It's finally here, WWE has decided to institute a brand split. Starting July 19th, the roster will be divided and SmackDown will be its own live show on Tuesday nights. This comes at a time when many Superstars will be returning from injuries, as WWE will look to further define their New Era. Nevertheless, there are several major questions and concerns about this new brand split.
The last time WWE engaged in splitting their roster, it never felt like a level playing field. No matter how good the wrestling was on SmackDown, it was always about Raw. Monday Night Raw is the flagship show and it will be interesting to see if WWE continues to refer to it as such. This new development brings not only superstars into question, but announcers, title belts, PPVs, and everyone's favorite; the part-time wrestlers. Regardless of what side of this debate you fall on, whether you think the roster is fine the way it is or you would like to see a return to whatever 2002 through 2011 was, the news of this will affect how you choose to view wrestling from this point forward.
Creating its own competition has been something WWE has had trouble with since the close of WCW. There's so much value tied up in the Raw brand that it's difficult to imagine WWE lowering its prestige at all. Ironically, their greatest competition has come from their own developmental system, which surely will change over the next coming months. Maybe this is a chance for the WWE Network to be used in a creative fashion by holding the draft or interbrand matches on it. Whatever is the case, WWE wasn't lying when they said it was time for a New Era. We've got major questions about it though.
In the press release done by WWE, they mentioned each show having distinctive feels in the roster and storylines. While each show supposedly has head writers, does WWE think any of us are foolish enough to actually believe that? The creative team in WWE simply comes down to the same person it always has, Vincent Kennedy McMahon.
As history has shown, nothing moves in WWE without Vince's say so. Vince has shown the inability to present SmackDown on Raw's level consistently. What we've gotten in the past is a solid month and a half of programming for SmackDown, then watching it turn into a replay of Raw that is totally skippable. While he shouldn't cede full control to his staff, he's got to appoint his best people to really make each show different. To many fans, the best part of NXT has been the complete lack of Vince McMahon. What if we applied those philosophies to the main roster?
Since its inception, SmackDown has been the little brother. It was the place where new talent could start, but as soon as a wrestler started to break through on a star level, they were quickly moved to Raw as if we wouldn't notice their cyclical tendencies.
In modern times the same thing could happen, making SmackDown a lesser show in the process. It seems like it would be a matter of time before all the good booking ideas mysteriously end up on Raw. Why? Because they always have. The theory of second class citizenship stretches to feuds as well. If there aren't two world titles, how will a SmackDown only feud translate to being the top program in the company? Even if the champion shows up to push the feud on SmackDown, Raw inherently will be more important. We'll have to see how the rosters shake out.
A staple of the brand split era was the brand only pay-per-view. On months without a major show such as WrestleMania or SummerSlam, each roster would alternate putting on that month's show. To say it lightly, some of those SmackDown only shows were quite thin.
As of this writing, the destinies of each championship have not been decided, but a split roster, plus no world championship match, would in theory, equal a lesser show. To combat that, WWE began basing entire pay-per-views around gimmick matches, which wasn't their best ever invention and led to many circumstances where the feud didn't reflect the gimmick stipulation for that month whatsoever. Can WWE really alternate its pay-per-view roster and keep it interesting? Who gets the shaft at the big shows?
Let's hope that each show shares the pay-per-views.
As mentioned before, a show with no world champion lacks a certain buzz. No matter how much the Intercontinental Championship could be built up, it's not the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. To even get it near the same level would require a serious weakening of the top champion which WWE managed to actually do in 2015, with John Cena and Seth Rollins. But how many John Cena's do WWE have walking around these days?
WWE put so much time and creative energy into unifying their titles in 2013, but their new landscape almost necessitates them splitting the championship again. Will the women's title follow the same rules as the men's championship? Will they isolate the women or tag teams to a certain show? While the floating champion idea is out there, the titles will unfortunately be shown a different level of respect.
Since there are less women, splitting them doesn't really seem like a great idea, but it remains to be seen.
On the surface, WWE has presented this as a massive opportunity for their roster and for fans, to watch two "equal" live shows on back to back days. There has to be more to this than that.
Did SmackDown on USA not work out to the level that they assumed it would? Is this an attempt to further frame the time that Roman Reigns' became the champion following a WrestleMania? Will this show simply be used to create new stars and give opportunity as things would suggest, or is it to protect certain members of the roster and future match-ups?
Or is this really just about Stephanie McMahon running one show and Shane McMahon running the other? We're not easily fooled.
