With the ever-increasing size of the WWE Universe, it was basically a necessity that the roster get divided into easier to manage sections. Twice now, Vince McMahon and his executives have accomplished this goal by literally splitting their staff in half, making one group exclusive to Raw and the others limiting their appearances to SmackDown Live.
The first time around, there were enough pros and cons to the roster split fans constantly discussed whether or not it was even worth instating. Even so, the brand extension came back in full force not five years later, and for the time being, it looks as though it’s here to stay. Like any major company-wide mandates, the roster split has been great for some wrestlers and terrible for others.
While certain WWE superstars could never have achieved the heights they currently experience without the current brand extension, there are an equal number of athletes who are still getting lost in the flood. This could be because they’re on the wrong show, they’re simply getting ignored, or any other number of reasons, but the fact remains the brand split is far from perfect for everyone in the WWE Universe. Depending on which wrestlers they turn into the company to watch, plenty of fans are likewise concerned the brand extension may be doing more harm than good. Keep reading to learn why with 8 pro wrestlers benefitting from the brand split and 7 getting killed by it.
15 BENEFITTING: Big Cass
To the sizable portion of the WWE Universe that doesn’t watch NXT, the rise of Enzo Amore and Big Cass was borderline meteoric. The duo made their debut a few months before the roster split, and while they were basically stars from the start, it was winding up on Raw that suddenly elevated both to main event status. Big Cass in particular found his way to the main event after Enzo suffered a concussion, something that never would have happened if the whole, cluttered WWE Universe was around to vie for that spot. Once Enzo was healthy again, it also helped that Raw was the hands down better brand for a tag team to wind up on, as they had far more opponents to prove themselves against than SmackDown could have offered. Now that the two broke up, only time will tell which of the two truly belongs on this list.
14 GETTING KILLED: Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows
In spite of the fact Raw’s tag team speak is better than SmackDown’s in general, this doesn’t mean every duo on the brand is going to reap the rewards this could bring. On the contrary, some great teams are getting ignored due to the sheer volume of viable star duos on the brand. Most unfairly overlooked of all would have to be Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, who entered WWE with boundless potential which almost entirely disappeared when they were separated from AJ Styles. Although Anderson and Gallows still get a win here or there, they have nowhere near the status their erstwhile leader attained, and lost a lot of their shine by losing the association. Of course, this is more the fault of bad booking than Anderson or Gallows, who still deliver in the ring. Unfortunately, the storylines they’ve been involved with recently are just too weak to make any of it matter.
13 BENEFITTING: A.J. Styles
The flipside to the fact Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows have been somewhat stilted by getting drafted to the opposite brand of their ally A.J. Styles is that “The Phenomenal One” has had no such qualms as succeeding on his own. If anything, Styles has only thrived even greater since going entirely solo, winning multiple matches against John Cena and winning the WWE Championship. Styles had just recently made his debut to great acclaim seven months prior to the brand extension, and given his talents, he may well have wound up on top whether the split happened or not. Even so, by winding up on the more technical skill-based SmackDown, Styles has the proper setting to show off his many talents in the ring on a weekly basis, which certainly helped accelerate the process.
12 GETTING KILLED: Mark Henry
Truth be told, “The World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry has found his career on a gradual downslide for a good five years now. Be that as it may, it was only after the brand split that Henry’s career came to a near complete stop. Since getting drafted to Raw, Henry’s sole memorable moment was claiming that he had a “whole lot left in him” and was ready to revive his highly successful Hall of Pain run. That ended as quickly as it began, though, with Mark losing a single US Championship match against Rusev and pretty much giving up on the idea. Would things be going any better for Henry on SmackDown? It’s hard to say for sure, because his age and diminishing abilities in the ring could be a hindrance wherever he goes.
