Though it’s hard to really track these sorts of things, this past Sunday’s Money in the Bank event probably had the weakest build of any “major” WWE event in recent history. From matches that were set up but bounced off the card, to feuds no one cares about, to a clash whose build may have irrevocably ruined two of the company’s top stars, it’s fair to say that the WWE Universe was a little apprehensive going into the show. Fortunately, for the most part, Money in the Bank 2018 turned out to be a pretty decent show all things considered. Yes, there are complaints to be had, but there were some genuine surprises and interesting developments that came out of Chicago’s Allstate Arena this weekend. Here’s a quick rundown.
- Not technically a pre-show note, but it has to be said just how bad Coach’s commentary was all night. Remember when Booker T was a regular and he would sometimes zone out and give non sequiturs that didn’t make a ton of sense? Well that’s Coach, except without all the likable personality that the five time (five time, five time, five time, five time) WCW Champion was able to bring to the commentary booth. In the women’s title match, for example, he claims that Ronda can take a breath and relax while she’s in an elevated bearhug from Nia. That may be true in real life, but in kayfabe, she’s getting the life squeezed out of her, Coach. What the hell are you doing? As usual, Corey Graves stepped in as the voice of the internet by following that statement with “How are you still employed?” Thanks for speaking for us, Corey.
- A couple of times throughout the show they cut to Kurt and Paige chilling out in the back, talking up the ladder matches and saying someone from their show is going to win. After the women’s bout, Constable Corbin (whose bald head makes the awkwardly placed “Lobo” tattoo behind his right ear look like it says “Hobo” on his neck) pops in to remind Angle that Stephanie wants both briefcases on Raw. Paige then rags on him for failing to cash in last year, and he quietly slinks away. So much for this new title being a “push” for the Lone Wolf. At least he’s not rocking the skullet anymore.
- The only pre-show match is a meaningless tilt between the Good Brothers and the Bludgeon Brothers. It goes about how you’d expect. The crowd is sort of meh on the match, but the finish, which saw Harper hit an assisted sitout powerbomb on Gallows, was pretty impressive. That’s a big dude to get up for that move. Just one more reminder that Harper could be a beast if they didn’t keep saddling him with Rowan and actually got behind him creatively. Alas.
Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass
So this is a thing that happened. In a fairly forgettable affair that started out slow, but really picked up toward the end, Daniel Bryan put on the performance of a lifetime by wrestling a three star match while carrying 285 lbs of dead weight the entire time. Now I don’t share the same antipathy toward Big Cass that the rest of the writers room at AiPT does, but putting him in the ring with a technician like Bryan left the big man exposed. Much like their first encounter, there are moments where you can actually see Bryan moving Big Ass into position for a move or sequence. Combine this underwhelming in-ring performance with the weak build, the fact he’s lost both of them in a rather convincing manner, and sort of become a punchline for many fans and critics, and the Big Cass experiment may be over before it really gets going. On one hand, kudos to WWE for not falling prey to the 50-50 booking trend that has rendered a lot of top feuds feeling like a waste of time. On the other, man, what do you with Cass here? They have to realize putting him in there with Bryan again is not a great idea — there’s no shame in losing to a former champion like that, but with such a weak undercard (from a starpower perspective) who could you even feud the big man with? Tye Dillinger? R-Truth?
For Bryan, this should mean he’s on to bigger and better things…well, smaller, but better things, probably. SummerSlam is coming up, and now that Miz’s dance card has apparently cleared up can we finally get to the fireworks factory that is Bryan finally getting his hands on the man that verbally RUINED him on Talking Smack so many years ago? Unlike this feud with Cass, that is a matchup that fans are actually excited to see and can play to both guys’ strengths. The build to that match should be an excellent showcase of both men’s mic and character work – something you can’t say about…
Bobby Lashley vs. Sami Zayn
Woof, this feud. So you bring back Bobby Lashley, the proto-Roman Reigns, whose failed push in the early aughts inspired a change in character and approach that saw the man become not only a top tier performer of a promotion (it was TNA, to be fair), but also a surprisingly good MMA fighter (with a record of 15-2). He still had little to no personality, but his physical presence and pedigree should help establish him as a main event-caliber guy. So what do you do with this super athlete to reintroduce him to an audience that may have missed all of that? You give him a s----y finisher, an awkward backstage interview where he talks about his tumultuous relationship with his sisters, and then stick him in an awful comedy angle that involves people in drag, Photoshop battles, and an obstacle course. Obviously. It wasn’t a terrible idea to have him in there with Sami Zayn, who is (a) great in the ring and (b) overflowing with personality, but there’s only so much you can do to save a tire fire of this magnitude.
