The last truly great, five-star WWE match took place six years ago at this very pay-per-view. Money in the Bank 2011 was held at Chicago’s Allstate Arena, and it was the culmination of a revolutionary storyline that broke pro wrestling’s fourth wall. C.M. Punk infamous pipe bomb promo, in which he aired out some “very real” backstage grievances on live TV, had happened several weeks before. By the time they reached Chicago, everyone in that crowd wanted their hometown hero to beat the snot out of that punkass poser John Cena.
That match was an incredible back-and-forth classic, made more memorable for that finish—Punk hits the G.T.S. on Cena and gets the pin, Vince McMahon tries to get Alberto Del Rio to cash in his briefcase, and new champion Punk disappears into his adoring, screaming Chicago crowd as the show goes off the air. It was a satisfying finish that also made you wonder what might happen next.
No matter how great the match, it’s about how you close the deal. Sometimes it’s as much the destination as the journey. Six years after Punk/Cena’s masterpiece, that maxim is an illustration of how to present great matches and leave the audience satisfied. Money in the Bank 2017 featured the first half of that formula, but not the second.
The first-ever women’s Money in the Bank match kicked off the show, and it had the ingredients to make an explosive opener: a quintet of motivated ladies who wanted to steal the show in front of a hot St. Louis crowd. These multi-person match are typically one-on-one while the other competitors “disappear” for a while outside, and the key is string the action along with as little lag time in between as possible. For that, it was a well-paced match with good flow and some dangerous-looking spots, not a lot of innovation, but the ladies did not hold back. But a cheap finish tarnished this otherwise very good match—James Ellsworth scaled the ladder himself to retrieve the briefcase for Carmella—and opening the show by deflating the crowd is never a good idea. (Nevermind that forever in the history books, the first-ever women’s Money in the Bank was won by a man…)
It seemed as if The Usos and The New Day would save the proceedings. They’ve wrestled each other enough to feel like muscle memory, and they followed up with a hot tag team championship match—until, once again, the bullshit finish. The majority of the bout had everything you’d want from these two teams: trombone comedy, Kofi Kingston’s aerial assaults, The Usos’ innovative offense set, Big E with the sickest-looking tope suicida in professional wrestling. But the finish saw The Usos grab their belts and walk out, losing on a forfeit count out but keeping their titles. The only redeeming thing is their program will continue (maybe a steel cage is next?).
Two good matches and two awful finishes turned the crowd down several notches, and a quiet audience meant you heard every irritating shriek from Lana, who wrestled Naomi for the Smackdown women’s championship next. There wasn’t much to this match (and was it really a good idea to have Naomi kick out of Lana’s sit-out spinebuster finish the first time she uses it?). The finish wasn’t the cleanest (Carmella teased cashing in her briefcase, but didn’t), and Naomi kept her title with her inverted Rings of Saturn-like submission.
In a surprising but not-really-surprising palate cleanser, Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis returned to the WWE after a long stint at TNA Impact, with Kanellis reprising her first lady of wrestling character. This was followed by the WWE championship match, a surprisingly solid match with a great story and, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, an unsatisfying heel finish.
I really enjoyed the storytelling here, which felt like a classic WWE main event from the early 90’s. It had the devious foreign bad guy (even though Jinder Mahal, billed from Punjab, is really from Calgary), and the hometown babyface in Randy Orton. I liked a number of things here—how the two gave hat tips to the St. Louis legends in the front row by utilizing their moves (figure four, superplex), Orton’s crisp offense, Mahal holding his own, and the heel managers on the outside making their presence known. But ever since Punk winning in Chicago six years ago, the WWE has had a history of beating hometown babyfaces (most recently Sasha Banks in Boston, Bayley in San Jose). Even if it made sense to not take the title away from Mahal at this juncture, having Orton lose in front of a boisterous St. Louis crowd just seemed cruel.
Then came the Fashion Police and The Ascension to fill time. Nothing to say here.
Would the men’s Money in the Bank main event leave viewers happy? It began with a handicap—the company’s most-over wrestler, Shinsuke Nakamura, was incapacitated by Baron Corbin during Nakamura’s entrance, rendering him a non-factor for much of the match. Too bad; people paid to see the King of Strong Style wrestle.
The five remaining participants, to no one’s surprise, damn near killed each other and delivered an entertaining and violent ladder match. As previously mentioned, a multi-person ladder match is a video game moves-a-palooza, so let’s list some highlights: Sami Zayn garnered the most vociferous “holy shits” of the night, with a sunset flip powerbomb to Dolph Ziggler off the top of the ladder and a half nelson dragon suplex to Kevin Owens on the hard ring apron. A.J. Styles’ forearm to Zayn off the ladder looked, well, phenomenal, and his subsequent fireman’s carry slam (Attitude Adjustment?) to Owens onto the ladder outside got the crowd to jump to their feet.
Nakamura’s music hit to give Baron Corbin his comeuppance, and the sound of the St. Louis crowd singing Nakamura’s theme song a capella was a memorable scene. Nakamura then delivered Kinshasa after Kinshasa, and right when he was about to scale the ladder, he stared face to face with A.J. Styles, his dance partner from the Tokyo Dome in 2016, and the crowd screamed “Yes! Yes! Yes!” at the prospects of a WWE showdown. What followed was a tantalizing five minutes of the inevitable Styles/Nakamura rematch, until… until… Baron Corbin, knocked both off the ladder, scaled to the top and retrieved the briefcase. Fantastic main event, particular the Nakamura/Styles interaction, but, you know what we’re gonna say, right?
Of the four matches that the crowd was emotionally invested in (sorry, women’s championship and Fashion Police/Ascension), all began great but ended on an unsatisfying, heelish, or plain bullshit finish.