Here we are at Money in the Bank, the uncrowned fourth major WWE pay-per-view. Every year, Money in the Bank is exciting if for no other reason than there are lots of moving parts and no insultingly obvious outcomes.1 If the WWE is the fabled place where “anything can happen and it usually does,” then Money in the Bank is the holy temple of that divine uncertainty. And there’s nothing wrestling fans enjoy more than shocking turns and returns and unexpected twists. On Sunday in Boston, there’s every reason to believe something big is going to happen. We just have no idea what it will be.
Except for John Cena.
The turning point for this moment of epic ambiguity was a heartbreaking neck injury for Daniel Bryan, the long-suffering underdog who finally won the WWE World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania. The injury cut his reign short, but at least it also put Bryan’s aimless feud with Kane out of its misery. A rematch with Kane scheduled for MitB was bumped, and the Money in the Bank match — normally a fight for a future title match2 — was upgraded to an eight-man battle for the belt itself.3 A second Money in the Bank match was added to the card — this one for the traditional MitB briefcase that allows its holder to cash it in for a title match at any time.
You win the traditional Money in the Bank match by climbing a big ladder and detaching a silly red metal briefcase from where it’s hanging above the ring. In Sunday’s main-event championship-ladder match, the two unified title belts are hanging above the ring.
Originally there were seven competitors, but Kane, having no title match to keep himself occupied, was inserted Monday.
Bryan will be speaking to WWE fans during the pre-show to give an update on his health, and although that’s a sad demotion for him, it won’t dampen the anticipation for one of the most exciting WWE PPVs in ages. There are eight men in the main event (John Cena, Randy Orton, Alberto Del Rio, Kane, Roman Reigns, Cesaro, Bray Wyatt, and Sheamu) and seven men in the MitB match (Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, Rob Van Dam, Wade Barrett,4 Kofi Kingston, and Jack Swagger). Since any of the guys in the first match can win the briefcase and cash it in after the main event determines a champion, there are 15 possibilities for who’ll be holding the belt at the end of the night. And that’s not taking into account the chance of surprise entries into the field, like a suddenly healthy Bryan, a returning Brock Lesnar, or even Triple H or — dare I say it? — a ridiculous long shot like CM Punk.
Barrett was injured at this week’s SmackDown taping, and his status for the PPV is doubtful.
The possibilities are so endless that any traditional preview I try to write might end up being longer than my book. Instead, I’ve taken the liberty of fantasy-booking every possible outcome. They’re mostly contradictory, of course, and my internal logic is all over the place — but that’s the point. Anything can happen Sunday. It almost doesn’t matter what happens, as long as it’s interesting.
John Cena: Vince McMahon looks at WWE’s monthly balance sheet, groans audibly, throws a stapler at an intern, and tells Kevin Dunn: “Fuck my son-in-law. Cena’s going over.” Cena, fresh from two hours at the gym (well, two and a half, but who’s counting?), three Make-A-Wish visits (they were cute enough, but one little asswipe was in a “Boots 2 Asses” shirt, which, I mean, come on), and 90 minutes of media availability (if I murdered that stupid Channel 5 guy, would the smarks start cheering me?), takes the news stoically. He enters the ring at TD Garden, sheds a tear inside for all the boos he’s hearing from his hometown crowd, and proceeds to wonder what giant object he can throw to make the match 5 percent better. After squaring off against Reigns in a pale imitation of Hogan versus Warrior, he plaintively delivers an Attitude Adjustment to Reigns on a felled ladder, then climbs to the top and grabs the belts with his trademarked Surprised Cena Look. The crowd withholds its ire until it’s clear that no cash-in is coming, and then boos more as the show goes off the air.
Randy Orton: Two options:
1. WWE decides to reboot the Authority angle with Orton as the corporate champ fending off Cena or a healed Bryan or a surging Reigns. Orton wins boringly but somewhat surprisingly. He trades title reigns with Cena over the next year until McMahon is forcibly removed from his Stamford, Connecticut, office in a coup led by Triple H, who wears his full Game of Thrones getup just for funzies.
2. Near the end of the WHC match, Triple H and Rollins — who won the MitB match — come ringside. But they’re not there to help Orton win. They’re there to scout the winner for an inevitable post-match cash-in. Orton realizes this and demands an explanation from Trips, only to get a smug smile in response. Suddenly, Orton engages the vestigial Legend Killer part of his brain, goes insane, RKOs Trips and Rollins, and destroys everybody else to win the title, christening a new Orton era.