Mercifully, this match is short (running under 7 minutes) and though Sami started off pretty hot, once Lashley hit a spinebuster it was all downhill for the Underdog from the Underground. Unfortunately this squash portion was also pretty bland and uninteresting. So Lashley hits his stalling suplex on Zayn, then picks him up and hits a weird inverted fireman’s carry slam, rinses and repeats this sequence again, then hits a third stalling suplex for the decisive win. The match to this point was mostly fine, but what the hell is this finisher they’ve given Bobby? What happened to the Dominator? Why is he doing a transitional move as a finish?
Like the first match, this NEEDS to be the end of this feud. Keep Sami and Lashley as far away from each other as possible and let us never speak of this unpleasantness again. If I’m honest, I’m not sure that we can. The nonsense with his sisters is going to haunt Lashley for the rest of his career, and it’s one hell of a cross to bear. Sami should most likely be fine since he’s a comedy heel at this point, but I’d love to see him do something of consequence. If you’re not going to give Elias the IC title, let Sami get that belt off of Rollins and finally get some shine on the main roster.
Elias vs. Seth Rollins (c) for the Intercontinental Championship
So hey, did you know Elias could work? He’s certainly not on the level of Seth Rollins or anything, but given how little time he was given to work in his NXT days, I’m happily surprised with his growth on the main roster. This was almost assuredly his best match in the company to date, with the Drifter coming within seconds of actually upsetting the Architect for the IC belt. In fact, it literally took Seth holding the tights in a rollup to get the win. That’s some pretty strong booking for a guy who has effectively been a comedy jobber for most of his career. It’s fun to parallel his progress to Jinder Mahal, who, like Elias, was a comedy jobber who earned a push by getting absolutely jacked. Unlike Mahal, however, Elias is better-than-competent in the ring and struck gold with his “a-----e troubadour” gimmick, whereas the Modern Day Maharaja just has two wispy dudes to cheat for him and the same jingoistic promos that Ivan Koloff was using in the ’60s.
As you might imagine given the presence of Seth Freakin Rollins, this was a pretty athletic matchup that kept a fairly brisk pace throughout. The best sequence came late in the match when Seth went for a suicide dive, which Elias sidestepped and drove the Kingslayer into the barricade. He then tossed him into the post and the stairs before rolling him into the ring for a pretty great looking elbow drop (which Elias formerly used as a finishing move) that nearly ended the match. Unfortunately, we visit a well that the WWE has gone to entirely too much since Seth turned face, in which he pretends to tweak his knee landing a dive. It’s more than a little tired at this point, and they really need to figure out a new way to tell stories in Seth’s matches before the audience gets fed up with it. Still, Seth is amazing and this match was far better than anyone may have anticipated. I look forward to their inevitable next encounter at Extreme Rules.
Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Miles ahead of last year’s affair, the second…err…third ever Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder match was the rare sequel that outdid the first (and second in this case) outing. This may be due to a stronger crop of competitors (We lost Carmella and Tamina and added Alexa, Sasha and Ember Moon) or just learning from past mistakes, but this match was pretty damn fun, even if I didn’t care for the outcome. As with most matches that are this crazy, let’s hit a speed round:
- This was less a ladder match than a regular match that featured ladders, as the encounter was a little light on big ladder spots, but there were some in there. My favorite was Ember hitting a lionsault onto Sasha that drove the Boss onto a ladder. Sasha would get her revenge by doing her corner knee dive onto two women laid across a ladder later in the match.
- Speaking of Sasha, that sequence where she got dumped off the ladder and turned it into a meteora on Charlotte and Natty wasn’t super crisp, but it was awesome all the same.
- It’s clear that Charlotte is the biggest star in the match, as she had several “staredown” moments where she was left alone with one other woman in the ring and the crowd went crazy. Her spots with Sasha and Becky, in particular, really popped the crowd.
