It’s the dawn of a new age in World Wrestling Entertainment, and nothing gets the WWE Universe more excited to be wrestling fans than a reboot. On July 19, WWE’s traditionally second-tier show, SmackDown, goes live for the first time on Tuesdays and will compete on back-to-back nights with Monday Night Raw. It’s the return of the brand extension and each show will have a unique roster of Superstars from which to create their own storylines and rivalries.
The original WWE brand split, which thrived to varying degrees for over a decade, is generally remembered with mixed feelings by wrestling fans. But if the collective WWE fan base can agree on one thing it would seem to be that what the company has been doing for the last several years has produced one of the least exciting eras in the history of the business.
It can’t be argued that the current collection of wrestlers in WWE is crammed full of Superstars on the verge of greatness, and the current state of Raw and SmackDown isn’t allowing that greatness to happen. Monday Night Raw hosts three hours of television that it often doesn’t know how to fill and Thursday Night SmackDown has come off for years now as a pre-taped Raw reenactment of sorts where no storylines ever advance.
Whether you look forward to the splitting of the rosters or you were hoping for something different, the brand extension is indeed upon us, so let’s look at some ways WWE can ensure this new era can reach its fullest potential.
15. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in Control of SmackDown
One thing almost all WWE fans can agree on is that the Authority angle with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon running Monday Night Raw went on far, far too long. Most people would say it wasn’t even that interesting to begin with! But what if we did it all over again, only this time on SmackDown?
Not that anyone wants another half decade of the Authority, at least not in the on-screen sense. While I’m sure we’ll get a touch of that, what would the show be like if Vince McMahon’s daughter and son-in-law were in charge behind the scenes? For several years now Paul Levesque (AKA Triple H) has been the sole mastermind behind the revolutionary NXT. As a result, NXT has soared to unbelievable heights of popularity and the internet wrestling community agrees: Triple H knows how to run a wrestling show.
We know Triple H and Stephanie are next in line to take the reins of the entirety of WWE when Mr. McMahon finally steps down in 2060. Wouldn’t it be beneficial, not just for the fans but especially for McMahon himself, to know how they’re going to do running one of the flagship weekly TV shows?
14. Raw and SmackDown Available Sooner on WWE Network
Right now, WWE Network subscribers are getting a great deal at a monthly fee of $9.99 for every pay-per-view event and most of the WWE video library on demand. Unfortunately, if you don’t have cable, you can’t keep up with the weekly television product through the service because Raw and SmackDown are only added to the Network after several weeks of having aired on the USA Network.
What’s the point of that? Sure, there are television deals in place and if everyone could watch Raw and SmackDown instantly on the WWE Network no one would need to watch them on cable. The lucrative television deals WWE has would then become less profitable as ratings sank, but the company seems to be making a next-day viewing experience work with Hulu, albeit with abridged versions of the shows. How about next-day availability of Raw and SmackDown on the WWE Network in their entirety? This would surely keep more fans up-to-date on the product more easily, especially those with busy schedules.
13. Introduce a Women’s Tag Team Championship
Some of the best women’s matches on the WWE Network involve battles between the Jumping Bomb Angels and the Glamour Girls for the WWF Women’s Tag Team titles back in the ‘80s. The concept of this championship can certainly work, though WWE would no doubt need to work on the depth of its female Superstar roster. Titles have been a hot topic of conversation among the WWE Universe ever since the brand split was announced and no one knows how brand exclusivity will affect the championship picture.
One title-related issue with major implications is whether the WWE Tag Team Champions (currently The New Day) will be exclusive to one show or if they’ll be defending the titles on both. There’s clearly an imbalance if the latter proves the case, but perhaps it’s an imbalance which could be offset by the introduction of another pair of tag team belts – and that doesn’t necessarily mean for the men.
12. A Second World Title
If there’s one singular concept that came to embody the spirit of WWE’s original brand extension, it was the system of two World Championships. For over a decade Raw and SmackDown each had its own World title. What’s now known as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship was two separate entities at the time, called simply the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship. This allowed so many of the legends we know and love today to reach the peak of their careers, such as Edge, Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero.
Without this system, many Hall of Fame careers would never have been so memorable. WWE is in a rare position to have a roster packed with men on the verge of exploding into true Superstardom, but with only one brass ring to grasp it might be difficult for WWE to make that happen. How does the WWE World Heavyweight title accommodate Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Cesaro and so many more talented wrestlers that are still waiting to emerge?
11. Restructure the Royal Rumble
The annual Royal Rumble event has been a staple in WWE for nearly 30 years and understandably so. The 30-man over-the-top-rope contest has been a fan favorite due to its exciting finishes and surprise returns, all culminating in the winner receiving a match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the biggest event of the year, WrestleMania.
