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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Money in the Bank 2015.
Worst: King Nothing
The plight of King Barrett has become so embarrassing it’s either on purpose, or we’re living in an alternate, fictional world where Ricky Gervais books WWE.
The running joke — for years now, Jesus — has been that Wade Barrett can’t win a match. If he wins the Intercontinental Championship (which happens a lot), he’s going to lose a constant stream of non-title matches to build up pay-per-view opponents, then either lose the match and keep the belt on a technicality or just straight-up lose. If he wins, it’s because a third party from a more interesting storyline showed up and helped him. He becomes “Bad News Barrett” and gets positioned as a guy who stands around complaining about non-wrestling issues and it miraculously gets over, so they take away everything that worked: the lectern, the nickname, the catchphrase, all of it. He keeps the finish, which is him taking off an elbow pad and putting it back on.
Then the dude wins King of the Ring, and you’re like, “cool, king gimmicks are a good thing to give a guy who isn’t doing much, now he gets to be funny and do some King Booker shit.” He gets a crown and a cape, and just keeps losing. He’s locked into this endless blood feud with WWE’s least serious guy, R-Truth, and he can barely handle it. At Money in the Bank he shows up in a new outfit that makes him look like Bow from She-Ra and loses. Truth rambles on about “Games Of Thrones” and the announce team puts over how he has JUST AS MUCH CLAIM to randomly pretend he’s a king as Barrett, and how if he wins OF COURSE he can be King What’s Up, because Barrett just made it up, too. That’s how much “King of the Ring” means when it’s followed by “Wade Barrett.”
At this point, I want a pay-per-view actually written like an episode of Game Of Thrones. Dean Ambrose tries to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship but gets stabbed in the heart by Roman Reigns halfway through the match. Titus O’Neil brings his kids to the ring and burns them to death so he can win the tag titles, then he doesn’t win the tag titles. Women get raped to show that life was hard for women in this imaginary fantasy wrestling show we could’ve gone in any direction with, Sheamus gets some bad CGI monster eyes or whatever and Barrett just wanders around with a crown on his head and his dick out for 40 minutes. The Mountain gets called up from NXT and gets buried.
Best: Happy Trails To You, ‘Til We Meet Again
We shared this last night, but you’d have to have a stone heart (like Natalya eventually would in our Game of Thrones booking) to get through the Dusty Rhodes tribute video without feeling something.
We’ve written our tributes to The Dream so I’ll try not to write 10 more emotional paragraphs, but man, WWE is better at a loving tribute video package than anyone on the planet. It’s sad to think that they’re good because they’ve got so much experience. Phillip Phillips Dusty Rhodes goes right alongside Eddie Guerrero ‘Hurt’ and Coldplay Randy Savage in that elite class of videos that will make your heart break and fall out of your body for the rest of your life.
“I have been to the mountaintop, and it will take a hell of a man to knock me off.”
That’s as far as I can get into the video without breaking down.
Worst: Renee Having To Talk After That Tribute Video
Nobody should have to talk after that video. Just send it back to Tom, guys, give her a minute.
Best, But Emotionally Worst: The 10-Bell Salute
If you need a visual representation of my emotional state since Thursday afternoon, it’s that shot near the end of this clip where Summer Rae’s standing there clapping with this hardened, teary resolve in her eyes, and Emma’s next to her just staring off into the distance. The interesting and probably most gut-wrenching part of the 10-bell salute is the duality of the people on stage for it. You’ve got people who’ve known Dusty for decades and have been dealing with loss like this their entire lives, and then you’ve got the NXT kids who knew Dusty as a mentor and teacher dealing with it fresh. How the hell do you make it through your first time on stage for a 10-bell salute? What’s it like when you’ve been up there a dozen times? Look at the look on Big Show’s face. Look at Kane.
Wrestling breaks your heart.
Worst: Blarney In The Bank
All right, back to the pessimism and wrestling jokes.
