So after much rumor and a hell of a lot of fans hoping and praying, the WWE announced yesterday that it will be splitting its roster and returning to the brand split this July. They’re also doing something that will give Smackdown a much needed boost compared to how some saw it during the last brand split. Smackdown will be aired live on Tuesday nights rather than taped and aired later in the week. So goodbye to people reading badly written or slanted spoilers on the wrestling sites and deciding not to tune in as some did in the past. Frankly, it’s a damned good idea and one that’s overdue. Here are my thoughts on it.
Where do the titles go, and how do they set them up. That seems like a “Duh!” question to some I’m sure, but we’ve been down this road before. The original brand split didn’t start out with each brand having a full set of titles. You had one world champion who was able to work both brands, and then you only had one set of tag belts, one women’s title, and one cruiserweight title. I can’t remember off hand if they did both the IC and US belts or not. Oh, there was also the Hardcore Title that could go anywhere because of the rules it was defended under.
That didn’t work too well. It might work less well today when the WWE creative teams seem to have forgotten how to build compelling storylines across the roster that don’t involve a title belt. They eventually built pretty much all the titles back up so that each roster had a full set of titles; although for a while the Women’s title and the Cruiserweight title were exclusive to Raw and Smackdown respectively. Having found two full sets of titles to be the formula that worked best, I suspect we’ll see new titles and maybe tournaments (which could be a blast) so that each brand has a full set of titles.
However, John Morgan ‘Bat’ Neal of the ESO-PRO: The Pro Wrestling Roundtable Podcast suggested over on their Facebook group (And if you’re on Facebook and not a member, why not?) that the WWE world title be a shared title. You’d run one big dog for both brands with the U.S. and Intercontinental titles serving as the individual brands’ championships. I admit I actually quite like this idea, but I think I’d hold off on the execution of it for a year.
I think the U.S. and Intercontinental titles need a bit of rebuilding first. Give them a year to really build those titles back up to representing the idea of the holder of the title truly being one of the best of the best. During that year, build the Heavyweight and World titles towards having two champions who will meet and have an ego clash a PPV or two before WrestleMania. From there, with lots of ‘I’m the only real WWE Champion!’ talk, you build champion Vs champion match at WrestleMania. The winner walks out as the unified champion for both brands, and the “lesser” titles have been built up enough to take their place at the top on the brands.
You can also get another bonus out of this. You can make the WWE Championship title something really special again. I’m old school, so I’m biased here, but I think having one world champ for two brands means you could see less of him. You can’t have your world champ running two feuds on two brands simultaneously, and even appearing on both brands and interacting with both rosters every week could get problematic. The answer is to pull back on the champ’s on-air appearances.
A lot of people forget this- especially since they tend to remember the bigger moments more with the passage of time while forgetting the smaller moments –but Hogan (and some others before and after him) as the WWF Champion was not a regular fixture on WWF television. You didn’t see the champ every week on TV, and you didn’t always see him in a match when you did see him. The upshot of this was that when you did see the champ it was special, and when you saw a championship match it felt like an event.
The champ did still pop up more often than he actually wrestled to build his storylines. He did the pre-tapes, he did Piper’s Pit, and he even did matches that weren’t for the belt. At least a few of Hogan’s huge feuds were built in part by having him tag with the guy he would be facing down the road before it was made clear to fans that they would feud. But he was not a week to week fixture every single week. Honestly, the champ shouldn’t be.
You had much the same setup I’m discussing not that long ago with Brock. People liked to dump on him for the deal he cut with the WWE, but, damn, the combo of his schedule and… well… him… made title defenses feel like a special event rather than just this week’s TV broadcast. If each brand has titles that have been built up enough to feel like they mean something, make your WWE Champion an event again, not just another segment of that week’s broadcasts.
But the other titles? Bring ‘em on. Give us our tag champs for both brands. Give us a women’s champ for each brands. Although, my ultimate goal there would be creating rosters of women deep enough to create secondary titles for them in order to elevate one champion to the same type of deal you would have with the WWE Champion. Give us two Cruiserweight champs.
