Monday, 20 June 2016

WWE Money In The Bank 2016

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Champions Of The Champions
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Genre: Wrestling
Produced By: WWE
Format: Pay-Per-View
Date: June 19 2016
Location: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
Attendance: 14,000

In the run-up to the latest supershow, WWE was hyping it as "the greatest Money In The Bank PPV ever". The card certainly looked promising beforehand, with two potentially great singles matches and the annual MITB Ladder war. But, like with the "New Era" talk, it was WWE overdoing the self-promotion rather than letting the fans decide (it hadn't even happened when WWE was stating this about the card). As things transpired, it was definitely a night to remember as the main matches lived up to the hype, and there was a major development to end the show - but was it truly the best MITB to date?

On the Kick-Off show, we had two matches on this occasion, both of which were tag team matches (incidentally, Jerry Lawler was absent from the pre-show due to a suspension brought about by problems at home). The first pitted Breezango against The Golden Truth. Goldust and R-Truth have had a very slow build to the formation of their comedy tag team, and once they did form, they have lost multiple times to the new combo of Tyler Breeze and Fandango. But Breezango were at a big disadvantage here because, the previous Monday, they had been sharing a sunbed at the same time (which was funny in itself) and GT turned up the heat quite literally, resulting in them supposedly being near-burned to a crisp. This made them look ridiculous (think Rodney Trotter in the hang-gliding episode of Only Fools and Horses), and made even their slightest movements painful for the heels to absorb. Admittedly, this did raise a few laughs before Goldust finished off Fandango with the Final Cut (or whatever Goldust calls his finisher these days) to finally get a win for The Golden Truth.

The other pre-show match saw The Dudley Boyz battle The Lucha Dragons. This was more serious than the previous clash, and it followed the usual structure (as most doubles bouts do, to be fair) of the heels dominating and wearing down an isolated babyface before his partner gets the inevitable tag to try and turn things around. That's exactly what happened, and cue some decent double-team spots towards the end. An inadvertent clash between D-Von and Bubba Ray was followed by the Luchas avoiding the 3D and taking D-Von out to the floor, before Bubba tasted a Salida Del Sol from Kalisto and a Senton Bomb from Sin Cara, with Cara pinning Bubba for the victory. Something tells me that the seemingly-subtle miscommunication between The Dudleyz could lead to a split and Bubba going on a solo heel run, especially with the Draft approaching. Besides, the Dudleyz have lost to just about everyone now.

Oh, yes: the Draft. Since Extreme Rules, a new brand extension has officially been announced, and is set to begin from mid-July. Therefore, this PPV would be the last before the latest big split. This will have major implications on WWE, from the call-ups of more NXT talent to the re-signings of previous stars to the addition of more PPV events to the possibility of re-introducing a second World Title (which I believe would be a mistake). I will do a story in the next few weeks which will include a mock Draft for the Raw and SmackDown rosters, but in the meantime Money In The Bank would be the final major card before things will be shaken up. Incidentally, neither of the two probable General Managers, current Raw head honchos Shane and Stephanie McMahon, appeared at any point during Money In The Bank.

MITB officially began with a four-team match for the WWE Tag Team Titles, as The New Day defended against Enzo Amore and Big Cass, The Vaudevillains and The Club combo of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. The pre-match scenes featured some choice banter from New Day, and some, well, less entertaining dialogue from Enzo and Cass. This may not be a popular opinion, but I think that Enzo and Cass, while they do provide some witty one-liners, are not quite as funny as fans are making them out to be. Unlike New Day, whose daft comedy at least has some sort of thread to it, and is usually pretty humorous, Enzo and Cass (Enzo primarily) will often be talking about something totally unrelated and, in my case anyway, totally loses the viewer. I'm not saying that the recent NXT call-ups are never funny, because they do come out with some funny stuff here and there, and I appreciate teams who come out with funny lines when they actually are funny, but I suspect that if Enzo and Cass hadn't come directly from NXT, fewer fans would enjoy their act. I also predict that at some point within the next 12 months, the team will be split up with Cass going solo and pushed towards the main event level ... at which point some fans will begin to turn on him (more on that later).

