On a Money in the Bank pay-per-view that overdelivered, Edge and Roman Reigns did that and more for over 30 minutes. The energy was high, the crowd was plugged in and both men could have convincingly walked out of Fort Worth, Texas with the Universal championship in hand.
But with Seth Rollins' interference on two occasions, Edge's fate was set. Reigns emerged from the main event of Money in the Bank with his title intact, and Edge and Rollins brawled to the back of Dickies Arena, both feeling the other had cost them the title. Reigns got on the mic, stating definitively that the whole world could now acknowledge him.
Then a very familiar series of horn notes blared through the arena's PA. John Cena emerged to perhaps his loudest and most positive reaction to date, bounced back and forth between the ropes and then stared Reigns down. With a single "You can't see me" hand gesture, a SummerSlam main event was seemingly cemented before the Money in the Bank broadcast had even faded to black.
🎺🎺🎺 🎺@JohnCena is BACK!!! 🤯 #MITB pic.twitter.com/QsXF8OxDr2— WWE (@WWE) July 19, 2021
It was a landscape shifting night on several fronts. Nikki A.S.H earned a shock Money in the Bank win on the women's side, and Big E claimed the men's Money in the Bank briefcase. Charlotte Flair returned to her perch as Raw women's champion and new SmackDown tag team champions were crowned as well.
But for as quickly as Cena's return will overshadow the rest of the night, and the main event in particular, the match between Reigns and Edge deserves considerable praise.
As the bell rang, they simply stared each other down, slowly circling. "Let's go Roman" and "let's go Edge" dueling chants rang throughout the building. Each man sought to gain the mental advantage rather than the physical advantage early on as they shoved each other in the face.
But once Edge sent Reigns shoulder-first into the post, it was on. They traded punches. Edge kicked Reigns out of the ring. Reigns hit a Samoan drop on the outside and then, as Edge struggled to get back into the ring, Reigns took total control. He wore Edge down and then, in the middle of the ring with a sleeper locked in, Edge buckled down and broke the grip. Reigns locked it right back in. Edge fought his way back up with body shots and bounced off the ropes before Reigns connected with an uppercut to the jaw, with Edge barely moving, draped over bottom rope. Reigns connected with a Drive-By kick.
Both of them had the crowd in their hands. Edge fought his way back, dodging a Superman punch and connecting with an Edge-O-Matic slam, both getting two-counts. An Edgecution DDT similarly gained Edge a two-count.
When Edge locked a Crossface on Reigns and Reigns finally got to the bottom rope, referee Charles Robinson had to pry Edge off -- and that wasn't the last time Robinson would loom large.
As Edge charged forward for a spear, Reigns locked in a standing guillotine. Edge drove Reigns into the corner, but Reigns locked it back in. Edge started fading, but as he dropped to his knees, he desperately sent himself and Reigns tumbling through the middle rope.
Reigns went for the spear through the barricade, but missed and crashed through alone. Edge then successfully speared Reigns through a different wall, slung Reigns over his shoulders, tossed him back into the ring and covered him. Another two-count.
Reigns scrambled his way out of a tie-up with an uppercut and Superman punch, but on the punch Edge stumbled into the referee, taking Robinson out.
Reigns stomped a brace out of a folding chair, looking to return the favor for what Edge had done to him at WrestleMania and repeated to his cousins, the Usos, a crossface with the brace across the mouth.
But Edge blocked it, headbutted Reigns repeatedly and then got Reigns with the crossface and the brace in his mouth again. The Usos stalked towards the ring, but their opponents from earlier in the night, the Mysterios, were right behind them. They fought and chased the Usos to the back, and it was left to Edge and Reigns, seemingly alone.
But then Rollins, aggrieved with Edge for "stealing" his opportunity, kicked Edge in the neck and finally broke the hold. Edge cut off Reigns' spear with a successful spear attempt of his own. A new ref charged to the ring, but Reigns kicked out at the absolute last moment.
Rollins came back once more and though Edge was able to kick him off the apron, Reigns speared Edge and then pinned him to retain his title.
Rollins attacked Edge post-match and got in Reigns' face, screaming he would be next.
Edge got back up, brawled Rollins to the back and then Reigns had his moment to gloat. But as soon as he dropped the microphone from his lips, Cena's music hit.
What's next: Reigns vs. Cena and Edge vs. Rollins at SummerSlam. Outside of a non-match against "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 36 last year, Cena hasn't been involved in an actual match since January 2019. This year alone, Cena has starred in a Fast and Furious franchise movie, and he'll feature prominently in the upcoming DC comic book movie The Suicide Squad, which happens to have a release date of Aug. 6, just a few weeks before SummerSlam. To say this match is an attraction with off-the-charts mainstream appeal would be an understatement.
