This year's WrestleMania was two nights. Money in the Bank was barely even two hours.
WWE's shortest pay-per-view in recent memory, clocking in at just over two-and-a-half hours, was also one of its most inventive. The two Money in the Bank ladder matches offered a creative display of pro wrestling, with a very surprising finish to the show.
Asuka climbed the ladder and secured the women's Money in the Bank briefcase, while Otis–yes, that Otis–was the fortuitous recipient of a fumble by AJ Styles, catching the briefcase and becoming the men's Money in the Bank winner.
The show was aided by a strong opening card. Jeff Hardy returned to pay-per-view action, and few in the wrestling business can make their opponent shine brighter than Cesaro. The New Day starred in their SmackDown tag team title victory, Bobby Lashley is being built back into a dominant force, and Bayley defeated Tamina Snuka, appearing to end that program and dash Snuka’s title aspirations.
Here are the results from Money in the Bank:
- Jeff Hardy defeated Cesaro on the pre-show
- The New Day won a Fatal 4-Way tag match to retain their SmackDown tag titles against The Forgotten Sons, The Miz and Morrison, and Lucha House Party
- Bobby Lashley defeated R-Truth
- Smackdown Women's Champion Bayley defeated Tamina
- Universal Champion Braun Strowman defeated Bray Wyatt
- WWE Champion Drew McIntyre defeated Seth Rollins
- Asuka won the women's Money in the Bank ladder match
- Otis won the men's Money in the Bank ladder match
And here are my takeaways from the show:
It is rare to win the Money in the Bank ladder match without actually climbing atop the ladder, but that is exactly what happened in the men's match. Otis couldn't climb the ladder without breaking it, but he ended up in the right place at the right time when AJ Styles fumbled the briefcase into Otis' waiting arms.
Otis was, at best, a dark horse to win this match. It's possible he is the most unlikely winner of a Money in the Bank ladder match since its creation at WrestleMania 21. And it is a legitimate question whether WWE will go all the way with Otis, but a big advantage for him is that he is working on SmackDown.
WWE has big plans for Drew McIntyre as its world champion on Raw, but Braun Strowman wasn't intended to become Universal Champ. That spot belonged to Roman Reigns, who opted to miss WrestleMania with two new babies at home after his wife gave birth to twins. So why not show some creativity with the belt on SmackDown?
There was much to like about the women's Money in the Bank ladder match, beginning with the fact that the women were presented on equal footing as the men. Each time the women and men came into contact, the female stars were able to showcase their strength. Shayna Baszler locked a chokehold on Rey Mysterio, and Asuka banished King Corbin from her ladder.
The women's match started when Asuka dove off a balcony onto her opponents in the WWE lobby, escaping in an elevator and getting a head start to the roof.
My only gripe from the show was that the broadcast team of Michael Cole and Corey Graves mentioned before the main event that the women's Money in the Bank winner would face off on Monday Night Raw against Raw Women's Champion Becky Lynch. That signaled that a Raw talent was winning the match, though it was a pleasant surprise to see Asuka win.
Asuka knocked Corbin off the ladder, which didn't entirely make sense because there were two briefcases, and then grabbed hold of the Money in the Bank briefcase. There is history between Asuka and Lynch, which adds to the story. They have combined for some brilliant matches before, and Asuka has defeated Lynch, too.
Lynch's feud with Shayna Baszler doesn't need the title. WWE would immensely help their product if they presented Asuka in a similar fashion to the way she was in NXT as an incredible force in the ring. In order to accomplish that goal, she will need to beat Lynch and take her title.
This Money in the Bank format would not have worked in prior years, but it was an entertaining presentation that should resonate across a fan base that has a wide range in age. There was much to like about the match, including cameos from Brother Love, Doink The Clown, Stephanie McMahon, Paul Heyman, John Laurinaitis and Vince McMahon.
The open to the men's match was particularly entertaining, as all the entrants in the match were able to showcase their personality as they entered the weight room, which was the starting point.
For a second straight pay per view, AJ Styles reminded the wrestling world of his brilliance. He is outstanding in the ring, but he is also an extremely underrated personality. Styles seeing a photo of The Undertaker in the WWE Corporate office led to flashbacks of his Boneyard match from WrestleMania. He was also thrown into an office that had one of Taker's caskets, giving reason to believe that the Styles-Undertaker story has another chapter remaining.
Styles and Daniel Bryan also created a memorable scene when brawling into Vince McMahon's office, and the Chairman of WWE wanted no part of his office being destroyed. After Styles and Bryan left the room, making sure to first fix the chairs around their boss' desk, McMahon loaded up on hand sanitizer before returning to work.