Anyway, this opening contest for Money In The Bank was a really good multi-man affair. All of the teams got a chance to shine in their own way, from the slow, methodical approach of Aiden English and Simon Gotch to the powerful domination by Gallows and Anderson to the more flashy offence by the babyface teams, including a Cass-assisted dive to the floor by Enzo. The match unfortunately had several noticeable botches towards the end, in what would become a theme of the show: Kofi Kingston barely caught Enzo with Trouble In Paradise, and their reactions made it obvious that an error had occurred. Enzo seemed to have Aiden pinned for the win following his big splash, but it was the referee's initial drop to the canvas that seemed to suggest a first count (thus making people believe this ended up getting a three-count) as opposed to there being a true botch here. More notably, after the Magic Killer by the Club seemed to finish English off, Big E grabbed Anderson for the Big Ending, but Gallows strangely didn't react, and somehow ended up on the opposite side of the ring where Cass clotheslined him to the floor, after which the New Day levelled Anderson and Big E pinned Aiden for the win. Besides the clear botches towards the end, this was a strong opening, and it had the right outcome with New Day holding onto the straps for now, and with the Club and Enzo and Cass protected from tasting the losing fall. I foresee The Club vs. The New Day at Battleground as Enzo and Cass continue to build momentum, which could lead to the NXT graduates getting their big moment at SummerSlam.

After a brilliant backstage segment involving Kevin Owens, Alberto Del Rio and Chris Jericho which had several laugh-out moments, we had the latest match in the series between Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler (whose attire paid tribute to Shawn Michaels circa SummerSlam 1995, as much of Ziggler's act does these days). This suffered from the fact that the feud had entered overkill. The NXT call-up Corbin targeted Ziggler the night after WrestleMania 32, yet it was Ziggler who won their Payback Kick-Off scrap. Baron won a Raw rematch, and would win another bout (under No Disqualification rules) on the Extreme Rules Kick-Off. That should have drawn a line under the feud, but after Ziggler demanded a technical wrestling match on Raw, which ended quickly after a deliberate Dolph low blow, we ended up getting another Baron-Dolph match here (which incidentally was originally scheduled to be on the Kick-Off show once more along with the later Apollo Crews vs. Sheamus match, but the line-up was switched to include the earlier two tag bouts).

This was a competent effort, but being the fifth proper match between the two on television (six if you include the very brief "technical" match from Raw), nobody was interested. This was embodied by the "Boring!" chants during the bout, and a certain section even chanted "Ziggler sucks!" Dolph's character is staler than a gone-off loaf of Warburton's right now, and Corbin doesn't have enough charisma to draw fans into matches at this point. Matters weren't helped when Ziggler stumbled over the steel stairs (another botch) prior to taking a painful-looking Deep Six slam on the floor at ringside. They did have a nice exchange where Corbin threw Ziggler off of a Famouser attempt, followed by Baron then avoiding a superkick to drill Dolph with an almighty clothesline. Baron eventually won it with the End Of Days. This simply has to be the end of the rivalry now, as Corbin could move onto another popular babyface (perhaps Cesaro or fellow newcomer Apollo Crews). For Ziggler, a heel turn and a character change is a must, which could coincide with next month's Draft to have increased impact.

Match three was another tag team match, as Women's Champion Charlotte and her new partner-in-crime Dana Brooke battled Natalya and Becky Lynch, stemming from their shenanigans involving the first three at Extreme Rules (Becky has since sided with Natalya). Fans annoyingly began chanting "We want Sasha!" within seconds of the bell ringing, although to be fair there was no real reason to care about this match. Sure, Charlotte is progressing as a hateable heel character (she kicked Ric Flair to the curb the night after the last PPV), but Dana is too inexperienced and too little is known about her for fans to really care. Add to that the lack of belief that Natalya will actually dethrone Charlotte and the fact that we've already seen the Charlotte-Becky feud at the turn of the year, and you have a match which largely existed to fill time. The action was also fairly unmemorable; this should have taken place on Raw with a Fatal Four Way happening here instead. After a Natalya/Becky collision instigated by the heels, Natalya took the fall to give another boost for the heels (which was slightly surprising, since hints have already been dropped that the Charlotte/Dana alliance won't last long). Nattie burst into tears afterwards, which is never good for a babyface in the modern age.