Kane: WWE decides to reboot the Authority angle with the Demon Kane as the corporate champ fending off Cena or a healed Bryan or a surging Reigns.
Sheamus: WWE decides to reboot the Authority angle with a shocking heel turn from Sheamus as the corporate champ fending off Cena or a healed Bryan or a surging Reigns.
Alberto Del Rio: WWE decides to reboot the Authority angle with Del Rio as the corporate champ fending off Cena or a healed Bryan or a surging Reigns. Also, Ricardo Rodriguez makes a stunning return to help Del Rio win, just because.
Cesaro: Midway through the show, backstage footage reveals that Del Rio has been attacked and will be unable to compete in the main event. Triple H is apoplectic about his main event being ruined, until Paul Heyman approaches with a solution. Trips grunts and they slide behind an office door. When Cesaro comes out for the main event, he and Heyman pause atop the ramp and Lesnar’s music hits as the three of them celebrate together. Lesnar and Cesaro dominate the match, working as a brutal, well-oiled machine. At the end, with all of their opponents dispatched, Cesaro pats Lesnar on the back and starts to ascend the ladder, but Heyman taps Cesaro on the shoulder, looks at him, and shakes his head “no.” Cesaro’s confusion is cut short by an attempted clothesline from Lesnar, but Cesaro ducks and Lesnar hits Heyman. Cesaro hits Lesnar with the Equalizer and then Giant Swings him out of the ring before climbing the ladder to win.
Roman Reigns: No story line creativity required here: Reigns stalks through the crowd to the ring, stares down his competitors, Superman Punches everybody, and voilà — WWE’s latest Next Big Thing gets hot-shotted into the championship. And why not? There are two options for righting the proverbial ship if management feels there’s a problem: return to something comfortable or plot a bold new course. Reigns has the star power to be that new course. (WWE clearly thinks so, anyway.) Assuming that skipping straight over the thrill of the chase and anointing Reigns the face of WWE doesn’t kill whatever momentum he has, Reigns versus Triple H and the Authority is your feud moving forward.
Bray Wyatt: Or WWE could plot an even bolder new course by handing the keys to Reigns and Wyatt at the same time. Imagine this: Reigns Superman Punches everybody, climbs the ladder, and then Wyatt Family members Luke Harper and Erick Rowan run out and topple the ladder. They help Wyatt to his feet, but he shocks us all — he screams at them and sends them away, excommunicating them from the cult. He helps Reigns up, pats him on the back, and sends him climbing back up the ladder. Except, wait, Wyatt’s eyes go cruel, he grins maniacally, and then he topples Reigns off the ladder again. Reigns writhes in pain as Wyatt ascends to the titles. Wyatt versus Reigns is your headline feud for the foreseeable future.
Seth Rollins: Fantasy booking aside, it’s a fair bet that Rollins will be the star of the MitB match, flipping and flying and handstanding and CrossFitting so impressively that Kofi Kingston’s heart breaks into a thousand tiny pieces. But — back to make-believe here — every time Rollins is set to climb to victory, Ambrose appears from nowhere and brawls him off the ladder. Finally, Triple H comes out and shouts ominously at Barrett and Swagger, who reluctantly help pull Ambrose off of Rollins. But Ambrose threatens to break free again, and here comes Kingston and Van Dam to help him out of this pickle … until they turn on Ambrose and pummel him while Rollins wins the match. This establishes a team of Authority-approved tag-team contenders — both guys who can find a much-needed new lease on life in that role. Later, after Reigns wins the WHC match, Rollins runs in with Kofi and RVD, they beat Reigns down, and then Rollins cashes in his briefcase to end Reigns’s reign moments after it began.
Dean Ambrose: Ambrose fights like a madman throughout the MitB match, relentlessly pummeling Rollins and rediscovering his hard-core roots. The match reaches its endgame with Ambrose and Rollins climbing opposite sides of the same ladder, exchanging punches as they ascend. Ambrose gets the upper hand and punches Rollins repeatedly and grotesquely in the face. At the last second, Ambrose shows signs of remorse — maybe we see him thinking, I’ve taken this too far. Then he shrugs his shoulders, kicks Rollins in the crotch, and throws him off the ladder. Ambrose claims the briefcase and the crowd goes wild as he poses atop the ladder, bleeding profusely and clutching the prize. When Reigns wins the title at the end of the show, Ambrose comes out to congratulate him. They eye each other warily, but Ambrose extends his hand and they celebrate together like Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero at the end of WrestleMania XX. Except here Ambrose smashes his briefcase over Reigns’s head, kicks him in the crotch, and pins him to win the title.
