Money in the Bank: The WrestleMania Years

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What is arguably the most hotly anticipated PPV outside of the Big Three (which used to be a Big Five…then a Big Four) is almost upon us. Let’s take a look back at the highs and lows of the great Money in the Bank concept.

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Money in the Bank started as a way to give WrestleMania an annual match for fans to look forward to, even without knowing who was participating. Both in storyline and in reality, the creator of the match was Chris Jericho. The future Hall of Famer wanted to use the match as a way to give talented upper-midcarders/low-maineventers something to do if they were not otherwise occupied with a big WrestleMania storyline.

So basically he made it for himself.

WrestleMania has a rich on-again, off-again tradition of ladder matches, starting with the Shawn Michaels vs Razor Ramon insta-classic at WrestleMania X. It would take six years, six men, and some incredible high risk spots, but ladder matches returned to WrestleMania at the WM2000 and WMX-Seven shows. In those cases it was contested over the tag team championship. Four years later the Money in the Bank tradition began and remained a WrestleMania staple for the next five years. Each MITB win and winner has its own background and story, was used for a different purpose and its cash-in was unique in its own way.

Let’s reminisce.

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EDGE WINS MONEY IN THE BANK 1, AT WRESTLEMANIA 21

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What was it used for?

Edge was the first and like so many trial runs, the rules were kind of made up as they went along. A few of the now-staples were present here; He carried the case around, used it as a weapon, and was introduced as “Mr. Money in the Bank.” A few more common staples of today were lacking back then, too, as Edge rarely did the old “tease a cash-in only to bail at the last second” bit. But of course no one really knew how the “cash-in” would work, until Vince McMahon himself introduced him at the conclusion of the New Years Revolution PPV. When Edge walked down the isle fans were stunned, a far cry from the eruption that shook Levi’s Stadium when Seth Rollins stormed down the ramp to cash-in on Brock Lesnar. Edge’s run solidified the “anytime, anyplace” aspect of the contract, making almost every succeeding MITB holder 100% more interesting.

How was it unique?

Edge was the first and set the precedent for what would be the defacto use of the contract: He was an upper-midcarder who had not yet broken into the main event arena. By cashing in on Cena, and winning his first world title as a result, Edge displayed to the WWE Universe what to expect when someone is carrying around the case. Thanks to the great main event career that he launched as a result of cashing-in, Edge also made every upper-midcarder briefcase holder someone to watch as “the main-eventer of tomorrow.” In that sense the case has taken a little bit of the success of the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring concepts and made it’s own “star-making” event out of it.

Was it successful?

Even though Edge lost the title less than a month after cashing-in, he continued to be a fixture around the top of Raw, worked a killer hardcore match with Mick Foley at WrestleMania 22, and eventually reclaimed the WWE title that summer. From there he eventually found his way to the Smackdown brand, where his battles with Undertaker led to his main-eventing WrestleMania, and looking entirely “belonging” as a result. Without question, Money in the Bank made his career.

ROB VAN DAM WINS MONEY IN THE BANK 2, AT WRESTLEMANIA 22

What was it used for?

E-C-Dub, E-C-Dub, E-C-Dub! The 2005 reunion show, One Night Stand, was a smashing success and Vince thought that there might be money in restoring the ECW brand as a third pillar of their weekly programming. The new show would need a face to build around so Rob Van Dam was selected. He was the obvious pick as he was the most successful guy in WWE that was closely associated with the ECW show in the late 90’s. With Edge’s main event success as the template, WWE recreated the moment, this time with the babyface RVD set to jump to the next level. Once he won the title, ECW on SciFi launched and for a cup of coffee looked like a slick and updated version of the old ECW show (albeit with the expected compromises and tweaks). RVD’s win was the catalyst that made it possible.

How was it unique?

As said, this was the first babyface MITB win, and with it only the second time around, this was still unfamiliar territory. This was the first time a cash-in was pre-announced, as RVD challenged Cena for the title at the second One Night Stand event, using the contract stipulation to ensure that the fight would actually occur under “Extreme Rules.” That’s important, because it was a surprise appearance and spear by Edge (plus a poetic Paul Heyman three-count) that actually won Van Dam the title. RVD’s run set the line of demarcation between face and heels with respect to the cash-in: Heels do it suddenly, faces announce in advance.

Was it successful?

RVD’s run as the face of ECW was short-lived, as was his WWE title reign: He was busted for marijuana soon after winning. At the time he was both the ECW and WWE Champion, but within a few months of winning both, he lost both and never sniffed the main event again. Still, the idea that the MITB was a career maker was 2-for-2; only RVD’s own backstage problems derailed things.

MR. KENNEDY WINS MONEY IN THE BANK 3, AT WRESTLEMANIA 23

What was it used for?

Unlike the first two winners, Mr. Kennedy was new money. He was not an attitude era hold over, a midcarder looking to finally break in at the top. Instead he was the first post-modern WWE superstar of the Money in the Bank winners. Many found his character grating, but at least he had personality. You may not have liked it, but back in these days, it seemed most everyone was a clone of Randy Orton: Tall, tan, abs, bland and wooden. Mr Kennedy was loud, cocky and very secure in his character. It’s no wonder he was in line for a big push, despite rubbing a few of the older guys the wrong way. His win was built on the foundation of Edge and RVD, with the expectation to be that the contract was “over” enough to “make” a guy who didn’t have the goodwill with fans that the first two winners had.

How was it unique?

