By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
Smackdown Live is more than likely going to deliver a good pay-per-view Sunday night, but it isn’t necessarily because the program is becoming a great source of entertainment. Instead, Sunday’s strong show will come because it’s so hard to screw up a Money in the Bank event.
Put a bunch of top-level wrestlers in one match and you already have suspense, since a case can be made for more than one winner, and nothing is more important for a good match than a result which isn’t easily predicted. And since many of the top wrestlers are good in the ring, there’s enough opportunity for action to guarantee something worth watching. Throw in some ladder spots, and the younger crowd which likes the high-flying style of today’s wrestling is hooked. Sunday even provides us with a second ladder match for a title, as the women will make history and get to set another new standard in their division.
While the MITB matches will be enough to entertain the masses, will they be booked well enough for those of us who care about the results to be satisfied? What about the rest of the show? Will the ladders be needed to climb past a bad undercard, or will the rest of the night shine on its own? As always, it’s time to answer all these questions by breaking down the card, what should happen, what will happen, and what it means.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Naomi vs. Lana
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: This can’t be the opener. It almost has to be in between the ladder matches or between a ladder match and the main event (if the world title is the last match, which I’d be surprised to see), but we’ll talk about it first to get it out of the way since it is by far the worst match on the card. If WWE pokes holes in its own story on television on purpose, you know it’s a bad idea. The writers of Smackdown tried to turn Lana’s lack of wrestling experience into an angle, but it was really just to beat us to the question of “why on earth is this match happening?”. WWE has put itself in a bind here. If Lana wins, it makes the title, and Naomi’s career, a joke. If not, then what was the point of this angle? There are no winners here, but since someone must win the belt, I’ll go with Naomi to retain. On a side note, with so few matches on the card and so many wrestlers who made the PPV a month ago suddenly off the radar, how is this a match on PPV? I like mixing it up and trying something new, but this is just insane.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Fact No. 1 why the WWE has been so bad lately is Lana, who made her Smackdown debut two weeks ago, asked to be in the Money in the Bank match, was denied because she didn't deserve it, with some laughing at her request, only to be given a women’s title shot anyway because she tripped champion Naomi during a meaningless tag team match. So, Lana isn’t worthy of being in a match to decide a de-facto No. 1 contender for the title, where she would have to prove herself, but she gets to skip all that and gets a title shot anyway. What the hell is going on with the WWE these days? The programming is so terrible I find it hard to watch anymore. For the match, Naomi has to win, so the suspense is gone there. But the real suspense will be to see how well Lana can wrestle now, which I’m sure she was training while off TV for all these weeks. At least I hope she was. Still, this proves how dumb the WWE has become. It would be nice to see Lana win, though, because Naomi does nothing for anyone as the women's champion.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos vs. The New Day
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: I know a lot of it was because of injuries, but I love the way they held the New Day off their new show for a while. The best way to make a team which has been doing the same act for a while seem fresh again without changing their act is to make people miss them. Meanwhile, the Usos just won’t go away. They’ve been repackaged to some extent, but they still stink. Still, they need to win this match to keep the rivalry going for a while. The New Day is better as the chasers, especially when they’re allowed to have a little edge, and there’s not much else worth watching on the tag team front. The Usos win to set up the chase, and the New Day wins the belts back this summer.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: As usual, Straub's wrong about everything here. The Usos have completely changed for the better, as they were simply terrible with their good guy personas. I still couldn’t care less about them, but at least they are halfway entertaining now. The New Day I’m just tired of altogether. The move to Smackdown, and the long time away, did nothing to make them interesting again. Their gimmick is just old and stupid now. At some point they have to evolve … like the Usos. Anyway, too bad Breezango aren't the champs right now, as they have been a fully entertaining pair. In this match, though, it’s going to be the Usos winning, but it won’t be entirely clean, as this feud will continue until SummerSlam.
