. The sad part about this being the "star-making" vehicle for WWE is that everyone fell right into the character archetypes WWE builds for itself. Rollins is the chickenshit heel who wins because of "the numbers game", Reigns is the powerful handsome ascendant franchise guy, and Ambrose is, well,  a guy getting one shot before being sent into the midcard. I am not enthused about WWE's booking at the top of the card, or anywhere for that matter.

Scott: In an age of NXT, it's impossible to saw MITB is the signature star-building mechanism. There's a chance we never see Kevin Owens in a MITB match, and I'm perfectly fine with that. In fact, given the regular wrestling injuries hampering the rise of Sami Zayn and Hideo Itami, part of me cringes whenever people in whom I'm invested get added to the ladder match. As if we couldn't all see the writing on the wall in regards to Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 31.

We've got 15 Money In The Bank matches (and aftermaths) to look upon going back to 2005. What impresses me is WWE's ability to be continually creative. John Cena announcing his cash-in on RAW 1000 was not unique, but it felt a lot different from what RVD did back in 2006. It's been so long since Kane cashed in the night he won, that would seem a novelty to some fans — although it's been teased (to great effect) in other years.

Rollins cashing in during the main event at WrestleMania was crazy then and somehow even crazier now in retrospect, perhaps because of how well it seems to have worked as a narrative device (and I don't think we're done with that, by the way — intertwining MITB with the continued Shield story arc might be a masterstroke).

There are a few stones left unturned, too. My dream is for the MITB winner to also win the Royal Rumble, thus heading into WrestleMania with an ace up the sleeve. I'm not sure when the right scenario will arise for that to be an option, but it remains in the chamber.

Ultimately the times I least enjoy a MITB match are when the winner is telegraphed far in advance (see Cena, John — 2012). Of course, this is a problem with any WWE match, but it somehow seems more egregious in multi-man formats. It's really hard to get into an "anything can happen" vibe when there are such obvious indications of the intended outcome.

That's one of the reasons I've been unexcited for this year's iteration. The other is something of a corollary — the lack of any rhyme or reason for why the seven contestants are in the match. Maybe there were plans for that type of storytelling that ended up erased when Elimination Chamber popped back into our lives, but maybe not. Regardless, if I don't understand why you're in the match or believe there's any chance you'll win, why should I care to watch what happens? (Looking at you, Kofi Kingston.)

Baba T: As a star making vehicle, except for Rollins I can't remember a really good win followed by a great cash in. Edge was eventually reduced to "opportunistic superstar", Cena and Orton didn't need the wins, Kane is boring, Daniel Bryan got over due to reasons unrelated to the briefcase, Punk cashed in to win the WHC which was the IC championship in those days of 2009, Dolph Ziggler burned out after the cash in - Sandow has already been mentioned so whatever I guess. Plus what with the huge gap in winning the MITB and acutally cashing in - we tend to forget the hardships suffered by said superstars to get the briefcase and it all gets reduced to "OPPORTUNISTIC!! COWARDLY!!".

I would like the WWE to do the following. First, make it tough to get in the MITB match in the first place. This year's iteration again has six random people thrown in with the obligatory Babyface v. Authority storyline and the winner telegraphed in advance (Reigns). Why do we care about any of these superstars getting an MITB match?!! Two, book an interesting match and not merely a spot fest with internal consistency and only a reasonable amount of lying around. Three, have a hard hitting match without the need for the obligatory "Kofi does something crazy yo!!" spot. I know why Neville and Kofi are in there - to get their spots in. Four, do not have anybody in the match you can't see as being able to headline a "B" pay-per-view with a title shot. Lastly, I do not ask that every MITB winner get a successful cash in but let the follow through be interesting.

Erica: I find it so hard to trust WWE with the follow-through, guys. Sandow was a prime example, like you said. If whoever was in charge didn't think he was ready or didn't have plans in place after he won, why give him the briefcase at all? Though someone had to lose on a cash in eventually, right? It just sucks that it was Sandow.