The show started off with the Money In The Bank ladder match, briefly telegraphing a night of fantasy-booked Roman Reigns end-of-the-night cash-ins before slamming us back to reality with Mr. Money In The Bank Sheamus. I’m not claiming I know how the inner wheels of WWE Creative get greased, but is Sheamus the luckiest wrestler ever? Not an Irish joke. The winner of the Royal Rumble is too obvious and the Internet talks about it too much, so boop, now Sheamus wins the Royal Rumble. The winner of Money in the Bank is too obvious and the Internet talks about it too much, so boop, now Sheamus wins Money in the Bank. He just keeps getting booped into these position without any reason or merit, and we’re left wondering why nobody really cares about him.
As a reminder, I think Sheamus is really great in the ring. When he’s motivated (and baby, usually, so he actually does stuff beyond clubbing forearms and posing), he’s one of my favorite performers. When he’s not, or he’s heel and does that stuff I put in parenthesis, he’s an entire f*cking loaf of white bread. Just Wonderbread as f*ck. That’s not a joke about his skin, either, he is literally a piece of shitty bread, often accompanied by a second shitty bread and filled with the Miracle Whip of professional wrestling.
The sad thing is that as much as we complain about Roman, he’s been kinda baller recently. They took the emphasis off of him and allowed him to be an overpowered but stuck-in-the-background player, like the Mysterious Stranger in Fallout, and it worked. He’s another guy we WANT to like, we just hate his crappy trappings. He’s getting booed for just existing now, because fans have gotten attached to this idea that he represents something they hate, and wrestling fans with their minds made up are the most stubborn, ignorant people in the world. I’m absolutely lumping myself into that group. We want HANDSOME PRINCE ROMAN REIGNS OF THE SHIELD, not John Cena pretending to be The Rock in Shield’s clothing. We want the previous idea we liked, not the newer one we assume we don’t.
Roman’s easily the best part of this otherwise disjointed and hammy affair, skipping the long setups and goober Ladder Wars spots to just run into folks and powerbomb them out of the ring. By the end I was actively cheering for him to win, because for all his failings he was being a boss, and the rest of the match belonged in the middle of Smackdown.
WWE ladder matches are starting to feel like baseball games. It’s about the anticipation of action instead of actual action, so it’s 80% watching guys set up ladder and carefully position themselves, 10% the actual spot, and 10% us going, “that’s it? Okay, what’s next.”
Worst: Nay Wyatt
In case you were missing the weekly Promos About Nothing and gaspy closeups, Bray Wyatt returned FROM OUTTA NOWHERE to cost Roman Reigns the match. Roman was climbing the ladder all alone in the ring, so Bray teleported in, knocked him off armpit-first into the top rope — Roman’s armpits are the only exposed part of this torso — and Sisterly Abigail’d him. It’s the kind of thing you want to get excited about because The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family was so legendary, but Bray’s less threatening than IRS these days.
Seriously, what’s Bray going to do? He’s going to cut endless promos, get in a few sneak attacks and lose. If he doesn’t, his opponent still comes out on top. Bray beat John Cena, then lost to him over and over until Cena was happy. Bray beat up Dean Ambrose a lot, so Dean got a bunch of IC and World Heavyweight title shots. Bray pinned Ryback, so Ryback won the Intercontinental Championship and Bray disappeared. Bray’s basically food at this point. He’s a Hungry Man dinner in white pants.
WWE can salvage anybody. They turned Kofi Kingston into a guy I wanted to see win Money in the Bank. Me, the Internet’s leading Kofi Kingston hater from 2011-2015. They can make me cheer for Xavier Woods or Corey Graves, and turn Damien Sandow and Curtis Axel into garbage on a whim. Knowing that, can Bray be saved? I feel like the answer’s probably “yes,” but I also kinda want to tie his character to a cinderblock and dump it in the ocean.
