Everything’s rebooting these days. Comic books, film franchises, even our beloved Nerds on the Rocks podcast is rebooting. Consider this the official WWE reboot. On July 19th, beginning with the first live edition of SmackDown, the 2016 WWE Draft officially commenced and the roster was divided yet again between Team Red and Team Blue. Here are seven takeaways from the WWE brand split.
7. The Draft
A long tedious endeavor, the bright spot of a live draft was watching it all unfold the following week. In my mind, the draft should have been more automated. More akin to the way the results appeared in the DraftCenter special on the WWE Network.
There a few nitpicks I would offer as to where a few of the superstars ended up. But the overall result felt — safe. The decision to move Dean Ambrose, John Cena, or even Randy Orton to SmackDown, all felt like the safe decision. The Raw draft felt the same way, with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns heading to the flagship program.
It seems that the decision was to build around the current product. And I can’t really fault them for this decision. It makes sense to blend the current talent with the New Era talent and give the fans a taste of everything the WWE has to offer.
So with the key players at the top of the draft, a healthy blend of rookie talent to seal up a few loose ends here and there, and that’s the draft. All in all, I am satisfied with both of the roster’s. A few more call ups to help fill out the SmackDown lineup would offer more depth and variety to their brand, but that should come in time.
6. SmackDown Live!
Move over Raw, there’s a new live program in town! For as long as I can remember, SmackDown was the brand you were watching if you were a pure WWE enthusiast. You had to be. Raw has always been the flagship brand, while SmackDown has largely been an afterthought. A shakeup was more than needed at this point to right the course of the ship.
Of course, the WWE Universe has endured the brand split before. But for whichever reason, SmackDown did not seem to benefit from the split and faded back into obscurity. This time, to breathe new life into SmackDown, the switch to live programming was absolutely vital to turning things around. And as the ratings continue to come in, the switch seems to be paying off. There’s a sense of energy to the show now that has been missing for Team Blue and SmackDown Live! has become can’t miss wrestling.
From top to bottom, SmackDown has been firing on all cylinders. With a sharp focus on the talent and a de-emphasis on The Authority, there seems to be a real opportunity for the superstars to compete. The Miz has been receiving a strong push, as well as Dolph Ziggler. There has been a great spotlight shown on the Tag Team and Women’s division’s, highlighting each of the superstars week in and week out. Even less recognizable talent have benefited from SmackDown, including a brilliant spot between Heath Slater and Rhino for the Tag Team Championship.
But by far, the best part of SmackDown’s resurgence is the newfound variety for fans to choose from. While I personally have been enjoying the SmackDown brand more than Raw at this point in the split, it’s great to have two distinctly different products for the fans to choose from and enjoy.
5. The Cruiserweight Division
Stephanie McMahon cheerfully announced that Raw would be the exclusive host of a new Cruiserweight division, set to debut later this month on the 19th. This development comes at just the right time. Not only does it aid in filling out the third hour of programming on Raw, but it arrives just five days after the Cruiser Weight Classic comes to a close.
I have enjoyed the CWC tremendously and can’t wait to see these superstars shine at the top level of wrestling. And It’s great to see that these wrestler aren’t being overlooked just because of their weight class. My fear, however, would be for any of these guys to be put in a box and told that they can’t compete beyond their division. There needs to be room for growth to foster these talents moving forward.
I sight this concern because of how easy it has been in wrestling history for the Cruiserweight’s to be reduced into more of a second tier division. It occurred in the latter days of the WCW and more recently when the title was quietly retired out of the WWE in 2007. The division usually begins with a general sense of excitement, but tends to regress as the talent becomes pigeonholed by the division itself.
Allow for the Cruiserweight’s to challenge for the United States Championship or even Tag Team titles. And provided a story line to make the transition seamless, how about a shot at the Universal Championship?
Providing a proper pathway for the division to compete against the rest of the superstars the WWE has to offer will be essential for the continued success of the division. And hopefully the WWE recogonizes this and works to make sure that Cruiserweight talent doesn’t become overlooked. After all, some of the top talent in the industry today would be considered Cruiserweights themselves.
4. More Pay-Per-Views
When the brand split first took place in 2002, brand specific Pay-Per-Views were first introduced to the WWE Universe. The concept was to increase the overall number of PPVs, providing a nearly monthly outlet for each brand. While larger events like WrestleMania or SummerSlam would serve as shared brand events. But after just five years of the single-brand event approach, the idea was altogether scrapped in 2007 when all PPV events became shared.
From the fans perspective, there were just too many events. How many of those PPVs were even worth checking out? And as the laws of supply and demand dictate, an increase in PPVs wouldn’t necessarily result in greater demand. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there was less interest in the events, either. But tuning in would mean spending more money, adding to any reluctance to doing so already. With all of this contending against the single-brand Pay-Per-View, it’s easy to understand how the approach was ultimately dismissed. But with the concept being reintroduced to the WWE Universe nine year later, you have wonder what has changed since 2007?
While all the factors against single-brand events are certainly still at play, one key factor has shifted to the advantage of the WWE, the creation of the WWE Network. Hosting all of the Pay-Per-View events for a flat monthly rate, fans can enjoy all the events live or watch anytime on demand. This is the perfect development for both the money weary fans and for the less enthused fans.