That being said, I think having Money in the Bank is a good thing when utilized properly. I don't want to see a match with a bunch of established guys who have had multiple title reigns. It just doesn't make sense, and holds no interest for me. The match should be made up of undercard guys who are on the verge of blowing up big, but need that last little push to get there. But I think Okori hits it on the head too. WWE's booking leaves a lot to be desired, and like I said above, I just don't trust WWE to follow up on a briefcase win with a story that makes sense.

Also? A women's Money in the Bank match should be a thing. It could be the biggest clusterfuck in the history of wrestling, but I want to see Paige and Nikki Bella wailing on some folks with ladders.

Lacy: I don't have time to add anything substantial right now, but just wanted to say HELL YES to a women's Money in the Bank match.

TH: Going back to what Okori said, these are all standard archetypes. Whether or not WWE is writing them effectively doesn't change the fact that in the hands of a good booker/writer, they might be super-effective characters. But I don't want to veer into a discussion about WWE writing because then I might pull my hair out, but then again, it is germane to the point Lacy brought up. WWE hasn't followed through, which is a shame since the actual matches themselves are spectacles. But is the nature of the briefcase what holds the booking back?

Okori: Yes, because now every title match has a cash-in hanging over the thing like the sword of Damocles. You can't really build a compelling anything when everyone is just waiting for the cash-in to happen.

Erica: I think that you can build a compelling story around the briefcase, but you need to subvert expectation every now and again.

Jim: Erica hits the nail on the head when she said "I find it so hard to trust WWE with the follow-through." This MITB match is thick with potential for great stories. What if Kane wins and The Authority goes after Seth Rollins? Neville winning would really stir things up. What if (and this is my favorite...) Kofi wins, Big E and Woods retain the championship and New Day becomes the most dominant stable in the company?

Those are fun ideas. They'd all disrupt the narrative that's in place now. They'd all reinforce the idea that "anything can happen." But they probably aren't going to happen.

Having a bunch of people fight for the same thing is a basic element of storytelling. But it's only the beginning. And, like Erica, I don't trust WWE to take the story too far afield.

Okori: See, the Neville thing and the Kofi thing is interesting. But I feel like anything to do with Kane is not something I need. Kane needs to be getting the next generation over, not in top-of-the-card stuff.

Jim: I admit, I have a soft spot for that old, broken down, played out demon. And using him as a vehicle to create an adversarial relation ship between Rollins and The Authority may be fun.

But really...Kofi. And based on this performance, the New Day as the big bad would be hysterical.

TH: Honestly, Kane should be stumping for Ron Paul or whatever Libertarian Party candidate is out there. I say this even as someone who has loved the fire (pun not intended but totally intended) he's brought on interviews, but if I have to see one more match featuring him or Big Show vs. Roman Reigns, I'm going to light myself on fire. Why not have director of operations Cesaro at this point? But I digress.

Kane has actually had a decent Money in the Bank moment when he won and then immediately cashed in on Rey Mysterio to begin his last, really good run in WWE. It's not my favorite moment from the match's history; that would be Daniel Bryan getting the blue briefcase at The Greatest Pay-Per-View WWE Has Ever Produced™. What are all y'all's favorite moments from the match type?

Erica: And now all I want out of life is director of operations Cesaro. Isn't Tyson Kidd injured? How is Cesaro not in this match?

The Greatest Pay-Per-View WWE Has Ever Produced™ was my first ever live WWE event, so all other moments are colored by that one, but Damien Sandow engaging in betrayment against Cody Rhodes was great. It led nowhere, but in the moment, it was awesome. That whole match from the Smackdown match in 2013 was quite entertaining.

Lacy: Maryse climbing the ladder in 2010 is still one of my fondest memories and I can't believe I forgot it before. I was pulling SO HARD for her. Maybe this time around Lana will come out with Ziggler and end up nabbing the briefcase for herself. I can dream...

