OK, we’re definitely finishing this fucker…
5: Wrestlemania 24
How many words have I vomited onto my fingers then indelicately smeared across my keyboard in respect of Money in the Bank matches? Ten thousand? Fifteen? A million?? Probably closer to the latter*. A lot, I think we can agree.
(*Or should I say, probably closer to the LADDER?!?! Yeah. A good, solid pun. My worry is the word ‘latter’ is probably not in wide enough usage for the fucking killer joke to really hit home. I know, it’s not fair, my burgeoning comic career is being badly hampered by my audience’s lack of vocabulary. Again. It’s like when my 12 night stand at the Comedy Club received scathing reviews (“If AIDs had sex with cancer, and frequently drank moonshine during the pregnancy, the severely mentally disabled child would be Alex Palmer’s stand-up set” – Time Out) because nobody understood my hilarious observation of how the word ‘Brexit’ kind of rhymed with the third person singular active indicative of the Latin word for ‘understand’. Screw you, plebs, my 45 minutes on the topic are killer and I ain’t dumbing it down.)
The upside is that you’ve been treated to some of the most elegant and inspiring prose ever committed to a wrestling stipulation, up there with Solange Knowles’s four minute paean to the Wrestlemania 23 main event. The downside is that I’ve got nothing left to say about this freaking match type.
I mean, I could wax lyrical about Shelton Benjamin once again stealing the show and risking his life solely for my mouth breathing entertainment, but I already did that at the end of part one. I could at length explain why I have a platonic (apart from when it’s deeply sexual, which is admittedly often) love for CM Punk, but I pretty much gave over the entirety of part two to scratching that itch. The itch on the shaft of my penis.
As I previously mentioned (because, unfortunately, I’m previously mentioned freaking everything. I’ve even previously mentioned how I’ve already previously mentioned everything), MITB ladder matches are frequently very similar. Don’t get me wrong, the things that make them similar are extremely enjoyable things, and the base model they’re all frequently conforming to is an incredibly entertaining match, but it also means that the good ones- even the extremely good ones such as Mania 24’s entry- are all good for very similar reasons. After 17 entries, you know what these reasons are by now, surely?
Well, Mania 24 is good for those reasons, just those reasons are especially good. It doesn’t just have a good pace, it has a wonderful pace. The spots and set-plays aren’t just brilliantly inventive, they’re exceedingly inventive. Their isn’t just always something going on, there’s always always something going on. It’s brilliant, see?
Punk cashed in: on the June 30th Raw. Champion Edge was in the ring saying how all the other wrestlers on the brand smelled of wet dogs and got frightened by their own farts, and how there was no other championship material there. In retrospect- which I’ve already talked about being so much bullshit- it’s obvious that Punk was going to make him eat his words (after Batista entered the ring and duffed him up something rotten) but at the time it was actually far from obvious that Punk would ever win the big one. MITB actually allows wrestlers to go after any championship they please, even if every winner so far has, understandably, gone after the world title. Punk was actually on the (fnar!) ECW brand at the time, and seeing how little he resembled and held himself like a ‘traditional’ WWE wrestler there was a wide assumption that there wasn’t a chance in hell he’d be allowed near one of the top belts and was instead likely to cash in on the ECW title (hahahahaha!). So his cash in on Edge wasn’t just a notable moment for the shock value but also as a convenient way to move Punk away from the dribbling wreckage of the WWE ECW brand and onto the main stage his talent deserved.
4: Wrestlemania 23
“Think of what winning Money in the Bank did for Rob van Dam, think of what it did for Edge…!”
JR, Wrestlemania 24
The head commentator JR was eager to spotlight what an amazing effect winning the MITB match can have on a wrestler’s career, pointing out the successes of the first two winners of the contest. He wisely avoided bringing up the fate of the previous year’s winner, maybe conscious of how it didn’t really talk to the event’s career altering effects when you considered that he was in the exact same match the next Wrestlemania. Of course, being entered into a MITB match after previously winning it isn’t by itself a sign of failure (original winner Edge competes in the Mania 23 bout before being taken out of the match by Jeff Hardy performing one of the least advisable painful spots in the match’s history) but the tale of the Mania 23’s winner is an interesting tale of squandered potential, wrestlers’ true place in the WWE hierarchy and knowing when to kepp your fucking mouth shut.
