At Money in the Bank 2017 the WWE made history. Problematic, mostly forgettable (occasionally regrettable), history. Did the Smackdown brand damage its reputation as the superior WWE product, or is it all much ado about nothing?
- For whatever reason, Booker T (who’s on the pre-show panel and Talking Smack) seems to be working as a heel on commentary. When Naomi comes on to try and inspire any kind of excitement for her match with Femmedango, I mean Lana, Booker attacks the women’s champ for saying you can’t plan for a surprise cash-in. I mean the word ‘surprise’ is right there, but Book is having none of this. Saying failing to plan is planning to fail, as if worrying about a hypothetical cash-in couldn’t potentially distract her. Later on Talking Smack he’s talking up Baron Corbin something fierce. Not sure if anything will come of it, but it’s interesting all the same.
- Throughout the entire broadcast (pre and post-shows included) they keep showing multiple commercials for (heavy sigh) Great Balls of Fire and they’re all just terrible. The one highlighting Brock and Samoa Joe is the least offensive (no getting past that shit name, though), but the absolute dirt worst has to be the one that tries to get several wrestlers to sing or recite the lyrics to Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire. Half of them don’t even recognize it, given to both the multicultural nature of the current WWE roster and the fact that THEY’RE REFERENCING A SONG THAT’S 60 YEARS OLD JUST TO MAKE A JOKE ABOUT DICKS. This PPV can’t go by fast enough.
- The only match on the pre-show is the newly reformed Hype Bros Vs. Smackdown Jobber Team #2 (the Colons) and it’s…uneventful. When Zack Ryder reappeared on Tuesday’s show it felt like there was an implied edge that led many fans (myself included) to think that a heel turn for the Broski was imminent. I still want that to be true, but there was no hint of it in this match. The Bros beat the cousins in a short match with the Hype Ryder and it’s only the first jobber tag team to lose on this card, not the last.
Match 1: Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match
The main thrust of all the advertising and build to this event was about the groundbreaking nature of having a women-only Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Everyone from the competitors to the commentators put over the fact that women were suddenly being allowed to compete in this violent gimmick match for a chance at the deus ex machina that is the MitB briefcase. Charlotte, the ‘pioneer’ of the women’s division, spoke highly of what an honor it was to add yet another “first” in her long list of accomplishments. Less successful competitors like Tamina exalted this opportunity as her first real chance at a title in years. Women’s champ Naomi bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t compete in the match that was sure to be a revolutionary blow for the fairer sex. The stage was set for this one match to make a star of one of these women and earn that competitor a unique distinction that would never be equaled…and then a man climbed the ladder and won the match for his storyline girlfriend.
To be honest, it’s a pretty obvious move to have had James Ellsworth factor into the finish. The whole briefcase gimmick works best with heel competitors who are in need of that one little push to make it big, and Carmella was the best option in the match. Most of us saw it coming to an extent, so the problem isn’t with the result or the winner – it’s with the method in which she won. Late in the match, Becky Lynch pulls Carmella off of the ladder with a thunderous powerbomb and starts to climb. Once she’s about two thirds of the way up, Ellsworth runs in and pushes the ladder over, sending Lynch out to the floor. He tries to revive Carmella but she’s unresponsive, so after mugging to the crowd for a minute, he climbs the ladder, takes the briefcase off the hook and drops it into the waiting hands of the Princess of Staten Island. The common phrase you’re going to be hearing a lot of is the a man won the first women-only Money in the Bank ladder match. Even though that’s not actually true and Ellsworth is perfectly able to help anyone win (all ladder matches are no DQ), this ending is not the kind of history the WWE should be making when it comes to the stated objective of striking a blow for women in (fake) sports.
