Money in the Bank should be WWE's second consecutive can't-miss pay-per-view. Between the men's and women's ladder matches that have made this show one of WWE's most exciting and unpredictable moments of the year, and a Universal championship dream match between Seth Rollins and AJ Styles, it would have to go pretty far off the rails to be a letdown.
But the creative decisions made on Sunday night -- and in the weeks of Raw and SmackDown that follow it -- will go a long way in determining whether Money in the Bank is the night when WWE starts to right the ship, or if it's simply the eye of a growing storm of concern.
Since WrestleMania, WWE has struggled mightily to tell consistent, coherent stories. There was a Superstar Shakeup that was meant to last a week and reset the Raw and SmackDown rosters, but turned into a runaway train that still hasn't fully settled down over the past month.
Tag teams were split up with little explanation, superstars were moved multiple times between shows, names were changed (and then changed again). And then there's the new wild-card rule instituted a couple of weeks ago that allows a fixed number of Raw superstars to appear on SmackDown, and vice versa.
It was a move designed to give the TV ratings for both Raw and SmackDown a shot in the arm, with Raw's viewership numbers down to as low as 2.16 million in late April -- some of the lowest numbers in the history of the program. While the wild-card rule has seemingly helped nudge both shows in the right direction, it's seemingly a temporary fix. On every show since the idea was introduced, the "rule" that set out to limit the number of crossovers per night has been exceeded and ignored. By rendering the brand split obsolete, it'll start to make each show feel less like a unique entity and more of the same -- a dangerous precedent to set in an ecosystem in which WWE has struggled to build up enough stars because of inconsistent narratives and dramatic last-minute changes.
WrestleMania rematches and spectacle Triple Threat world title matches out of the blue are awesome in moderation, but when the stakes for those types of matches aren't built up over time, the shine comes off the rose pretty quickly. The WWE is simply not giving their audience enough of a reason to invest time and emotion in stories and characters, when everything they watched in a given week could easily be nullified seven days later.
Fan enthusiasm remains solidly behind the likes of WrestleMania 35 winners Kofi Kingston, Becky Lynch and Seth Rollins five weeks after their emotional triumphs, but they're in dangerous territory when it comes to Lynch in particular. They've gone back to the well with yet another Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair match -- the eighth one-on-one or Triple Threat match featuring both women dating back to SummerSlam 2018. Kevin Owens and Styles are fresh opponents for Kingston and Rollins, respectively, and are likely to be great matches in both instances that could lead to more of a story in the aftermath -- but both feel as though they've come to be after an abbreviated timeline.
Quite simply, there's plenty at stake -- both for the company and the storylines. Let's break down Money in the Bank match by match.
Universal championship: Seth Rollins (c) vs. AJ Styles
For all of their respective triumphs before arriving in WWE -- Rollins in Ring of Honor, and Styles in TNA and New Japan Pro Wrestling -- it's quite shocking that they've only faced off once in their careers. It was a formative match for Rollins, which was highlighted nicely on the go-home Raw Monday night. Simply put, two of the best in-ring technicians in professional wrestling today in one ring is almost impossible to screw up.
With Rollins positioned as the conquering hero following his WrestleMania win over Brock Lesnar, positioning Styles as Raw's top villain would be an inspired move. A Rollins win and Styles lashing out Sunday or Monday night would give Raw a great rivalry to build upon heading into the summer
Raw women's championship: Becky Lynch (c) vs. Lacey Evans and SmackDown women's championship: Becky Lynch (c) vs. Charlotte Flair
WWE has intertwined Lynch's pair of title rivalries, so it seems appropriate to talk about them together. As Lynch addressed Monday night during her dual contract signing, this is Flair's "millionth" shot and Evans' first, and by stacking the deck against Lynch, she's set up for one of three outcomes: tremendous triumph by winning both defenses, falling short by only retaining one of her titles or catastrophe in losing twice.
Taking the third option off the table, as Lynch going back to the role of chasing gold this soon after her ultimate triumph would be a short-sighted move to say the least, this could be an opportunity to split Lynch and Flair apart for a while, which would be a smart move after the fatigue of this matchup over the last year. Evans seems unlikely to win the Raw women's title in her first ever opportunity, which leaves two logical outcomes. In the first, Lynch would successfully defeat both of her challengers, and carry on as Becky "Two-Belts." From there, Flair and Evans teaming up and chasing the women's tag team titles would instantly boost that division, while giving Evans a veteran to lean on as she learns and giving Flair a breather from the world title picture.
Alternatively, Lynch could dispatch Evans and then fall short against Flair, providing a line of demarcation as Lynch would rule over Raw and nine-time (!) women's champion Flair would have domain over SmackDown.
