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ROBERTS'S IN-PERSON MITB PPV REVIEW: Cena-Punk showed "less is more" on ladder-themed PPV

Jul 18, 2011 - 11:28:12 AM
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Less is More: Observations from WWE’s 2011 Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View
By Alex Roberts, PWTorch Review Specialist


One phrase kept coming to mind as I exited Chicago’s Allstate Arena after WWE’s excellent Money in the Bank event: “Less is More.” At an event named after and advertised around high-risk, eight-man ladder matcesh, the truth of this phrase reverberated as loudly as the non-stop dueling chants of “Let’s Go Cena!” and “Cena Sucks!” throughout the night’s main event.

Sunday’s two ladder matches were exciting, high-flying, dangerous spectacles - and when it’s all said and done, they will probably blend together in the minds of most viewers with about a dozen other exciting, high-flying, dangerous spectacles seen in the pro wrestling world this year. Meanwhile, two terrific title matches - one of which is no doubt the top contender for Match Of The Year - relied on the basics of in-ring psychology and storytelling to create moments far more memorable and perhaps (only time can tell) even legendary.

As a member of the live crowd, both Money in the Bank ladder matches appeared to have about an equal proportion of legitimate injuries and authentic crowd response. Sin Cara’s write-off via Sheamus’s powerbomb set much of the crowd on edge for the remainder of the match's big dives, while Miz’s apparent knee injury made it hard to sit easy when other wrestlers came crashing to the mat. If either of these injuries were worked as part of the match’s story, it didn’t come across like that at all in the arena.

Moreover, both these matches - and the apparent injuries in each - exemplified what WWE’s themed Pay-Per-Views seem more and more to represent - that is, higher and higher risks being taking for smaller and smaller returns. Among what felt like a few dozen ringside dives and plunges off ladders, only a few seemed to be accompanied by anything but a small smattering of applause. Every wrestler in each of the MITB matches worked hard and took plenty of painful-looking bumps, often without a corresponding crowd reaction. It is telling that of these spots, those that got the best reactions had a familiar element the crowd recognized, such as Justin Gabriel’s great 450 splash off the folded ladder on the top ropes, or Evan Bourne hitting his trademark Air Bourne off the rungs of a ringside ladder. Both were spectacular, yes, but also were innovative takes on moves fans already enjoy.

Something similar could be said for the success of Randy Orton and Christian’s World Heavyweight Title match. The hardcore Chicago crowd became contrarian from the start, even going so far as starting an “Over-Rated” chant for Orton. As the match progressed, though, the crowd was won over - by Christian and his hell cowardice, and by Orton and his “Apex Predator” ring psychology that seemed to evolve throughout. By the end, one simple gesture - Christian spitting into The Viper’s face - garnered a stronger reaction than any number of career-threatening ringside drops, while Orton’s post-match beat down was met with deafening ovation.

Speaking of deafening ovation, that brings us to Sunday’s main event. John Cena and C.M. Punk put together a match that may well come to stand alongside instantly recognizable pairings like Taker-Michaels, Hart-Austin, and Steamboat-Savage. It was, quite frankly, the most amazing match I have had the chance to witness live, and with a crowd that made it even more memorable.

The triumphs of Cena-Punk were all triumphs of storytelling and psychology. Jim Ross called it “old school” in the best sense of the term, and it was. Every move mattered - normal rest holds were met with enthusiastic cheers or boos, and every offensive maneuver was treated as the event that could end the match. Even a match-ending run-in bypassed the expected convoluted machinations and played perfectly to the narrative at hand. Through it, Cena became even more of the clean-cut babyface demanding to play fair, even to his detriment. Meanwhile, Punk, in grabbing the title and escaping through the crowd into the Chicago night, became even more of a wild card whose next move people can’t wait to see. Swept up in the raw emotion in the building, I’m not afraid to admit I had tears in my eyes as the Allstate Arena celebrated the victory of the hometown hero. It was very nearly a perfect wrestling moment.

The recent, abrupt retirement of Adam “Edge” Copeland has raised questions about the possible long-term dangers of the types of ladder-based matches that he helped innovate. It has been argued that the level of risk involved in some of these matches has been raised so high that promotions cannot simply do away with these high-risk matches without doing damage to business. Money in the Bank, in my eyes, stood as a direct refutation to such a claim. On a card supposedly highlighted by two matches of ladders and mayhem, it was the simple story of two men fighting to earn the claim as “The Best Wrestler in the World” (as the back of Punk’s Chicago flag-inspired shirt sold in the arena stated) that captured the imagination of everyone watching. A series of high-risk leaps and falls - several of which appeared inches away from ending in injury - resulted in a few polite rounds of applause; two men exchanging simple suplexes and submissions in the middle of a ring left an entire city on its feet and breathless. In professional wresting, less really can be More.

Question? Comments? Send me a tweet at twitter.com/roqnrollmartian!


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