Since WWE married their Takeovers with WWE PPVs as a weekend twin-bill, it's been common for the Takeover to receive higher critical praise, and for good reason: the shows are just more enjoyable. When Takeover ends on Saturday night, the usual refrain is, "No way that the main roster's topping that!"
After the Chicago TakeOver on Saturday, with a hellacious Gargano/Ciampa match, an awing Ricochet/Dream match, and a surprisingly-stellar Tag Team title match, there was little reason to believe that the badly-built Money in the Bank would top it. Backlash was six weeks ago - it still haunts my every pore. The build to Money may have been worse. It wasn't topping Takeover, no way.
Now that the show has come and gone, I'll say this: I don't know if it was necessarily better than Takeover. But it was a helluva lot closer than I would've predicted. And in my post-show flabbergastery, I was prepared to call it the best WWE PPV since....well, since the last time Money in the Bank was in Chicago.
Here's what else I learned.
10. PPV Commercials Can Air At The Oddest Times
Before I get into showering this show with praise at a monsoon-like intensity, lemme point out something from the pre-show that made me shake my head and chuckle. The Bludgeon Brothers and Tex/2 Badd Connection are having a decent little midcard tag match when, as happens during pre-show matches for some reason, they cut to a commercial. The commercial was for Money in the Bank itself.
Does WWE actually think that people watching Harper and Rowan vs. Gallows and Anderson on the Network were planning to turn it off after that match, and skip MITB to watch a Simspons rerun, or Sunday Night Baseball? Hell no, they're watching the PPV too! Why excise 45 seconds of a warm-up match to try and entice fans to stick around? If they're watching that match....they're sticking around for the main feature! That's like disrupting the short 'toon prior to the Disney movie to beg movie-goers to stay for the 90-minute film that comes after.
Ross here. Justin doesn't seem to realise the pre-show is also aired live on YouTube where there will be many people watching without WWE Network subscriptions. The advert was for them. As you were xoxo
9. Big Cass Can Go, Dude
People will say that Daniel Bryan carried him, and yeah, having Bryan as the ring general never hurt anyone. But after the lacklustre showing at Backlash, I was expecting more of the same this time around out of Cass. What I was *not* expecting was to see him performing like somebody had lit a fire under him.
Some different moves (the Torture-Rack flip-slam, the middle rope Fallaway Slam) and a much more killer pace made for an excellent opening match. The crowd in Chicago was rabid, and that's the kind of energy that feeds a wrestler's maw. Easily, that was the best match I've seen out of Cass. Cass won't have Daniel Bryan across the ring from him at all times, just as Kevin Nash didn't always have Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart to work with. But at least we know what the monster's capable of with a quality opponent, and it was pleasantly surprising to see.
8. Vertical Suplexes Are Lethal
As Marge Simpson would sharply say, "It's an ending; that's enough." Whatever the hell the whole Bobby Lashley/Sami Zayn storyline was supposed to be, you'd think it'd be all over after Lashley wiped the floor with Zayn in a matter of minutes. Any more tacked-on matches will just feel like Children of the Corn sequels, following up on drek that doesn't need to be followed up on.
Nonetheless, it's still amusing to see Lashley win matches with a freakin' Vertical Suplex. I mean yeah, you can win matches on old WWF games on Super Nintendo with a Vertical Suplex (you can also win "brawl" matches with a solitary stomp to the leg), but in 2018, it's such a silly anachronism. Hopefully, Zayn gets over his new round of "vertigo" before the next Australian show, which my gut tells me won't be a problem.
7. Leather Pants Vs. Khakis Makes For A Compelling Match
There's been plenty of unconventional trousers in wrestling over the years (and Unconventional Trousers sounds like the name of an eclectic garage band's debut album). Nailz' coveralls, Disco Inferno's leisure suit pants, Shockmaster's GAP jeans, and others come to mind. I must say that it's not often that the IC title is contested over by men in skin-tight pleather and puke-green khakis. You could have taken Elias' slacks and Corey Graves' jacket, stuck them on a toothpick, and dropped 'em into a martini.
To put it mildly, it was the best leather pants vs. khakis match in a WWE ring since Test mauled Pete Gas 19 years ago. But more seriously, it was an excellent match with a curious finish (Rollins resorting to hooking the waistband to hold Elias down). Elias and Cass' best career matches were an hour apart. Who'd have guessed it?
6. A Lack Of Downtime Makes A Match Great
One quibble I've had with prior Ladder/TLC/Money in the Bank matches is how often time is taken to set spots up. Ladders have to be set a certain way or wedge together for some convoluted Rube Goldberg-ian sequence that served as the lifeblood for the old Vine service. When the wrestlers are playing erector set in front of 15,000 people, it can take the fans out of the action.
