Despite the holiday weekend and a half-dozen other viewing alternatives, WWE pressed ahead with the second Smackdown-exclusive PPV since the brand split, No Mercy. And while the blue brand has been putting on stronger shows the last few months, there were a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to make this PPV a big success, and unfortunately, it seems like it fell short of the mark. Let’s take a closer look at what went down at No Mercy.
10. Well, You Can’t Claim False Advertising
Yes, the incredible Curt Hawkins did exactly what he said he would do, as he stepped inside the ring at No Mercy, during the pre-show, and announced that he’d be wrestling his first match on Smackdown. Sure, it’s a clever heel move, but WWE is certainly putting a lot of effort into a guy who projects as little more than a comedy jobber. Perhaps the end-game is to have Hawkins’ debut ruined by someone else debuting and destroying him (or maybe giving the forgotten Apollo Crews someone he can beat), but until and unless that happens, we’re not really sure what the whole point of Hawkins is supposed to be.
9. Last Shall Be First
Likely in deference to all the competition airing on the same night (which we’ll get to), WWE made an unprecedented move and decided to air their main event first, having the WWE World Title match open the PPV and giving it a lot of time. In some ways, it was a smart move, likely ensuring that at least a few viewers tuned in before switching over. However, the problem came when you realized that there was really nothing else on the show that could be considered “main event worthy”, meaning that with the big match that the show was built around over with, there really wasn’t a whole lot to look forward to, and the PPV lost a lot of momentum the minute the first match ended. In addition, WWE’s decision to end with Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt was definitely questionable, given that the feud has been lukewarm at best, and Wyatt hasn’t looked anything like a credible challenger, while something like Miz vs Dolph Ziggler at least had stakes behind it which people were theoretically invested in.
8. And Now For The Main Event/Opening Match
Of course, we can’t skip over the match itself, which was the kind of excellent that you get when you give wrestlers at the level of Styles, Cena, and Ambrose half an hour to go nuts. However, the match was marred by a questionable false finish, when Cena and Ambrose both made Styles tap out at the same time, and the timekeeper rang the bell even though the referee hadn’t called for it. The finish didn’t make Styles look bad, because it took two simultaneous submissions, but it was another non-finish which confused the live audience and robbed the rest of the match of any momentum, as things ground to a halt while Cena and Ambrose argued that the match should be over. At least Styles continued his run as the most pragmatic heel in WWE, finally deciding “screw it” and ending the match with a completely legal steel chair.
7. Follow That…Oh Wait, You Can’t
About five seconds into the first match after the World Title match, we realized that we’d already seen the high point of the evening. You just can’t open with a classic Triple Threat match and then follow it with a match between the greenest member of the Women’s division and someone who improved a lot in her long career, but not enough to carry someone still learning the ropes. The ensuing match between Carmella and Nikki was a trainwreck of the worst kind, with flashes of competence but a whole lot of sloppiness as well. The match reminded us of the worst days of the “bathroom break” Women’s division, and after so many huge strides being made in the past years, this was a massive leap backwards for the women of WWE. As a result, all the momentum from the opener was instantly gone, as fans realized that there likely wasn’t going to be much left that even had a chance to top it.
6. The Heel Curse
As much as turning heel has revitalized The Usos in terms of entertainment value, it certainly hasn’t helped them win matches, as they drop their second straight PPV affair to the makeshift team of Heath Slater and Rhyno. Maybe we’re just upset because we really want American Alpha to get the titles they richly deserve, but it seems odd to be keeping the belts on Slater and Rhyno instead of the hot heel act that The Usos have become, in anticipation of the big revenge match between them and the Alphas. Moreover, it’s one of the major problems in WWE, which is that wrestlers suddenly stop being able to win matches on their own when they become heels. It works in certain cases, such as The Miz, but we’ve also got real killers like Kevin Owens and the knee-breaking Usos looking like incompetent goofs because despite the company being run by a guy in Triple H who was portrayed as the strongest heel on the planet for most of his main event career, they still seem to believe that heels should all be cowards who can’t win matches without massive cheating and interference.
