When Cain Velasquez debuted on the first episode of SmackDown on Fox, it was clearly Vince McMahon and the WWE's attempt to make an emphatic statement on a network which was known for heavy coverage of mixed martial arts (MMA), particularly the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) in the past.
What made it even more dramatic was Velasquez arriving as the muscle of Rey Mysterio Jr. in a Mexican alliance, going straight for Brock Lesnar, or as fans know him, "The Beast." Lesnar had just won the WWE Championship by pummelling Kofi Kingston in a squash match, only for Velasquez to rush him and put in some ground and pound work that left the champ scrambling to exit the arena. However, as fun as it was watching two former UFC champs go at it, this push for Velasquez proves WWE is repeating its biggest MMA mistake.
Coming over from MMA into WWE has worked in the past for a lot of wrestlers: Ken Shamrock, Ronda Rousey, and recently we've seen success with NXT's Matt Riddle and the current Women's Champion there, Shayna Baszler. However, these fighters weren't put on the big stage to take on the face of the company or actually become one of them in a quick fashion: They were given time to work into their storylines on the mid-card or from the bottom up before jumping into a spotlight that would have otherwise highlighted their flaws if their transition came too early into mainstream scripted sports entertainment.
The exception came with Ronda Rousey who, after less than a year with the company, found herself in the title setup with Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. Rousey would go on to become a WrestleMania headliner and last for 232 day as the current longest-reigning Raw Women's Champion. But still, in her fights, you could see several botches and spot a wrestler that was far from the finished product. For the sake of pop culture, Rousey was shoved in our faces -- it helped she was becoming more prominent in movies as well such as The Expendables and Fast & Furious franchises -- with her historic reign as UFC Bantamweight Champion very much in the rear mirror. But she couldn't mask the flaws in her choreographed moves and as WWE kept pushing her as this unbeatable force, fans turned on her. It also derailed Becky Lynch's momentum -- someone fans thought was more deserving, which is why they bought in and vocally supported her movement as "the Man."
In fact, the chorus of boos was so loud, Rousey was made a heel, a more natural fit for her. Even as her mic work drastically improved, her in-ring performances still needed a lot of work.
With Velasquez, mistakes of old are coming back to haunt WWE writers because when he took Lesnar down, it wasn't th same as when he struck him with kidney shots to take the UFC Heavyweight Championship in 2010. This was staged and as far as Velasquez showed, he didn't pass the litmus test. It was a terrible intro as the beatdown just looked awful, unbelievable and yes, botched. Even with Lesnar selling it, you just knew his opponent wasn't ready to be thrust into the limelight yet, leaving us dumbfounded why WWE are trying to emulate the Rousey formula which didn't garner the desired results.
With Velasquez and Lesnar fighting at the Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia on Halloween night, one has to wonder: what's the rush? The former has signed a lucrative WWE deal since officially retiring from UFC but it's just too early to push him as a Beast-Slayer, especially as Seth Rollins recently claimed this mantle by beating Lesnar again for the WWE Championship. In fact, that angle got brushed aside pretty quickly with the brand draft happening, so the writers are rinsing and repeating if they go down this route.
What's worse, WWE has now positioned Velasquez in such a way that anything but a win or total domination would make him look like a chump and something overhyped. It's a lose-lose because if he topples Lesnar, giving him the belt when he's so ripe would lead to a disaster and could see fans turning on him too because Lesnar was framed as an immovable object. WWE fans didn't react well when Goldberg squashed Lesnar, too, so it's not an angle the writers should consider for Velasquez. He isn't even ready for that heavy schedule, not to mention fans want a fighting champ like Kingston, not a part-timer or an infrequent defender of the title like Lesnar and Rousey were in the past.
Simply put, star status doesn't mean much to audiences, which is why WWE should have had Velasquez start from the bottom, finesse his form and work his way up to Lesnar, like Goldberg did in WCW with his unbeaten streak.
This approach would have slowly put the two behemoths on a collision course, acting as a story in the shadows with Velasquez tearing down opponents, knowing he wants to do what he did to Lesnar in the UFC by taking his belt. And that storyline would have been natural for a WrestleMania spectacle as opposed to something forced like what we're currently getting. The promos and staredowns would have been epic, building to a clash of titans and by that time, Velasquez wouldn't have just cut his teeth in WWE, he'd have moved up as a credible threat and powerhouse.