Professional wrestling stories can generally be broken down into two phases- the buildup and the payoff. Wrestlemania is the biggest event of the year because it generally pays off angles that have built over several months and focuses very little on moving the chess pieces into place for what comes next. Money in the Bank, on the other hand, revolves around positioning for the next steps by its very nature. I have noticed that some wrestling fans get so excited about fantasy booking that they actually prefer the buildup mode, in much the same way that some football fans prefer the NFL draft over the Super Bowl. Last night’s Money in the Bank PPV not only featured great wrestling up and down the card and gave us two new title challengers in Randy Orton and Damien Sandow, it also set the stage for myriad feuds for the rest of the summer.
Randy Orton Won the WWE Title MITB Match
The match that went on last and got the most time did not surpass the lofty standard set by the other MITB match, but it exceeded my expectations anyway. Rob Van Dam entered first looking to be in better shape than when he left TNA months ago. The fans supported him from the start and he rewarded them by incorporating ladders into his familiar array of jumping-rolling-twisting moves. His personal highlight was a Five- Star Frog Splash off the top of an extra tall ladder (Jim Ross would have called it a 30-footer, most likely) onto Christian. The match featured Sheamus hitting his forearms to Daniel Bryan’s chest as the two were prone atop the ladder. Randy Orton, who got early heel heat in the match, delivered a T-bone suplex to CM Punk onto a ladder propped in the corner of the ring. Bryan had a vicious rally of his own that involved a running dropkick onto a ladder, a suicide dive onto a pile of ladders, a double missile dropkick followed by a kip up, and a shove to Sheamus that put him through a ladder propped between the ring and announce table. As it looked like Bryan might win, Curtis Axel ran to the ring and hit him with a chair. Punk hit Axel with a GTS as he got ready to leave the ring and Paul Heyman emerged and started berating Axel for getting in Punk’s way. Punk slowly climbed the ladder and just before he got to the top, Heyman smashed him with another ladder and left him very bloody. Van Dam recovered first and started climbing again, but Orton pulled him off the ladder and hit an RKO in midair. He climbed the ladder and retrieved the briefcase to a more positive reception than I anticipated.
Orton’s win sets him up to challenge John Cena for what feels like the 50th time. It will be a challenge to make a feud between them feel fresh. One possible angle would be to carry Orton’s feud with Bryan over to the main event and have them feud for the WWE Title after Orton wins it from Cena. Bryan, though, could be enmeshed in the Heyman storyline since Axel attacked him. While the tension has built between Heyman and Punk, it has come slowly enough that Heyman’s attack still felt surprising, and the hush in the crowd indicates that I was not alone in that reaction. If Bryan and Punk form a tenuous alliance to gain retribution against Axel and Heyman, we could very well see Brock Lesnar return to round out the numbers for a highly exciting tag team match.
Damien Sandow Won the World Heavyweight Title MITB Match
The opening match stole the show in more ways than one. Each participant made his mark on the match in one way or another. Fandango looked great early with a kick and a legdrop onto a ladder perched on Wade Barrett. Later, Fandango hit one of the best spots of the night with a sunset flip-powerbomb on Barrett over the top of the ladder. Barrett got on the offensive when he found a broken ladder rung and beat Damien Sandow with it. Dean Ambrose hit a leaping DDT on Jack Swagger off of the ladder. He also climbed on top of a ladder held horizontally by Cesaro and Swagger and tried to grab the briefcase before they dumped him on the floor. Ambrose nearly won when his Shield compatriots came to the ring to help him, but the Usos fought them off and rebalanced the match. The real star was Cody Rhodes, whose gold tights predicted the championship effort he would give in the match. He hit a muscle buster on Cesaro on top of a ladder, a missle dropkick to Swagger with Cesaro on his shoulders, and Cross-Rhodes on Fandango and Barrett. With blood running down the side of his face, he ascended the ladder to the fans’ chants, but Sandow- who had been hiding near the timekeeper- ran in and pulled him off the ladder. Sandow took advantage and won the match.
Rhodes finally had the breakthrough performance that he has missed so far in his career, even though it came in a losing effort. He has completed the majority of a face turn and will probably finish it with one more confrontation with his former best friend. Since Alberto Del Rio still feels like a transitional champion, it seems possible that Rhodes and Sandow could feud over the World Heavyweight Title, which would be an exciting development going into SummerSlam.Sandow, for his part, was an unexpected winner. He certainly has the potential to grow as a star, but he will have to overcome fairly weak booking in the last few months.
