Let's wind the clocks back to December 31, 2010. If you had told me then "Hey, the best pay-per-view of the year will be a B-level show in July", I would have thought you were drunk (and hey, it would have been on New Year's Eve, so you probably were). Nonetheless, here we are on July 18, 2011, and I will flat out state that Money In The Bank was, hands down, the best WWE pay-per-view of 2011. And the main event will run away with Match of the Year honors. More on that later.
As a disclaimer, I do have to state that, because of prior commitments, I was not able to catch the "SmackDown" MITB match. To that end, I can't say much about the match, other than I'm very sad that I missed the Sheamus/Sin Cara powerbomb spot (from what I heard and still photos, it looked very O-worthy). I was also surprised by their choice to give the briefcase to Daniel Bryan. This does lead me to believe that he will be the first to cash in the briefcase but fail to win the title, because it really is too soon to put the title on him. I will also give WWE credit for not having him attempt to cash it in last night. More on that later.
There was a divas match. Does anyone care? Moreover, when's Kharma coming back?
I didn't expect Big Show vs. Mark Henry to be a stellar match. But I think their feud has been solid, save for Henry's stumble last Monday on Raw. I also think that this match helped to bring back some of the steam that Henry lost. It wasn't a particularly pretty match, but it helps build Henry. Let's face it, from a storyline standpoint, Henry pretty much picked up and threw Big Show around at will. So there's the biggest guy in the company, and Henry is having his way with him. Additionally, he put a chair around Big Show's leg (leg? ankle? knee?) and splashed into it. So he's big, he's powerful, and he destroys people if he feels like it. Congratulations, that is a monster heel, something that "SmackDown!" (which is generally a little more gimmick and character based than "Raw") could certainly use on their roster.
The one gripe I do have, other than Henry's offense not looking particularly crisp, was the chair spot. What the hell was Henry trying to hurt? When he first got the chair, I assumed he was going after Show's knee (which was a focal point during the match), but then he slid the chair halfway up Show's shin, and afterwards, there was a lot of mention about his ankle. So...what exactly was Henry trying to do, and what the hell did he actually do? It would help his cause if there was a clearer answer to both questions (moreso if it was the same answer).
I enjoyed the "Raw" MITB match, although the spot at the beginning with the short ladders seemed a little out of place. I popped for Evan Bourne doing Air Bourne off of the 20' ladder onto all the other competitors. It was a nice change of pace for how the "human pyramid" gimmick in the MITB match usually happens (you know, where every guy in order of how big they are does a splash from the top rope onto the other wrestlers). I also popped for Jack Swagger locking the Anklelock on Kofi Kingston while Kofi was climbing the ladder, and for Mysterio using the ladder to hit a 619. You know a pay-per-view is walking on water when I'm even praising Rey Mysterio, because I'm pretty sure that, in the four and a half years I've written for this site, I have never once O'd for anything he's done.
Speaking of popping, I know that Chicago is a heel town, but damn. When Miz came back out from his "knee injury" and started climbing the ladder, that may have been the biggest pop of the night that wasn't directed at CM Punk. Between Miz coming back and almost winning, and the crowd going bananas for it, I wonder if Donnie threw something at the TV at that point. I suspect he won't have very kind things to say about Chicago come this week's show.
Even with as little respect as WWE generally has for the tradition of masked wrestlers, I'm really surprised that the commentary did such a piss poor job of highlighting what ultimately was the final "spot" of the match. Del Rio, in a last ditch effort to keep Rey Mysterio from securing the MITB briefcase, reached up and yanked the mask off of Rey Mysterio's head. Now, this may or may not have been a blown spot, but what it looked like to me was, the second the mask was ripped off, Mysterio stopped trying to get the briefcase and covered his face. Ultimately, Del Rio pushed him off of the ladder, then climbed back up the ladder himself to win.
So let's review. Mysterio has what WWE likes to put over as a "guaranteed title run" in his hands, and literally gives it up because he doesn't want to be seen unmasked. He gave up a championship to avoid his face being seen. Taking into consideration that WWE is currently promoting a DVD about Mysterio, and the fact that he's a masked wrestler, why was this not made a much bigger deal by the commentators? Oh, right...because piss on wrestling tradition, we're not wrestling, so says WWE.
Orton and Christian put on a solid match, although I think it's a telling sign that you're making a wrestler too powerful when I called at least half a dozen spots of "Okay, Orton's gonna hit the RKO out of nowhere and it'll be over". Props to WWE for playing on my jaded cynicism by putting so many spots in that match where Orton has, in previous matches, hit the RKO from an identical spot. Instead, in this match, he went for a DDT, a powerslam, pretty much anything but the RKO. That neckbreaker he performed near the end of the match was a nice spot as well. Admittedly I haven't been watching much WWE lately, so I have no idea if he's started using that move regularly, but if he hasn't, he should.
