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Briefcase Scenario

A preview of WWE ‘Money in the Bank,’ by our wrestling correspondent and his 5-year-old son

WWE/Ringer illustration

Just this year, I’ve spent roughly $300 on WWE apparel and assorted merchandise at the behest of my 5-year-old son, Sydney. In that same six-month-plus span, I’ve committed precisely zero dollars to similar ephemera on myself. Not out of either self-sacrifice or frugality, but simply owing to the fact that I’m 39 years old and the only wrestling merchandise I own are misshapen, bootleg Daniel Bryan shirts that my wife buys with the best of intentions.

It was a very different world two decades ago, when I was a college sophomore during peak Attitude Era and the company’s characters and accompanying branded wares were aimed squarely at a mature (in purchasing power at least) male demographic eager to provoke passersby with invitations to fellate.

But for all of modern wrestling’s concessions to reality, this half-decade has been dominated by men and women—Roman Reigns, Charlotte Flair, the New Day, John Cena, et. al.—who project a prevailingly uncomplicated hero model. Hell, even Bray Wyatt, once a borderline demonic nihilist, has been reconfigured into some kind of blissed-out country revivalist. And my son, like so many millions of young kids, can barely read and write, let alone look at wrestling through some cynical, insider internet lens. He likes his sports entertainers larger than life and loves the ones who fight fair. Promos bore him but choreographed conga entrances make his day. For him, mat technique is TV death, but high flyers bring him out of his seat to cheer. Watching wrestling with and through him is transformative and eye-opening. It helps me understand the business, but also helps me appreciate that not everything—least of all wrestling—has to be serious, and that he’s not serious about it.

Money in the Bank, then, is our perfect PPV (though if Sydney had his wish, every event would be a three-hour-long Royal Rumble match, or “countdowns” as he prefers). It’s objectively absurd—in a white-collar setting, climbing ladders, and unhooking briefcases buoyed by conditional guarantees of career advancement would maybe pass as Wolf of Wall Street high jinks—but scratches at the inner logician in all die-hard wrestling fans. (The fact that Sydney will probably only see the undercard, as actual namesake MITB matches are prohibitively violent, is beside the point.)

So in an effort to provide two distinct points of view from within one bloodline of wrestling obsessives, here’s a breakdown of every match from this coming Sunday’s Money in the Bank PPV, with some insight into what keen adults like myself are watching for, and the reality check of what a kindergarten-bound viewer such as Sydney hopes to get out of it—plus, Sydney’s expert predictions of the night’s winners and losers, which are arguably no less scientific than those of someone 10 times his age.

Nia Jax (Champion) vs. Ronda Rousey—Raw Women’s Championship match

What I’m Watching For: Mostly whether Jax, newly crowned as women’s champ at WrestleMania and just getting her sea legs as the face of Raw’s female ranks, is already asked to lay down for hotshot signee Ronda Rousey. Rousey, despite her pedigree and an auspicious in-ring debut at Mania, has in theory accomplished about as much to earn a WWE title shot as CM Punk did to get his ass beat by Mike Jackson on a legit UFC card last Saturday night. But unless writers are playing the long game with a Natalya turn, thus spinning off a rivalry between she and supposed bestie Rousey (and allowing Jax to go her own way with the belt), it’s a stretch to imagine their golden goose being propped up to fall short.

What Sydney Is Watching For: This is one instance where what’s bankable has no bearing. He could care less about Ronda Rousey and mixed martial arts. He wants to see a large person pummel a less large person. Big Cass (more on that in a bit) would approve.

My Pick: The odds are on Rousey’s side but I’m going with Nia Jax. My money’s on sabotage and chicanery.

Sydney’s Pick: Jax, because in his words, “She’s super big.”

AJ Styles (Champion) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura—Last Man Standing match for the WWE Championship

What I’m Watching For: Whether these two continent-crossing trailblazers will finally put on a collaborative, in-ring WWE performance befitting the (justified) buzz that surrounded their feud at its inception. And also, whether there’s more life (a.k.a. more PPV matches) left in their mortal animus beyond Sunday’s outcome. Nakamura has giddily torched his babyface persona, and Styles has adequately sold his frustration with Shinsuke’s low blows and laconicism. Still, it’s been only a couple of months since Nakamura forearmed him in the nuts and declared war. Hopefully the door’s left open for a longer campaign.

