Welcome once again to Explain Like I’m Kayfabe, the only column completely dedicated to the absolutely real world presented to us by professional wrestling. This week, we got a real treat with the Money in the Bank PPV from WWE. I’m not talking about Mike and Maria Kanellis or the unfortunately placed Cowboy Bob Orton getting attacked by the vicious (but still WWE Champion) Jinder Mahal.
Quick aside: Who didn’t see that coming? Jinder attacked an NFL player at ringside during the biggest match he’s ever had at WrestleMania and then did it again just a week later. This man attacks people at ringside! He has a history of this behavior and whoever decided to sit Cowboy Bob and the other Hall of Famers at ringside during the Mahal/Orton match should be ashamed of themselves.
Back to business. The first Women’s Money in the Bank Match was poised to make history Sunday night and, as Charlotte Flair pointed out on Smackdown Live, it did. Every member of the Smackdown Live women’s roster who wasn’t currently champion or debuting in her first singles match, put their bodies and careers on the line for a shot at the white and gold briefcase. It was a great step forward for equality in the wrestling ring, until the last few minutes of the match, that is. Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched WWE programming this week.
Fan favorite Becky Lynch was poised to make history as the first Miss Money in the Bank when shrunken bridge troll James Ellsworth and his velor jumpsuit leapt into action, tipping over the ladder and ending Lynch’s night. Ellsworth’s meal ticket, Carmella, lay incapacitated in the ring thanks to a devastating powerbomb by the Irish Lass Kicker before she was unceremoniously dumped onto her face. Unable to revive Carmella enough for her to climb the literal ladder of success, Ellsworth took it upon himself to reach new heights in his career. The crowd cheered, perhaps believing that someone would give him his comeuppance, but those cheers turned to deafening boos once Bizarro Jay Leno unhooked the briefcase and dropped it expertly into the waiting arms of Carmella. The bell rang and the match was over as the audience and other wrestlers alike stared in disbelief.
In the moments following the match, the three match officials and, eventually, Ellsworth himself, began arguing about the legality of the finish. Announce team members Byron Saxton and JBL joined in over the airwaves, each vehemently espousing his own opinion about the match. The decision, seemingly, was upheld by the officiating crew and Carmella was declared the winner. Later that night, Smackdown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan tweeted that the issue surrounding the match would be resolved on Tuesday night’s edition of SDL.
— Daniel Bryan (@WWEDanielBryan) June 19, 2017
It was on that show, and on Talking Smack later Tuesday night, that the participants made their cases and Bryan eventually decided that the match would be re-fought next week on SDL with Ellsworth banned from ringside. The big question I want to explore this week is, did Bryan make the right decision based on the contract signed for the match and the rules of the WWE?
Immediately after the match, Saxton and JBL began arguing about the rules of the match and whether or not they were followed. Past precedent and comments made by superstars and officials can help us determine the answer to that question.
History tells us that all ladder matches are “No Disqualification” matches. This makes sense, as a ladder is an international object and its use as a weapon is expected (and encouraged) in these matches. Other objects have been used in the past, bringing us eventually to the infamous Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches. Outside interference has also been allowed in these matches in the past.
Carmella and JBL both pointed out that Kane, despite not being in the 2014 Money in the Bank match, helped Seth Rollins win the briefcase. Bray Wyatt, in 2015, entered the ring to stop Roman Reigns from winning. If we go back further, before the Money in the Bank match was invented by Chris Jericho, we see a clear example of outside interference in ladder matches at WrestleMania X-Seven. When The Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz, and Edge & Christian met in TLC II, each team was supported by a third partner–Lita, Spike Dudley, and Rhyno respectively. This did not invalidate the match in any way.
So, with this line of attack refuted, we should focus on the rules of the match and the contracts the participants signed. Carmella claimed that there are no rules in a ladder match. Well, this certainly is not true. At the very least, the win condition is set: once a woman has the briefcase in hand, the match is over and she is declared the winner. This is true for any title or object held up in a ladder match. Once the object is removed from the hook and is in the hands of one competitor, the match is over. How that removal must take place, as was pointed out on Talking Smack, was not in the contract signed by the five participants.
Speaking of contracts, they were mentioned several times on MITB, Smackdown Live, and Talking Smack. I want to go into match contracts more deeply soon, but a few words on this specific one, since it was brought up by Booker T and Charlotte. Charlotte told us that there were five sanctioned superstars in the match and Ellsworth wasn’t one of them. So, all five women signed the same contract agreeing to the rules of the match. Booker pointed out, and JBL agreed in a separate segment, that not having Ellsworth banned from ringside was an oversight by the women in understanding the contract language. Had they consulted, as Booker suggested, an entertainment lawyer, perhaps they could have gotten the terms changed. As it is, the five women agreed to a contract and, apparently, no specific rules were broken. So, why then, has Daniel Bryan taken the contract from Carmella and decreed that a new match take place next week?
Bryan works from a different perspective, seeing the big picture here. As General Manager, he has the power to make matches. These matches are not bound by individually signed contracts, as PPV matches usually are, but under a general agreement made by all superstars: when the GM makes a match, you follow his orders and the regular rules attached to that match. He also, as past precedent shows, has the power to strip titles or even Money in the Bank contracts, from those he believes got them through nefarious means.
So, what does this all mean? James Ellsworth did not break any written rules. Carmella won the match as prescribed, even if it was not in the exact spirit of the match. Daniel Bryan could have decided to allow the finish to stand and he would have been well within his rights to do so. However, Bryan has shown himself to believe in the spirit of competition. From his actions, I believe that Becky Lynch’s appeal to fair play and against those who take every loophole to win coupled with Ellsworth and Carmella’s clear disdain for sportsmanship and Bryan’s own authority beyond the black-and-white letter of the rules, led him to what he believes is the best decision for the Smackdown Live women’s division. We will see next week if he made the right call.