Two weeks removed from the most poorly conceived Money in the Bank cash-in of all time, one thing is clear.
No one misses Vince McMahon more than Austin Theory.
Seventeen years of MITB (Money in the Bank) winners found the opportune moment to vie for the world championship. Win or lose, wrestlers endured a brutal ladder match for a guaranteed title shot exclusively on their terms. Well, Paul Levesque tried adding a new wrinkle to the MITB concept.
On Raw, Austin Theory cashed in the MITB briefcase for the U.S. Title instead of the World Heavyweight Title and lost. It’s a narrative stroke that has never been done before and will likely never happen again. Also, Theory cashed in during Seth Rollin’s open challenge, where he didn’t have to use the briefcase, painting him in a stupid light.
Social media was littered with staunch criticism of the creative decision to have Theory forgo the gold medal for silver. “Let it play out,” everyone said. Don’t crap on it until the whole story is told. That sentiment is equivalent to the boy who cried wolf under the Vince McMahon regime.
However, Triple H is running things now. His creative direction has injected new life into the company since he took over. The perception is he wouldn’t book something like this unless he has a brilliant master plan. Triple H has earned the benefit of the doubt. Let’s wait and see what unfolds.
The following week on Raw, Austin Theory explained his actions. The former youngest-ever MITB winner cited the immense difficulty he’s had to try to cash in on the WWE Undisputed Universal Champion Roman Reigns. Unexpected barriers consisting of The Bloodline, Tyson Fury, and Brock Lesnar thwarted Theory’s every attempt.
Between all the hurdles and Reigns being on a legendary and unstoppable run, Theory felt it couldn’t be done and went after a smaller fish that he still couldn’t beat. Theory’s reason is sound and makes logical sense…Until you realize he had eight more months before the MITB contract expired.
Even the commentary team didn’t pretend they were seeing something special and criticized Theory’s decision as it was happening.
Theory threw in the towel four months in and still lost. What did WWE do to build him back as a serious threat? Theory purposely got himself disqualified in a match against Dolph Ziggler. He decimated the veteran superstar to signal that he is no longer one to be trifled with.
But when was the last time anyone took Ziggler seriously? No please, tell me. Don’t worry. I’ll wait.
How would such a lousy storyline make it on WWE television in the Paul Levesque/Triple H era? After all, he’s been killing it since he became the head of creative. I have the answer. No booker is perfect, no matter how often they find success. However, there is one creative mistake that everyone who has ever booked a wrestling show has made.
Sometimes, when a booker is excited and gets behind an idea, they need to remember to ensure the audience is as invested in it. The idea is so ingrained in their mind that the physical machinations to turn fable into fact falls by the wayside. Levesque officially became the head of creative on 7/25.
On the 8/1 episode of Raw, a video package aired highlighting the history of the united states championship. Images of past champions, such as Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, and John Cena, along with patriotic symbolism and JBL’s passionate voiceover, pronounced the title’s legacy.
It’s a well-done video that seemingly came out of nowhere. However, it conveyed that WWE plans to elevate the mid-card championships. A welcomed announcement, which harkens back to the days of old when the mid-card titles carried prestige and augmented the title holder’s standing. Also, with Roman Reigns’ dominion over both world titles primarily on SmackDown, the U.S. Title is essentially the top championship on Monday Night Raw.
Besides a Seth Rollins promo, WWE has yet to come right out and say that. Instead, they show video packages and book a U.S. Title main event here and there, hoping fans will eventually get the hint. It’s a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ strategy designed to reprogram over ten years of Vince McMahon’s yo-yo booking of mid-card titles. One minute they meant something, and the next, they didn’t for long periods of time.
Levesque’s plan is sound; however, pushing the U.S. Title for three months is not enough time to establish its importance, which is when Austin Theory’s cash-in occurred. The confusion of an unannounced rule change and the U.S. Title’s increasing but lack of stature made what was supposed to be a shocking moment damned with faint praise. One could argue that a MITB cash-in for the U.S. Title would increase its stature, but it didn’t. Three months in, it was never going to work.
How did Levesque not know that idea was doomed before it began…Here is what happened.
As a creative, sometimes you’re so into an idea that you overestimate it. You overestimate it so much that you fall in love with it before the audience you’re booking for has a chance to catch up and love it too. Because you like the idea and are working hard to get it over with the audience, you believe it’s over when it is not yet.
Every booker has made this mistake on more than one occasion. If they deny it, they’re lying. I believe this is what occurred with the cash-in. Austin Theory was booked as a prominent part of WWE television by Vince McMahon, but not so much once Levesque took over the book.
Triple H is from a time when mid-card titles were essential to one’s career. Two runs with the Intercontinental Championship helped increase “The Game’s” stature to main event status. Triple H dethroning The Rock at SummerSlam 1998 in a ladder match for the IC Title was a defining moment of his legacy.
The U.S. Title is important to Paul Levesque; therefore, it’s automatically important, but the audience doesn’t know that. Either Levesque will learn from this and chalk it up to experience, or his ego won’t allow him to admit defeat and believe and blame the audience for simply not getting it. I’m betting on the latter since there have been more pros than cons, thus far, with the Paul Levesque era in WWE.
But yeah that was stupid.