WWE No Mercy was positioned to establish precedents.
As just the second Smackdown-specific show of the new era, Sunday evening should have been a night of barn burning action and wild emotional swings. No Mercy should have typified the “anything can happen in the WWE” mantra and set a standard for future co-branded shows to follow.
Instead, WWE pulled the wimpiest promotional move of its existence.
Against Hillary Clinton and friend of the family Donald Trump, the WWE simply didn’t try. They put forth the bare minimum without actually reneging on the promise of promoting a big show.
Wade Keller of the Pro Wrestling Torch frequently recounts Vince McMahon’s admitted willingness to “blink first” and back down off the Monday prime time slot against WCW Nitro. Although that chain of events never came to pass, the No Mercy debacle was the ultimate example of WWE blinking in the face of competition.
By putting the main event first, WWE basically told fans that the rest of the show didn’t matter at all. AJ Styles had retained his title in heelish fashion in time for the debate, and there was nothing else you needed to see in order for the next month of WWE television to make sense.
The last hour of the show featured Dolph Ziggler, the Miz, and Bray Wyatt – three of the most stunted “midcard for life” stars of the current era. The big surprise at the end of the show was the return of Luke Harper, a wrestler of considerable talent marketed throughout his WWE tenure as someone who exists to take losses for other people.
It wasn’t anything you needed to watch. In fact, the more someone watched, the deeper they got into the inconsequential parade of interchangeable stars. Fans were punished for actually caring about No Mercy by being bombarded with increasingly meaningless action.
Leading with the World Heavyweight Title match didn’t do the main event/curtain jerker any favors either. Without the build of the undercard, the succession of big moves felt more jarring than scintillating. The crowd, while excited to see wrestling, hadn’t been built to a proper climax, which hurt the already-convoluted finish’s ability to generate heat.
No matter how you look at it, WWE defaulted on its fundamental promise to fans at No Mercy. Instead of giving them three hours of essential escapism on a night where the growing ugliness of our country was fully on display, WWE provided a main event, patted fans on the head, and said, “I hope you enjoyed that! See you Monday at 8!”
WWE has never displayed this kind of self-defeating promotional cowardice before. Instead of establishing positive precedents, No Mercy did the opposite: it established that, sometimes, WWE isn’t even going to try.