Remember When: Rising stars raised the bar

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June 28, 2012

Testing Beyond its stunt-show appeal, the 2011 SmackDown Money in the Bank Ladder Match carries profound significance for its winner, Bryan. Prior to the event, WWE’s "Yes!"-man had not competed in a singles match on pay-per-view since November 2010 – a predicament that Bryan described as “unjustifiable.” His briefcase grab was a watershed moment that seemingly paved the way for a breakout year. (ALL-TIME MONEY IN THE BANK PHOTOS)

“I won the Money in the Bank contract and I cashed it in and all of a sudden, bam! I’ve been in title matches on every pay-per-view since,” Bryan boasted, referring, in part, to his World Heavyweight Title win at last December’s WWE Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view. “I’m coming up on the next Money in the Bank – a full year from when I won the Money in the Bank contract – and now I’m competing for the WWE Championship. Do you think it changed my career? Certainly!”

For all his success, Bryan credits only one man: himself. Rather than perhaps speaking glowingly of lessons gleaned from his trainer, Ladder Match pioneer and WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels, the “submission specialist” said his maiden voyage into the Money in the Bank Ladder Match was not daunting for a ring general with his degree of experience.

Bryan’s first separated shoulder came, appropriately enough, in a little-seen Ladder Match 12 years ago in San Antonio, Texas.

“I’ve been in dangerous matches, and I’m not afraid of them,” he said. “I won the Money in the Bank last year because I was the toughest guy in that match. Not the strongest, not the fastest, but the toughest!”

Though Bryan insisted that he formed his strategy free of influence from HBK (or anybody else, for that matter), other participants in the SmackDown contest noted that they watched previous Ladder Matches and Money in the Bank contests to get a sense of what to expect. For first-time Banker Slater, no amount of film study could ready him for the flailing ladders and splattering bodies.

“Honestly, there ain’t no preparing,” Slater said. “There’s 6-foot and 12-foot ladders everywhere, and you have guys of different shapes and sizes coming at you from every end. Your peripheral vision can’t even keep up with them, you know?”

On the other end of the spectrum was Rhodes, who had one other Money in the Bank Ladder Match under his belt before last July. The brash former Intercontinental Champion explained the need to familiarize oneself with the ladders before stepping into battle.

“It’s important that you get out there early in the afternoon and get a feel for those ladders,” he advised. “Not only are they heavy, and hard to maneuver and hard to pick up, but you’re going to get hit by them. It’s one of those things where you know you’re going to get hit hard square in the face, and your elbows are going to get jammed into that ladder."

Rhodes, resigned to the fact that more Money in the Bank Ladder matches may be in his future, added: “It’s a very dangerous match-up.”

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