So, it was a nice twist when Natalya unexpectedly turned heel on Becky afterwards with a sudden attack, seemingly blaming her for the loss. This freshens up Natalya's act and should lead to Becky vs. Natalya over the coming weeks. In the meantime, Charlotte and Dana will probably have a (premature) fall-out based on Dana occasionally bungling in her attempts to assist the increasingly-arrogant Charlotte and a likely Women's Title match at Battleground, before a bigger Women's Title match at SummerSlam (could this be the night when Sasha Banks finally wins the big prize?). As some have pointed out, the Women's scene hasn't exactly been flourishing lately, ever since the disappointing title match at Extreme Rules. Hopefully, the division will pick up over the next few weeks, because most of the pieces are in place; WWE just needs to make sure that the right women are in the right positions, and given plenty of time to make magic as some of them did previously in NXT. The division is stronger now than it was a year ago, but more needs to be done if the ladies are to truly thrive.

Apollo Crews' biggest match to date was next when he battled Sheamus (actually, this was also his PPV debut). Unlike Corbin vs. Ziggler, which was past the point of being fresh, this was a new bout, and consequently this match was a more interesting prospect than Baron vs. Dolph. It was a pretty good big-man match with several unique moves that you wouldn't normally see from men of their size, such as a cool-looking moonsault from Crews off the ring apron onto a grounded Sheamus at ringside, and the Celtic Warrior hitting White Noise off the ropes to his younger opponent. The theme of this match was that Apollo represents the "New Era", which Sheamus is against since it essentially tries to portray him as a thing of the past. Nevertheless, this would be the newcomer's night, as he withstood the ropes-assisted White Noise and rolled up the Irishman for the win to a strong reaction.

Apollo's future looks bright, especially now that he has added a bit more aggression to his game. With further character development and a chance to display more of his surprisingly-agile repertoire, Apollo could be a major player, especially after the Draft when he will probably receive more opportunities on television. It's possible that his feud with Sheamus will continue as they demonstrated some good chemistry here. Sheamus' future looks less certain; he will remain a featured heel on whatever show he ends up on, but the chances of him reclaiming a spot in the main event scene over the next six months seem very low. He's still a very accomplished wrestler, though, and this was a strong effort by both, which succeeded at making Apollo look like one to watch in the future.

We then had what WWE was hyping up as a "dream match" between John Cena and AJ Styles. While I don't recall many fans in the mid-2000s wondering what would happen if Cena ever fought Styles, it did nevertheless sound like a very intriguing prospect, as the biggest WWE star of the post-Attitude Era and the longtime face of TNA and other promotions would be going one-on-one for the first time. The story was that AJ wanted to make an impact by targeting Cena upon his return, turning heel in the process, but in order to do so and to avoided being "buried" by Cena (was he being too honest with this?), he needed help from The Club. But Cena challenged AJ's courage to the point where Styles signed on for a match whereby Gallows and Anderson would be banned from ringside - supposedly, anyway.

The crowd was well into it as the bell rang with both men receiving loud chants, providing that big-fight feel to this first-time clash (no pun intended). The match started a bit slow as Styles took his time, essentially making Cena wait and trying to frustrate the 15-time (or 14-time depending on your opinion) World Champion. From there, some nice back-and-forth exchanges eventually led to AJ taking control of the bout, demonstrating his versatility in the process as his offence in this match differed greatly from his babyface performances earlier this year. Cena would fight back and lock AJ in an STF, which Styles broke free from. Another botch led to AJ landing awkwardly on the ropes, which was followed by Cena very loudly asking Styles if he was okay (which was nice of him to enquire about, but couldn't he have done so quieter?) and blatantly calling spots, which took me out of the moment for a while. A Five-Knuckle Suffle by Cena also went badly, as the announcers even pointed out. Fortunately, things picked up from there as there were many big moves, from an Attitude Adjustment to a Phenomenal Forearm to ringside to a great exchange that led to the Calf Crusher (which was triggered by an AA attempt) to a Styles Clash. The action was all of a high standard, living up the expectations, if not quite matching the classic Cena-CM Punk match from MITB five years prior.