Okori: The first one set a standard that everything has to live up to.

Baba T: Talking about the actual match itself, I don't really remember any great moments coming from the MITB match in recent years. The whole match is usually booked as a car-crash with 5 superstars powdering out and 2 people pulling stunts to be replaced by two other stars. It should be booked with a proper buildup which makes us care about the characters during the match itself irrespective of how weak their booking has been prior to the event. See the first ever MITB match. I agree with Okori - the first MITB at WM 21 was a masterpiece when compared to the MITB matches of recent years.

Lacy: Fully agree on the disintegration of Team Rhodes Scholars, which broke my heart, but was an amazing moment. It was also an instance of where the match could have been used to build more than one star - Sandow and Rhodes both came out of it with a ton of momentum - yet, like Erica said, went absolutely nowhere.

I love it whenever ridiculous things are done with ladders. Like, the stunt is clearly not going to actually help you get the briefcase, but it looks so damn cool. Kofi Kingston using broken ladder bits as stilts comes to mind (THEY AREN'T TALL ENOUGH, KOFI, WHAT ARE YOU DOING). See also: Shelton Benjamin.

I also enjoy when you can see that the ladders are being arranged into some sort of structure and the anticipation of when it's all going to come crashing down. When I was a kid I would build (or coerce my Dad into building) giant towers out of my Duplo blocks just so I could knock them down while laughing maniacally. These matches take me back to those halcyon days.

TH: Another thing about this year's match is the rumor that Brock Lesnar is going to show up, take the briefcase, and claim victory even though he's not officially in the match. How do you all feel about that development should it happen?

Erica: As much as I enjoy Brock Lesnar tornadoing in and destroying all who dare step in his path, I would hate this. He's due a rematch anyway, isn't he? It just wouldn't work for me.

Scott: I'm always in favor of new wrinkles — but it sure would be weird if Lesnar had a case he didn't deserve while Ambrose holds a belt he didn't win.

Lacy: Okay, here's my big confession: I absolutely cannot stand Brock Lesnar and every time I hear rumours of his return I just groan and groan and groan. Here comes the pain, indeed. I can't even think objectively about what it would mean for him to abscond with the briefcase; I would just hate it, full stop.

TH: That is a shock, but hey, I kinda hate Seth Rollins, at least right now. Everyone has their "guy" they don't like. But hey, he won the briefcase last year, and this is all about the briefcase. Who's winning it this year and a quick why before we wrap this up?

Scott: Reigns, because The Shield is the (non-Cena) story of the summer so far.

Erica: I gotta go Reigns, just because I need that sweet sweet Shield three-way match at some point in the near future.

Lacy: I'd like to make an out-of-left field prediction, but I can't see it being anyone but Reigns. Shield stuff writes itself, and it's the best possible option. Just PLEASE GOD can we let it play out without any more of the endless Kane/Rollins nonsense?

Okori: Here's the thing about Brock. It would be overkill. Also Reigns is the winner clearly.

Baba T: Barring Lesnar coming in, Reigns wins. Now I am hoping that Lesnar does come in because otherwise, the match would be boring and predictable - this is what happens WWE when you don't have any real plans in place.

Jim: Lesnar showing up and disrupting/destroying everybody would be a great way to reintroduce him into the narrative and insert him into the hunt for the title.

Throw in a couple of Heyman promos where he explains how Brock is the only one worthy of a title shot and it creates tension between Lesnar and the authority and Lesnar and the other guys in the match.

TH: Only one of y'all are hitching your carts with someone other than Reigns? I'm still going with either Lesnar or The New Day winning, just like I wrote yesterday. But either way, this Sunday should be a right fun event, and if not, you can always switch over to HBO for the Game of Thrones finale, I suppose. That was a great roundtable discussion guys. Enjoy the show!