By Will Pruett
On November 18, 2012 in the middle of a C.M. Punk vs. John Cena vs. Ryback match for the WWE Championship, The Shield debuted. Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose seemed to be a device to keep the WWE Championship around the waist of C.M. Punk that night, but as time went on, they would fundamentally alter the narrative of WWE.
Without The Shield, Daniel Bryan never rises to prominence in 2013 and “The Authority” is never created (It was in six man tag matches with The Shield that Bryan broke out). Without The Shield, WWE has nowhere to go as they venture into the post-John Cena era (something we’ve been seeing in varying degrees since SummerSlam 2013). Without The Shield, WWE would have been without the rich story they’ve been telling for the last four years. Even with a couple injuries and missteps, The Shield’s narrative for the last four years has been that of WWE. Last night at Money in the Bank, this continued with each member of The Shield holding the WWE Championship.
The most interesting story of the night is Seth Rollins’. He won the WWE Championship after a hard-fought match against Roman Reigns. Seth didn’t win via a dirty trick. Seth didn’t win as a lucky heel. Seth won by being the better fighter in this match with Roman. This amazed me. Rollins was presented as the same cocky heel he was last year in the build up. It was during this match, as he fought hard for the title he never lost, that a deeper story was being told.
After winning the WWE Championship in a grueling match against “The Guy” Roman Reigns, Seth was exhausted. He was greeted by Dean Ambrose running to the ring, hitting him from behind, and stealing the WWE Championship. Who is Seth Rollins now? He showed heart and determination in his match with Roman. He showed a readiness to defend the title before Ambrose struck him from behind. Rollins came out of this whole situation as the most sympathetic hero WWE could ask for. Will their storyline match the storytelling in this match?
Since The Shield disbanded in 2014, Dean Ambrose has frequently been the odd man out. Roman Reigns has been kindly described as “controversial” and Seth Rollins has been WWE’s top heel. Dean Ambrose is always present and occasionally well used. Unlike Reigns and Rollins, Ambrose has frequented the upper-mid-card. He has held the Intercontinental Championship. His main event opportunities have usually been against one of his former Shield mates.
Ambrose has lost matches to holograms and exploding televisions. He has been in “wacky” feuds about talk shows. He has been demolished by Brock Lesnar. Ambrose has been presented as a one dimensional character unaffected by loss or extreme violence. Honestly, Dean Ambrose has been a disappointment. His character hasn’t progressed or grown since originally breaking up with Rollins. He has been more of a sidekick to Reigns than necessary.
Last night, Dean Ambrose became the ghost of 2014 and haunted Seth Rollins. Instead of a chair, he used a briefcase. Instead of a betrayal, this was payback. This is a major moment for Dean Ambrose. This is a moment for him to turn into a serious character. This is a moment to go beyond silly violence and comedy weapons. This is the moment he has been waiting for.
What does he do now? How does he go forward. He has been the weakest member of The Shield since they broke up. Now he is WWE Champion as a match between all three Shield members seem inevitable. Is he holding the title for more than this moment? Will he be WWE Champion when three members of The Shield aren’t fighting each other?
Roman Reigns did not look happy at Money in the Bank. Roman Reigns looked upset from the moment he emerged from backstage. He also appeared to disappear after being pinned. He was not a part of Dean Ambrose’s grand celebration. He was a ghost. What exactly is going on with Roman Reigns?
When The Shield stopped being a thing in 2014, Reigns was marked as “The Guy” to rise up to main event status. The month of the breakup saw Rollins and Ambrose in the Money in the Bank match, while Reigns was in a Ladder Match for the WWE Championship. Reigns was always supposed to be a level above his Shield friends.
Reigns has rarely lost since The Shield broke up and I don’t believe he has ever lost clean. Last night, Seth Rollins pinned Roman Reigns without cheating in any way. Roman was beat. This is big. Roman’s only excuse for losing this match was Seth being better on this night.
Roman was also quite vocal throughout this match. Whether it was scripted or improvised, the trash talk made Roman feel more like the antagonist as the match went on. He withstood everything Seth threw at him until he couldn’t. Roman probably would have been a full heel in this match if he had attacked Seth’s knee. This would have cemented leaning into the direction WWE’s vocal fans seem to desire.
All three of these men are now on a collision course. WWE found a way to (semi)naturally get to a Reigns vs. Ambrose vs. Rollins match. Their careers will always be compared and intertwined. They will always be the contemporaries of the other. WWE has three men they’ve built the last four years on the backs of. This is the ultimate story between them (until they get The Shield back together in 2017).