WWE championship: Kofi Kingston (c) vs. Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens is the worst friend in WWE. Just ask Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, or recent victims Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston. Owens' betrayal was written in the stars the second he buddied up with the newly crowned WWE champion, but it seems the prevailing opinion was it happened a bit too soon and suddenly. Fans were surprisingly enthusiastic about Owens' fill-in role with New Day as "Big O," from his pancake eating to his crop top wearing, but alas, he was pushed over the edge.
It's hard to say how long this rivalry is meant to carry on, but Sunday's match could be a show stealer if things fall the right way. That's really saying something on a night with two ladder matches and everything else on the card.
Men's Money in the Bank ladder match: Ali vs. Andrade vs. Baron Corbin vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Finn Balor vs. Randy Orton vs. Ricochet vs. Sami Zayn
WWE has really dropped the ball with the men's Money in the Bank briefcase over the last two years. Baron Corbin frittered it away with an ill-advised attempt on Jinder Mahal, and then Braun Strowman telegraphed his shot and got bamboozled once the match happened. In its history, the briefcase has the ability to push a star to the top in the hurry, all the way back to the very first cash-in by Edge in 2006.
Among this group of eight, only two -- Finn Balor and Randy Orton -- have been world champions in WWE. With a quick cash-in an unlikely outcome, unless Sami Zayn wins and wants to avenge a loss by Kevin Owens, holding onto the briefcase like a title could really build up the gravitas of anyone else in the match, save for Corbin. After how badly they botched his first attempt, it would be incredibly ill-advised to go for Round 2. Thankfully, with how Corbin and Drew McIntyre knocked Braun Strowman out of this match on Monday, it seems likely that retribution would be in order.
McIntyre would seem the most logical winner, giving him the choice to stalk one of the two face world champions, but Andrade would be a fun dark horse possibility who could make a massive leap forward by stepping into the main event picture.
Women's Money in the Bank ladder match: Bayley vs. Carmella vs. Dana Brooke vs. Ember Moon vs. Mandy Rose vs. Naomi vs. Natalya vs. Nikki Cross
The women's Money in the Bank ladder match features a more decorated field, with four of the entrants -- Dana Brooke, Mandy Rose, Nikki Cross and Ember Moon -- not yet having tasted main roster gold. Moon is a former NXT women's champion, though, and may be an interesting outside the box option to take home the briefcase Sunday night.
Former MITB winner Carmella seems like a repeat in terms of story potential and Brooke is making a major step forward just by being in this match (though she showed off some daredevil tendencies with her leap from the ladder Monday night). The timing feels right for Bayley to step back into the main event picture, and she seems like the right candidate to receive that kind of major shot in the arm.
We only got a small taste of what Samoa Joe and Rey Mysterio could do together at WrestleMania, though that's since been rectified with a rematch on Raw. Given enough time, Joe and Mysterio are capable of delivering the same kind of magic Mysterio and Cesaro had on Monday night, albeit in a different kind of packaging. Rey's son Dominic is likely to get involved, and this story is likely to see another chapter after Money in the Bank.
The rivalry between The Miz and Shane McMahon had a pretty satisfying ending at WrestleMania 35, as Miz got revenge for the attack on his father but McMahon wriggled his way to an unearned victory. Miz moved over to Raw, got a fresh slate, and then got smacked in the face by his past as the wild-card rule muddied the waters. Miz could use a win this time around, and Shane can take the L without suffering much of a hit. Should be simple and straightforward, but will it be?
This story has overlapped with that of The Miz and Shane McMahon, thanks to Reigns' attack on Vince McMahon, but beyond this match having a little bit of potential to surprise some people in terms of quality, anything other than a clean Reigns victory would be downright shocking. WWE should consider their next move with Reigns carefully, as the glow that came with his return to action is slowly starting to fade to a more mixed reaction from some live crowds.
Tony Nese's win at WrestleMania was a feel-good moment, but 205 Live has been undeniably altered by the departures of top stars (Mustafa) Ali, Buddy Murphy and Cedric Alexander. That's not to say that the match quality has declined -- just check out the remarkable match between Akira Tozawa and Mike Kanellis from a few weeks ago -- but the cruiserweight division certainly seems to be at a crossroads. A match on the main card of Money in the Bank, which would be the first time the cruiserweight belt has been defended on a main PPV card since Survivor Series, might be just what the brand needs, and Nese and Daivari are likely to deliver a solid match no matter what they're given to work with.
In a cross-branded match in which it's not yet clear if the belts are even on the line, Daniel Bryan and Rowan face off with The Usos for the second time in less than a week. If the titles are on the line, it would be strange for Raw superstars The Usos to dethrone Bryan and Rowan so quickly, and even if they're not, what's really the endgame here?