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Burn, Baby, Burn – WWE’s Mishandling Of Cain Velasquez

My friend’s dad, Jim, liked gambling on horses.

Once, on vacation in Daytona Beach, Jim walked back to his hotel after a day at the races. Not realizing he had roughly $500 cash in his wallet, Jim took a dip in the hotel pool, soaking the bills completely. Jim thought that the most effective way to dry them would be to throw everything into microwave.

Result: Jim lost $500 in Daytona Beach that day, and not at the races.

I thought of that story as soon as I read that former UFC Heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez was released from his high-priced but short-lived WWE contract.

And I understand part of the “why” here, before we start. I get it. The company had no other choice but to liquidate assets; the ones they viewed as non-essential.

Does that decision mean that WWE views Velasquez as not worth the investment? It certainly comes off that way.

So, then, why?

Velasquez’ release doesn’t come as a complete shock considering today’s climate–but that’s not what’s surprising. All businesses are taking a hit, including all sports and live event-centric entertainment. The real head-scratcher here is what it revealed about WWE’s creative thought process. They never had a plan for Cain Velasquez.

It’s not about the talent as much as the moment

Cain Velasquez’s pro wrestling debut last summer at Triplemania in Mexico for AAA was, to say the least, a success. It got wide sports coverage around the world and dominated the MMA and pro wrestling media cycles for at least a week. After only a few weeks of training, ‘Cardio Cain’ wasn’t only ready for the ring–he was actually pretty damn good already, all things considered.

In addition to taking to wrestling like the proverbial duck to water, he also has a massive platform. He was a proven draw not just in the States but wields serious drawing power in Mexico. He was a boon for WWE, who offered him big bucks to sign. Yes, the world is changing dramatically right now, but why burn money? Because, without a doubt, getting rid of Cain Velasquez, the pre-made superstar with a legit sports background and tremendous in-ring potential, the former UFC champ with a large international fanbase, was not the best move, or in WWE TV parlance, it’s not what’s “best for business.”

Cain’s whacky speed-date with WWE

For exactly what reason, we’re not sure, the most memorable thing Velsquesz did was do a quick angle with no payoff, which included himself, Brock Lesnar and Rey Mysterio. It wrapped last October when Velasquez was quickly served up to Brock Lesnar in Saudi Arabia in a proverbial lamb-to-slaughter type bout, losing to Lesnar in only a few minutes. While the Saudi fans may have gotten their wish to see two megastars in person, they were robbed of a story with any substance. It was a rush job, obviously, and it surely elicited a collective groan around the world from Valesquez’s diehard fans who expected at least the illusion of a competitive sequel to their first fight in UFC.

Released? Already??

Before signing with WWE, Velasquez spoke with various other promotions, like NJPW and AEW, though WWE’s offer was said to be for an inordinate amount of money, a number I’m sure he couldn’t turn down. Again, that makes sense–but was it the right move to sign the guy preemptively without a real plan? The answer again is no.

Signing talent away from other companies is an out-of-date strategy from a much different time. The Monday Night Wars ended over 20 years ago, and while competition is more heated than it’s been in years, it is 100% not the strategy WWE should employ going forward. Preemptive signings are not helpful in 2020 because it makes them look out of touch or petty, and 2020 fans realize that more so than ever now. Put simply, it’s a bad look.

Velasquez’s injuries and body image are also rumored to have concerned some in charge backstage upon his signing. Velasquez also let slip that he’d be an entrant in the 2020 Royal Rumble, though once the news was out, WWE’s booking team squashed the idea immediately.

One source also reported to Fight Game Media that a few higher-ups backstage were upset about a photo Velasquez tweeted of himself with Ronda Rousey at WWE HQ.

Could any of these reasons be why Cain was released? I suppose. But does that mean it was the best business decision for WWE? No, and not in the least. In the eyes of the coveted, but fickle 18–49 demo, it’s a transparent technique, an outdated business strategy for a much different world than Vince and company are used to. Would your HR department fire you for taking a photo with an industry colleague? Most industries wouldn’t, though WWE has a knack for niggling disruptive talent until they’re out the door.

Axing unused talent, that makes sense. Releasing those who’ve already hinted they weren’t happy with the company? Well, now’s a better time than ever to come to amicable agreements with unhappy talent and let them out of their contracts. That’s another plus. But getting rid of Cain Velasquez, a superstar who could help reignite audience interest worldwide and help to expand and legitimize the industry? It’s not like he’s planning on returning to the octagon anytime soon.

In theory, and without much thought given, the logic behind putting your wet cash in the microwave to dry it more quickly, it makes sense, but it absolutely is 100% what you should never ever do. Sure, Jim learned that the hard way, but when will WWE?

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