Collective Thoughts: The WWE Brand Split Has Jumped the Shark

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Welcome back for some more Collective Thoughts. Let’s go back to 2002 when WWE decided to create competition within itself. The previous year saw the two other major North American promotions, WCW & ECW, close their doors and that left the WWE in a pickle on how to create compelling storylines and matches when you were the only game in town.

After all, Vince McMahon had been doing battle with the NWA and WCW for nearly 20 years at that point and wrestling had always had some kind of variety between shows. For the first time, on a grand scale at least, WWE stood by itself. The real question, at that point, was how was WWE going to keep their fans engaged. They decided to split the shows and have two separate rosters, which would effectively create competition within the company. Better yet, you didn’t have to have a bunch of other moving parts and different companies involved, but just create within the talent you had. On paper, this sounds like a great idea. Parts of it have been awesome, and other parts of it, not so much.

When the split first happened, it did feel fresh. What wrestler was going to be on what show? Would fans exclusively watch one show over the other in a show of solidarity? For the first couple of years, they did. One would say that at some points in 2002-2005, Smackdown had the superior show over Raw, which had been the A show since 1993. Paul Heyman had a hand in the way Smackdown was booked for nearly the first full year of the brand split and it just seemed to have the better talent roster and the competitors just seemed a little more motivated. You had guys like Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Edge, and others that were waiting for their chance to shine and they definitely took advantage. As the years went on and Heyman left the brand, stuff just started to get watered down. WWE even resurrected ECW as a third brand for talent in 2006, but it ended up not being as successful as some people might have thought it would have been.

WWE did try to end the brand split at the beginning of the 2010s and started running “Super Shows” in their place with talent from both brands working both shows. This seemed to freshen things up a bit because it was the Summer of Punk and business had picked up a little bit. Punk was the WWE Champion on Raw, and while the World Heavyweight Championship was still being defended, it definitely felt like the inferior World Title. That did come with some positives though, with guys like Daniel Bryan getting their chance to win a big-time title with the company. If you go back and watch those shows, it just feels like the two belts were treated very differently. It was almost like the WWE Title was meant for guys who had been in the main event scene, while the other title was meant for guys who the company was trying to see if they could have a main event run.

That went on for several years before the company decided to split the brands again in the summer of 2016 when Smackdown finally became a live show first on Tuesdays and before moving to Fridays on Fox in October 2019. That brings us to where we are currently.

I wanted to take a stroll down memory lane because all of these eras in the company had one thing in common. They didn’t have much competition in the space. You had promotions like TNA and Ring of Honor start 20 years ago, the former of which had a real chance to make some noise, but ended up falling on their face in the end. Impact still stands as a promotion today, but much less viable than before. Ring of Honor made some noise as well, but they are currently rebranding and questions remain about their future.

That all changed in 2019 when AEW came onto the scene. It was the first time that the WWE had seen someone with deep pockets trying to compete directly in about a decade. The brand split ended right around the time that TNA was really making a push to compete, and it might be time to execute that same agenda right now. AEW has a roster full of stars (many of whom were top guys in WWE) and I really believe that competition in wrestling may be here, at least for the foreseeable future. With rumors of more big moves coming in the future, WWE is going to have to do something to spice things up.

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At the end of the day, does the brand split serve a purpose? It does for the networks that pay WWE millions of dollars to make their superstars “exclusive” to one show, but only if you have two distinct brands that are run differently and have a different feel to them. They achieved that when it first came around, but really since then, both shows have felt the exact same. With AEW being as aggressive as they have been, I think the play here is for WWE to go back to unified television and have one champion in each division that works both shows. When the brand split was first announced in 2002, they decided the WWE World Champion couldn’t be drafted and would work both shows. That seems to be the best way to do something like this, and with having a dominant champion like Universal Champion Roman Reigns, you might have your guy to lead the charge for wrestling supremacy.

With a company that has been around as long as the WWE has, they shouldn’t screw this up.

How do you feel about the brand split? Do you love or hate it? Do you think it had overstayed its welcome? Either way, keep the conversation going over @collectiveheel on Twitter, and let me know your thoughts. In case you’re wondering about the title, the phrase “jump the shark” is “the moment at which a popular or critically acclaimed television show begins its inevitable decline in quality.” (Grammarist)

Next week, we will be continuing down the WCW timeline with WCW Halloween Havoc 1999. It was the first Pay-Per-View that WCW produced with Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara at the helm and I wish you could feel my excitement through the screen. Until then, take care of yourselves and each other. I will be back soon enough with some more Collective Thoughts.