The problem is that even though this is the first time women have competed in this kind of match, the only thing anyone will be talking about is the involvement of a man. There would be some kind of defense if the match itself had been memorable at all, but as it transpired, the bout was rather pedestrian with the lone high spot being Charlotte hitting a corkscrew moonsault on Nattie and Tamina on the outside. The 5-way brawl on Smackdown a few weeks ago left more of an impression than the match it actually inspired. It’s the Miss WrestleMania Battle Royal all over again – an event supposedly created to honor women’s contribution to field that is instead used to further a man’s career. At least Ellsworth didn’t have to dress in drag like Santino Marella did.
I get that Carmella and Ellsworth are heels, and this was a heel cheating to win in a way that actually got the crowd to boo. If that was going to be the plan, however, couldn’t you have done this in a way that allowed Carmella to actually grab the case herself? It still would have upset the crowd, but we probably wouldn’t be having an awkward conversation about gender politics that makes the company look bad. This is a scripted event, didn’t anyone think about how their ending would be received?
Speaking of awkward women’s segments…
Before the next match Dasha interviews Lana about being the underdog in her match against Naomi. At least that’s what she was going for, but Dasha is out here like a deer in the headlights, struggling to get through her own words in anything resembling coherent sentences. She actually asks Lana how she feels about Naomi being “Heavily heavily…ranked…number 1” in this match. Ouch. Sorry, ladies. WWE is doing you no favors with this PPV, but this one’s on Dasha.
Match 2: The New Day Vs. The Usos for the Smackdown Tag Titles
So just to say it, I’m tired of the New Day. In-ring they’ve never been all that remarkable, and their shtick was worn super thin with me. There was some hope that their brief hiatus while Kofi rehabbed his ankle would help refresh their gimmick, which it did – for like two weeks. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Xavier, Kofi and E can be hilarious at times, it’s just that those times tend to be on Twitter or on Woods’ UpUpDownDown YouTube channel. Maybe it’s the producers getting in their ears and backing them into creative corners, maybe three years is just too long for this kind of act to remain relevant, but they need some freshening up – or to break up so that Big E can enter the world championship scene in earnest. The Usos, on the other hand, are doing the best work of their career as what AiPT!’s Russ Dobler derisively calls “fun heels.” They are fresh and funny, and their ring work is so much better with the addition of limb targeting and viciousness. Also they’re beginning to distinguish themselves from one another, which is big for a team of twin brothers whose gimmick has always been some variation of “there’s two of me.”
These teams have a lot of good chemistry, both in the ring and on the mic, so for the most part this was a good match. New Day put forth their “let’s be serious” combination (E and Kofi) and the Usos come down mean mugging the crowd something fierce. Kofi is the face in peril for most of the match, and he is selling his ass off for Jimmy and Jey. He flies out of the ring with ragdoll physics a couple of times, gets suplexed into the ringpost and eats that cool “leg kick into a tequila sunrise” combination that seemingly banished American Alpha to the negative zone or something. Eventually Kofi tags in E and things start to shift in their favor as the powerlifter throws both Uso brothers around, even catching a diving Jey (sort of) and hitting him with the Big Ending for a near fall. Kofi does this interesting “trust fall” dive from the post onto both Usos on the outside before rolling Jey in and hitting him with the Midnight Hour for another near fall that Jimmy just barely breaks up. Rather than rally, however, the Usos grab their titles and take the count out loss rather than risk the belts.
Now, this was a good match between two strong teams – and I totally get why you protect both of them like this. Then again, this is the second screwy finish in a row and it just deflates a lot of the momentum the show might have otherwise held. You could have had the Usos win via shenanigans, or pull a true heel DQ and use a chair or something, but having them take the count out to hold on to their titles is just a weak finish to what could be a strong match. I’m sure this feud will continue (and not just because these are the only two serious teams remaining on the Smackdown roster), so they’ll have a chance to build on this. Yet for what it was, this night’s match was just unremarkable and easily forgettable – something a match between two teams with this kind of talent shouldn’t be.