I’d say you could even experiment a little bit by having brand specific titles. Bring back a little bit of the past. Test the waters on a six man tag title for one brand. Find yourself a workhorse and slap a TV title on him. Hell, even if it’s not sanctioned as an “official” title, have a heel do a modern version of the FTW or Million Dollar championship titles to use in feuds. With only a single world champion for both rosters, it opens some room up to get a little creative like that, and the creativity will help give each roster some individual identity.
PPVs and Creative
Stagger the PPVs again with only WrestleMania and one or two (at the most) PPVs utilizing both brands. Alternatively, they could have only WrestleMania as the official PPV for both brands while running one or two shows during the year exclusively on the WWE Network (ala the Beast from the East show) where both brands (and NXT) would have matches. This would keep your brands separate but still give you the chance to build interpromotional ‘dream match’ feuds towards WrestleMania or to simply have fan favorite wrestlers together for a show.
But definitely keep the brands largely separate. Plus, give us some brand specific matches for the PPVs for that little but of extra individuality. There was a rumor just a few weeks back that the War Games may be returning. Why not as a brand specific PPV? It would give fans something extra to look forward to. It would from time to time once again give us those moments where we’d see a wrestler that we knew well essentially entering into new territory and new matches that we’d never seen them in before. It would help make those things event viewing again.
In the meantime, let the individual brands have their own creative teams and let them go wild. Throw out incentives to creative to really kick it up a notch. Keep your ratings higher than the other brand for four weeks and you get a bonus. No, it’s not like Raw will have the advantage all of the time just because it’s Raw. A lot of people forget that Nitro wasn’t the only show that beat Raw in the ratings for months on end. Smackdown (as Paul Heyman loves to point out since it was in part his doing) was beating Raw in the ratings for quite a nice stretch at one point despite many fans and the company still treating it like it was the B-brand. They were putting on shows like they had something to prove, and the run they had when they were doing it was some phenomenal viewing. Encourage that kind of competition again. It can only make the shows better, and it can only end up rewarding the fans.
Of course, that brings us to…
The Draft and NXT
Again, the old brand split seemed to more often than not treat Smackdown as the lesser brand. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, it seemed like guys would build momentum on Smackdown just to be drafted to Raw while guys Raw couldn’t make anything out of were drafted to Smackdown. Make the draft a little fairer. Maybe even spread it out a bit more. Make it every 18 months rather than every year.
Oh, and leave NXT out of it.
NXT should remain its own little entity on the Network. Maybe have NXT guys work WrestleMania and the theoretical Network specials alongside the main roster guys, but keep it as its own thing. This is vital for several reasons.
While NXT has become way more than just the developmental territory it was meant to be, it is still the WWE developmental territory. NXT fans would dread the draft every year that it came because there would be no question who NXT would lose in every draft. You’d see a huge block of the most over and the most primetime ready guys ripped away in one go. Not good for NXT, not good for the fans.
Plus, NXT gives the WWE a chance to do something it rarely gets to do these days. They can kayfabe the hell out of making a wrestler the biggest thing that month. How? NXT wrestlers can make their Raw or Smackdown debuts randomly throughout the year. That would also be a nice way to shake things up from time to time if you made the draft an every eighteen month to two year deal. You’d have the ability to have a major heel title holder running his mouth about all the wrestlers he’s beaten only to be interrupted by the entrance music of an NXT turned brand wrestler. You get instant impact and buzz when a shakeup is needed.
The other way to play it is to go the MVP route. MVP was largely unknown to the casual wrestling fans. He was made into a somebody by being brought in as if he was being courted by the GM and being offered the promotion on a silver platter to get him to sign a contract. Every once in a while, build a guy up for the casual fans that way. Bring a guy up by having an intense “bidding war” for his talents. Make him, her, or the team out to be the hottest free agent signing out there. It’s a way to build excitement about a new face on the brands rather than just having them walk out as the new wrestler having their first match.