Edge vs. Rollins has the chance to be a show-stealer, and the intermingled build-up to these two matches on SmackDown in the coming weeks should be spectacular.
Men's Money in the Bank ladder match: Big E def. Drew McIntyre, John Morrison, Kevin Owens, Matt Riddle, Ricochet, Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura
Big E's career in the WWE has certainly had its high points. He's had singles success as NXT champion and Intercontinental champion. He was an integral part of making The New Day, the most popular act in professional wrestling.
But the one thing that's been lacking, at least since he has been a part of the Raw or SmackDown rosters, was that final boost to the top tier. And at Money in the Bank, by grabbing the briefcase that earned him a future world title shot at the moment of his choosing, Big E finally has that moment within his reach.
The match itself was absolutely incredible. It started with Matt Riddle and Ricochet doing all kinds of acrobatics, taking out Seth Rollins and John Morrison, respectively, with flips to the outside of the ring, and it rarely slowed down.
Morrison jumped off the top turnbuckle, leapfrogged a ladder for leverage and spun himself into Shinsuke Nakamura. Morrison and Rollins teamed up for a considerable stretch, crushing Nakamura and then Riddle with a ladder. Morrison did a backflip to drive Riddle head-first into a ladder on the ground.
The team-up was seemingly over once Owens backflipped off the second rope into a ladder held by both Rollins and Morrison, but they recovered quickly and hit a double team Falcon Arrow to Owens that sent him spine-first into the blunt side of a ladder.
Rollins made the first climb for the briefcase, but was stopped by Ricochet and Big E.
Nakamura and Riddle kicked each other in the head simultaneously, setting both of them up for a double Claymore from Drew McIntyre. Then it was a Future Shock DDT to Big E and a reverse Alabama slam to Ricochet, face-first onto a bridged ladder. McIntyre went into a running flip over the top rope to the outside onto all of his competitors.
And then, once back in the ring, McIntyre hit another Claymore to Rollins. As the only one left in the ring, McIntyre climbed the ladder until Jinder Mahal's pair of lackeys inserted themselves into the match to attack McIntyre as retribution for damage done in recent weeks. Mahal had a chair waiting for McIntyre once he was outside the ring, and McIntyre was neutralized. It was anyone's match once again.
In a moment that will be played on WWE highlight reels from now until forever, Ricochet came off the top of a falling ladder, landed nimbly on the top rope, bounced to a seemingly impossible height and flipped onto everyone standing on the outside.
THE HEIGHT. 😱😱😱😱😱#MITB @KingRicochet pic.twitter.com/sKosol0nUN— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) July 19, 2021
Somehow, the pace quickened even more in the final moments. Riddle connected with multiple RKOs in tribute to his absent tag team partner Randy Orton, only to get caught by a Rollins stomp. Nakamura hit a GTS on Rollins. Morrison brought his drip stick water gun and squirted Nakamura in the face.
Owens hit stunners first on Morrison and then Nakamura. Ricochet avoided a stunner of his own, only to land himself directly in a pop-up powerbomb. Owens climbed the ladder but Rollins caught him, attacked his leg and then gathered him up into a powerbomb position. Rollins then dropped Owens over the top rope and back-first onto a ladder bridged between the ring apron and the commentary table.
Rollins climbed, but Big E stopped him midway up. Big E gathered Rollins for his finishing move, the Big Ending, and connected on an elevated version of the move to great effect. With no one left to stop him, Big E grabbed the briefcase down and won the match.
What's next: Big E could easily aim for Roman Reigns or Bobby Lashley, or hold onto the briefcase for however long he likes. He's had exactly zero world title shots since his main roster debut in April 2013. He'll make this one count.
Women's Money in the Bank ladder match: Nikki A.S.H. def Alexa Bliss, Asuka, Liv Morgan, Naomi, Natalya, Zelina Vega and Tamina
Since she started in the WWE five years ago, Nikki Cross has often been overlooked despite consistently impressive in-ring performances.
She was seemingly sidelined into a comic relief superhero character as "Nikki A.S.H." (Almost a Superhero) in recent weeks, but embraced the silliness. Now she's Ms. Money in the Bank.
Cross took advantage of the chaos of six other competitors fighting atop three ladders, climbed over them and snatched the briefcase before anyone else could realize what had happened.
The highlight reel packages for the Money in the Bank and title wins for Bliss and Asuka, and the SmackDown women's title victory of Naomi, was a great way to set the stakes and label the clear favorites in the match. It also took the spotlight off of the other five competitors and made the surprise ending all the more impactful.
The match was seemingly framed around Bliss from the start. She stood motionless -- and emotionless -- on top of the second rope as everyone else entered the match. As the rest of the competitors in the match scrambled outside to grab ladders, Bliss skipped around the ring, paused directly underneath it and motioned her hand upwards, as if to summon it to herself. But that was quickly forgotten as Asuka attacked her.
