AJ Styles, who was last seen being buried in dirt that very well may have been younger than him, punched his ticket to Money in the Bank Monday on Raw as WWE has finalized its 2020 field.
Styles, who suffered a loss to The Undertaker in a well-received Boneyard Match at WrestleMania 36, won a Last Chance Gauntlet Match to secure his spot, ultimately beating Humberto Carrillo. This comes just one week after Apollo Crews broke out, building momentum by putting his supreme talents on display in two separate matches after qualifying for Money in the Bank the week prior.
Of course, this was far too good to be true as WWE pulled Crews from the elusive match due to a kayfabe knee injury. There are now reports that WWE is planning to turn the upstart heel and give him a push, reports that mean nothing in a currently incompetent administration.
Nixed from what would have been his first Money in the Bank appearance, Crews is cut from the very cloth of the prototypical WWE Superstar that Money in the Bank was designed for. Despite peaking at the right moment and enjoying a career night last week, not only did WWE stick to the status quo by protecting its white dynasty, it did so by kicking out a promising African-American star who had already earned a spot.
It’s almost as if Money in the Bank, in all its exclusivity, is beginning to evolve into a conscious being, closing the door on minority representation as a force of habit.
Headed into Sunday, Caucasian WWE Superstars are 22-2 in the match’s 15-year history with one of its minority winners (Bayley) promoted in a way that hides her Hispanic ethnicity on WWE programming.
Styles, who last appeared in a Money in the Bank match in 2017, is the last WWE Superstar who needs this spot. Styles’ WWE career has been largely smooth sailing with the veteran almost immediately established as a main event star upon his surprise entry in the 2016 Royal Rumble.
A former two-time WWE champion, Styles has faced Chris Jericho, Shane McMahon, Shinsuke Nakamura and The Undertaker at the past four WrestleManias. In fact, since 2017, Styles is one of only two WWE Superstars to have had four consecutive singles matches at WrestleMania. The other? Brock Lesnar.
Ironically enough, Lesnar himself enjoyed his own unnecessary appearance in a Money in the Bank match when he shockingly won the in 2019.
Though the briefcase remains a valuable asset in WWE, with stars still able to parlay a Ladder Match victory into a successful push as recently as Carmella in 2017, WWE has made several self-inflicted wounds that undermine its once infallible value.
After Money in the Bank winners started out a perfect 11-0, they have since gone a still-impressive 19-4. Unfortunately, Money in the Bank losses are becoming something of a trend. Baron Corbin suffered an embarrassing cash-in loss to then-WWE champion Jinder Mahal in 2017, while Braun Strowman cashed against Universal champion Roman Reigns in to the tune of a no contest inside the 2018 Hell in a Cell.
Styles’ return is reportedly a ratings-driven decision among WWE officials. Unfortunately, the post-John Cena era of WWE has proven—regardless of talent or tenure—nobody is a draw.
Especially not AJ.
Back when Jinder Mahal was being panned as the worst WWE champion in history, Styles emerged as WWE’s white knight in shining armor to save SmackDown Live. Throughout Mahal’s run, from May 23 to November 7, 2017, the blue brand had a median viewership of 2.53 million viewers.
When Styles defeated Mahal, his yearlong reign from November 7, 2017 to November 13, 2018 averaged an inferior 2.436. To make an apples-to-apples comparison, Styles as WWE champion from May 22 to November 6 (an identical time frame to Jinder in 2017) averaged just 2.195 million viewers.
This is not to suggest that Jinder Mahal was a superior choice to Styles as world champion (though the record will always show the ratings were higher when he was on top), however it is to suggest that Styles is not the number WWE should be calling when it wants a ratings.
The suggestion that WWE is bringing Styles back to be a draw is equally as ridiculous considering, as of this writing, the promotion has not even announced he will be on the show. Perhaps WWE has conceded to the fact that its audience is largely hardcore fans who read the dirt sheets that reported Styles’ rumored return, and what a sad state of wrestling we live in if that’s true.
While selling his investors the quarterly bill of goods during the 1Q-20 earnings call last month, Vince McMahon claimed WWE’s ratings drop on Raw is due to the presence of so many new Superstars. This type of language has since resulted in several class action lawsuits against WWE from shareholders who feel they have been misled. WWE’s falling share price to close out 2019 discredited the “new stars” excuse as KPIs continued to fall even with the return of top stars like Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens.
In an era where nobody draws and nobody is over, WWE was legitimately on its way to, at the very least, creating an effective mid-carder in Apollo Crews last week. Its decision to hastily scrap this plan in favor of salvaging viewership—for an empty-arena Raw in May—reeks of senile decision-making from the Chairman of a sinking ship.