Well, I think we’ll all be watching RAW tonight! As happy as I am about what happened last night, there is so much to pore over i’m worried that I wont be able to verbalise it all too well, so i’ll stick to WWEs genius of last night, keep it simple. Indeed, the Punk story drew scores of imaginative fantasy booking from fans around the world. I myself could barely contain myself, posting on here a new idea I had only hours before the event. But instead of going with an overly-complicated scenario, WWE gave us, basically, what we wanted, and in a compelling, dramatic way. The best way to really understand exactly what happened is to watch it, and pay for it. Indeed, i’ll be buying the DVD when it’s released – not only because of the quality of the PPV, but because the best way to show WWE that we want this sort of honest wrestling, driven by the people is what we want, is with cold hard Dollar.
Match 1) Daniel Bryan Won the Smackdown Money in the Bank Ladder Match
One thing I noticed about the ladder matches last night was that, although there were some nice spots, they were more about sheer brutality and storytelling based upon the sheer amount of people. Early on there was a nice repeated spot involving baseball slides to people using a ladder, only for the previous aggressor to be hit with the same spot. Also, there were lots of sequences where, while backs were turned, a lone competitor tried to climb the ladder. It just got over a bit more of a sophisticated psychology where the competitors realised that stealth may be more helpful than fighting in trying to get the coveted briefcase. The place for stealth is quite limited though, and this was shown in probably the most memorable spot of the match where Sheamus powerbombed Sin Cara through the ladder in what is now a familiar spot. Cara sold this fantastically, staying in a crumpled heap for just longer than you would expect. When he was brought to the back, however, I became convinced that it was just a conceit allowing for Cara to rush the ring at the end and directly affect the finish. Unfortunately, it seems like this was a kayfabe injury angle after Cara failed breached the wellness policy and is now suspended. With him out of the match, rest got on with eliminating each other; Cody Rhodes had a decent period of dominance hitting Cross Rhodes on several people, Barrett performed a great spot hitting Waste Land to Kane (I think) over the top rope, and Justin Gabriel hit a springboard-style 450 Splash from a ladder on the turnbuckle to Kane (again) before they all started to fight for the briefcase more intently. This was a case of survival as wrestlers would climb the ladder, only to be eliminated and another guy join the race. The final two were former NXT/Nexus brethren Wade Barrett and Daniel Bryan. With Barrett a favourite at the start, i’m sure the fans were expecting Barrett to dispatch Bryan, but instead, Bryan got the advantage, and got the briefcase! That genuinely was a shock, and a pleasant one! That’ll be very pleasing for the IWC fans, and i’m sure for the many others who can relate to a genuinely likeable and very skilled wrestler and who like him whether they’re a nerd or not. I think people feared Bryan, as a winner, may have been used as a luckless foil for the Punk story, but seen as that was not the case, we are faced with the exciting prospect of Bryan as a future World Champion. Bryan winning is great, not only – obviously – for Bryan, but for Smackdown, where the roster is now re-jigged and has a new top face added to back up Orton and make it less one-dimensional (hopefully), while also maybe speeding Cody Rhodes’ rise to the top by association. Excellent, surprising, refreshing booking!
Match 2) Kelly Kelly w/ Eve Torres def. Brie Bella to Retain the WWE Divas Championship
This was a decent divas match and, unfortunately, they suffered from the understandable fatigue audiences suffer from after seeing an intense ladder match. There were some nice moments here, most notably Kelly Kelly taking a faceplant bump to the outside off a reversal of her tarantula-like head-scissors. There were, however, some sloppy moments too. We all knew Kelly would win, and she did so with relative ease, as a top babyface diva should.
