Initially, I was going to go with the third part of my “The Matches That Made Me” series, covering the 2000’s. I was deep into the groove of writing it, but then… Monday Night Raw happened. Now, I feel like I have no choice but to push the series back so that I can discuss the ending of Raw here this week.
Folks, we have ourselves a brand spanking new WWE Champion. The 196-day title reign of Bobby Lashley has come to an end. The man who defeated him is none other than…
Big E… he of the hip gyrating, part of one of the greatest tag teams and factions ever, and “big, meaty men slappin’ meat” fame… successfully cashed his Money In The Bank briefcase in after Lashley’s victory over Randy Orton.
It was a fantastic moment for a couple reasons. For one, it’s always an electric time when the Money In The Bank winner cashes in. It doesn’t matter who it is, nor does it matter who they’re cashing in on. More importantly, though, if you look at the lengthy list of Money In The Bank winners, Big E ranks very high as far as wrestlers that people are really hoping to see make it to the top. Let’s take a look at all the male winners of Money In The Bank, in reverse chronological order:
- The Miz: Sure, Miz has some fans, but he was a joke for so long before winning the briefcase from Otis that nobody was taking him seriously. As a former WWE Champion, he had already been atop the WWE mountain, and may not have “needed” this to go back.
- Otis: He was getting popular with the WWE Universe, but there was never any reason to turn him into a singles wrestler. Heavy Machinery was working their way up the tag ranks, and nobody was asking for this.
- Brock Lesnar: When you talk about WWE wrestlers that don’t need Money In The Bank to make it to the top, Brock Lesnar is the perfect example. At least we got some entertainment out of “Boombox Brock” for a while, though.
- Braun Strowman: Braun was coming off of a weird 2017, where he would look like an obvious choice to become the new Universal Champion, make his way to the title scene, and then fail to win the title. He had three Universal Title shots that year, and was 1-2 in those matches, with that win coming by disqualification. He even had a fourth title shot to start 2018, and he was unsuccessful then, too. Fans were really behind Strowman, and they were excited to see him win the briefcase. Surely, there’s no way a monster like him would fail to cash in successfully, right? Wrong. He cashed in at Hell In A Cell three months later, only to have the match thrown out when Brock Lesnar busted into the Cell and left Strowman and Roman Reigns nearly unconscious.
- Baron Corbin: Nobody wanted this. It would appear WWE didn’t want it, either, as he cashed in less than two months later and lost, looking like a complete doofus the entire time.
- Dean Ambrose: When The Shield began, you could say that Ambrose was the most “ready” to be a main event singles worker, based on his look, size, mic skills, charisma, and workrate. Strangely enough then, he would be the last member of the group to win a World Title of any kind. Fans were beyond ready for him to join Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns in the proverbial “Hall Of Champions” at the time.
- Sheamus: Before becoming a Money In The Bank winner, Sheamus was a two-time WWE Champion and a one-time World Heavyweight Champion. Sure, it had been nearly three years since he last held either of those titles, but the fact remains that he was one of those wrestlers who was always right on the cusp of being in the main event.
- Seth Rollins: This one just worked on every possible level. Rollins turned heel four weeks before 2014’s MITB event, and then used the briefcase win to become a singles star, before having, arguably, the best cash-in that we’ve ever seen. Seth was viewed as someone who could/would/should be a top tier player, and this allowed him to be.
- Randy Orton: Come on. Orton was a six-time WWE Champion and a three-time World Heavyweight Champion before winning Money In The Bank in July of 2013. However, I will make an argument here by saying there was nobody on the WWE roster at the time who was better suited to be the one who crushed Daniel Bryan’s dreams at SummerSlam 2013 than Orton. As a truly despised heel, he was perfect to get nuclear heat by cashing in on Bryan, who had become the WWE Champion only minutes earlier.
- Damien Sandow: Sandow was slowly moving up the card as a member of Team Rhodes Scholars with Cody Rhodes, but this wasn’t a move that people were longing for. Looking at the other competitors in that year’s match (Cesaro, Rhodes, Jack Swagger, Wade Barrett, Dean Ambrose, and Fandango), you might say Sandow was in last place when it came to who fans wanted to see grab the briefcase.
