News broke about last week that not only was WWE Smackdown moving to Tuesdays to be aired live, but that the Brand Split would be returning with it. For those unaware, the Brand Split was a concept WWE used in the early 2000s where Raw and Smackdown had their own, individual rosters. It was a good idea that had ultimately run its course and was disbanded a few years ago. Since it had run its course in the initial run, why start it again? Because it’s a great idea.
When the split happened initially, the WWE roster was packed. The roster had guys like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Shawn Michaels… That’s a list that includes some of the greatest wrestlers of all time. So splitting the roster between Raw and Smackdown wasn’t only feasible, it was necessary. You split your main eventers up and that leaves more room for your undercard guys to shine through. Without the split, would we have ever gotten Jamie Noble and Nidia? How about the rise of Shelton Benjamin? A Cruiserweight division with strong storylines? The legendary Smackdown Six? Obviously there’s no way to know for certain, but odds are that there simply would not have been enough room on the roster to let those lesser storylines shine through.
It was also helpful that each show had its own staff behind the scenes as well. Raw and Smackdown each had their own unique writers, bookers, and agents. Not only did that freshen up storylines, it made each show feel unique. Raw became the “sports entertainment show” where elaborate storylines and bloodfeuds were the normal; Smackdown became the “wrestling show” where some of the best wrestlers in the world were given time to put on wrestling classics. You wanted to watch both shows, not only because they had different rosters but because they each felt different.
So What Happened?
Over time, the rosters started to get stale. We kept getting the same matchups over and over again. They tried to combat that with a yearly draft, where several wrestlers would switch between brands. This helped, but it wasn’t enough. Ultimately, it became important to bring up new talent and reinvent some old ones in order to freshen up the scene. The WWE staff largely failed miserably at this.
Instead of talented people getting interesting characters, they got shackled with jokes like Jesse & Festus, Eugene, Jimmy Wang Yang, and the Spirit Squad. If they weren’t given an outlandish gimmick, they were just awful in the ring. A series of big, muscular guys like Heidenreich, Mike Knox, The Great Khali, and Gene Snitsky took up way too much airtime. Then there was the young guys who were given nothing to work with, who had bland movesets and little to no character, like Mark Jindrak, Ken Doan, Garrison Cade, and Rob Conway. Not even established wrestlers were immune to this, lest we forget Chavo Guerrero’s Kerwin White transformation and the WWE debut of Goldberg.
There were a few wrestlers who survived debuting in this era. John Cena and Randy Orton were a part of that bland group, while Dolph Ziggler, Batista, and Luke Gallows all had terrible characters. They were able to reinvent themselves and find success. There were also a few debuts that they handled well, like Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. But most of the new wrestlers from that era have rarely been seen, with most leaving the industry entirely. The WWE dropped the ball in a big way.
That combination of awful writing decisions mixed with a lack of fresh matchups and lasting new talent lead to the demise of the Brand Split.
Why Would It Work Now?
That stacked roster from the first Brand Split that I mentioned? The current WWE roster blows it out of the water. Obviously not in terms of star power, but when it comes to pure talent, top-to-bottom the current WWE roster might be the best they’ve ever had. Not everyone is incredible, sure, but I’m hard pressed to name anyone who is just awful. There’s not a Nathan Jones in sight. This roster has what it takes to carry a show. Even their lower mid-card guys include people like Tyler Breeze and the Social Outcasts, who are talented enough to easily take on a larger role.
Not only that, but I have faith that things will be kept fresh. The last time there was a Brand Split, there wasn’t NXT. The WWE Performance Center is turning out some truly talented wrestlers while also attracting some of the best wrestlers in the world. We recently got people like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Enzo & Cass, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Neville called up, while others like Bayley, Finn Balor, Samoa freakin’ Joe, and Shinske friggin’ Nakamura waiting in the wings. If there was ever a group of talent that would make a Brand Split succeed, it’s this one.
By now, you’ve probably seen countless fantasy drafts of the WWE rosters. Haha, stupid marks…
Anyway, here’s another fantasy draft:
The New Day
Alberto del Rio
The Dudley Boyz
Primo and Epico
Enzo & Cass
The Social Outcasts
My objective was to split up the star power as evenly as possible. I also wanted to tap into what they had done in the past and made Raw the “sports entertainment” show and Smackdown the “wrestling” show. My plan also involves the WWE Champion, Women’s Champion, and Tag Team Champions to float between shows so as not to strand anyone from being able to get a title shot. In this scenario, the IC title and US titles would be the only titles that are exclusive to their respective shows.
So what are your thoughts on this whole Brand Split? Is it good or bad?