Dolph Ziggler: After a grueling MitB match that sees Ziggler propelled with incomprehensible velocity onto, off of, and over innumerable ladders, he’s lying crumpled in the corner while Rollins ascends the ladder in the middle of the ring. Out of nowhere, Ambrose charges in from outside the ring, knocks Rollins off the ladder, and starts a wild brawl that takes them over the top rope and into the stands. Ziggler looks around, shocked that no one else is standing, and climbs up to claim the win. Then Big E and a returning AJ Lee run out to congratulate him and we pick up where we left off two years ago before Swagger accidentally concussed Ziggler and sent his career into a tailspin.
Rob Van Dam: WWE decides to put Rollins and Ambrose in a long-term feud and it doesn’t want the MitB briefcase complicating things. It looks at the rest of the field and doesn’t see any compelling options: Barrett is set with the Intercontinental Championship and Ziggler is too much of an injury liability to become champion. So WWE shrugs its shoulders and slots in RVD for the briefcase. If nothing else, he’s good for a pop when he cashes in. The match ends the same way it did with Ziggler, except at the last minute RVD Van Terminators the ladder out from under him, sending Ziggler into the biggest bump of his bumptastic career. RVD rights the ladder and wins the match.
Wade Barrett: I guess the biggest fantasy is that Barrett will be healthy on Sunday, but anyway: After suffering a separated shoulder on SmackDown at Swagger’s hands, Barrett receives word backstage during MitB that he’s not cleared to wrestle. When the briefcase match starts, Triple H comes out to explain to the fans that Barrett won’t be wrestling tonight, but he’s interrupted by a voice booming from backstage: “You might not want me to wrestle tonight, Hunter … but I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news!” Triple H does the angry face, and the crowd cheers Barrett as a conquering hero. He sells the shoulder throughout the match (Michael Cole will wonder aloud, roughly 48 times, “Even if he climbs the ladder, will he be able to grab the briefcase?”) and Barrett miraculously wins. Orton wins the main event, then celebrates before getting blindsided by a Bull Hammer and pinned for Barrett’s first championship.
Jack Swagger: During the MitB match, Rollins and Ambrose go down to injury in seemingly innocuous spots while grappling with Swagger. The referees call for help from the back using the “legitimate injury” sign while Swagger looks around in confusion. Eventually, he wins a depleted match. Later, Cesaro wins a hard-fought WHC match by Giant Swinging every other competitor in sequence, then dizzily climbing the ladder and grabbing the belts. Afterward, he’s beaten down by Kane and Orton. Then Swagger comes in with a ref, demolishes Cesaro, and gets the pin. He grabs a mic: “You saw what happened to Wade Barrett. You saw what happened to Dolph Ziggler. You saw what happened to Rollins and Ambrose tonight. You don’t try to get a rub from me. You don’t bring your hype into my ring. I’m where big futures go to die. I’m the Push Killer!” Triple H and Zeb Colter celebrate together, signaling a new Corporate Ministry–style amalgam of heel factions. Call it the Immigration Authority.
Kofi Kingston: The MitB match culminates in Kingston standing atop two giant ladders, impossibly using them as stilts to walk across the ring and grab the — never mind, that’s just ridiculous. Not the stilts, but Kingston winning. I’m not even going to try.
Triple H: Bryan’s prognosis is good, so Trips makes the smart decision to reignite the Bryan-versus–the Authority feud. He looks at the options for a heel champ to lead the charge against the comebacking Bryan: Orton is old news; Kane is even older and ineffectual as more than muscle; and Rollins is too green. Then Triple H looks in the mirror and decides that if he wants the night to end with boos, then he’s the man for the job. He inserts himself into the main event, uses Kane to do his dirty work throughout the match, and then, when everybody has been laid out, claims the belts for himself. To cap it off, Rollins — who won the MitB match — comes out with a ref, the crowd goes wild, and then they replay the Fingerpoke of Doom bit, with Rollins lying down for Triple H to get an easy win as they laugh at the fans. SummerSlam features Triple H and Stephanie versus Bryan and Brie Bella in a marriage-versus-marriage match.
