Money in the Bank 2015

Wrestlemania was March 29. Here we are two and a half months later, and this is our fourth pay-per-view (or whatever, not counting King of the Ring) in the time since. It’s been a bit of an exhausting period to be a fan of WWE. The product hasn’t been bad, but there’s no spark to it. It feels like everything is just being held in place until Brock comes back. Really, if someone turned off WWE after Brock’s meltdown the night after Wrestlemania and didn’t turn it on again until tonight, the only big thing they would have missed would be Kevin Owens debuting on the main roster. Everything else would look about the same.

And so we have this show, which has a fine card, but doesn’t excite me at all. Such is life as a WWE fan in mid-2015.

Didn’t watch the pre-show, so no thoughts on the match. R-Truth winning makes sense from the perspective that babyfaces usually win opening matches, but having Barrett take so many losses is genuinely confusing to me. On one hand, they seem to value him and keep repackaging him, on the other hand stuff like this happens.

Happy they started with the ten bell salute for Dusty. Hope we get some remembrances on Raw tomorrow night as well.

Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. Kane vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Neville vs. Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus

I completely fell for the R-Truth gag on Raw. Just assumed he was in the match and I had forgotten about it. Seven feels like the sweet spot for these matches where there are enough guys to spread the bumps out but not so many that guys start disappearing for absurdly long periods during the match.

Dolph looks so ridiculous in that outfit and his pairing with Lana is not working. Sheamus had momentum when he came back as a heel, but if feels like that has all subsided now. In fact, the only guy in this match who has much momentum is Reigns, who has been on an upward swing since he started hanging out with Ambrose.

To an extent, there’s nothing new to be done in these kinds of matches. There have been so many of them over the years that it seems like every imaginable spot has been done. And with WWE putting more emphasis on the safety of their wrestlers, the bumps are smaller than ever.

That said, this is a fine match. Everyone gets their stuff in: Reigns is a monster, Orton RKOs everyone, Neville can fly, Sheamus is a tank and a dick. Mostly, the match exists to showcase Reigns, which is both logical and entertaining. Watching Roman Reigns crush people is one of the best things in wrestling today. The Awesome Bomb on Kofi to the floor is great, as it looks tremendous but probably isn’t especially painful or dangerous.

It’s all going according to plan and Reigns is about to win…and then Bray Wyatt shows up and costs Roman the match. Didn’t see that coming. It’s like Bray just selects names at random.

Sheamus wins, which is out of left field. Seems like a surprise just for the sake of it, no idea what the plan would be for Sheamus with the briefcase.

Rating: ***. I liked it, wasn’t in love with it. Some fun spots, but nothing we haven’t seen before.

Diva’s Championship: Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige

Strong pre-match promo from Paige, loved the Dusty shout out. The booking of the women’s division is just so hard to follow. The Bellas seem to be heels again after inexplicably turning face after Wrestlemania. Paige returned, seemed heelish at first, and now is a face. I don’t think there’s any deliberate strategy here, I think the bookers are just changing their mind from week to week.

I like Nikki being a female version of Billy Graham and showing off her physique all the time. These are probably the best two women on the main roster, so it’s not surprising that they produce a quality match when given some time here.

They pull the same Twin Magic gimmick as always, but Paige is ready for it and pins Brie. Then we do a Dusty Finish, because how else would we honor the man? Nikki retains. I don’t hate it, because I think they’re going to start getting a lot of heat now. Eventually, Paige is getting the title.

Rating: **1/2. Good stuff. Let’s have more matches like that.

Intercontinental Championship: Ryback (c) vs. Big Show

The only thing I like here is seeing a multi-way feud. I’m happy Miz has stayed involved. Having him interfere here and the match end that way is a little boring. Not a ton to say here. They did what they could, but it’s tough to pull off a match between two guys this size.

Rating: ¾*. Glad they kept it short.

John Cena vs. Kevin Owens

Damn, this rivalry. I love how they’ve brought Owens up to the main roster. He shows up, he punks out John Cena twice. And then pins him clean in the middle of the ring. They want to make Owens a star, that will do it. He’s more than holding up his end of the bargain, cutting his typical great promos.

As we’ve seen with Rusev and Bray Wyatt, getting a win over Cena isn’t a guarantee of future success. But I see Owens as more equipped to handle the spot than those two were. He got a great pop here and had the crowd chanting “Fight Owens Fight.”

And unsurprisingly this match was outstanding. Both guys busted their asses, bumped all over the ring. They both broke out new moves we hadn’t seen from them before. The counters were insane, the near falls had me on the edge of my seat. Absolute ass kicker of a match. No real complaints. Both guys came out looking great.