11 BENEFITTING: Braun Strowman
Unlike Luke Harper or Erick Rowan, the absolute best thing to happen to Braun Strowman’s career thus far has been getting a completely clean break from the Wyatt Family. Prior to the brand split, Strowman was arguably the least memorable follower of Wyatt’s cult, perceived as little more than a giant lug who didn’t do anything except grunt and look imposing. Once allowed to shine on his own, Strowman wasted no time in revealing his natural instincts as a monstrous power wrestler, dominating whatever scrub WWE could toss at him. Had Strowman been drafted to the same brand as Wyatt, even if the group broke up right away, he probably would have been caught in a drawn out feud explaining why, and thus never given the chance to rise up the card. That he wound up on the same brand as the most hated man in the company today and gets to throw cars at him is just a bonus.
10 GETTING KILLED: Rusev
For reasons no one except Vince McMahon really understands, Rusev is another wrestler who has been on a confusing downslide since before the roster split even happened. That said, there’s no denying the descent has been accelerated by Rusev getting drafted to Raw, where he did little more than win the United States Championship for a second time and rehash every storyline used during the first, then form a baffling alliance with Jinder Mahal. At the time, Mahal was still seen as a career loser, and it was clearly a massive step down for Rusev to be working with him. The only explanation for the pairing was that WWE didn’t have anything for either guy to do in singles, probably because the Raw roster was too crowded. Maybe things will go better now that he’s been moved to SmackDown, but it’s too early to save him from this list.
9 BENEFITTING: The Miz
Theoretically, the WWE roster split only makes sense if equal effort is put into both shows, but fans of the company know this simply isn’t the case. From the very beginning, Raw has been the flagship and SmackDown has been the B-Show, and nothing Vince McMahon can come up with has changed people’s perception on this. Part of the problem is that any celebrity guest is going to be on Raw, which hurts SmackDown in the sense the blue brand gets far less mainstream attention. However, to get to the point, this is also a huge boost for the Raw superstars who get to interact with said celebs, and nine times out of ten, that happens to be The Miz’s job. This simple reason alone is enough to make it clear Miz benefits from the roster split, and his run as WWE Intercontinental Championship shows all the glamour is also paying off inside the ring.
8 GETTING KILLED: Bray Wyatt
Prior to the roster split, Bray Wyatt was a dominant cult leader with boundless potential in WWE. Instantly upon getting drafted to SmackDown, he lost Braun Strowman as one of his followers, and he gave up on Erick Rowan not long after that. From there, Wyatt entered into a seemingly never-ending program with Randy Orton, which at first looked like it should have been a huge push. Bizarrely, however, the more time Wyatt spent with Orton, the faster his stock in WWE plummeted. Plenty of the reasons why were related to the fact it all happened on SmackDown—the Tag Team Championship reign was a bust because the blue brand tag scene is completely forgettable, the breakup failed because SmackDown didn’t have any other options, and then the second tier writing turned the would-be payoff matches into absolute nonsense. Wyatt recently shook over to Raw, and time will tell if he fares better with after the move.
7 BENEFITTING: Jinder Mahal
Almost two months into Jinder Mahal’s reign as WWE Champion, and wrestling insiders still can’t explain what the heck Vince McMahon was thinking when he gave decided to let him hold the gold. Well, that’s unless the most cynical explanation possible is to be believed, that being McMahon is blinded by Jinder’s impressively improved physique and doesn’t realize the guy has marginal skills in the ring at best and is absolutely nothing to speak about on the microphone. With all of this in mind, there’s no way Jinder ever could have been noticed in a sea of the 100+ wrestlers on the entire WWE roster. Only because the brand extension split things in two did he get a chance to wind up in a random main event or two, then strangely win, and then become the company’s top champion.
6 GETTING KILLED: Apollo Crews
When the news broke that Apollo Crews, then known as Uhaa Nation, had signed with WWE, fans of his work in Dragon Gate and other indy promotions were extremely excited about what the man could accomplish. Crews possesses a rare combination of strength and agility that makes him an expert power wrestler and high flyer, two styles that are obviously quite popular with Vince McMahon’s viewers. For whatever reason, though, Crews has repeatedly come up short in proving himself as a viable threat to the other athletes on the roster. Having debuted only a few months before the brand split began, Crews could have been one of the many wrestlers who used it to stand out in the new and changing environment. Instead, he totally blended into the background on SmackDown, and has largely continued to do so since getting moved over to Raw.
