It is hard to really express my feelings over the first ever WWE Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match.
By which I mean “It is hard to do so without just using curse word after curse word after curse word.”
Since the match was announced on the May 30th episode of Smackdown Live, it was hyped as significant. When Shane McMahon announced it, he used the term “historic.” It was being painted as ground breaking, with good reason: not only had there never been a Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match, there had never been a Women’s Ladder Match at all in WWE. During the time when Ohio Valley Wrestling was WWE’s training territory, there was a ladder match between Beth Phoenix and Katie Lea, which was included on the Ladder Match 2: Crash and Burn DVD but never recognized as an “official” match by WWE.
So we were prepared for Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, Tamina, and Carmella to take this chance and run with it. All five are talented and have their own strengths, and all five have proven before they can be creative with their spots and ring work. Even in the build, it was hard to guess who was going to walk away with the brand new briefcase containing the contract for a WWE SmackDown Women’s Title Match. Hopes were high.
After all of the entrances, an incredible video package played, further hyping that one of the five women was about to become the first ever Miss Money in the Bank. It name dropped women from WWE history like Mae Young, Madusa, Trish Stratus and Lita (though glossing over the likes of Victoria, Ivory, Molly Holly, Jazz, Gail Kim and, unsurprisingly, AJ Lee). It felt like WWE was really understanding the importance of not just the match itself, but about showcasing their women on the same level as their male superstars.
Which the match itself did do. The women did not take it easy, Natalya suplexing Becky Lynch directly onto a ladder, Tamina pushing over a ladder as Charlotte and Carmella were climbing—in other words doing exactly the kind of spots you’re used to seeing in a WWE ladder match. But they also put their own spin on things: Carmella did a fantastic spot where she trapped Charlotte in the ladder, beat on her, basically stepped on her face, and then smoothly transitioned to the other side of the ladder to continue climbing. And Charlotte killed it with a top-rope dive to the outside onto Natalya and Tamina. Becky Lynch took a fall off a ladder after James Ellsworth, Carmella’s “friend who’s a boy,” pushed it over.
Then it all went to Hell.
Because Ellsworth set the ladder back up and climbed it, grabbed the briefcase, and tossed it to Carmella. There was argument between the referees, the bell was rung, and Carmella danced off with her briefcase. Despite a tease, the match was not restarted, it was not declared that since Carmella had not climbed the ladder she had not truly won, the other women stood around looking confused.
And some of us? Well, we just exploded.
In the hours that followed, WWE kept attempting to use commentator John Bradshaw Layfield as the company’s mouthpiece to calm fans who were upset at the ending, saying “No rules were broken,” “what’s done is done” and calling back to Kane helping Seth Rollins win the Money in the Bank briefcase in 2014. It was clear we were meant to accept this as “Word of God,” or a creator telling you what something meant or was without proving it in the context or canon. And yes, we can accept all of these things, no rules were broken, heels cheating to win is a thing that happens, and we were supposed to be mad because Carmella is a heel who uses James Ellsworth.
None of these things are the actual problem.
There were plenty of ways to end the match with Carmella winning and with Ellsworth helping her that still featured Carmella climbing the ladder and taking the briefcase. But the way it ended, the way it all played out, the winner of the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match was…a man.
In many ways it felt like a throwback to the Women’s Battle Royale at WrestleMania 25. The match featured many women from the company’s history returning for in-ring competition, and was framed as a celebration of all the incredible female athletes who had been a part of the company. It was won, eventually, by Santino Marella in bad drag.
Again, the problem was not with a heel using heel tactics. The problem for many fans, male and female, was that someone really thought the best way to end a historic women’s match was with a man essentially winning.
WWE really wants us to believe they are behind this “Women’s Revolution,” and there are times we’ve been willing to buy it. SmackDown really seemed to have their stuff together heading into Money in the Bank, avoiding Raw‘s tendency to focus on only two women at a time, giving us multiple fleshed-out women with different relationships to one another. Between both shows, though, we’d seen the women competing in no holds barred matches, a tables match, an Iron Man match, a steel cage match, even finally seeing a Women’s Hell in a Cell match last year between Sasha Banks and Charlotte. This was after just a few short years ago when women were reportedly not “allowed” to be booked as either faces or heels, they were not meant to be defined characters so much as hot but probably crazy chicks. And as AJ Lee revealed in her recent memoir, she was told during her season of NXT that while she was a talented wrestler, female fans wanted to be like her and male fans wanted to hang out with and play video games with her, nobody wanted to have sex with her, and that meant she wasn’t “the full package.”
So we are ready to buy that WWE is ready to change all of that. And, as mentioned above, we have seen some big positives. But it is hard not to look at the ending of this Money in the Bank match and not feel like the message WWE sent was “a woman still couldn’t win this kind of match without a man’s help.” After 15 minutes of action, a man had to hand the win.
Even better is that when expressing issues with the ending, there have been plenty of men ready to “helpfully” explain to me, and others, that it wasn’t REALLY sexist because Carmella orders Ellsworth around and so she was in control and that we clearly don’t understand wrestling or heel heat and we’re just getting worked. Someone actually labeled the whole mess as “Mansplaining in the Bank” and honestly I can’t think of any better way to put it.
The worst part is? Carmella having the MITB briefcase is a great call. It is a chance to flesh out her character a bit more, and this could lead to a great look at her as a devious opportunist, the kind of criminal mastermind you’d expect from someone who calls her finisher The Code of Silence. It was the right choice of winner, and a great move to get her heel heat. But now, rather than being mad at Carmella for being a heel, the anger is with WWE itself for booking a bad and honestly sexist ending to a match they themselves billed as part of the Women’s Revolution. So to make matters even worse, Carmella may end up taking the blame from fans for this massive company booking botch, and those things can be difficult if not impossible to escape from…just look at Roman Reigns.
It’s entirely possible that whatever happens on Tuesday night at SmackDown will change the outcome and give the other women a chance. But no matter what they do, they cannot change the fact that someone in the back, after all of the noise about giving women this opportunity, still thought Ellsworth grabbing that briefcase was the right move and didn’t realize at all how that would end up looking and feeling to fans. The issue isn’t with what actually happened in the ring, it’s that we saw the man behind the curtain and he clearly still doesn’t think much of women in spite of the fact that his audiences do.
Oh, I’ve had it up to here.