When the Coronavirus pandemic relegated this year’s WrestleMania to an empty WWE Performance Center, it gave Vince McMahon and his creative team quite the task. How do we give our fans “Wrestlemania moments” when none of them can be in attendance? What could make the professional wrestling spectacle capture everyone’s attention as it would normally do, even when the world has been distracted by rampant illness and economic fallout?
The answer: Cinematches.
That’s not an official term, nor can I take full credit for it (in the course of crafting this article, I came across the term being used on Cagematch.net). Cinematches are not a novel concept in wrestling either. They were popularized several years ago by TNA as a way for Matt Hardy to evolve his “Broken” character and create what became known as the Broken Universe. Although Hardy and the concept are synonymous with each other, WWE had previously taken… er, paid homage to… Hardy’s idea for a New Day vs. Wyatt Family match and a Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt House of Horrors match which was as horrible as the tagline suggests.
Once Hardy was under contract to WWE and utilizing his “Broken” (then “Woken”) gimmick once again, he battled Wyatt (who had become anointed king of WWE’s copycat movie matches) in The Ultimate Deletion. None of these entries were as well received as what Hardy had done in TNA and the concept was abandoned until a month ago, when WrestleMania needed a hook. There were matches up and down the card that wrestling fans were anxious to see but it was The Undertaker and AJ Styles, who were booked to battle in a “Boneyard” match as one of the feature bouts, who were given the Hollywood treatment.
In a half hour segment, AJ Styles showed up at what appeared to be an abandoned farmhouse from any 80s horror movie to engage in a war with Undertaker. Taker, who rode in on a motorcycle evoking memories of the American Badass Undertaker from the early 2000s, brawled all over the decrepit property with his younger foe, fought off his henchmen Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, and soundly defeated AJ by literally throwing him into an empty grave. The whole thing felt like an episode of a syndicated action show like Lorenzo Lamas’ popular Renegade, the type of turn-your-brain-off/popcorn television that everyone could enjoy. It was the most beloved portion of this year’s WrestleMania, which meant it was only a matter of time before WWE decided to cash in on the craze again. And what better place to “cash in” than at the Money In The Bank show.
The Money In The Bank concept is exciting in and of itself; multiple competitors scrambling to be the one who climbs the ladder and claims the briefcase that earns them a title shot anytime, anywhere for the next 365 days. WrestleMania proved that a ladder match could still captivate fans even in the empty arena setting as John Morrison, Kofi Kingston, and Jimmy Uso fought in one with the Smackdown Tag Team Titles at stake. Still, Vince McMahon never met a concept he couldn’t run into the ground and so last night’s Money In The Bank became the latest WWE cinematch, where the competitors in both the men’s and women’s Money In The Bank matches would start fighting simultaneously, with the goal being to reach the roof of Titan Towers (WWE’s legitimate corporate office), where a ring and ladders would be set up so that one man and one woman could each claim the Money In The Bank briefcase for their respective division.
The women’s portion of MITB would feature Dana Brooke, Carmella, Nia Jax, Shayna Baszler, Lacey Evans, and Asuka, while King Corbin, Daniel Bryan, Aleister Black, Rey Mysterio, Otis, and AJ Styles (apparently reincarnated from the fate suffered at WrestleMania) would wage war for the men’s Money In The Bank briefcase. Since Vince McMahon prides himself on being “sports entertainment,” and WWE Studios did put out some legitimately entertaining product (No One Lives is one of the most underrated horror thrillers of the past decade) all the ingredients were there to capture lightning in a bottle once again.
Unfortunately, lightning did not strike twice.
The Money In The Bank movie, cinematch, whatever you want to call it, was a hodgepodge of ideas that didn’t develop into anything worthwhile. Whereas the Boneyard Match was depicted as a do-or-die battle between an aging hero and his overconfident foil, the MITB relied heavily on comedy and inside jokes to pop the hardcore fans who haven’t given up on the product just yet. We got Rey Mysterio pausing his race to the roof to witness Brother Love stroll out of a bathroom stall. Otis (the only person in the match who excels in comedic circumstances due to his character) pinned AJ Styles under a set of weights, causing one of the company’s top heels to frantically beg for Mysterio to relieve him from his predicament. We got a random Doink cameo… or at least I think it was supposed to be Doink, because it looked more like your creepy co-worker’s last minute costume for a Halloween happy hour. Stephanie McMahon mocked a downed Nia Jax for drooling on the floor of the conference room and we got to see AJ Styles’ inner thoughts as he flashed back to his Boneyard brawl. Oh, and we can’t have WWE comedy without the requisite food fight, where the simultaneous nature of both matches culminated in all of our superstars (sans AJ) covered in some sort of delicacy. Then, as if Stephanie belittling Nia wasn’t enough, Vince McMahon made sure to make two of the best wrestlers in the world looked like total buffoons when he interrupted AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan in the heat of battle to order them out of his office.