Match 3: Lana Vs. Naomi for the Smackdown Women’s Title
Oh Lana. I’m glad that she’s making the effort to be an in-ring competitor rather than just arm candy. I mean if Enzo Amore can do it, why not the Ravishing Russian? That being said, man did they rush her into this. I get that she’s a known quantity and has been a popular part of the main roster for a few years, but she definitely could’ve used some more time developing her skills at NXT house shows before she was brought on to PPV. Her offense is hella weak–like, it makes Shane McMahon’s rabbit punches look like haymakers from Evander Holyfield. And she only has two speeds when it comes to selling: comedically over reacting or ineptly missing her cue. I also have to complain about her packaging. The music, the dancing thing, the ring gear – it just doesn’t work, it all feels manufactured. Yes, Lana as a performer is sexy and a trained dancer, but unless her gimmick is “dances badly” they need to rethink her moves – especially when she’s being directly compared to Naomi, who is probably the best dancer in WWE’s troublingly extensive history of giving African American competitors the “smiles + dances” gimmick.
Naomi tries to carry this match, but she’s just not at that place in her career yet. She needs a competent opponent to have a good match, and sadly Lana isn’t up to the task. They try to keep things competitive to give Lana a bit of a rub and say she could compete with a woman of Naomi’s caliber, but she just can’t convincingly do it. There are a few times where Naomi misses a dive or something and rather than follow it up with a move of her own, Lana just shoots a lazy cover. Lana actually hits that sitout spinebuster finish she debuted last week but Naomi kicks out handily at 2, burying the move (and its user) with swiftness.
Toward the end of the match, Carmella’s music hits and the Princess of Staten Island strolls down to ringside with her new accessory and her old one (Ellsworth) and feigns a cash-in. This kind of distracts Lana, but not really as she still attempts some offense on a prone Naomi, but sees her efforts to hit her finish again reversed into the champ’s Feel the Glow submission. Lana quickly taps out, Naomi side eyes Carmella from the ring and we move on with our lives.
Where do you go with Lana from here? Management clearly sees something in her, but she’s too green to be competing at this level – and that’s coming from a guy who actually wanted Carmella to win the MitB briefcase. Her packaging is forced and not producing the responses they clearly hoped she would. There are no faces on the Smackdown roster that should eat a pin from her (arguably Becky could survive the loss, but they need to stop jobbing her out), and there’s no storyline beef for her except Naomi, who should be on to better things since she’s the champ. Is it too late to put her back in a pantsuit and have her yell about how her husband will crush the competition again?
- We get a new Fashion Files, or should I say Fashion Vice. I like the intro and the picture of Kizarny on their bulletin board with the wanted sticker, and the fact that they cram in like five Michael Jackson references at the end there. That said, this week’s vignette was weaker than past efforts from these two. I feel like this recent “push” has been really revealing about the upside of Fandango in particular, but he seems like he may work best with a framework to work with. He may need more than “we’re wearing Don Johnson jackets and talking on enormous cellphones” to be funny. Still, this segment sets up a match between the Fashion Police and the mysterious duo who wrecked their office last week. The ones with greasy hair and 1, possibly 2 arms.
- The camera cuts to the announcers discussing the controversy around the night’s opening bout when they’re suddenly interrupted by an 80’s guitar solo launching into a love ballad worthy of a early 90s Tom Cruise movie. That’s when out walks Maria and Mike Kanellis (Née Bennett). Yes, he took her name. It appears that the First Lady of ROH and her real life husband will be filling the Miz/Maryse role on Smackdown Live, as heels who are obnoxiously in love with each other. I look forward to seeing what they do on the blue brand, though I worry Tuesday nights are getting a little heel heavy. Between Baron Corbin, Kevin Owens, Jinder Mahal, Dolph Ziggler, Erick Rowan, the returning Rusev and now Kanellis, they can’t all beat up Sami Zayn or Tye Dillinger every week.