- Speaking of Becky, this was now the third consecutive MitB match where she had the match won only to fall short just at the end. Like those two previous matches, this was absolutely one where she should have won. The crowd popped huge when whenever Becky did anything, and yet she has a worse win/loss record than Bray Wyatt. This is the same nonsensical booking that has kept the insanely over Rusev out of the main event (though ironically he is in the main event of this show) despite the chants and merch sales suggesting you should invest in him. Becky may not have the same chants that the Super Athlete does, but she’s a great worker, never had backstage heat (that I’ve read about at least) and remains one of the most over women in the company despite stale booking and constant jobbing. She deserves better, is what I’m saying.
- Speaking of the Bulgarian Brute, his wife got some good offense in…I mean, she slapped Bliss in the Accolade for some reason and barely climbed the ladder unless there were multiple other women on the ladders at the time.
The ending sees a number of women get hands on the case only to get shutdown culminating with Becky, literally having the case unclipped but struggling to get it off the carabiner, allowing Bliss to dump her off the ladder and get the case herself. While the match was good, I wasn’t happy with the result. Bliss was the women’s champ for most of last year and had a built in storyline with Nia already in place. So why put her back in the damn title picture so soon? She JUST wrapped her series with Jax (which she lost), so why not put someone new in the title scene? Still, all the women did really well in this match. Also Natty was there.
Jinder Mahal vs. Roman Reigns
Before the IC title match earlier in the night, Elias called Chicago fans “a bunch of loudmouth scumbags.” It only took two matches for the fans at the Allstate Arena to prove him right, as they absolutely MURDERED this match. Within seconds of Roman’s music dying down, the crowd is chanting “Boring,” “NXT,” “Johnny Wrestling,” and (of course) “CM Punk.” It was an example of a crowd purposely sabotaging a match without giving it any chance. Honestly, this match wasn’t that bad all things considering. Sure it’s just Roman and Jinder just hitting signatures until it’s time for Roman to win, but it was better than the crowd reaction would suggest.
That being said, this was not a good match, and Jinder looked really sloppy out there (even missing a leap to the ring at one point). The gimmick for this match was that Sunil Singh was still selling the most recent beating he’d taken from Reigns in a wheelchair and neck brace. Of course, he wasn’t actually injured and popped up once to push Roman into the post and then again to…get thoroughly trounced once more by the Big Dog. Jinder attempts to use Roman’s murdering of his valet as distraction to hit a rollup, but Roman breaks out, spears the Maharaja out of his boots and wins the match to a rousing chorus of boos. They could have (and should have) left this on the second hour of Raw, but gotta get Roman on the PPV somehow so here we are. I imagine this beef isn’t over yet, so look forward to another cycle (or two!) of Reigns/Mahal matches – probably with a stupid street fight stipulation at Extreme Rules!
Asuka vs. Carmella (c) for the SmackDown Women’s Championship
Some people may have been okay with the outcome of this match, but I feel like this outing for the women’s belt on the blue brand did nothing good for anyone…well maybe James Ellsworth. So yeah, this is yet another Women’s Championship match in which Carmella wins another match against a woman that should absolutely destroy her by some kind of distraction. This time around it was the return of the aforementioned Jimmy Jam Ellsworth, who popped up in Asuka’s robe and mask late in the match to snag her attention. Now the Empress manages to avoid this first attempt at a sneak attack, but when the Chinless Wonder removed the mask to show his (kind of weird) face, it was too much for Asuka to take, as she screamed at him then ate a yakuza kick for the loss. For one, I have real issue with Asuka going down to a single kick from someone like Carmella. Moreover, I have issue with her falling for this sort of distraction and seemingly being mad that it’s Ellsworth. Like…why? Is there a history there that we don’t know about?
But yeah, we live in a world in which a former Laker girl has defeated Most Dangerous Kana, pretty much clean. All because a human Pidgeotto wore her robe and mask in the corner. I got into a back and forth with AiPT Wrestling cohost JJ Travers about the value of Ellsworth to the Carmella act, and while he was pretty high on the returning “man with two hands,” I’m more pessimistic. What we have is a scrawny jobber who can’t cut a promo that WWE will never push and that non-smarks have probably forgotten since the last time he was on SmackDown Live. He may be a good wrestler (I’ve never actually seen a match with him where he isn’t supposed to be a comedy jobber), but we’ll never know. All he’ll do is cut the same stupid intro promo to say people should bow down to Carmella and cheat to help her win. He’s the pale Singh brother, essentially. It’s funny, then, that Carmella’s title reign is feeling an awful lot like Enzo’s run with the Cruiserweight Championship — where she’s a cocky loudmouth who keeps pinning better performers through nonsense and cheating. Not saying that Asuka is like Neville in this situation, but…I don’t know how to finish that sentence.