What Sydney Is Watching For: Sydney’s still bummed out that no one sings along with Nakamura’s entrance theme anymore, and he’s concerned that Styles is letting his hair grow too long and losing his masculine edge. But as long as there’s at least one sequence of patterned strikes, errant roundhouses, and choreographed Pelé kicks, he’s willing to let that slide.

My Pick: I kind of want to say Styles, because the perseverance of standing last suits him, but if this isn’t Nakamura’s moment, when is? Shinsuke it is.

Sydney’s Pick: AJ, because according to him, “Styles never wins.” (Obviously he’s not a number-cruncher, but in fairness, watching one of your favorite wrestlers get hit in the nuts every week can amount to feeling that way.)

Carmella (Champion) vs. Asuka—SmackDown Women’s Championship match

What I’m Watching For: If turnabout will be fair play. Carmella won the MITB match last year, biding her time before cashing in on then-champ Charlotte Flair in April. Given that on Sunday, they’ll be airing this after the women’s MITB match, might someone cash in on Carmella before she can blink? Or will a similar ending befall Asuka should she win? Perhaps more importantly, can Carmella hang for 15-20 minutes with the legitimately supernaturally talented Empress of Tomorrow?

What Sydney Is Watching For: To finally figure out whether Carmella is wearing toned leggings or if her lower limbs are actually that shade of tanning-booth bronze. And to see if he can overcome his fear of Asuka, whose masked and meandering entrance scares the ever-living crap out of him.

My Pick: Asuka.

Sydney’s Pick: Asuka as well, because “she’s super strong.” And terrifying. Mostly terrifying.

Seth Rollins (Champion) vs. Elias—Intercontinental Championship Match

What I’m Watching For: Is it truly time to walk with Elias? As an initial skeptic, consider me piqued for whether this match marks a turning point in which Elias progresses from musical-comedy act to leading man and future main-event guy.

What Sydney Is Watching For: A funny song and cheap attack. And a Rollins win.

My Pick: Elias. Rollins can easily bump back up the metaphorical ladder back toward Universal Championship contention (or reunite the Shield again), and Elias can help establish a midcard division on Monday nights.

Sydney’s Pick: Ever the pragmatist, he goes with Elias because, unlike many of us, “I saw him win on TV before.”

The Deleters of Worlds (Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt) (Champions) vs. The B-Team (Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel)—Raw Tag-Team Championship Match

What I’m Watching For: I was skeptical about Hardy and Wyatt, both in terms of the on-screen legitimacy of Wyatt’s intentions and the real-life implications for Wyatt, who was offering up quite a bit of character mystique by going goofy and joining forces with Hardy. I’ll continue to watch with interest as the Deleters cement their mind-meld with each other and fans, and even more so for whether a humorless pair of heels might make their presence felt (Authors of Pain?) in time for the road to SummerSlam—and concretize Hardy and Wyatt (but especially Wyatt) as oddball heroes in earnest.

What Sydney Is Watching For: Something that helps him make sense of how he’s supposed to root for the heretofore repugnant Bray Wyatt, as well as a more satisfactory explanation of why Dallas and Axel can suddenly out-compete an entire tag division.

My Pick: Hardy and Wyatt

Sydney’s Pick: Going with the longshot, he decrees Axel (whose full name he can barely annunciate, possibly discrediting his opinion) and Dallas shall conquer, given that “one time they beat up Dean Ambrose.” (Fact check: He’s not wrong.)

The Bludgeon Brothers (Luke Harper and Erick Rowan) (Champions) vs. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows—SmackDown Tag-Team Championship Match

What I’m Watching For: A good enough match that convinces me this division can survive without the Usos or the New Day holding it down. Some of that New Japan spark from Gallows and Anderson would be refreshing, though their current casting as affable jocks suggests it’s yet to be lit. And can the Bludgeon Brothers put on a quality bell-to-bell bout and look strong without being scripted as wild assassins?

What Sydney Is Watching For: Harper and Rowan wildly assassinating Gallows and Anderson, who he frequently confuses with Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas.

My Pick: Bludgeon Brothers.

