Jamie Lithgow, Craig Wilson & Brian Damage
It’s now been a number of months since the WWE brand split which resulted in separate rosters for both Raw and Smackdown. In today’s Top Five, we take a look at the superstars on each show that have benefited greatly from the brand split.
KO is the answer to the question of ‘who has benefited most from Finn Balor’s injury’, but the brand split allowed him to be at the head of that particular queue. Would Owens have been WWE Champion one day regardless? Quite possibly, but seeing AJ Styles, John Cena and Dean Ambrose removed from the equation hasn’t half helped him. Whether or not you consider the Universal Title a real WWE World Championship is a matter for another discussion of course…
4. Chris Jericho
Y2J was already a prominent heel and his list would have gotten over regardless, but the brand split has provided him with an even bigger opportunity to make the most of this unexpected resurgence. Being the extremely over best friend of the equally over champion bodes well for Jericho when either he turns on Owens or (more likely) Owens turns on him.
3. Becky Lynch
An odd choice on the surface of it, but before the brand split this talented performer was in danger of being lost in the shuffle. Granted, Smackdown is clearly the B-show when it comes to women’s wrestling but this has served to make Becky Lynch look a million bucks next to most of her peers on the blue brand.
Obvious choice. Would WWE have picked up on Ellsworth’s cult status and done something with it had the brand split never happened? Possibly. Would they have continued with the angle and used the guy in featured feuds and matches? I very much doubt that.
1. Heath Slater
Another obvious choice in my book. Of course, a guy whose gimmick over the summer was that of a guy who did not get drafted would benefit in the long run. With an odd number of superstars, someone had to miss out and Slater was the perfect fit. Did I see him becoming a tag champ? No, but fair play to him and WWE for capitalising on such a good angle.
There is no doubting that without his unfortunate injury, Balor would have featured much higher up in this list. The division of the roster resulted in less top names to play with and seeing the way that fans reacted to him on NXT, the WWE strapped a rocket to the back of Finn Balor. His wins over Roman Reigns, Cesaro and Rusev on the first night then Seth Rollins set him up for the big time before his injury resulted in his time as Universal Champion being cut short.
4. James Ellsworth
When Braun Strowman destroyed Ellsworth on an episode of Raw, virtually no one would have expected the chinless Ellsworth to quickly become an internet meme and a favourite among the fan base. I’m the first to admit that the joke is starting to wear thin – after all, on paper he now has several wins over the WWE champion. But it’s been an entertaining feel-good story that, as expected, the company have gone to the well too often with since it launched. Still, there’s no doubt that he’s been able to excel on Smackdown – a show that appears to favour the underdog.
3. Kevin Owens
It was very narrow between number 2 and number 3 for me on this list. Big, big fan of Kevin Owens and he’s become a pivotal part of the Raw brand, in no small part to his charisma and working in partnership with his “best friend” Chris Jericho. It may well have happened had the brand split not happened but there’s little doubt that his push has been accelerated by the split and, unfortunately, Balor’s injury.
I’m a big fan of AJ Styles, from what I’d seen pre-WWE, and was very excited by his appearance on the main roster. However, I had my doubts that with his slighter build and southern drawl, that he wouldn’t tick every box for Vince McMahon and that it wouldn’t be long before he found himself drifting aimlessly in the midcard. Instead, a few months after the brand split, he carries the top title in sports entertainment. Would he have risen to the top without the brand split? I’m not so sure, not sure at all. As such, he is more than suitable for a placing on this list.
1. Heath Slater
Like Jamie, I’m not sure they can be an alternative winner on this Top Five list. I’m not even sure it would have mattered what show he ended up on, Slater’s performance in the first few weeks after the brand split set him up for something good. It afforded him another shot and he’s grabbed that brass ring with both hands, becoming one of the most popular acts on the WWE roster.
Becky Lynch was stagnate on Raw as the poor, gullible face who consistently got screwed over by friends and enemies alike. After the brand split occurred, Lynch became the focal point and crowning jewel of the new Smackdown Women’s division. Now as a champion, Lynch can do what she does best and that is dominate.
4. Heath Slater
I think it is fair to say that before the brand split, Slater was lost in the shuffle. Once he wasn’t drafted to either Raw or Smackdown, it gave him a vehicle to become a cult hero to many fans. A sympathetic figure that fans could really root for. It also allowed him to become a champion again. Something that I seriously doubt would’ve happened if not for the brand split.
3. Braun Strowman
Let’s face it, Strowman isn’t the greatest wrestler in the world and being a member of the Wyatt Family helped hide all of his shortcomings in the ring. With all that said, though, Strowman is now being pushed as a monster heel, something that might have happened eventually but certainly got sped up with the brand split.
Okay, okay, Mauro isn’t your prototypical “superstar” in that sense, but there is no doubt that he has significantly benefited from the brand split. Now he can be the voice of Smackdown Live and allowed to call important Smackdown matches and events on pay per view without having to be in the shadows of Michael Cole.
1. Kevin Owens
KO has definitely benefited from the split and more so because of Finn Balor’s injury. It sped up his progression as a top heel in the company and gave him the Universal championship. I feel if the split never took place, he would still be on the upper mid-card and not in the main event where he is allowed to shine.
You can read all previous Top Five pieces here.