Well….look who it is! Sorry about all the delays, Pulsers, things have been hectic over here in Louisiana. I started a new job (night shift), got a new place with my best friend and it’s just been a constant adjustment period since I moved back home. However, this does not mean I have not been following the product, keeping my eyes on things and deciding to give my thoughts and potential ideas on the MODERN business for once (instead of all of these doggone retro columns that I enjoy doing but I’m about variety so let’s go with something modern this time around). So as I sit here on my day off, after a long night of work (I’d say with a cup of coffee….but I don’t own a coffee pot yet…….damn it), I want to indulge you in my opinion on the big talking point of the past few weeks: the Brand Split.
So, guys, A BRAND SPLIT HAPPENED!! Ah, I remember like it was yesterday when I was just a wee lad sitting down watching Monday Night RAW 14 years ago on the night of the Draft for the original Brand Split. I remember The Rock and Kurt Angle being the first two picks for Vince’s Smackdown and the Undertaker and the NWO being Ric Flair’s #1 and #2 choices for RAW (by the way, how fucking stupid was it for Flair to draft guys that sort of benefitted his roster but was mostly just done to piss the picks and Vince off? I mean, Flair picked the NWO to make sure Vince didn’t pick them…..only for Flair to turn heel weeks later ANYWAY and align with the NWO against Austin?! Really ridiculous stuff)……..over 14 years later, we are back at that very same position. Obviously, the roster isn’t as top heavy and full of bonafide stars today as it was back in 2002 but the roster today is full of vibrant, young, hungry lions who want to make a great impression and try to make a name for themselves……..as opposed to the older, washed up roster that WWE was pimping back in 2002. I remember those first few months of the original Brand Split like they happened yesterday: I remember Austin getting the choice of picking RAW and Smackdown, I remember the Austin/Flair feud, I remember the countless Six Man Tags involving Austin and some random guys (like Big Show, Bradshaw or even Flair) against the NWO, I remember the Hulk Hogan Undisputed Title run, I remember the Triple H/Jericho feud on Smackdown, I remember Kurt Angle being shaved bald, I remember Eddie Guerrero’s return, I remember Chris Benoit’s return, I remember Billy and Chuck, I remember Eric Bischoff’s debut……..I remember that first year of the initial Brand Split very, very vividly. Now, we have this Brand Split and obviously, this one isn’t perfect just like the original one was. The Brand Split back in 2002 was a hell of a gamble……in 2016, it’s a desperation move in an attempt to spark interest in the product. Well, we are going to take a look at some pros so far, some cons so far, some ideas I can potentially present and also remind you that we didn’t have that good back in 2002 at first……so don’t give up on this thing so quickly.
Pro/Con: The Draft
I think this was both a pro and a con. RAW has a lot of the younger, more vibrant mid-card talent that is ready to break out and become main event talent if the WWE could ever push them while they were able to move more of the veteran talent to Smackdown to get Smackdown some exposure. Cena, AJ, Orton, Bray, Dean……all of these guys make up a majority of the main eventers in the company and all reside on Smackdown whereas RAW gained more of the upper mid-card with the likes of Rollins, Reigns, Cesaro, Owens, Zayn and Rusev. After the draft, I was scrolling around for reactions on it and the one reaction I got the most was frustration. People were upset because a lot of the mid-card talent resides on RAW whereas people believed they should have been moved to Smackdown (because Smackdown was the work rate show) or at least they could have diversified the rosters a little bit better or something to let matchups breathe and to create separation from some guys for fresh matchups. People look at RAW having the more talented portion of the roster while Smackdown is mostly carried by about 6 guys and the rest are lower mid-card guys, young talent that has broken out yet and jobbers. RAW has a majority of the belts on their show whereas Smackdown still needs to create their own Tag Team Titles and Women’s Title. RAW got the US Title, Smackdown got the IC Title, RAW will probably be getting the Cruiserweight Title and so on. I think people had preconceived notions that the company was going to do what they did with the original brand split but times have changed. RAW can’t have a very thin roster because, remember, 3 hours……..whereas you want to make Smackdown must see TV because otherwise, what’s the point? I think they did the best they could because I was doing the same thing with the original draft where I was complaining about guys like Rock, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and Edge going to Smackdown (because I didn’t have Smackdown at the time) while I was stuck with Undertaker, the NWO, Bubba Ray Dudley and Bradshaw on RAW! I think it’s one of those things where we’ll never be satisfied and thus, I view it as a pro and a con because I don’t mind the rosters as is right now (although, they could have at least moved Cesaro, Zayn or Owens over to Smackdown to help things out instead of keeping them all on RAW).
