Inner Circle vs. Hurt Business: Who Is the Best Heel Faction in Wrestling Today?
Factions are running wild right now in the world of wrestling, arguably more than ever before between WWE and AEW. Not every stable can be a winner (see: Retribution), but The Hurt Business and Inner Circle have managed to be one of the best parts of their respective shows in 2020.
AEW's Inner Circle has been a staple of Dynamite since its first episode in October 2019. The group consisting of Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara, Jake Hager, Santana and Ortiz has had its fair share of ups and downs since then but remains relevant as a top act in the promotion to this day.
The same can be said for The Hurt Business. Although the foursome of Bobby Lashley, MVP, Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander hasn't been together nearly as long, the group has dominated the Raw scene for six months and continues to expand its brand week after week.
How the factions will be remembered years down the road is entirely dependent on the run they're currently having. That includes how they're booked, memorable matches and moments they may have, their potential and future growth.
A legitimate claim can be made for either Inner Circle or Hurt Business being the best heel faction anywhere in wrestling today. Here, we'll delve into every aspect of each super stable in an effort to determine which one is superior.
Arrival on the Scene
All eyes were on that premiere episode of AEW Dynamite in October 2019, and the promotion did not disappoint in ending the evening on a high note.
Following Chris Jericho, Santana and Ortiz's victory over Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, Sammy Guevara and the debuting Jake Hager hit the ring to aid the heels in their assault on The Elite. One week later, Jericho proclaimed Inner Circle was born.
The group was exactly what the name suggested: Jericho's "inner circle," a crop of competitors he surrounded himself with to ensure he held on to the AEW World Championship at all costs. The members burst on to the scene with a bang and established their motives from the get-go.
The Hurt Business, on the other hand, had more of a gradual debut. It didn't happen all at once, as it took MVP several weeks to finally convince Bobby Lashley that he needed him as a manager in order to get back to being a main event player.
There wasn't a single moment—like for the Inner Circle or even The Shield—that saw Hurt Business come together. Rather, it was a while before Lashley and MVP recruited Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander into their ranks.
The slow-burn storytelling proved to be well worth it for Hurt Business, but in terms of making an instant impact upon debut, Inner Circle has the easy advantage in this area.
Winners: Inner Circle
How They've Been Booked
The Hurt Business may not have gotten off to as hot of a start as Inner Circle, but the faction has been more of a dominant force on WWE Raw in six months than all of Inner Circle has been on AEW Dynamite in over a year.
The initial goal of Hurt Business was for MVP to get Bobby Lashley back to headlining pay-per-views and competing for top titles. He managed to do just that when Lashley contended for Drew McIntyre's WWE Championship at Backlash in June, and even in defeat, The Almighty One had a strong showing and proved he belonged.
That could have well been the end of their alliance, but instead, MVP continued to coach Lashley until he defeated Apollo Crews for the United States Championship at Payback. MVP also enlisted the help of Shelton Benjamin, who has held the 24/7 Championship three times, and eventually Cedric Alexander, who they approached about joining on countless occasions before he finally did.
Throughout this time, Hurt Business has been protected at all costs and has been booked as an important act on Raw, with only Drew McIntyre being more prominently featured. The group has left a lot of people laying and came out on top in the mini-feud with Retribution.
Inner Circle was clearly positioned as featuring the biggest bad guys in AEW from the get-go, but the faction can never seem to win whenever it matters most. It was fairly dominant for the first four months, but once Jericho lost the AEW World Championship, things started to go downhill.
The only member of Inner Circle to win a pay-per-view match in 2020 was Jake Hager at Revolution in February. Jericho has lost to Jon Moxley, MJF and even Orange Cassidy twice, whereas Sammy Guevara suffered multiple losses to Matt Hardy and Santana and Ortiz were beaten by Best Friends in a Parking Lot Brawl.
In other words, Hurt Business is by far the better-booked faction of the two.
Winners: Hurt Business
Memorable Matches and Moments
The Hurt Business tends to win more often than Inner Circle do either as a unit or individually (aside from Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander's lack of luck lately in becoming Raw Tag Team champions), yet most fans can likely name more matches and segments Inner Circle has been involved in compared to Hurt Business.
Inner Circle's various feuds, most notably with The Elite, are a big reason for that. The group largely existed last year so Chris Jericho could hold on to the AEW World Championship for as long as he did, but the onset of 2020 was really when they started to hit their stride together.
The feud with Jon Moxley heading into Revolution was fantastic, while Sammy Guevara had some stellar matches with Darby Allin around that same time. Even Jake Hager's world championship clash with Moxley later in the spring was memorable because of how heavily it was hyped in advance.