Best: The Divas Championship Match, Before The Finish
Okay, so I think I’ve got this figured out. Someone in our comments section asked why “IWC groupthink” (barf) is so wildly negative about main roster pay-per-views, despite them having good content. I think a lot of it has to do with WWE not being proud enough of its own good material, and never lets is breathe. The live specials and pay-per-views have started to feel more like episodes of Raw and Smackdown than “special events,” and outside of WrestleMania there’s no longer really a promise that stories will go anywhere or have conclusions. People just wrestle each other in circles forever, so why get excited about the next match? If something good DOES happen, they often will quickly add some kind of modifier or “yeah, but” to it to dull the excitement. Kevin Owens and John Cena had a rematch announced before the show was even over, so we weren’t allowed to marinate in the thoughts or possibilities of what we’d want to see next. It was just like “that was cool SO ANYWAY THEY’RE DOING IT AGAIN IN TWO WEEKS, START COMPLAINING ABOUT ALL THE USUAL STUFF.” WWE doesn’t really give us a reprieve from the constant, numbed lowballing of expectations. Matches are great. They’re full of great wrestlers doing great wrestling. Then, seemingly at random, the match ends in the dumbest way anyone could’ve imagined. It makes the entire process of sitting through the wrestling feel like a chore, because you know all the great shit you’re watching will have no bearing whatsoever on how you’re left to feel.
The Divas match at Money in the Bank was a good example of that. Paige and Nikki Bella were putting together a good match that played to their strengths and went a little over 10 minutes, which is like an Iron Man Match for the Divas Division. We’ve seen the match a billion times already, but this was a better version of what we’d seen … there seemed to be a sense of urgency in the action, and while Paige’s promo didn’t make a lot of historical sense — the Bellas have been AROUND for 7 years, but they haven’t really been doing or accomplishing anything until the last 2 — it gave the match context. It said, “here’s what Paige is trying to accomplish, and what Nikki Bella’s trying to maintain.” Sometimes, that’s enough.
Then, because we aren’t allowed to connect the dots and are asked to stare at a dotted-ass page in a coloring book no-one intends to color, the finish happened.
Worst: The Finish
If you missed it, the Bella Twins once again went for Twin Magic. Brie slipped into the ring and small packaged Paige, but she reversed it and won the match. Before Paige could celebrate, Brie pointed out that WHOOPS NOPE SHE’S BRIE, unstuffed her bra, showed off her bikini-line tattoos and had the match restarted. The ref didn’t call for a DQ because dot dot dot question mark, and even the announcers point it out. You know it’s too obvious when the announce team thinks to say it. Nikki levels Paige with a forearm, hits her with the Big Boobs Joke and gets the win.
See what I mean? The wrestling is good, then everything stops and people forget the rules of the universe they’re supposed to operate in and everything kinda disqualifies itself. It’s not saying “The Bellas broke the rules, aren’t they jerks,” it’s saying “none of the rules we have matter right now, stop paying attention.” It’s the Reddit Shrug as like 45 seconds of women’s wrestling.
I’ve read a few people say that the heels cheating and winning and getting away with this stuff is good, because it’s a reaction and you’re supposed to be mad when heels win. That’s fair from a certain perspective, but I don’t think people — at least people like me — are mad at the heels winning. I love when heels win, especially when it’s conniving and terrible and they get away with murder. What I don’t like is when match finishes feel like a booking decision instead of an interaction between wrestlers, and when the stories being told in the ring are so forced and so disrespectful to the cause and effect of pro wrestling. Sometimes stuff doesn’t make sense. That’s going to happen. But sometimes stuff doesn’t make sense and nobody ever intended it to, and they went with it anyway. That’s the frustration. The feeling like WWE spend way less time thinking about their product and putting this together than you spent watching it.
Best?: GOD MADE ME A CHAMPION
The highlight of the night for me (and quite possibly the highlight of my entire life as a wrestling fan) is this weird, post-game interview where Rich Brennan runs into the Bella Twins backstage and they tell him God made two Nikki Bellas so she could fairly utilize a second, identical human in her quest to be Divas Champion. That’s some insane serial killer shit. God made her a champion, and she was just born this way. NIKKI BELLA WINNING MATCHES IS LIKE GENDER IDENTITY, YOU GUYS.
Worst: Ryback, Your Intercontinental Title Defense, Woof
Or, Best: The Miz Is Smart And Ryback Gets What He Deserves
Ryback vs. Big Show is not a great match. I was hoping when the match started with Ryback getting a flurry of offense that he’d win in 30 seconds and Show would meekly put him over as the New Giant or whatever (despite him being like, my height), but then Show cut him off and it continued. I know WWE likes one kind of match, but something like Ryback vs. Show needs to be different. It needs to be them showing up and just throwing bombs at each other for 5-7 and maybe breaking stuff until somebody drops. It’s the T-Rex fighting Indominus Rex, with Miz running interference as a smart Velociraptor. Bonus points if we can go back and work in Bryce Dallas Sandhoward.