John Cena def. Mark Henry to retain the WWE Title
Michael Cole explained Cena’s slow start as an effect of the psychological damage Henry has done over the last month. Henry suplexed Cena stomach-first onto the ring steps and flung him into the barricade by his feet. When Cena finally rallied, he crumbled under Henry’s weight during an Attitude Adjustment attempt. He finally hit the AA, but Henry kicked out to his dismay. He went to the top rope for a cross-body attempt and Henry caught him for a World’s Strongest Slam. While Cena kicked out, there was a brief moment of uncertainty that made me more invested than I was going into the match. Cena shoved Henry into the turnbuckle that he exposed and locked Henry in the STF. After Henry reached the ropes, he hit Cena with a low blow for a two count. He went for another WSS, but Cena floated over and locked in another STF to earn the win. As anticipated, Henry’s moment in the main event was transitory. Even so, he delivered a good match that far exceeded my expectations.
Alberto Del Rio def. Dolph Ziggler by Disqualification to retain the World Heavyweight Title
Ziggler wrestled his best match in ages and stayed on the offensive more than usual as he tried to wrestle more of a face style. My favorite move of the match was a leaping top rope facebuster to Del Rio. Ziggler also hit ten consecutive elbow drops that got the fans chanting along. He dodged an enzuigiri by Del Rioi and hit the fameasser for a near fall. AJ came to the ring to support Ziggler, and he yelled at her to go back to the locker room. He got back into the match to counter Del Rio’s second attempt at a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker into a leaping DDT. When he went to the top rope, AJ distracted him again and allowed Del Rio to hit an inverted superplex. He followed it with a standing side kick for a close two count. Ziggler gathered himself and looked ready to hit the Zig-Zag when Aj ran into the ring and hit Del Rio with her Divas Title to get Ziggler disqualified. Although AJ cried and apologized after the match, the result clearly plants the seed for Ziggler to break up with AJ. Presumably, that will lead to AJ becoming bitter and sending Big E Langston after Ziggler. Although that angle would take him out of the title picture for the time being, it will be a good opportunity for him to wrestle as a face with a clear storyline that will not stall out like his title reign. There is also the remote possibility that we will learn that Del Rio and AJ conspired against Ziggler, but nothing from last night indicated that direction for the story.
Ryback def. Chris Jericho
As usual, Jericho brought the best out in his opponent. Ryback hit a second rope splash and an excellent overhead belly-to-belly suplex that are not part of his usual arsenal. Jericho also used some good offense, including an impressive Northern Lights Suplex on the big man. The best exchange of the match took place when Jericho escaped Shell-Shocked to attempt a Codebreaker, but Ryback caught him and turned it into a powerbomb. Eventually, Jericho did hit a Codebreaker, but it knocked Ryback to the outside before Jericho could cover him. Despite dealing with a bad knee once again, Ryback rolled away from a Lionsault and rolled up Jericho for the pin. Ryback, so far known primarily as a brute, won by outsmarting Jericho. It was an important step in the growth of his character and world’s better than morphing him into a crybaby.
AJ def. Kaitlyn to retain the Divas Title
While this match did not live up to the high bar set in their Payback match, Kaitlyn did well to overcome a bad elbow and wrestle a decent match. She hit a nice inverted DDT in the early part of the match. When she tried to follow it with a suplex, AJ countered with an armbreaker on her knees. AJ went to the top rope to attempt a moonsault and Kaitlyn shoved her to the outside, but Big E Langston caught AJ and set her back in the ring. When Kaitlyn finally hit the spear, her bad elbow made her hesitate too long to get a cover. AJ used the opportunity to recover and lock in the Black Widow to make Kaitlyn tap out.
Curtis Axel def. The Miz to retain the Intercontinental Title
Even though this match was probably the weakest on the card, it was still a reasonably good match. Miz continues to show creativity and improved wrestling skills despite the fact that he is struggling to maintain any heat. Early in the match, he pretended that Paul Heyman hit him and tricked the referee into ejecting Heyman from ringside. He used the advantage to hit a good high knee-big boot combination. Axel avoided the Skull Crushing Finale after that and nearly won with a Perfect Plex. Miz fought back and followed a leg breaker with a Figure Four. Axel rolled it over, but Miz rolled back. Axel got to the ropes and staggered outside to recover. He made Miz chase him back into the ring and hit the spinning neckbreaker finisher when Miz caught up to him. It was one of Axel’s first opportunities to win a challenging match cleanly and he looked good doing it.