Otis starred every time he was on-screen, whether it was his introduction in the weight room, giving a "Yes!" chant while Daniel Bryan drilled King Corbin with kicks, or taking a Black Mass from Aleister Black. That also may have been the most memorable open to a food fight since John Belushi in Animal House when Otis stuffed a plate of food in the face of Paul Heyman, shocking every single wrestler in the room. For no apparent reason, he later drilled John Laurinaitis in the face with a pie.
Corbin tossed both Mysterio and Black from the roof, which was a bit anticlimactic considering that should have been a massive spot with all kinds of build-up and focus. Instead, it was the equivalent of throwing someone over the top rope. That left Styles, Bryan, Corbin and Otis to compete for the briefcase.
Styles and Corbin climbed the ladder and both grabbed onto the briefcase at the same time, but Corbin lost his grip when Elias emerged and smashed him in the back with a guitar. That meant the briefcase was in the hands of Styles, who fumbled it, only for it to land in the hands of Otis.
Braun Strowman played his own set of mind games with Bray Wyatt.
Strowman successfully defended his Universal Championship against Wyatt, using his signature Davey Boy Smith powerslam for the win. The match was far from a classic, but did its job in advancing the story to its next point.
Late in the match, Strowman teased a return to the Wyatt Family, donning his black sheep mask and embracing Wyatt as members of the Firefly Fun House celebrated ringside (if you were watching this with someone who isn't a wrestling fan, this would have been a tough one to explain). Strowman then took off the mask, stomped on it, then crushed Wyatt for the win.
The best part of this match was that it was Wyatt in the ring. Strowman has yet to encounter The Fiend, which is a development that will certainly manifest as this story progresses.
Another important advancement is Strowman's pride in holding the Universal title. The Fiend is at his best when he can take away something you cherish, so the pride in being champion could be the area which Wyatt attacks.
This is a program that should run until SummerSlam. Weekly television will make it incredibly difficult to keep this story fresh for that long, which is why this is an opportune time to introduce new challengers for Strowman, especially athletic opponents that will highlight the champ's power. John Morrison would be perfect in this role, and it would be great for the entire SmackDown brand if Morrison was elevated into a main-event act.
Kofi Kingston and Big E are perfect ambassadors for the tag team titles, and their four-way match to open the show was entertaining, but they should also both be competing for the Universal title.
With Drew McIntyre set to have a long reign on Raw with the WWE Championship, why can't SmackDown go in a different direction with their top belt?
Regardless of who Strowman is facing, The Fiend should be lurking.
Drew McIntyre and Seth Rollins worked extremely hard over 19 minutes to deliver an entertaining match for the WWE Championship.
In the empty arena era, long matches are an albatross, but this one gained momentum near the end. McIntyre won, then shook hands with a clearly frustrated Rollins, teasing that this story will continue.
McIntyre is being positioned as the next face of the company, and he has everything needed for the role. Size, power and charisma are all part of the McIntyre package, but he just needs the right opponent. So many title reigns are defined by feuds–it is impossible to think of Bret Hart's run as champ, for example, without thinking of Shawn Michaels–and that is the one missing piece for McIntyre.
Would WWE consider placing Edge and Randy Orton, who both return to Monday's Raw, into the world title picture? They are both threats to win the belt, especially Orton, and would inject more excitement into McIntyre's title reign as he continues to establish himself as world champion.
Where do we go from here?
Following her Money in the Bank victory, Asuka will have a face-off with Becky Lynch on Raw. The viewership numbers for Raw have been decreasing by the week, but perhaps the return of Lynch, Edge and Randy Orton will help infuse some excitement into this week's show.
Just like with the Money in the Bank pay per view, WWE should take different chances at creativity every week. That doesn't mean that the wrestlers need to fight atop the Performance Center roof, as WWE could do a lot by highlighting its expansive video library. There have to be ways to highlight the current talent beyond empty arena wrestling matches, and that is the creative challenge for WWE.
It will also be interesting to watch the direction of Aleister Black, Bobby Lashley and AJ Styles on Raw.
As for SmackDown, Bayley continues her reign as women's champion, as she makes her way through the division one opponent at a time. The slow build is currently brewing for her highly anticipated match against Sasha Banks, and hopefully WWE will continue to be patient and give that story the time it needs instead of rushing into a match.
And the men's division now has a massive wild card in Otis, who is the new Money in the Bank winner. It is extremely hard to imagine Otis as Universal Champion, but I also never pictured him winning the Money in the Bank ladder match. Otis is full of personality, and it will be worth watching to see how WWE inserts him into the main event picture. If done correctly, this could add another star atop the card.