When it became clear the Daniel Bryan's recovery from neck surgery was going to keep him out of action past Sunday, June 29th's Money in the Bank pay-per-view (PPV) event, WWE decided that their top title(s) the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, needed to be injected back into the company's on-screen stories.
Their solution was to change the stakes of the show's signature ladder match from a contract for a title shot into a shot at the titles themselves.
It remains to be seen if there will be a second ladder match for the usual briefcase containing the contract. But either way, even more than most year's this edition of Money in the Bank, the fifth annual version of which is set to broadcast on WWE Network from TD Gardens in Boston, will set the stage for the next several months worth of WWE programming - whether Bryan returns or not.
Heading into tonight's Raw, the PPV is a little less than two weeks away and five of a planned seven competitors have been announced for the championship bout.
Alberto Del Rio defeated Dolph Ziggler in a qualfiying match before the decision was made to strip The Beard of his belts. Randy Orton was placed in the match by The Authority without having to win entry, a move that actually makes sense seeing as The Viper wasn't pinned to lose the title and never received a rematch against DB.
Sheamus earned his way in with a victory over Bad News Barrett, Cesaro by beating Rob Van Dam and, just last Friday night, Bray Wyatt pinned Dean Ambrose to become the fifth official entrant.
Who will the last two names be? We think we know, but let's look at a few possibilities anyway:
The Long Shots
Brock Lesnar, Daniel Bryan, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose
While any of these names would make hardcore fans exceedingly happy, none is very likely - for a variety of reasons.
Bryan, because it would either mean that the powers-that-be were rushing him back with a dangerous injury, or that the whole "medically unable to compete" announcement was a work leading to a swerve. The former would be stupid and short-sighted; the latter would needlessly complicate their planned narratives for a one-time pop.
The Beast Incarnate is widely believed to be uninterested in working anything more than the limited number of dates for which he is already being handsomely compensated. You can never rule out Vince McMahon trying to woo him with truckloads of money, but that may be money they don't have at this point.
Rollins and Ambrose, the battling former brothers of The Shield, will be needed in a separate match on the card. And they should have plenty of chances to duke it out over the top prize in the company over the next decade or so.
Cause You Never Know
Kane, The Big Show, Mark Henry, Rey Mysterio, Jack Swagger, Miz
Like Lesnar, the first four guys on that list make a bunch of money - but unlike Brock, their contracts don't only call for two or three PPVs and eight to ten Raw appearances per year. Kane and Show actually have storyline excuses for being involved. THE DEMON is still a weapon in The Authority's nominal control, and he has nothing to do with his planned feud-mate Bryan on the shelf. Show has been shoe-horned into Stephanie McMahon and her husband's stories a couple of times over the past year.
Henry or Mysterio would have been in there in the past for a reliable power or aerial spot from a name guy, but there current fragility (and place in the pecking order as a result) limited their usefulness in that regard.
Recent booking trends also make it incredibly unlikely that Swagger would get a call, but he is a former World Heavyweight Champion to whom someone in the back loves giving opportunites. Miz is a similar case, but without the albatross of recent losses to Adam Rose on his record.
I honestly believe that if they had known the match would be for the belts rather than a briefcase, one of these guys would be in the mix instead of Del Rio.
Because He Said So, That's Why
Coming off of having worked (and lost) on the last three shows, and to protect his value as more of a special attraction than a regular roster member, I'd expect The Game's presence at MitB to be limited to interviews and interference. But throwing his name in the mix would lead to some delightful 'Reality Era' kvetching from fans about Hunter giving himself another world title reign, which he seems to enjoy a great deal.
John Cena, Roman Reigns
One man would be shooting for his 15th WWE World title, and fill the same 'Reality Era' heat magnet role that putting The King of Kings in the mix - only Cena would actually provoke a stronger reaction among the adult male/internet wrestling community fans than Triple H.
The other is essentially where Cena was a decade or so ago - with a broad base of support from fans expecting him to become the next prototypical WWE babyface main eventer.
There are storyline reasons for both men to join the field, since the men they are currently feuding with are already there. Cena's beef with Wyatt has been going on all year, and a multi-man match would be a good place to get the younger man some credibility back after losing a Last Man Standing match at Payback (possibly even with his first world title reign).
Reigns has made it clear that, in the dissolution of The Shield, he's going after the remnants of Evolution and leaving that bastard Rollins to Ambrose. The ladder match is his chance to get his hands on Orton, and should The Viper and/or The Game cost him the belts, it would also set-up Roman's program for the rest of the summer with one-on-one affairs against those men at Battleground and SummerSlam.
Who do you think will be the sixth and seventh men added to the ladder match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Cagesiders? Is there anyone we missed? Do you think we're way off base with our frontrunners?
We've got a few hours before Raw - let's start debating it!