- John Cena: Like Orton, this was totally unnecessary. Cena was a ten-time WWE Champion and a two-time World Heavyweight Champion before this event took place. Needless to say, he was going to be in the main event picture, Money In The Bank or not.
- Dolph Ziggler: The record books will show that Dolph was a World Heavyweight Champion a year-and-a-half before winning Money In The Bank. That’s fine and all, but you have to look at the details of that title reign to get a better picture. Dolph was in a title match with the champion at the time, Edge, where Edge’s Spear was banned and would result in him losing the title if he performed it. Edge would perform the move behind the referee’s back, going on to pick up the win. Smackdown General Manager Vickie Guerrero would strip Edge of the title and award it to Dolph. Ziggler’s reign lasted less than two hours, as he would drop the title back to Edge in the same episode of Smackdown that he was given the title. Therefore, Dolph winning Money In The Bank and cashing in on Alberto Del Rio on the night after WrestleMania 29 marked the first time he actually WON a World Title. It was also supposed to mark his arrival as a permanent main event performer, but that didn’t really happen. If you want to know how much people were hoping for Dolph to reach the top, simply listen to the crowd pop he got when his music hit before cashing in on Del Rio, and then listen to the pop he got when he won the match.
- Alberto Del Rio: Del Rio had himself quite the rookie year in WWE, didn’t he? Five months after debuting on Smackdown, he would win the Royal Rumble. After unsuccessfully challenging for Edge’s World Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania, Del Rio would win Money In The Bank three months later, successfully cashing his shot in a month later, defeating CM Punk to win the WWE Title. At the time, before all of his legal issues and extracurricular shit, Del Rio was a popular choice by fans to become one of the next big heels in the business, and this was going to be where that happened.
- Daniel Bryan: I don’t think I need to tell you that Daniel Bryan was very popular with the WWE Universe. Even when he was a heel, folks were dying to see him make it to the top of WWE, seemingly against all odds.
- The Miz: I don’t think I need to tell you that The Miz was not very popular with the WWE Universe. Remember “Miz Girl” and her reaction when Miz cashed in to beat Randy Orton and become the WWE Champion? Yeah… exactly.
- Kane: On one hand, the Kane character had been around for nearly 13 years when he won Money In The Bank. However, on the other hand, he wasn’t winning a ton of World Titles like the aforementioned Randy Orton and John Cena. Before this Money In The Bank event, Kane was a one-time WWF Champion and a one-time ECW (WWE version) Champion. Leading into MITB, he was a face and was actually a popular choice to win the match, although he was in the middle of a heel turn that would be completed a month later. He’s one of the rare cases of an already established veteran main event wrestler that was still someone that fans wanted to see win a match like Money In The Bank.
- Jack Swagger: If I recall correctly, the match at Swagger won (at WrestleMania 26) was one where people wanted one person to win. Nothing against Swagger, Evan Bourne, Matt Hardy, Christian, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre, Kofi Kingston, Kane, and MVP, but Shelton Benjamin was who fans were rooting for. This was his fifth Money In The Bank match, and he made highlight reels in every previous one, even though he never won. Little did we know, though, that not only would Shelton not win MITB again, but he would be released from his contract less than four weeks later. As for Swagger, he was pretty much destined to be pushed as a main eventer from the time he debuted, but there was always something missing between his character and live audiences around the world.
- CM Punk: This was one of the most surprising MITB outcomes ever. Not because Punk was some lowly job guy and then he goes on to win, but because he won MITB two years in a row. It was surprising enough that he won at WrestleMania 24, but nobody was expecting him to win again the following year. Christian? Kofi Kingston? Shelton Benjamin? Those were the wrestlers that folks were rooting for and/or expecting to win in 2009.
