All Elite Wrestling and WWE fans have a few things to look forward to over the next month. On the “fed” end of things, they are preparing for the 14th annual (wow, there have been 14 of these?!) Money in the Bank pay-per-view (or premium live event).
For AEW, the second Forbidden Door inter-promotional event will happen later this month, but before getting there, the company will debut a new weekly show, Collision, that’s headlined by the return of CM Punk.
So, with those happenings on the horizon, it seemed like a good time to look back at the supercard that represented the peak of Punk’s time with WWE: Money in the Bank 2011. Of course, everyone knows that the 5-star WWE Championship match between Punk and John Cena main-evented the show, but the PPV featured plenty of other gems (and a few aggravating moments).
With that in mind, let’s re-examine what went right and wrong at Money in the Bank 2011.
Right: Daniel Bryan wins the SmackDown Money in the Bank ladder match
Despite Daniel Bryan’s immense talent, WWE never saw him as a tippy-top main-event star, but even the healthy career he enjoyed there seemed improbable when he initially signed there in 2009.
It didn’t help that lead Michael Cole buried him every chance he got (using him as a springboard for his ill-conceived heel turn) and the counterproductive “underdog” booking WWE saddled him with further complicated his early years, but the fans remained supportive of the former Ring of Honor World Champion.
When WWE put him in the SmackDown Money in the Bank ladder match in 2011, fans hoped that his popularity would lead to him winning the briefcase, and after kicking Wade Barrett off the ladder, that’s what happened.
WWE made the right choice opening the PPV with this match, as the high-octane action set a good tone for the show, as did Bryan winning. Sure, he’d endure the “MITB winner loses all the time” trope before cashing in, but that doesn’t detract from the moment.
Wrong: Treatment of the women’s division
WWE still makes plenty of mistakes with its women’s division, but it’s easy to forget how bleak things looked even in 2011. Still being used as the “buffer match” on PPVs, the company asked then-Divas Champion Kelly Kelly and Brie Bella to follow the exciting opener.
That’s a tough task for even the most seasoned ring generals, and even the most ardent fans of Bella and Kelly wouldn’t put either in that category.
The culmination of a storyline built around the Bellas teasing Kelly for being “too skinny” — this was less than TWO YEARS after the “Piggy James” nonsense, by the way — champ and challenger traded sloppy, unconvincing offense for several minutes before Kelly scored the clean pin to apathy from Chicago crowd.
Women’s wrestling in North America still has a long way to go in the march to equity, but after seeing a bad match that was built up with a disgraceful body-shaming angle, it’s a reminder of how far things have come.
Right: The “Hall of Pain’s” grand opening
Even though they worked hard, Big Show and Mark Henry’s match at Money in the Bank won’t appear on too many “best matches ever” lists (The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer gave the match *1/4 and yours truly gave it *1/2), but it served its purpose.
Henry, who was in the midst of a monster push, scored the dominant win over “The World’s Largest Athlete” and punctuated his triumph by Pillmanizing Show’s leg with a chair after the match. This kickstarted Henry’s “Hall of Pain” run, which led to him winning the World Heavyweight Championship a few months later.
Wrong: Alberto Del Rio wins the Raw Money in the Bank ladder match
This is more of a hindsight critique given what we know now about Alberto Del Rio. At the time, WWE hoped to cement him as the company’s next Latin superstar. It started with him winning the 40-man Royal Rumble in 2011 and continued with him snagging the briefcase in a ladder match that didn’t reach the quality of the SmackDown counterpart, but still entertained the audience.
Del Rio would later use that briefcase to help screw up the Summer of Punk and would later get exposed as the one-note act he was (e.g. when Punk brought up how often Del Rio ranted about his “destiny”). To be fair, there weren’t many other great choices in this match, and Del Rio made a lot of sense at the time given how the company pushed him, but re-watching his ascent doesn’t bring forth good feelings.
Right (and a little wrong): Christian wins the World Heavyweight Championship via DQ
Match number four between then-World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton and Christian carried a special stipulation: If Orton got disqualified, Christian would win the world title. As seen at Over the Limit 2011 and Capitol Punishment, these two had great in-ring chemistry, and that was on display during this match.
Christian and Orton mixed in clever callbacks to previous matches while forwarding the story of “Captain Charisma” poking at the short-tempered Orton to force a DQ. It seemed like it wouldn’t matter, though, as Orton had the match won…until Christian spat in the champion’s face. From there, Orton lost it, kicking his rival below the belt to get DQed, awarding the title to Christian.
Normally, these finishes suck, but this played into the story perfectly. Winning the title on a technicality fit Christian’s wormy character and he looked smart for goading Orton into giving him the result that he wanted.
Of course, Orton beating the stuffing out of Christian after the match made the new champ look like a chump and things didn’t get better for Christian at SummerSlam 2011, but a title win is a title win, especially when it comes after a good match.
Right: CM Punk wins the WWE Championship
Never mind the match, watching Punk walk to the ring will help you understand why so many fans revere this show. He would’ve received a hero’s welcome in his hometown no matter what, but the reaction he received in Chicago is usually reserved for the Cubs winning the World Series or Michael Jordan returning to play one more game with the Bulls.
The palpable crowd heat for Punk and Cena (who got heavily booed, as expected) took a great match between two future Hall of Famers and elevated it to all-timer status. They reacted to every counter, big spot, and nearfall, with Cena and Punk playing off of that passion to maximize the drama during the match’s climax. Heck, even the thousandth rehash of the Montréal Screwjob enhanced the story (and made sense within the context of the storyline and the match).
We know that WWE messed this up in the proceeding months but in that moment, Punk winning the WWE Championship and leaving the company (for a week) was the perfect ending to a great chapter of an ultimately flawed tale.