Craig Wilson, Jamie Lithgow, Brian Damage, Russ Morgan and Earl Marx
Six months ago the WWE split the roster almost in half and creating a clear divide between Raw and Smackdown. In today’s Sunday Sermon, we take a look at our expectations ahead of the brand split as well as our thoughts on what has taken place.
Craig: I think it’s fair to say, overall, the brand split has been a thoroughly positive move. Don’t get me wrong, some issues do still remain but nonetheless, overall it is something that I welcomed at the time and haven’t changed my mind.
Since the split, a clear mid card has come to the fore on both shows. Perhaps Braun Strowman would have gotten a push regardless and had there been no split The Miz might have still become one of the most entertaining acts on the roster, but the split certainly sped it up.
For me, however, the best thing has been that you can tune into Raw and see the big stars and on Smackdown a smattering of stars but also a land of opportunity, without sounding too cheesy. A platform that’s allowed Heath Slater to become a firm fan favourite, extended the shelf life of the James Ellsworth joke and has also seen the likes of Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss and American Alpha all win titles. Throw in AJ Styles, Randy Orton and John Cena at the top of the card and you have something for everyone.
However, there is one negative for me – there are far too many what would previously have been called PPVs. I’ve barely gotten over the Rumble and now tonight it’s Elimination Chamber. I know we’re in the post-PPV era and it’s all just content for the WWE Network but still…
Jamie: Coincidentaly, I stopped watching WWE on a weekly basis around six months ago. The good thing I’ve found with the brand split is that when I do tune in (usually to Smackdown) I’ve not fallen drastically behind with storylines. The longest I’ve gone without tuning into any main roster programming is around a month, which would have previously meant eight worthwhile shows (i.e. Raw & Smackdown) and a pay per view. In the current climate that equates to just four shows and possibly a pay per view. This is based on the fact that I mainly follow Smackdown. If I was minded enough to also follow Raw then I’m not sure I’d be quite so positive about the brand split because there is now more WWE than ever before. For example, I knew Elimination Chamber was coming up but I did not think it was just two weeks after the Royal Rumble. Why is this the case? Because Fastlane also has to be crammed into the schedule before Wrestlemania. That’s just too much, but by giving fans the option of different brands I don’t feel like I have to catch all of these shows just to keep up to date with the storylines I want to follow.
A negative for me, and this might change over time, is the lack of brand identity. How exactly is Smackdown different from Raw? Smackdown features different wrestlers taking part in similar storylines to those on Raw, only with a blue backdrop. During the original brand split Smackdown felt like a younger show with faster-paced wrestling, while Raw was the home of the big stars and slightly more gimmicky storylines. There’s just not that distinction with this brand split, yet.
Craig: The lack of brand identity is an interesting point. The company tried, and failed miserably, to bill Survivor Series as some sort of competition between two fierce rivals but anyone expecting Raw vs. Smackdown to be comparable to Raw vs Nitro is always going to be very disappointed. Whilst the announcers, themes and ring colour are all different, both shows sadly largely follow a fairly similar format. It was always going to be difficult to take an established show such as Smackdown and try and pitch it as some sort of upstart type show but I do think the WWE could have done a bit more to differentiate it. Even, and I still think the company got this wrong, having the cruiserweights on Smackdown would have been a good idea and, with 205 Live, would not have made more sense but hey ho.
Brian: I like the brand split thus far simply because it is allowing more stars to get an opportunity. Let’s be honest, would guys like Baron Corbin and Braun Strowman be wrestling for the company’s top titles now if not for the split? Would Kevin Owens be a top champion now or for that matter would AJ Styles if not for the split allowing other wrestlers to grow and develop? I am not so sure they would’ve. Heck, it even allowed James Ellsworth a job with the company.
If you really want to do a proper brand split with two separate and distinctive brands, then you have to stop Vince McMahon from overseeing both. The difference between Smackdown and NXT is that Triple H runs the show down in Orlando. NXT has a feel of a show that is truly different from the “big two” shows every week. Let Triple H run (really run) Smackdown or Raw and you may see the difference almost instantaneously.
Russ: I have always been in favour of brand splits. It gives more talent the chance to shine. Having all the top guys on both shows causes problems, especially when they are burnout, injuries and basically not letting the mid-card have camera time to get themselves over. I don’t really have time to watch both shows. I don’t have 5 hours a week to spare. Thanks to various YouTube channels (you know the ones), you can get the highlights package done in about 30 mins for each show. This is brilliant and you don’t really miss anything that’s relevant. We all know the top guys are on Raw and Smackdown has the better wrestling overall. Would a talent like AJ Styles have gotten over so much on Raw so quickly? I doubt it.
Craig: So, the 2016 brand split – a good or a bad thing overall? And what superstars have benefited most? For me, a good thing and the main guy to have benefited is, in agreement with Russ, undoubtedly AJ Styles.
Earl: Firing up the proverbial writing “tear” here. As a whole, I am satisfied with the brand split and I do think it’s been effective. Sure – are the main stars still the main stars? Of course. They’re protected and they should be. What’s more interesting, however, is that the landscape of each show has changed for me. Raw has crafted out time for the Cruisers (yes – im not the biggest fan of their handling) while SD has carved out a niche for giving us pretty good matches with ok storytelling. I definitely agree – there’s no competition between the shows and it’s silly to think there should be. What they should do, and it may be hard, is stress different aspects of the wwe. Raw is centered around more entertainment… while SD focus seems to be on more wrestling. Then again…I guess James Ellsworf is there for us SD-lovers.
I feel as if the brand split has done more good than bad for characters. Heath Slater, Naomi, heck…even Jinder “He’s No Longer Small” Mahal have gotten more screen time because of the need for characters. People must remember – clamoring for NXT callups is fine, but they are characters and they have to be brought in with purpose to fill the show. New guys have been given the chance. Sometimes it works(Baron Corbin). Sometimes it doesn’t or remains to be seen (Apollo Crews).
Match quality has remained the same if not better.
Looking at stars the split has benefited. Hmm. This split has, hands down, benefited AJ Styles the most!! If there were still a mix of groups, he’d have dropped to midcard after his Roman feud but he’s flourished. Now, have there been any more guys that have flourished as well? I’d have to go with Miz, Baron Corbin, Braun Strowman, Chris Jericho, and Kevin Owens as instant standouts. Yes- I realize some will say KO was a star before the split and he was, but was he really featured as prominently? I don’t think so. On the other end of the spectrum, I suppose I can say I am disappointed in the handling of guys such as Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, and Sami Zayn. It remains to be seen what’s in store for them, but thus far, the split has been indifferent to them and they often feel “there”. Remember that hot new SD signing Jack Swagger? Yeah…me either. There’s good with the bad, but, overall, I cannot say I am disappointed with it. I may not be thrilled with the direction of certain guys, but there’s always something that could be picked apart.
I realize many people don’t routinely watch. I think, if one has “other” obligations, you tend to pick and choose your spots. For me, I carve out time to watch Raw and SD weekly, but I don’t follow NXT weekly and here and there I’ll fire up a 205 Live. There’s so much for us to choose from! But can you fault the ‘E for giving us content? They’re not competing with other wrestling companies – they’re beyond that so the some of content is not for all. I actually shudder when I think of that one road show they do. But hey, am I the only one who actually doesn’t mind the ppvs? More bang for my buck…and I don’t even have to deal with The Young Bucks!!!
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.