Pro: The Post John Cena Era
The fact that John Cena was picked, what, 7th in the draft and moved to Smackdown full time…..that should tell you all we need to know that Cena is cutting it back. He’s not working house shows, he’s filming his TV series, he’s mostly working only TV and PPVs……we are in the post Cena era at this point. Now, Cena is still marketable and a top name but I think we are past the point of Cena being THE MAN at this point…….or at least WWE is trying to move on past their overreliance on Cena. I’ll give them this: they are TRYING! This is the most they’ve tried in a LOOOOOOONG time to move on from Cena and sure, he’s still in a high profile feud with AJ Styles but that’s one of the most anticipated matches at Summerslam and he’s not in the title picture (well, at least for now anyway). I just think that this break from Cena that we’ve gotten has worked wonders for the product and it shows that they are still trying to create a good product without having to revert back to Cena. We’ll see how long that lasts but for now, I’m enjoying this break!
Con: Back to Back
I don’t know all the ins and outs of the decision to move Smackdown to USA but……who thought that was a good idea? Obviously, USA had a hand in the decision and WWE went along with it but 5 STRAIGHT HOURS of wrestling from the same promotion back to back is going to be a major killer for this thing in the long run. I’m all for Smackdown going live, in fact I think it’s a fantastic decision and gives Smackdown a fighting chance……..but you’re also setting yourself up to fail with this. Sure, there is still A LOT of wrestling on in this current day with RAW on Monday, Smackdown on Tuesday, NXT on Wednesdays, Lucha Underground on Wednesday, the CWC on Wednesdays, TNA on Thursdays and ROH is somewhere around there but there’s a problem. You see, the WWE isn’t really doing TOO much to differentiate RAW from Smackdown. RAW and Smackdown had a CLEAR difference back in 2002……not so much this time around because the only difference is really the stars on the show. I mean, if you watch RAW and you’re getting lots of wrestling but crappy storylines……then you watch Smackdown, which might have the same thing, who really wants to watch the same bullshit on BOTH shows? Just change the philosophies of the show up slightly and make them feel different……if not, what’s the point of watching one show when I can just watch the other?
Con: 3 HOURS!!!
The one thing I was always worried about when it came to this Brand Split: how can I honestly take Smackdown seriously in this thing if you’re already treating RAW as the flagship show due to its massive length? How long is it going to take for them to bring Smackdown guys over to RAW just to fill time (two weeks…..they brought Daniel Bryan over for a long promo segment on this past episode of RAW)? That 3 hours is just a giant death knell for this promotion at this point and why USA continues to have RAW stay at 3 hours is just beyond me. I get it…..it’s for ad revenue and I hope they are making money because there is no other justifiable reason for RAW to stay 3 hours……especially with the Brand Split. These past two weeks of RAW have been HURT by the thinned up rosters and that 3 hour duration. People sweep the 3 hour argument underneath the rug but it IS one of the main reasons for the low ratings. I mean, how can people honestly watch 3 HOURS of RAW every single week? I was watching some 3 hour episodes on the Network back from 2012 when they first started this shit and it was just a friggin chore to get through an episode!! Sure, you get more time for matches but how many matches have gotten an exceedingly high amount of time just because RAW needed 3 hours to fill even though the match didn’t need the amount of time it got? How many 20 minute promo segments can we tolerate in an episode of RAW? Sure, if these were about 10 minutes shorter, you might have something there but stretched out to 20 minutes is a chore. I mean, no matter how good the match or promo segment is, there gets to a point where you start looking at your watch and wondering “Damn, they have been wrestling/talking for a LOOOONG time, they really need to find a stopping point” but they can’t because 3 HOURS!! If RAW was two hours, it would help IMMENSELY and I bet money that it would help its ratings a little bit too……but that’s just my thought.
Pro: 2 HOURS!!!