More events will better serve the talent, as well. For too long now, there have been a great number of would-be main eventers who haven’t had a real opportunity to compete in the company. And with the departure of a swath of superstars citing either creative differences or a lack of opportunity, more events will offer the much needed room for growth that will benefit all of the talent.
3. No Floating Titles
There were a few rumors surfacing around the web that speculated whether or not there would be floating titles after the brand split. That is, the amount of titles up for grabs would remain the same and the two brands would compete against each other for the right to host each championship. The notion was dismissed pretty early on with Raw’s announcement of the Universal Championship. From there, it seemed pretty certain that SmackDown would follow suite with a Tag Team and Women’s title.
While I understand why the decision was made to keep the titles local, I can’t help but to feel an opportunity was missed to develop competition between the brands. I really liked the idea of the titles becoming bragging rights to add to the McMahon sibling rivalry.
Imagine a scenario where all of the titles were floating for each brand and SmackDown managed to secure at least most them. Then, on the very next Monday Night Raw, Stephanie McMahon summons her entire roster to chastise her superstars and announce vigorous new number one contender matches to establish the title contenders to compete against SmackDown at the next shared PPV. Imagine the contenders matches, even. How about interbranded tournaments to establish the contender’s for each title?
Although, it is perhaps too ambitious. But even with the addition of local titles, floating at least a few of the championships would have been a unique addition to the product. With all that being said, I completely understand the reasoning behind leaving the titles structure alone. The competition behind floating titles may have been perceived as forced or even gimmicky.
Nevertheless, kudos to WWE creative for taking their time with the newly minted titles. Announcing a slew of new titles too quickly would have felt premature. The result instead was developed very organically. The superstars needed a title to strive for and the additions felt necessary by process.
2. Women’s Wrestling
When I first became a spectator of pro wrestling, I was maybe ten years old. Of course, I had watched it for years prior, but that was when my real wrestling memories were developed. And I remember some truly great wrestlers. In fact, some of my favorites to this day. The likes of Steve Austin, The Rock, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, and Rob Van Dam. The tag teams of The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boys, and Edge and Christian. Ah, so many memories. What a great time to have been a fan. And then there was the Women’s division.
Those were considerably less memorable times for the Women’s division. When the matches weren’t a complete embarrassment, swimsuit matches or bra and panties matches, they were short and lackluster. In fact, I don’t recall watching many Women’s matches at all. The WWE didn’t seem too serious about the female competitors and the fans followed suite, dismissing the matches altogether.
Personally, I had been away from the sport for a great many years and missed a considerable portion of the division’s expansion. One of the pivotal developments over that span was the Divas Revolution. Just imagine my surprise when I returned to wrestling to discover the revised Women’s division.
Don’t even think of getting up, these matches are just too good to miss. The turning of the tide began when the fans demanded it. #GiveDivasAChance trended on social media as the fans cried out against the lack of competition found in the Diva’s division. From there, it became a full on revolution. Cultivating at NXT with The Four Horsewomen, women’s wrestling became the main attraction as Sasha Banks and Bayley became the first women to compete in a 30-minute Iron Man match.
WrestleMania 32 served as another pivotal moment in the continued growth of the division. A triple threat match for the newly minted Women’s Championship between Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte would all but promise that Women’s wrestling would never be the same. And from there, the Women’s Evolution continues even into the brand split. Going from embarrassing all the way to can’t miss wrestling, the Women’s division stands front and center of the WWE.
1. NXT Takeover
Forget a takeover. This is a full on invasion. For the faithful NXT followers, these are familiar faces stealing the lime light from the veteran talent. But for fans who haven’t been following NXT, this is the British Invasion of wrestling. And as I think of it, the only point in time when there seemed to be a greater depth of incoming talent to the WWE roster was when Raw had won the Monday Night Wars and the WCW/ECW roster’s bled into the WWE.
And the WWE appears to feel the same way about their young superstars.
Consider Finn Bálor. Finn was the fifth overall draft choice and was selected to Raw. He made his debut winning a fatal four way match against Rusev, Cesaro, and Kevin Owens. He then went on to defeat Roman Reigns for the right to face Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for the Universal Championship. This demonstrated that the WWE was at least placing an emphasis on the New Era talent. For Finn to win the title? Maybe a long shot. Only he did win the title. Beating out both Reigns and Rollins, Finn Bálor became the top talent on the flagship Monday Night Raw.
Of course, Finn suffered a shoulder injury and has been sidelined for the foreseeable future. Unfortunate, especially considering the push he received. So who became champ in lieu of his absence? How about former NXT superstar, Kevin Owens?
Of course, the Women’s title contender’s have a similar NXT influence. Charlotte, Sasha banks, Bayley, and Becky Lynch are all in the conversation to their respective brand title. The quick rise of Enzo and Cass all but guarantees their run as Tag Team champions at some point. American Alpha appears poised to obtain the SmackDown Tag Team Championship at some point, as well. All NXT superstars competing for the top spots at the WWE. And there are so many call-ups yet to be made. Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe would each make for a perfect new contenders against Kevin Owens on Raw. And wouldn’t Asuka be a terrific addition to the SmackDown roster?
With talent like this flooding the main roster, it’s easy to understand why this has quickly been dubbed, The New Era. And is easily the number one takeaway from the 2016 brand split.