WWE seems like a product that is stretched too thin trying to make too many different players happy—and it shows.
The company's second-biggest event of the year, SummerSlam, had two major returns—those of Brock Lesnar and Becky Lynch—that felt shoehorned in as a response to what another wrestling promotion is doing, all while trying to soothe various relationships with partner companies.
It was so blatant that there doesn't need to be any reporting behind such a hypothesis. But it sure doesn't hurt to hear that Fox executives were "very upset" with how WWE didn't make much of an effort to sign CM Punk before he made his big return with All Elite Wrestling, according to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t WrestlingInc's Marc Middleton).
And how WWE responded probably didn't do much to please everyone, either.
Lynch's surprise return was one of the oddest moments in modern wrestling history. One of the most over wrestlers, perhaps of all time, made a big return after taking time away during her pregnancy to shove aside another competitor, take a cheap shot on a beloved up-and-comer like Bianca Belair and steal back the title in 25 seconds.
It was an unnecessary, cheap burial that, given WWE's history of booking, won't help Belair much and won't get Lynch booed as a heel, either.
The Lesnar return wasn't much better. He showed up at the end of the pay-per-view after Roman Reigns bested John Cena and looked like he had driven straight to the arena from his farm, equipped with a beard, ponytail, blue jeans and boots.
It's no wonder that, according to Meltzer (h/t Sean Reuter of Cageside Seats), a deal with Lesnar was cobbled together at the last second, at least partially in response to Punk's AEW debut.
So for those keeping track, an already-loaded SmackDown roster gets Lynch and Lesnar. That's in addition to Seth Rollins, Big E, Edge, Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Reigns, Bayley, Belair and Naomi, among others.
Meanwhile over on Raw, the main event scene has a weird kid-based feud between Bobby Lashley and the 54-year-old Goldberg. Randy Orton and AJ Styles are stuck in tag team purgatory, and Charlotte Flair is starting yet another title run. And that's pretty much it.
So would it be any great shock to hear USA, WWE's broadcast partner for Raw, is peeved too? There's nothing much going on Raw, a three-hour spectacle that used to be the A-show that suddenly feels like a C-show, at least in comparison to SmackDown.
And Fox, as noted, isn't thrilled, either. While the blue brand's roster is stacked, the execution isn't the best—and it might not get any better. The eyeballs AEW gained with Punk's return isn't a great sign, either. Oh, and try not to forget the WWE-Fox relationship is always probably a bit awkward now because WWE promotes NBC's streaming network, Peacock, on Fox, a company trying to launch its own streaming apps.
Complicated? Here's one thing we haven't even touched on in this equation yet: the fans.
Believe it or not, WWE has to make fans happy on top of all this. And it's not an exaggeration to say the fans are more important than anything else to this equation. No fans, no networks to please.
So it's shame it doesn't feel like WWE makes the fans top priority.
There was an audible backlash to the Belair-Lynch debacle. Lesnar's return was fun, but it boils down to Lesnar-Reigns yet again. Guys like Finn Balor get lost in placeholder feuds until that match. Goldberg sitting in the Raw main event scene with yet another title opportunity as WWE undoubtedly gets ready for its next show in Saudi Arabia (hey, another element WWE has to please) means no chance to build up other long-term stars.
And besides booking that focuses on moments instead of actual storytelling and building up the next generation (areas where AEW excels), WWE has also been bleeding talent. It gutted the NXT roster and also let go of major names like Aleister Black, Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt. Daniel Bryan and Adam Cole aren't guaranteed to stay with the company, either.
WWE made this bed, to say the least. The booking in recent years, when the company isn't dragged kicking and screaming into anointing a Daniel Bryan or turning a Reigns heel, earned it all of these lucrative broadcast deals and international attention. But it came at the cost of the goodwill of fans, which is something AEW capitalized on in a big way—and quicker than most would have predicted.
There's no easy way out for WWE, either. A draft that better balances the rosters will still cause drama with all of the folks the company needs to keep happy, but it should make the oversaturated product more watchable and enjoyable for fans. More emphasis on longer-form storytelling and the stars of the future, not quick moments that will do big numbers on Twitter and YouTube, would be a plus too—those numbers will come regardless if the product is enjoyable, which is what makes it so frustrating.
But if, how and when WWE juggles all of these relationships well, or even passably, is hard to say. The presence of legitimate, growing competition only makes the need to get it right all the direr. But above all else, the fans need to come first. If that happens, the other pieces for a turnaround should fall into place.