Match 3) Mark Henry def. The Big Show
This was the best monster vs monster match I can recall seeing – at least in recent times. It wasn’t a lolling, slow, drudging affair, but started out intense, with the big guys hitting huge resounding chops against each other and quickly falling out to ringside, where they brawled some more in a well choreographed section. There was a lot of nice back and forth here as one power rallied, only for the other force to produce an equal reaction. I didn’t much like Henry working Show’s knee – that sort of technical wrestling doesn’t fit with the raw dislike the two are meant to have for each other, but that was the only flaw of the match. Eventually, Henry managed to get the win, but it required the World’s Strongest Man to hit the World’s Strongest Slam twice and several splashes, proving the sheer power of Show and the power that was vanquished. It was good that the match was relatively short because it just got over the threat and power of Henry. In case that wasn’t enough, Henry set about the prone Show post-match, with a crunching Vaderbomb to Show’s ankle, which was wrapped around a chair. This seems to be writing Show off TV for a while, which I have nothing against because he is rather stale just now (this last feud really being about Henry). Hopefully when he returns, he’ll be able to make an impact again – for one thing, I think he would make a great challenger for Christian, with Christian being a smaller guy. Because Henry’s a heel, I don’t see him challenging for the title, but he is only going to move up the card. Maybe he could work with Bryan (for the same reason as Christian) trying to force the MITB briefcase away from him. God, he might win too – let’s hope not!
Match 4) Alberto Del Rio Won the RAW Money in the Bank Match
Immediately, I didn’t like that each competitor brought their own ladder to the ring. They all entered and squared up, but it made no sense that they didn’t try and use them. Why wait for more armed competitors to arrive? What can they do, DQ you!? I was also a little unimpressed by the repeated spot (possibly from last year’s event, possibly from Legacy-DX) where one guy is buried under a pile of ladders, but then Rey Mysterio was thrown out of the ring on to the mangled mess of ladders in a horrible (in a good way) bump. Recently, Kofi Kingston has been the king of the MITB match, and last night, one of the first things that really impressed me last night was his spot with Evan Bourne, showing remarkable balance by each climbing a still folded ladder in the middle of the ring! Amazing stuff. This was followed with more … amazing stuff, a plethora of outside dives of various kinds: Alex Riley (yes, A-Ry) with a suicide dive, R-Truth with a somersault plancha, Kofi and Rey with simultaneous cross bodies to the outside, and topped with a Shooting Star Press from Bourne on to everybody. Amazing, heart-in-mouth stuff, well paced and built to a climax. Skipping time a bit, there was another, amazing, perfectly simultaneous pair of hurricanranas from Bourne and Mysterio to Truth and Del Rio. Before the match, I predicted that the Smackdown match would by the high-flying master-class, but this match really took my breath away in that category. More great stuff came with a sequence starting with Kofi using the ladder on the top turnbuckle as a springboard for a Boom Drop before R-Truth was caught with a 619 from Rey, on a ladder, in the middle of the ring! Unbelievable balance! The scramble for the briefcase did a great job of selling how important the ‘golden’ opportunity is to the competitors; with several ladders set up, seven superstars fought atop them, eventually all crashing and burning, with no one up, there was a huge pop for the return of The Miz, who looked to possibly legitimately hurt his knee after falling from the ladder on his feet (he did go on to take a sunset flip, so maybe it’s not too bad, but if he was hurt, major kudos for finishing the match!), and sprint-hopped to the ring and up the ladder. It was Rey that stopped Miz, and as he climbed the ladder there was huge heat as the audience saw that he could win and therefore shows the staleness of Mysterio’s character right now. The one man left, ADR, managed to scale the ladder and swipe Rey’s mask in a clever bit of booking which saw Rey rather cover his face than challenge for the briefcase. In his fever to do this, he knocked Del Rio’s ladder over, but that small botch didn’t affect the end, and Del Rio won the briefcase to hasten his path, you have to think, to the WWE Championship. Now this made me, and i’m sure many others, worry that this only pointed to Del Rio (rather than Punk) leaving Chicago as champion, especially when he promised to prove how great he was later in the night,