5 BENEFITTING: Charlotte Flair
As just about every wrestling fan should be aware by now, WWE has made a concerted effort to revolutionize female athletes’ roles in the company for some time now, and the roster split has played a huge role in these endeavors. Being perhaps the highest profile female superstar on the roster, Charlotte Flair has immensely benefitted in this regard, and won four Raw Women’s Championships to prove it. Once again the issue of Raw as the flagship program comes into play, as to really sell the fact women were getting bigger and better chances in wrestling needed to be especially true of their most famous program. Charlotte was chosen as the key figure in selling this perception, engaging in a bitter feud against Sasha Banks where they two became the first females to headline a WWE Network special event. Because she won the match, Charlotte edged out Sasha for a spot on the list.
4 GETTING KILLED: Bayley
The mere fact women are getting an overall better shake in WWE than ever before hardly means every single female on the roster suddenly turned into a potential headliner. As has always been the case, WWE still has the ability to royally screw things up for a talented performer, which is exactly what they’ve been doing to Bayley since she was called up from NXT to the Raw brand. Upon Bayley’s arrival, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks were dominating the Raw Women’s Championship scene, leaving little room for everyone’s favorite hugger to interject. By the time she asserted herself, Bayley’s character had suffered a number of serious blows that lowered her stock in the eyes of many fans. Had she simply debuted on SmackDown from the start, maybe the problem could have been avoided by giving her something to do from day one.
3 BENEFITTING: Alexa Bliss
Almost literally the exact opposite of Bayley in every way, Alexa Bliss has succeeded in every way the Huggable One has failed. Instantly upon making her debut on SmackDown, Bliss continued evolving from a valet into a full-fledged wrestler, with the added benefit of most WWE fans not knowing she used to manage down in NXT. Emboldened by this legitimacy, Bliss soon captured the SmackDown Women’s Championship twice, having no trouble dominating the division, something she never could have done on Raw at the time. However, Bliss was eventually able to make the jump to Raw and win that brand’s Women’s Championship at well, making her the first woman to win both women's titles in the new brand split era. Bayley’s example proves just how hard this would have been to do the other way around, but because Bliss did everything in the right order, she has already made history.
2 GETTING KILLED: Dolph Ziggler
Taking things a step further than the other couple wrestlers on this list who have been suffering diminishing returns of late, Dolph Ziggler’s career trajectory has looked so grim for so long some fans have assumed he was getting ready to quit. Granted, the rumors of Ziggler leaving WWE were most prevalent in late 2016, and the fact he’s still around as of this writing would imply those reports were spurious at best. Even so, the fact remains that Ziggler’s career has seen no favors since the brand split sent him to SmackDown, where he theoretically should have been able to stand out. SmackDown has always been more concerned with what happens inside the ring, and Ziggler is as consistent a performer as any in the company. Unfortunately, though, he’s largely been treading the waters as a performer who still has name value but never seems to win anymore. Were Ziggler over on Raw, at least he might have experienced a high profile storyline or two to keep himself relevant.
1 BENEFITTING: Samoa Joe
Given his destructive nature, chances are Samoa Joe would have been just fine on Raw or SmackDown, and that goes for in the modern era or 10 years ago, had he been around back then. Hell, with a man like Joe, the rosters could still be combined, and he’d do whatever it took to rise to the top in short order against all comers. That said, being placed on Raw is what ensured Joe would be a legitimate sports entertainment superstar instead of merely a well-respected grappler. Of course, earning the fans' respect is highly important, but it doesn’t quite compare to earning main event matches against Brock Lesnar after less than six months in the company. Joe’s character has also been written in a way that allows his vocal intensity to shine through, revealing microphone skills that had largely gone unnoticed in his career until now, which was something the Raw producers likely helped draw out of him.
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