WWE's 2020 Money In The Bank Ladder Match Was Exactly What We Needed
The latest WWE PPV offered up a goofy and fun cinematic experience to close the show.
The 2020 Money in the Bank match was a dumb, ridiculous spectacle with tons of fan service and an action film soundtrack. But most importantly, it was funny and entertaining. It felt surprisingly spontaneous for something that was pre-taped. WWE needs to do more matches like this for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The dialogue between the fans and performers is indispensable in a professional wrestling event. This is not a dramatic play, where the audience sits quietly and holds its applause for the final bow. In professional wrestling, fans respond--immediately and viscerally--to what they see. The performers, in turn, have to listen to the fans and adjust their acts accordingly. Speed up. Slow down. Play to the crowd or taunt them. It's an interactive medium.
Take away this interplay, and it's hard for even longtime wrestlers to know how to react. And on a general, week-to week basis, WWE's programming has suffered as a result. We're getting matches that are technically great but lacking that difficult-to-define intensity that results from a live crowd.
But at this year's Wrestlemania, WWE figured out a way to make its programming different and fun: by leaning into pre-taped, cinematic segments. On Night 1 of Wrestlemania 36, the Boneyard Match between AJ Styles and Undertaker stole the show. On Night 2, the Firefly Fun House match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt lit up social media. Both matches excited the fans, and both were completely different in tone. The Boneyard Match was a low-budget horror short. The Firefly Funhouse was a gonzo deconstruction of the John Cena character, filled with meta contextual humor and non sequiturs.
But at Money in the Bank, we got something different from both of those matches: a go-for-broke comedy routine. Both the men and the women started at the same time on the ground floor of the WWE's headquarters in Connecticut. They had to race to the roof--"climb the corporate ladder," if you will--and retrieve the MITB briefcase to win a world title shot.
There was a massive food fight. There were brawls in the weight room, the catering hall, the conference room, and the fire escape. There were a couple of times when the men and women crossed over into each other's matches; Shayna Baszler choked out Rey Mysterio before the poor guy was sandwiched by Otis and Nia Jax. There were cameo appearances by Brother Love, Doink the Clown, and Johnny Ace for long-time fans. Near the end, there was an appearance by Vince McMahon, who followed social distancing guidelines by kicking AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan out of his office before disinfecting his hands.
There was an actual wrestling ring on the roof, along with ladders for the Superstars to climb. But the wrestlers spent more time brawling and running through the halls than doing any sort of actual ring work. And this was the key, best creative decision. The at-home viewers are conditioned to hearing audience feedback to dangerous ladder stunts and in-ring spots. Without that response, we don't get the vicarious thrill of feeling like we're there in the crowd. The hallway segments were uncharted territory. We know what a ladder match looks like. But we didn't know what would happen next in this format. We got a tour of the WWE building. And to cap it off, the right people--Asuka and Otis--picked up the victories.
It would have been easy for WWE to phone it in and do a basic ladder match at the Performance Center. But tonight, they took a risk and it paid off. Sometimes it will work, and sometimes it won't. But it's always preferable to have a go-for-broke creative effort than settle for something that's safe.
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