Immediately upon winning, Kennedy starting counting down the days till his cash-in, which would occur at WrestleMania 24. Promising that he would make his name on the biggest show of the year was a great move and very much in line with his character. Whether or not the company would have gone through with it is impossible to say; it’s likely he would have ended up cashing-in the way Daniel Bryan did, by promising a later date and then surprising a weakened champion. Either way, the promise of cashing in at WrestleMania was very intriguing, and it would be eight years before it finally happened.

Was it successful?

When you look at what this briefcase was used for, it was used to great success; it just wasn’t Kennedy who reaped the rewards. He was injured in early May and was forced to drop the briefcase to Edge (making it the first time the case changed hands in a match). Edge would go on to cash-in on Undertaker on Smackdown, and begin a run of four straight WrestleMania title matches, while having a career-defining feud with The Phenom. Poor Mr. Kennedy: It could have been him.

CM PUNK WINS MONEY IN THE BANK 4, AT WRESTLEMANIA 24

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What was it used for?

Heel, face, heel, face. By this point, Money in the Bank was firmly a tradition. And even though there were a few untested tricks and wrinkles, fans had a pretty good grasp on what to expect. The fun was focused on the excitement of the match, and of course, on who would be the winner each particular year. When CM Punk grabbed the briefcase it seemed to be a signal that the unlikely superstar was getting a real rub from the decision makers in the back. When he cashed-in on Edge (“the ultimate opportunist,” made famous for two devilish cash-ins himself) it looked like he was going to be a made man. Things never really panned out, however, as it seems there really wasn’t a plan for Punk after winning the title. He was booked as a midcarder so the title became a midcard belt.

How was it unique?

His cash-in was the first to happen on Monday Night Raw. A year earlier Edge had cashed-in on Undertaker and the news of it was published on WWE.com as a means of driving viewers to the taped show. Punk’s win was live, however, and was made out to be a huge moment for the straight edge superstar…

Was it successful?

…a week later he was wrestling Snitsky for the title and ended his run with a punt to the head from Randy Orton. He was actually forced to vacate the title due to a kayfabe injury and didn’t even compete in the match when it changed hands. In interviews Punk described his frustrations with his first Money in the Bank run, as he knew Vince and co. never really believed in him, so they didn’t book him the way you would a world champion. Triple H likes to say “the man makes the belt” but when you book the man like a chump, the belt loses its prestige.

CM PUNK WINS MONEY IN THE BANK 5, AT WRESTLEMANIA 25

What was it used for?

Punk became the first official two-time winner in Money in the Bank history (not counting the Edge/Mr. Kennedy situation). It was unknown at first whether his second win would go better than the first, but just the fact that it happened (instead of one of the two expected winners, Shelton Benjamin or MVP) told fans that this time WWE had a plan for the Second City Savior. His eventual title win and reign would set him on the path to be taken seriously as a main event talent in the eyes of McMahon. He was given more leeway and input in his storylines and more opportunities to main event and actually carry the Smackdown brand. Speaking of…

How was it unique?

This was the MITB that was used to make a guy who could carry Smackdown. RVD’s win was designed to launch ECW with a world title holder but that whole experiment was basically dead on arrival. Smackdown wasn’t going anywhere, but it was already the clear number 2 show, and its days as “the better show” were behind it. Punk was to give the show a younger and edgier vibe, and he did. It was also unique in that this was the first cash-in/heel-turn combo. Punk jumped Jeff Hardy at the conclusion of his World Title win and took the belt in circumstances similar to his win a year earlier (a fact he relished in pointing out as the audience–that cheered him against Edge–booed him against Jeff Hardy).

Was it successful?

This was the title win that eventually launched the Straight-Edge-Society, the creepy Jesus-beard look for Punk, and the great feuds with Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio and others. Punk was given the ball this time and ran with it so well he resisted the opportunity to go to Raw, knowing his creativity would be stifled on the A-show (and it was until the pipe bomb). As great as he was when he was finally a WWE main eventer in 2011-2013, the time he ruled the roost on Smackdown was possibly the best work of his career.

JACK SWAGGER WINS MONEY IN THE BANK 6, AT WRESTLEMANIA 26

What was it used for?

Well it was a good run, but nothing lasts forever. Remember when Pixar released Cars, how angry people were, not just that the movie was mediocre, but that Pixar released it: The movie killed their streak of great films. It was the “Jack Swagger: Mr. Money in the Bank” of Pixar movies. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when Jack Swagger was thought to be the next great “amateur-style” superstar, akin to Kurt Angle or Brock Lesnar.

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I know. That’s just what I said.

This MITB was going to launch him to the top the way the WM23 briefcase was going to make Mr. Kennedy a main-eventer.

How was it unique?

Uh…it sucked? It had a little bit of all the stuff that didn’t work from the previous MITB events. You had the surprise cash-in after an attack, only instead of it turning into a big year-long feud, ala Edge vs Undertaker, it went nowhere as Jericho (the cashed-in on champ) and Edge (the guy who attacked him) just went right on feuding away from Swagger. You had the unceremonious reign that Punk had the first go-round, as Jack took on Randy Orton and Big Show (who beat him by DQ) before losing his title to Rey Mysterio. There was the attempt to make a nobody into a somebody the way the Kennedy win was supposed to work. But Kennedy ended up looking better not winning than Swagger did winning. So, yeah..Looking at the previous five MITB wins, I’d say this one is unique in how much it sucked.

Was it successful?

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Money in the Bank made Edge and CM Punk main-eventers. It would have made RVD and Mr. Kennedy too had circumstances not gotten in the way. Swagger’s MITB win was the last of the WrestleMania era, and that same year the event would shift to hosting its own PPV, It’s been that way ever since, but looking at the beginnings of the Money in the Bank concept, it’s clear that—despite ending with a dud—it was a winner from the beginning.

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