Liv Morgan made the first move towards the ladder as Tamina and Zelina Vega briefly held it, unfolded and aloft, until they realized what happened and let the ladder (and Morgan) fall.
Bliss seemingly utilized her spooky powers as Vega climbed a ladder and reached for the briefcase. Bliss climbed the other side, did mirrored hand movements and led Vega down the ladder without touching her. That spell was broken when Natalya powerbombed Bliss into the side of the ladder and then to the ground.
Naomi continued on that theme as she powerbombed Morgan into Vega, who was laid over a flat ladder sitting on the middle rope.
As Natalya climbed to the top of a ladder in the middle of the ring, Vega locked in a sleeper hold at the top of the ladder and then reached up, but could only get her fingertips on the briefcase. Morgan broke up the effort, and the ladder slowly tilted towards the ground.
It erupted into chaos in the middle of the ring. And Cross, who climbed a ladder on the outside, flew over the top rope and onto the other seven competitors.
UP, UP AND AWAYYYYYYYYY!#MITB #NikkiASH @NikkiCrossWWE pic.twitter.com/FNhtOqh796— WWE (@WWE) July 19, 2021
Bliss locked in a Sister Abigail set-up for her DDT on Cross, but Natalya and Tamina, collectively the women's tag team champions, worked together to stop Bliss and then took her out of commission with ladder shots. They then buried Bliss under a pile of ladders, and the rest of the participants joined in and built the pile higher.
Morgan tried to take advantage of the chaos. Tamina interrupted, then Morgan did a spinning head scissors to Tamina. Morgan hit a suspended Flatliner on Asuka to put her alone in the ring once more, but by the time she realized it, she and Naomi climbed the middle ladder.
Tamina and Asuka climbed a second ladder off to one side. Natalya and Vega scaled a ladder on the other side. Cross joined the middle ladder in the midst of it all, climbed over Morgan to the top and then unlatched the briefcase, becoming Ms. Money in the Bank.
What's next: The women's Money in the Bank briefcase has been cashed in quickly on a number of occasions, and a surprise win like this would seemingly carry more benefit if Cross continued to build tension over a long stretch. She might get more serious. She might get even sillier. But it will undoubtedly be a more compelling story than it would have been had any of the favorites won the match.
Raw women's championship: Charlotte Flair def. Rhea Ripley (c)
Sometimes, wrestlers have to work to get a crowd behind them, and there couldn't have been a much steeper hill to climb than the one Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley faced at the outset of their Raw women's championship match.
As Flair and Ripley circled one another, attempting to build tension, the crowd broke out into "We want Becky!" chants, referring to Becky Lynch. Whether it was rumors of Lynch as a late replacement for the women's Money in the Bank ladder match or photos she posted on social media outside the arena a few hours before the show, the crowd in Fort Worth made it clear that they had little interest in what was going on in the ring.
In response, Flair did a couple loops around the ring with her middle finger held high towards the audience. And then she and Ripley went out and put on one of the best women's matches of 2021 thus far.
Flair's show of defiance seemingly stunned the crowd, though there were a few more instances of short chants for Lynch breaking out. But the massive chip on their shoulders seemingly fueled Ripley and Flair to the kind of performance they should've been having for the entirety of what's been an inconsistent, at best, rivalry.
The first moment of real peril was Flair locking Ripley in a Boston crab. A scramble ensued as a Figure Four attempt was rolled through by Ripley but fed Ripley directly into a big boot by Flair.
Ripley used some acrobatics to maneuver Flair into an dazzling deadlift vertical suplex, but she didn't hold that advantage for long.
As the crowd completed their 180 flip on this match, digging into dueling, "Let's go Rhea, Let's go Charlotte," chants, Flair connected flush with her signature moonsault off the top to the outside. Then, as Ripley seemingly set herself up for the Riptide and a win, Flair turned it over into a DDT. Flair tried to pin Ripley with her feet on the ropes, but got caught off by the ref.
Flair connected on a Natural Selection coming out of the corner, but Ripley kicked out just before the three-count. Flair locked in a Figure Four for the second time, but Ripley fought her way out again.
Undeterred, Flair brought the action to the outside, determined to end the match. She sent Ripley's skull first into the ringpost, then trapped Ripley's knee between the stairs and the post and smashed the stairs with three kicks.
That set up a Figure Eight in the middle of the ring. Ripley tapped, and Flair became a 12-time world champion.
What's next: This was a chance to "make" Rhea Ripley, and for whatever reason, WWE went in a different direction by putting the title back on Flair. Ripley might mount one more challenge, but it seems unlikely for her to regain the title any time soon. And as good as this match was, the type of anti-Flair sentiment carried by much of the WWE universe is not going to dissipate any time soon, no matter how good the matches are. Maybe the restless masses will get what they want and Lynch will come back to renew their tensions for the massive showcase that is SummerSlam.
