Planet Kayfabe: Split Decision Submitted by Kayfabe Candyass on 10/06/2017 at 03:43 AM
Planet Kayfabe: Split Decision
By: 'KCA' Paul Matthews | Planet Kayfabe
Welcome to Planet Kayfabe.
Well... I hate to say I told ya so, but I told ya so.
This column I run down the state of the current WWE Brand Extension or roster split and explain why it is a dead concept and was doomed to fail from the start. The split that has already long since been watered down since they brought back the concept in June of 2016. Again, don't act surprised. If you were around during the last split or read my column entitled "Low Brand Expectations" last year, there's no reason for you to be surprised. While I applaud blind optimism and unwarranted extensions of benefit of the doubt, again I hate to say I told ya so, but I told ya so.
In the aforementioned column titled “Low Brand Expectations”, I tried to bring fans back down to Earth who were over the moon at the idea of a new brand split. Not to be a killjoy, but to be realistic. This is WWE. What were you expecting? In theory the brand split was to create competition within the company in an era with no direct major competition in the post WCW age of wrestling.
However... again... this is WWE.
They are not going to create legitimate competition between brands. They can work angles that Shane and Stephanie McMahon are fighting a ratings war, but in reality Smackdown is still seen by the company as their "B" show regardless of moving the program to a live Tuesday night time slot.
If you want to know the moment I think this brand split flopped, I can tell you the exact moment. On the July 11 episode of Raw when Vince McMahon announced the commissioners for Raw and Smackdown. Shane was first announced with little fanfare,
"... the new commissioner of Smackdown live: Shane McMahon"
Lastly was the announcement that Stephanie McMahon would be Raw's commissioner.
"the new commissioner of the juggernaut, the flagship..." (Vince backtracks) "-- the THREE HOUR flagship of WWE Monday Night Raw: Stephanie McMahon"
Right there it was pretty much done before it started. The entire audience heard it from the owner and creator of these two shows' own mouth. Smackdown is just a show and Raw is a 3 hour juggernaut that is the flagship representing the entire company. That's how it's been since it first aired in 1993 and that's how it will always be. Simulated brand competition or not, it doesn't matter. Raw gets the bulk of the stars and promotion. Smackdown gets the rest.
I guess to be fair, things started out fine. Smackdown, once moving live, became more interesting than it has been perhaps all decade. In the 2nd half of 2016 leading all the way to WrestleMania in 2017, most fans would say Smackdown was the superior show. AJ Styles had perhaps the best year of his career being a major star on that brand and despite John Cena having very much a part-time schedule, his star power indeed did help. It was also great to have two babyface authority figures since for the last few years (or last 20 years if you want to go that far back) we have had our fill of heel authority figures doing the same old tire shtick. Shit, if I never hear another 20 minute Stephanie McMahon promo again it'll be too soon.
Talent like The Miz also saw a resurgence on Smackdown, mainly due to his passionate promo that he cut on Daniel Bryan on the WWE Network's post-show, Talking Smack, that got the entire wrestling world buzzing. I wrote about that promo and the state of the era of scripted promos in a column called "Script To The Letter" here on NoDQ if you want to check that out.
Over on Raw you had Stephanie doing her tired old act weekly and a neutered Mick Foley trotting out there every week just to get bitched at by Stephanie and it was sad to watch. In 2000 when Mick Foley was commissioner every week was like a party and you had to stick around for his backstage segments. In 2016, Raw fans had to sit back and watch Stephanie and the kiss ass geek writing staff stroke her ego and have her verbally bellow the Hardcore Legend's ear off for 3 hours every week. It was painful.
That was then and this is now and as predicted and just like brand splits of old Raw raids SmackDown of much of their talent. The lines of competition are gone while advertisements for Raw PPV events appear on Smackdown. John Cena declares himself a 'free agent' just so he can appear on Raw. The Miz who worked hard to get the most over he's ever been on Smackdown was moved to Raw to face Dean Ambrose who was also drafted to Raw to continue a feud we already saw on Smackdown.
Here in October of 2017 ratings and live attendance continue to fall for the blue brand. This year post-WrestleMania, the world champion face of these shows has been former 3MB job clown Jinder Mahal. While I knew bringing back a 2nd world title would result in the B-show's title being the least prestigious, I had some hope held out when the WWE Championship was claimed by Smackdown. That is the title they claim is the most prestigious prize in the entire industry.
So, of course they're going to be careful with who they give it to, right?
Well, right now as I write this, Jinder Mahal, again life time jobber who got beer thrown in his face by a football player a week before he was named #1 contender, has held this so called prestigious championship for 136 days. Roman Reigns' longest run with it was 77 days and he's the guy WWE has been trying to put over as the face of their company for the last 3 and a half years.
