Scott: Time to get rolling on our third post, and while I do intend to discuss the various ways Money In The Bank could play out, I’m going to hit the ground running with a question from on of our readers on Twitter — @el_spriggs asks, in a conversation about the World Heavyweight Championship, “Who do you think could do something novel and interesting with the belt if given a chance?” Since it stumped me (perhaps because it was close to 1 a.m.), I put the question to you: Who’s your guy and what could he do?
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David: On Sept. 17, 1981, Ric Flair beat Dusty Rhodes for the NWA Heavyweight Championship. From that date until he left WCW in 1991, Ric Flair held that belt for a total of 3,040 days (per Wikipedia). When I was growing up, I watched a lot of NWA programming on the Superstation. I enjoyed hating Ric Flair, and I enjoyed seeing him take a beating. That happened pretty often, but Flair always had a trick up his sleeve. He always found a way to win… and if he couldn’t he found a way to lose so he kept the title.
My initial reaction to the question of who could do something interesting with the belt was Dolph Ziggler. He strikes me as someone who would make a very good Flair-style champion. He’s great to watch getting beat up, and he’s just underhanded enough to be capable of purposely drawing a disqualification just to keep the belt… especially when facing guys who have him at a physical disadvantage. However, he has come along at an inopportune time for real, down and dirty bad guys. Ziggler is a victim of the openness that exists in wrestling, because he’s too likable and too hard a worker for anyone to truly hate him. Before “sports entertainment”, Ziggler would’ve been the type of guy to really get under people’s skin to the point where they didn’t care about how good he was in the ring. In today’s environment people might find him too good to let him get under their skin.
Even so, I stand by that answer — Ziggler is the guy I’d like to see get a solid run with a major championship to see what he could do with it. The only problem is I’m not sure any wrestler can do enough on their own to affect perceptions of the title or the way the title is viewed. As I was thinking about this, I started thinking about how wrestling has changed in my lifetime. The obsolescence of the territory system is frequently blamed for the way stars are developed in wrestling today… and I’m not going to argue that point. I’d like to point out it’s not only wrestlers who aren’t being developed in today’s WWE-centric wrestling landscape.
It’s my opinion that more than the wrestlers themselves, it’s wrestling minds that were lost by the demise of the territories. With the shrinking of territories, the number of people who were actively creating interesting wrestling story lines decreased. As far as I know, this isn’t something you can go to school for, even a wrestling school. So, where do they learn?
While I’m not David Lagana’s biggest fan, I was a fan of the “Formerly Creative” podcast he was producing last year that featured him talking to former members of the WWE Creative Team. It seemed like most of those individuals had no background in wrestling, but had written in other venues. Think about that: the most influential wrestling product on the planet is being created by people who have all been taught by Vince how to write wrestling. That’s a scary thought, and it says a lot about the state of professional wrestling.
Do you think the Mike Quackenbushes and Gabe Sapolskys of the world, guys I think are very creative, can overcome the prejudices that come with the “Indy Wrestling” tag, and maybe start a new lineage of creative thought in pro wrestling?
Scott: It’s an interesting question, and I go back and forth on my answer. While the way content is distributed is rapidly evolving, such that fans can closely follow promotions far from home via YouTube, online pay-per-views, DVD sales — not to mention Twitter interactions with fans and even talent — I’ve yet to be convinced anything will happen that can chip away at the notion of WWE as the major leagues.
I don’t mean to denigrate smaller promotions. I enjoy what certain writers, such as Brandon Stroud and Tom Holzerman, who champion the cause of wrestling fandom as a big-picture proposition and frequently remind people the WWE is far from the only game in town. That said, I am in my early 30s, have been following pro wrestling since roughly 1986-87, and I have little to no desire to try to broaden my horizons.
Perhaps that’s a function of my own use of time. Three young sons and a full- and part-time job (plus writing for free) keep me plenty busy. I watch a lot of Raw on fast-forward. If I want to watch any TV, wrestling or otherwise, in real time, I generally have to leave the house. I’d like to thank the Cubs for being in a rebuilding phase this year (and next, probably) because I simply could not make time for baseball if I wanted to. But I digress.
