While trying to hype the biggest match of the year, to have fans hungry to see Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns tear into each other at WrestleMania, WWE laid a rancid egg in the center of the ring.
The stink washed over the audience as Monday's Raw ended.
The go-home Raw before WrestleMania is the company's annual last major shot at injecting anticipation in fans' veins. It's the climax before the climax, the chance to create a cliffhanger that compels folks watching to make sure they shell out the cash for the marquee pay-per-view.
WWE chose to center that sales pitch this year around a tepid tug of war.
Reigns and Lesnar had not come face to face since the Monday after the Royal Rumble. That night, a snowstorm forced the company to air Raw from its headquarters and be creative to make up for the fact that there was no ring to work with—no wrestling on a three-hour wrestling show.
The result was a tense showdown in which Reigns and Lesnar got into each other's faces, with the champ telling his challenger, "I don't respect you."
It was simple, effective and had enough spark to get fans excited about what was to come. Fast-forward to three months later, and their final meeting before their title bout had a fraction of the intensity that this moment had.
The buildup had primarily been built around Paul Heyman describing the prison beating his client would give Reigns. Reigns said time and time again that he would prove his doubters wrong. There had been no more staredowns, no violence, no real surprises in the narrative.
On Monday's Raw, these two powerhouses were to finally meet again. That first segment back in January had lit the fuse. This one was sure to feature an explosion or two.
In his five-point preview on WWE.com, James Wortman hinted at a collision that sounded mighty appealing. He wrote, "The Big Dog will find himself within mauling distance of the ravenous WWE World Heavyweight champion. Just six days before locking horns at WrestleMania, will the face-to-face confrontation between Reigns and The Beast Incarnate end in brutality? If so, for whom?"
There was no brutality or mauling. Instead, Reigns yanked the world title from Lesnar and the two then tried to pry it out of the other's hands. That's all.
Negative responses rolled in.
Former WWE cruiserweight champ Gregory Shane Helms mocked the level of intensity generated in that moment:
MMA fighter Tom Lawlor had similar thoughts:
The Fan's Podcast summed up how ridiculous the exchange looked:
Former wrestling personality Vince Russo had a surplus of critiques to share:
It's hard to argue with his assessment. Even if WWE wanted to keep the physicality to a minimum in order to save it for WrestleMania, it had a bevy of options to work with. It chose one of the least appealing ones, making Reigns and Lesnar look silly.
They could have had a shoving match. Referees could have pulled them apart as they tried to close in for a fight. Even a silent staredown would have been preferable to a game of "No, it's mine!"
Remembering some of the great ways WWE has capped off the final Raw before WrestleMania in the past makes Monday's decision look even worse.
Just last year, Daniel Bryan interrupted a match between Batista and Randy Orton by leaping out of the crowd and pouncing on Triple H as Stephanie McMahon shrieked. Before WrestleMania XXV, Triple H stood alongside Shane and Vince McMahon in a brawl with Legacy.
On the go-home show before WrestleMania XV, Steve Austin famously sprayed The Rock and the McMahon family with beer.
Those moments increased the temperature heading into WrestleMania. They are moments fans will treasure. You can't say any of that about what went down between Reigns and Lesnar.
On Monday night, WWE threw up an air ball.
The tug of war hurts the build to Reigns vs. Lesnar more than helps it. Fans are busy chuckling or sighing rather than buzzing about how great The Show of Shows will be.
WWE has to now shake off the sting of falling on its face and make sure WrestleMania doesn't end in such flaccid fashion.