“To look to the future, you must first look to the past” is how WWE chose to introduce the Women’s Money in the Bank match last night. Those words were in a video package that first aired during last night’s kick off show. Touted as something “big and historic,” this match was rightly promoted as another first for the women in WWE. Also notable was that this was one of the few WWE PPVs where there would be two women’s matches on the card, as Naomi and Lana would fight over Naomi’s Smackdown title (technically containing more firsts, in that Lana was going for her first title in her first on-air singles match).
But this MITB match was different. It was historic, absolutely. But because it held so many variables, the possibilities of how the match would finish were manifold, and that outcome would dictate what was next for the Smackdown women’s division, especially as we enter the summer and start building toward SummerSlam. Smackdown has made great strides in elevating all of the women in its division—having them interact with one another not just through one and done matches, but also through backstage segments, moments on Talking Smack, and even being given the coveted opening segment of Smackdown to hash out their differences and to announce matches like this one. Because of this, I had no idea who would win, when they’d cash it in, and, until Naomi and Lana had their match, against whom. Compare that to the current state of Raw’s women’s division, which up until very recently has felt as if it couldn’t even handle having more than two or three women on-air interacting with one another at a time. This match had a special air surrounding it from the moment that it was first rumored there would be a women’s match at MITB, and it never wavered all the way up through the aforementioned video package that aired once more during the women’s entrances to the match.
WWE had the match open the show, the spot responsible for getting the crowd hot and hyped. The opening match also dictates the mood leading into the rest of the show, especially if something controversial were to happen, like, say, James Ellsworth being the one to have the “climb the ladder moment” only to drop the briefcase down to a sitting Carmella.
Now, I know you’re probably wondering why that last statement wasn’t rife with sarcasm, bitterness, and written in all caps.
Because, for as absolutely furious as I want to be at the ending of this match, I’m not. I felt a roller coaster of emotions in mere seconds, as Ellsworth unhooked that briefcase and dropped it into Carmella’s hands. My jaw literally dropped and I immediately felt that familiar red hot anger grow in the pit of my stomach, as I felt that I had been denied my historic moment, that moment where I get to cry over the number one contender, wearied and beaten, climbing the ladder to finally grab what they earned. I was in the crowd the night Becky Lynch became the first Smackdown women’s champion at Backlash last year, and the year prior when Bayley won the NXT women’s title. Both are moments that will stay with me, and I know there were plenty of people in the crowd and online that wanted to add this moment to their list. Then I saw Carmella start crying and holding that case for dear life, and all my anger melted away. While it isn’t an ideal picture of what the MITB women’s match should have been, what’s to say this won’t tell just as good a story?
For someone who on paper should be a strong and memorable character, I’ve always felt that Carmella very quickly fell to the background shortly after her debut. Despite being on Smackdown for almost a year, I didn’t think she hit her stride until James Ellsworth came along. For someone who was supposed to be part of a one and done squash match, he’s managed to make a career out of being the type of guy you simultaneously despise and maybe feel a bit sorry for, until you realize he’s totally into this whole “princess worship” thing he has going on with Carmella, and then you’re right back to despising him. Their obnoxious personalities fit together like ham and pineapple pizza. I think it’s delicious, but I will admit it’s definitely not for everyone.
To have Carmella win via means that technically weren’t against the rules has put a bullseye on her back when interacting with the remainder of the locker room. Both Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan have already acknowledged that they will tackle this issue on Smackdown on Tuesday, and Carmella is already popping up during title matches to taunt participants with a potential second match for the winner. Then you have the remainder of the participants themselves: every single participant posted their anger and disappointment on social media, reflective of how a number of fans felt after the match. There’s potential for multiple storylines just waiting in the wings. It’s obvious that Carmella is waiting for the perfect moment of weakness for the champion (whoever that may be, she has a whole year) to strike. She’s gone from a lukewarm, simply annoying heel character to what has the potential to be the finest troll job in terms of getting a title shot ever. Especially since she technically didn’t earn it.
I couldn’t begin to tell you what’s going to happen on Smackdown on Tuesday, and that is when I love wrestling the most. Wrestling is rife with complaints of predictability, and while Carmella winning the briefcase last night was absolutely a possibility, the hows were unknown. How many of Sasha and Charlotte’s matches did much more in terms of storyline beyond “I suppose we’ll have another rematch, then?” How many times was it just assumed that Charlotte wouldn’t lose because it was a PPV, and Sasha because it was Raw? Most of these matches were absolutely brilliant, but it left so much of Raw’s women division not doing anything, and the frequency in which the Raw Women’s title bounced between the two women became less historic and more of a running joke as time went on. Bayley finally made her way up to the main roster after what felt like years of waiting and was immediately placed on the sidelines and pretty much forgotten about until WWE decided to switch out Sasha for Bayley when Charlotte needed someone else to feud with. I’ve never felt this to be an issue with the Smackdown women’s division. I’ve always been excited to see what they do next, even if it’s not something I initially agree with.
That all being said, this isn’t to say you can’t be angry at how the match ended. Wrestling is supposed to inspire emotions, whatever it may be, and they will be different for everyone. But maybe try to redirect your anger from the writers, and embrace kayfabe a little—be angry at the man who stole this one moment from every other women in that match, and at the woman who doesn’t care that she didn’t really earn her title shot, especially after she was just on Smackdown rolling her eyes at Lana asking for a title match without earning it. How hypocritical is that? How DARE she.
This match was merely the prologue. What comes next will decide how the story goes.
Kate Foray is a graphic designer based in Richmond, VA. She runs the Raw Breakdown Project, a weekly examination of Monday Night RAW from a graphic design perspective. You can follow her on Twitter for more of her thoughts on wrestling, and the occasional cat photo.