The point is, there is a lot of spectacular stuff happening with smaller promotions and there are fantastic people behind the scenes making it all work. But there’s only one company that can book 30,000-seat basketball arenas week by week. And its production values are beyond compare. Perhaps that stuff shouldn’t matter, but there’s no denying it’s a key factor.
I’ve been thinking about the initial question — who could do something novel and interesting with the belt? — and I think we can apply it to any belt. As we’ve discussed, what each title means is intentionally left undefined. One thing I’d like to see, which I think would pass for novel, is a guy — Ziggler would be perfect — simply vow to defend the title on TV every week and then follow through. A different singles opponent, every week, perhaps even mixing in some of the legends, as has been done with Heath Slater of late, would be interesting. They need not be Ryback- or Brodus Clay-type squash matches, and certainly there would be a need for a variety of finishes to keep things fresh. But after three or four months, with the champ announcing each week the number of days he’s held the gold, or something similar, would add a lot of credence to the title and the champion.
But maybe that’s a horrible idea. It wouldn’t be my first one. Speaking of horrible ideas, I have seen some pushback online to the WWE Title contract Money in the Bank Match, in part because regardless of who wins it will feel like a retread and in part because of fears the four announced participants will not be able to deliver a compelling ladder match. So to bring this discussion back to the present, I’m interested in your thoughts in both MITB contract matches and what might happen during or after the show that could add some new wrinkles to an exciting concept show.
David: I like the concept they’ve got for this year’s obnoxiously named “WWE Championship Contract Money in the Bank Ladder Match.” The past few Money in the Bank events have each featured two great, but similar, MITB matches. There are typically some amazing spots in these matches, but it’s like music: dynamics are what make a song truly special. There have been few dynamics to Money in the Bank over the years. That could go a long way to making this year’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view interesting or special.
The idea of John Cena, Chris Jericho, Kane and Big Show being in a ladder match is fascinating to me, and when I try to think about what this match is going to look like, I’m somewhat mystified. Maybe I shouldn’t be. It could very well be extremely slow, plodding and pedestrian. On the other hand, it could be extremely hard hitting and brutal. That’s the thing that has me intrigued. I’m also having a hard time figuring out who’s going to win that match, which is awesome. I can’t wait to find out who wins, but even more, I can’t wait to see what kind of match these four veterans put together. I think the outcome of this match also holds interest in terms of what happens with the briefcase. Any one of these guys could fail to successfully cash in the briefcase and not have it hurt their careers.
In the other match, I like that Smackdown is giving us an interesting group of wrestlers that will compete in what will probably be an outstanding, if somewhat typical, Money in the Bank ladder match. We all know Ziggler, Cody Rhodes and Christian can go. Santino will most likely be there for a few comedic moments, and I’m sure that will be enjoyable. Damien Sandow and Tyson Kidd are great up-and-coming wrestlers, and I’m glad they’re getting a shot to display their talent on a pretty big stage. The wild card here is Tensai. He’s sort of playing the Kane role from Money in the Bank 2010, and I could see him beating a bunch of smaller wrestlers to claim the briefcase.
I’m not sure where you go from there, but I think a Tensai/Sheamus feud could be interesting. A Tensai/Del Rio feud could also be interesting, but would be difficult with them both being bad guys. There are a few interesting feuds that could be built on Smackdown with this Money in the Bank match. When it comes to Raw, though, I’ve got a very specific way I’d like to see that match turn out.
I am rooting for a John Cena victory at Money in the Bank, but not because I want to see him with the WWE title again. Frankly, I’d love to see John Cena be the first guy to not cash in the briefcase. I want him to be “honorable” instead of opportunistic. I want him to challenge Punk or Bryan to a match at SummerSlam… and fail. No run-ins. No chicanery. Just John Cena coming up short. I think it could be a watershed moment for both WWE and John Cena, and could lead to some interesting stories. This begs the question… could losing in this manner be beneficial to John Cena’s career?