I thought the ending of the match was well done. Christian spitting in Orton's face, only to have Orton completely snap and get himself disqualified with a really well executed and well sold kick to the groin. It's great booking, in my opinion. Christian has not been able to beat Orton by out-wrestling him, so why not outsmart him and get him to beat himself? Hopefully Christian is given a little longer of a reign than his first time with the belt.
The Orton meltdown continued post match, with Orton doing one damn good George "The Animal" Steele impression while delivering two RKO's to Christian on the Spanish announce table. It seemed like the stage was set for Daniel Bryan to come out and cash in. He didn't, and I'm glad he didn't. As mentioned earlier, I think it's way too soon to put the title on Daniel Bryan (if you ever do), and on top of that, if you're going to have someone finally fail when cashing in (which has to happen eventually...not often, but every once in a blue moon somebody has to fail), I think Bryan makes a logical choice.
Originally, I had predicted that Sheamus would win MITB and then cash in on Christian after he won the title. Sheamus would, in the process, turn face (before you snicker, how many main event faces are on "SmackDown!")? and feud with Wade Barrett over the title going into SummerSlam, while allowing Christian and Orton to continue their feud within a new context. However, with Christian winning the title, their feud will continue and stay fresh in the wake of the title changing. My scenario was probably a little too radical to play out anyway.
Of course, the main event last night was what the WWE Universe, and indeed, a good chunk of the "real world" was buzzing about. The "If Punk leaves Chicago with the title" was worded so that I believed some sort of chicanery would prevent Punk from leaving with the title (likely via a MITB cash-in). Again, WWE played on thisk jaded cynicism. More on that later.
As for the match itself, with all due respect to his hour-long match in England, and with all due respect to his TLC Match with Edge (it was in Toronto, in case you forgot), this may have been the best match of John Cena's career. It was easily the best match in WWE this year, and probably even in several years. I would even rate this as better than Shawn vs. Taker, simply because, as incredible as those two matches were, I never really believed that Shawn was going over. This match, however, I was back and forth, up and down, literally marking out with every big spot and every two count. I went from swearing up a storm and saying "I'm done with WWE because Cena's going to win" to jumping up and down with elation when Punk countered, back to anger when Cena countered. This match absolutely brought out the mark in me, and kept me completely guessing right until the end.
And the counters were done so well that it really added to the back and forth feel. John Cena sets Punk up for the FU. Punk reverses and sets John Cena up for the GTS. Cena blocks it and locks in the STF. Punk counters and locks in the Anaconda Vise. Cena counters and hits the FU. Punk kicks out at two. Just that span of moves brought more emotion out of me than anything that WWE has done in recent memory. And that was pretty much the story of the entire match. Hopefully WWE was paying attention last night. For years, they've been putting out "sports entertainment matches". Last night's main event was a wrestling match. Notice how much more the crowd was into the wrestling match?
In the closing minutes of the match, Vince tried to re-enact the Montreal Screwjob by having Johnny Ace tell the timekeeper to ring the bell while Punk was in the STF. Cena, seeing what was going on, released the hold and gave a stiff clothesline to Laurinaitis (possibly some form of punishment for failing to re-sign CM Punk). Cena then stared down McMahon for a moment before walking back into the ring and walking right into the GTS. Again, it's been a long time since I've popped that hard for anything WWE has done.
After the match, my jaded cynicism once again kicked in and led me to believe that either Bryan or Del Rio was going to cash in. Vince even got on the headset and told Alberto to cash in then and there, and I was sure that WWE was going to piss away everything they had built over the last month. And then Punk kicked Del Rio's head off the instant he got into the ring, and I popped hard. The show went off the air with Punk leaving through the crowd and entering the concourse as Vince stood on the ring apron, ready to cry.
People will forget visual spectacles, but they will never forget emotional experiences. Last night's match was an emotional experience for everybody who attended the event in Chicago, and who watched around the world. Again, I hope WWE took notes, because if they can continue to put out pay-per-views of this caliber, they will see their viewership drastically increase in the near future.
*Daniel Bryan def. Sheamus, Sin Cara, Wade Barrett, Kane, Cody Rhodes, Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater in "SmackDown"'s Money In The Bank Ladder Match
*Kelly Kelly def. Brie Bella to retain Diva's Championship
*Mark Henry def. Big Show
*Alberto Del Rio def. Rey Mysterio, Alex Riley, The Miz, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, Jack Swagger, and Evan Bourne in "Raw"'s Money In The Bank Ladder Match
*Christian def. Randy Orton by DQ to win World Heavyweight Championship
*CM Punk def. John Cena to win WWE Championship