- CM Punk: As I said, it was a surprise to see Punk win at WrestleMania 24, mostly because he was never “supposed to” be a top guy in WWE. The story of how Vince McMahon never “got” Punk in the beginning has been widely told, by Punk himself, Paul Heyman, and others. Most people expected Chris Jericho to win here, with MVP and Shelton Benjamin being other favorites. I was in attendance for this show, and I specifically remember a bunch of happily shocked faces in every direction when Punk won.
- Edge: Having Edge defeat Mr. Kennedy for Kennedy’s Money In The Bank title shot worked out in the end, but man, it was so strange at the time. It was pretty fitting for Edge’s character, at least.
- Mr. Kennedy: So, so, so strange. Kennedy was super popular in 2007, and him winning MITB at WrestleMania 23 looked like the making of a new superstar. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. It would be revealed that Kennedy tore his right triceps muscle off the bone, with it being reported that he would be out of action for a minimum of five-to-seven months. The decision would be made to have him lose his briefcase to Edge, and that was that. Well, that actually wasn’t that. It turns out that Kennedy’s triceps wasn’t actually torn, and instead, a massive hematoma. Less than two months after losing to Edge, Kennedy was back in the ring. He easily could’ve kept the briefcase and just continued the story once he returned. Alas, he lost the briefcase, and he never approached the top of the WWE mountain again.
- Rob Van Dam: This just worked. It really did. RVD was always one of the most over wrestlers anywhere he was, so people were really hoping to see him win here. It was also a brilliant move to have him announce his cash-in ahead of time, and to have it take place at the ECW One Night Stand pay-per-view. That should’ve been where Van Dam became a “made” man. He was a double champion, holding the WWE and ECW Titles at the same time, and things looked great. Then, RVD (along with Sabu) was arrested for speeding and drug possession not even four weeks after beating John Cena at One Night Stand. He had to drop both titles, and then had to serve a 30-day suspension, and he was never on that level within the company again.
- Edge: Edge, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Kane, Christian, and Shelton Benjamin formed a pretty loaded roster for the very first Money In The Bank match. Say whatever you want about any of those wrestlers, but Edge was the perfect choice to win here. Even as a heel, fans were more than hyped to see him become a main eventer after a few years of being one of WWE’s best midcard workhorses. He took the momentum of this win, and then we got the entire love triangle deal with him, Matt Hardy, and Lita. Fast forward a few months to the New Year’s Revolution pay-per-view in January 2006, with Edge cashing his briefcase in to beat John Cena, who had just survived a bloody Elimination Chamber match, and boom… Edge was set for life.
Ideally, Money In The Bank is given to someone who may not necessarily be viewed as someone who could become a World Champion without a “boost” like that. As you just read, it hasn’t always worked out that way, but it’s usually a lot better received when it does. You could say Big E fits into that category. Before Raw this week, Big E had never been in a World Title match as a member of WWE’s main roster. Never. Not at a house show, not in a clusterfuck multi-man match like Elimination Chamber… nothing. From December 17th, 2012 (his debut on Raw) to September 13th, 2021 (him beating Bobby Lashley to win the WWE Title), it’s incredible to think that he was never at that level. Even R-Truth, who has been doing a comedy act for the company since the days of Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales, has competed for the WWE Title three times, the World Heavyweight Title twice, and the WWE World Heavyweight Title once.
Big E brings so much to the table as a performer. He immediately passes Vince McMahon’s “airport test” upon first glance. The test is Vince’s way of “proving” who should be a pro wrestling superstar, saying that people on the company’s radar for future signings should be someone who can walk through an airport in their street clothes and turn heads. You know the deal… you see someone walking, and you don’t know who they are, but you know they must be famous for something, because bah gawd, look at them! Imagine if you didn’t know who Big E was, but there you were, walking through the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, and there’s Ettore Ewen, walking in the opposite direction in a t-shirt and jeans. He looks like a cartoon character, and you would remember seeing him.
It’s not like E is just a big, muscular oaf that can’t perform a wrestling move to save his life. He has a ridiculously unfair level of athleticism and flexibility for his size, and he has been a solid in-ring performer, improving on a yearly basis. On top of that, it goes without saying that he has a sense of humor, comedic timing, and natural charisma that is just about unmatched in the business. Throw in a championship history as an amateur wrestler and a record-breaking powerlifting career, and you have a complete package that you can turn into a star.