I sometimes wonder if wrestling fans understand wrestling. I wonder if, despite no fan seriously believing that professional wrestling is real since roughly 1935, they really know that it’s fake. Fans always have an idea of who should be the main champion, who should be pushed to the moon as the company’s biggest star, who should be the most featured wrestler, instead of that talentless chumps Roman Reigns/John Cena/Diesel/Hulk Hogan/Bob Backlund/Bruno Sammartino/Sir Atholl Oakeley. Ask them* and they’ll tell you that Cesaro should be headlining Wrestlemania, because his ring style is so crisp and he works a Northern Lights Suplex so well, or that Austin Aries deserves his own cereal brand because they once watched him wrestle a 45 minute Ring of Honour match and were delighted by his reversals and his chain wrestling technique. Fair enough. If wrestling was real, maybe these incredible workers would be the biggest stars in the company and headlining successive PPVs by eeking out a defensive hour long draw. It’s not real, though. It’s fucking fake. The biggest wrestlers on the card are the ones who can work the crowd best and are electricity on the mic, not those best able to bridge out of a choke hold into a perfect backbreaker.
(*Hypothetically. Absolutely do not ask a wrestling fan which wrestler should be pushed, that’s just pouring a can of worms inside Pandora’s box and then throwing it at a hornet’s nest. Nobody has the time nor auditory endurance for that barrage of complaints. You may as well ask Jordan Peterson to refer to you using your chosen pronoun or canvas Jacob Rees-Mogg for his thoughts on the colonies or whether coloured people should be allowed to vote)
In these terms- in the actual things needed to be a hit in professional wrestling- there seemed to be no limit to the potential of Misteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer Keeeeeeeeeeeeeenneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedyyyyyyyyyyyy… Kennedy.
He was brash, he was loud, he was arrogant, he was perfectly obnoxious, he was obnoxiously perfect, he could work the crowd up into a frenzy and already had a catchphrase people could chant along to (“Misteeeeeeeee…” oh, I said that, didn’t I? He absolutely talked the talk, and WWE booked him to make sure he walked the walk. I mean, yeah, he was a perfectly OK wrestler, but people forget just how unimportant that is for the biggest star in the company. Hulk Hogan could barely throw a punch while standing up, Ultimate Warrior could barely stand up, John Cena and Roman Reigns were thrust into the spotlight way before they properly learned how to put on matches worthy of their placing… It’s not about actual in-ring ability, it’s about the company successfully presenting their chosen star as a fucking star. They need to have Steve Austin heroically refusing to quit despite being covered in blood, they need to have John Cena slam the 200kg Big Show and Hulk Hogan slam the 12’000kg (apparently) Andre the Giant. they needed to have Roman Reigns… erm… beat cancer…? Too soon…?
The commentators in the match go out of their way to remind the viewer that Misteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer Keeeeeeeeeeeeeenneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedyyyyyyyyyyyy… Kennedy had recently beaten seven former champions. He’d come out on top against proper, legitimate superstars of the past like Shawn Michaels, Undertaker and Kane (‘member Kane?). The insinuation was clear: this is a real time motherfucker! He can easily beat former champions because he’s championship material. He is your new favourite thing. Him winning the third MITB match might seem rather idiosyncratic and off the wall looking back, but at the time it made perfect sense. No other wrestler seemed to have anyway near the potential, and a promo after the match seemed to confirm that he would soon be the biggest star in the company. WWE agreed in a big way, and were planning to strap a rocket to Misteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer Keeeeeeeeeeeeeenneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedyyyyyyyyyyyy… Kennedy to a degree quite unlike most of his predecessors.
In 2007 WWE had planned to carry out their biggest story in years. It’s far too convoluted and nonsensical to explain in full, but Vince McMahon was going to die. In deciding who would inherit the company they would find out that Vince had an illegitimate son, that illegitimate son would fight HHH for ownership of the company, and somewhere along the way it would be revealed that Vince faked his own death because of reasons. They shot the ‘death’ and ran it on Raw, with Vince walking past his roster of wrestlers before his limo blows up. No, I’m not sure how they were planning to write their way out of this either, but we were all intrigued to tune into Raw the next week to watch the memorial service.
