With WWE out of the ThunderDome and back on the road, Money in the Bank weekend will mark the start of a new era for the company.
WWE’s first pay-per-view in front of a full-capacity crowd in more than 16 months will take place as Dickies Arena in Fort Worth hosts Money in the Bank on Sunday night. Two days earlier, WWE will kick off its return to touring with the final SmackDown episode before the pay-per-view taking place at Houston’s Toyota Center.
Aside from this year’s WrestleMania, which was held in front of a reduced-capacity crowd in Tampa due to COVID-19 restrictions, these are the first shows that WWE has sold tickets to since the world was upended by the start of the pandemic.
WWE adapted the best it could to producing shows during the pandemic era. After a lackluster few months of events at the WWE Performance Center, the company’s move to the ThunderDome last August provided the stopgap that the company needed. The ThunderDome’s virtual fans added some life to a product that was desperate for it. It wasn’t just people wrestling in an empty gym anymore. The video screens allowed us to see fans reacting to what was going on. Sure, those reactions were manufactured and we were only getting piped in crowd noise, but shows at the ThunderDome at least somewhat resembled the atmosphere that we're used to. It was a (much) weirder version of our usual reality, but the pandemic has caused us to experience some form of that in nearly every aspect of our lives.
But a stopgap was all the ThunderDome was. It couldn’t come close to replicating the dynamic that exists with in-person fans. Professional wrestling without live crowds just doesn’t really work. The ThunderDome era had its memorable matches and moments, but they would have been enhanced with fans in the building. Even the bad moments would've been more tolerable if fans were there. Having a live audience is more important to pro wrestling than it is to any type of sport. The fans have the ability to materially change the product in a way that doesn’t exist elsewhere. WWE can push whoever it wants, but the fans will reject that push if it isn’t something they’re interested in seeing. When crowds get behind a wrestler, it has the potential to change the trajectory of their career.
The difference between WWE’s pandemic era and the new era that we’re now entering will be on full display at Money in the Bank. At last year’s Money in the Bank, the main event was a mostly comedic, cinematic-style bout where the men’s and women’s Money in the Bank ladder matches were held simultaneously at WWE headquarters. It was, again, an example of WWE trying to be creative and get by in a situation that no one could have ever prepared for.
Always one of the highlights of the WWE calendar, Money in the Bank will thankfully be back to its normal form on Sunday night. Here’s a rundown of the card:
Men’s Money in the Bank ladder match (Ricochet vs. John Morrison vs. Riddle vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Big E vs. Kevin Owens vs. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Seth Rollins)
If you’re betting on what will be the match of the night, there’s no safer choice than the men’s Money in the Bank ladder match. It’s full of some of WWE’s best wrestlers and hardest workers. With the added motivation of wrestling in front of a live crowd again, it could be one of WWE’s best matches of the year.
Both the men’s and women’s ladder matches will provide a direction going forward as SummerSlam approaches. Drew McIntyre and Seth Rollins are the most established stars in the men's ladder match, while Riddle, Big E and Kevin Owens are in the next tier of possible winners. Ricochet, John Morrison and Shinsuke Nakamura are positive additions to the match but don’t seem like candidates to win it.
Winning Money in the Bank would be a path back to world title contention for either McIntyre or Rollins. As a stipulation of his loss to Bobby Lashley at Hell in a Cell last month, McIntyre can’t challenge for the WWE championship again while Lashley is still champion. Holding the Money in the Bank briefcase would allow McIntyre to get an immediate shot when Lashley loses the title, or McIntyre could instead cash in for the universal championship. On SmackDown, Rollins was passed over for a universal title shot at Money in the Bank when Edge was chosen as Roman Reigns’s challenger.
A Money in the Bank win would mean more for Riddle, Big E or Owens than it would for McIntyre or Rollins. With WWE back in front of fans, this is an opportune time to elevate someone into being one of the company's top stars. Riddle or Big E could both use the Money in the Bank briefcase to become a world champion for the first time. Both are good options. But with Riddle already involved in a storyline with Randy Orton, this feels more like the time for WWE to finally go all the way with Big E.
Prediction: Big E wins
Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match (Asuka vs. Naomi vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Nikki Cross vs. Zelina Vega vs. Liv Morgan vs. Natalya vs. Tamina)
Tamina was the final entrant announced for Money in the Bank, seemingly putting an end to speculation that Becky Lynch or Sasha Banks would be making their return in the women's ladder match. If a big return does end up happening on Sunday, this doesn't appear to be the spot for it.
Ranking the candidates in the women's ladder match is a difficult task. No one stands out as an obvious choice to win.
Alexa Bliss has been more prominently featured on WWE television than the other participants, but her winning the match would be a bad decision. Bliss’s supernatural character shouldn't be involved in the women's championship picture. Asuka and Naomi are both solid candidates but haven’t been built up enough to win the match. With Natalya and Tamina already holding the women’s tag-team titles together, there’s no reason for either of them to win the Money in the Bank briefcase.