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Scott: Here’s the thing: John Cena lost to The Rock at WrestleMania and it could have been a watershed moment. And though he won his match with Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules, he effectively lost when you consider the beating he took and the fact he had to resort to a foreign object to emerge victorious. I suppose that was within the rules of the match, but still, the point is clear — Rock beat Cena cleanly and Brock obliterated him… but here he goes, happily plowing through Big Show and getting John Laurinaitis fired as if none of that soul-searching ever happened. They had plenty of chances to deepened Cena’s character and have blushed at every chance.
But is anyone else a logical winner? Jericho and Kane have just finished extended runs with Punk, so I don’t see them returning to that well. Kane also finished a run with Daniel Bryan, so even if the WWE Title changes hands at MITB, I don’t think a Kane-Bryan SummerSlam co-main event is in the cards. Though given what’s going on with AJ, I could see the writers trying to drag this one out.
There were flashes of brilliance in the Bryan-Jericho dynamic last week on Raw, but it just doesn’t seem like a logical direction for a title program. As a nontitle grudge match at SummerSlam, it might well steal the show. I think if Bryan and Cena emerge victorious at MITB, we’d be treated to riotous, split crowds reminiscent of last year’s Punk-Cena program. But the writers seem bent on continuing to elevate AJ’s prominence, and somehow I see that holding Bryan back a bit for now. Obviously I hope I’m wrong.
We could get some surprise entrants in the match, a la The Miz or Rey Mysterio. But if either of them shows up, I presume it would just be for the purposes of taking bumps. Some have speculated The Rock could appear given he is one of the few men eligible, but I don’t think WWE would use him as a PPV surprise — they’d prefer to have him be part of the show build and jack up the buyrate.
One option is to have Del Rio lose to Sheamus earlier in the show and then interject himself in the WWE Title MITB match, since he is eligible. And while I’d appreciate that novelty, I think he’s got a good chance to beat Sheamus at MITB and, even if he doesn’t, they seem committed to using him in the Word Heavyweight Title picture. Conversely, Punk could lose to Bryan and then join the MITB match. These myriad possibilities make the simple act of announcing which match is first on the card an event, thus setting the wheels in motion for the remainder of the show. I’m pretty bummed I’ll be traveling to the West Coast and may not be able to see anything live that night.
All of this discussion brings to mind a larger point. I often see folks on Twitter complain how thin the WWE roster is, and I couldn’t disagree more. Heck, look at the battle royal from this week’s Smackdown. Even without Sheamus, the ring was packed with what passes for A-listers these days. Maybe you can’t build a WrestleMania around those 20 (of course, as we learned this year, you don’t need to), but you can have one heck of a SummerSlam. So in that vein, I pose a question to you: What’s the most common wrestling criticism you come across that you find to be completely unfounded?
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David: I’m a big fan of paying attention to the history of wrestling. I especially enjoy podcasts and websites like Wrestlespective, the Old School Wrestling Podcast or Kentucky Fried Rasslin’ that remember and analyze the events of the past. There also are people out there who would prefer to complain about it. This is especially true when talking about the dismantling of the territory system. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that in the 1980s, Vince McMahon ruined the “good ol’ days” and wrestling was forever changed… for the worse.
I don’t see it as a matter of better or worse. I simply see it as a change that was probably inevitable. If Vince hadn’t specifically tried to create a national promotion, it would’ve happened eventually anyway. With the advent and explosion of cable television, there was going to be a shift in the business of professional wrestling. Most likely, the talent would’ve gravitated toward whichever promotions/territories had television programs with the farthest reach. Those promotions would have become national powers, and the rest probably would’ve closed. Those people who prefer the territory system can blame Vince if they want to, but in my opinion, cable television was the impetus behind this shift. If those people would prefer that cable was never invented, more power to them, but I can’t help but disagree.
