After several years of being just one roster, the WWE has made the bold decision to once again split its product into two separate entities, with Raw and Smackdown to become their own unique brands later this month. This is the first time WWE has done a brand split in almost five years.
The company previously had a “brand extension” in place from 2002 until 2011, and now the Big Boss Man, Vince McMahon himself, has made the call to revert back to that formula. Of course, the previous roster split ended up suffering from various issues during its time in place, with said issues hindering both the WWE performers and the enjoyment of the company’s fans. It was not an unmitigated success, which was why WWE reverted back to one brand after the experiment, so this time around the brand split will be very interesting to see as well.
July 19th is the current date marked for the WWE’s roster split to take place, courtesy of a draft on that night’s live edition of Smackdown. Big changes are ahead for the company, but it’s also a time where careful planning and decisions are needed more than ever. The WWE as a whole is suffering from some of its lowest ratings of all time, and this impending draft and subsequent roster split could be key in refreshing and re-energizing the organisation.
With that said, here are 15 things that the WWE must do to make sure that the roster split is handled in the best possible way.
15. Give The Spotlight To Different Guys
During the previous brand split, it would’ve been so easy to just have the focus be on the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, Batista, Triple H and The Undertaker. Heck, for a large portion of time, particularly on Raw, that was often the case.
What was one of the biggest plus points of those years, though, was how certain “lesser” superstars were given the chance at a World Title run. Do you really think someone like CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Eddie Guerrero, Christian, The Miz or Mark Henry would’ve been given a shot as a World Champion were it not for Raw and Smackdown operating separately?
Considering that CM Punk was the WWE’s hottest superstar since the days of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, it’s crazy to think that Punk would’ve likely struggled to make it past the midcard if it weren’t for the separate brands.
So the WWE needs to learn from this and not be afraid to take similar chances with this upcoming roster split. Rather than having the focus be on the usual suspects of John Cena, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Randy Orton, let’s hope we get to see guys like Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Rusev and Cesaro given a shot at becoming performers who the WWE sees as regular main event guys.
14. Give Smackdown A Pre-Show
Every Monday night, the WWE Network hosts the Raw pre-show in the buildup to that week’s episode of Monday Night Raw.
If both brands are to fully feel equal to one another, surely that means that it’s only right and proper that Smackdown starts to get the pre-show treatment going forward. Even more-so, given the fact that the WWE has their own network and can do as and what they see fit. Simply put, if Vince McMahon wants to give Smackdown a pre-show on a Tuesday night once it starts to go out live, Vince McMahon can very well do that.
The key to any success in the upcoming roster split is making Smackdown feel just as important as Raw. In that regard, it seems like a no-brainer to give the blue brand its own pre-show each Tuesday.
If that doesn’t happen, then surely that’s effectively saying that Smackdown isn’t as important as Raw if it’s not even worth the WWE’s resident experts giving some time to discuss what could lie ahead for the show each week.
13. Completely Different Announcing Teams
Much like the in-ring talents themselves, it’s vital to make sure that Raw and Smackdown have completely different announcing teams.
At present, that simply means keeping Byron Saxton exclusive to just one show, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the WWE shook up their announce teams over the next few weeks but still ended up with some sort of overlap between the two broadcast booths.
As during the last roster split, keep the announcing teams separate. If it was down to me, I’d have Michael Cole, JBL and Byron on Raw, then have Mauro Ranallo and Corey Graves on Smackdown. In fairness, if it was down to me then I’d have Mauro and Graves on Raw, but this is the WWE we’re talking about – we have to be realistic, meaning that we’re likely stuck with Cole, JBL and Saxton on Raw for the foreseeable future.
12. Don’t Rush Angles
Just because you now only have one show a week to develop the respective Raw or Smackdown angles and feuds, that doesn’t mean you need to rush them. As a note to the WWE writers, take your time.
There’s a fear amongst many wrestling fans that rather than having both Raw and Smackdown each week to progress storylines, merely having just the one show each week will result in the WWE writers trying to cram more than is necessary into each show and end up with a fast-moving, convoluted mess that audiences struggle to get invested in.
Sometimes less is more. Take your time, develop stories, angles, and feuds at a natural pace, and take a more old school approach in how you build things. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a top WWE superstar. Let each superstar’s journey unravel at a pace that allows fans to get invested in them, to be engaged in what happens to them, and ultimately care about where their career goes.
11. Keep Talents Totally Exclusive
One of the biggest issues of the previous attempt at separate Raw and Smackdown rosters was that talents would often turn up on their rival shows. Going forward, this is something that simply cannot be allowed to happen.
If you want the roster split and draft to feel important then it’s a must that the separate rosters are kept at just that: separate. As soon as a Raw superstar turns up on Smackdown or vice versa, immediately the notion of split rosters becomes a mockery.
