St. Louis is known historically as a mecca for wrestling. Fans there are knowledgable and passionate about professional wrestling in a way matched by fans in few other locations around the globe. From watching Lou Thesz for an hour in the sweltering Kiel Auditorium, to tuning in on Sunday mornings on Channel 11 to see “Handsome” Harley Race defend the Missouri State Heavyweight Title on “Wrestling at the Chase”, all the way up to the 1000th episode of Monday Night Raw, some of wrestling’s greatest moments have taken place in the Gateway City. In fact, the very first PPV I attended was WWF No Mercy 2001 in St Louis, where we were treated to the first-ever Lingerie Pillow Fight, contested between Stacy Kiebler and Torrie Wilson (the main event featured Kurt Angle vs Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Rob Van Dam) where there was little wrestling but was memorable nonetheless…
I was excited to hear that my cousin, a huge wrestling fan who caught the wrestling bug from our grandfather just the same as I did, was going to be attending his first PPV at Money in the Bank 2017. When the card was unveiled, I envied him for scoring tickets to what appeared to be a potentially awesome event. From the stacked Money in the Bank men’s match and the continuation of the interesting/perplexing Randy Orton/Jinder Mahal story, to the historic women’s Money in the Bank match, conditions were right for another legendary night in St Lou.
What the WWE Universe was treated to instead was an utter mess and almost borderline insulting, causing me to not only feel bad for those like my cousin who paid to see the event live, but also call into question my own support for the WWE. The source of my gripe comes from the finish of the very first match.
The show was kicked off by the ladies and their historic contest. For the WWE to have enough competent women’s talent to book a Money in the Bank ladder match is truly a high-water mark for a division that as recently as 5 years ago was stocked with silicone filled fashion models who were in the wrestling industry for “the exposure” more than any other reason. The WWE produced gritty promo packages for the match, highlighting each competitor’s desire to be the first winner. Both WWE and the performers did a great job selling the match as a significant moment for women’s wrestling and the women’s revolution.
The competitors did their part. The WWE couldn’t have picked a better group of ladies to stage this match for the Smackdown brand. While traditional MitB matches feature 6 wrestlers, there were only 5 ladies in the match. These ladies produced good action amongst the expected chaotic violence that comes along with the rigors of a ladder match and should be proud of their efforts.
And then the finish happened.
The very match that was supposed provide a historic moment which would help to further legitimize the women’s division as more than a sideshow culminated not in a moment that resembled one described by wrestlers in the promos used to hype the event, but with one all too familiar: James Ellsworth, a man, unhooked the briefcase from the clasp.
Though the bell didn’t ring until Ellsworth tossed the briefcase down to Carmella, the fact that the WWE ended the first ever women’s MitB match with a man climbing the ladder and claiming the case created a moment that not only ceremonially ended the match but metaphorically pissed on the history made during it.
I’m not a wrestling insider. I’m just a fan and just that I’ve thought through to this point probably gets me firmly tossed in the “mark” category. I don’t think I’m far off the overall tenor of the WWE Universe’s feelings, and maybe not too far removed from how the very competitors in the match felt in regards to the finish. But this is another example of a situation where the WWE creative team, a team headed by Stephanie McMahon herself, clumsily and stupidly booked a finish to a women’s match by having a man be the decisive factor in the outcome. This finish felt very much like the finish to the Becky Lynch/Charlotte Royal Rumble match from 2016, where Charlotte retained the Women’s Championship after Charlotte’s nearly septuagenarian father, Ric Flair, laid an unwanted kiss on Becky.
Truthfully, I don’t care that Ellsworth interfered in the match and dumped Becky Lynch off the ladder. From a storyline perspective, it absolutely makes sense, as Becky and Ellsworth have a history of verbal jousting and physical altercations. To not have Ellsworth attempt to deter Becky from winning the match would be a missed opportunity to further that animosity. With Lynch taken out, Ellsworth could have then picked up Carmella, helped her climb the ladder, and Carmella could have been the one to claim victory. Ellsworth’s impact on the finish should have started and ended there, not with him climbing the ladder and retrieving the briefcase himself. By ending the match the way it actually unfolded, WWE instead created a sense of “well, a man had to come in and climb that big, old ladder because the little girls couldn’t do it themselves.” undermining the historic nature of the match and doing a disservice to the efforts of the women involved.
If the WWE wants to truly place the women’s division on equal footing with the men’s, the creative team must avoid these self-inflicted wounds when booking matches. What may have seemed to be an ok finish in the past might ultimately undo what progress has been made to establish female matches as just as important to fans as the men’s matches. These unforced errors that result from ham-handed writing may stall growth and keep future talent from joining the WWE Women’s division, and that is very far from what is best for business.
Thanks for reading!