The Money in the Bank PPV is most well-known for, of course, the match it is named after. Because of that, virtually everything else on the card gets sort of lost in Summer-filler-PPV oblivion. When it comes to remembering matches other than the ladder spectacle at the event, most of us draw complete blanks except for that Punk/Cena match from 2011.
That match is almost seven years old – God, seven years – and the event hasn’t truly produced that many great contests before or since. Or has it? They may not be the most memorable bouts, but to not call some of them quality or enjoyable would be criminal. With the possible last man standing match finale of the Styles/Nakamura paddle ball tournament looming as another match that may emerge from the abyss of the event, I figured I’d give a look back to see eight other matches that should not be lost in the shadow of the briefcase.
1. Rey Mysterio vs. Jack Swagger – 2010
Remember Jack Swagger? Nah? I don’t blame you.
Swagger was never a guy who was taken seriously with any regularity in the WWE thanks to inconsistent booking, but this match was smack dab in the middle of his most legitimate run in the company. A jobber for most of 2009, Swagger inexplicably won the briefcase at WrestleMania 26 and cashed it in on Chris Jericho just five days later. He was booked terribly until he lost the World Heavyweight Championship to Rey Mysterio.
Built around Swagger trying to maim his foe with the ankle lock, the contest is surprisingly fast-paced, even with the Swagger controlled segments and the normally quick Mysterio selling an ankle injury. Mysterio has his spurts of offence, but the contest is a clinic in how to counter a luchador and throw him around the ring with grace, power, and disdain.
It somewhat predictably has several call-backs and spots to some of the old Mysterio and Kurt Angle matches from the start of the millennium, and it even ends with an homage to Angle and Eddie Guerrero’s WrestleMania 20 match with Rey retaining after loosening his boot and outsmarting the youngster. Other than doing wonders for Swagger for a hot minute, the contest also gave Rey Mysterio the first actual good match of his runs with the World Heavyweight Title.
It would be his last considering Kane cashes in immediately afterwards. Rey just can’t have nice shiny things.
2. The Usos vs. The Wyatt Family – 2014
The Usos have long been consistent and underrated performers in the WWE tag team ranks that are just now getting the recognition they’ve always deserved. This is one of their hidden gems from when everyone looked them over, where they took on the Bludgeon Brothers back when Bray Wyatt didn’t suck and had them under his spell.
The story here is simple enough: the brainwashed brutes taking on the then-face high-octane twins. Somewhat a duel between rival families, the Usos get tossed around quite a bit and have to use tag team craftiness, which mostly means super-enthralling and creative cartoon physics tag team moves with a side order of superkicks.
The contest devolves into a blitz that is always a treat to see the big guys get pulled into. The Usos survive a double team finisher and Rowan, wrapped up in the high-flying pace, gets undone by trying to go to the top rope, only to be decimated by a double superplex and a double dose of those super smooth Samoan splashes. Thus ends probably one of the most fun matches in the history of the event.
This match has the unfortunate distinction of not just getting lost in the shadow of the MITB match, but also a fairly significant cash-in at its conclusion. It doesn’t help that it was also a Roman Reigns match with THA BIG DAWG going in as champion.
Despite being a chosen child of the new era, Seth Rollins has been subject to some absurd trains of booking. For example – he was built up as the most sympathetic character following the rupturing of his Achilles and surrendering of his title… and yet he was supposed to be a heel going into this match. “Redesign, Rebuild, Reclaim” was his character tagline and we were supposed to hate him? But hey, gotta Keep Roman Strong™. Obviously, the injury and return were just one part of the story, as the entire Shield story and subsequent implosion was the backbone.
The match’s two biggest moments come from everything surrounding the match. On a meta level, the spot where Rollins hits the rolling bucklebomb where Reigns helps his friend’s leg not hit the mat so hard is incredibly heartwarming. In-story, Rollins seamlessly countering Roman’s super spear right into the Pedigree is enormous. One more Pedigree later, Rollins pins Reigns clean as a whistle and regains his never lost gold.
Enter Dean Ambrose and a briefcase, stage right and none of that mattered.
4. Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose – 2015
Rollins’ first world title reign was marred by his booking as just another chickenshit heel. This, put together with the Bugs Bunny-esque writing of face Dean Ambrose, made for an incredibly weird feud dynamic that just didn’t cut it in the mid-2010s. But for at least one match, things really clicked.
The fact that this match was between two men who hated each other’s guts gives it a feel very different from the daredevil antics of almost every other ladder match in the history of the event. Rollins’ strategy to destroy Ambrose’s knee becomes dramatically ironic given what would transpire just a few months into the future.
