With Wrestlemania 34 over with and SummerSlam coming up, now is a good time to look at the Raw and Smackdown Live rosters, which were subject to another Superstar Shakeup this past April. It took place over the course of a couple of weeks, and though changes took place on the rosters, a number of things remained the same.
For instance, let’s look at the additions that Raw and Smackdown Live received from NXT. The tag teams Sanity and the Authors of Pain were split between the two brands, and after they joined the two rosters were immediately considered threats on their respective shows. Former NXT champions Drew McIntyre and Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas were also brought to Raw and Smackdown Live, respectively. So each roster added former tag team champions and a former NXT champion. Add to that, the addition of Ember Moon to Raw and the IIconics, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, to Smackdown Live, the women’s division on both brands were injected with new blood.
These additions didn’t all pay immediate dividends, and in some instances, they aren’t consistently on television. It seems as though the IIconics are simply being used for their characters and less for their in-ring ability initially, but that should change, things change all the time, so it isn’t something to worry about. Billie Kay and Peyton Royce possess the charm that their characters bring out, so it is often forgotten how talented they are in the ring.
As we approach nearly four months after the Superstar Shakeup, the Authors of Pain have rarely been seen on screen. The same could be said Sanity who have yet to be considered a threat on Smackdown Live. We aren’t assuming that both teams should be absolutely dominating their respective brands in the brief time that they have been there. It is surprising to see that there is almost a pause button that has been applied to both teams. Many will note their dominance during their time in NXT, and how their title runs were notable. Sanity will likely be held off from battling the Bludgeon Brothers for some time, and the Authors of Pain will be held back from competing against Wyatt and Hardy, who are the top face team on Raw.
The biggest mistake would be to have them fall flat after facing the champions too soon. That said, wouldn’t at least having these teams in a program help them along the way? Of course, notable names can afford not being seen and still have value because when they return it’s as though they never left, and if anything they are enjoyed even more. However, for teams just coming from NXT that much of the WWE fanbase is not even aware of, a prolonged absence can hurt, and reduce the presence they have that inspires fans to get behind them. The same could be said about The Revival, but in their case injuries have played a part in taking a step back. If the use of those two aforementioned tag teams leaves some disappointed, how did other moves fare?
The additions of McIntyre and Almas open a great number of possibilities. McIntyre has been very outspoken on how others on the Raw roster appear to be content with their place, and that he strives to change that. While he isn’t out on his own yet, his presence has commanded the attention of the audience since he returned to the main roster. He is aligned with former Smackdown Live roster member and current Intercontinental Champion, Dolph Ziggler. Almas hasn’t been part of any major storylines. He was initially held off from appearing on-screen, so in this instance, it is hard to say whether it was poorly handled. He will continue, alongside Zelina Vega, exactly where he left off in NXT. On the other hand, No Way Jose doesn’t appear to be someone that will be used in a prime spot but rather is there to get the crowd going with his character. It seems a little wasted.
When talent got moved from one brand to the other, fans were quick to assert that one brand was better than the other. That is, by having Samoa Joe, Asuka, The Bar, The Miz, and Jeff Hardy all move to Smackdown Live created the belief that that brand came out better than Raw. However, after some time, when looking at both sides, did Smackdown Live come out stronger considering how things have been booked? On paper its hard to argue that the two-hour Smackdown Live isn’t stacked with notable talent and that it can provide some exciting matches for all to see. The thing is, however, that in having that amount of talent available, essentially a treasure trove, you have to make good use of them to make their additions an advantage. Take for instance the inclusion of Sanity. Wolf, Dain, and Young debuted as heels and could present themselves as a challenge for the trio of the New Day. As it stands right now it appears as though New Day is slated to feud with Sanity or The Bar, which should provide some good matches considering the quality of both teams involved, but having two strong teams face-off when they already had a prolonged program on Raw makes it a bit of a challenge for fans to sink their teeth into. Nevertheless, fans are getting behind it.
It has been a rocky road for some talents that switched brands. The Good Brothers duo of Anderson and Gallows challenged the Bludgeon Brothers for the Tag Team Championships and then they haven’t done much since they failed to win the titles. Right now they are in tag team limbo.
One of the most disappointing bookings after the Superstar Shakeup were the Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles matches, simply because of the narrative being told of ‘watch your family jewels.’ Fans have been critical because when it comes to talent alone, both men are outstanding, and while everyone knows that a story has to be told, fans are questioning why that has to be the one being told. Often the argument made is ‘Well, if you can book something better suggest it.’ To that I say, how about a rivalry being built on good old-fashioned jealousy? The American comes back home and achieves success, and the foreigner has to struggle to attain just a slice of what Styles has (not really, but we are talking booking here), and is envious of his success. Styles has acts of jealousy perpetrated on him: a flat tire, stolen clothes or title, his wedding ring or family possessions going missing after a match. It is just a thought. Both men have moved on from that rivalry.
In comparison, Raw has a number of different variables playing a part in the three-hour program. Their tag team division appears stronger, but will singles talent such as McIntyre and Ziggler remain a team? If they do remain together, we could be seeing Jason Jordan return and team with Chad Gable, reforming American Alpha, with fans seeing how good they are as a combination. However, in saying that, where does that put the Authors of Pain, since as previously mentioned they are on the Raw roster? Creative doesn’t seem to have anything for them, which makes bringing them there a silly thing to have done. This is not intended to be critical, but it is rather frustrating to see. Since many reading this also (hopefully) are subscribers to the WWE Network and watch the NXT brand, they can see just how much talent the AOP have to display if given a chance to succeed. Do they need someone to act as their mouthpiece, say…Paul Heyman? However, their NXT dominance will fall by the wayside and not carry over to the main roster if those that haven’t seen them compete to get the chance to get familiar with them.
The Raw singles division appears rich in talent, and singles talent have been used in tag team scenarios as well, making for fairly flexible booking for all involved. The challenges are ensuring top heels such as Kevin Owens (sadly his buddy Sami Zayn is injured for about eight months) are pushed heavily in the absence of Brock Lesnar, who is rarely on-screen as the Universal Champion (his first appearance in three months happened this past Monday). That appears to be the case with Elias, Jinder Mahal, and Baron Corbin, who are being pushed in that scenario as well. Mojo Rawley is also slowly getting more screen time every week. The same challenge is there for Seth Rollins, Bobby Lashley, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, Finn Balor, and Roode on the face side. Another challenge is convincing fans of the in-ring abilities of Mahal (I’m not questioning it, but the disdain for him is out there on social media and hard to ignore). Fans will see through lame booking like the unfortunate Lashley/Zayn ‘sisters’ feud that took place a few months ago, and question why such talented performers are being used this way.
As it stands right now, neither brand appears that far ‘ahead’ of the other. Both shows appear fairly even in their booking, their writing, and their wrestling. It may be a case of, long-term, see who is better, but as it stands right now, neither appear in the lead.
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