The Big Show, John Cena, Chris Jericho and The Miz battle as the briefcase hangs above the ring.
Phoenix is not widely known for many things; dry heat, golf, Steve Nash and Spring Training. But it may be time to add one very important item to that list: WWE Pay-Per-Views. Five times the Valley of the Sun has hosted a marquee WWE event, including SummerSlam in 2003 and the biggest one of all, Wrestlemania at University of Phoenix Stadium in 2010. It’s also hosted numerous Monday Night Raw and SmackDown episodes. More times than not, when the WWE pulls their trucks into Phoenix, fans in attendance can expect a grea tshow. Sunday night at US Airways Center was no exception, as the WWE presented Money In The Bank.
Full disclosure, I have been a huge WWE fan since I was a little kid. I remember sitting in my best friend’s dad’s office watching Hulk Hogan defend America against Sgt. Slaughter at Wrestlemania VII. I remember watching Wrestlemania IX at Caesar’s Palace when Bret Hart lost the belt to Yokozuna, only to have Hogan win it from Yokozuna mere minutes later. Growing up in Seattle, we didn’t get to see the WWE live very often, and when they did come to town, it was generally a house show (non-televised) at the Tacoma Dome or at the old Mercer Arena. So the fact that Phoenix is a regular stop for the WWE is thrilling to me. Watching matches live reminds me of going to the shows in Seattle with my grandfather, dad and brother and always puts a smile on my face. I have rarely left a show in Phoenix disappointed. Phoenix fans have seen some classic battles, from the Elimination Chamber at SummerSlam, to Booker T. becoming King Booker at Judgment Day in 2006 to Undertaker/Michaels II at Wrestlemania XXVI. Money In The Bank on Sunday night just added to that long list of classic matches, with three absolutely spectacular contests that any true wrestling fan would appreciate.
There is a belief that you can judge how good a show is going to be by its opening match. If it’s a sleeper, the crowd will get restless and it will be difficult to re-engage them. Bring the house down right away, and you will have the fans on the edge of their seats all night long. Sunday night’s opener was definitely the latter (pun intended). The first match of the night was the Money In The Bank match for the World Heavyweight Championship contract and featured eight up-and-coming Superstars battling for the briefcase. The Phoenix crowd was in to this match from the minute the first competitor’s entrance music hit, and the match didn’t disappoint. By the time Dolph Ziggler left the ring with his briefcase and title shot in hand, there was carnage strewn about. Ladders and bodies were spread around, the aftermath of a hard-fought, well put together performance. It featured several “wow” moments that had the crowd breaking out into the famous ECW chant that features a four-letter word that rhymes with spit.
The WWE Championship Match featured challenger Daniel Bryan vs. Champion CM Punk with Bryan’s former (?) girlfriend AJ as the special guest referee in a No Disqualification Match. This was a classic battle between two talented, young stars who left absolutely everything they had out in the ring. From kendo sticks to chairs to tables, Punk and Bryan duked it out in one of the best matches I have ever seen in person or on TV. Watching Punk, it is no wonder why he is such a huge star. The Phoenix crowd responded to his every move, and his in-ring charisma was easy to see. On the flip side, Bryan plays a perfect “bad guy”, egging on the crowd, who knows they are supposed to boo him, but have to applaud him for his effort. In the end, it was Punk who retained the belt after putting Bryan (and himself) through a table. AJ did her job, and was everything a guest ref should be, the invisible third person in the ring.
The main event of the night was the final Money In The Bank match for the WWE Championship contract. This one had the added feature of featuring five competitors who were all previous WWE Champions. The crowd got a bonus when The Miz made his return from a long layoff and entered the contest, facing off with Kane, The Big Show, Chris Jericho and John Cena. From the moment the bell sounded it was non-stop action, and when Cena put Big Show through the Spanish announce table with an Attitude Adjuster, it was a jump out of your seat moment. The Big Show is 7-0 tall and 441 pounds, and Cena (who is no slouch at 6-1, 251) cleanly picked him up, put him on his shoulders and tossed him onto the announce table as if he were a rag doll. It may not have been as significant as Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III, but it was certainly impressive to see live. Just for good measure, the remaining Superstars in the match all threw ladders on top of Big Show, leaving him buried under a comically large pile. From that point on it was bodies flying, ladders flying and several near misses as the Superstars reached for the briefcase. When The Big Show finally was able to emerge from his metal cocoon, he pulled out a special ladder just for him, one that would be big enough to hold his massive frame. Several times near the end of the match, you thought you knew who would win, only to have someone else come in and prevent it. Eventually it was John Cena who emerged victorious, earning the victory by bashing The Big Show in the head with the briefcase as it was hanging over the ring, eventually snapping off the handle to claim the victory. The crowd responded not only to the Cena victory, but to a well put together and wonderfully executed show.
I have been to many wrestling events in many cities, including Wrestlemanias in both Anaheim and Phoenix and Pay-Per-Views in Las Vegas and Phoenix. The Phoenix crowds are smart and appreciate the efforts that the Superstars put forth. They know when to cheer, when to woo!, when to boo and when to applaud two competitors who have given absolutely everything they had for the enjoyment of the masses. The WWE and the city of Phoenix have become a match made in wrestling heaven; smart, appreciative fans and talented performers who put on an amazing display of athleticism and entertainment. Whether you are a fan of the WWE or not, one has to appreciate the time and energy the performers put in to their craft. That’s what the Phoenix fans do, and I believe that it why the WWE continues to bring big time events to the Valley of the Sun.
Before the show began on Sunday, the WWE made a special announcement to the crowd. The 2013 Royal Rumble would be coming to Phoenix, marking the first time a West Coast city not located in California would play host to the marquee event. It also makes Phoenix the first West Coast city and one of only eight to have hosted three of the four main WWE Pay-Per-Views (Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble, SummerSlam and Survivor Series). Phoenix joins New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami in the club. Only Detroit, Boston and New York have hosted all four.
Clearly the WWE feels that Phoenix is one of the best places to stage an event and that is why the Royal Rumble will be coming to US Airways Center in January. If Sunday night’s Money In The Bank was any indicator of what is in store for January, get your tickets now. You won’t want to miss the show.
Randy Policar spent 10 years working as a public relations man in professional and college sports. He has worked for the Phoenix Suns, Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Rattlers, Phoenix Mercury, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State Sun Devils. He has also worked a Super Bowl, World Series, College World Series, over 30 Bowl games and four BCS Title Games.