After losing in the key viewership demo for the first time in history to AEW Dynamite, WWE loaded up Monday Night Raw on Sept. 13 in an attempt to reclaim supremacy of wrestling on cable.
The plan? Have Money in the Bank briefcase holder Big E announce in advance he was going to cash in his contract on Twitter the day of the show.
The result? Big E opened RAW by reaffirming his plan, and then closed the show by doing just that, using the contract to defeat Bobby Lashley and win the WWE Championship.
In the end, it was an impossible task for WWE, as the company was facing the debut of Monday Night Football and was unlikely to do a very good rating, and the company pulled a .43 in the key demo, a number that AEW would be expected to top on Wednesday, after the company pulled a .53 last Wednesday.
Beyond the stiff competition, the lack of interest in Big E cashing in his contract is a reflection of WWE’s awkward philosophy of building the product around “moments” and yet ignoring the storytelling aspects necessary to make those moments truly memorable.
The company did not build Big E into a worthy title contender, all he did was win the Money in the Bank match and wrestle sporadically for two months, only working three televised matches and not even cracking the main card for SummerSlam. Although Big E is a popular member of WWE’s roster, fans did not see him as a worthy title contender because he had not been promoted as such since winning Money in the Bank.
That is a symptom of the broader issue plaguing WWE in that the company simply cannot plan anything in advance. How could the company put the Money in the Bank on someone and carefully build momentum in the subsequent weeks and months, culminating in a satisfying title win; when Vince can be triggered into having the Money in the Bank holder cash in the briefcase at any moment?
WWE’s booking philosophy is seemingly entirely focused on creating memorable moments, but without long-term storyline stability and significant emotional investment from the audience, the return on those “moments” becomes less and less meaningful.
Part of this comes from the sheer volume of WWE content that is produced each week. The wheels on the train keep churning week-after-week, and with no offseason and 12 PPV events a year, it becomes difficult for any singular moment to really stand out in the memory of fans because there is almost no time to reflect on those moments. Big E can win the world title one week, and then it’s on to the next “big moment” which will probably be him losing the world title,
Another issue comes from the calendar system of WWE generating generic moments that lack organic appeal. Wrestlers debut or return, win major titles and main event big shows, but they all tend to blend into each other because WWE’s system demands fabricated moments. Every year two wrestlers win the Royal Rumble, every year two matches main event WrestleMania, every year two Money in the Bank winners, every year there are multiple Hell in a Cell matches; it’s hard for a “moment” to feel cool and spontaneous when they happen every year like clockwork.
For hardcore fans who have grown familiar with WWE’s booking patterns, the limits of their optimism are met solely by the hope that their favorites can achieve one of these fabricated “moments” at one point in their career. If you are a fan of Big E, the most you can hope for is what you got Monday night, him winning the world title and hoisting it above his head to close out RAW.
The long-term aspects of Big E winning the title, having won it in almost an emergency scenario with little planning put into it, are beyond the scope of fan expectations at this point in time. Fans are satisfied that Big E got his moment, and the mystery of whatever comes next is accepted as a part of being a WWE fan. Sure WWE is likely to botch Big E’s title run and eventually push him back down the card, but it has happened so many times before that it no longer will have a particularly negative impact on the fanbase.
Without a proper storyline structure that embraces patience and avoids impulsive responses, creating “moments” for fans to latch on to will continue to have diminishing returns for WWE. The company lacks the creative infrastructure to create organic events that really resonate with the fanbase, instead of going through a mechanical system of manufactured matches and outcomes that are being met with growing redundancy.
In the latest edition of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss the AEW debuts of CM Punk and Bryan Danielson, the epic conclusion of AEW ALL OUT, the recent business success of AEW and how the company can go forward after gaining so much momentum.