WWE Money in the Bank: Adaptation during pandemic key to WWE's success

The Money in the Bank concept is one of the most successful innovations of the past 20 years in WWE. What started in 2005 at WrestleMania 21 became an annual highlight of the WrestleMania card and ultimately turned into a pay-per-view bearing that name starting in 2010. The first women's Money in the Bank match took place in 2017 and from that point on two matches on each show have anchored Money in the Bank pay-per-view cards.

Like the rest of WWE's programming since mid-March, Money in the Bank will be an experiment in adaption. With no crowds, WWE found success with two cinematically produced matches at WrestleMania 36, and it's going back to the well again on Sunday. In a match that may more closely resemble the original Die Hard than a typical match, the 12 collective participants in the men's and women's ladder matches will fight from the ground floor of WWE headquarters (still colloquially known as "Titan Towers") to the roof, where both briefcases will hang from scaffolding.

There's no clear connective tissue between the two "matches" other than the fact they'll be going on simultaneously, but crossover potential remains strong.

The rest of the card will take place where all WWE shows have been held since mid-March -- the Performance Center in Orlando. As of Wednesday morning, there are only six matches confirmed for Sunday, although it's likely that a few more will be added by the time SmackDown is over Friday night.

WWE championship: Drew McIntyre (c) vs. Seth Rollins

From the moment Rollins attacked McIntyre the night after WrestleMania 36, he has been deep in his feelings Rollins' Monday Night Messiah complex has him talking about how his path to the WWE championship is bigger than both him and McIntyre, and that, in time, McIntyre will understand.

On the surface, this match has all the makings of a disputed finish and a rivalry that carries on for at least another month. Contact between champion and challenger has been limited since Rollins' attack, with Murphy absorbing most of the damage McIntyre has intended for Rollins.

McIntyre is fresh off the biggest victory of his career against Brock Lesnar -- a move intended to make him one of the top attractions in the WWE. Losing the title so quickly would seemingly derail a lot of that momentum. As far as Rollins goes, he's coming off a WrestleMania loss to Kevin Owens while being limited to one active disciple in Murphy (missing former heavies AOP). The one X-factor in play is Rollins' repeated insistence of a "bigger plan." It could easily be semantics, but either a new follower or more dramatically a "higher power" (and we're not talking about Vince McMahon) could really shake up things at the top of the Monday Night Raw pyramid.

How will it actually play out? Whether there's a nondecisive finish to the match or not, McIntyre and Rollins are unlikely to separate with the result of this one match. Expect Rollins to have whatever plot he has in mind foiled, or for there to be a nontitle changing result extend this rivalry out into June. In all, expanding Rollins' sphere of influence and leaning into both building more factions and developing characters with depth of personality feels like a big win.

Universal championship: Braun Strowman (c) vs. Bray Wyatt

WWE is generally apprehensive in reminding the audience about anything that happened more than two months ago, so as to avoid some major plot holes or contradictions. In this instance, however, the paths of the man who Goldberg inexplicably beat for the Universal championship and the man who took it from Goldberg interlock nicely, both in terms of where they began with the Wyatt Family and where each stands now.

Strowman has not had much in the way of a challenge since defeating Goldberg at WrestleMania 36, but he has had an opportunity to give some depth to his character beyond "giant who destroys all things in his path." Wyatt has the ability to play off almost everyone and make it feel fresh, new and exciting, and the segment in which Wyatt gifted Strowman his old "black sheep" mask was a particularly smart, subtle move.

Much like McIntyre and Rollins, the result of the match doesn't seem to have a clear path forward that won't harm at least one of these two. After a long stretch without winning a singles title, and a short reign as Intercontinental champion, losing the championship this quickly would likely hurt Strowman considerably. Wyatt is still looking to overcome the brick wall his momentum ran into when, after kicking out of every attack from the likes of Rollins and Finn Balor, a few moves of doom from Goldberg were enough to end his run. Another clear loss could be devastating.

How will it actually play out? As opposed to some the promotional materials during Wyatt's Universal title run, the match card for Strowman vs. Wyatt doesn't feature Wyatt's "Fiend" persona. One way you could line up everything is to have Strowman face the less menacing version of Wyatt, who could have some other motive, like pushing Strowman over the edge. If "The Fiend" shows up, though, expect Wyatt to win back the title -- leaving Strowman hanging in a purgatory of uncertainty.

