It’s amazing what a promo can do.
Stone Cold Steve Austin uttered the words “Austin 3:16” for the first time at King Of The Ring ’96 and a legend was created.
CM Punk hit us with his ‘pipe bomb’ promo of summer ’11 and suddenly he was not only a household name but also seemingly the saviour of WWE.
The Miz presented ‘Miz TV’ and, as he looked into the camera and told us how he is “the most must-see superstar in WWE”, we realised that, truly, deep in our hearts, we’d rather see a panda massacre on Christmas day than any more of his nonsense.
And, a few weeks before this years Money In The Bank PPV, Mark Henry gave us a historic promo of his own.
For a couple of weeks prior the veteran had been teasing the idea that he was retiring with a number of cryptic tweets. He then interrupted John Cena on Raw and came out with what seemed to be an emotional and heartfelt farewell to the WWE. I don’t think there was a single person watching that didn’t think Henry was truly saying goodbye. Then, with tears in his eyes after announcing to his kids that “Daddy’s coming home” he shocked the entire audience by meeting Cena’s attempt at a hug with a World’s Largest Slam on the WWE champion.
The footage of Henry, salmon-coloured suit jacket and all, standing over a destroyed Cena screaming “You think it’s that easy?! I still got a lot left in the tank!” is destined to be repeated over and over for years to come. It instantly transformed Henry from a veteran seeing out his wrestling days as something of a mid-card big guy to a main event player once again. And at Money In The Bank he would get his chance to win the one title that had eluded him in his career so far, the WWE title.
His match with Cena isn’t a masterpiece but it’s truly compelling, one of those see-saw old school ‘heel seems indestructable / babyface fights against the odds’ bouts that will never win over the indie purists who want to see Daniel Bryan vs CM Punk in an iron man match at every PPV but for entertainment value it’s definitely a success.
The focal point of this PPV, however, is the actual Money In The Bank match, of which there are two. For the uninitiated, these are multiple man ladder matches with a briefcase suspended high above the ring (which actually looks more like a novelty lunchbox than a briefcase, but I digress). The winner is the man who scales the ladder and collects the briefcase/lunchbox. This represents a guaranteed title shot within the next year, any time, any place. This can even be after the current champion has just finished a match and is exhausted. It’s been ‘cashed in’ on a beaten down champ many times in the past, which is always brilliantly entertaining/infuriating.
The first of these matches – and the opening bout of the PPV – sees a rare ‘all heels’ match featuring Dean Ambrose, Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Fandango, Wade Barrett, Antonio Cesaro and Jack Swagger. And it is incredible.
An all heels match on this scale shouldn’t really work but when you have guys with the quality of Ambrose, Rhodes and Cesaro in there then there’s no way it can fail. There are huge bumps, heroes made and brilliantly original ideas – at one point, instead of using a ladder, Cesaro stands on his tag partner Swagger’s shoulders in order to try and reach the briefcase. In reviewing this DVD I have watched this match eight times. It’s that good. A match of the year contender and brilliant opening.
The Miz then gets what feels like his eighty-eight billionth Intercontinental title shot against Curtis Axel, who is managed by Paul Heyman. A few minutes in Heyman is sent away from ringside by the referee and the remainder of the match simply doesn’t matter. The only highlight is when the microphone picks up a guy at ringside chanting “You’re not over!” at The Miz. In those few seconds he shows more to deserve a title shot than The Miz ever has.
AJ Lee then defends her Divas title against Kaitlyn. The feud between these two was given a proper build and backstory to make you feel like they genuinely couldn’t stand each other, something WWE fail to do with Divas matches nearly all of the time. Which makes no sense to me – after all, if two people are fighting, shouldn’t there be a reason why they might want to fight each other? At the very least let them do the Simpsons bar fight bit (“Hey you! Let’s fight!” “Them’s fighting words…”). But no, nothing. But away from the negatives and back to the positives – this match really is a perfect example of just how strong the Divas division could be.
Next up is Chris Jericho vs Ryback. It breaks my heart to say this but, Royal Rumble aside, Jericho’s 2013 run was just awful. The man is one of the greatest wrestlers that there will ever be. But his matches last year seemed completely off the pace, riddled with botches and didn’t even really seem to get the crowd going, which are all things I never thought I’d associate with such a legend.
Dolph Ziggler gets one last chance to win the World Heavyweight title against Alberto Del Rio. Frankly he should’ve been defending the title rather than chasing it but he’d been put out of action with severe concussion by Jack Swagger and lost the belt to Del Rio in his first match back in what was a brutal, emotional and at times even hard to watch match. This is another compelling bout with both men at the top of their game.
While Del Rio’s character work may be a little dull and dated at times, his in-ring ability is up there with the best and matches like this only serve to prove this. Even after repeated viewings I find new moments that impress me each time I watch this match, from Dolph’s famous bumps that make him seem like a rag doll being thrown at a wall by a stroppy toddler to Del Rio’s superkicks that always make me wince for the recipient. Sometimes two wrestlers just absolutely click in a feud and create magic in the wrestling ring. This was one of those times. And to think Vince apparently doesn’t think Dolph is ‘money’…unbelievable.
The headline bout is the WWE Title shot Money In The Bank match and, in contrast to the earlier ‘all heels’ match, this time we are treated to an ‘all stars’ match, featuring a host of former champions including the great (CM Punk, Daniel Bryan), the formerly great (Christian, the returning Rob Van Dam), the good (Randy Orton) and another guy (Sheamus). This is an emotional rollercoaster of a match – RVD pulling out a few of his old party tricks to please the Philadelphia crowd on his return, Bryan ever the underdog with everybody completely behind him but it’s the story of the deteriorating friendship between CM Punk and Paul Heyman that really steals the show. Apart they are both masters in their field but together they go beyond even that with the kind of emotional chemistry that can’t be taught. When they work together you just wish you could be part of it. When they fall out it’s like seeing your cool older brother fall out with his best friend. The fact that this is not even the only talking point when the bell rings at the end of the match tells you just how much is crammed into those 25mins. Very little of it involves Christian, who sadly seems there for little more than to make up the numbers. But that’s a pretty small issue given the brilliance served up by Punk, Bryan and Heyman especially.
Given the ropey quality of a lot of PPVs in 2013 it’s a big relief to write about one that works on so many levels. Want to see how you can tell a great story taken out of the regular ‘good guy vs bad guy’ setting? Then watch the all heels ladder match. Want emotional drama or twists and turns? See the all stars ladder match. Want to just see some out and out brilliant wrestling? Then Ziggler/Del Rio is the match for you. Want to see what happens when a future hall of famer has to carry a lumbering moron that couldn’t wrestle his way out of a onesie? Then feast your eyes on Jericho vs Ryback (don’t really).
I’d say this was PPV of the year so I definitely recommend you get your hands on this. If only to be transported to a world where 450lb men wear salmon-coloured suit jackets.”