But on the day before the next episode, it was revealed that Chris Benoit, one of their most notable wrestlers, had been found dead in his house along with his wife and young son. Vince McMahon addressed the audience on the next day’s Raw, noticeably not dead, and informed the viewers that that week’s show would be a tribute to the deceased wrestler. It’s actually debated whether or not WWE knew at that point that Benoit had murdered his wife and child before killing himself, and the tribute episode has never been mentioned since, but they had three hours of television to fill, damnit!
Needless to say, the Vince McMahon death bit was canned, but WWE still wanted to get as much mileage as possible out of what was planned to be their biggest storyline in years. But who was going to be revealed as Vince McMahon’s illegitimate son? Who was going to receive the biggest push imaginable as the descendant of Vincent Kennedy McMahon? Who would go on to headline Wrestlemania battling HHH and would eventually enter a storyline relationship with Stephanie McMahon (WWE with that obsession with incest again), who would try and battle Vincent Kennedy McMahon for ownership of the company?
Did you get it? Misteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer Keeeeeeeeeeeeeenneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedyyyyyyyyyyyy… Kennedy winning MITB was just the first step on him becoming one of the company’s biggest stars. It was all set up so beautifully.
Then… things started going wrong…
We’ll get onto his desperately unlucky loss of the MITB briefcase soon, but even after that there were still many ways that he could have been introduced to the main event scene. He just might not have chosen the ideal way to introduce himself to the wider world outside wrestling. In the wake of the Chris Benoit tragedy, many people were pointing to the rampant use of drugs in WWE as a possible cause for Benoit’s fragile mental state. Misteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer Keeeeeeeeeeeeeenneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedyyyyyyyyyyyy… Kennedy eagerly volunteered to be the face of the WWE’s defence, utilising his superior verbal skills and charismatic style to go on as many talk shows as would have him to argue how strict WWE’s drug policy was and how he himself was an example of how a guy could climb the ladder using just the WWE’s clean lifestyle. He wanted to put himself forward as the face of the WWE’s ‘Wellness Policy‘, how it had helped stop his former steroid abuse, and how effective it was. WWE agreed, thinking this was a good way to use terrible circumstances to put out their intended face of the company in front of TV cameras and get him as much exposure as possible.
Then, a pharmacy in Orlando was busted for illegally providing people with steroids, and people saw the list of the customers who used the pharmacy. This included many professional athletes, many WWE wrestlers and most importantly… yeah… him…
Extremely embarrassing for WWE, and Misteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer Keeeeeeeeeeeeeenneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedyyyyyyyyyyyy… Kennedy was suspended, writing him out of the illegitimate son storyline. So, like they so often do, they just said ‘Fuck it’ and decided the answer to the mystery was Hornswaggle.
‘Member Hornswaggle? I mentioned him in part one. I think he’s legitimately a leprechaun. Also, he’s a little person, so is inherently fucking hilarious. This whole angle eventually led to Vince McMahon chasing Hornswaggle around the ring while whipping him with his belt. Wrestling’s really dumb.
Misteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer Keeeeeeeeeeeeeenneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedyyyyyyyyyyyy… Kennedy would never even sniff such opportunities again. He would go on to struggle with injuries, both his own and other wrestlers’. He would hurt both John Cena and Randy Orton- two of WWE’s golden boys– and get a reputation for being a sloppy worker. He’d be released two years after winning MITB.
But even with the overhanging stench of unfulfilled promise, Mania 23’s MITB is an absolute banger. People don’t just try and climb the ladder all the time because they’re busy fighting each other rather than being laid out catatonically. Tiny twists on old spots (people are thrown off ladders but land on their feet!) make the bout feel fresh and different. I mean, obviously I like it, it’s at number 4, innit?