When Kofi Kingston won the WWE Title at WrestleMania 35, a lot of talk immediately turned to Big E and, to a lesser extent, Xavier Woods as next up for major singles pushes. Fantasy booking was all over Meaghan Rath’s internet, calling for E to win Money In The Bank, and when that didn’t happen, the fantasy booking shifted to him winning the Royal Rumble. Lord knows I’m guilty of that, as I’ve mentioned multiple stories of how to get him to that point.
It took two-plus years, but he finally did it. Not only did he do it, he did it on his own terms and by being himself. There was so much back-and-forth on social media, podcasts, and any other medium you can think of. Some people thought E would never be a major singles player because he was too “silly” and “goofy” on television. Tag team wrestler? Sure. Midcard singles wrestler? Fine. Main event singles wrestler? Sorry, those roles are only given to people who don’t simulate humping things and pull pancakes out of his singlets to feed to members of the WWE Universe. On the other side of that argument was the thinking that him being “silly” and “goofy” is what helped him to stand out. E himself would weigh in on that discussion, saying that he tried the “serious” character in the beginning of his main roster run, and it wasn’t any fun. In an interview with Fox Sports, he said the following:
“…I don’t want to lose what made me special, what made me unique. Because I feel like you’re gonna find powerhouses who are taller, who are bigger, who are faster, who can do things that I can’t do, but I don’t think you can find another Big E.”
To me, that says it all. People fell in love with him because of who he was, in and out of the ring. You’ve enjoyed his matches, but you’ve also laughed at his tweets or enjoyed his podcasts and interviews. For him to do a complete 180 and become a super serious character would be jarring. Could he pull it off? I’m sure he could. Again with the fantasy booking, but we all saw plenty of it involving a heel turn for E, where he split from Kofi and Woods by completely destroying them at some point. That would’ve been memorable, without a doubt, but then what? He would be playing a character, but how much authenticity would there be in said character? Bayley is someone who I’ve seen used as an example for this. She turned heel and showed a much more serious side to the character, but where’s the authenticity? Have you ever seen heel Bayley hit someone with a chair shot? It doesn’t look like it would hurt a child. What do her heel promos lean heavily on? An obnoxious laugh. Not her keeping a sociopathic personality hidden for years. Not a lust for obtaining championships by any means. A laugh. That’s it. Bayley has definitely been successful as a heel. That can’t be argued at all. I just think the word I’ve used twice already… authenticity… isn’t there for her as a heel. In this day and age, it comes across a lot more on television when you can even speculate that a heel is someone who might actually be a bitch or an asshole in “real life” and not just someone pretending to be one. Look at people like The Miz and MJF, as an example. They’re two of the top heels in the business right now, but even people that associate with them will tell you there’s a lot of them in their characters. What happened with Roman Reigns? As soon as he wasn’t portraying the “Samoan John Cena” face character anymore, everything fell into place and it actually comes across as if he really is who we see on TV now, even if he isn’t. For E, there’s just something beautiful about being unapologetically yourself and being able to achieve your dreams.
Straying ever-so-slightly a bit, can we talk about The New Day for a moment? It originally started as an idea in the mind of Xavier Woods, who was frustrated over the lack of opportunities he was being given in the company, so he was brainstorming ideas in an attempt to get something rolling for himself. Woods and E would collaborate on things, being in similar situations within the company. They came up with ideas for a heel stable, but switched it up when they figured WWE would never allow Kofi Kingston, who they wanted in the group, to turn heel after years of being on the face side of the fence.