Match 4: Randy Orton Vs. Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship
Before the match they introduce a group of Hall of Famers at ringside to root Orton (the hometown hero) on. These include Greg Gagne, Larry “The Axe” Hennig, Baron Von Rachske, Sgt. Slaughter, Randy’s old Evolution mentor Ric Flair, and Randy’s old…dad, Cowboy Bob Orton. They mention Harley Race was supposed to be there too, but he legit injured himself this week and couldn’t make it. They actually announce Cowboy Bob before they announce Flair – which is the right move 95% of the time, but the one exception is probably when Orton’s in his hometown to root on his son in title match. Maybe they didn’t want Flair to get a bigger pop than the Cowboy, and that’s fair, but it’s a little sad all the same – especially when you consider Ric wasn’t out there for his own daughter’s match earlier in the night.
Speaking of odd timing, Jinder’s out first for his own title defense. I still don’t know if I feel like his ring work is worth his spot on the card, but aesthetically, Jinder looks like a champion. Not just because he’s built like a Masters of the Universe action figure either. He’s got the poise, and the awesome theme song and entrance – he’s got the whole package…you know, before he hits the ring, that is. Randy out next to a massive pop. It’s amazing what a hometown reaction can do for a dull superstar.
The match itself is like a carbon copy of their previous encounter, right down to the finish. Orton controls most of the proceedings, hitting most of his signature spots before going for his vintage hangman DDT only for Mahal to reverse and backdrop him out of the ring. Unfortunately this leads to WWE’s favorite trope these days – having the plucky, resilient babyface “tweak” their knee on an allegedly awkward landing. They seem to go to this well every time they need a strong face to eat a loss and it’s just tired. It’s crying wolf, and misses the entire point of that story. This is especially stupid in this match because, while Jinder does target most of his offense on the knee, his finish is a full-nelson slam. It doesn’t involve the knee at all. Like, where’s that logic? Even in WWE 2K games, you can’t work over a leg and then pin your opponent on finisher that targets the back. In real life, however, the Khallas (which is a really weak looking move if we’re honest) is enough to put down a guy who has kicked out of an F5 before. WTF?
Again, the action is pretty academic. Orton backdrops Jinder onto the barrier in front of his dad for a big pop. Unfortunately, it looks like Cowboy Bob was going for a high five, only for Randy to leave him hanging. That’s harsh, Randy. It’s Father’s Day! This isn’t all the excitement for the ringside Lipitor ad that was the “St. Louis Legends,” as the Singh Brothers would get all in Cowboy Bob’s face toward the end of the match. Naturally, this brings Randy out to straight up MURDER the Bollywood Boyz, who I’m convinced are just Jinder’s 15-year old nephews or something. They look like children as Orton tosses them around, hitting RKOs on both (with one brother eating the RKO through the announce table). Pleased with his child abuse, Randy slides back in the ring, eats a Khallas and Jinder pins him for the win.
I’m glad Jinder retained. Now let’s get him away from Randy and let him feud with someone new. Give him a program with someone who needs the rub, but doesn’t need to win the belt. Put him against Sami Zayn–you’ll be happy you did. Send Randy on vacation, give him the part timer schedule that will allow him to remain fresh instead of the boring, over-exposed veteran he’s been for the past few years.
Match 5: Breezango Vs. The Ascension
Yes, the grand mystery of who destroyed the Fashion Police office and jumped Tyler Breeze is resolved and MAN is it underwhelming. With Breezango in the ring, out comes the Ascension to muddled silence. The announce team tries to play it up as some sort of shocking development, but, like, why? These two teams have fought dozens of times, even though the Ascension may as well be Ozzfest security guards at this point, and are one of two teams that can job cleanly to the Fashion Po Po (the Colons having already done the job earlier tonight). You know why it’s surprising that it was the Ascension? Because most fans thought the WWE had a real idea for this storyline and weren’t just throwing out some nonsense.
Oh well, whatever. Good for these guys getting a PPV payday. Fandango rolls up Konnor for the win in a match that the crowd mostly slept through. Why was this after the WWE championship match?