One thing that triggered kneejerk reactions during the last attempt at dual rosters was injury issues. Just because a big name on Raw is injured or suspended (hey, Roman!), the WWE needs to resist the urge to fill that void with another big name from Smackdown. Sure, that might help out in the immediate future, but if the roster split is to be a long-term plan then the short-term may need to be sacrificed at certain points.
10. Don’t Break Up The Tag Teams
In fairness, if The Golden Truth duo of R-Truth and Goldust were to be split up as part of the roster split, there wouldn’t be any sleepless nights in the WWE Universe, but it’s key that the WWE doesn’t break up any of the major tag teams during the upcoming draft.
One of the most foolish moves of the original brand split was splitting up The Dudley Boyz. D’Von would become Reverend D’Von on Smackdown, whilst Bubba Ray was a singles star on the Raw brand. Both solo runs fell flat, and the decision to break the iconic team up in the first place just seemed ill-conceived at best, straight-up stupid at worst.
Learning from the mistakes of yesteryear, it’s going to be important for the WWE to keep teams like The New Day, The Club, The Usos, Enzo & Cass, and The Vaudevillians together regardless of what urges Vince McMahon has to push someone like Big Cass as a singles performer.
9. Spread The Workhorses Evenly
During the previous roster split, Smackdown soon became many wrestling fans favourite show. Key to the blue brand’s popularity was the fact that they had the best workers in the company.
At that point in time, there was the famous ‘Smackdown Six’ of Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, Rey Mysterio Jr., Eddie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero. On top of that, there was also talent like Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker who called Smackdown home.
Sure, Raw was positioned as the bigger of the two shows, but the majority of the WWE’s in-ring workhorses were placed on Smackdown.
Going forward, if both Raw and Smackdown are to make the most of the roster split then each brand must be given their fair share of top tier in-ring performers. And by that, I mean guys like Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose, Neville, and, yes, John Cena and Roman Reigns.
8. Be Careful With NXT
As widespread reports and rumours would have you believe, several NXT talents are due for call-ups to the main WWE roster imminently and in time to be a part of the impending roster split.
Talents such as Finn Balor, Bayley, and American Alpha seem shoe-ins to appear on Raw or Smackdown over the next few weeks and months, whilst names like Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, The Revival, and Tye Dillinger are also outside shots to get the call at this moment in time.
Whilst talent such as Neville, Bo Dallas, Apollo Crews, and Tyler Breeze all shone in NXT, they’ve not been utilized all that well on the main roster. Even for the ever-great Kevin Owens, it’s been a tough road at times for his character since coming up to the main roster. Obviously Kevin Owens is Kevin Owens, though, so he’s made the best of everything he’s been given.
For any NXT stars who are set to land on Raw or Smackdown soon, it’s pivotal that the WWE has a plan in place for them rather than just throwing them on TV as just another talent. Granted, not everyone can be a main event player, but it’s still advisable to at least have something in place to showcase the actual character of these performers should they make the jump to main WWE TV.
7. New Stage Setups
Even though Raw and Smackdown currently have their own unique setups in terms of stage, rings, graphics, etc., it would still be a clever move to introduce new setups to both shows in order to mark the roster split as a new, fresh start for the WWE and for its two major weekly shows.
By all means keep the distinctive red branding for Raw and blue branding for Smackdown, but, as the old saying goes, a change is as good as a rest. What better way to bring a new vibrancy and mark a significant change in the WWE product and organisation than by dealing out a refresh for how both shows look and feel.
Many people have their own favourite incarnations of the Raw and Smackdown sets (can anyone say Ovaltron?), so here’s hoping the WWE can give fans something new, fun, fresh, and mood-setting with an updated look for their two flagship shows once the roster split takes place.
6. Utilize The Network
With unique rosters and storylines for both Raw and Smackdown, that means one less show to let the narrative play out each week. Rather than having angles and feuds playing out over both shows, they’ll instead be taking place on just one of the WWE’s flagship shows each week.
As such, it would make perfect sense for the WWE to make full use of the ever-impressive WWE Network that’s at the company’s fingertips. Using the company’s on-demand service should seem like a no-brainer when it comes to delving further into what has happened on either Raw or Smackdown.
The WWE often uses their website to show backstage reaction-esque footage following its shows, but it’s something that isn’t really publicised all that much or made a big deal of. Going forward, using the website and the WWE Network to further storylines should be a logical step for the company to make. If handled correctly, this could make the WWE Network or WWE.com a must-see destination for fans once Raw or Smackdown has come to an end each week.
5. Minimal Authority Presence
From what we’ve heard so far, Raw and Smackdown are each to feature their own individual Chief Operating Officer. Whether it’s a COO, a General Manager, a Chairman, a President (Jack Tunney FTW!) or whatever they want to dress up each show’s respective authority figure as, any and all authority presence needs to be kept to a minimum.
For longstanding wrestling fans, it was only in the mid-late ‘90s that an authority figure really came to the fore as a major, regular on-screen character in the wrestling world. We’d always known that there were those sorts of figures out there, just they were kept as background players who would turn up sparingly when major matches needed something extra to make them truly feel like a big spectacle.