The brainchild of WWE Hall of Famer Pat Patterson, the Rumble became appreciated for the level of prestige it gave to the World Championship, but aside from a few minor tweaks (this year the reward was the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, not just a shot at it) the January tradition has essentially been the same year to year and a new era in WWE might just call for a new perspective. The outcome of the match has grown increasingly obvious over the years and it’s difficult to remember a time when the WWE Universe didn’t know weeks in advance who would win the match.
With the idea of an extra World title floating around, perhaps two smaller Royal Rumble matches (one for each brand) in the same night could work, or maybe the Rumble could continue to be held for the World Championship and be comprised of fifteen men each from Raw and SmackDown. Whatever the angle, a mix-up at one of the biggest wrestling shows of the year could light a fire under the WWE brand split.
10. The Return of WWE Bragging Rights
In 2009 and 2010 WWE held a pay-per-view event titled Bragging Rights where the Raw and SmackDown brands would each choose a team of seven competitors and those teams would compete against one another for brand supremacy. It’s a simple, yet organic idea which encouraged competition between two unique wrestling shows and gave fans the opportunity to choose a side to rally for.
Unfortunately, this came at a time when WWE’s separate roster era was on its last legs and show loyalty was a thing of the past. The concept remains promising, however, and could be utilized to the advantage of the 2016 brand split. One of the most special experiences fans could have at the height of the original brand extension was a sense of loyalty toward one show or the other, and as any sports fan knows, there’s no better feeling than rooting for your favorite team to take it all home.
But what is there to take home? For Bragging Rights to work to its maximum potential in 2016 there would need to be some form of ultimate prize for the winning show. Maybe the event could take place prior to the annual draft and the winning show would receive the first two picks? Or what if the winning brand earned the main event spot at WrestleMania or SummerSlam?
9. Drop the Third Hour of Raw
The third hour of Raw: it’s like the weird, creepy uncle sitting at the table for Thanksgiving dinner. No one wants him there, but for some reason, Mom insists on inviting him.
Wrestling fans have been begging for years for WWE to go back to a two-hour format, and for the purposes of the new brand extension, there’s no longer a sensible reason for the third hour to exist. The supposed plan behind SmackDown going live on Tuesdays and getting its own specific roster of WWE Superstars is that it will compete on an even level with Monday Night Raw for the first time in its seventeen-year history. But not only does a longer episode of Raw every week signify greater importance, it calls for a larger roster – also a sign of dominance.
Even with all hands on deck for Monday nights, Raw is a pain in the neck to sit through at its current runtime. The consensus is there, but will WWE finally trim the fat?
8. Shake Up the Announce Teams
You could fill the AT&T Stadium many times over with the amount of viewers who have a hard time trying to stomach JBL and Michael Cole on commentary week after week. But a new brand split could benefit greatly from new voices, and there are plenty of commentary options already on staff that don’t come with JBL’s belligerent nonsense.
We’ve seen a few changes made in recent years, many for the better. Byron Saxton has grown into the shining star of the Raw announce booth, while Mauro Ranallo has joined him on SmackDown and brought with him a level of professional credibility much needed on the team.
But then there’s the NXT announce team of Tom Phillips and Corey Graves, which the IWC (internet wrestling community) has really been digging. These two know just how to play off one another and could easily take over as the new Raw announce team, while Saxton and Ranallo keep watch over SmackDown. These two fresh combinations could breathe new life into WWE just in time for the brand split.
7. A Complete Visual Makeover
If you were watching WWE television during the initial brand split, you know the color scheme was the one thing that made Raw and SmackDown each instantly identifiable as their own entities; red for Raw, blue for SmackDown.
Those colors have now become nothing more than logos and ambiance lighting, but it’s time for WWE to take things to the next level and completely redesign the visual presentation for each program. New logos are a plus, but as this is a new era, it’s time to make it feel that way, and new intro theme songs for Raw and SmackDown are a must to make that happen. This, along with the return of red and blue ropes for Raw and SmackDown, respectively, and entirely new stage sets and lighting effects, will make it feel special once again for the WWE Universe to decide with whom they stand: the red team or the blue team?
6. More WWE Network Specials
A recently leaked, though far from confirmed, list revealed plans for unique pay-per-views for Raw and SmackDown each. Some of them, including the return of an old favorite, Backlash, are apparently set to be airing exclusively on the WWE Network. With the Network becoming a bigger, more successful focus for the company as time progresses, shows like this could greatly enhance the wrestling product and help the brand split arrive into the new era.
