As WWE Money In The Bank 2021 Draws Nearer, Gimmick Matches Have Never Felt Less Important
Why WWE's persistence with themed Network specials is causing real long-term damage.
It’s Money in the Bank time, which raises that sweet summer argument once again: is the concept played out? Should WWE ditch the fifth Beatle of its PPV line-up?
I’d taken a contrarian view on this in previous years. I still believed in Money in the Bank as a concept, preaching the virtues of the stipulation and the show. But after years of strange winners, strange cash-ins, and a strange lack of post-event pushes, I’ve finally realised that I no longer look forward to it.
Admittedly, I still enjoy the promise of high-spots and the chance of a quick title change on the night. As an overall idea, however, Money in the Bank does nothing for me anymore. My briefcase is empty.
But this argument goes beyond Sunday’s show. I think most of us would agree that it’s time for WWE to end stipulation-based specials in general.
Don’t panic - they can keep the Royal Rumble and, at least in my view, Survivor Series, which remains a wonderful device for telling simultaneous stories and triggering multiple pushes. (Just ditch the constant ‘brand warfare’ framing, please!)
As for the others, I think we’ve had enough. The main culprit has long been Hell in a Cell, held up as the prime example of all that is wrong with arbitrary yearly stipulations, even before the 2019 edition was one of the most widely-ridiculed WWE PPVs ever.
When it comes to Hell in a Cell, we often re-tread the same old argument: a match type that was once feared and admired as the ultimate feud-ender is now a bout that always happens in October, just because it’s October. (Actually June this year, but the overall point stands.) Every year as we approach the show, hatred is manufactured for rivalries that don’t necessarily need it, and even storylines of the right nature lack that climactic feel inside the structure. The stipulation isn’t made to fit the feuds anymore; the feuds are made to fit the stipulation.
You’ve probably heard that argument before, but it can be applied to WWE’s other gimmick-based events too - TLC and Elimination Chamber to name a couple. Their stipulations may not have had as much to lose as the Cell with its ‘be all, end all’ mystique, but they also once had functions of their own, functions that have since been massively diluted.
TLC matches were once seen as the tag division’s ultimate fireworks display, while in its early years Elimination Chamber used to be the ultimate proving ground for a top champion. Now both merely exist at their allotted times of year, with the latter even acting as a cumbersome obstacle in the way of WrestleMania booking plans.
One might argue that a reversion to the old format would be a quick fix, events with names that have little influence on the card other than a bespoke set design. It’s been working for NXT after all, and would certainly solve the issue on a surface level. (WarGames bucks the trend, but is at least booked with intensity and purpose.)
However, more has to change. I believe that the modern system has caused a different type of damage, which its removal wouldn’t immediately cure.
That’s because, as regular viewers will know, the stipulations themselves are completely oversaturated in WWE right now. The company doesn’t save certain match types for their corresponding shows, and this year has seen a particularly egregious example, with Hell in a Cell matches taking place on the SmackDown and Raw sandwiching the show itself.
There are countless other instances; we might see a ladder match on any given card at any time of year, or an extreme rules contest months removed from Extreme Rules itself. Or, indeed, zombies in the middle of May.
Simply put, we are seeing too many stipulation matches too often. Even if WWE was to drop the current format, I think a booking overhaul would still be required. I’m not calling for the promotion to become 2010s New Japan, where gimmick matches were used in a masterfully conservative fashion, because it simply wouldn’t work here. WWE’s audience still wants to be Sports Entertained, and a complete removal of stipulations would certainly harm our enjoyment.
But a middle ground is needed, because at the moment it feels like these match types have never meant less. They need to be stripped back enough to recapture a special feeling without being abandoned completely, and that means a return to traditional booking.
I know I risk sounding like a bore, but save the gimmicks for only when they’re needed and they’ll absolutely mean more.
Then again, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a little innovation. Once in a while, the online wrestling community collectively remembers that WWE is yet to bring back Cyber Sunday, and we can never understand why. If 15 years ago we’d known the scale and pervasiveness of social media in 2021, we’d be flabbergasted to learn that no such event has been devised to take advantage, making full use of Twitter polls and the like. I’m far from the first (or even thousandth) person to suggest the idea, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.
This would have been especially appreciated in the lockdown era, but of course, that comes to an end this Sunday. The return of fans means that more is at stake than the eponymous briefcase, with Money in the Bank 2021 setting the tone for WWE in a post-ThunderDome world.
Hopefully the show is a good one, and given the talent on Vince McMahon’s roster, it stands a decent chance. But when they restrict WWE’s storylines so tightly, how much longer will our patience with such events last?