After years of Triple H and Stephanie’s Authority stable, wrestling fans have become numb and frustrated at the constant, overbearing presence of a higher power. As such, going forward both Raw and Smackdown would be well served to keep any authority presence to a minimum.
Yes, each show is seemingly going to get their own figurehead following the roster split, but can we not just keep these as background players? Unfortunately, if there’s any McMahons involved, that seems like it’s an impossible ask.
4. Have A Genuine Rivalry Between The Brands
As well as keeping their rosters completely unique and exclusive, the WWE could do far worse than have a genuine sense of rivalry between Raw and Smackdown.
When pro wrestling (see: sports entertainment) was at its hottest, it was when the then-WWF and WCW were bitter rivals who did whatever they could to keep eyes on their own product. With that in mind, don’t have Raw or Smackdown even mention each other.
With both shows on the USA Network, it’s beneficial to advertise opposing brands during each show in order to make people aware of when they can catch the product, particularly when Smackdown moves to the new spot of airing live on a Tuesday, but just keeps things on the downlow on that front. By that, I mean you could have advertisements for Raw or Smackdown appear on each other’s shows, but don’t have your broadcast teams championing their rival shows.
Have the rosters unique, keep any sort of reference to Raw or Smackdown talent off the opposing show, stop with replaying the action from Raw on Smackdown episodes, and just try and keep both brands as separate entities. That way, when you do have multi-brand PPVs or even rival-driven PPVs (should WWE bring back the Bragging Rights show or look to bring a different spin to Survivor Series once more) then it makes them all the more special.
3. Give Talent Time In The Ring
One of the most important aspects of professional wrestling over the decades is that talent get the chance to have time to tell a story in the ring. And as much as the WWE likes to bandy around the “sports entertainment” moniker or as much as Vince McMahon likes to “make movies”, without an engaging in-ring product the company is always going to be fighting an uphill battle with its audience.
It’s important to keep in mind that the majority of fans at a WWE event are, shock horror, wrestling fans! Crazy, I know, but that’s something that the WWE has seemingly forgotten at times in the past.
For the roster split to work and for each show to be given its own identity, superstars need to be given time to tell a story in the ring, to allow their character to be fleshed-out in the ring, and for new fans watching to be able to see just what moves and tricks a superstar has in their arsenal.
Whilst it’s all well and good to have backstage skits and in-ring promos tell a story, at the end of the day, whether Vinny Mac and Co. like it or not, this is a company and product that is driven by wrestling. As such, the wrestling needs to be allowed to tell its own story. To do that, it’s important that the roster split allows the Raw and Smackdown talent to have enough time in the ring to get fans engaged. Otherwise, what’s really the point?
2. Have Two World Titles
This is a hot topic of debate amongst many wrestling fans, but when all’s taken into consideration, both Raw and Smackdown need to have their own World Championships.
In fairness, there’s a good argument to be made for just one main WWE World Champion, but, at least to this writer, having each roster have their own major title just makes the most sense in the grand scheme of things.
Many of us have fond memories of the classic days of the NWA, where travelling World Champions were all the rage. In this modern setting, though, such a concept may struggle to be as effective as it once was. Give each show their own main title, their own big belt, their own unique major championship, and then treat that as the end game for what all superstars on that particular roster aim to end up competing for.
In having separate World Champions, this would also help to keep the uniqueness and exclusivity of each roster rather than having a floating World Champ appearing on both Raw and Smackdown each week or in order to drive interest in that show’s upcoming PPV.
In theory, this would also allow for more continuity in how the World Champion is booked. For example, if there was a floating World Champ then they’d have Raw writers writing for them on a Monday and Smackdown writers writing for them on a Tuesday. With separate titles, this should make things a lot smoother in terms of booking and writing for whoever is at the top of each particular tree.
1. Make Smackdown Feel Important
The biggest thing that the WWE needs to do in the immediate future is to make Tuesday Night Smackdown feel every inch the equal of Monday Night Raw.
In fact, you could even say that Smackdown needs to feel even more important than Raw for the initial aftermath of the upcoming roster split so that the show soon becomes a must-see, go-to, part of fans’ viewing habits going forward.
For so many years, even during the previous roster split, Smackdown has been treated like the WWE’s B-show – Raw is the A-show, and the blue brand is its lesser sibling. This needs to change and change quickly.
It does have to be said, however, that Smackdown has become a far more enjoyable show over the last few months, with some great bouts taking place. The problem is, it’s still not never-miss-TV, for very few happenings of any major note take place there. Instead, the bigger moments are largely saved for Monday nights and for Raw.
When Smackdown goes live later this month, it will do so in an explosive way by hosting the live roster draft. Following that, the WWE must do everything in its power to make the blue brand feel as important, if not more-so, than its Monday night cohort.