Sydney’s Pick: Bludgeon Brothers because—best reasoning ever—“they’re both brothers and they’re so strong and supertall.”

Roman Reigns vs. Jinder Mahal

What I’m Watching For: Can Reigns possibly be so pigeonholed as the man fans love to hate that they’ll actually get behind Mahal as a fan favorite? Apart from merely moving pieces around, there’s one obvious reason to pin these two against each other. Reigns is on an endless quest for audience approval (or is he?), and no antagonist on the Raw roster has generated more heel heat by design and collateral critical hand-wringing than Mahal. I’d also anticipate Jinder will hold his own. He’s become a bit more nimble against opponents with superior athleticism and more emphatic with his power. I’ve enjoyed his smug self-aggrandizement and will hold out hope that he can overcome an anemic story by going blow-for-blow with an underrated workhorse in Reigns.

What Sydney Is Watching For: Superman Punches. Lots and lots of Superman Punches.

My Pick: Reigns, unless there’s some outside interference that springboards his next beef. Does Mahal still have the Great Khali on retainer?

Sydney’s Pick: Reigns, because like virtually every other one of his projected winners, Roman is “supertall.” (Mahal is taller, for the record.)

Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass

What I’m Watching For: It really boils down to this: How far is Bryan willing to go to put young stud Cass over? And does WWE see Bryan as a near-term headliner (he doesn’t seem to)?

What Sydney Is Watching For: Whether Bryan has trimmed his beard.

My Pick: Big Cass.

Sydney’s Pick: Bryan, though he chose not to elaborate. (It bears mention that this goes against his “supertall” criterion, which should be seen as a huge win for Bryan.)

Bobby Lashley vs. Sami Zayn

What I’m Watching For: Chemistry.

What Sydney Is Watching For: Lashley’s sisters.

My Pick: Lashley.

Sydney’s Pick: Pick ’em. (He actually shrugged.)

Charlotte Flair vs. Naomi vs. Ember Moon vs. Lana vs. Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Natalya vs. Sasha Banks—Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match

What I’m Watching For: A few things. Namely, whether Bayley interferes to sabotage Sasha; how severely the high-impact rookie Ember Moon outperforms newly accent-free, fledgling former manager Lana; if any of these women are worse for wear after a couple of extremely physical clashes this week on Raw and SmackDown; what crazy shit Charlotte puts her body through; and the overall onward march to true parity in the time women get, and tenacity they’re in a position to demonstrate, on WWE TV.

What Sydney Is Watching For: Asuka to come out of nowhere and scare the crap out of him. I might need to stop letting him watch Asuka matches.

My Pick: It’s tempting to wonder aloud about Natalya winning and then pouncing on new Raw women’s champ Rousey and cashing in, but then I’d be second-guessing my prediction that Jax will topple Ronda. And we can’t have that, can we? To keep things coherent, I’ll say Banks wins.

Sydney’s Pick: Natalya. “I’ve seen her win before,” he says. By which he means this past Monday, which by WWE logic is counterintuitive, but hey, at least he’s thinking.

The Miz vs. Rusev vs. Samoa Joe vs. Braun Strowman vs. the New Day (Representative TBD) vs. Bobby Roode vs. Finn Bálor vs. Kevin Owens—Men’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match

What I’m Watching For: These free-for-alls are rarely about setting the stage for new hostilities, though long-standing grudges tend to come to the fore (expect the Miz and New Day to put on their own little sideshow to the other’s ill fate). The attraction here, aside from the requisite big spots and urge to bang your head against a wall as competitors take turns dawdling up the ladder, is watching Raw and SmackDown’s worlds collide. Who needs to wait for Survivor Series? Spoil it all! I suppose I’m mildly intrigued by the subtext that one show will benefit from potentially months of briefcase-driven melodrama, but by and large, I care far less about who wins than the sacrifices it took to survive.

What Sydney Is Watching For: Aiden English, Rusev’s operatic attaché.

My Pick: Is it a copout to say either Bálor or Owens? Fine, I’ll go with Strowman.

Sydney’s Pick: Strowman, because—wait for it—“When he’s in a Royal Rumble he beats everyone up and eliminates everyone. And at the Elimination Chamber, he climbed to the top and jumped on Finn Bálor.” Case closed.