WWE

WWE: Who should win Money in the Bank?

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As we continue to roll through the doldrums of the WWE’s calendar, one of the most exciting events of the year has suddenly crept up on all of us.

Since the introduction of the Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View in 2010, it’s stood out from the rest of the PPV cluster due to the importance and thrill of the MITB ladder match.

Any ladder match is going to have an extra bit of intrigue because, at its core, it is a hardcore match with multiple people falling off of ladders from eight to 12 feet. When you have five, six or even seven competitors crashing through tables from a high distance, the crowd is going to be even more invested than they normally are in a ladder match.

Add in the fact that the winner of the Money in the Bank match can “cash in” the briefcase for a world championship opportunity on any show for up to a year and you can understand why this show is a big deal for fans of the product.

There have been 17 Money in the Bank ladder matches in the history of WWE and 14* of the winners have gone on to become champions (asterisk is needed because Mr. Kennedy won the MITB match at WrestleMania 23, but dropped the briefcase to Edge on an episode of SmackDown. Edge would then successfully cash in against the Undertaker).

Winning the match is typically a sign that the person is about to get boosted up the card. Holding the briefcase elevated characters like Edge, The Miz, Daniel Bryan*, Alberto Del Rio and Seth Rollins into the main event picture. (Note on Bryan: Even though this wasn’t the Yes movement version of his character, Bryan started showing signs of finding his WWE voice after winning the match in 2011.)

Not everyone has had main event level success though. Jack Swagger’s title reign was a dud. CM Punk is the only two-time winner of the MITB match, but his first run with the title was lackluster at best. Damien Sandow had a thrilling television match against John Cena, but his momentum quickly flattened out after he became the first person to lose clean during cash in attempt.

Last year, Dean Ambrose climbed the ladder and retrieved the briefcase and then cashed it in later on in the night. Ambrose would pin Rollins (who had just beaten Reigns clean) to become the WWE champion.

I don’t expect the winner of this year’s Money in the Bank match to cash in on the same night as the show, but depending on who wins, the briefcase won’t be out in the wild for too long.

Let’s take a look at the field in the men’s match first and see if we can’t figure out who is going to walk out of St. Louis as Mr. Money in the Bank:

Kevin Owens (Odds 25/1): With Owens currently holding the United States Championship and running with this “New Face of America” character, it would be overkill for him to also have the MITB briefcase. I do totally expect Owens and Sami Zayn to pull off some crazy spot that hearkens back to their ROH days.

AJ Styles (10/1): In the month since his United States title match against Owens, it feels like Styles has taken a backseat to Shinsuke Nakamura. He’s still excellent in the ring – just look at how smooth this Styles Clash is – but his character feels a bit aimless right now, which has become a common thread among a good chunk of the main roster.

He’s still getting a nice pop every week, which is impressive when you consider how badly creative struggles with booking good guys, and odds are he’s going to be in a prominent match at SummerSlam. This then would make sense for him to win the contract and then declare that he wants to cash it by challenging the champion to a match in Brooklyn.

Dolph Ziggler (40/1): Not as crazy as you’d think. Ziggler’s heel turn hasn’t meant anything, but a heel Ziggler cashing in the title after a young guy wins the title for the first time could be a way to boost Dolph …

… Yeah, you’re right, how many times have we thought that Ziggler’s character was going to become serious, only for him to keep the same look, mannerisms, and movements that he’s been repeating night in and night out for the better part of this decade?

His role in this match is important. He’s the veteran who needs to make sure the match moves at the correct pace, which could be a challenge considering half of the guys in this match have never participated in something like this before.

GAH, that sounded like a line JBL will probably say on Sunday. Excuse me for a second …

Sami Zayn (15/1): It’s hard to believe that Zayn will win this match considering his character is basically just a goober who doesn’t understand how to properly hold a conversation. At times, Zayn comes off like a comedy guy, instead of someone who is trying to win the world title.

If there was a time to change the course with Sami and give him a new direction, this is the moment. But the fact that he’s got three wins over Baron Corbin recently led me to believe that he’s not getting the briefcase.

Baron Corbin (3/1): The “Lone Wolf” has constantly been referred to as a future WWE champion by the SmackDown commentary team and now would be the right moment to push Corbin up to the top shelf.

With how WWE books, Corbin’s recent losses to Zayn actually bode well for him. Typically creative likes to have a guy lose a few times before they rebound with a big win. It makes little sense, but when you see the booking pattern, you can’t unsee it.

So why is Corbin my favorite to win on Sunday? Simple, Vince and Co. still have high hopes for him and he reportedly has a big push coming in the second half of the year. He has the look of a champion, but in-ring work still needs some fine tuning because the crowd tunes out during his matches and his promos aren’t exactly memorable.

Hopefully, the briefcase can work its magic with this one.