Right now, Roman Reigns is the least popular of these three and he is likely to be treated as such. Seth Rollins is the sentimental favorite, especially after being cheated out of a title he worked hard to come back and earn. Dean Ambrose is the weakest, but also the current WWE Champion. It’s a very interesting dynamic.
WWE has something special between Rollins, Reigns, and Ambrose. Now we wait for what’s next.
A.J. Styles and John Cena promised us an amazing match. They promised a dream match. They promised an epic encounter. For the most part, Styles and Cena delivered. In this match, Cena looked a little bit off, but it didn’t hinder what they did together. They played off of the electricity of the moment and the electricity of the crowd. They found a way to create movement. A.J. Styles was the MVP of the match, but Cena surely held his own.
A rather large deal has been made of the finish of this match ruining what Styles and Cena were doing, but I’d argue the opposite. A.J. Styles resorting to underhanded tactics to beat Cena was perfect. Styles, over the past few months, has not been able to win the big one. He’s tried to play fair and he hasn’t been able to. Now, in his most important WWE match to date, he did what he had to.
Styles is not the good guy in this feud. He is supposed to be the lying and cheating one. Cena is supposed to be the man overcoming the odds. Not only did Cena and Styles work well together and play into their shared electricity, they also left a reason for a rematch or two. WWE played everything in this match perfectly, right down to commentary being angry about being robbed of a great match (now, if only the commentators were credible).
Since the inception of Money in the Bank in 2005, there have been 17 first time World Champions in WWE [This is counting the WWE Championship, the World Heavyweight Championship, and the current (since TLC 2013) WWE World Heavyweight Championship]. Of those 17 first time reigns, 9 of them have come via cashing in the Money in the Bank briefcase. 8 of them have not.
Why does this matter? In modern WWE, we don’t see heroes pursuing their first major World Championship win. We rarely tell the story of Steve Austin finally getting what he’s worked years for like we did at WrestleMania 14. We don’t get time to anticipate, build, and imagine what would happen when our hero finally reaches the apex of their career. With Dean Ambrose, we didn’t even get a full night of him holding the golden briefcase to anticipate a cash in.
The Money in the Bank concept has provided some electric moments in WWE, but it has become more of a storytelling hinderance. It isn’t helpful. It doesn’t make WWE’s stories better. Often, the application of the Money in the Bank concept is sloppy.
Since Seth Rollins cashed in at WrestleMania 31, I have been in favor of retiring or shelving the concept for a few years. Looking at the statistics of first time championship wins being surprises instead of well-built stories, I am inclined to encourage it again.
It was surely a neat moment for Ambrose to win the WWE Championship, but what does it do for his character? He looked weak attacking someone from behind and taking away their ability to fight back. He looked weak as he won the title. We didn’t have time to anticipate the moment. Money in the Bank removed a key story from Dean Ambrose’s career and made him look weak. What is this concept supposed to do again?
– The four way tag to open this show was exceptionally sloppy. I couldn’t get into the action and I’m fairly puzzled as to why Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are only destructive monsters some of the time. The New Day continuing on as champions doesn’t upset me, but it isn’t the best story.
– Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler should never be allowed in the same room with each other again.
– The Women’s Division match on this show was a whole lot of nothing. It’s wild to look at Charlotte, Natalya, Becky Lynch, and Dana Brooke together and think of how poorly WWE has told this story. Charlotte’s character continues to lack something and her partnership with Brooke lacks chemistry. Lynch and Natalya seem to be just going through the motions. I can’t get into this story and I hope what we saw after the match signals moving on from Charlotte vs. Nattie.
– Natalya as the secondary wrestling heel for the Women’s Division makes sense. I just hope it doesn’t require her to talk. Maybe now we can get a second story in this division.
– Who is Apollo Crews? What does he do? Why should I care about him? These are questions WWE has not answered about a character who has been on their television since the night after WrestleMania.
– The Money in the Bank Ladder Match was entertaining, but nothing new or spectacular. Honestly, these matches don’t need to be crazy (and shouldn’t be). Sami Zayn’s story of constantly coming close was fun to see, although a major moment with Kevin Owens would have helped both. Alberto Del Rio had a fine match (and hopefully isn’t too injured after the bad fall at the end). Cesaro was a highlight reel in this one and will hopefully gain something from it. I enjoyed the ladder match, but it’s time to do away with the multi-man ladder match for a few months.
– I turned on the NBA Finals during Rusev vs. Titus O’Neil. I am not going back to watch it.
– I hope going over three hours on pay-per-views doesn’t become a regular thing. This card felt like it was stretching to fill time in certain moments.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? If they aren’t super annoying thoughts (and please don’t ignore this and post super annoying thoughts), hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.