Honestly, though, what the hell are they doing with Asuka? She was unstoppable for more than 2 years, and now she’s losing like a total chump to the oldest trick in the wrestling book. Come on, guys. Asuka and Nakamura both won the Royal Rumble and neither has won a PPV match since. I don’t want to imply that WWE has something against pushing international stars over American-born performers but…I don’t know how to finish that sentence either. Unless they have a rematch where Asuka literally murders Carmellsworth with a series of roundhouse kicks, I just don’t know what you can do to rescue the Empress of Tomorrow’s reputation here.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. AJ Styles (c) for the WWE Championship
It may have taken a couple of tries, but AJ and Shinsuke FINALLY had a good match with a decent ending. I would have much rather let Shinsuke take the title at some point in this months-long feud, but this was a fitting blowoff that would have made both men look strong, if we had maybe just cut one or two of the matches that took place between the two in the interim weeks. This Last Man Standing gimmick is a bit of a blessing and a curse. Yeah it’s a no-holds barred affair that pushes competitors to go all out to fell their opponent, but it also requires several cooldown spots as the ref counts to 10 as part of the match. It’s sort of like watching a football game where there’s a ton of action and you’re really invested, only for things to slow down every couple of seconds as both teams take a quick rest between plays to reset and wait for the next one. Crowds were mainly excited about this match because of the duo’s previous encounter in Japan, which was much more like a soccer match, not giving you time to catch your breath between high spots. Fortunately, Nak and Styles are both masters at in-ring storytelling, so this match managed to succeed, despite the challenges of the stipulation.
Nakamura was a fun opportunistic heel for most of the match, earning points with me not only for his offense that landed, but for one spot that didn’t. At one point Nak went for the low blow uppercut (colloquially referred to as the “peen-shasa” by Wrestling With Wregret’s Brian Zane) but AJ jumped out of the way, leaving Shin on his knees with his arm nowhere near Styles’ balls looking downtrodden and sad. He hits a ton of brutal knees on the champion too, with a few Kinshasas getting dramatic nine counts. He also had to sell a lot as this proved to be a fairly even match over time. Nakamura ate a Styles Clash off the ring steps at one point, and after provoking AJ with his trademark “come on” motion, took a swift kick to the dick from the Champ That Runs the Camp. Eventually Nak would get back up, only to be Phenomenally Forearmed through the announce table for the loss.
Again, I’d be happier if the Artist had won the title at some point, but this was a perfectly fine sendoff for this feud. Styles looked equal parts resilient and merciless in victory, and Nakamura was a vicious heel who managed to show some of the old “heart” and “intestinal fortitude” that they really pushed when he was a babyface. For now, it’s time for both men to move on to something different — and in both cases, a little familiar. For Nakamura, he should gracefully exit the main title scene by entering the midcard title scene. The groundwork has already been laid for a series with Jeff Hardy, so let that flesh out and give the King of Strong Style the US Championship for crying out loud. As for AJ, I’d suggest dipping back to his TNA days to have him face off with Samoa Joe. That dude belongs at the top of the card and should put on a hell of a main event against Styles at SummerSlam.*
*Note: “Main event” in this case likely means third from last match of the night.
Ronda Rousey vs. Nia Jax (c) for the Raw Women’s Championship
There may come a day when I stop being surprised by how good Ronda Rousey is at professional wrestling, but it was not this day! How is it that Ronda, who has only been training for around a year, managed to — in her first televised singles match, mind you — have Nia Jax’s best match ever? Her selling was great, her striking was believable and precise, that shoot Judo throw she gets on Nia was crazy impressive; either Ronda is absolutely crushing it in her training sessions, or she’s a wrestling savant. There’s actually a great moment where Ronda is so wrecked by Nia’s offense that she can’t even stand up and takes a backward tumble through the ropes to the outside, and it’s only one of the natural looking bumps she takes throughout the match. For her part, Nia does well as the dominant monster, looking like a world killer for most of the bout until Rousey started hulking up toward the end of the match.