If Bliss isn't going to win, Liv Morgan, Nikki Cross and Zelina Vega would seem to be the next most likely options. Morgan winning would be the best choice. Winning the briefcase would elevate her to a level that she’s never been at before. Morgan has a lot of potential as a singles wrestler and just needs to be given the chance to show that she can succeed.
Prediction: Liv Morgan wins
Roman Reigns vs. Edge for the universal championship
Once scheduled to headline WrestleMania 37, Reigns vs. Edge will instead take place at Money in the Bank.
Daniel Bryan was added to the mix at WrestleMania as Reigns vs. Edge became a triple-threat match. Reigns winning that match by pinning both Edge and Bryan at the same time wasn’t the best decision if Reigns and Edge were going to face each other again so soon, but this is a singles match that needed to happen at some point.
There’s no drama in who should win this one. One of the more intriguing aspects of WWE's return to touring will be seeing how fans react to Reigns’s “Head of the Table” character each week. This isn’t the time for Reigns to lose his title, especially with a match against John Cena rumored to be in the plans for SummerSlam.
While the result of the match isn’t in question, how convincing Reigns’s win will be remains to be seen. After the way Edge lost at WrestleMania and with him expected to wrestle at SummerSlam, Edge has to come out of Money in the Bank looking strong despite losing. He’s already started to feud with Rollins and could be facing Rollins at SummerSlam next month.
Prediction: Roman Reigns retains
Bobby Lashley vs. Kofi Kingston for the WWE championship
Two years after “KofiMania,” Kofi Kingston is back in the WWE championship picture and again showing what a main-event player he is. Kingston’s feud with Lashley and getting to work opposite Lashley’s manager MVP has brought out the best in him. There are few better babyfaces in WWE. Kingston is naturally likable and so good both on the microphone and in the ring.
Kingston’s second WWE championship reign probably won’t begin at Money in the Bank. As with Reigns, WWE has invested a lot in Lashley’s title reign and there are still marquee matches for him to have. Lashley’s run with the title shouldn’t end just as fans are making their return. Lashley has been doing the best work of his WWE career as champion, and his promo to end this week’s Raw showed that we’ll be seeing a more intense version of him going forward.
Lashley is likely to retain his championship on Sunday. It’s the right move, but this shouldn’t be the end of Kingston as a world title contender. After his first WWE championship reign ended in a squash against Brock Lesnar, WWE waited too long to put Kingston back in this spot. That he's still been able to seamlessly transition back into the main event is a testament to how good of a performer Kingston is.
Prediction: Bobby Lashley retains
Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair for the Raw women’s championship
While the return of fans will be a boon for the entire roster, it’ll be an especially welcome sight for Rhea Ripley.
After winning the NXT women’s championship in December 2019, Ripley was on the verge of superstardom before the pandemic began. She instead ended up spending most of 2020 in a rut. The pandemic prevented Ripley from making her WrestleMania debut in front of fans. Instead, she lost the NXT women’s title to Charlotte Flair when WrestleMania 36 was held at the empty Performance Center. Ripley never got her win back and has yet to completely recapture the momentum she once had.
Ripley’s performance in January’s women’s Royal Rumble match, along with her call-up to the main roster, was the start of a turnaround. She won the Raw women’s championship from Asuka at WrestleMania 37, finally getting to have something close to the WrestleMania moment that she wasn't able to have last year. But Ripley hasn’t really returned to the babyface character that she thrived in as NXT women’s champion.
Ripley and Flair’s feud has had its ups and downs, but they work really well together in the ring. Even with a lame finish where Ripley intentionally got herself disqualified, their match at Hell in a Cell was still very good. They should have one of the standout matches at Money in the Bank.
Defeating Charlotte in a one-on-one match is a hurdle that Ripley needs to get over at some point. The only question is whether Sunday is the right moment.
Prediction: Rhea Ripley retains
AJ Styles and Omos vs. The Viking Raiders for the Raw tag team titles
This match was originally scheduled for next Monday’s Raw but has been moved up to Money in the Bank. That may have something to do with the PPV losing one of its other title matches. Bianca Belair was supposed to defend her SmackDown women’s championship against Bayley in an “I Quit” match at Money in the Bank, but that won’t be happening now that Bayley is out of action for approximately nine months due to injury.
The Viking Raiders are a talented team, but there should be no other finish here than Styles and Omos retaining. This isn’t the time for Styles and Omos to be split up or lose their titles. They should enter SummerSlam as champions.
Prediction: AJ Styles & Omos retain
The Mysterios vs. The Usos for the SmackDown tag team titles
Jimmy Uso has remained on WWE TV despite his DUI arrest from earlier this month. On the Money in the Bank pre-show, Jimmy and Jey Uso will challenge Rey and Dominik Mysterio for the SmackDown tag team titles. This may be too soon to end the Mysterios’ title reign, but it seems inevitable that, whether at Money in the Bank or some point in the future, The Usos will join their cousin Reigns in becoming champions.
Prediction: The Usos win the SmackDown tag team titles