In WWE , the Money in the Bank briefcase gives its winner a golden opportunity. In the 15 years since the concept was introduced at WrestleMania 21, the Money in the Bank ladder match has changed the course of careers, creating multiple new world champions.
The cash in moment is always exciting. It almost always crowns a new champion but like any title change, not every post cash in title reign is created equally. Some have been a stepping stone to bigger things for the winners, while others have been the zenith of a WWE Superstar’s career, with everything being downhill from there. With this year’s edition of the show drawing near, it’s worth looking at examples of both cases.
After years of failing to break through WWE’s glass ceiling, Rob Van Dam’s WWE Championship win over John Cena was a special moment. It was made doubly so by happening at ECW One Night Stand 2006, the show that launched WWE’s ECW revival. Van Dam would be crowned ECW Champion on the first episode of ECW’s weekly show, making him a double champion with two belts that had eluded him throughout his career.
Van Dam’s time at the top of two WWE brands was short-lived. Van Dam would hold both titles for less than a month, dropping them on consecutive episodes of Raw and ECW. Van Dam was never likely to be a long term WWE Champion, given that Cena and Edge were in their primes on Raw and his ECW obligations, but a suspension due to a drug possession arrest made sure of it. Van Dam’s first WWE run would end a year later, and by the time he returned in 2013 he was a part-timer.
Dolph Ziggler’s 2013 cash in also falls into the “zenith” category. Ziggler was never more over than the night he cashed in his World Heavyweight Championship briefcase. On the Raw after WrestleMania 29, Ziggler took advantage of a wounded Alberto Del Rio, whose ankle had been thoroughly worked over by Jack Swagger over the course of WrestleMania weekend. Ziggler defeated Del Rio in a short but heated match to win the World Heavyweight Championship the drove the already hot “Raw after WrestleMania” crowd to its boiling point.
The crowd reaction and the emotional celebration of Ziggler, on-screen girlfriend A.J. Lee, and bodyguard Big E made it an unforgettable moment. It would be tough for any title reign to top that. Unfortunately for Ziggler, he barely had the chance. An injury at Swagger’s hands kept him out of action at the next pay-per-view, Extreme Rules, where he should have had his first title defense. Ziggler lost the title back to Del Rio at Payback, in a match that saw a double turn. Since then, Ziggler has remained in the midcard, and it seems as if WWE has no intention of putting a world title on him again.
CM Punk is the only man to win two Money in the Bank ladder matches, both of which are interesting contrasts. His first briefcase win, in 2008, led to an underwhelming World Heavyweight Championship reign. Throughout his title reign Punk was treated like a fluke champion who lucked into winning and defending the World Heavyweight Championship. That wouldn’t have been so bad had he not been a babyface. On a show with Batista and John Cena, Punk felt like a third wheel. His reign limped to its conclusion when he lost the belt at Unforgiven 2008 in a match he didn’t even participate in.
Punk’s 2009 reign was an example of WWE learning from its mistakes. Instead of cashing in on a heel like Edge, Punk took advantage of a weakened Jeff Hardy to win his second World Heavyweight Championship. It led to a gradual heel turn from Punk, as he used to Hardy’s well-documented history of substance abuse to introduce his self-righteous straight edge persona to the WWE Universe. Punk started to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with on the microphone. That would eventually pay off with the definitive moment of his WWE career, the pipe bomb promo, which established him as a true main event player in WWE.
Punk’s fellow traveler on the indies, Daniel Bryan, was also able to showcase his personality for the first time in WWE after his cash in. After pinning a knocked out Big Show, Bryan ecstatically celebrated his first WWE World Championship win. In spite of the circumstances, it was understandable, especially after Show had pushed him to cash in the briefcase. His celebrations, many of them in his biggest critic Michael Cole’s face, became more over the top as his title defenses became more dubious. One of those post-match celebrations would become iconic.
After defeating Kofi Kingston in a match on Monday Night Raw, Bryan debuted his “Yes!” chant. The chant would catch on with crowds even as Bryan was booked as more of a cowardly heel by the week. The chants first became a phenomenon in WWE after Bryan lost the World Heavyweight Championship. Following his 18 second loss to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28, fans did the “Yes!” chant through the duration of the following night’s Raw in a show of support of Bryan. It wasn’t the last time fans would hijack a WWE show with the chant in support of Bryan. WWE eventually worked it into the build to his WrestleMania 30 moment. Fans joined Bryan to occupy Raw and demand he get a shot at the main event, mimicking in storyline what fans had been doing for months.
Money in the Bank cash-ins can change careers, for better and for worse. Like any wrestler’s career, luck has a lot to do with how things turn out. What Punk and Bryan’s reigns showed is how a wrestler can use their cash-ins to change their character. Both men went from being known as indie darling technicians to fully formed characters, something this year’s winners can learn from.
WWE's Money in the Bank literally climbs the corporate ladder this year, but past winners have been as likely to tumble down it as they are to ascend.