Following a painful-looking Cena double-knee counter to an AJ 450 Splash, There was a ref bump as Cena hit a second AA, at which point Gallows and Anderson ran out despite the match stipulation (the ref was down, remember) and dropped Cena with the Magic Killer, allowing AJ to pin Cena for the win. Many were annoyed that Styles didn't win cleanly, but come on; he's a heel. I know that Kevin Owens and Brock Lesnar have pinned Cena clean in recent times, but if Styles (who gets cheered despite his heel status as it is) pins Cena clean-as-a-whistle, then he loses heel heat because, well, why would you boo him if he can get the job done anyway? This finish, while recycled and a bit cheap, does extend the Cena-Styles feud until Battleground at least. There still needs to be something else before then to really give Cena a reason to keep fighting (Cena's dad could be brought in once again to take a beating or something), and if AJ eked out a win at Battleground (even if it were by DQ after Cena perhaps gets frustrated), it could lead to a major grudge match at SummerSlam where Cena wins the feud (which he will). Regardless, this was a really good match, just a notch below true "Match Of The Year" status, and hopefully we'll get an even better bout when the two meet again.

After that, we got this year's Money In The Bank Ladder match, which also had the potential to be a great one. The 2016 cast consisted of Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Chris Jericho and Alberto Del Rio (WWE initially stated that there would be seven entrants, but for some reason this was changed; an oversight on This Week In WWE gave away that Kalisto was supposed to be the final entrant). Of the six, only Y2J and ADR truly would not need the win (although Jericho has had a strong few months, meaning a victory here could be justified), but based on momentum and popularity, the favourites had to be Ambrose and Owens. If Ambrose won, there would be the potential for a third Shield member to win the WWE Title (more on that later), and fans have been clamouring for Ambrose to win the big one for a long time. As for Owens, his heel character is tremendous, combined with his strong in-ring skills, and having KO carrying around the case and performing a villainous cash-in to win the top title would be a treat to see.

The entrants paired off for separate brawls to kick off the match, which soon lent itself to the ladders being used as weapons (Del Rio whacked Ambrose hard with one of the ladders at ringside). There were several non-ladder dives, most notably a Sami Zayn senton onto his opponents at ringside, and a non-stunt as Owens set up a ringside ladder cannonball for Zayn, only to skip the jump and smack Sami in simple fashion. From there, the ladders were suitably introduced, and we got a plethora of great spots. They included ADR (who had his best performance in months here, perhaps since his return at Hell In A Cell) trapping Cesaro at the top of a ladder with the Cross-Armbreaker (which ended with Owens superkicking an upside-down Del Rio, and Cesaro leaping off the ladder to use the ropes for a springboard uppercut to KO in a fantastic triple spot sequence), Cesaro being sent face-first into a ladder by KO after drilling most of his opposition with consecutive uppercuts, Zayn nailing Owens with an extremely painful-looking Michinoku Driver that saw KO land spine-first onto a leg of a grounded ladder, KO powerbombing Sami hard onto another ladder, Ambrose hurling himself off the top of a ladder to hit a standing elbow drop, and Y2J pulling Ambrose off a ladder to catch him with a Codebreaker. An extended brawl which saw two ladder bridges created using a standing ladder took a bit too long, although it did feature the visual of three brawls all going on at once with the prize dangling inches from all six. During this sequence, Del Rio took a hellish fall which almost saw him break his neck; it's possible that he was injured in this spot, but if that's true, the extent of his pain remains to be seen. In the end, Ambrose fought Owens off this ladder tower and took that final step up to unhook the MITB briefcase to a great reaction; Ambrose was Mr. Money In The Bank 2016!