Oh, and the greatest ever ‘RKO off a ladder’ spot
Misteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer Keeeeeeeeeeeeeenneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedyyyyyyyyyyyy… Kennedy cashed in:… Well… He didn’t… Soon after Mania 23 he picked up an injury that was diagnosed as being a torn tricep, which would likely keep him out for months. Later, he got a second opinion and realised he had only bruised his shoulder and would only need to miss a few weeks. Unfortunately, by that time he had already lost his briefcase to Edge as WWE attempted to write him out while he recovered from his long injury. Oops.
Please, Alicia, get in touch, I need to know if this was successful.
3: 2013 Smackdown MITB
This is turning into a bit on a ‘Hindsight Overload™’ isn’t it?
Yes in hindsight maybe it’s difficult to truly appreciate Mania 23’s match because of the squandered potential of Misteeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeer Keeeeeeeeeeeeeenneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedyyyyyyyyyyyy… Kennedy (bollocks, I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to spell that out again), and it’s hard to watch the 2013 Smackdown MITB without wistfully wondering whatever happened to Daaaaaaaaaa… sorry… Whatever happened to Damien Sandow, seemingly one of the hottest wrestlers in the company? This was a guy so over that him calling the crowd “Slack-jawed mouth breeders” got a cheer (although, calling Rocky Balboa a “Fictional ignoramus” is obviously a step too far in Philidelphia).
But I’ve talked enough about wasted potentials and missed opportunities. Taken in a vacuum, this match is simply brilliant. The spots are fresh, there are so many inventive uses of the ladders and of the stipulation itself.
More than almost any other MITB match, the Smackdown 2013 bout truly feels like the wrestlers are simply doing all they can to reach the contract, whether that means using a ladder or not. It never feels like it’s simply an excuse for all the wrestlers to get all their shit in as quickly as they can. But, nevertheless, rest assured that they do manage to get all their shit in.
Storylines are progressed, The Shield (Roman Reigns: ‘member him?) come in to help Dean Ambrose, The Usos come in to fight The Shield, Sandow wins by betraying his tag team partner- it’s all good stuff.
And surely by now you know the rest: great pace, believable action, lots of stuff going on, disbelief suspended… You’ve read all of these (you’ve read everything I’ve ever written, because you’re something of an obsessive fan), you know what the score is. This match is brilliant for similar reasons to all the other matches being brilliant, only this match slightly more so. Honestly, I can’t wait to finish this fucking list…
Sandow cashed in: on, sigh, John Cena, which he really should have known was cursed, on the October 28th Raw. Cena beat him, because of course he did, even with a broken arm. It became clear that WWE never had any intention of putting the belt on a wrestler as unique and as well loved as Sandow, and the whole MITB win was just a simple pop and twist in the storyline between him and his tag partner, Cody Rhodes. We did get to see Sandow’s leather MITB briefcase though, so it wasn’t a completely wasted effort.
2: Wrestlemania 21
Yeah, I know, I know, I know! I’m probably legally obliged to put the first ever MITB match at number one. It set all the tropes, it instituted what would become demanded form the match type, it introduced a new stipulation to a Wrestlemania audience with no idea what to expect and some (most) would say it perfected it at first attempt. For the next 14 years, this is the match that 23 other attempts would be trying (and, almost always, failing) to replicate. I have never seen a similar attempt at ranking the MITB matches that didn’t place this one at the top. I’m not sure one exists. I’m very probably absolutely insane for ranking it so low. The vast majority of people are in agreement that the first ever MITB match set a standard that has been depressingly failed to be lived up to since then.
I accept that a lot of my reasons for ranking it so scandalously low may well be subconscious. Of course, I’m not too aware of my subconscious, as then it would simply be my ‘conscious’, and therefore not really worthy of comment. But I’m aware enough to know that I’d find it incredibly depressing to just agree that the whole stipulation has been a disappointing retread of the first attempt and that none of the others have been able to match up to the first. Also, that would make this list- which has taken me about 4 weeks and 56’000 words to write- might well be entirely pointless.
Also, as you know, I’m a pathetic edgelord with so little faith in my own worth and validity that I often strive to be ‘different’ as it’s much easier and much less work than being ‘interesting’. Mainly the first one though. No! Mainly neither of them! That was my point! Though it might seem like I’m just being contrarian, and that I don’t like thinking that the best years are so far behind us, I actually do think the next one is a better match!