Match 6: Men’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Unsurprisingly given the show’s booking (and the basic concept of showmanship, I guess), the main event is the best part of the night, and it starts when Shinsuke Nakamura makes his entrance – or more accurately, attempts to make his entrance. While the strobes are still firing, Baron Corbin runs out and decks Shin from behind, beating him with ladders and a video camera before heading to the ring to start the actual match. Nak gets taken to the back to get medical attention, but he’ll be back much later in the bout.
Despite the stipulation, there isn’t the spot fest you’d imagine a MitB match to be. There are a few notable exceptions and most seem to be hit on Kevin Owens. The first sees Owens standing on the top rope preparing to splash onto Corbin and AJ on the outside, but Sami catching him in the ring and throwing him into a half-opened ladder, which absolutely wrecks both KO and the ladder itself. Later, KO is trying to hit the apron powerbomb on AJ, when Styles reverses it into a sort of Death Valley Driver onto a ladder that had been laid across the tables. At one point, Sami also hits an exploder suplex onto the apron. Man, I hope KO doesn’t have to fight on Tuesday’s Smackdown. That dude could use a break.
Other cool spots included:
- Zayn hitting a sunset powerbomb on Ziggler from the top of a ladder. It looked a little scary, but those guys are great, so they made it work.
- Corbin hits a great Deep Six on Ziggler from the ring apron. It’s a situation where his dramatic selling style really made a move work, rather than seeming cartoonish and silly.
- Corbin pulling Ziggler off a ladder only to have it turned into a Zig Zag, which is maybe the first time I thought that move looked like it would hurt.
- Corbin powerbombing AJ on the ladder set up outside and rolling back into the ring only to eat a Heluva Kick from Sami Zayn once he stands up. Awesome timing.
- AJ gets a hand on the case, but Ziggler takes the ladder out from under him. AJ does his best to unhook the case, but loses his grip and takes a hell of a fall from the case because of it.
Eventually, Corbin is nearly at the top of the latter when Shinsuke’s music hits and the Japanese superstar runs down to the ring to wreck EVERYONE. He hits multiple Kinshasas and stiff kicks to Corbin, Ziggler, Zayn and Owens as he brings a new ladder into the ring. Once it’s set up and he goes to cover it, AJ slides in on the opposite side of the ladder and the two stare at each other from across the ring. The crowd is going nuts with excitement (proof of concept for this matchup in the future) as both guys grab the ladder and move it aside so they can fight in earnest. They do have a pretty brief exchange, which is awesome, and AJ gets the upper hand by hitting a Phenomenal Forearm. As AJ starts to climb, Nak gets back into it and climbs the other side. The two start slugging it out at the top of the ladder, and the crowd starts a dueling chant for both guys (seriously, Vince. If not SummerSlam, this has to be at WrestleMania). Unfortunately, this wakes up Corbin, who tips the ladder over, dumping the internet darlings to the outside before climbing the ladder himself and retrieving the case for the win.
As I said earlier in this review, the MitB briefcase works best when it’s held by an opportunistic heel that needs a little push to put them into the main event scene – and there is no better opportunistic heel on the Smackdown roster than Baron Corbin. That dude attacks someone from behind every week–this gimmick was made for him. Maybe once John Cena takes the belt off of Jinder we’ll see a cash-in, though I wouldn’t be too surprised if Corbin does cash in on a heel at some point.
This wasn’t a particularly strong outing for the Smackdown squad. It’s a weird situation where I liked all of the results, but didn’t like the endings. Corbin and Carmella were my picks for the MitB matches, but I obviously have some issues with how Cams won. I wanted the Usos to retain, but I wanted them to look strong. I wanted Jinder to hold on to the belt, but the match ending was a copy paste job from their last match. It would be hard to recommend this event to anyone but a serious fan, and even then, I’d be hesitant. It’s fine, I guess, but to steal a line from dads everywhere – “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.”