Next to WrestleMania, Money in the Bank just might be my favorite WWE pay-per-view of the year. It's strange because it isn't one of the "Big Four" (though it probably should be considering how devalued Survivor Series has become over the years), but almost every installment since the event's inception in 2010 has delivered in some form or fashion. This year, it will be exclusive to SmackDown Live, and looking at the lineup, it's going to be tough for the show to be anything less than solid, especially considering two Money in the Bank Ladder matches will be taking place (one being the first ever women's Ladder match).
Speaking of which, it's amazing how the Money in the Bank concept has remained refresh by and large over the last decade. The winner cashing it at an opportune time hasn't really changed at all, nor has the match itself, but the various talents that are a part of them have. As cool as it is that the women will finally get the chance to compete in a Ladder match, the men's version of the matchup deserves to go on last considering who will be involved. Most importantly, it isn't incredibly predictable who will win, but this article will attempt to analyze each combatant and the probability of them emerging victorious with the opportunistic briefcase in tow.
The Most Logical: Baron Corbin
People were picking Baron Corbin to become Mr. Money in the Bank as early as the onset of 2017, because if you remember, he was hot on the heels of the WWE Championship even then. He contended for the prestigious prize in a terrific Triple Threat title match with Styles and Dolph Ziggler on the final edition of SmackDown Live in 2016 as well as in the Elimination Chamber matchup two months later. On both occasions, he had strong showings and proved he could hang with the elite talent of SmackDown Live.
That said, it is still pretty early for him to be holding the gold, so I would have him win the briefcase before cashing it in later this year. Between now and then, he can grow as a performer in potential rivalries with Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton. Because if he falls short of capturing the contract, where the hell does he go from here? Besides, the briefcase has always been better on a heel, and Corbin would benefit huge from beating so many main event players in one match.
The Favorite: Shinsuke Nakamura
I've seen a number of people say that Shinsuke Nakamura should absolutely win the 2017 men's Money in the Bank Ladder match because it would a one-way ticket for him to join the main event scene. However, I think WWE should wait a little longer to pull the trigger on him as a contender to the WWE Championship. There's no doubt in my mind he will be at that level at some point, but considering he is still struggling with the few words he is given to speak on TV each week, he isn't quite ready yet.
I've labeled him the fan favorite to win the briefcase because you know the live crowd in St. Louis will be pulling for him the most to gain possession of the contract. It would be a memorable moment if he did, but I think he'd be better off vying for the United States Championship for the foreseeable future. He helped legitimize the IWGP Intercontinental Championship over in Japan, so why not do the same for the star-spangled prize? I'd have no problem with him winning the 2017 Royal Rumble and facing AJ Styles for the WWE title at WrestleMania 34, though.
The Dark Horse: Kevin Owens
Kevin Owens was my odds-on favorite to win the Money in the Bank Ladder match last year, but this year is obviously a different story. In the last 365 days, he has become United States Champion twice, and more importantly, he has won the Universal Championship. That basically means he can contend for the WWE Championship whenever he wants without having to cash in a contract, especially since SmackDown Live is a smaller show than Raw where he would have been (and has been) overshadowed by bigger stars such as Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns.
Owens as WWE Champion is a sight I would love to see at some point, but for now, I'm perfectly content with him holding the United States Championship. The only other instance where a reigning champion captured the opportunistic briefcase was in 2010, when The Miz did it as U.S. Champion also (he lost the strap before winning the WWE Championship that November). Thus, it isn't impossible for Owens to emerge victorious, and I wouldn't hate it at all, so he's the definite dark horse among this crop of combatants.
The Underdog: Sami Zayn
Can Sami Zayn really be called the underdog when he's won most of his matches in the last month, pinning Baron Corbin on three separate occasions? It's weird because despite those victories, it still feels like he's suffering from a real lack of direction at the moment, which was the biggest issue I had with his run on Raw. He's definitely more of a player on SmackDown Live than he ever was on Monday nights, but this annoying character he's been given to work with in promos hasn't been doing him any favors, to say the least.
There's been a ton of criticism from fans that Sami Zayn isn't "WWE Championship material" and that there is zero chance he will ever hold the gold. However, given Jinder Mahal is our current WWE Champion, anything is possible. That said, Zayn needs to build some more momentum before he can capture the contract, and now is not the time for him to be going after the WWE title. I called him the underdog last year and I'll call him the underdog again this year, but the odds are just not in his favor coming into this contest.
The Long Shot: Dolph Ziggler
Anyone who follows me knows damn well how apathetic I have felt about Dolph Ziggler for some time now. It's sad because I was once a huge fan of his, but WWE is to blame and how they have completely dropped the ball on him time and time again over the years. I was stupid for thinking they would actually be doing something of note with him when the Brand Split first happened last summer (remember when he contended for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam?), but I have long given up on him ever being more than a midcard competitor in WWE.
Thus, Ziggler becoming Mr. Money in the Bank on Sunday, five years removed from when he initially won it, is a long shot, and honestly it would be the worst case scenario. Did anyone else pick up on Shinsuke Nakamura mentioning something about Ziggler wrestling in Japan soon on the latest Talking Smack? I have said for the last year that Ziggler would leave WWE as soon as his contract was up, so there's next to no chance they give him the briefcase, nor should they. He had his time in the spotlight and the days of him being a legitimate threat to the world title are over.
The Guilty Pleasure: AJ Styles
Similar to Kevin Owens, as a former WWE Champion, AJ Styles does not need the Money in the Bank briefcase in order to re-enter the title picture. However, I wouldn't be at all apposed to him capturing the contract seeing as how he's my favorite wrestler in the company currently. Does that make me bias? Absolutely, hence why he's in the "Guilty Pleasure" category for the competitors. It wouldn't be my first choice, but because I wouldn't mind having him back in contention for the championship, I'd be happy if he was to win tonight's Ladder match.
Let's assume Styles doesn't become Mr. Money in the Bank (he won't). What does the future hold for him beyond the pay-per-view? Earlier, I alluded to the idea of a Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kevin Owens feud for the United States Championship, but before that happens, Styles should wrap up his rivalry with Owens considering it was never properly concluded. From there, a program with Randy Orton would be ideal, even if it isn't over a title. Those two could have a hell of a series of matchups heading into SummerSlam (and I'd hope Orton is a heel again by then).
The Shocker: Rusev
The combatants in a Money in the Bank Ladder match are not set in stone until the bell rings. I say that because in the past, people have been attacked beforehand and have been replaced, in addition to Superstars randomly entering themselves in the contest at the last minute (i.e. The Miz in 2012). I don't see that happening with this year's men's Ladder match, but on the off-chance it does, it would make total sense for Rusev to throw his name in the hat and go on to win the whole thing.
I've been as curious as everyone else as to Rusev's whereabouts for the last month since the storyline with him demanding a title shot was dropped about a month ago, but it's been reported he could be back as soon as either tonight or SmackDown Live this coming Tuesday. I'm not banking on it, of course, but having him come back and become Mr. Money in the Bank would an incredible way for him to return, and the dynamic he would have with former partner and current WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal, would be interesting.