A couple of weeks ago a few friends and I sat around considering what made the most sense for the WWE and their upcoming brand split between Raw and Smackdown. We ran down the talent they had, and assembled a roster for both shows. When we looked at it, we considered a few things for that we believed: which possibilities made sense based on the main event picture, the mid card, the women’s championship and the tag team championship.
The consensus was that the WWE World Heavyweight champion should be able to go from brand to brand without any reservation. However, since it is considered the most prominent championship, it should call Raw as its home. For us, it made sense to have Roman Reigns, who the company has clearly shown it will stand behind as its champion and top face, to be the focal point on Raw. We also realized that Smackdown needed to have a notable face and to make the brand better all around. John Cena, we felt, would be the best possible option to lead the Smackdown brand. While his time and role may be winding down, he is still a known commodity and someone that could lead the opposing brand as its top face. There didn’t seem like much sense in having Reigns and Cena on the same brand when they would both essentially serve the same purpose.
Cena’s inclusion on Smackdown also means there is room for another top face that is equally established, and that would be Randy Orton.Orton, much like Cena, is a known and established commodity that could help make others around him look good. Another top face that was best suited to be on Raw as part of the ‘New Era’ would be Dean Ambrose.Ambrose and Reigns being the top faces of Raw, and Orton and Cena acting as the top faces for the Smackdown brand, does show a semblance of balance as it pertains to top guys leading a brand.
The question then is how does the promotion divide up top level heels to balance out the two different brands. In an effort to create balance, we could have Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens become focal points on Raw with AJ Styles and Chris Jericho being the top heels on Smackdown.Styles’ recent heel turn only adds depth in top level heels, ones that could be used to help balance out Smackdown. An experienced veteran in Jericho also provides more options for the brand to help build up other talent. While he may not remain with the company very much longer depending on when he may be touring with his band Fozzy, it doesn’t mean it couldn’t help in the interim.
An understandable criticism for this type of alignment is that one brand is heavier on older, more experienced talent, while the other brand doesn’t have that. We are able to combat that criticism by setting up Smackdown’s mid-card with a number of talents that are poised to become bigger stars. Talent such as Baron Corbin and Apollo Crews would be strong considerations to have as part of the mid-card for Smackdown in preparation for potential main event runs later on in their careers.
On Raw their midcard would include more established stars such as SamiZayn,Cesaro and The Miz. Each of these men would be used to help elevate the Intercontinental title, which we believed would be best suited for Raw. One of the concerns with the Intercontinental title was how it didn’t seem to be valued like it has in the past. Having it aligned with the main show gives it credibility and a number of different options for match ups and feuds to make it as valuable now as it was in the past. The Intercontinental title would be a brand exclusive championship, with the United States championship being a Smackdown exclusive title. As mentioned earlier, contenders such as Crews and Corbin could easily challenge for this title down the road.
One of the other considerations to ponder is what will happen with the tag team championship and the Women’s championship. When the rosters were split years ago, there was a separate tag team championship on each brand. This allowed the WCW tag team championships and the WWE tag team championships to both be used. What also happened was that after simply having a WWE Women’s championship, they also created the WWE Divas championship. It was strange because there weren’t enough women on the roster to truly warrant a second women’s championship.
As times have changed, having duplicate titles isn’t necessary. So much like we felt that the US title and the Intercontinental championships are better served to be allocated to separate shows, the same should also be done for the Women’s and Tag Team championships. The Women’s championship should become a focal point on Raw, and really deserves to be on that stage rather than on Smackdown. The women’s champion could move from brand to brand, but Raw would be her home. And there would be a Smackdown roster of women and a Raw roster of women, just like with the men. And the rosters would be balanced since if Smackdown doesn’t have the title and has a weaker roster of females, then what compels fans to watch their segments? This also opens the door for females in NXT to move up.
The tag team division would do just fine on Smackdown. The likes of The New Day, The Usos, Anderson and Gallows, Social Outcasts, Shining Stars, Lucha Dragons, Enzoand BigCass, and The Vaudevillians provide both rosters with enough opportunities to have solid matches. This doesn’t even include the likes of American Alpha and The Revival, who are on the cusp of joining the main roster and are options for either brand. Much like the women’s division, the tag team division is best suited having the titles have a home on one brand, but defended in a crossover of brands or on special monthly events. The lower tier of the roster could be used in tag teams as well, to help ease the decision making with their booking. As we have recently seen, Tyler Breeze, Fandango, Goldust and R-Truth are all being used more after being booked in tag teams.
There are other superstars that aren’t necessarily being pushed, and where they end up isn’t really of any concern to anyone other than the talent alone. The idea of a brand split is to create a semblance of balance between the rosters, and we believe that the top heels, faces, mid-card, tag team and women’s division has that now. It appears as if both rosters have strengths and weakness, but that’s inevitable with a draft. What will be effective? How will ratings be affected? The announce team on Smackdown appears to have more freedom than Raw, with Mauro Ranallo the main play-by-play announcer and Lawler being the heel colour commentator. While it would be nice to see something happen to the Raw commentating crew, it appears as though the intent is to cater to a particular niche of fan, at the expense of others that don’t gravitate to that particular style. The combination of Saxton, Cole and JBL face scrutiny as it appears their commentary is heavily produced.
With things being clearer for both Smackdown and Raw, the question that has to be asked is where exactly does that put NXT. The brand itself has become more than a feeder system for developing talent, and has brought in established names and characters to help it operate on its own. The recent additions of ShinsukeNakamura and Austin Aries has helped maintain the roster’s high-level of competition regardless of the changes they have endured. One name that has been relatively forgotten in all of this is HideoItami, and how his injury has left him in subsequent limbo moving forward. Where will he end up when he returns from injury? Will he be on a collision course with Nakamura down the road?
The recently completed NXT Takeover: The End special event does have fans wondering is this the end of the brand itself? I’d be very skeptical that something that has grown and tours and the ability to generate revenue for the company is something they would close down. Unlike FCW,OVW or HWA, the company has created a brand that is comparable to several independent promotions in existence today, and there are a number of thirty-plus talents on the roster that should be featured on the main roster.
If NXT takes a step back, fans may not like it, but we can understand why exactly that is happening. Samoa Joe and Finn Balor will eventually get their due on either Raw or Smackdown, and when they do fans that wonder if the brand split is a success will pass judgement then. Until then, let’s sit back and see what happens.
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