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Scott: People who tend to complain about such things tend to forget wrestling evolved the same time as other sports were extending their reach nationally. If you look specifically at the evolution of college football and college basketball in the 1980s and 1990s — concurrent with the rapid popularity spike of ESPN and its multiple platforms — you can see a lot of parallels to pro wrestling. I grew up in the Chicago area without cable in the 1980s and 1990s. Practically all the college football we watched was Big Ten teams and Notre Dame. In 2012, with my Dish Network package, it’s almost unheard of for me to not have access to a marquee game or extensive coverage of most Heisman Trophy favorites. I could go on, but I think I’ve offered enough evidence to support your point — wrestling was going to go national, and Vince McMahon was not alone in that pursuit. He was just the best in the business.
What is worth lamenting to some extent is how the death of the territories robbed the WWF and WCW of the ability to pluck hot talents and turn them into national superstars. We saw in the late 1990s how the WCW Power Plant turned out dozens of wrestlers indistinguishable from each other and utterly devoid of charisma, and I understand there’s a legitimate fear the current WWE developmental model is going down the same road. But I don’t pretend to know nearly enough about how that side of the business works; I’m far more concerned with what I see on Sunday and Monday nights.
This article will be posted Monday a few hours before Raw — the “go home” show leading into Money In The Bank. As we wrap up our discussion, I’m curious in your thoughts about what could or should be done on this last week of TV heading into the pay-per-view. The purpose of these shows in general warrants a larger discussion, so I’m looking for specifics as it relates to the build for this show in particular. Whaddya got?
David: Raw is in my own backyard, so to speak, at the Pepsi Center in downtown Denver. A few friends of mine are going, and I’m hoping some interesting things will happen tonight, if only for their sake. Maybe we’ll find out tonight if there is going to be an additional entrant in the WWE Title MITB match. As you already mentioned, it could be a returning Miz or Rey Mysterio, or they could put a Legend in there… maybe a five-time, five-time, five-time champion. It’s unlikely, but I think having Booker T in a Money in the Bank match would be very interesting.
I’m pretty sure we’re going to get AJ doing something crazy tonight, but I’m not sure how they’re going to follow up on having her tease putting herself through a table, only to kiss Punk and put both he and Bryan through a table instead. Hopefully we’ll get some kind of idea of who she’s going to favor as the special guest referee on Sunday. Although, if they do tip their hand in one direction or the other, I’ll probably take it as meaning the opposite. That seems to be standard swerve WWE would throw in. This also could affect your earlier point about where Daniel Bryan is headed after this storyline with AJ. There is a possibility that if Bryan wins the WWE title, and AJ is directly involved, he could move out of this storyline, as her story would pretty much be only with Punk at that point. That would open up possibilities for a Jericho/Bryan feud or a Cena/Bryan feud.
Frankly, I’d also like to see a couple more mid-card matches added to the pay-per-view, as there are only four matches currently. I assume we’ll get a Divas match, but I’d also like to see a tag team match of some kind added for Sunday. Maybe a multi-team match with Truth and Kofi, the Prime Time Players and Primo and Epico. I’m still holding out hope that at some point, tag team wrestling will make a comeback in the WWE, and maybe these three teams can help make that happen with a good tag team match on a fairly big pay per view.
What am I thinking? That’ll never happen.
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Scott: You know what would be great fun? A tag-team ladder match on Raw (or Smackdown, I guess) with the winning team getting a title shot Sunday. I can’t think of a better way to build excitement for the show — at least the parts of the show that aren’t the main event. And frankly, those angles are already pretty well established. Although I would say it might be nice to get the participants in the (effectively) Smackdown MITB match onto both shows this week for some extra buzz.
I think we’ve covered everything we can until the paradigm shifts again tonight on Raw. I know there’s a lot of Internet buzz today about Austin Aries winning the big prize in TNA Sunday night, but I am the last person who should be weighing in on such a development. We’ll plan to be back next Monday — or maybe even late Friday — with a whole new discussion.
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