Shinsuke Nakamura (6/1): Nakamura doesn’t need to win the MITB match to help his stock. Even though he doesn’t quite feel as special as he did during his first few appearances, Nakamura is already established as one of the top babyfaces on SmackDown.

Similar to Styles, I can foresee a scenario in which Nakamura wins the briefcase and then challenges the WWE champion to a title match at SummerSlam. As a noble babyface, this would be the right move for Nakamura’s character.

The road to Nakamura winning his first world title in WWE is a storyline that shouldn’t be glossed over by creative. The summer of Shinsuke could be extremely fun and provide us with something to grab onto as fans because right now, it’s hard to care about anything that’s happening on WWE television.

As I mentioned earlier, for the first time, five women will step into the ring for a Money in the Bank match, so let’s repeat the device I used above:

Charlotte (20/1): Much like Nakamura and Styles, Charlotte doesn’t need to win the MITB match. The crowd is already invested in her and winning the briefcase isn’t going to help. There are plenty of other girls who could really benefit from a win, so it would be a waste to give it to the girl from the Queen City.

Becky Lynch (20/1): Everything I said above about Charlotte applies to Becky as well. Even though it’s felt like she has been floating on the show without any direction, there’s no need for her to win this match.

Carmella (4/1): Frankly I’m surprised Carmella hasn’t won the SmackDown women’s title already, but now is a perfect opportunity to guarantee that she will eventually hold the title. Just imagine the possibilities of James Ellsworth trying to help her cash in the contract, only for their plan to be thwarted until eventually she cashes in on a vulnerable champion.

Tamina (7/1): 7/1 odds!? She’s essentially Nia Jax lite, so you know Vince has at least considered the possibility of giving Tamina the briefcase. She had a better than expected match against Naomi this past Tuesday, so if she does win on Sunday, it will be fair to wonder if that match was a jumping off point for her.

Natalya (13/1): It wouldn’t shock me if Nattie won, but her carrying around the briefcase for a few months does feel pointless. Like Ziggler, she’s the veteran in this match, but her job is much harder than Ziggler’s because she’s never had to keep a ladder match, let alone a Money in the Bank ladder match together.

Twitter: @ScottDargis

 

Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque opens up about WarGames and returning to the ring at Survivor Series

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This weekend is going to be a busy one for Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque.

On Saturday night he will be behind the scenes producing a match that hasn’t been seen in 19 years at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, which will stream live around the world on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET.

And then on Sunday he’ll make his televised return at Survivor Series as a member of Team Raw in the five-on-five elimination match against Team SmackDown. (You can stream his return live around the world on the WWE Network starting at 7 p.m. ET.)

I had the chance to chat with HHH about how the return of WarGames came about, what makes the Undisputed Era special, and how long it took him to get comfortable in the ring again during his recent stretch of matches overseas.

Me: There have been rumors of a ‘WarGames’ match under the WWE umbrella for a long time now and after almost two decades we’re now just three days away from witnessing one. Walk me through the process of how we got here.

HHH: “For me ‘WarGames’ has always been a very viable concept. It wasn’t just a name, it was a branding of a match that was meaningful in WCW. It’s something I’ve always had interest in. I’ve always liked the concept as a fan.

As we move forward with NXT, it’s really started to become its own brand. We’ve had opportunities to do different things, whether that is ladder matches, or cage matches. But there was an opportunity that came along, given the weekend with Survivor Series and given the position [NXT] is in to brand something out and create something that NXT could own.

It seemed like the perfect time to bring it out, so I dusted it off. Throughout the years, I was aware of Vince’s feelings about it. There were some things about that match that he liked and there were some things about the concept that he didn’t necessarily think worked, especially in today’s world.

So I brought it back up to him and we walked through the process and I said here’s the way I think we can make this match work for us and he liked it, agreed with it, thought it worked great for NXT and was real happy to do it. So here we are.

When you do this, the goal is not to go backwards. My goal isn’t to make people go, ‘oh is this as good as it was back then?’ I want to put a slightly different spin on it, so that it begins again and takes a life of its own because it can’t be what it was.

I grew up watching it in the Dusty [Rhodes], [Ric] Flair, Four Horseman vs. the world sort of iteration of it and this cannot be that. It has to be today’s version of it. Hopefully it’ll be something that our fan base really enjoys.

I think the NXT fans are going to love it. I know the talent is very excited about it. When we announced the match and word began to spread on the Internet, a bunch of main roster talent came to me and said, ‘oh my God, you’re doing WarGames? Anyway I can do something in that?’

For me, it’s also a cool nod to Dream [‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes]. It’s cool that his vision is able to continue.”

How long did it take you nail down the format of this iteration of ‘WarGames’?

“In terms of creative or …”

More the structure. It’s one of the more complicated matches in the industry in terms of laying it out, so how did you get to a point where you felt comfortable with how the match will work?