Without question the most critically acclaimed portion of WWE has been their developmental system NXT. NXT has been the glimmer of hope for fans looking for a more realistic and logical WWE wrestling product. Filled with some of the best independent talent and worldwide megastars, NXT has grown from being developmental, to having its own live specials, to being more critically acclaimed than WrestleMania on the same weekend.
With this change, NXT will not be the same as it once was. Gone will be the long championship chases of someone like Sami Zayn. Expect to see call-ups a lot faster and NXT go through a period of transition to compensate for their loss of star power.
This hasn't been answered yet, but are current members of NXT eligible to be drafted? If so, expect Finn Balor, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Samoa Joe to be on Raw or Smackdown immediately.
There will be something fundamentally unfair about the running times of each show. Raw will continue to be three hours and draw more collective ratings for WWE than SmackDown, which is set to be two hours.
It flies directly in the face of trying to create equal brands, given one show is an hour longer than the other one. Over the course of a month, this will make for 12 hours of a Raw and eight hours of SmackDown, and yearly it will be 144-96 (Four Week Average). 52 hours more of television on a yearly basis will clearly position Raw as the top product in WWE. WWE would be wise to seek out ways to convince the USA Network to allow them to even out the shows, as Raw's stars will be over exposed faster if both rosters have the same amount of members.
A huge debate within the wrestling community is if WWE will position one show to aim at casual viewers and one show to aim at hardcore fans. Newsflash, they've already done this. Doing this anymore would take some of the luster off of NXT. Part of why it works on NXT is, in addition to the booking and stories hardcore fans love, there are new faces to mask everything. Doing the same thing with guys people are largely sick of will be ineffective.
Furthermore, in WWE's most successful times, they didn't try to segregate their audience, they went after everyone. Aiming at a casual audience that isn't there and branding a show for the hardcore fans is just doing too many things at once on a main roster level. Hopefully WWE will decide what exactly they want to be, or they can expect more WrestleManias and Royal Rumbles to be hi-jacked and main events getting the boo treatment.
Well, they've already done this entire thing once. They also got rid of it for a reason, so bringing it back could be their attempt to right the wrongs of a previous brand split. With a roster that is as talented on the performance side as we've ever seen, this would be the time to try this.
Unfortunately, that talent has coincided with a shaky creative team and a more vocal fanbase than ever before. The fans who read sites like these are more than willing to be patient while WWE attempts to navigate their way through this change. But even that patience will be tested at some point. WWE is taking a huge risk attempting to line up their audience how they want it. People are creatures of habit and unless Raw isn't there on Mondays, it will be the day more people naturally tune in.
Additionally, if going live permanently doesn't work for SmackDown, this is the end right? It has proven to be no more of a ratings mover on USA, on Thursday than it is on Friday on another network. Live is the last resort for SmackDown.
An important issue come WrestleMania time or any other big show will be, how do the part-timers fit into the plans, and are they completely exempt from being drafted, or at the least property of the two shows?
For argument's sake, will The Undertaker, Triple H, The Rock, and Brock Lesnar be wildcards or active draft-able guys? They will probably just freelance between both shows, specially advertised, and continue to be presented as above the regular roster like normal. However, it would make for a great swerve if Brock or The Undertaker was announced as someone's #1 selection.
Over the last calendar year, to say Raw has struggled creatively would be an understatement. Since WrestleMania, steps have been taken week to week to improve the show, but adding another top level show has to be a difficult proposition for the writing team.
Match-ups will be exhausted faster and there will be less performers to rotate into prime positions. Expect mass signings of anyone not locked into long term deals outside WWE to fill these potentially thin rosters. WWE will be challenged with keeping both shows compelling, without redundant storylines. It will be a challenge to incorporate the Money In The Bank briefcase, as well as the Royal Rumble winner, which again goes back to the potential creation of a second world championship. And what if the injury bug decides to show back up in full force? All of these things are linked and it will be interesting to see what WWE learned from their previous mistakes.
The great question of them all is who will anchor each show. Especially on Smackdown, which needs to be completely overhauled and rebranded. WWE would be wise to look to a familiar face who came of age during the golden era of Smackdown.
Nevertheless, if champion's are eligible, expect the top draft selection to be Roman Reigns for Raw and John Cena for Smackdown. Each roster will be constructed in the shadows of these men. WWE will get to see if Roman Reigns is truly the guy they want him to be, but they also need to present him in a unique way independent of what the other brand will make Cena out to be.
We're entering a new age of WWE and while we have a past to reference, everything is on the table because this company is constantly evolving and looking for ways to entertain us, and maybe even themselves.
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