This is where Smackdown is the obvious winner. So far, Smackdown has given consistent, quality TV with some to the point promos, good matches, good storyline development and so forth. Cena and AJ talk for about 10 minutes, get their points across and they are done. Ziggler and Ambrose talk for 10 minutes, get their points across, DONE!! Guys wrestle squash matches and get their points across and sure, match times are cut in half from RAW but it also means that when we actually DO get a good long match, it’ll be for something special. Smackdown has the cards in the favor at this point: they have the shorter time allotment, they have Cena and Orton, they have the actual WWE Title, they have AJ Styles, they have Bray Wyatt and so far, the build to their two big matches have been MUCH better than the build to the two big matches on RAW (Balor/Rollins has been pretty solid but Rusev/Reigns was MURDERED by that stupid fucking segment from RAW). You can tell that Smackdown is just FOCUSED, accomplish what they need to do and get out of there. You might not always get a fantastic top to bottom show every week (nor do I expect to) but you will consistently get a DECENT show and one that you can probably tolerate a lot more. I don’t really understand the herky jerky nature of RAW sometimes and it’s a problem the show has had for a while now……..Smackdown just flows better from segment to segment. And honestly, people have a chance to get more over on Smackdown than they do on RAW because they don’t have as much time to waste. I mean, DOLPH ZIGGLER as gone from a laughing stock to a pretty solid title contender in the span of 3 weeks on Smackdown……..on RAW, he’d probably still be a laughing stock. It just goes to show that 3 hours is a killer and I could honestly see Smackdown’s ratings start to catch up to RAW a little bit unless drastic measures are taken for this 3 hour bullshit.
Pro: RAW had the best episode.
For as much complaining as I’m doing about RAW, they DID knock it out of the park with that first episode where important things happened, important matches were set up and many called it the easiest RAW to watch in a long time. Every now and then, an episode of RAW will sneak up on you and actual be a good solid episode or they make knock it out of the park……the highs of RAW are higher than those of Smackdown but the lows on RAW are lower than they are on Smackdown.
Con: TOO MUCH happened on that one episode.
I think they rushed the WWE Title build……oops…….UNIVERSAL Title build and I think they rushed giving Sasha the belt. You could have milked those things for WEEKS and gotten more bang for your buck out of them. I mean, they could have done one of the Fatal 4 Ways on that first episode of RAW, the second one the next week and this past week could have seen the Balor/Reigns match that we had anyway. They still could have mixed in Reigns’ build with Rusev and they still could have built up Finn Balor as a legitimate contender…….instead, they blew their wad that first episode and the last two episodes have been very dull watches. Granted, Smackdown’s first episode was met with a general mixed reaction but, from what I’ve read, the reactions to the previous two episodes has been very positive because they didn’t blow their wad in the first episode and have taken the time to actually BUILD to that PPV that they’ve got coming up. RAW has lost focus the past two weeks and they need to regain it very quickly…..it sometimes helps to start slowly and BUILD to the great shows instead of blowing your wad right out of the gate….you still have weeks of TV to fill with 3 hours for every episode. I’d rather consistent ratings of 6-8 (as far as show rating) instead of coming out of the gate with a 9 and then falling to 5s and 4s or whatnot.
Pro: Smackdown has become important and fans are noticing it.
I don’t need to harp on this anymore but yes, Smackdown actually feels important to watch now……and that’s a good thing.
Con: Rating watching is creating negativity for fans.
What is rating watching? Well, it’s when fans are consistently watching the ratings of the shows and creating preconceived notions in their minds about the Brand Split. The ratings have not been great 3 weeks in…….already, fans are clamoring this a massive disappointment and some want this axed immediately. People are already complaining about the thinned out rosters, people are complaining about the show only PPVs and everything else underneath the sun. Already, “FINN BALOR ISN’T A DRAW” or “DEAN AMBROSE ISN’T DRAWING AS CHAMP, PUT THE BELT BACK ON CENA OR ORTON!!” or “SEE? RATINGS SUCK!! KILL THE BRAND SPLIT!!!” Really? 3 weeks in people? We can’t, I don’t know, see where this goes first. Whatever problems I have with the brand split, I’m willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt and let me tell you why: scroll back up and read about the shit I had to FUCKING DEAL WITH when it came to the original Brand Split. You’re complaining about 3 hour RAWs, thinned out rosters, Smackdown not having enough titles, Dolph Ziggler being a joke, Finn Balor being too short to be taken seriously…….yet I had to deal with Stone Cold pissing on fucking Arn Anderson!! You’re complaining about the shows sucking and that they should end this……yet I had to suffer through KATIE VICK!! You hate Miz’ title reign or don’t think Rollins, Reigns or Balor deserve the belt? Guess what? I didn’t want Triple H to be the face of RAW for 3 friggin years BUT I’LL BE DAMNED IF I DIDN’T HAVE TO DEAL WITH THAT FUCKING BULLSHIT!!!! Patience, people, patience. The shows are NOT, and I repeat, are NOT as bad now as they were back then. You think I want to relive even HALF of the shit I had to live through in 2002? I would gladly watch every single 3 hour episode of RAW before I ever have to watch the Reign of Terror ever again. Look…….don’t watch the ratings, watch the show. The shows are not that bad……creative and the writing might suck ass at times but you are generally getting a better piroduct today than we were 14 years ago. Yes, Smackdown got better in 2002-2003 but RAW was a giant fucking death march. Even then, people weren’t tracking ratings (although I wish the WWE was so they could realize how much of a ratings killer Triple H actually was……how do you go from the 5s of 2001 to a 3.14 average in 2004?)……all I’m saying is that a few bad episodes and the ratings dipping should not mean we should have this thing killed immediately……give it time, people, give it time.
