History of the Ladder Match in Pro Wrestling

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Money in the Bank is on Sunday night, as WWE presents one of its marquee events of the year. Started in 2005 as a gimmick match and becoming its own pay-per-view in 2010, Money in the Bank features multiple WWE Superstars in a ladder match, trying to secure the briefcase suspended above the ring that contains a guaranteed contract for a World title match anyplace, anytime, anywhere. While Money in the Bank wasn’t the first ladder match by a long shot, it’s arguably become the most famous iteration of the gimmick match. But the ladder match as a concept didn’t originate in the WWE Universe – in fact, it didn’t even originate in any of the major promotions. Here’s a quick glance at the evolution of the ladder throughout history.

Stampede Wrestling, 1972, Dan Kroffat vs. Tor Kamata

The first ladder match in history actually took place in 1972 in Canada with Stu Hart‘s Stampede Wrestling. One of Stampede’s wrestlers, Dan Kroffat, was a fledgling star looking to find a more prominent place on Hart’s roster. Stu Hart was always willing to listen to new ideas from his talent, and one day in 1972, Kroffat approached Stu with an idea of his own. “The idea was to ‘challenge’ a guy to get in the ring,” Kroffat told The Cochrane Times in 2019. “I would hang a bag of money from the light and put a ladder outside. I would say that if he wants to fight, he has to come in, fight me, get the ladder, climb up and get the money. You hung it like a bone for a dog, it was the idea of dangling the money there, the ‘greed’ in the bad guy’s eyes was the storyline.” On September 27, 1972, Kroffat finally got that match, when he faced Tor Kamata in the first-ever ladder match in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. The use of a ladder would go on to become a staple gimmick match with Stampede Wrestling, with rising young star Bret Hart having a few of his own, including a 1981 ladder match against the Dynamite Kid and in 1983 against Bad News Allen (later Bad News Brown in WWF), shortly before he headed to the WWF himself.

Kendo Nagasaki, UK, Mid-70s

During that year in 1972, Kendo Nagasaki, the character portrayed by English wrestler Peter Thornley, toured Canada, working a lengthy run with Stampede Wrestling. Upon his return to the UK, he brought the concept of the ladder match to British wrestling, having multiple ladder matches in the UK starting in the mid-70s. His 1986 Disco ladder match against Clive Myers in 1986 remains one of his best-remembered matches.

AWA, 1980, Dino Bravo vs. Jerry “Crusher” Blackwell

Jerry Blackwell

Verne Gagne‘s American Wrestling Association (AWA) was the first major in North America to pick up on the ladder concept when Jerry “Crusher” Blackwell faced off against Dino Bravo in a ladder match in May of 1980. The two would have several ladder matches that year, and in 1986, Blackwell had another ladder match against Colonel DeBeers.

Dusty Rhodes, NWA

Dusty Rhodes was a man who loved his gimmick matches and he brought the ladder to multiple promotions in the 1980s. According to Cagematch.net, his first ladder match was with Championship Wrestling From Florida in 1982 against Jimmy Garvin and in 1987 he brought the match to Mid-Atlantic when he fought against Tully Blanchard during the Great American Bash tour. He also upped the game that year, making it a barbed wire ladder match, as the “American Dream”‘s feud with the Four Horsemen got bloody.

WWE, 1992, Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels

Photo: WWE

While most think of the WrestleMania X match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon in 1994 as the first ladder match in the WWF, the first one was actually held two years prior. Bret Hart had been pitching the ladder concept to Vince McMahon for a few months in the early 1990s, and in 1992, Vince finally gave Bret the greenlight. Hart would face off against Shawn Michaels on July 21, 1992 on an episode of WWF Wrestling Challenge in WWF’s first-ever ladder match.

WWE, 1994, Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon, WrestleMania X

Photo: WWE

While ladder matches had been utilized in pro wrestling for 22 years at this point, arguably no ladder match prior had the impact on the industry as the WWF Intercontinental Championship ladder match at WrestleMania X in Madison Square Garden between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. It still remains a benchmark for many wrestlers who contend in these types of matches and still holds up as a classic encounter by two stars hitting their strides.

Japan, Mid-90s

NJPW’s first ladder match in 2007

Japan has long resisted most gimmick matches, outside of the hardcore promotions that began to pop up in the late 1980s. It was International Wrestling Association of Japan (IWA Japan) he brought the ladder match to Japan in 1995, in a match between Shoji Nakamaki vs. Crypt Keeper. New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) would have its first ladder match in 2007, in a triple threat between Manabu Nakanishi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. TARU at NJPW Wrestle Land on May 1, although it wouldn’t become normal in the company. They wouldn’t have another ladder match until June of 2016 when Michael Elgin defeated Kenny Omega for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at NJPW Dominion in a ladder match.

MITB, 2005, Edge, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin, Kane, Christian

Photo: WWE

In 2005, at WrestleMania 21 in Los Angeles, California, WWE held it’s first Money in the Bank match. Featuring Edge, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Shelton Benjamin, Kane, and Christian, the new concept ladder match was won by Edge. Edge would hold off until January of 2006 to cash in, defeating John Cena for his WWE Championship after Cena had defended it in the main event, an Elimination Chamber match at New Year’s Revolution.

Today, the ladder match has become a staple of professional wrestling, used across the board from smaller indie promotions up to majors like WWE, All Elite Wrestling (AEW), IMPACT Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and more. And it all began when a rising star in Stampede Wrestling was trying to find ways to help his own career and help a struggling Stampede Wrestling find a new audience.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.

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