Scarlett Harris is back, investigating how the WWE frames women’s stories in the infamous Money in the Bank match and why they need to do better.
World Wrestling Entertainment’s Money in the Bank is an annual event named for the ladder match in which a selection of wrestlers fight for a briefcase suspended above the ring containing a contract for a future WWE championship opportunity to be “cashed in” at any time over the proceeding year. The first match took place in 2005 and, up until 2017, it was exclusively a men’s wrestling match.
Carmella was the inaugural recipient of the first women’s Money in the Bank briefcase, but the way in which she won it was the perfect summation of WWE’s largely hollow and uneven “women’s evolution” that began around 2015. That match ended with Carmella’s male manager, James Ellsworth (who was accused of sending inappropriate photos to an underage girl), climbing the ladder, securing the prize, and tossing it down to her.
There was such an outrage on social media that WWE restaged the match two weeks later, with Carmella retrieving her own briefcase, leading one to wonder why that wasn’t the case (heh) in the first place.
Alexa Bliss and Bayley won and cashed in their championship matches on the same night in 2018 and 2019, respectively, while last year the match was reimagined for pandemic times and took place at WWE’s corporate headquarters. The tagline for the event was “climb the corporate ladder”; especially distasteful when scores of people were losing their jobs due to COVID-19, wrestlers notwithstanding (WWE fired a large number of staff several weeks before, despite recording a 71% increase in profits in 2020). Competitors had to fight through offices to make their way to the roof where the briefcase was located.
Asuka proved victorious, and the following night on Raw, WWE’s flagship show, current champion Becky Lynch revealed she was pregnant and stepping away from the ring, effectively handing her championship to Asuka (which contributed to the mistreatment of Asuka’s character in WWE more broadly).
These examples are indicative of WWE’s lack of foresight for women’s wrestling and proof that this year the women’s Money in the Bank win and cash in needs to be meaningful.
Of course, this is not to say that there haven’t been lackluster men’s Money in the Banks: Baron Corbin flubbed his cash in in 2017, and for a windfall that is supposed to indicate opportunity and surprise, it was disappointing when people already in the championship picture, such as John Cena and Brock Lesnar, won the match.
The men’s Money in the Bank has also been responsible for some iconic moments since its inception, such as the first holder of the briefcase Edge ambushing John Cena, and Seth Rollins cashing in during the main event of WrestleMania. Granted, despite the infuriating way Carmella came into possession of the debut Money in the Bank briefcase, she used it for the better part of a year to help establish her character as an obnoxious heel (wrestling speak for bad guy—or girl). She continued to tout her accomplishment long after cashing it in on Charlotte Flair the night after WrestleMania—prime real estate for wrestling storylines, solidifying herself as a main player in the women’s division. This is exactly what Money in the Bank is supposed to do: elevate a wrestler to star status, thereby adding even more value to the briefcase and what it will mean for future custodians of it.
But when the men’s Money in the Bank has a fifteen-year-plus history, there’s room for taking risks that don’t pay off. For every uninspired decision, there’s at least three cash-ins that people still talk about with reverence today. In comparison, the fact that all of the women’s Money in the Banks have been questionable and/or ill-thought-out really goes to show the esteem with which WWE holds its women wrestlers: about as high as Carmella halfway up the ladder getting thrown
a bone the Money in the Bank briefcase.
I would have thought that the inevitable women’s Money in the Bank winner this year would be Australian Billie Kay, as her story of trying to find herself and her place in WWE after splitting up with her tag team partner, fellow Aussie and real life best friend Peyton Royce, made her the little engine that could, but alas she, along with Royce, was inexplicably fired earlier this year.
Whoever it is, WWE needs to put some serious thought into, and oomph behind the 2021 women’s Money in the Bank winner and begin to build more meaning into these matches for women wrestlers to keep building their legacies.
Scarlett Harris is a Melbourne author and culture critic. You can find her work at her website, The Scarlett Woman, follow her on Twitter @ScarlettEHarris and read her book, A Diva Was a Female Version of a Wrestler: An Abbreviated Herstory of World Wrestling Entertainment.