In VM Era of the WWE Universe – aka the Vince McMahon Era – there wasn’t a hotter name that Theory.

The prized pupil of Mr. McMahon who rose to prominence as a butt-kissing heel gimmick that was meant to – and ultimately succeeded in – drive fans crazy, Theory became the youngest WWE Superstar to win the United States Championship and then, after losing the belt at Money in the Bank, became the youngest WWE Superstar to win the Men’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match, and secure the very coveted MitB briefcase.

Sure, he had to lose his first name and was the butt of more than a few jokes as the weeks went on – need I say more than the pose down – Theory took the boos in stride and played up his heelish persona like an even smarmier version of AEW’s MJF – you know, if such a thing is even possible. Theory was occasionally booked like a sniveling heel but never like a geek and was an effective heel even if more than a few fans wouldn’t have minded one bit if he left the promotion for greener pastures for good.

And yet, when Vinnie Mac retired from The Fed and left creative duties to his son-in-law, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, the favor Theory curried with his former boss went right out of the door with him too; the WWE main roster was uncharted waters for the pride of “A-Town” once more, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like things have broken in his favor.

Where does Theory go from WWE’s SummerSlam?

As far as anyone on the internet can tell, Theory is still the proud holder of the WWE Men’s Money in the Bank Contract.

Though he did run down to the ring, did say he wanted to cash the briefcase in, and did at least attempt to use the green-painted foreign object as a weapon, the referee didn’t take it from Theory, didn’t run it to the back, and didn’t have an announcer declare that the match’s rules had changed. When, for example, Liv Morgan cashed in her briefcase at Money in the Bank, she handed it off, the ref left the ring, and a new match was announced between the two performers.

Sure, there have been occasions where a third performer was inserted into the same match, Michael Cole and Corey Graves explicitly pointed out Dean Ambrose doing the deed a few years back, but it’s far more common to see a performer run out once the match is done to take advantage of a worn down foe. To his credit, Theory insinuated over and over again that he was going to do just that, taking care of the last man standing in the, um, Last Man Standing match after his foe heard the count of 10 but instead, Austin ran to the ring with a goofy look on his face and almost handed over the briefcase, before being geeked out by Brock Lesnar and effectively eliminated from the match like Paul Heyman before him.

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Embarrassing? You bet; after losing a not-too-competitive match to Bobby Lashley for the United States Championship earlier in the card, the prospects of Theory redeeming himself loomed in the front of more than a few fans’ minds – for both good and bad reasons – but in the end, Theory was played more as a joke than a serious contender, which was never the way Mr. McMahon booked him not two weeks ago.

Is the era of Theory over? Will he get Otis-ed and lose the briefcase to another performer like, say, Dolph Ziggler? Or will he continue to get embarrassed in the lead-up to Clash at the Castle, Survivor Series, or, heaven forbid, the Royal Rumble and continue to terrify fans the world over that maybe he’ll be the man who ultimately dethrones Roman Reigns? Goodness, could you imagine a world where Theory continues to sulk around trying to secure the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship only to come up fruitless at every turn?

That doesn’t sound too fun if you ask me.

So what’s next for Austin Theory? Is he getting the post-curtain call Triple H treatment from Triple H for being Mr. McMahon’s in-universe understudy and “son?” Or does he simply not fit into the company’s new plans because he just isn’t over with the fans? Either way, it might be wise for Theory to cash in his briefcase on someone like Bron Breakker or even Carmelo Hayes moving forward, as his best landing spot may be back in NXT to remove some of the residual Mr. McMahon from his character.