NXT should always be an exciting brand, but it should always be “the future” of the WWE. They have an amazing thing going with NXT. They don’t need to try and run it as the official main roster brand #3 and crater it the way they ultimately did with WWECW.
Please, WWE, I’m begging you… Leave us one brand where we have more of a Jack Tunney style head of the brand. At this point you’ve shown you love to go to the evil boss getting into everything and being the face around the title scene at all times, but some of us are really, really over that. It’s not a major stretch to have a GM who declares that their job is to keep things running smoothly, declares he or she will only step in when things get too far out of control, and says that they want the wrestling show to be about the wrestlers and not them. Again, it will give the brands a little more of a different flavor, and it will give fans who are burnt out on Evil Mr. McMahon/The Authority/the bad guy boss a place to go.
Once ever so very often, once ever so very great often, spark a little excitement with an unexpected crossover. One thing that sort of bugged me back with the old brand split was the way creative typical wrote bits for how the wrestlers and announcers acted towards the other brand’s wrestlers and announcers. Guys who were six month earlier being friendly with each other on one brand would occasionally be glaring at each other because they were now on opposite brands. Yeah, it’s a competition, but people can still be friendly. As much as fans would love to see crossovers akin to mini invasions now and again to build to a Network special or build to WrestleMania, give us the occasional pleasant surprise as well.
You have a heel tag team facing a face tag team or a heel stable feuding with your faces. Their feud is going to get a blow off match at the upcoming PPV. Maybe a guy gets a legit injury. Maybe it’s just storyline. Either way, a member of the face team is taken down. Sometimes when that kind of thing happens, especially due to legit injury with a limited roster or a brand split dynamic, the guy who steps in doesn’t always feel like it’s the big deal it should be. Well, you have wrestlers who would have friends or even former tag partners on the other brand. You’d have guys on opposing brands who were popular as running buddies in NXT. How big of a pop do you think you’d get, how huge of a fan reaction would some people have, if on the show before the PPV it was announced that a one-time appearance deal was struck with another brand and a former tag partner or stable mate who was now on the other brand walked down to the ring?
Again, don’t do it often. Don’t do it annually if you can at all avoid it. But, as an example, three years from now we have Enzo and Cass on different brands. Enzo loses his tag partner (let’s say to a legit injury) in a grudge feud rather than a title feud right before the PPV to the dastardly backstage or parking lot antics of the heels. What kind of explosive pop would we see if on the show the week before the PPV he’s face to face with the heels, he says he’s gotten a new partner for the PPV, and Big Cass comes storming down to the ring. Beyond the likely seismic pop, the other bonus is making the PPV feel like it’s a special event. For one night only a super-hot tag team from the past gets back together, a friend helping the other out, and you can only see them that one time.
NXT builds new stars. You know what else builds new stars? Having room on the roster to make them and not having to push them down to make space for the other storylines. We saw more guys getting nice pushes on the main roster when we had a brand split than since they dissolved it. You had the room to make new stars, and creative, certainly on Smackdown, seemed driven to compete by building wrestlers on their roster up.
Competition can drive the creative teams to new heights just as it can with the wrestlers. We saw it back in the territory days. We saw it during the Monday Night Wars. We even saw it during the last brand split. Incentivize creativity. Reward it. The side effect of that will be new stars and wrestlers getting better shots at being able to shine.
Yesterday’s news has a lot of people excited. It should. There really is the potential with this move to make the “New Era” rhetoric a reality. NXT has been ensuring that the WWE has a shot at a great future. If they’re sincere with making this brand split all it can be… Well, maybe it’s not Monday Night Wars excitement levels all over again, but they can definitely bring back some of the excitement they lost for a while there, and bring it back in spades.
Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had a lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as professional wrestling. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in third person to be very strange.
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