Daniel Bryan: During the pre-show, Bryan gives a melancholy interview while wearing his neck brace and while his wife, Brie, sits next to him, crying. He says the prognosis is worse than anyone expected, and Dr. Maroon says he’ll be out of action for at least a year. Later, Triple H and Stephanie chuckle at Bryan’s misfortune, saying that they’re gracious people and they’ll give him a title shot as soon as he’s healthy, even though, heh-heh, knowing Bryan, he’ll never make it through rehab. Right before the main event starts, Bryan emerges and tells Triple H he might want to hear what’s coming next, as Dr. Maroon pops up on the TitanTron to say Bryan is cleared for full-contact action. Bryan tears off his neck brace and takes the Authority up on its offer, inserting himself into the match, wherein he overcomes the odds and climbs the ladder for the win.
Drew McIntyre: Triple H delivers a self-serving promo before the main event only to be interrupted by McMahon, who says he’s tired of his son-in-law running his company into the ground. McMahon says he may not be the COO, but he’s still WWE chairman, and even though he can’t change what Triple H has done, he has enough power to add one person to the match: “The Chosen One” Drew McIntyre, whom Triple H had the gall to fire two weeks ago. McIntyre comes out, gets the biggest pop of his career, and goes on to knock Orton off the ladder for the win.
Hornswoggle: Because when there’s a mystery in the WWE, the answer is always Hornswoggle. He was promised something big to pay him back for getting his head shaved earlier this month, but little did he know that it would be winning the title. He comes to the ring to give an angry promo about El Torito before the main event, then gets cut off by Kane, who Tombstones him. Hornswoggle lies prone in the corner and at some point rolls out of the ring. At the end of the match, he regains consciousness, scurries into the ring, and runs to the ladder, only to be stopped again by Kane, who attempts a Powerbomb. This time, however, Horny somehow gets stuck on Kane’s shoulders and Kane forgets that he’s there. When Kane climbs the ladder, they each grab one belt and are forced to defend them in a Master Blaster–style tandem. (The physics of this are sketchy, I know.) The fans recoil in shock and confusion as the announcers try to explain that Horny was technically in the ring when the match started and something something. Somewhere, David Arquette jumps off his couch, excited that he’s no longer the worst champion ever. (David Arquette is wrong.)
Brock Lesnar: With the seemingly desperate state of WWE finances and with WWE looking for every surprise it can muster, McMahon calls Lesnar into action. The story line explanation is that Heyman pulls Cesaro out of the World Heavyweight Championship match to take Barrett’s spot in the MitB match, explaining that it’s an easier field and the briefcase will allow them to snatch the title more easily via cash-in. After the first seven main-event competitors are announced, Heyman appears and explains that a contractual clause in Cesaro’s contract allows Heyman to enter a competitor in the main event regardless, and out comes Lesnar, who plows his way to a victory. Heyman’s promise to Cesaro remains unfulfilled.
CM Punk: McMahon calls with one final offer, and Punk can hear the desperation in his voice. With his recent wedding and rumors of a child on the way, Punk is finally thinking of the legacy he’ll leave and, more important, how much money he’ll need. He says yes, flies to Boston on the WWE corporate jet, and enters the main event as a last-minute replacement for the Mysteriously Laid-Out Alberto Del Rio. Punk wins, but as he climbs down the ladder, he’s confronted by a fuming Triple H. They go nose to nose — then bust out laughing. Trips raises Punk’s arm in victory and they celebrate together as the crowd’s cheers turn to deafening boos.
Guys who really have a chance to leave as champion: John Cena, Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins
Guys who might win just to shock everybody: Kane, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler
Guys who might make a shocking return, which would probably only be to win: Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar, Triple H
Guys who might win in a shocking turn that would reset everything because WWE decides it needs a big change: Cesaro, Sheamus, Bray Wyatt
Guys with an outside chance of winning if only because anything can happen: Wade Barrett, Rob Van Dam, Alberto Del Rio
Guys who aren’t going to win: Jack Swagger, Hornswoggle, Kofi Kingston
Guys who aren’t going to be there: Drew McIntyre, CM Punk