In 2002, WWE looked at the stacked roster of world-class talents they had assembled following the fall of WCW and ECW and correctly discovered that they had assembled perhaps the most impressive collection of wrestlers the business had ever seen. There was just one problem; there wasn’t nearly enough television time for all of them. So, in an effort to maximize the exposure of Raw and SmackDown as well as create a feeling of competition, WWE decided to have their first ever brand split. Following a draft, half of the roster would go to SmackDown and the other half to Raw.
Was it a success? That answer depends on who you ask. However, like most things in wrestling, the truth about this brand split is that it came with a little bit of good and a little bit of bad. This is especially true of each show’s storylines which sometimes benefited from not having to incorporate so many wrestlers by maximizing the potential of a select few superstars and sometimes revealed that a thinner roster can lead to some desperate attempts at entertainment. So as we embark on another brand split, let’s look back to 2002-2004 (between the first two drafts) and find the 8 greatest and 7 worst storylines of the original brand split.
15 Best: Team Angle
Sometimes, the wrestling gods just smile upon you. Such was the case for Paul Heyman late in 2002 when he realized that in order to properly set-up a Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar main event for WrestleMania XIX, he needed to turn Kurt Angle into a way bigger heel. In order to do so, he wanted to make Kurt the leader of a new heel faction of incredibly gifted wrestlers called “Team Angle.” What was great about Team Angle was that they didn’t just resort to interference and other heel faction tactics (although they certainly weren’t above that), but rather drew heat by continuously proving themselves to be far superior wrestlers.
14 Worst: Vince McMahon vs. Stephanie McMahon
Even some otherwise quite intelligent wrestling fans have trouble separating the characters of the McMahons from their real-life personas. Maybe that’s because they do such a great acting job (or maybe it has something to do with those bizarre stories that float around about the McMahons), but some people just can’t appreciate the differences. One of the strangest aspects the Mr. McMahon character (or perhaps even the real Mr. McMahon) is his unhealthy on-screen obsession with his daughter. That creepiness was raised to another level during this feud which saw Vince physically manhandle Stephanie en route to a very awkward “I Quit” match between the two.
13 Best: Chris Jericho Doesn't Want To Be Shawn Michaels
It’s amazing how far wrestling bookers will go to find a reason for two competitors to be in the same ring. Wrestlers have fought over very bizarre things over the years despite the fact that most matches don’t need a build that goes beyond “I think I’m good, you think you’re good, let’s do this.” The Shawn Michaels/Chris Jericho feud of 2003 is, essentially, an evolved take on that concept. Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho had spent a few weeks exchanging cheap shots due to their respective egos until Jericho finally confronted Michaels about the pride and resentment he felt every time he was compared to Shawn Michaels.
12 Worst: The Relationship Of Billy and Chuck
Who would have thought that WWE would handle a storyline involving homosexual wrestlers with all the class of an empty schoolhouse? Everyone is the answer to that question. It must be said that the Billy and Chuck storyline wasn’t always quite that bad. At first, WWE was actually quite subtle about whether or not Billy and Chuck were a gay tag team. That lasted about a week before Vince McMahon started attaching every homosexual stereotype to these two and someone deduced that this somehow automatically made them a heel team.
11 Best: The Rock Goes Hollywood
As great as it is to cheer for The Rock, it’s hard to deny that the man is one of the biggest natural born heels to ever step foot in a wrestling ring. The Rock took off as a cocky athlete that felt he was better than everyone else and, although he never really stopped being that guy, he just started to draw way too many cheers to be a proper heel during the height of his WWE run. Before The Rock’s full-time WWE career was over, though, WWE would find the chance to turn him heel once more in 2003.
10 Worst: The Fall Of Zach Gowen
Zach Gowen was a young wrestler with a prosthetic leg that was actually a fairly capable worker despite his considerable handicap. Gowen was reportedly never against having his leg become a factor during storylines, which makes sense given that it could be used to turn him into a major babyface. At first, it appeared that’s what WWE was going to do with him as they paired him up with Mr. America (Hulk Hogan) and positioned him against Mr. McMahon. It’s there that everything started to go wrong. McMahon put Gowen through a number of verbal and physical beatdowns (the worst of which came at the hands of Brock Lesnar who decimated this kid) and never let him get a measure of revenge.