Inner Circle arguably peaked with the innovative Stadium Stampede match against The Elite and Matt Hardy at Double or Nothing. Even though the faction fell short of victory, it was a fantastically fun spectacle that played to the strengths of the group.
Hurt Business has dominated against almost everyone who has stepped up this year, but the most memorable feud was with Apollo Crews and Ricochet. The matches were enjoyable but not instant classics, and the rivalry ran on for longer than it should have.
The back-to-back bouts with Retribution can't be classified as barn burners, either. Regardless of whether the group wins or loses, Inner Circle has consistently been in the main event more than Hurt Business, and there is certainly something to be said for that.
Winners: Inner Circle
Connection with the Audience
Determining how strong of a connection to the crowd these two heel factions have had this year is difficult because of the circumstances, especially with AEW welcoming fans back into the building a lot sooner than WWE. That makes it an automatic win for Inner Circle in this category, though it's not exactly a landslide.
If an actual audience was in attendance for Raw right now, it is safe to assume The Hurt Business would be getting over nicely as a top heel act on the show. The group wouldn't be receiving raucous reactions, mind you, but because of how well it has been booked so far, it would definitely be taken more seriously and would have more fans than Retribution.
That said, it's already been proved that Inner Circle would be over with the AEW audience right now because of how popular the faction was for the first five months together before the pandemic hit. The group was well-received at the end of that first Dynamite show, and the Boston crowd the next week treated its members like total stars.
Exact numbers for how much merchandise Inner Circle and Hurt Business have sold up to this point are unknown, but crowd reactions are an effective gauge as far as figuring out where they fall with the fans. Again, it's tougher to tell with Hurt Business because of WWE's ThunderDome environment, but most would agree that the group has helped carry Raw during the pandemic era and is a reason to look forward to the show every week.
Despite that, Inner Circle wins this round by a small margin because of how hot it was early on and how it remains in the good graces of fans to this day.
Winners: Inner Circle
With the many losses the group has endured in 2020, the booking of Inner Circle would suggest that it will be split up sooner rather than later. However, with the recent additions of MJF and Wardlow to the group, it could just be stronger than ever before.
MJF and Wardlow have only been a part of the group for a few weeks, but so far it's made for several entertaining segments, specifically when they traveled to Las Vegas. It's more a matter of whether MJF and Sammy Guevara can get on the same page and if MJF being in Inner Circle will ultimately lead to the faction's demise.
Unlike Inner Circle, The Hurt Business appears to be for the long-term, having shown more growth in a shorter period of time. Bobby Lashley and MVP started in the WWE Championship picture and have since worked their way down to the United States Championship, but it wouldn't take much for them to be booked as main event-level threats again down the road.
In addition to the star-spangled prize, Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander have their sights set on the Raw Tag Team Championship. Once they inevitably capture those, nothing is stopping them from dominating that division and continuing their takeover of the red brand.
It would have been easy for AEW to form Inner Circle and disband it within a matter of months once Chris Jericho dropped the AEW World Championship, but that wasn't the case. Instead, it has remained a cohesive unit through thick and thin and a pretty prominent part of Dynamite.
While there is plenty more for Inner Circle to do, it's more likely the group's members go their separate ways (thanks to MJF) before they get a chance to do so. The faction has already been to the mountaintop, and thus its room for growth is limited, whereas Hurt Business has barely scratched the surface of what it can do.
Winners: Hurt Business
There's a lot to like about both Inner Circle and The Hurt Business right now, and because of how close they are in most of these areas, it could be argued that either one is superior than the other. They've achieved great success in their respective promotions and have been among the biggest MVPs during the pandemic era.
Inner Circle has been the more entertaining stable of the two so far, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it has the bigger upside. IT seemed to peak earlier in the year around the time the group took part in Stadium Stampede, whereas the best is yet to come with Hurt Business.
AEW has handled most of its factions well and more stars could emerge from that faction when all is said and done. Sammy Guevara, Santana and Ortiz have plenty of potential (as well as MJF, despite not being an original member of the group), but Bobby Lashley, MVP, Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander are already better off than they were pre-Hurt Business and are bound to continue climbing up the card.
Most importantly, Raw would be an infinitely worse show without Hurt Business, whereas there are more than enough compelling characters and groups in AEW to keep Dynamite afloat if Inner Circle was to break up in the near future.
Although Inner Circle can be considered the better group at the moment, that could and probably will change depending on where things stand with the faction six months from now.
Winners: Inner Circle
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.