WWE championship: Bobby Lashley (c) def. Kofi Kingston
Bobby Lashley spent exactly zero time in peril in his WWE championship defense against Kofi Kingston.
In a match eerily reminiscent of the one-sided match in which Kingston lost the WWE championship to Brock Lesnar, Lashley thrashed Kingston from bell to bell in a clear indication that any distractions were in the rear-view mirror.
Gone was any sign of the man who lost clean to Xavier Woods just a few days ago on Monday Night Raw. Even though the match was seemingly setting up for tomfoolery, as the MVP tried to grab Kingston's feet at the start of the match, it was all Lashley, all the time.
Kingston got his only real offense in as he barely got out of the way as Lashley charged in, with a double stomp that didn't fully connect. Lashley tossed Kingston all over the ring and ringside, getting particularly brutal when he winged Kingston into the ringpost on the outside at full speed.
There were elevated Flatliners, Dominators and multiple attempts at The Hurt Lock. Try as he might, Kingston couldn't offer a sufficient defense. Lashley went so far as to let Kingston up and let him out from The Hurt Lock, only to inflict more damage.
Once, twice ... three times a DOMINATOR.#MITB #WWEChampionship @fightbobby pic.twitter.com/WPANVz2pAB— WWE (@WWE) July 19, 2021
After an uncomfortably long stretch, during which Lashley put his finger to his mouth to quiet the crowd as well as a chunk of the audience that was cheering for more, he slapped the Hurt Lock on once more. Kingston was on his knees and couldn't even stand, but tapped out to end his suffering.
What's next: Lashley has been built up once again as an unbeatable champion. As we look forward towards SummerSlam, there are two paths: He could face the Money in the Bank winner, especially if there's a built-in story for someone like Drew McIntyre or Big E, or he could try to topple a returning legend in a showcase match. The latter option seems likelier.
SmackDown tag team championships: The Usos def. Rey Mysterio & Dominik Mysterio (c)
Name a better pair than the Usos being jettisoned to the kickoff show despite being more than worthy of a prime pay-per-view slot, and then stepping up and over-delivering. I'll wait.
The now seven-time tag team champions defeated Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio to win the SmackDown tag team titles with a little bit of creativity and a lot of rule bending.
It took the crowd a while to fire up, and they struggled at times to get behind the Mysterios, who have largely had this run inside the Thunderdome without live fans in attendance. But the collective performances of all four participants slowly brought the crowd energy up throughout the match.
They came alive and exploded into "this is awesome" chants in the closing minutes. Jimmy Uso absorbed a 619 for his brother Jey and saved the match for his team. Then Jey superkicked and top-rope splashed Rey, which the audience thought was the end. When Rey kicked out, the energy spiked again.
Finally, in a chaotic ending, Jimmy dropped Rey face-first onto the top turnbuckle, rolled Rey up for a pinfall and Jey added illegal leverage to Jimmy's back by sticking his legs under the bottom rope to get the three-count.
What's next: With the cheating finish, there's likely to be a rematch in the short term. But for now, pending Roman Reigns' Universal championship defense against Edge later in the night, Reigns and his family have increased their power and influence over the rest of the SmackDown roster.
Raw tag team championships: AJ Styles & Omos (c) def. The Viking Raiders
AJ Styles and Omos successfully retained the Raw tag team championships, following the most complete match of Omos' career thus far.
Omos picked up the pinfall victory after delivering a standing choke-bomb to Erik, and then, rather than his customary one-foot cover, put all of his weight onto Erik to secure the win.
Generally, it doesn't seem right for Styles to play the fool, even to an established tag team like The Viking Raiders. He's a two-time WWE champion and still one of the best wrestlers in the world, with the swagger and charisma to match. That was clear as the now-returned WWE fandom largely cheered for Styles over the course of this tag title match.
Styles did take the majority of the damage in this match, bumping around like crazy as Erik and Ivar put on a strong performance of their own. But there was one particularly impressive moment when Omos threw Styles feet first over the ring and into a hurricanrana on the outside to Erik.
Omos is still clearly raw and inexperienced, but his move set is expanding and his presence is undeniable. He effectively hit a scoop slam and a military press over the course of the match and then closed out strong. After a Styles Clash was stifled, and the Viking Raiders hit a Viking Experience on Styles, Omos broke it up by grabbing Erik by the throat and tossing him backwards into Ivar to stop the count.
HOW?!?!#MITB @TheGiantOmos pic.twitter.com/ef2DZUq8Vy— WWE (@WWE) July 19, 2021
Then Omos ended the match, quickly and effectively.
What's next: If Styles and Omos are indeed the long-term plan, start building some of the other teams up to benefit both the champions and their challengers.