This was another match with a f*ck finish, but at least it made some sense. Miz is at ringside on color commentary, and Ryback, being a WWE babyface, attacks him for being there. Miz jumps in a little later and bops Big Show in the head with a microphone, giving Show the DQ win. It doesn’t transfer the title — in fact, it keeps the title on the guy Miz actually wants to beat up, and off the larger, theoretically harder-to-beat guy — but it gives Ryback a loss as a middle finger. I would be the world’s biggest Miz fan if they booked him as the one smart, aware-of-his-environment person in WWE. Just a normal guy who watches the show, observes trends and does things that are jerky and self-serving, but make sense.
Basically more of this, less fighting a Swimfan for the rights to his own name.
Best: Cena Vs. Owens II
1. I think the Cena/Owens rematch was a little better than their first encounter, which absolutely makes it one of the best WWE matches of the first half of the year. It was more or less the best-possible Ring Of Honor or PWG main-event: tons of kickouts and finisher killing, but timed and paced against the ebb and flow of the crowd for maximum impact. It’s a WWE veteran taking what works on the indies and optimizing it for a WWE audience. That’s a beautiful thing.
2. It also told a very good story, and helped to put over Owens in a way the first match didn’t. The first match had this whole “what’s gonna happen” thing to it, with Cena’s history of iffy interactions with new talent being weighed against Owens’ momentum, and the contrasting pros and cons of going in either direction. Here, the rivalry has been established and the stage is set: Cena is the cagey, aging WWE veteran and Owens is the young(er), upstart indie veteran. It’s Big Match John treating a newer guy like a rookie, whether he’s actually “new” or not.
Owens keeps beating Cena up, putting him down and hitting him with his own moves. Cena keeps popping back up and fighting back, because he Never Gives Up, and also because that’s how John Cena wrestles. We’ve never been able to tell if it’s on purpose, or just him forgetting that wrestling moves are supposed to hurt longer than 10 seconds after they’ve happened. Cena hits two Attitude Adjustments that don’t end the match, and getting mad at the ref for it. Owens keeps fighting back, showing that Cena was right about him also operating under a corrupted version of the Never Give Up ethos, and BMJ has to pull out brand new moves to keep up. Eventually it takes Cena’s big combo of the springboard stunner into an immediate Attitude Adjustment to keep Owens down. It puts Owens over because the entire match was neck-and-neck, Cena had to go to great lengths to pull it out, and despite Cole’s insistence that JOHN CENA IS ACTUALLY THE IMPRESSIVE ONE, Owens showed that he’s not a fluke. He’s positioned as an actual threat for the future, and not like a Monster Of The Week.
There were a couple of issues, though:
1. Cena deciding that everything’s cool and wanting to shake Owens’ hand and show him respect after the match is the most heel shit I’ve ever seen. Cena has been saying for months that all he wanted was for a young guy to step up, accept his challenge, defeat him fair and square in the middle of the ring and prove that he’s the future. Owens shows up, steps up, accepts the challenge and beats Cena clean as a whistle. A rematch is made before Cena’s even out of the ring, and his response isn’t “thank you for making my prophecy come true,” it’s “YOU AREN’T A MAN BECAUSE YOU ONLY BEAT ME ONCE, TRY DOING IT AGAIN.” He’s a video game offering you continues because he wants you to keep playing. He never expects you to actually remove the arcade machine and replace him with a newer game.
That’s why I loved Owens’ post-match attack so much. Cena f*cking deserved it, man. Owens as a pissed-off hypocrite shithead dad should be the most booable thing in the world, but he always seems like he’s right. Cena can only respect you if he beats you? What kind of nonsense is that? That’s caring more about keeping your spot than any of the ideas you preach. Lift his ass up and toss his kidneys into the apron.
2. A+ for effort and all, but yo, that is the worst Code Red I’ve ever seen.
3. Also, how’re you gonna take an apron powerbomb and sell it like you sprained your ankle?
Best: Sign Of The Night
Nobody who speaks German could be evil!