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya vs. Tamina vs. Carmella (Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: There’s a lot of talk about Carmella going over here, but I just can’t see her as ready yet. I admit, part of it is my hatred of James Ellsworth, one of my least favorite characters in years. The bigger picture here is what really matters, as there are enough athletic women in this match to produce a solid match, which would be great for the division. Charlotte, for example, can go from great women’s wrestler to just great wrestler if she can put on a show here, and Lynch can become a bigger name as well. Natalya can’t win, but she can be the one who Charlotte and Becky can hit their spots on. I would love to see this match be a great one, since a flop would bring out all the critics of women’s wrestling, when the top wrestlers can really do strong work. The Divas days are done, and Sunday is a good chance to prove it. As for a winner, I’ll keep taking Becky, though this one is more heart than head.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: It's pretty clear Straub hates women's wrestling, but I'm the complete opposite, as there's something special about what the women today can do in the ring. Charlotte's moonsault to the floor is example No. 1. I didn’t hear any grumblings about Carmella winning this match, but I haven’t been following the chatter much because the WWE has been so bad and uninteresting lately, and that nugget makes me a little disappointed. Why? Because she was going to be my pick to win here. Winning this match doesn’t automatically mean the winner will cash in right away, it could be a year from now. Having Carmella with the briefcase could make for some interesting “cash-in” moments that end up not happening. It creates excitement for a title change that could be played out several times. Carmella isn’t ready now, but hopefully for everyone, she will be in six months. It gives her character some cache as well, which is missing right now. Charlotte and Becky Lynch don’t need the briefcase, because they both can and would beat Naomi when given the chance. Either of those two make more sense for a worthy winner, but that isn’t how this works. As for Natalya and Tamina, well, there’s no chance. So, it’s Carmella.
WWE Champion Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: We’ve had a month now to digest Mahal as the world champion. If it were anyone else, we could talk about his improvement and break down the pros and cons of his recent work. For me, however, none of it matters with Mahal. I just can’t get past all the awful things they did to his character over the years. Sometimes, bad booking can’t be overcome. I don’t think Mahal can do anything at this point to get me into his character. Judging by the recent ratings, he can’t get too many others into him, either. Remember the surge in Smackdown Live a few weeks ago? It’s dead, and I think a good chunk of those low ratings can be attributed to Mahal. Orton deserves some blame as well, but the champion often drives things on a wrestling show (unless he’s never around like Brock Lesnar). We’ll see what John Cena’s return on July 4 means for Mahal, but I think the easy idea of having the American Hero beat Mahal is where WWE is going with this. Mahal wins to set up a feud with Cena.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I think everyone who is still crapping on Jinder Mahal being champion is just being a wrestling elitist. Get over it already. Wrestling is all about suspending belief, so suspend your belief, and forget about the past, and see what Mahal is starting right now. Nobody can seriously tell me the Mahal promo this past Tuesday was bad, and that the Randy Orton RKO outtanowhere wasn’t impressive and surprising. Nobody. It gave this match at Money in the Bank a ton of juice. Sure, Mahal’s rise is really not believable, but this is wrestling, where nothing is believable. He’s done better with the title than Randy Orton did when he had it. That’s a fact. Plus, besides Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, which wrestler on the Smackdown roster would be a better choice as champion right now (right now!) than Mahal? Nobody. So get behind Jinder and watch him beat the hometown hero Randy Orton. If you still want to hate on Mahal, look no further than the current roster. There aren’t many alternatives. (Mahal would still be a jobber on Raw, by the way, which shows the disparity in talent between the two shows.) Now, for John Cena, Straub’s second all-time favorite wrestler, behind Roman Reigns, he does return on July 4 and it would make total sense to have him challenge and beat Mahal for the title. It makes so much sense the WWE won’t do it. They’ll probably have Cena beat Kevin Owens for the US title instead, which nobody wants to see. But that’s WWE.