Their start on television came in July 2014, when Woods would (wood woods) come to the ring after a tag team loss by E and Kingston. He seemed like a manager-type, trying to convince the duo that things needed to change for them to shine. That lasted what seemed like five minutes, and the story was pretty much dropped from television altogether. A few months later, we started getting vignettes for The New Day, then featuring them in a “heroic black gospel gimmick,” as labeled by Wikipedia. They went on a bit of a winning streak for a few months, but live crowds didn’t seem to know how to respond to them. Eventually, crowd responses would turn negative, and the trio started getting heel heat. Similarly to Rocky Maivia and the “Die Rocky Die” chants he was receiving as a face forcing a major character change, New Day would turn heel, hurt and upset that their “New Day Rocks” chant was being turned into “New Day Sucks” chants by the WWE Universe.
That’s when things took off.
A couple weeks after turning heel, the team of E and Kingston defeated Tyson Kidd and Cesaro to become the new WWE Tag Team Champions. The rest is history. That was the first of their 11 Tag Team Title reigns, and now, they’ve had two members of the group go on to become WWE Champion. They have sold an ungodly amount of merchandise, from shirts to unicorn horn headbands to boxes of cereal, and just about everything in between. Heel, face, champions, challengers, trios, tags, singles… they have spent the last six-plus years becoming one of the best and most successful teams/groups in the long and storied history of pro wrestling. Not bad for three guys who weren’t even able to get regular time on television before that.
Chances are, the group isn’t done. They’ve all gone on record saying that they don’t want to split up via a heel turn for one or two of them. For the time being, all three of them are all back on the same brand, with Big E becoming an official member of the Raw roster after beating Lashley. As we’ve seen, though, putting them on different brands doesn’t stop them from being a stable. You know there’s going to be more Tag Team Title reigns for them. WWE has already named New Day as the greatest tag team in company history, but what’s another title reign or two or five?
It has been a fantastic voyage, not only for Big E, but for each member of The New Day. To go from absolutely nothing, and to achieve everything that they have, is incredible. They have earned every accolade, whether it’s a title reign, an award from a website, or those extra checks in their bank accounts from merchandise sales.
What’s next? Well, since Kofi Kingston became WWE Champion in 2019 and Big E won that same title in 2021, I guess we can expect a WWE Title reign for 2023. Sign me up.
Congratulations to Big E. While we’re at it, congratulations to Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods, too. They’ve all earned the flowers that they’re receiving.
It’s a new day. Yes, it is.
Weekly Power Rankings
- Big E: ‘Nuff said.
- Tommaso Ciampa: Some have complained (surprise, surprise) that a “new era” for NXT shouldn’t have started by crowning Ciampa as NXT Champion for the second time. While I figured it would be Pete Dunne’s time, I’m not against this move. I have said that Ciampa should’ve moved on to Raw or Smackdown by now, but by golly, if they’re going to keep him in NXT, he’s going to be a top guy there. It has also been two-and-a-half years since Ciampa last held the NXT Title, so it’s still a relatively “fresh” champion for the brand.
- MJF: Hey, remember those ECW days when Bubba Ray Dudley would cut promos and use every type of curse word and derogatory comment he could think of to damn near incite a riot in whatever city they were in? We got plenty of those vibes on Dynamite last week. MJF generally goes for the cheap heat, and there was still some of that here, but he really laid it on thick with the personal attacks on the family of Brian Pillman. Cincinnati was not having it. I know that some feel MJF crossed some lines with some of the stuff he said, but hey, if the Pillman family gave the green light to every word, who are any of us to complain? This was easily MJF’s best work.
- Edge vs Seth Rollins: A PPV-quality match on free television. You can’t go wrong there. It was only a matter of time before WWE went with the “heel injures Edge and we wonder if Edge will ever be okay again” story, and now, here we are. I do like that, for the time being, Rollins’ character is torn over what happened to Edge, almost as if he hates that it needed to come to that. I guess we’ll have another match between these two to finish the story off. I’m good with that, but I’m also hoping that it’ll be their last one, and they can both move on to something else.
- Pac vs Andrade El Idolo: Another PPV-quality match on free television. My only issue here is that it’s a match where both men really needed a win. Andrade is one of AEW’s newest signings, so you have to give him momentum, but Pac hasn’t had a big-time singles win in a long time.
