It seems that everywhere you go on the internet, someone has something detrimental to say about the roster split of the RAW and Smackdown talent. Well, I’ve given the split a chance to work (and, subsequently, a chance to fail) and this is what I really think about the whole situation.
I’d like to begin by making a clear and present statement: I live the RAW brand better than the Smackdown brand, hands down. There is nothing that I wouldn’t give to watch RAW over Smackdown. While the entire internet community is bashing and trashing RAW for having a depleted talent roster and less intriguing storylines, there’s something about the show that really turns on my interest in the WWE product. I really cannot say the same thing about the Smackdown brand. It’s a weird paradox I suppose because while I will agree that the Edge versus Angle match at Judgment Day was one of the better ones that I’ve seen all year, I won’t tune in to Smackdown to see the story continue. Why? I’m not too sure although I do believe that it has something to do with the evil owner still taking a predominant part in the television show.
Don’t interpret that wrong – I’m not saying that Vince is ruining his own show, I’m saying that I personally do not like the fact that he is so prevalent on Smackdown. The owner figure is key to wrestling these days. Starting with Eric Bischoff “turning” on WCW and joining the nWo in November 1996, the idea of an evil owner became a staple in the wrestling product. Say what you will about the business practices of Bischoff, but the idea that the man who runs a company can be a heel in the on-air production of the wrestling show was incredible. Maybe more incredible than the nWo itself…
To get back on track, I find the Smackdown brand to be less of what I want to see in wrestling and more of what I used to find appealing. The herds and masses may not agree with my take on this issue (depending on the ratings for the week), but watching the cruiserweights became tiresome in WCW and I don’t want to see a replay of that in the WWE. However, I will admit that I’ve always been a fan of women’s matches from the Fabulous Moolah to the Jumping Bomb Angels to Bull Nakano to Ivory’s emergence in the WWE, but there is something about the current women’s product that shadows the past. Under the tutelage of Fit Finlay, the current women’s roster has become a thing of beauty (wrestling-wise folks). Trish has become a pretty face with a great body to a mean, lean, ass-kicking machine. Whereas a few years ago, she would have become nothing more than arm meat for one of the men in the program she now is her own superstar and (dare I say it) she has some of the best matches on the RAW brand, at least with Jazz and Molly.
So the RAW brand has the basic women’s roster of wrestlers, but there is more to why I like RAW. I like the hardcore division. While I’m not the biggest fan of these post-match title changes for everyone who used to be in ECW, I am a fan of the wrestlers in the division. Bubba Ray has always been thought of a great singles wrestler who was part of a great tag team, and he is proving the prior point now every time he is on camera. Bubba has been the most dominating in this division since the split (with Steven Richards coming second), but if you look at the roster of the division, it is packed with guys who I find entertaining. You have Crash Holly who holds the record for most times as champion; there is the presence of the Big Bossman who, say what you will, could become one of the most dominant men in that particular division on the RAW roster; Tommy Dreamer is another man who has untapped potential yet in the WWE and could be the “Innovator of Violence” once again; Raven rounds up the group that I’ve looked at and now that he’s out of the Heat announcing job, why not get him into a feud with Bubba for the strap?
Alright, we’ve accomplished what divisions I like and who I like on the RAW brand and I will not succumb to the internet stereotype of bashing what I don’t like (Smackdown). Well, there are two reasons why I won’t bash it: first, it has a really good roster and a great product and two, I really don’t watch it with enough interest to have the ability to bash it. Believe me, I can admit the fact that Smackdown has a better roster of potential stars from the split, but that doesn’t mean that RAW automatically sucks. Well you might argue that ratings are going down – this is true for both shows so RAW’s rating going down doesn’t mean that Smackdown’s rating is any better.
The split itself, I believe has created a drift with the 50/50 wrestling audience. This is the audience that tuned in on Monday nights (or used to) because they knew that Hogan, Undertaker, Austin, HHH, Jericho, Angle, the McMahon clan, etc. would be on their television screens. No more. Now instead of seeing an opening segment on RAW where HHH threatens to abuse Vince McMahon while Stephanie screeches that she’ll get her ex-husband as she stands behind her father, we get The Undertaker kicking Rob Van Dam in the head a few times. Say what you will about Rob Van Dam, but the man should not be in the opening segment of RAW in a match (which is what was scheduled and I think what opened RAW a few weeks back). Why? Two reasons: one, RVD is not a curtain jerker. While I may not agree that he should be champion, I do think that he should be saved for the crucial changing point between the 8PM hour and the 9PM hour. Second reason is the fact that the show should be opened with intrigue. There should be something that makes the audience say “Damn! I have to watch the rest of this show to see what happens!”
I may be in the minority on this, but I don’t think that wrestling SHOULD open the show. Maybe once in a while, but it’s a proven fact that the drama of the storylines has drawn in more viewers than the quality of wrestling in the past. To get back to my issue, the split has taken away the ability to see (for example) Hulk Hogan come to the ring to start the show with Vince stopping him and telling him that he has a cage match later that night against Nash and the Big Show where the loser will be fined $50,000 or something to that effect. Then you can throw in the twist that Austin is at a bar in the area (since he was benched by Flair) and that if Hogan can persuade him to get into the ring, he can be his partner. Now that might not be the greatest storyline, but for thinking of it in a matter of seconds while typing it’s better than some of the crap on WWE television.
I think that the main thing to be realized here is that the roster being split is hurting both shows. There is no continuity for the watchers on Monday to watch again on Thursday. I admit – I don’t watch Smackdown unless there is nothing better to do. However, I will go out of my way to see RAW. So what does that tell you? At least there are some people out there that will not tune in to both shows if their favorites aren’t on both shows. If I like watching hardcore wrestling and not high-flying cruiserweights, why would I watch Smackdown? At the same time, I would be willing to watch Hurricane fight Rey Mysterio if I knew that the next segment was Raven fighting against Bubba for the hardcore title. This is how viewership carries from one program to the next…and it is something that the WWE needs to realize before it’s too late.
My final suggestion is for the WWE. What you guys need to do is find a way to mix talents between RAW and Smackdown, yet still give the people what they want. How do you do this? Hey, I’m not getting paid to think of a way! Perhaps what you need to do is go back to the drawing board (and I mean the March 26th, 2001 board) and bring back WCW. Restructure the inside, let it be a national spotlight for the OVW or HWA or fuse those two groups together and let Cornette and those guys run WCW. Give it back its talent if you want. Get it on USA or another network. Do something…but you need competition because RAW and Smackdown, contrary to what you think, are NOT competing against each other. They are two distinct brands. No competition has brought you lower ratings, poor hot shot angles, and less of a recognition with your 50/50 audience.
Maybe one of my next columns will rip apart that last paragraph to show why it would never happen – at least under the current “structure” of the WWE Corporation.