Lowbrow humor aside, there were some parts of this that I enjoyed. Once everyone made it up to the roof, we got as close to a proper match as we were going to get. It was less spectacular than Money In The Bank matches of the past as it was kept simple. It was straight up brawling with no overly complex or creative spots like what you’d see in standard ladder matches. Poor Rey Mysterio was booked almost as bad as he was when he was World Champion in 2006 because not only did he have to be the one reacting to Brother Love’s bathroom break, but he had to play victim to a Nia Jax/Otis double avalanche spot just so their large statures could be accentuated. That’s right, not one person on the creative team bothered to thrown in an outdated Die Hard reference during this fiasco, but it’s fine to have a lucha libre legend be the punchline to a fat joke. I will admit that I didn’t take as much issue with Baszler putting a rear naked choke on Rey since her whole role is as a take no shit brawler, but it made less than zero sense for the women and men to start in on each other when they were vying for completely separate prizes.
That leads me to the two winners. I have no issue with either Asuka or Otis capturing their briefcases. Both of them exude charisma, and in Otis’ case, it’s a rarity for WWE to take such a chance on a cult character. I think it’s long overdue for Asuka to be seen as a serious threat again since she’s taken a backseat to other heels like Shayna and Sasha in recent months. Hopefully her having the women’s briefcase is a prolonged scenario that keeps her entrenched in storylines with the likes of Baszler and Becky Lynch on RAW.
Otis is a more complex case, because his character is one that would thrive much more in front of live audiences. His romantic pursuit of Mandy Rose is regarded as one of the best angles WWE has done in some time, which is a credit to the performers since the climax of the angle took place under worst case scenario conditions. Had his kiss with Mandy happened in front of a capacity crowd in Tampa, the place would have surely come unglued. Him winning the briefcase now should mean we’re in for more of Otis on his own, so that begs the question of what happens to Heavy Machinery and his good buddy Tucker? Ryan Frederick from our site mentioned in discussion a few weeks back that the perfect role for Otis in all of this would have been for him to sacrifice his chance at winning the MITB briefcase to allow Mandy Rose to win the women’s one and I’m inclined to agree that would have been an excellent angle that builds upon the current story. Otis as the Money In The Bank winner will make the next however many days quite intriguing, though I’m not sure if it’s all in a good way. He’s a character that comes off best in small doses and WWE will risk ruining him as they have many others before if they start sticking him into more serious feuds with the likes of The Fiend and Braun Strowman.
While others may be more satisfied with the winners than I am, I’m really more disappointed by the spectacle as a whole. For a company with a creative team that has roughly 750 people on it, at the end of the day it’s still all about what’s going to pop Vince McMahon. Aleister Black, one of Paul Heyman’s pet projects, was an afterthought here. Daniel Bryan, who has the skills to pull off humor and still look like a threat, came off sheepish. King Corbin is every 1980s teen comedy jock that gets his comeuppance (speaking of which, how long was Elias waiting on the roof for Corbin to show?). Dana Brooke was portrayed as a ditzy blonde who thought she won when she grabbed a replica briefcase from a conference room despite the rules and the advertising of the event clearly stating that all entrants had to battle up to the roof of Titan Towers.
Money In The Bank 2020 definitely did not live up to the hype, and it’s not even close to the masterpiece known as the Boneyard Match. The “unique” design of the match did nothing except lead us into more of the same old Vince McMahon Variety Show silliness that has grated on many people’s nerves for a while now.
WWE has all the tools they need to create content that feels fresh and exciting but instead fans continue to be force fed things that appeal to Vince’s juvenile mindset. If they can’t get a feel for what’s working with their audience during these troubled times and capitalize on it, it’s going to make the road back to raucous crowds and sold out arenas feel a lot longer.