I would normally speculate on when/where Ambrose could cash in, but you'll soon find out why that would be a pointless exercise. At this stage, I'll simply say that Ambrose more than deserved his big moment after so many near-misses. What did bother me was how many fans who were rooting for Ambrose to win the WWE Title at Survivor Series last November, the Royal Rumble in January and the Number One Contender's main event from Fast Lane suddenly weren't happy at Ambrose winning here, insisting that he wasn't the best choice. This acts as concrete evidence that some fans will never, ever be satisfied. If you're not an Ambrose fan, that's fine. If you wanted, say, Kevin Owens to win, that's fine. But if you were strongly backing someone to succeed and, when he does, you express displeasure, then there's something wrong. It's no wonder that WWE does not cater to many of the "boo" brigade and has persevered with Roman Reigns' push. Or, at least, it did ... but more on that shortly.

At this point, we were already down to what would normally be the final 30 minutes of the PPV. But rumour had it that WWE planned to take Money In The Bank beyond the three-hour point, and this was confirmed when we got (the admittedly-already announced) Rusev vs. Titus O'Neil match for the United States Title. Titus won a Father Of The Year award, so having his kids at ringside on Father's Day was a nice touch (many alleged that Titus actually kissed one of his kids on the lips before the match, and were baffled as a result, but I don't recall seeing this). The match began unusually as both big men clashed with a double clothesline at ringside, almost leading to an early double-countout. From there, the action was decent, but it was clearly the cool-down match, and fans seemed a bit tired after watching Cena vs. Styles and MITB consecutively. Rusev won by submission with the Accolade, and continued his recovery as a major heel by standing in front of Titus' kids and telling them their father is a loser, and shouting "Happy Father's Day!" Great heel move there.

Titus could get a rematch on Raw, but another PPV encounter seems unlikely after the submission victory for the Bulgarian Brute here. It could be the Draft that determines Rusev's next opponent in the event that it is an NXT call-up or even a former star (WWE is apparently reaching out to many past names about returning in time for the brand extension). Apollo Crews, Sami Zayn or Cesaro are also contenders to challenge Rusev next for the title. One thing is for sure, the heavily-rumoured Rusev vs. John Cena feud revival doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon, which is probably a good thing. Incidentally, remember when Rusev was dominating everybody in 2014 and commentators and wrestlers alike wanted to stop his anti-US brigade? And have you noticed that nobody has similar intentions during Rusev's current reign? There's a simple explanation: that storyline no longer applies to Rusev.

Finally, we have the main event between Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Title. Rollins returned from injury at the end of Extreme Rules to Pedigree Reigns, leading to this match announcement. Though some were disappointed by the build-up for this match, it still had the potential to be a really good headline attraction, and there was obvious appeal in seeing Rollins return and to see the former Shield members clash. This match was meant to happen at two previous PPV events, at Night Of Champions 2014 and Survivor Series 2015, but injuries to Roman and Seth respectively prevented each bout from happening. This also marked the third (of three) different possible combination of Shield members in a singles main event, following Rollins vs. Ambrose matches in 2014/5 and Reigns vs. Ambrose (coincidentally at the aforementioned Survivor Series). And this wouldn't be the last Shield link to this show ...