The contest is a knock-down, drag out fight that sees the former “brothers” toss each other (and a pile of chairs) all over the arena. The finish is screwy, but the hallmark is the chickenshit heel retained his gold all on his own and that we’re strung along even longer for Ambrose to reach the top.
The super dope thing about wrestling trilogies is that, unlike movie franchises or book series, every individual part of them can be viewed at in a vacuum. Unfortunately, that also means that if any one link in the chain of sports-entertainment is better than the others, the other two get forgotten.
Every single contest in the Styles/Cena anthology from 2016-2017 ramped up and up, with each one being better than the last. This leaves this first contest in their dream match series to be not only left in the shadow of the ladders and briefcases, but of the phenomenal (pun intended) drama these two would keep on creating.
Speaking of vacuums, this match very well could be better if you only paid attention to the two men going about it. The two do nothing but hit each other with heavyweight haymakers for the entire contest, neither man ever really letting up and telling a helluva tale of one-upmanship, but the strange commentary (particularly JBL being upset about the dusty finish) and one of the worst ref bumps in recent memory put a bit of a damper on the contest as a whole.
That said, ignoring things surrounding this match hides the most beautiful thing about the match and that was that the WWE saw AJ Styles, Mr. TNA, as an equal to John “Captain America” Cena. As iffy as the interference ending was, it still left the question open that both men would solve in coming months of who was better. But Styles didn’t look like a fool here at all and the contest lifted both men’s stock (if that were even possible) and gave us an incredible spectacle while doing it.
A year before Cena laid down for AJ Styles, he did so in incredibly monumental fashion for a little fella named Kevin. A contest born of complete and total opposites, the former Kevin Steen got to have his first main roster feud be with a man he spent years parodying on the indy circuit and pinned him clean in the middle of the ring in their first meeting at Elimination Chamber 2015.
Before Kevin Owens was booked into cowardly heel oblivion on an official main roster call-up, he was a completely monstrous-manipulative-bastard-hero-killer who had toppled Cena once before. Cena’s oath for life, “Never Give Up,” was the basis of the rematch and presented an excellent representation of just how much these men were opposite sides of the same coin.
The contest itself lacks a bit of the drama the first one was packed with, considering that unpredictability was at an all-time high for the previous, but no one really believed Cena could lose twice in a row. Could he? The short answer is no, but it doesn’t take anything away from the kitchen sinks these bulls threw at each other and the fact that KO took forever to stay down. If their first match cemented KO’s place on the main roster, this rematch, despite losing, cast him in iron and set him up on the steps of Titan Towers.
7. CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan w/ Special Guest Referee AJ Lee – 2012
This match was loaded with so much on a meta level viewing it in 2012, but years later, it has only gained so many extra levels. AJ Lee was booked in a relationship with Daniel Bryan, who broke up with her and caused her to fall for CM Punk – which has no real life implications whatsoever. This is all on top of the original weight this match had as a clash of former independent vets who should’ve never met in the WWE (for the WWE Championship no less).
Thanks to this being a no DQ match, the sheer physicality between the two strike-based, puro inspired indy titans is awe inspiring. The Yes! Lock with the kendo stick gets me every bloody time. AJ as an interesting and highly volatile wild card variable makes things interesting and adds an entire extra layer to the story. An argument can be made that she is the one who kind of overshadows the whole thing considering how much the ‘E focused on her for the feud, but in 2018, it just adds an incredibly ironic layer. Despite how garbage the WWE is with love triangle stories, the match itself is a marvel that is underrated and should be treasured.
8. CM Punk vs. John Cena – 2011
Here it is. Perhaps one of the legitimate greatest WWE matches of all time. So much has been said about it and every word of it is well deserved. Despite this being one of my favorite matches in the history of wrestling, I’m not sure if there’s much about it by itself that I can add to. Its place on this list as a match is obvious, but its place as an influence and catalyst is potentially immeasurable.
Almost every single match on this list can be directly traced back to the ripple effect caused by CM Punk leaving Chicago with the WWE Championship that night.
Punk’s victory and championing of guys like him from the inside could be seen as directly responsible for his match with Bryan a year later, as well the treatment and signings of Owens, Styles, Rollins, and Ambrose. Every last one of those names has gone on to become some of the biggest pillars the WWE has put the company on since Punk’s departure.
This is all one big full-circle hand on the pulse of the idea that the MITB was created to get unnoticed guys on the card over to begin with. It was even invented by a constantly overlooked guy in the ‘E who always had to shine his own star in Chris Jericho.
So in a sense, Punk vs. Cena wasn’t just a brilliant contest that created some wizardry one night seven years ago, but rather, a match whose magic is still happening to this very day.
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