Money in the Bank returns to PPV in a fee weeks as it has every year for the past seven. For a dozen years the match has been one of the most consistently entertaining in WWE. Lots of ladder matches happen every year, but what makes this one special are the implications tied in with the winner. This isn’t a “title” match where the champion can easily drop it a month later, making all the hard work that went into winning it moot. No, this is a “contract” match, where the winner can hold onto his prize for up to a year, waiting for his perfect opportunity to cash-in, be granted an on-the-spot world title match, and—assuming his timing was right—walk away with an easy victory.
There’s a reason the MITB cash-ins over the years have been done either by heels or by babyfaces turning heel. There have been seventeen briefcase winners in all, and twelve of them were heels when they cashed-in. There’s something about sneak-attacking a champion that is so inherently villainous it’s hard to pull off for a babyface. Rob Van Dam and John Cena are the only ones to make it work as good guys, and they nobly announced the date of their title match ahead of time.
But the good guy/bad guy dynamic is only one part of the behind the scenes maneuvering that fans are so interested in. The WWE universe watches the annual MITB match with great interest because, with only two exceptions, the person who cashes-in the briefcase has gone on to win a World title. That’s an 88% success rate, far better than the Royal Rumble’s 58%. But the real question is not “Does the MITB match make a champion?” (it clearly does); the real question is “Does the MITB match make main-eventers?”
A champion is just a title-holder. Ask Stan Stasiak how much fame he had in being labeled a “champion.” On the other hand, ask Roddy Piper how much fame and money came with being a “main-eventer” (though never a champion)? So is the MITB match really a predictor of the next great main eventer? Let’s look at three past winners in the match’s history to see whether or not winning the briefcase really “made” their careers…
The Rated-R superstar was not known by that name when he first won the inaugural MITB match in 2005. He was another midcard babyface from the Attitude Era looking to find his place in the post-Monday Night Wars boom. He entered the match a mid-carder and maybe the third most-popular pick to win (behind Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit) and spent the next several months not doing the thing all MITB-winnerss do: teasing a cash-in and floating around the top of the card. Instead, he was mostly treated as a midcard champion who carried around a “title” he never defended. His cash-in was shocking (it being the first, it felt very improvised and “real”), not only because there was no precedent already set but also because people never thought of Edge as a “future main-eventer.” The moment he cashed-in, however, he was a made man.
It didn’t matter that John Cena won the title back a month later and that Edge was left out of the WrestleMania main event soon after. He was officially a main-eventer, and was featured in over half the main-events or WWE title matches (or both) on Raw’s PPVs for the rest of the year. The next year he flipped to Smackdown in order to cash-in another MITB contract on Undertaker, starting a feud that would last the rest of the year and culminate in WrestleMania 24’s main-event. He walked into the next WrestleMania as world champion, fought for the world title the next year, successfully defended the world title the year after that and then retired as champion and guaranteed Hall-of-Famer. Had he never won Money in the Bank, he might have continued a steady career as a midcarder for life and ended his career as a Hall of Fame tag team member, getting inducted alongside Christian. Instead he won the contract, launched himself to the next level, and ended up a headliner at the 2012 Hall of Fame class, getting inducted (by Christian) as one of the best main-eventers ever.
Money in the Bank worked.
Consider the opposite of Edge.
Jack Swagger being a Money in the Bank winner makes about as much sense as Jinder Mahal being WWE Champion, but at least with Mahal you have the obvious “let’s tap into the Indian market and score some WWE Network subs” angle. That makes sense in a “let’s whore out our most honored championship to a jobber in the hopes of making some money” nakedly capitalistic way. With Swagger there was no angle. There was no money to be made. The whole thing felt like it happened because someone lost a bet or, even more likely, someone told Vince it wouldn’t work and he set off to prove them wrong.
Either way, Swagger won the briefcase at WrestleMania 26. His time in the spotlight began, fittingly, with him looking like an absolute goober. Christian climbed the ladder, perhaps about to claim the briefcase, only to have Swagger knock him off. Now, standing alone all he needed to do was grab the case, open the clamp holding it to the wire, and then his music would play and he’d be hailed the next…great…….derp…
He couldn’t grab the case.
It takes ten agonizing and hilarious seconds from the time his fingertips first touch the briefcase to the time we actually hear the bell ring. In the meantime the case swings left and right as he struggles to wrangle it in. Meanwhile everyone else in the match has to just sit, leaning against the barricade below, staring up at the man who vanquished them, like Michael Bluth looking at Ann Veal, wondering why Vince chose “him?” over so many more worthy winners.
Swagger’s time as briefcase-holder was short; less than a month after winning, he cashed-in on Chris Jericho and stole the World Heavyweight Title. Likewise short was his reign; he cashed-in in April and by June he was dropping the belt to Rey Mysterio (the man Vince previously hated to see as world champion) and never sniffed the main-event again. Actually he never sniffed the main-event in the first place: He never topped the bill once in his time as champion, usually wrestling in the middle of the card. No one will remember his time with the case or the title he won from it.
Money in the Bank made him a champion but it couldn’t make him a main-eventer.
Quick question: Is Daniel Bryan a beloved, retired “main-eventer” who is guaranteed to be a Hall of Famer some day?
Okay, but did his winning the Smackdown MITB briefcase in 2011 actually cause that?
Winning MITB and cashing-in on Big Show did not make Daniel Bryan a main-eventer, but the things he did during that run with the World Heavyweight Championship (which, you’ll remember was ended in eighteen seconds by Sheamus, in what was supposed to be his big coronation) ended up being the reason why he became arguably the most purely-beloved superstar during his time on top.
When Bryan first won the title, he did so after promising that he would announce his cash-in ahead of time, like a gentleman. Instead, like a punk, he surprised Big Show after a brutal chairs match with Mark Henry. After winning the title like a cheat, he began celebrating as though he had won a hard-fought contest like a scrapping, never-give-up underdog. It’s natural to be excited about your first WWE world title win but with every successive cheap victory his celebrations would continued and his cries of “Yes! Yes! Yes!” would become more extravagant and obnoxious.
With every win and every “YES!” Bryan drew the ire and the boos of the WWE universe, turning the former personality-deprived dork into an insufferable jerk that fans loathed. Naturally, he was so good at getting people to hate him, that fans quickly turned around and began loving him. But remember that this was all happening throughout 2012; it would not be until the middle of 2013 when Daniel Bryan would finally main-event a WWE PPV (SummerSlam), and even then his push was cut short when the buyrate to that PPV came in under expectations. He never really got a proper main-event push until the following March, in the lead-up to WrestleMania 30. Nevermind the fact that his push after Mania was again cut short, this time due to injury. The fact is by that point he was a made man as a main-eventer.
But it wasn’t Money in the Bank that did it. It was the persistent awesomeness of the seemingly overlooked Bryan that eventually forced the hand of Vince McMahon and let him be the top guy he always could have been. On the other hand, that awesomeness began on the very night he won the cashed-in Money in the Bank. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Bryan could have been given a title shot and won in such a cheap and villanous fashion without a MITB cash-in.
Money in the Bank didn’t make Bryan a main-eventer…but it kinda did.
Is there a conclusion to draw from these three examples? One of them won the case, cashed-in and became an instant top guy. Another won the case, cashed-in and vanished like a fart in the wind. The last one won the case, cashed-in, and had to overcome a lot of bad booking before he could finally be the main-eventer he was destined to be. What’s the commonality in all three, very different, situations?
It’s the booking.
Give a guy who can do it, the means to do it and he will do it. Simple as that. Is Money in the Bank really a predictor of the next great main-eventer? Not really…unless Vince wants it to be.
Then it is.