So you’ve probably seen it by now, but the ending comes with Ronda about to lock in the armbar only for Bliss to come out of the crowd, briefcase in hand, and lay Nia and Rousey out (hitting Ronda first for the DQ win) before successfully cashing in for her third run with the Raw Women’s Title. I’ve already mentioned my issues with Bliss being champ again, but I have to say, this was potentially the best ending we could have hoped for in this bout. WWE didn’t want Ronda to lose this early in her run, but she’s almost definitely not ready for a run with the belt, even if she’s surprisingly skilled between the ropes, so what do you do? Find your most opportunistic heel and have her pull a fast one. This protects Ronda from taking the L AND gives us a reasonable excuse for not leaving with the belt. Yeah, this may lead to a fracas with Little Miss Bliss in the future, but the WWE will probably drag that out until SummerSlam at least.
Still, much like at Mania, this was all Ronda. She absolutely delivered in a match where you couldn’t really accuse her of being carried by her opponent, and she did so in a SUPER flimsy top that had to have had the censors nervous from the jump. She’ll need to get a much better handle on the acting portion of wrestling, but her in-ring talents at this stage in her career are so much better than anyone could have anticipated.
Men’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Though it wasn’t as fun as the women’s match, the Men’s MitB match was a decent outing for eight guys. Of course, it really was the Braun Strowman show. He’s clearly the Poochie of the WWE at this point, as whenever he’s not on camera, everyone’s asking “Where’s Braun?” That being said, he’s easily the most over guy on either roster, and it’s because of how he’s booked. En route to this PPV he defeated every one of his opponents (on his brand), even kicking out of three of their finishers in a single match. In this match, he continued to be an absolute beast, running through his competition (at times, literally) en route to his victory. I’ll touch more on that in a bit, but first: Speed Round!
- The New Day chose Kofi to represent them, which isn’t a bad choice per se, but is a little disappointing – not because I wanted it to be Big E (I did) but because it’s a no DQ match. Why wouldn’t all 3 guys just jump in and participate? In a backstage segment earlier in the show, ya boys tell KO that they don’t cheat, but like…since when? You guys cheat all the time.
- I like the fact that everybody ganged up on Braun to start, and came together almost every time he respawned to try and keep the monster down. It makes all the sense in the world to team up to beat down the favorite, and the fact that Braun eventually overcame that to wreck everyone really put over the abominable Strowman.
- There was a point where Kofi tried to trust fall on almost everyone in the match, but they (kinda) caught him. Seeing this, Finn performed a plancha on the field of competitors, knocking everyone not named Braun for a loop.
- Rusev didn’t get much time to shine, but he did put both Kofi and Roode in the Accolade simultaneously (colloquially known as the “stackolade”) only for MIz to break it up. Rusev got the upper hand and went to add Miz to the stack, only for Joe to spoil the fun. Machka!
- With Rusev and Joe holding Braun prone on a table at the top of the ramp, Joe tells KO to “get your ass up there!” and has the Quebecois Kodiak climb a 20 foot ladder. Unfortunately for Owens, Braun got up and tossed Kev from the top of the ladder through the table below in the scariest bump of the night. It (thankfully) took Owens out of the match, but I was mostly just hoping that big Kev didn’t kill himself in the fall.
- Once Braun had murdered KO he ran toward the ring, plowing straight through a ladder held up by Roode and Balor. He also chucked Kofi into an unevenly stacked ladder on the ramp, but having that sandwiched between his Mufasa-ing of KO and then LITERALLY RUNNING THROUGH HIS COMPETITION made it seem a bit less astounding.
Braun eventually starts climbing the ladder with Finn on the other side trying to punch him off. Kofi hops on his back to try and wrestle him off the ladder, all to no avail. Strowman shrugs off the two much smaller stars and rips the case down for the victory. Dude seriously broke the chain that was holding it up. This is yet another match where the finish itself was good, but the result was not. Braun is a top tier talent and an undeniable main event presence. The MitB briefcase is a tool that really works best with an underhanded heel, not with an overwhelming monster tweener. Braun doesn’t need the case to be a believable challenger for the title, so this just seems like a bit of a waste.