SmackDown women's championship: Bayley (c) vs. Tamina

The big story here, beyond Tamina getting her first televised one-on-one title shot since May 2014, is the slow, drawn-out crumbling of the relationship between Bayley and Sasha Banks. The breadcrumbs leading to a mighty fallout between Bayley and Banks have been getting bigger since WrestleMania, from framing Bayley and Banks just right during their entrances to the five-way SmackDown women's title match to the chaos that led to Banks' elimination.

Banks ultimately helped save that match for Bayley at the end, but the stress has only increased. Then there was Banks being offered up to Tamina as a stepping stone to get to Bayley, and both Banks and Bayley primarily looking out for themselves in recent weeks on SmackDown.

It's clear that a Bayley-Banks blowoff is going to be a slow burn to set up a big match, and while their history and chemistry screams WrestleMania, a spotlight position on the SummerSlam card wouldn't seem out of the question. Ideally, we could get a few Kevin Owens/Chris Jericho-esque teases of a breakup and reunion before the big explosion.

How it will actually play out? Anything other than a successful title defense for Bayley seems highly unlikely. Tamina has stepped up since stepping into this opportunity, and a good showing could earn her some solid chances in the future on SmackDown. But Bayley and Banks are on a collision course.

SmackDown tag team championships: The New Day (c) vs. Forgotten Sons vs. The Miz & John Morrison vs. Lucha House Party

Apparently these tag titles can only be defended in singles triple-threat matches or multiway tag contests with at least four teams. The Forgotten Sons and Lucha House Party have turned the division on its head in recent weeks, with the former beating The New Day and the latter besting Miz and Morrison. It's nice to see the tag team division get a little bit of attention and air time, and fresh blood is generally a good thing.

How will it actually play out? There's always a chance these titles could change hands, but the likeliest outcome feels like The New Day retaining while building up friction with whichever team they'll focus on next.

Before we dig into the headlining match on the show, here's what you can keep an eye on, in terms of potential additions to the card.

Raw tag team championships: The Street Profits (c) vs. Viking Raiders: With the Viking Raiders getting the best of Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins, this match could easily slot in. Monday Night Raw is also a distinct possibility.

Mandy Rose vs. Sonya Deville: The most engaging, entertaining and long-running story on WWE TV right now is the conflict that has embroiled Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, Otis and Dolph Ziggler. Now Rose and Deville have to show that what happens in the ring can keep up.

Jeff Hardy vs. Sheamus: After weeks of Sheamus getting annoyed while watching Hardy promos with Michael Cole, Hardy returns to SmackDown on Friday. Sheamus won't be far behind.

Men's Money in the Bank ladder match: AJ Styles vs. Aleister Black vs. Daniel Bryan vs. King Corbin vs. Otis vs. Rey Mysterio

While this collection of wrestlers would make for a wildly entertaining "traditional" Money in the Bank ladder match, the WWE HQ concept is a blank canvas to be played with. Putting some of the brightest technical minds in the wrestling business can only lead to good things, and will likely balance out some of the silliness and over-the-top elements that might otherwise overtake the match.

How will it actually play out? Despite some good work of late, putting the MITB briefcase with Corbin after the absolute disaster of his last win seems unlikely. Otis, despite heaps of potential, has work to do, and Mysterio might be a longer shot as well considering the circumstances, but Styles, Black or Bryan could each make a compelling argument in terms of what that prize could do for their careers. Despite his serious nature, I'm going to lean toward Black winning this match and stepping up to a main event level as 2020 rolls on.

Women's Money in the Bank ladder match: Asuka vs. Carmella vs. Dana Brooke vs. Lacey Evans vs. Nia Jax vs. Shayna Baszler

This is the first women's Money in the Bank ladder match not to feature one of (NXT version of) The Four Horsewomen -- mostly because three of them currently hold singles titles. There are strong arguments that can be made to position Evans, Jax or Baszler as the favorite, although a woman from the Raw roster makes a little more sense, as Becky Lynch doesn't have a clear standout rival at the moment.

How will it actually play out? I'm going to give the slight edge to Baszler, who clearly has unfinished business with Lynch. But after same-night cash-ins in each of the past two years, expect the briefcase to hang around for a while before it comes into play -- an approach that would likely boost Evans' chances.