- InDex: Silly, harmless fun. It’s a storyline that has seen Indi Hartwell, Dexter Lumis, Johnny Gargano, Candice LeRae, Austin Theory, and Beth Phoenix all gain something. That’s pretty cool. It was also the super rare story that saw a pro wrestling wedding take place without any shenaniganery. There’s still time for it, sure, but for now, InDex are married and you know what that means. Time for some over-the-top segments about their honeymoon.
- Jon Moxley vs Minoru Suzuki: I don’t think the match met the insanely high hopes and expectations I had for it, but I’m not complaining. It was still every bit as stiff and as violent as I wanted it to be, so there’s that. We’re getting bigger and bigger names from New Japan that are appearing on AEW programming. It opens the door for the teased match between Moxley and Hiroshi Tanahashi, but as I’ve said before, I’m still holding out hope to see Kazuchika Okada or Shingo Takagi in AEW, even if it’s against someone other than Moxley.
- Bron Breakker: First and foremost, can we just say how the name Rex Steiner is INFINITELY better than Bron Breakker? With that said, this was a great debut for the not-quite-24-year-old son of Rick Steiner. He looks and wrestles exactly like his father. After hearing him cut a promo, he sounds like the perfect blend of his father and his Uncle Scott. He even had Scott’s old sirens to start his entrance music. WWE might have something here.
- The “Love Triangle” Between Roman Reigns, Paul Heyman & Brock Lesnar: Reigns has spent so much time being cool, calm, and collected. Ever since Lesnar made his return, things have changed for the Universal Champion. When talking about anybody else, or even to anybody else, Reigns is the same person we’ve seen over the last year. However, when he talks to Paul Heyman about Heyman’s connection to Lesnar, Reigns comes across as shook, as if he is worried about seeing everything he has built come crumbling down. That puts Lesnar over without him having to do or say anything. I’m already intrigued to see what happens next.
- “The Demon” Finn Balor: Balor has yet to lose a match under the Demon persona, so that means he’s going to become the new Universal Champion, right? I guess WWE has given us bigger shocks in the past, but that would be pretty amazing, especially with Brock Lesnar back and going after Roman Reigns. I guess we’ll have to see, but if Reigns can successfully defeat The Demon, that has to be it for the character, right?
- Trae Young: During this past season’s NBA Playoffs, Trae Young became a hated figure in Madison Square Garden for what he was able to do to the New York Knicks in their first round series against Young and his Atlanta Hawks. In a rare case of WWE capitalizing on non-wrestling stories when they’re at the height of their popularity, instead of years later, Young made an appearance on Smackdown… in Madison Square Garden. You know good and well that it wasn’t Vince McMahon’s idea to make this happen, but kudos to whomever came up with it. Young got some really good heel heat and seemed to be having a blast.
- The Look Of NXT 2.0: My biggest problem with pandemic-era NXT was how boring the show looked. Everything was too dark, too quiet, and too sterile. NXT 2.0 is the opposite. A much brighter presentation, complete with better sound quality and a much better lighting setup, catches your attention as soon as you see it.
- The Usos vs The Street Profits: I’m still hoping we get a Match Of The Year classic from these two teams. All the pieces are there. It seems like WWE is building to it, so we’ll see. This was a good match that had a subpar ending, but it leaves the door open for a rematch. Here’s hoping we get a full-fledged 20+ minute barn burner.
- Dante Martin vs Powerhouse Hobbs: Opposing styles can make for really fun wrestling matches, and this was an example of that. Hobbs appears to be in line for a bigger push, even if it just means a match with CM Punk, so he’s getting to look strong, literally and figuratively. Martin, even in defeat, continues to get every opportunity to look like a future star.
- The Creed Brothers: Another week, another entertaining squash for Brutus and Julius Creed. I’m all for it. Their squashes are catered to who they are and what their strengths are. It’s been a lot of fun thus far. The NXT Tag Team Title picture may have a new team added to the mix sooner than later.
This Week’s Playlist: Metallica’s “Black Album” and several episodes of the Zack To The Future podcast with Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Dashiell Driscoll.