At least… I thought I did…
I wrote the actual list a long time ago- about a year ago when I planned to write it before last year’s MITB- and I was confident to rank the next match higher than this one. But I haven’t seen the next match in about a year… and it’s going to have to be really good to be considered better than this one.
Yes, Mania 21 was the first ever MITB match, but that actually plays little part in the reason it’s so widely considered the best. ‘The Jazz Singer’ was the first talking picture, but do people say because of that it should be considered the best?? No, they say it should be considered the best because it’s a scathing critique of race relations in 1920s New York.
And much like ‘The Jazz Singer’, Mania 21’s MITB match might be a little difficult to watch in parts these days. Knowing what concussions would perhaps do to Chris Benoit, it’s a little unnerving to see him land a diving headbutt with such ferocity that he opens up stitches on his head. OK, there you go, if I watch the next match and realise that it’s actually not as good, I’ll say I’ve put it first because it doesn’t have Chris Benoit in it. However, knowing WWE I can’t state with certainty that it doesn’t feature someone in blackface. Or a jazz singer, for that matter.
The other minor impact is that there are little logical holes that aren’t explained as satisfactorily as they would be in later bouts. Why does Chris Benoit* keep locking on submission moves? Then, when Benoit is distracted with his own pointless submission move, why does Edge break it up rather than just ignore it to grab the briefcase?
(*If part 1 was about Roman Reigns and part 2 was about CM Punk, I guess this part is mostly about Chris Benoit. You should write an essay about what that says about us as a culture. Yes, you)
And why was this as high as Shelton Benjamin ever got?? Watching in 2005, you would have been convinced that the match’s MVP- who took incredible risks and performed incredible feats- had just passed his audition for the top of the card with flying colours. Instead, he would simply perform the same things at the same bout until WWE just let him go. Sigh…
Seriously though, this next match better be fucking awesome…
Edge cashed in: on John Cena (don’t worry, the curse hadn’t started yet) on January 8th’s New Year’s Revolution PPV. Back in them days, the owner of the company would come out and announce you were cashing in formally over the microphone. Kids these days don’t know they’re born.
1: MITB 2016
You know what? Fuck you! This is my fricking list, and I’ll put whatever I want as number one!
I mean, yeah, sure, you might think Mania 21’s debut bout had a faster pace, contained more memorable spots, and benefited from that undefinable ‘Shelton Factor™’ that the 2016 bout lacks, but I enjoyed this match more!
See, unlike my music countdowns, which are painstakingly compiled using the finest available data to scientifically present the indisputably correct opinion, this list is just my opinion, yeah? That’s because, while music is a scientific effort that people study at school to learn to do completely correctly, wrestling is an art form that’s going to mean different things to different people!
I may argue, if I was in a particularly bullish mood, that while Mania 21 is the best MITB ladder match ever, 2016 was actually a far better wrestling match! Based on what? Based on shut up, that’s what!
Also: story, anyone? Mania 21 had next to none, buy MITB 2016 played into the greatest long term wrestling story of the modern age.
Dean Ambrose cashed in: 56 minutes later, which may or may not be a record, I can’t be bothered to check how quick Kane’s cash in was again. I think his was quicker. There’s no way of knowing. What’s important is the scenario. The MITB 2018 PPV was headlined by Seth Rollins v Roman Reigns (yes, him again), the other two former members of The Shield. Some proper ‘best friends turned bitter enemies’ shit going down, y’nar? Seth had cashed in his MITB briefcase at Wrestlemania just over a year ago to deny Reigns the chance to win his first title, and had managed to keep the belt for nearly a year before having to drop it through injury. His injury gave Reigns the chance to win his first title, and now having returned from injury he had his first chance to get it back. Rollins won, only for Ambrose to cash in the briefcase he’d only won himself recently. Rollins was pinned, getting a taste of the betrayal Reigns felt when he had cashed in on him the year before. It also meant that, in the space of about two minutes, all three members of The Shield were champion. Fucking lovely stuff…
Right, that’s it, I’m fucking done!
Where would the two 2019 MITBs rank? I don’t know, I still haven’t watched them, and I might never watch them. Because, seriously, I never want to watch another MITB match for the rest of my life…