5. The Real Main Event
We have to give credit for how the Intercontinental title feud has been booked, because it created a blow-off match with real stakes that guaranteed fan investment, even if some people were only watching out of morbid curiosity towards if we might actually see the end of Dolph Ziggler’s WWE career. Of course, we didn’t, because WWE isn’t going to let go of a talent like Ziggler as long as he still wants to work there, but it was still interesting nonetheless, with plenty of logical false finishes that led up to Ziggler overcoming massive odds and getting a big victory. The result was an expected good match between two badly underutilized wrestlers, with an actual emotional finish that made sense according to the storyline that had been written so far. Which begs the question, on a show suddenly in need of a replacement main event, why wouldn’t you end with a happy moment like Ziggler celebrating his big win with a receptive audience?
4. Absolute Lack Of Swagger
Years ago, Jack Swagger showed a lot of promise. He was an excellent athlete with a certain amount of charisma, and many projected him as a future star in the making when he debuted in WWE’s version of ECW. But that was nearly a decade ago, and at this point, after years of failed pushes, it’s not hard to blame Swagger for looking totally unmotivated in the ring against Baron Corbin. As much as we don’t want anyone to lose their jobs, Swagger is someone who would probably benefit from a new, non-WWE environment, where he could rebuild himself into someone who mattered instead of a heatless jobber. It’s not something he can do in WWE itself, however, because at this point, it’s unlikely an audience that has seen his descent over the years would be willing to accept him as anything more than a loser.
3. Who’s Left?
We’ve talked before about the problems with splitting the Women’s division across both brands, and it reared its ugly head again at No Mercy. Becky Lynch was suddenly sidelined with an injury, but not long enough that WWE wanted to strip her of the title (yet, at least). They still wanted to put Alexa Bliss in a match on the PPV, to fill time if nothing else, but having no potential surprise debuts available thanks to already gutting the NXT Women’s division during the draft, their options were literally limited to one person: Naomi. And you get the sense that even WWE knew that she was the most obvious and boring decision, and attempted to rectify that with a shocking finish where she pinned Bliss, the #1 contender. However, Bliss isn’t really a strong contender yet (and likely would have lost her scheduled title match), so putting over someone who’s been largely an afterthought doesn’t make Naomi look better, it makes Alexa look worse.
2. What A Total And Complete Shock
To quote the great philosopher Homer, if you couldn’t tell, we were being sarcastic. Perhaps realizing that Bray Wyatt has been booked to be about as big a threat as James Ellsworth, WWE went with a surprise factor and had Wyatt actually beat the guy who’s likely to be a #1 contender to the World title in the next few months, Randy Orton. Or at least, it would be a surprise if having someone who had been portrayed as completely ineffective leading up to their big match actually win wasn’t their default booking decision. And in an even smaller shock, Luke Harper, whose entire WWE career involved him being associated with Bray Wyatt, made his big return by interfering to lead to the finish. The announcers tried to sell it as a huge surprise, but come on, with Rowan injured and Strowman on Raw, everyone knew exactly who was going to be in that ring when the lights came back on.
1. Poorly Scheduled Programming
If ever there was a PPV that was scheduled on absolutely the wrong day, it would be No Mercy. On the same Sunday Night as the PPV, TV viewers also had the options of Sunday Night Football, an MLB playoff game, the second episode of HBO’s Westworld (which looks to be the next huge success for the channel), and, of course, the second Presidential Debate, after the first one set viewership records and destroyed Raw’s ratings that night in the process. Toss in the Columbus Day/Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and you have to wonder if this was simply the only possible night WWE could have booked an arena, because No Mercy was starting from way behind to begin with, and never recovered. The good news for WWE is that they don’t care about PPV buyrates anymore, only Network subscriptions, because this show had a real chance to be the least-watched WWE PPV of the modern era.