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WWE: Caviar and Old Sausage Rolls by Matt Corton

In our esteemed editor-in-chief’s Raw Deal this week, there was a comment that really struck me. In a TV programme that went for 3 hours, there were only two segments – the six-man tag match and the confrontation with Styles and Cena – that stood out. Not a statement that many disagreed with, judging by the comments and for my part, I was so bored by the time the last hour rolled round that I wasn’t really watching it all properly anyway so I didn’t even take those two things in.

But it does get you to thinking. Why, out of 3 hours, can WWE only make 1 hour impactful? Why do we have to chew our way through two hours of old sausage rolls, filling ourselves up on fare that isn’t going to do us any good, when there’s caviar as a surprise main course?

The answer of course, is obvious – we don’t have to put up with it, because quite a lot of the time WWE puts out a mostly good show. It’s noticeable when they put on a show as bad as Monday night’s and it’s noticeable because usually they are much better than that.

So I have a bit of a theory. It all makes me wonder if they do it on purpose because they know exactly what they’re doing.

Bear with me on this.

We are all going to remember the two events that happened this past Raw for the whole week. Firstly, we’re going to remember John Cena’s big comeback and confrontation with AJ Styles and the rest of The Club. Then, secondly, we’re going to remember the excellent six-man tag.

That’s two big messages – John Cena’s next feud and the participants in the Money In The Bank Ladder Match – well and truly confirmed in my mind after the show. If they were spread in and among a show crammed full of equally impactful and well thought out, well executed segments, then maybe they wouldn’t be quite so memorable.

Sometimes you hide wheat among the chaff because you want the wheat to stand out. The trouble with that theory is, of course, that I think they thought they had a few other big moments as well with Charlotte’s torment following her rejection of her father, Seth Rollins’ mind games with Roman Reigns and the whole opening segment about the brand extension.

It’s how they structure the shows every week. They open with what they think is a strong opening, then follow it up with the other two main segments, be they promos or matches, at the top of hour 1 and at the top of hour 2. There’s nothing wrong with that structure, it’s tried and tested.

The only reason these three segments didn’t come off was because nothing happened in them. Rollins vs. Reigns is in exactly the same state it was before Rollins came out on Monday. Charlotte is a hated heel, just as she was before only it’s become confusing why everyone now loves heel Flair. We know exactly the same amount of information about the brand extension as we did before the show started. They were, in essence, pointless segments. Old sausage rolls.

Monday night’s Raw felt like they were putting content out for the sake of having to put content out because the real developments are happening either on SmackDown or (more likely) in the coming weeks on Raw. That’s where I think they know exactly what they were doing, because the big moments for those storylines are yet to come, so they are filling the shows with filler until those moments’ appointed time.

I don’t want to be filled up with old sausage rolls. As the opening segment of Raw and all the news stories this week have told me, I’m going to be gorging on six hours a week of regularly scheduled WWE programming (including NXT). Three different shows, three different rosters.

Well, let me tell you what I’m going to expect from those six hours. This is an opportunity to fill me up with a lot more caviar, not cheap old sausage rolls. And it’s thinking in this way, since Monday night, which has made me think positively about the roster separation for the first time since it was announced.

Which isn’t where I expected this week to take me, after a bad Raw. The natural extension of my thoughts above is to say “well, if they can’t even fill one show of three hours with well thought out, forward-looking, interesting and engaging content, then how the heck are they going to fill another two? Based on that, I fully expected this article, this week, to be firmly nuzzling in a negative trough, but it hasn’t happened that way.

Much like my colleague Ron Pasceri said in his column this week, I didn’t like the first brand extension. I thought having two titles diluted the WWE brand as a whole rather than created a rivalry. It’s what is the constant bane of the boxing world as well. You need to know who THE champ is, not who one of the many champions is. Otherwise don’t have titles at all.

On the plus side, the SmackDown vs. Raw concept was, I thought, fantastic, but eventually executed so poorly as to be worthless. The final nail in its coffin was that neither brand really had anything, beyond the rosters that eventually mixed more and more as time went on, to make them stand out from each other.

I watch NXT as well as Raw, because NXT is different. I currently don’t watch SmackDown, because it’s Raw-lite (and 4 hours of wrestling a week (7 with PPVs) is enough). SmackDown being live and having its own roster is a draw, but is it really enough of one to make viewers like me, who currently don’t watch the show, tune in every week?

It depends entirely on how they allocate the rosters and structure the shows. If we have a stale play-by-play allocation of 2 top heels against 2 top faces on each show, then I can’t see me adding 2 more hours of wrestling to my week. If they’re all doing the same sorts of things and if the heel/face dynamics don’t change between the shows, then that extra content becomes more of the same.

If, however, they really embrace the ‘B’ nature of SmackDown and make it the ‘up and comer’ show, probably run by Shane and his ‘new era’, and make it an edgy, edge-of-your-seat show with some…well, edge, then I might tune in.

You could make SmackDown the punk rock cousin to Raw’s mainstream music festival. Fill it with young or previously overlooked wrestlers, desperate to make it to the flagship show. No new titles (except maybe a women’s tag title) just a roster full of stars scrabbling to get to the top. You could even include promotion and relegation between the shows to create new match ups – it would certainly add some freshness to the tired old ‘oh he’s on a losing streak’ storyline.

That’s probably just my dream, though.

It being my dream doesn’t mean that’s the only thing that will work and get me to tune in, there’s obviously tons of stuff they could do – but they key point I’m trying to make is it can’t be more of the same sausage rolls we’ve been getting served up too often recently. Both shows will have to be jam packed full of caviar; otherwise it’ll go the same way it went before.

They do it with the PPVs every single time and they way they get so many storylines right, such as Cena/Styles, shows you they’re capable of it, but it really isn’t going to just be a case of ‘feed me more’ this time around for me.

So I’m going to dream, just as I was dreaming last year when it was announced SmackDown was moving to USA, that they can really seize this opportunity to do something…more.

What do you guys think? Do you think a simple roster split and two similarly-structured shows would work? Or do you want to see them try something different?