Whoever designed the women's match deserves a medal. There was such a natural flow from one sequence to the next that it was so, so seamless. One woman gets taken out, another one jumps in for the next action beat. I've long held that the original Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 21 was the best of the 13-year series, due to the lack of BS in between spots - the conveyor belt kept churning out fresh mayhem. This match had that same idea, and it's worth any amount of snowflakes you wanna give it.
5. Reigns And Mahal Have More Ammo Than The Fans Do
Roman Reigns and Jinder Mahal didn't have a particularly good match, to be fair. To hear their detractors tell it, it was worse than a malaria outbreak, but that's just how detractors speak, I guess. For what it was, it was a 16-minute match that began slowly enough with restholds galore (sending Backlash senses tingling) but actually picked up the pace over the final 10 minutes or so, and turned out decent. I'd call it the seventh best match out of 11 on the night, but it was far from putrefied garbage water.
But you knew the Chicago fans were gonna make it clear how much they didn't care for either man (with ticket stubs worth hundreds of dollars in their pockets). They ran through their usual array of chants and antics (beach balls, the wave), before something funny happened: with about four minutes left in the match, they ran out of things to do! It was like watching one of those UFC fighters throw all of their offence at their opponent in the first round, before tiring and trying to hug their way toward the final bell. That's why I can't criticize this match too much - it gave me a genuine laugh.
4. Distraction Finishes Can Last Longer Than Most Olympic Games
So Asuka vs. Carmella was much better than Charlotte vs. Carmella from six weeks ago, which isn't exactly saying much - a documentary on how vinyl is made would've been an improvement over Screamfest '18. This time around, the match was slightly more enjoyable up until the finish.
Don't get me wrong - I love James Ellsworth. The People's Chinless Champ is welcome on any show he wants to be on as far as I'm concerned. But the way the ending was structured was really silly, as Asuka stood there for-ev-er, staring at the Empsworth of Now like he was the stock ticker on the FOX Business Channel, and she was waiting for the crawl to roll back around to the beginning. Having Asuka lose on a BS finish is one thing (it's the only way that Honky Tonk Carmella should *ever* win), but that ending? Coulda gone better.
3. Slow Builds Can Still Work
When AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura began their last man standing match at a very basic pace, my hopes weren't very high. At WrestleMania, I thought their match was highly underrated, but admittedly below the staggeringly-high expectations set when the match was made official. Greatest Royal Rumble and Backlash were both average matches by their standards, and the lack of an ending for either really bit. So when Sunday's match moved at a workmanlike clip, I braced myself for another okayish match.
About a half hour later, I was of the mind that it was easily their best match together in WWE (and honestly, not too far off their Wrestle Kingdom match on the whole). The callbacks, the rising intensity, the gradual increase in applied danger - it was all beautiful. And the Chicago crowd started to bite on every tease the longer it went. As far as blowoffs go (assuming this is where the feud ends), you couldn't have asked for a better conclusion. Nakamura getting up and flashing a Cheshire cat grin at Styles, only to get swiftly kicked in the balls? Su-perb.
2. I Didn't Realize How Much I Wanted Ronda Vs. Alexa Until WWE Told Me I Did
The mixed tag at WrestleMania was one thing, but how would Ronda Rousey look against a wrestler like Nia Jax that is somewhat limited? Most came to the same conclusion, that Ronda's every bit the natural that people within WWE circles were claiming. The match with her and Nia was well-executed and well-performed. Nia held up her end, but Ronda looks more like a 10-year pro with international seasoning than she does a relative novice.
As for the finish, while I thought for sure Ronda was winning the belt, this is even better. The Ronda/Nia feud was a bit thrown together and clunky, but that won't be the case with Alexa. Talk about your natural combo: Alexa the snide and arrogant brat, and Ronda the pissed off warrior who wants the belt that she was screwed out of. If Ronda-Stephanie was the female Austin-Vince, what's that make Ronda-Alexa? Whatever it is, here's a spoiler: Alexa's little trick with her arm is gonna come in handy when it ends.
1. It's Fun To Be Proven Wrong
When you write stuff on the internet in the form of predictions and assessments, you run the risk of being proven wrong. And I've been wrong a lot. Like, *a lot*. Anything I say that is meant to be serious is said with the best of my knowledge and logic in play, and even then, some of my bolder shots sail wide of the target. This is why I'm not a DraftKings billionaire yet.
I firmly believed that Money in the Bank would be average at best due to lowered expectations. My predictions column (in which I went seven for 10, I should note) featured, in parts, little pot shots at the booking and creative that I felt were deserved. Instead, by the time Braun Strowman ripped the briefcase down, I was of the mind that this was among WWE's five best pay per views this decade, along with the first Chicago MITB, WrestleManias 30 and 31, and SummerSlam 2013. I reserve the right to change my mind another time (second looks can do that), but this show provided the exact opposite reaction that Backlash did. To call Money in the Bank 2018 a pleasant surprise is the grossest of all understatements.