Edge. Rob Van Dam. CM Punk. Jack Swagger. The Miz. Alberto Del Rio. Daniel Bryan. Dolph Ziggler. Seth Rollins. Dean Ambrose.
Those ten men have a number of things in common — they were all once considered one of WWE’s hottest rising stars. They all had rocky roads to the top. They also all successfully cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase to win their first World Championship.
That is a remarkable fact — WWE’s elevation of all these men to the top has been via the exact same booking crutch. Not the culmination of years of storytelling nor the conclusion of a satisfying story arc, each of them has been trotted out the first time as a shock moment. While WWE peddles in “moments” a great deal, but a direct line can be drawn between WWE’s over-reliance on Money in the Bank to propel people into true main events and its inability to create new stars.
Money in the Bank is not a bad idea. It has undeniably worked in the past and created some actual memorable moments. Edge’s first cash-in at New Year’s Resolution 2006 was a legitimate shock—seeing the stipulation put to use for the first time resulted in a tangible excitement. It felt special. It may have been the launching pad Edge needed, had his reign not been cut so cruelly short a month later.
Rob Van Dam invoking his championship match ahead of time to face John Cena at One Night Stand 2006 created one of the more memorable WWE Championship matches of all time. RVD used the case to challenge Cena on his home turf and won. Dolph Ziggler’s Money in the Bank cash-in on Alberto Del Rio on the Raw after WrestleMania in 2013 felt like Ziggler finally smashing through the glass ceiling to an enormous response.
Like with all things, diminishing returns eventually kicks in. Money in the Bank went from one to two a year starting in 2010 (well technically three in 2010 as there was a match at WrestleMania as well as its own PPV). Both the inherent and shock value of the Money in the Bank briefcase had worn thin. Every possible permutation of cashing in had been explored—WWE had beaten an already tired idea into the ground.
There was just one problem: as it became less and less effective, it remained WWE’s primary method of elevating people. Elevating wrestlers is hard. It requires some combination of planning, reacting and blind luck. That’s even if you find the right talent in the first place. Money in the Bank flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Rather than preparing wrestlers for the moment where they are crowned champion – building to that moment to ensure the audience buys them at a World Championship level—Money in the Bank hinges on the opposite.
Surprise is paramount, so in cases like Jack Swagger, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and Seth Rollins WWE seemed to do the reverse. Neglect how those wrestlers are prepared in favor of maximizing the shock. But for a company so obsessed with moments, that approach only does them a disservice over time. Edge cashing in Money in the Bank the first time was monumental. Baron Corbin failing to cash in on Jinder Mahal in the 18th use of the briefcase is when you know the stipulation has long since jumped the shark.
Credibility is one of the most important factors in a successful World Championship reign.
Does the audience buy the champion? Do they honestly believe the champion is the best? While sometimes you can tell a story about an undeserving champion, Money in the Bank’s starting point is lacking credibility. A person’s first championship win isn’t always the most memorable, but it usually does have a huge effect defining who a wrestler is.
Swagger clearly won the belt too early and was never taken seriously. Miz and Daniel Bryan both existed as slip-on banana peel champions. CM Punk had absolutely no credibility. Edge may have worked but had the belt snatched back way too quickly. While Rollins was a memorable moment—cashing in during a WresleMania main event, it still set him up to be a champion nobody took seriously (while simultaneously allowing WWE to take a cowardly way out of the Roman Reigns/Brock Lesnar main event).
You can equally extend the same issues to people who cash in win a title they’ve already won. WWE booked Bayley into the ground for two years before she won Money in the Bank and catapulting herself into becoming WWE Smackdown Women’s Champion all in one night. Nobody cares about her because she hasn’t been treated as an important character for a very long time. Her title win was a nice moment, but her title reign was dead on arrival. Cashing in Money in the Bank doesn’t undo the damage done to her, it only devalues the championship.
WWE has exhausted pretty much every type of cash in. Shock cash-ins, premeditated cash-ins, long con cash-ins, failed cash-ins. Money in the Bank was an effective idea once, but now it’s a great deal more destructive than it is effective. Never was it clearer than last night that Money in the Bank cash ins mean nothing now. Brock Lesnar successfully converted the case into the WWE Universal Championship in a moment that felt more like a return to the status quo than a shocking moment.
It felt inevitable, not surprising.
The magic of Money in the Bank is long dead.