“There is some complexity to it, even though there are some people saying, ‘But it’s three teams, it isn’t the same as it originally was.’ The thing is we don’t have the Four Horseman, with a manger, to make a five-man team. It convoluted the concept to me if you hogedpodge things together.

When the stories logically go to the next place and they just kind of connect together, that’s when they’re the best and I feel like that’s how this happened. Once we knew we were going to do it, it organically started to come together. You have Authors of Pain, you have Sanity, you have the Undisputed Era. There’s a three-way thing that is combustible and needs to be solved inside a double cage … what other way would you solve it? (Laughs)

So you organically get there and then there were some logistical ways to figure out the issues that were created by the concept. For example, someone could say, ‘well, why doesn’t the rest of the team just run out and try to get into the cage?’ Well they can’t because they’re in this other cage.

Hopefully this becomes a yearly event. Is this exact iteration of what we’ll see in the future? I don’t know. I hope so, but if there’s something in this that doesn’t work, then we’ll tweak it a little and try to perfect it.

Everything goes through its little changes in the beginning and then where it ends up you just kind of naturally end up and you forget about those little changes that happen over time. When you go back and look at them 10 years later you might go, ‘oh my God, I forgot that they started it that way.’

I’m really excited. I know the NXT locker room is really excited about doing this. There’s something really cool about being a part of something that’s historic, but making it new and making it the future. I think it’s a good opportunity. I think everyone is feeling the weight of that.

The TakeOver events are always kind of special for the NXT talent because they’re not often and they really encompass the storylines together, but this one seems to have more weight than normal, even for the people who aren’t in the ‘WarGames’ match itself.”

And that’s going to make them want to step up their game.

“Absolutely. Fan excitement combined with their excitement all leads to making magic. There’s been a lot of greatness surrounding this match in the past and they want to make sure that they not only live up to that, but also make it their own.”

What have been some of the production challenges that you’ve faced with the unique setup of a show with a ‘WarGames’ match on it due to the presence of the second ring?

“There’s a difficulty to everything because it doesn’t line up the same way. You set up your lighting rig, you set up your ring and it’s all based on centers and everything is structured a certain way and now you add in a second ring to that and you add in a cage that is going to hang and lower around two rings.

We had to build a whole new cage setup. We have to light differently. We had to arrange our ticketing differently. All of it is slightly different that require some logistic challenges.

The great thing about WWE and our team … I’ll go out on a limb here and say … that we have the best live event team anywhere. They see something like this as a challenge and they just go for it.”

The Undisputed Era has been the focal point of NXT since the ‘TakeOver: Brooklyn III’ show. What gave you the confidence in Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly to ‘give them the ball and see where it goes?’

“I think they’re talented guys. You’re never 100 percent sure with anybody who walks in the door, but there are certain talent that you see come in who have an innate ability right away.

Are there things we have to work on with them? Absolutely, they’re learning every day.

The one thing I liked about those guys and why I was confident in ‘giving them the ball right off of the bat’ is because when we spoke and talked about things, they absorbed it. They’re sponges. They’re students of this. They want to learn.

They’re not walking in the door going, ‘I know, I know how to do this.’ They’re walking in the door going ‘Wow, I have this opportunity to work with Shawn Michaels at the Performance Center, or with Terry Taylor, or this person, or that person.’ They can learn TV production from all of these different people. They are wide open to it.

To me, that’s what makes you successful. It’s the guys that walk in going ‘ah, I got this’ that make it difficult. When you have someone who just wants to be a student, wants to learn and wants to, no matter how good they are, just take their ability to a whole other level.

In this business, you constantly have to be willing to morph, grow, and think differently because it’s the nature of the beast. There are guys who have that hunger and desire to constantly evolve and you can see it from the first time you speak to them.”

Shifting gears a bit; you’re back in the ring and have worked quite a bit over the last month. It made me think about the adjustment period athletes, who have been away from their sport for a while, deal with when the bright lights are shining on them again.

How was your adjustment period while working on the overseas tour? Did it hit you as you walked through the curtain after hearing the first few beats of your music, or was it after the bell rang and all of the eyes were on you again?

“When I went to Santiago, Chile to do the first show, I hadn’t stepped in the ring to do anything since WrestleMania. That’s a long time. You think that you remember how to do everything and in your mind, you’re the same as you were the last time you were there.

Just taking that first bump in ring is jarring. It’s like riding a bike, you don’t really forget how to do it and if anything in your mind you go, ‘oh yeah, I still remember how to do this’ and then you get back into your groove. That’s not to say there isn’t rust, but the positive thing for me as opposed to some of the years when I haven’t done this for six, eight, 10 months and is that my first match back wasn’t at WrestleMania in front of the biggest audience that we’re going to have. That’s a whole different world of pressure.