If in 6 months this shit has improved, then we can start talking about this being a disappointment. The draft literally happened a month ago and already, people are pissed off with the shows. The WWE’s ratings are NOT going to turn around in a flash……they and you have to have patience. They have to focus on creating a good product full of believable stars while we, the fans, need to understand that we aren’t going to get everything we want right away. And the WWE IS actually trying: they’ve changed up the sets, changed up the feel of the shows (slightly), changed up announce teams (they weren’t what we wanted but they are an improvement), implementing new wrestlers into the mix, and look no further than our two title matches: our title matches for Summerslam will be Finn Balor vs Seth Rollins then Dean Ambrose vs Dolph Ziggler……four guys who should NOT be in the title picture at the second biggest show of the year and yet, here they are. The WWE is TRYING to build up Dolph Ziggler as a believable challenger and they are slowly succeeding, the WWE is TRYING to build up Finn Balor and while they aren’t doing as good with him as they are with Ziggler, they are at least taking the time to try. The WWE is TRYING to get away from John Cena……don’t make them go back to him in a desperate attempt to save ratings. The WWE is TRYING to get me to care about Brock Lesnar vs Randy Orton and honestly…….that’s not working at all but hey, they’re trying! This company doesn’t have all of the answers right now but they are TRYING so I can give them that. Yes, they are not succeeding in many areas but through fault and consequence, greatness usually comes to those with patience. And that’s what we and that company needs: PATIENCE. Because remember……we could be reliving the glory days of the Lord Almighty and his neverending fucking title run that took up three years of my wrestling fandom or experiencing the sight of this man fucking a mannequin……..we don’t have it as bad as you think.
So, yea, probably a disappointing column to many because I am running on fumes but I hope I got my points across in an understandable way. I’m just trying to have patience with this and want people to exhibit the same amount of patience with the product. If things don’t change in 6 months, my tune might change but we haven’t even reached our first brand only PPV yet and people are wanting to kill this thing dead already. There are some who are actually enjoying the Brand Split and to them, I’m glad you are. To the ones who are just complaining non-stop, things could be worse and in that case, just focus on the things the WWE is actually doing right. I mean, 14 years ago, we didn’t have a show where CRUISERWEIGHTS were actually treated with legitimacy nor did we have NXT. We underestimate how good we have it now but the WWE also needs to understand that there is a limit to how much we can take. They are making positive strides but continue to do little things wrong: they are a football team that can’t seem to get out of their own way sometimes. But, so far, the first three weeks of the Brand Split have been solid and I’m still onboard with this concept at this moment.
Come back to me in six months and see how I feel about it but for now, I’m onboard.
Side Note: A few column ideas in the pipeline. I would like to do a Feud Retrospective, good feud or bad feud, but I haven’t decided on what feud to do it on (I have an idea on a few off the top of my head). I “might” have a Summerslam based column pop up but don’t be surprised if I don’t have one. Since I love lists so much, I have a few list ideas in my mind. The one that sticks out is that I’m watching some 1992 WCW and I’m coming up on the 20th Clash of the Champions show……so I was thinking of listing the first 20 Clashes from worst to best so stay tuned for that. I want to do some more retrospectives and maybe some more current talk mixed in and maybe even throw up a random review if I’m feeling it. Also, stay tuned for a future column as I document the careers of two guys who might be single handedly saving TNA at this point and that’s my all-time favorite tag team: The Hardyz! So be ready to hide under your dilapidated boats for that one! Until then, you guys have a great weekend!