The Money in the Bank ladder match, since its inception in 2005, has been one of the grandest and most death-defying spectacles in all of professional wrestling.
Once one of the yearly highlights of WrestleMania, it eventually outgrew the biggest show of the year and became the staple of its own yearly pay-per-view. Most of these matches, even some of the less-remembered ones, have changed the way specialty matches are perceived. Sunday's edition of this pay-per-view will break down one further barrier in its long history of pushing the envelope -- the first ever women's Money in the Bank match, featuring Natalya, Becky Lynch. Charlotte Flair, Carmella and Tamina Snuka.
"The Money in the Bank ladder match is going to be insane, because it is a first for us," said Natalya, in a recent interview with ESPN.com. "But we're not just girls going in there and fighting with each other. We're superstars in the WWE. Our company is treating us just like they're treating the guys."
It's indeed been a historic couple of years for the women of WWE, with a lot of firsts and long-time-coming moments. There were women's division Raw and SmackDown main events. The first women's Hell in a Cell, and the first pay-per-view main event. While some have bristled at certain moments, claiming that it's too much too fast -- and falling almost entirely on deaf ears -- there's little use in denying the women of the SmackDown roster have earned the opportunity to try to do something new and completely different.
"It's funny that you mention how special the SmackDown women's division is, because we are all feeling it," said Natalya. "It's not just the audience, the WWE universe that's noticing it. We notice it too."
Since the brand separation almost a year ago, there's been some friendly competition between Raw and SmackDown. Each show has had their own approach on how to best showcase their women's divisions: Raw chose to highlight Flair and Sasha Banks, two anchors of the quartet that came up together in NXT under the moniker of "The Four Horsewomen." They broke down a lot of barriers during their lengthy rivalry and, along with Lynch, had a match at WrestleMania 32 that still stands as the unofficial moment that kicked off the women's evolution.
SmackDown, on the other hand, chose to highlight all of the women in their division and have first-time champions like Lynch, Alexa Bliss and Naomi rise to the occasion. While it was a slower process, the long-term benefits to giving each woman a chance to shine has proved to be the more effective strategy, of late, as the women of SmackDown face their biggest challenge to date on Sunday.
"I am very, very loyal and maybe I'm a little territorial, in making sure that SmackDown Live has the best women's division in the WWE," said Natalya. "I think that that's the attitude that all the girls need to have pertaining to their particular brands. If you're on Raw, you want to make sure that you are in the best division in the company.
"I feel like this division, from the very beginning when we went to the brand split and we got our own championship, I feel like we were like the little engine that could. We were the underdogs and everybody rallies for the underdog."
The rivalry largely stands as a bit of individual motivation, however, because at the end of the day, they're all working for the same company and seeking the same goals.
"I have nothing against the Raw women's division," Natalya continued. "I'm proud of them, too. I mean, Charlotte and Sasha Banks made history in the first ever Hell in a Cell match. We all sat there on the edge of our seats.
"But what I love about SmackDown Live is that every single girl means something. It doesn't feel, when you watch a match, like, 'Oh, we definitely know she's going to win.' There's this level of unpredictability, and I think that in the Money in the Bank match, you're going to see that level of unpredictability."
That unpredictability covers almost every element in Sunday's match. There will be a briefcase, and someone will grab it to win the match, but everything else feels like it's up in the air. As the women's revolution in WWE has progressed, the high spots and risks the women are just as dangerous and spectacular as those the men are taking, but the Money in the Bank ladder match takes things to an entirely different level.
So what direction does this match head in? With more than a decade of Money in the Bank ladder matches in the archives on the WWE network, to say nothing of the many other ladder matches, there's plenty of research waiting around to be mined.
And as for Natalya, she's got some secret weapons to tap into as she prepares for one of the biggest moments of her career.
"My husband [Tyson Kidd] was part of the 2012 Money in the Bank ladder match, so I've been picking his brain," said Natalya. "I'm very close friends with Christian and Edge. I've been picking their brains about how to make this match special. So I've brought every resource [I have], every tool in the box."
The opportunity that this match provides is undeniable, but it comes with certain dangers and a pressure to perform. On the night that the women's Money in the Bank match was announced, the five participants broke down into a violent chaos that showed two things -- they're all ready to take the necessary risks, and they're ready to steal the show on Sunday.
- WWE (@WWE) June 1, 2017
"All of us are relentless. I mean, I went through a table," said Natalya. "It's funny. When I got backstage, Mike Chioda, the referee that was out there with us, he asked, 'Nattie, are you okay?' And I'll tell you, my fingers were numb, I have a humongous bruise on the side of my left arm, I have a bruise on my back. My wrestling gear was cut up and ripped open in the back.
"I looked at Mike Chioda, who's been a veteran of our business for, I think, close to 30 years, and I said, 'You know what, Mike? I'm unbreakable. You can't break me.' And that's the attitude that we all have going into this Money in the Bank ladder match, is that we're making history. We're also proving that we can hang with the guys. We might even exceed what the guys are doing in their ladder match."
No matter how the first ever women's Money in the Bank ladder match plays out, and who walks out the winner, simply stepping into that ring proves a lot about the mettle of all five participants. It's the same thing that the six men vying for their version of the Money in the Bank briefcase will be out there to show -- innovation, realism and, above all else, entertainment.
The presentation and participants might look a little different, but many of the biggest moments in wrestling history are built upon taking an existing idea, tweaking it, and making into something fresh that fans will love. It's what the women of SmackDown are after, and it seems like they'll stop at nothing to get the job done.
"Granted, some of us are smaller in stature -- we're not built like Braun Strowman," said Natalya, "But that doesn't mean that we can't take a licking and keep on ticking."