Best/Worst: And Now We’re … Wait, The Prime Time Players Won? Are We Gonna … No? Okay, Sure, Whatever
The main event has go to 15 minutes too long, so the tag team championship match just kinda happens and ends on the first hot tag.
The pre-match promo with Xavier Woods getting angry about the New Day Sucks chants and being forced to clap to deal with it is amazing, as is Big E finding every available opportunity to work the clap into his moveset. I can’t imagine why WWE would want to take the tag titles off The New Day this early into their run, especially when all three guys are getting into a groove and improving dramatically as the weeks go on, but yeah, Darren takes the heat, Titus tags in and it’s over.
I’m disappointed that we didn’t get more, but honestly I’m happy to see the Prime Time Players get some recognition. They’ve been slowly getting better for years, and they’ve found a nice dynamic with Darren as the Ricky Morton and Titus as some hybrid of Robert Gibson and Rick Steiner. He doesn’t even really wrestle matches, he just comes in dog-yelling and picking people up to throw them. He’s like Darren Young’s Limit Break, and I’m kinda super into it.
So yeah. A missed opportunity at greatness, maybe, but the promise of other greatness in the future. Let’s build something on this, and really go somewhere with the tag titles for once. You’ve got a bunch of hungry guys looking for an opportunity and an Intercontinental Championship division that can’t put on more than 5 minutes of a match without completely falling apart. Paste together some tag teams and let’s do a damn thing.
Worst (Sorry): A Great 15-Minute Match That Takes 36
Important disclaimer you may have already scrolled past without reading to get to our comments section: Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose are both very good at their jobs, I like them as performers (even though I want to throw Dean Ambrose The Character into a volcano) and I like that WWE’s making at least some small attempt to position guys who could actually constitute their “future” into positions of prominence. Watching Tyler Black and Jon Moxley main-event WWE pay-per-views is still the weirdest, best thing.
The problem — for me, I should clarify, not to suggest that it’s everybody’s problem — is that none of the Rollins/Ambrose one-on-one matches are very good. The Hell in a Cell match was overbooked to hell and ended with a spooky ghost lantern. This match is an AMAZING 15 minute match that takes 36 to happen, and the legitimately great stuff like those buckle bombs into the security railing are padded by 5-minute intervals of nonsense. It took them so long to set up some stuff (the dive spot with the ladder was especially rough), Dean’s selling of the leg was suspect at best and kinda looked like Frankenstein’s foot fell asleep, and the gimmick finish could’ve happened at like minute 19 and had the same impact. Did Dean need to no-sell a Liger Bomb onto a ladder covered in chairs?
So yeah, I didn’t enjoy it. There’s a lot (a lot) of stuff about it to like, but like 25 minutes into it I just wanted it to be over. Rollins finally gets a one-on-one win over Ambrose without any bullshit, but there’s still bullshit because he only won via technicality. It makes Rollins look like a worm during his speech about how he’s the greatest champion ever, sure, but that’s really all it does. Ambrose looks like a guy who can’t get the job done and always loses via a goof. He got distracted by a ghost! He tried to hit somebody with a TV but it exploded! He pulled down the belt in a ladder match but dropped it!
I kinda wish Sheamus had cashed in while they were fighting in the crowd, calmly walked up the ladder that was already set up in the middle of the ring and nonchalantly pulled down the belt.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Welcome….to Ladders (Greendale Class Cheers)
Sammy Davis Jr.
I’m crying and John Cena hasn’t even won yet.
Need a Money In The Bank winner? Why not Zoidberg?
wife just walks in from running errands, “they still climbing the ladder?”
Hunter: “I’m back! Why did Vince suddenly have a craving for a pizza from the other side of town?”
Stephanie: “Honey, you better sit down…”
Hunter: “Vince changed the match to give Cena the win didn’t he?”
Out of all the pay per views, that was a good Raw.
Jerry: “I think all women secretly hate each other.”
JBL: “It’s not a secret, it’s written on the wall in the writer’s room.”
[cut to the Cena/Bella house in the middle of Business Time]
“TO THE LEFT”
What a tribute. A Busty Finish.
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
The first episode of Swerved is just hidden cameras of us sitting in our houses watching this pay-per-view.
Thanks, everybody. BATTLEGROUND STARTS RIGHT NOW!