Match 5) Christian def. Randy Orton to Become World Heavyweight Champion
This match was excellent in terms of in-ring content, but even better given the intelligent booking of it considering the stip that if Orton was DQ’d, he would lose his title. The first thing Christian did was to leave the ring and hand the famously unstable Orton a chair to hit him with. Even Orton though, was not hot enough yet to contemplate that. This was Christian’s schtik throughout the match, and he continued by shoving Orton. In the early going though, that only made Orton mad enough to dominate in the ring. I was fatigued, as I said is possible, after watching the second MITB match, but as this match went on, I started waking up – no doubt with the help of the red hot Chicago crowd! The match became a great back-and-forth encounter (better than at Capitol Punishment, which was good, but probably their weakest effort), with Christian still looking heelish, but this time more Randy Orton’s equal. This was exemplified when Christian managed to wrestle Orton in to a Killswitch for a great near fall which the audience, and I, went nuts for. This was where the match headed for it’s crescendo, with more and quicker back-and-forth, leading to a vintage hangman DDT from Orton. With Christian backed in to a corner, he led Orton after him before spitting in his face. An understandably furious Orton went after Captain Charisma in a noticeably new and brutal way, eventually hitting a low blow on Christian to hand Christian the match and the championship in the perfect way regarding their storyline. It gives Christian the title in the least honourable way possible, and really reignites the tension between the two. As I write, this is before the Smackdown tapings and I don’t know what will happen with the World Title. The reason I mention this as a factor is that given Christian’s first title reign was so short, and with Daniel Bryan crowned the MITB holder, there is a real possibility that he could cash in on Tuesday to further frustrate Christian. I don’t think Bryan, as a WWE character, is ready for the title. I think he needs a good story to build him up and let us get used to the idea of him as champion.
Match 6) CM Punk def. John Cena to Win the WWE Championship
The empty ring, the canvas, literally, where history was about to unfold. I love it when WWE allow a pause to let the fans’ voice be heard, and it was genuinely spine-tingling hearing the Chicagoans chant ‘CM Punk! CM Punk!’ as loud as they could, only to be validated when his music finally hit to the biggest pop i’ve ever heard! Punk, with a quiet confidence at first, stepped through the curtain in a shirt commemorating the day and himself as the ‘best in the world’, but when he shouted the familiar ‘It’s clobberin’ time!’ he became a shaman of the crowd, with them in the palm of his hand. He was literally controlling them at points, telling them how to react and directing them. As a face, he was producing such great pops, and finally, sitting down as his music reached a crescendo and the camera panned out to show the crowd and how Punk is with the crowd, equal to them, a part of them, waiting for the New York Yankees to come out to face him. Punk didn’t say a word, but here, even more than before, he was the voice of the voiceless, the fan’s representative. Again a pause, signalling, as if we didn’t already know, how we should react to Cena, who came out stoic and without his usual Americana-pomp, visibly aware of the power of the crowd that were almost baying for him. Punk played up to this even more by leaving the ring and standing by the guard-rails with the fans, including Colt Cabana. In fact, one minor thing that I thought was missed was the announcers refusing to acknowledge Colt (or perhaps being ignorant of him). Mentioning him would have played well with the story and added yet another fantasy booking red-herring to the mix.
