By Will Pruett
It's hard to be backed into a corner, and WWE was on this show. When Daniel Bryan, the man they had built the main event scene around (intentionally and unintentionally) since last year's SummerSlam had to get neck surgery, then had complications in recovery, all of their long-term planning was thrown into disarray. Bryan forfeiting the WWE Championship created a void at the top of the card. Who could fill it?
The main event of Money in the Bank was established to answer this question and eight men fought for the ability to not only be WWE Champion, but to likely have a showdown with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. Lesnar waiting down the line further complicated things. Who had the gravitas to step into the ring with the hottest heel in WWE in his follow up match after ending The Streak. It was a spot custom made for Daniel Bryan, who would go in as a plucky underdog champion facing his biggest challenge. Sadly, Bryan was hurt before this could happen.
In the main event, seven out of eight wrestlers would have made no sense in this slot. Surely the first Roman Reigns WWE Championship reign shouldn't include losing to Lesnar just two months later. There hadn't been enough of a chase for Reigns and there wasn't enough time to establish him. When you're looking at Reigns, you're looking at WWE's next franchise player. This was not the moment to hotshot.
Bray Wyatt, another newcomer to the main event scene, would have been an awkward fit in this role. While a Wyatt title won would have been interesting, how does he fit into the longterm plan? Does Wyatt turn babyface, then lose to Lesnar? What good does that do? When Wyatt does turn, he needs to prove he is worth cheering and rack up wins. Rushing a Wyatt turn as WWE Champion would have hurt everyone and made SummerSlam a less viable show.
Cesaro is another wrestler who's time has not come. There's nothing wrong with Cesaro, but he isn't ready (as a character) to go into a match with Brock Lesnar. He has the same issue as Wyatt, where this match would force a turn and, after a loss, leave him dead in the water. Cesaro vs. Lesnar is a big battle of Paul Heyman guys and it shouldn't be rushed into.
In all of the above instances, the wrestlers weren't ready for where the story is going. WWE is already changing one longterm plan and they shouldn't be rushing to rebook the entire year. If you're a fan of longterm storytelling over hotshot booking, then you agree. Reigns, Wyatt, and Cesaro weren't ready.
On the other side of this match are the already played out and boring main eventers. Kane was added to this match on Monday night and he isn't viable in the main event scene in 2014. He's a great role player, but he has already done too much this year. Randy Orton falls into the boring territory more often than not as well. Even though he was busted open in this match and instantly became more compelling in the process, Orton was too damaged last year to be a viable contender for the title.
Speaking of boring, Alberto Del Rio was in this match. Unless the plan would be a 30 second main event against Brock Lesnar, Del Rio is not the guy for SummerSlam.
Sheamus, while he has been WWE Champion in the past, is not in the right place to hold the title again. WWE fans are revolting against Sheamus in matches, even though he is a really great performer. People aren't connecting with him and he hasn't found a way to create a connection. As good as Sheamus is, having a champion people don't care about would hurt everyone. While Sheamus vs. Lesnar would be an awesome in-ring spectacle, the timing isn't right.
Finally, we are left with the only viable option. Only one wrestler in this match (or on the WWE roster) has the right combination of experience, gravitas, and ability to go against Lesnar. He is also the only wrestler in the main event scene who could make a transitional WWE Championship reign seem meaningful. John Cena had to win this match. There wasn't another viable option.
WWE would have had to accelerate or ruin the stories they are telling to build up young talent, if Reigns, Wyatt, or Cesaro would have won this match. Rushing the title onto any of those three could have permanently derailed their careers. They would have had to absolutely bore the fans with a Kane, Orton, or Del Rio win (and this would have hurt SummerSlam). They would have had to move forward without a compelling character if Sheamus would have won. John Cena was the right choice here.
As much as anyone else, I'm eager for WWE to do something new, but I'm also cautious. I don't want something new to happen at the expense of the talent involved. I don't want to see a trigger pulled prematurely and have a moment that would have solidified a star ruined. WWE has a ton of new talent in the main event scene. They have to be careful with how they're using them. They have to build things slowly.
John Cena's time is now by default. We're a few months away from a torch being passed. Give it time.
And now for some random thoughts...
- A full two-thirds of the new WWE World Heavyweight Championship's title changes have occurred in Ladder Matches. This is inconsequential, but interesting.
- Seth Rollins winning the Money in the Bank contract was easy to see coming, but it was the right thing to do. It made Rollins' absence from the championship match make sense and it makes Rollins into Triple H's ultimate plan B.
- The contract Ladder Match was all about the Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins feud and it was a nice way to feature their feud without getting to a full match between them. The other four guys in the match did an admirable job wrestling around this story. Dolph Ziggler was especially impressive.
- Daniel Bryan's preshow speech actually filled me with a little bit of fear. Another neck surgery could be very bad news for Bryan. I loved the way the crowd reacted to him and greeted him. I loved Bryan vowing to win the title back. I hated hearing that he may need another neck surgery.
- Harper and Rowan vs. The Uso's might have been the best match on the show. This was a great tag match that found its higher gear about halfway through. These four guys work well together and this match was a nice example of how great tag team wrestling can be.
- Paige vs. Naomi was a pretty good women's match by WWE main roster standards. They could definitely have a better match, but they didn't quite seem to click.
- Paul Revere for WWE United States Champion!
- I didn't hate Kane getting involved in Seth Rollins' win. It furthered Rollins' advantage that came with his heel turn. It foreshadowed what Kane was going to do with Orton in the main event. It actually worked well for a ton of stories.
- Stardust shouldn't make me as happy as Stardust makes me.
- Rusev vs. Big E was once against surprisingly very good. They had more time this month and it didn't hurt the match at all. Big E looked great in defeat and Rusev crushed in an admirable manner.
- The Summer Rae vs. Layla feud could never pass the Bechdel Test.
- Randy Orton getting cut open instantly made him seem more dangerous and more interesting. Maybe Orton just needs to be legitimately hurt to be compelling? For realsies, I hope Orton is alright after a rough night at the office.
This show was all about WWE regrouping and setting up their stories going forward. They were dealt a huge blow with Daniel Bryan going down with his neck injury. Now, they have to take an already thin roster and rebuild it. The plus side is a great deal of young talent on top (Reigns, Rollins, Ambrose, Cesaro, Wyatt). It'll be interesting to see how this rebuilding effort continues going through SummerSlam. WWE has some great talent, now they just have to tell great stories.
So, what did you think of the show? Agree? Disagree? Either way, feel free to email me at email@example.com or to follow me and interact on twitter @itswilltime.