There is more than a contract inside a Money in the Bank briefcase; it contains opportunity, all-but-assured triumph and a means to shift one's legacy.
To reach the coveted status of world champion, some WWE Superstars have needed an assist. Winning the Money in the Bank ladder match has served as a gateway to glory.
For some, it's helped define them as cunning jackals awaiting a fallen beast. For others, it's one more trophy on their overflowing mantel. The briefcase has been a career transformer for many, but its effect has varied based on the recipient.
The Ultimate Opportunists
Just about every man who has retrieved the coveted briefcase has then seized upon a champion at a disadvantage, but for two men in particular that object has shaped how we see them. Money in the Bank gave both Edge and CM Punk the aura of a scavenger.
Edge was the first man to win a briefcase.
It was a novel concept back then and when Edge swooped in on a bloody, drained John Cena at New Year's Revolution in 2006, he earned the nickname of the Ultimate Opportunist. It's a moniker that stuck with him for the rest of his career.
He solidified that image of him when he defeated Mr. Kennedy for his Money in the Bank briefcase and cashed in shortly after on The Undertaker.
Punk carried on that tradition in 2008 and 2009. After winning each of those years' Money in the Bank matches, Punk transformed his briefcases into the World Heavyweight Championship.
The first time around, he cashed in on Edge, the second time on Jeff Hardy who had just won the title in a vicious ladder match.
Punk and Edge's cash-ins happened early in the concept's history. It was not yet a routine that fans knew and expected. These men were the pioneers of well-timed exploitation.
The Scarcity of Opportunity
The majority of the Money in the Bank winners have been Superstars that had continually banged their head on the glass ceiling.
Bigger, stronger men claimed the top spots of the company and that precious briefcase allowed stars on the rise to knock them off. Would Daniel Bryan have ever been given a chance to carry the World Heavyweight Championship without it? Would Dolph Ziggler, The Miz or Rob Van Dam have made their way to the world title scene the traditional way?
WWE may never have booked Bryan to defeat Big Show cleanly.
The size difference and the variance in star power at the time made Bryan too much of an underdog. The Money in the Bank briefcase offered a way to level the playing field, to provide a backdoor of sorts for the smaller man to enter.
For Bryan, that world title run, regardless of how cowardly and underhanded he looked during it, was the stepping stone for him to eventually become one of the most popular guys on the roster. There would be no Cena vs. Bryan at SummerSlam without that title reign and without him winning that ladder match.
The same goes for The Miz.
Money in the Bank created an opportunity he likely wouldn't have had otherwise. Miz has since fallen hard since main eventing WrestleMania, but isn't it better to have been king even for a short while than never to have worn the crown at all?
Damien Sandow's recent Money in the Bank win awards him a golden opportunity he may never have seen otherwise. The Intellectual Savior of the Masses hadn't even received a United States or Intercontinental shot, but now holds the key to adding his name to a list of champions.
There is a slight chance, though, that Sandow joins the exclusive club of Money in the Bank's failures.
Earning the Money in the Bank briefcase is supposed to be an assurance of victory, of being able to change the name plate on the world title to one's own.
Winning the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania 23 did nothing for Mr. Kennedy's career. A separated tendon had WWE decide to have Edge snatch his briefcase from his grip. While other winners were riding their Money in the Bank matches to the high point in their career, Mr. Kennedy became a footnote.
He became the answer to the trivia question, "Who is the only Money in the Bank winner to not cash in?"
For Cena, winning the briefcase only padded his extensive resume. He'd already won a stockpile of championships so it was hard to feel pity for him when he cashed in on Punk only to fail.
He wanted to do the honorable thing and announce when he was cashing in. Honor proved more uncertain than an ambush. However, this was just a road bump for Cena as he won the WWE title from The Rock just months after his failed cash-in.
One could argue that a successful cash-in hurt Jack Swagger's career more than Cena's failure did for his.
Swagger cashed in on Chris Jericho in 2010 to become world champ. After his nearly three-month reign, Swagger's career dipped. He was soon walking to the ring with an eagle mascot and challenging for lesser titles or losing to everyone from Brodus Clay to Santino Marella.
It wasn't until he paired with Zeb Colter before Elimination Chamber 2013 that Swagger returned to the higher rungs on WWE's ladder.
In Swagger's case, he might have peaked too early. Fans weren't as invested in him as they were in many of the other winners. Winning the briefcase only represented the disparity between how much WWE believed in him as opposed to how much fans cared about him at the time.
Bestowing the Money in the Bank briefcase appears to require some good timing. For some Superstars, that victory happened too late in their careers to really affect it.
Legends Add to Their Resume
Kane had already been WWE champ before he won the Money in the Bank in 2010. Randy Orton's recent win came after he had already been the company's top guy, after his three world title reigns and six WWE title wins.
Cena is in this group as well; an already established star who checked off an item from the WWE Superstar accomplishment list.
These wins didn't define these men and they didn't bolster their careers all that much. Kane, Orton and Cena winning the Money in the Bank briefcase was like giving a kid a golden ticket who had already been to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory several times over.
If WWE continues with this tradition of all-star versions of the Money in the Bank ladder matches, this is bound to happen more often. It's a move that would dampen the power of the briefcase, having it turn from a jetpack that launches careers to more of a perk.
Handing the briefcase to the right man at the right moment can elevate a Superstar into a man who no longer needs the Money in the Bank to succeed.
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