Then there was the match, a match which, even without the context, would stand out as a very good match, but with the context in mind, and with the wall of noise created by the Chicago fans, following the ups and downs of the match, and specifically, of CM Punk. The two started off respectfully of each other’s abilities with some sequences followed by stand-offs, but CM Punk did mock the character of Cena, telling him that he can’t see him, and theatrically directing the ‘You Can’t Wrestle’ chant at Cena, who is unfairly well known for being a bad wrestler for 5 moves (obviously not true). Early on, it was a real collision of forces as there would be regular and even back-and-forth, but the roles played by either man were remarkably different. Cena was all business, almost ignoring the fans while insisting on using all his face taunts – that here seemed to be distinctly aimed at mocking the audience’s support for Punk. Punk, on the other hand, was showing the two-way equal conversation between babyfaces and fans by reacting to them and seemingly letting them direct his own actions. With Cena on the outside, for instance, he gestured to the crowd, obviously suggesting some sort of diving move to the outside, and when they responded rapturously, he went ahead and hit a great Suicide Dive to Cena on the outside before slapping hands with Colt Cabana. The two also traded highly aggressive outer-ring moves; Punk with a brutal guillotine knee to Cena on the apron, and Cena with the first suplex to the outside that i’ve actually seen land correctly. The second half of the match, very interestingly, was booked similarly to a Cena match, but with Punk taking the part of Cena; indeed, by the second half, he was almost completely on the receiving end, hanging on and showing his resolve. He took, and kicked out of, two Attitude Adjustments, while also escaping an STF and reversing one in to the Anaconda Vice. The difference was that, like on the previous RAW, Punk continually frustrated Cena’s usual routines: his shoulder blocks/slam/5 knuckle shuffle/AA progression was constantly interrupted by Punk with ingenious reversals/interventions. It was in the wake of this that the finish came. With Punk finally in control after a GTS to the chest which dropped Cena out of the ring, out came Mr. McMahon and the ‘glad-handing ass kisser’ stooge, John Laurinatis (Johnny Ace) to watch the action. At this point, I became worried that we would get some over-booked whitewash finish putting Cena over, but rather than that, we were given something much better that simply hinted at the possibility of that nightmare ending. Punk stared them down before re-entering the ring, right in to an STF (quite importantly, as I will make clear momentarily), at which point, McMahon started calling for the bell in a red herring for a lame over-used screwjob finish. Laurinatis, who had been sent to ring the bell presumably, was met by the honourable Cena, who floored him, not wanting it to finish that way, and told McMahon the same thing. Re-entering the ring, he walked straight into a GTS. This mirrored Cena taking advantage of Punk’s distraction earlier, and therefore maintains the cleanliness (if you will) of Punk’s victory as he picked up the 3-count as a result. There then followed yet another rapturous pop and for unlike a lot of recent similar announcements, the ‘and NEEEWWWWW WWE Champion’ announcement felt important and historic as the crowd shouted ‘CM Punk’ along with Justin Roberts, and CM Punk could barely contain himself while at the same time maintaining that righteous cockyness that has effectively turned him face of late, posing with the belt, and displaying his new possession to McMahon, who had just, of course, lost it. Vince still had another trick up his sleeve that was also another red herring – and the most believable one – of Del Rio coming to cash in so that Punk could win, but not keep the title and keep it all very tidy. The tidyness of this false finish was interrupted when a prepared Punk hit Del Rio squarely with a roundhouse, realised that he should quit while ahead, and so made the very sensible decision to vacate the arena. Punk climbed the guard-rail and, surrounded by his worshipping fans, blew Vince a knowing, cocky kiss goodbye, before being immersed in the fans. As Punk made this final movement, we saw some wonderfully subtle acting from McMahon, who made a desperate step towards Punk as if trying to will him back, and as Punk left the arena, we saw a broken McMahon with his eyes closed, barely believing the loss he had just suffered.
Finally, the Money in the Bank closing logo appeared, and I knew the integrity of the PPV was safe; we had just, quite possibly witnessed the birth of a new era – one based on some sort of truth/reality embellished with artistic licence and the desires of the fans. The WWE has finally, it seems, committed to giving us a significant change. Yes, i’ve enjoyed WWE from the so-called PG Era very much – loved it a lot of the time, in fact, but never before (or at least for a decade) have I felt this sort of genuine connection to the ‘product’, where I feel there is a wrestler that really represents us. I mean, when was the last time there was a babyface this cool and connected with the fans at a level beyond catchphrases etc? I would argue not even Austin or Rock managed that to this extent. As for the PPV on the whole, it was supremely booked with mostly fantastic action (save for the poor divas!). It was nearly perfection, and we want more!