If you’re a fan of professional wrestling you’re also quite likely a fan of WWE, as they are the biggest game in town when it comes to the wrestling industry. It’s been that way for years. For a brief period of time they were the only main game in town after Vince McMahon bought out WCW in 2001. But nowadays the landscape of professional wrestling, or “sports entertainment”, as the corporate line they like to say is vastly different than it was back then. There’s TNA Impact making a strong comeback once more with Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan taking the reins of the company. There’s ROH, getting syndicated tv time, and of course New Japan holding it down from across the Pacific. And last but not least, El Rey’s Lucha Underground, a tv show about wrestling featuring an innovative new way to showcase the product.
All this stuff, all this competition in a sense going on around WWE and for a while there, it had gotten really stale. And I say this as an on again, off again fan of professional wrestling going back to my days as a kid watching a Hulk Hogan documentary my mom got me from PPV along with the Survivor Series 1991 that we also got to order and other wrestling shows I’d tape from tv.
When they first announced the end of the brand split back in 2011, I was excited for it. The first brand split started out amazing. Seriously watch some of the Smackdown shows from around 2002-2003, when Paul Heyman was in charge, it was when the show was at it’s best in my book, and a lot of other wrestling fans. But as time went on, all the cool stuff was happening on Raw, and you really didn’t need to watch Smackdown, was a lot of people’s thoughts on the matter. Raw was the WWE’s “A” Show, and Smackdown merely a B Plus Player of TV. It was Thursday Night Thunder to Raw’s Monday Nitro.
Then the brand split ended, and it pretty much kept that same thing going for the next few years. Smackdown was essentially a Raw recap show with a few matches thrown in. Raw was where stuff went down, Smackdown was merely filler. That even carried over to where the show would be broadcast from. Raw would come to us Live from say, Richmond Virginia, and my area, Norfolk, would get Smackdown. I’d still go to every show I could, but it’d be nice to get a big show to come here again, and not just The Big Show. *Sidenote, back in 2004 we had the WWE’s attempt to bring back the WCW Great American Bash ppv, here at The Scope, and I got to go there and see Eddie Guerrero’s last match (as it would happen to be) as champion against JBL. But since then we get the house shows and b shows, super rarely an ‘A’ show*
This all changed once again with the recent reintroduction of the WWE Brand Split. Stephanie McMahon would run Raw along with General Manager Mick Foley, and Shane McMahon would run Smackdown (now Smackdown Live) with former wrestler, and leader of “The Yes Movement” Daniel Bryan. It got really good, on both shows again. I wanted to talk about it sooner here on the site, but I wanted to wait until both shows had their own individual PPV events first to really judge both shows. Which is what I’ll do right now, along with some improvements that (as a fan) I think would make the product even better.
Let’s start out with the flagship show of the WWE, Monday Night Raw, and their exclusive division, the cruiserweights. To me, this is one of the best things that they’ve done in recent years is the return of the cruiserweight division, there’s so much good talent out there, with these lucha style wrestlers, that the fact that they stopped doing cruiserweights at all is kind of crazy to me, because it’s something different, a cruiserweight match is something completly different than anything else you’ll see on the match card. It’s exciting and fun to watch, this is part of what makes Lucha Underground so great is they have these guys that can do those type of matches, and now once more WWE does too.
I’m not a fan so much of the Raw heavyweight title, or the Universal Championship, as it’s officially called. They literally just unified the championship titles a few years ago. They could have kept the old rules, with the champ being able to go between shows, that would have been better. At the least, if they had to pick a new belt, they could have gone with something that looks better than this.
There’s a billion and a half other belt designs they could have gone with. But, what I do like in this is the wrestlers they’ve put the belt on so far. Finn Balor before he got injured, and now Kevin Owens. That is spectacular booking right there. This “New Era” they keep referring to is definitely just that. And that alone has shaken things up and made them really fun to watch.
It’s still a three hour show, which, in this new format they have found ways to keep the show moving at a pretty good pace most weeks, but this brings up another fault between both shows. Repeated titles.
I’m not a fan of repeated titles, so each show is like it’s individual own thing, two heavyweight titles, two sets of tag team titles, two women’s titles, etc. What would have been a better decision would be to split up the divisions. One show gets the women, one show gets tag teams, if you want to see this particular style of wrestling, well then you need to tune into show A or show B, respectively. Repeated titles make the whole thing feel kind of cheap in my opinion.
Overall in a lot of ways though, Smackdown has had the better shows since the brand split. They do more with the two hours allotted to them than Raw can do in three a lot of the time. And this is a lot in part to the different energy that they’ve brought to the live show. They do these cold openings a lot now before the show, with Daniel Bryan and Shane discussing the events of the last show, leading into what’s going to go down this week, and then we follow them through the backstage onto the stage, and it’s this totally different style of a show opener than I’d seen in a wrestling show, and that’s fantastic.
Each brand has had their own ppv event now, so let me talk about those, we get one ppv every two weeks now, which is kind of cool but can still feel maybe a bit like overkill. During the last brand split it would just be like each alternating month was a different show’s event, with the “Big 4”, Summerslam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, and Wrestlemania being co branded events, and that worked out ok. But in this age of the WWE Network, I see their reasons for having as many special events as possible. It can just be a bit of overkill, so that’s something I might look into.
Overall, I’d say that right now, Smackdown is the better show these days, but we’ve only just seen the beginnings of the cruiserweights on Raw, so they could definitely spice up the show a bit, only time will tell which will be the better show in the end, or how long it’ll be before it’ll be time to shake things up again and unify the shows again. If they keep going at the rate they’re going though, they won’t need to do that for a long, long time. Between just all this stuff, and then the other options wrestling fans have these days, it’s a fantastic time to be a fan of professional wrestling right now.