United States Champion Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler and Shinsuke Nakamura (Men's Money in the Bank Ladder Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: All the elements we spoke of at the start of this preview are in place for this match. There are some great wrestlers involved, some guys who are good enough to take the big spots and serve as fodder, and a bit of unpredictability. A majority of MITB winners eventually take the title (14 of 17 previous winners), so we need to pick someone we could see eventually winning the belt. Therefore, I’m eliminating Corbin and Zayn. Sorry, neither of them are title material. Owens is busy making the US belt matter again, so let’s take him out. Dolph Ziggler has as much chance of a title reign in the near future as I do (though I’d be a phenomenal world champion), so we’re down to Styles and Nakamura. First off, I want to see these two feud for a while and see what Nakamura can do with the big boys. I think A.J.’s next big push comes closer to next year’s WrestleMania, which leaves us with Nakamura. I can’t imagine WWE will do anything but try and continue his huge push for a while, even though you’re starting to see signs of Vince getting scared. WWE even recently failed to air his vastly overrated but wildly popular entrance on TV, and the reviews of his matches have been less than stellar lately. I don’t think he has a long leash, but they’re not going to take the ball from him yet. We talked earlier about wrestlers getting the chance to shine at MITB, and “The Artist” can win back some fans this weekend.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Let’s break this down, wrestler by wrestler, as this match has the potential to be one of the best of the year, not to mention setting one up to win the WWE title:
Dolph Ziggler: Unless they want to relive the past, when Ziggler ultimately cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase against Alberto Del Rio and won the world title to one of the biggest crowd pops in recent history, he has no chance to win here. He’s actually the only one among the six competitors who I’d give zero chance of winning.
Sami Zayn: Knowing what the WWE is trying to do with the Smackdown roster, it wouldn’t surprise if Zayn won this match. He’s a popular character and could easily be someone who would pop the crowd if he cashed in on Jinder Mahal. He also has the chance to outshine everyone in this match, if he’s allowed to do what he can do, which is always a question in the WWE. But I just don’t see it happening.
Baron Corbin: Taking the same logic as the women’s Money in the Bank match, Corbin could be the perfect choice to carry the briefcase for the next six months or so, teasing cash-ins whenever possible, which will always get the crowd excited. He’s so boring right now, without much charisma, so he’s not ready to win the title now, but in six months or a year, he most likely will be. But that’s a long-term payoff the WWE might not be willing to gamble with. So, don’t be surprised if Corbin wins, but considering the damper it would put on the show, I’m going against it.
Kevin Owens: He and AJ Styles should be fighting over the WWE title in reality, but this isn’t reality, so Owens is stuck losing every week as champion to Shinsuke Nakamura, which doesn’t make much sense. Nobody cares about wins and losses anymore, but if the United States champion and No. 2 performer on the show is getting beat every week, nobody will care about the character anymore. Owens is still one of the best in all of WWE, but since he already has a title, there is no reason to give him the briefcase as well. It doesn’t make sense.
Shinsuke Nakamura: Before this Tuesday’s Smackdown I would have picked Nakamura to win, but then he climbed the ladder and unhooked the briefcase to close out the show. That means he’s not going to do the same here, as WWE would never allow that to happen. They did it to make everyone believe Nakamura has a legitimate shot to win Sunday, but everyone already knew that. This match allows Nakamura to lose without losing, which keeps his aura intact. As for his entrance that Straub is jealous of, the WWE has ruined it. I don’t know what it is, if they cut some of the music out, but Nakamura’s movements don’t flow with the music anymore. It hurts everything about Nakamura. He would have been much better on Raw, where he could be himself with the extra hour of time to work with. Just par for the course with the WWE. I’d love it for Nakamura to win this match, because his cash in would be epic, but after this past Tuesday, I don’t see WWE doing it.
AJ Styles: The Face of Smackdown has been completely lost in the shuffle recently and needs something new to refresh his character and give him some juice. Winning this match would do that. Styles deserves it, too, so no complaints there. Styles gets a massive response wherever he goes, whether heel or face, and would have the crowd completely behind him if he was cashing in against Mahal or Cena or anyone for that matter. More than anything, though, Styles needs this win to put him back in the spotlight. Smackdown was great when Styles was front and center. Since he’s been downplayed, the show has suffered. It has nothing to do with Mahal as champ, it has to do with the show having no direction at all. This would give the WWE some direction.
AJ Styles will be your Money in the Bank winner.