The match started a bit slowly, although Reigns soon took the upper hand and began acting ever-so-slightly heelish (oh, by the way, yes he was booed again here) with some condescending comments to Seth as he was beating him down. Rollins would fight back with a tope and later a senton to ringside, but Reigns brought the fight himself with a range of major power moves. More villain-like taunting from Roman was followed by Rollins fighting furiously out of the corner in the manner of a babyface, and to no surprise this was another moment in the match when the fans were almost fully behind Seth. Seth attempted the sunset flip from the top rope that led to Seth's previous injury, but fortunately there was no problem here as he picked up Roman and sent him flying with a turnbuckle powerbomb (Roman took a second turnbuckle powerbomb later on). The big moves came from there as Rollins drilled Reigns with a flying knee, Roman caught Seth with a Superman Punch, Roman Speared Rollins for a close near-fall, a ringside Spear attempt was missed as Seth moved and Roman hit the ringside barrier hard, and in the move of the match, Rollins intercepted a Spear attempt into a Pedigree for something very close to a three-count. But Rollins would rally, and he responded with another Pedigree for a clean-as-a-sheet pinfall win to regain the WWE World Heavyweight Title to a rapturous ovation. The Roman Empire had been vanquished, and Rollins - who had never lost the WWE Title prior to his November 2015 injury - was back on top. That Reigns lost, and was pinned cleanly, was a big surprise, but there was more to come.

Dean Ambrose's music hit, as fans realised that a MITB cash-in was about to occur. Rollins looked towards the aisle for the arriving Ambrose, but the Lunatic Fringe came from behind to whack Rollins with the briefcase. Cue the usual histrionics as the bonus match was officially announced, and Ambrose planted Rollins with Dirty Deeds to pin him and win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship! Fans were positively giddy that Ambrose, for so long the nearly-man, was now the man. Some fans complained online, but I covered that earlier. Regardless, it was a huge moment, which would have had more impact had it not been telegraphed in the Ambrose Asylum segment the previous Monday on Raw. Nevertheless, Ambrose had finally won the big one, meaning that all three Shield members have won been WWE Champion, which has to make that group one of the greatest factions in wrestling history. More impressively, the chain of events here meant that on the same night (and within minutes of each other), all three Shield members had been the WWE Champion. (It's also fitting that Rollins, who won his first WWE Title by cashing in MITB, lost the title here via a cash-in.) In addition, Ambrose became only the second man (after Kane in 2010) to cash in MITB on the same night that he won it.

It was a great end to a very impressive show, which also sets up some intriguing future storylines. As well as the continuation of the John Cena-AJ Styles rivalry, and the main event shenanigans seem to hint at the long-awaited Triple Threat match between all three Shield members for the WWE Title. It should be saved until SummerSlam (it's clearly happening this summer, so WrestleMania is out of the question), since it would be a major main event for the biggest event of the season, but it's possible that we get it at Battleground (which is the next PPV) and one of the members ends up in another match at SummerSlam (if, say, Reigns ended up facing Brock Lesnar again and we got Ambrose vs. Rollins for the gold at SummerSlam). More intrigue comes from the possibility of who will play babyface and heel in the three-way saga. They could all stay in their current roles, and Ambrose will probably remain a face (if he was turning heel, he would have cashed in on Reigns), but it's possible that Rollins will go face. If so, that necessitates someone turning heel, and after his mannerisms during the match and his clean loss, it is very possible that Roman Reigns could finally turn heel. He could be frustrated that his title has not only disappeared from his ownership, but that his "little buddy" now holds the title. Imagine the heel heat if Reigns destroys Ambrose in reaction to the events of MITB, and a similar beating to Rollins could turn Seth face. It might even happen as soon as the post-MITB edition of Raw. It's possible that none of this will occur and that Reigns will regain the title as an unpopular babyface, but if that is the case, then the booking of Roman here was questionable to say the least. Let's hope for the best, eh?

To answer the question I posed at the beginning, this wasn't quite the best Money In The Bank card ever (that would be 2011), but it was a close second, and the best PPV of the year so far from an in-ring standpoint. The triple main event all delivered as promised, and the major developments at the end were very welcome (to most) and set up an eagerly-anticipated rivalry for the summer months. Besides Cena vs. AJ, the rest of the WWE landscape is harder to predict due to the upcoming brand extension, which will have taken place by the time of the next supershow, Battleground. I will write my predicted Draft within the next few weeks, and the split will change WWE in many ways. Before then, though, we got a great Money In The Bank event, and for Dean Ambrose, it was the biggest night of his career. Hopefully, it is the first step towards a very eventful and memorable summer season in WWE.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10 - Excellent

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