I’m not saying Santiago, Chile isn’t important, but it wasn’t a televised event. There’s a lot less pressure, so you can relax a bit and be yourself a little bit more. If the opportunity arises you can twerk, you can do whatever.”

Or you can work with The Shield and give the fans a once in a lifetime experience.

“Yeah … and I can tell you the one thing that has happened to me this time is that I’m having a different level of fun.

Sometimes when you’re in the throes of getting ready for WrestleMania, it’s fun, but it’s so much pressure. You’ve got the world leaning on you and you’re leaning on yourself. You’re putting the pressure of, ‘man, I hope I can still do this.’

People forget at the end of the day that we’re just people. We’re human beings. No matter what persona you put on, when you go to that ring, you have doubts and fears just like everyone else. Anyone who says they don’t have those things is lying to themselves.

When you can go do it in this environment, it makes you go like, ‘yeah man, this is the coolest gig in the world.’ Yeah, you get beat up and it sucks to knock the rust off, but it’s a lot of fun.”

The five-on-five Raw vs. SmackDown match at Survivor Series has a throwback feel in the sense that there are a lot of fantasy matchups that can be teased. 

What does it feel like knowing you’re going to step in the ring again with Shane McMahon, Kurt Angle and John Cena, and alao have the opportunity to work with Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura for the first time?

“There’s this crazy part of me that goes through the past few years and thinks about stepping into the ring with Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, someone who came through the [development] system when I was beginning to take it over. And then I think about Seth [Rollins] and now doing this at Survivor Series.

I haven’t been in the ring with Kurt Angle in a long time. Same goes for Shane and even Cena.

I think about the phone conversations with [Finn] Balor about coming in. It’s a crazy thing to think about and it’s something I’m very excited about. You go back to the whole having fun part of the job and this is just cool.

Whenever I’m looking at talent, even when I’m developing NXT guys, I can’t help but look at it from a performer’s point of view. I did an interview a few years ago when Nakamura was first coming in and they asked me if there were guys I would like to wrestle and I was like yeah, I’d like to wrestle him. Am I planning to do it? No, but it would be awesome if I could just fantasy book it in my head. Now I’m going to be able to actually get in the ring with him.

I’m going to get to step into the ring with Bobby [Roode], which I think for a lot of fans there could be some cool moments there, but I think there are also some cool moments for us.

I have a bond with any of the guys and girls who came through our system and to be able to step into what we actually do with them is like a whole other level of cool.”

So, I would say one of the more anticipated matches in a long time is taking place this Sunday when AJ Styles and Brock Lesnar square off. 

The build for the match has taken me back to the root of my fandom as I feel like a little kid again who is excited to see these two meet for the first time. I was wondering if there was a match, and it could be this one, that gets you excited to just sit back and watch it as a fan and not as the vice president of WWE.

“Sometimes people ask me about when we’re booking and writing NXT and in a lot of ways I just book stuff that I want to see [as a fan]. 

Like I go, ‘man that match really intrigues me, how am I going to get there and how am I going to make it even more interesting. Like how cool would that be. Ooh those two will really go at it and stylistically they’ll tear it up.’ This is one of those matches to me.

Brock Lesnar is a once in a lifetime athlete and it’s hard to not say the same about AJ Styles in some ways. With AJ, you go back five years ago and some people never thought he would even be here.

When you ask me about going back to being a fan, I think about a lot of this card that way. I’m excited to watch Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Usos. I know it’s not the first time ever, but man they always awe me with something new and different.

You go back to the WarGames show, I’m looking forward to Drew McIntyre vs. Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas for the NXT championship. I can’t wait to see that match! I know the level both guys are going to take it to.

I look at the Kairi Sane vs. Peyton Royce vs. Ember Moon vs. Nikki Cross four-way match for the NXT women’s title and even though I’m writing it, as a fan I’m like ‘I can’t call that one.’

In some ways you get into that fantasy booking thing in your head and you just put it on paper and try to make it the best you can make it. To me, it all comes from being a fan.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

WWE Will Celebrate Raw’s 25th Anniversary on January 22nd

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Monday Night Raw is turning 25 next year and on January 22nd, WWE is going to have one hell (yeah!) of a celebration.

Raw will air live on the USA Network from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and also from the Manhattan Center, the venue where Raw debuted way back on January 11th, 1993.

Superstars from Raw and SmackDown will appear at both sites, with Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and other WWE legends scheduled to appear at the Manhattan Center. It should be noted here that the Undertaker and HBK appeared on the very first episode of Raw.

“We look forward to celebrating this unmatched milestone with our fans around the world, but 25 years only marks the beginning of WWE surprising, delighting and entertaining generations to come,” said WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.

Raw is the longest-running, weekly episodic program in U.S. primetime TV history.

Tickets for both venues will go on sale starting this Friday through all Ticketmaster outlets.