Rating: ****1/2. Match of the year candidate. Big things in store for Kevin Owens.

Loved the post-match angle too. Owens is such a dick.

Tag Team Championship: The New Day (c) vs. The Prime Time Players

Shocking title change here. This was meant to be a cool down match before the main event, never expected them to change the titles here. I was loving New Day, seems like way too soon for their reign to end. Maybe they just wanted some good guys to win tonight. Or maybe they don’t see any promising rivalries for New Day and want to do PTP vs. Harper and Rowan.

Rating: *¼. Shocked by the title change. Hope PTP prove to be worth it.

Ladder Match for WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose

Glad they put these guys against each other. This probably should have been Seth’s first rivalry as champion. These two bring out the best in each other, both in and out of the ring. The hijinks with Dean stealing the title have been fun. Seth has done a decent job as a weak champion, though I continue to have issues with The Authority storyline and feel like it has run its course.

This was a different style of ladder match, and I appreciate that. Not many big stunts. Instead, lots of psychology and selling. You don’t see a ton of body parts worked in WWE anymore, so having both men brutalize the knee here was unique. And it made total sense within the context of the match. Great selling from both men, but especially Ambrose.

I was surprised the crowd wasn’t more into this match. Several times Ambrose was climbing the ladder to win and there was barely any response. That was in definite contrast to the reaction Ambrose got for his entrance.

Anyway, enjoyed the match but found the finish strange. No sizzle at all, just Seth climbing and winning. Also a little curious to have Rollins the chickenshit champion get the win all by himself. I guess they want to build him up before he has to fight Lesnar.

Rating: ***. Strong psychology, great selling. Lots of drama before an anticlimactic finish.

Overall: Seems like a show that was less than the sum of its parts. I liked most of the matches, but I don’t come out of the show feeling overly positive. The booking was weird, a number of the finishes were anticlimactic or just strange. We’re all still waiting for Lesnar.

Grade: B-

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Money in the Bank 2015

Dusty Rhodes (1945-2015)

Note: Sorry for radio silence the last few weeks. Regular coverage will resume with Money in the Bank on Sunday.

Dusty Rhodes was one of the greatest and most popular professional wrestlers ever, and I’m not sure he’d make it in wrestling today. That’s a paradox, but Dusty was always paradoxical: He was one of the greatest talkers in wrestling history, but he spoke with a speech impediment. Even at peak physical condition he was at best chunky, but made his living as a professional athlete. And he was simultaneously a creative genius and responsible for some of the worst ideas ever in wrestling. A confusing legacy, but an overwhelmingly positive one.

Dusty was a football star before he was a wrestler. He was a star at West Texas A&M, good enough to get a tryout for the Boston Patriots. While in Boston, he was offered a chance by a local wrestling promoter to wrestle. Dusty accepted, looking to make a few bucks. In that coincidence, he found his calling and passion.

According to Dusty, he was never trained to wrestle. It was all just natural. But really, watching Dusty’s matches, he didn’t do much that a typical athlete couldn’t. He didn’t do fancy, acrobatic moves or complicated submission holds. He fought like a tough man, with unparallaled charisma. And that was all natural.

Dusty’s sheer charisma is unmatched in wrestling history. He could just talk. A lot of what he would say would be pure nonsense, but it wouldn’t matter because just by the act of speaking he would have the audience hanging on every word. He’d throw in rhymes, make nonsensical analogies and references. No one else could have made these promos work, but Dusty had a special talent.

You know his accomplishments. Great tag wrestler with Dick Murdoch in the Texas Outlaws. NWA World Heavyweight Champion three times. Two Starrcade main events against Ric Flair. The creator of Starrcade. Longtime booker and creative team member. Announcer for WCW in the late 1990s. He did it all.

But what made Dusty special was the way he connected with the fans. I’ve compared Daniel Bryan to Dusty Rhodes many times in recent years, and I think the comparison has merit. Daniel Bryan represents internet wrestling fans in the same way Dusty Rhodes represented blue collar fans in the south in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a simple man. No bodybuilder physique, no amazing martial arts skills. He looked like a guy you would see mowing his lawn on a hot summer’s day in Georgia. Dusty Rhodes was the people, and they gave him the fire to keep fighting.

I can’t imagine there being another Dusty Rhodes. It just wouldn’t and couldn’t happen in today’s wrestling environment. Sure, there are wrestlers who are big fat guys. There are wrestlers who don’t have any technical or high-flying skills. And there are wrestlers with speech impediments. But combine all three? And add in a difficult personality to boot? No promoter today would deal with that. But in the wild world of wrestling territories, Dusty grabbed a foothold and made his mark. The wrestling world never was the same again.

Dusty Rhodes (1945-2015)