9 Best: Matt Hardy Version 1
One of the big selling points of the brand split has always been the way it, supposedly, allows new blood to get a chance at making a name for themselves. I say supposedly, of course, because more often than not it’s the same old stars doing the same old things. Given that the original brand split occurred at a time when the creative team was still open to accepting wrestlers' input on stories and character directions, however, some people did take advantage of their increased exposure and forged a new career path.
8 Worst: Eric Bischoff Teases HLA
There are times when you get the impression that Vince McMahon would put a gun to his head and threaten to shoot himself when Raw returns from a commercial break if it meant that rating would increase by a point. Actually, they kind of did just that with Stone Cold Steve Austin one time. Well, that just goes to prove the point that WWE will sometimes sink to incredible lows just to draw attention. Even still, Eric Bischoff’s promise of “hot lesbian action” on Raw has to one of the lowest moments in the history of the company. By promising that two young women were going to have sex live on Raw by the end of the evening, WWE hoped that people would tune in out of curiosity.
7 Best: Triple H And Shawn Michaels' Blood Feud
Nobody was quite sure what to expect from Shawn Michaels in 2002. Not only had he been away from actively wrestling matches for the last four years, but the last time anybody had seen him, he was dealing with some rather nasty personal issues that had turned him into a shell of his former in-ring self. Everyone was happy to see him back, but nobody knew how he would perform or what WWE had in store for him. Those questions were answered in rather short order when Triple H pedigreed Shawn Michaels and started a war between the former best friends.
6 Worst: Dawn Marie and Torrie Wilson's Love Triangle
Sometimes, it’s okay if a wrestler has nothing to do. You don’t always need to give every performer a storyline if it means the storyline they are involved in is the kind of miserable soap opera dribble that your average person typically associates with the worst wrestling has to offer. Nobody is entirely sure why Dawn Marie and Torrie Wilson felt the need to engage in a long (as in several PPVs) storyline involving Dawn Marie seducing Torrie Wilson’s father.
5 Best: The SmackDown Tag Tournament
4 Worst: Booker T and Triple H’s Race War
Can you do a racial storyline in professional wrestling in this modern age without it being incredibly offensive? Perhaps, but if you do, you certainly don’t do it like this. First off, the problem here was that Booker T had failed to really get over with WWE’s audience on his own and probably shouldn’t have been in a WrestleMania title match at this point. To help get Booker T over, WWE decided to have Triple H spout off a tirade of thinly veiled racial remarks that did nothing to contribute to the feud they were having. Triple H denied that comments like “people like you don’t get to be a world champion” had anything to do with Booker’s race, but that certainly doesn’t explain why Hunter felt it necessary to comment on Booker’s “nappy hair” during one particularly awful promo.
3 Best: The Rise of Brock Lesnar
Look all you want, but you’ll struggle to find a wrestler that had a more impressive rookie year than Brock Lesnar. From the moment that he debuted on Raw and proceeded to tear apart men a third of his size with reckless abandonment, Lesnar gave the impression that he was something quite unlike WWE fans had ever seen. What’s truly remarkable about the rise Brock Lesnar, though, is that WWE did not drop the ball on him in his first year. They had him absolutely destroy a series of legends and top talents with the same ferocity that he displayed in his debut.
2 Worst: Katie Vick
1 Best: The Formation and Dominance of Evolution
It was hard to know what to think of Evolution when the group first formed. Some people still have trouble deciding what to make of the group’s legacy. Evolution’s initial criticism centered around the fact that it was a pretty pale imitation of the Four Horsemen that didn’t have a chance of equaling the legacy of that group as long as it featured guys like Randy Orton and Batista. That, combined with Triple H’s dominance of the World Heavyweight Championship scene, rubbed some people the wrong way.
In the end, though, you have to consider Evolution to be a massive success. Not only did it turn Orton and Batista into mega-stars, but the group’s antics ensured that the first incarnation of the Raw brand never ran low on high-profile matches with bolstered by the group’s genuine heat. Love them or hate them, Evolution’s dominance was the most significant story of the initial brand split.
Leave A Comment
Looking for an AD FREE EXPERIENCE on TheSportster?Get Your Free Access Now!