The sheer contempt with which WWE regards its audience was on full display at Hell In A Cell 2019.
This was the biggest week pro wrestling’s had in years. With the season premiere of Raw, the launch of the Wednesday Night War, and the debut of SmackDown on Fox, this was the time for WWE to make a huge splash.
Hell In A Cell was just the tip of the iceberg, though. Looking back at the week that was, one thing is abundantly clear.
WWE doesn’t care about its audience. Also, water is wet.
Raw Is Weak
We already detailed that the season premiere of Monday Night Raw was a mixed bag, at best. But it showed potential.
The opening segment with Brock Lesnar destroying Rey Mysterio and his son was genuinely good television. Solid tag team wrestling gave hope to that division. And the main event, though muddled with overbooking, pumped up the hype for the Hell In A Cell main event between Seth Rollins and the Fiend.
But what it all lacked was excitement.
Monday was WWE’s chance to really start over. To set a new tone. But it felt like more of the same, just with the volume turned up a little bit.
At the time, that was fine. It’s no secret that WWE’s big focus was the debut of SmackDown on Fox. Granted, two days before a pay-per-view is not the best time to build excitement, but it made sense. Gather the biggest audience possible to sell Hell In A Cell.
Boom Goes The Dynamite
AEW: Dynamite hit the air waves with an absolute bang. It’s been almost a week, and that’s still the talk of pro wrestling.
All Elite Wrestling’s TNT debut was as close to perfect as it could’ve been. That’s not to say that it was perfect, but the expectations game was going to be a hard one for them to win.
AEW didn’t exactly deliver the revolution it promised on its own. The show was exciting, and it was a breath of fresh air, but it wasn’t quite the game-changer fans were hoping for. Instead, WWE’s reaction to AEW might be the inciting incident for the real revolution.
See, at this point, WWE is looking at AEW solely in terms of Wednesday night competition for NXT.
So they countered AEW: Dynamite with a loaded episode of NXT that opened with an NXT Championship match between Matt Riddle and Adam Cole. This past week’s NXT played out more like a TakeOver special. It was short-term planning. Vince McMahon and WWE can’t see the wrestling war forest through the AEW trees.
Around 1.4 million people tuned in to AEW: Dynamite. That’s a pretty clear signal that wrestling fans want something different.
But WWE seems blind to the fact that what AEW really offers is not competition for Wednesday nights. It’s an alternative product. Raw, SmackDown, and Hell In A Cell were the real opportunities to tell the wrestling fans, “You don’t need to worry about that new show.”
And a loaded SmackDown seemed poised to deliver that message. On paper, anyway.
SmackDown Raises Cain
The Fox debut of SmackDown had all the markings of a great show.
It featured a new look, a stacked card, and the last chance to sell Hell In A Cell. Most importantly, it seemed poised to be a new beginning for WWE.
And how did it begin? With a 20-minute in-ring promo.
The entire build-up to SmackDown airing on Fox was centered around the network wanting a more sports-based show. If you’ve seen the photo of the Fox executives’ reaction to the Firefly Funhouse segment, that’ll give you an idea of how well that’s going.
But it was the main event squash between Lesnar beating Kofi Kingston for the WWE title that fans are talking about. Not the debut of Cain Velasquez coming out like Mysterio’s angry big brother.
And that finish doesn’t even particularly bother me. That finish was what it needed to be. But what it also needed was a thread to pick up on with Kingston. This is a guy was the undisputed star of WrestleMania 35. He was the WWE Champion for six months, which in modern terms is like holding the belt for four years.
There was no opening to do a rematch at Hell In A Cell. No path forward for Kingston beyond this show. WWE’s tunnel vision is crippling. They saw nothing but an opportunity to debut Velasquez, and anything beyond that is an afterthought.
Then there was the nail in the coffin. Hell In A Cell itself.
Worst. Finish. Ever.
Okay, that’s hyperbole. The finish of Hell In A Cell was not the worst ever.
But it may well be the worst-timed ever.
WWE booked itself into a corner here. The Fiend, as a character, is not about chasing gold. He’s about causing terror and chaos. For all intents and purposes, he’s WWE’s answer to the Joker. So you don’t want to put the belt on him yet. But it’s also too early in his run and he has too much momentum to outright beat him.
It was a foregone conclusion that Hell In A Cell would have a screwy finish. But a disqualification? In a Hell In A Cell match?
Look, I get that this isn’t high art, but WWE cannot afford to be this stupid and this naive about its fanbase. They’re smarter than this. And this isn’t about “the
Fiend should’ve won!” He absolutely should not have. The Fiend should not have walked out of Hell In A Cell as the Universal Champion.
You could argue that this isn’t contempt for the audience, just stupid booking. But I would counter that argument with this tweet from Corey Graves.
Ah, of course. The old “you don’t know where we’re going, so you can’t criticize us” position. See, that’s why they did it, guys. They booked a horrible non-finish and incited their fans into chants of “bullshit,” “A-E-W,” and “refund” on purpose. See, it’s all about switching things up in advance of the upcoming draft.
And for all the sarcasm, maybe that is the plan. But the plan is still to book a nonsensical finish at Hell In A Cell in hopes that the audience is too stupid to notice they’ve been bilked.
Unfortunately, we just might be.
CM Punk famously once said that Vince McMahon would “make money in spite of himself.”
And it’s true. The wheel is just going to keep turning. There will be no boycott of WWE, no diving stock prices, no plunge in ratings following the Hell In A Cell debacle. No mass cancellation of Network subscriptions, none of that. WWE knows it has its core audience that either genuinely likes the product or that will continue watching out of spite.
In that respect, they’re right to regard us with contempt.
We really are that stupid. All of us can complain all we want about a weak Raw, a lackluster SmackDown debut, and an infuriating Hell In A Cell finish.
But we’ll all be there tonight for Raw. We’ll tune in to SmackDown on Friday. And we’ll be there for every WWE Network special and pay-per-view.
All the while, Vince McMahon is laughing all the way to the bank.
Feature image courtesy of WWE.