WWE Network subscribers love live special events, as evidenced by the success of the NXT TakeOver series. If WWE is willing to have more of these special events, even if they’re not on par with a full pay-per-view show, this will help engage viewers in the overall experience and continue to help promote brand loyalty, especially if the Network specials are brand-specific. And if it whets the appetite of fans during lengthy periods of time between other pay-per-views, then that’s just an added benefit.
5. Elevate the Intercontinental and United States Titles
Despite all the questions about a second World Championship to accommodate the separate shows, this may not be necessary for the WWE brand extension to flourish. Another path to take would be for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship to be defended across both Raw and SmackDown while the second-tier Intercontinental and United States Championships remain exclusive to one show or the other.
For this to be truly meaningful, however, each of those titles would need to be elevated to a place of prestige they’ve not held in a very long time. Fortunately, a lot of that prestige would return naturally if the championships were presented as each brand’s main event while the World title was being saved for pay-per-views.
While this wouldn’t make extra room for World Champions the way the two World title system did throughout the original brand extension, it would raise two championships, each with a respected lineage, to great heights and provide a high level of exposure to many WWE Superstars which they simply might never get under a unified brand.
4. Added Focus on Women’s Wrestling
At WrestleMania 32 WWE announced the retirement of the much-maligned Divas Championship in favor of the Women’s Championship. That announcement drew a roar of applause and the triple threat title match that night between Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch ended up stealing the show in what many fans called the match of the night. Since then WWE has slacked on its effort to build a respectable women’s wrestling division, but that night proved fans are more than willing to accept it when presented in just the right way.
The splitting of Raw and SmackDown should open up a world of opportunities for female Superstars, of which WWE has plenty at hand between its current main roster and NXT. If WWE invests in prioritizing the depth and character development of its women in the same way the company does its men, a fleshed out women’s division should have no trouble becoming the lifeblood of one (or both) of the brands.
3. Reinstate the Cruiserweight Championship
If the electricity surrounding the upcoming Cruiserweight Classic tournament on the WWE Network is any indication, the WWE Universe is more than ready for the reinstatement of the beloved Cruiserweight Championship. A staple in the original brand split, the Cruiserweight title was the only championship to always remain exclusive to SmackDown and gave the blue brand a flavor that would never be duplicated by its Monday night counterpart.
Originating in WCW, the Cruiserweight Championship and its division under WWE’s umbrella became heavily featured on the minor weekly program Velocity on Saturday nights, developing a passionate cult following for that show. In discussing the Cruiserweight Classic competition on Twitter, Triple H went so far as to refer to the tournament as the “rebirth of a famed era in our industry.” Could this indicate the company is considering resurrecting one of the key defining features that made the original WWE brand split so memorable?
2. Make it a Clean Split
Everything the brand split calls for to be successful, brand loyalty, increased wrestler opportunities, better championship presentation, it all hangs on WWE making sure this split stays as clean as possible.
This means no SmackDown Superstars making appearances on Raw, as this instantly destroys everything that is so special about watching one show or the other. When that happens it confuses brand loyalty and occupies a spot on Raw that would be normally given to an exclusive Raw Superstar. And if there are any champions who are regularly defending their titles on both Raw and SmackDown the balance is even more delicate.
The only rare exceptions to this are for special Raw versus SmackDown storylines such as those for a potential Bragging Rights-style pay-per-view, but even those should be saved for a special annual event. A clean split is necessary and crucial to the concept of each brand feeling unique.
1. End the PG Era
Ask just about any jaded wrestling fan what they believe is wrong with the business today and they’ll tell you with unwavering consistency that WWE’s PG rating is to blame. Some say the matches aren’t intense enough because Superstars can’t take risks on account of banned chair shots to the head or the fact that WWE doesn’t allow intentional bleeding. Others say wrestlers’ promos are too dry because WWE won’t let them be themselves for fear of a non-politically correct mishap offending one of the company’s family-friendly sponsors.
Then there are the members of the WWE Universe who just don’t want their intelligence insulted by WWE insisting on presenting a John Cena who never makes mistakes because so many kids look up to him. Whatever the beef, it’s all because of the PG era, and whether or not that’s actually the case, there’s no denying there is benefit to be had by dropping the family-friendly promise.
Blood and boobs have never been all that makes a wrestling show (although many agree it helps), but dropping the PG expectation certainly frees up opportunities to explore a wider range of wrestling personalities, and while WWE clearly has good Chris Benoit-related reasons to ban chair shots to the head, more creative tactics could be used to lend a violent feel to matches that call for that sort of thing.
One thing is for sure: a strictly PG label does nothing but stifle the creativity of both the wrestlers and the writing teams behind them.