That one move damaged the brand and title to many fans. Smackdown branded itself as the "Land of Opportunity" which is fine, but what did Jinder do to get himself in a #1 contender's match in the first place? I get the whole opportunity thing, but in this simulated sport shouldn't a win/loss record mean something? Putting Jinder in a #1 contender's match like that for no reason would be like the commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, putting the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Championship game and they get a little lucky and go to the Super Bowl and then proceed to win the Super Bowl thanks to a few blown calls by the officials. It would devalue what it means to win. You may think "well, he's a heel so it doesn't matter" but that's such a cop out lazy excuse. You can't hide behind, "well heat is heat" because heel or face, the precedent has been set on Smackdown. If Jinder can get a title shot for no reason and a run with the title for no other reason than to pop India (which he's not by the way) then why can't ANYONE on that roster get a run?
I promise a long-form column on Jinder's title run someday. It's coming. Don't worry.
While WWE is trying to monetize India with a Canadian world champion who can't wrestle above a 3 star level or cut a minute long promo without losing his voice, the country where they are based in and do much of their business, ya know, the United States of America, have largely turned off Smackdown and in one short half of a year, the show went from the most relevant it has been since perhaps 2009 when Jeff Hardy was a hot lead babyface and CM Punk was a hot heel with his Straight Edge Society to once again drifting away in obscurity.
This renewed split was going to live and die on the principle of competition and it was clear before it even started that it just wasn't going to happen. A year later no one cares what happens on Smackdown, just like before the split. It quickly regressed back into being Vince's bitch after creatively kicking Raw's ass for the early part of the brand split.
In 2017, you may think that title belts are nothing more than props that are given to wrestlers to give them a reason to feud and talk on TV and I don't entirely disagree, but the world titles still mean something to the fans. Casual and hardcore alike. The thing people most complain about on Raw is that the world champion to represent that show, Brock Lesnar, is a part timer and rarely ever on. Over on Smackdown it is that people have to sit through horrible segments and boring matches with a world champion that no one takes seriously and no one ever will take seriously. I'm sure the perception of Smackdown right now would be much different if you take this same push that Jinder has been given and gave it to AJ Styles who steadily rose in popularity. So much so his tagline became that Smackdown was the "house that AJ Style built".
Coming out of WrestleMania this year, there were fears that AJ got so over on SmackDown that he would be sent to Raw where he'd likely get lost in the shuffle or sent there simply to put over Roman Reigns again. He stayed on Smackdown and was met with collective sighs of relief from the fans... and for what? It's been a rather quiet year since. He had a decent feud with Kevin Owens for the US Championship, but most fans would feel he's past that title. Sometimes it's okay for stars, former world champions, to win secondary titles. Especially in this era where pretty much 80% of the roster are former world champions, but that's not what fans bargained for. When we heard AJ was staying on Smackdown, he hoped that he would be the face of Smackdown and he should be. He's popular and talented enough, but the problem is the so-called bitch show would probably be better than Raw again and they feel the need to leave the fans with the choice of a show that has the big stars and the show with a heel jobber carrying the top prize.
Recently NoDQ did a panel video on the YouTube channel about the 'Invasion' angle. The video panel discussion about WWE's tee-ball strike out botch of the once in a lifetime Invasion angle reminded me a lot of the brand split. Both the old one and the current one. Quite simply, Monday Night Raw is the WWF and Smackdown is WCW. Also like Smackdown and WCW during the Invasion period and now... Vince McMahon owns both. Yet, neither are allowed to ever look superior over their counterparts. Much like how many agree the WWE threw money out the window by having the WWE bury WCW the same can be said about the brand split. In theory it should work, but WWE is not often one to accept rational theory. In a perfect universe it should work, but the WWE Universe is hardly a perfect one.
Maybe one day when NoDQ airs it's first PPV or opens a YouTube Red account, I will appear on one of the video programs. That's right, this handsome face and unparalleled virile charm is too much to just give away for free.
Back to business... In order for this split to work, they had to go out of their way to differentiate the brands. They clearly failed doing that. In my piece last year, I said they had a model right in front of them called 'NXT'. NXT is a WWE produced show but it is so different from Raw and SmackDown that often times people speak about NXT as if it is its own promotion.
When I watch NXT the lighting, the look and over-all production of the show feels different. When I watch Raw I feel like I'm watching a 3 hour WWE show with red graphics and when I watch Smackdown, I'm watching a 2 hour WWE show with blue graphics. Much like how the borderlines of Raw and Smackdown became blurred beyond recognition during the last time they tried this experiment, we have already seen that line destroyed when JBL left Smackdown and the WWE put Raw commentator, Corey Graves, in his spot... while still remaining in his seat on Raw.
Its hard for me to complain when you replace a tired, old, annoying announcer like JBL who fills the room with the scent of Vinny Mac's scrotum whenever he opens his mouth with a fresh and lively Corey Graves, but why couldn't they have replaced JBL with any of the other 50 or so Cole clones they have or even Renee Young. Right there they could have differentiated Smackdown by either putting Renee in that spot and having one show with a female voice at ringside or they could have just went forward with a two-man announce booth with most fans and actually commentators prefer anyway. Instead you get the same voice on both shows effectively killing any sort of perception of separate branding or competition that was left a little over a year after this renewed branding started.
But... like I said before... just like with the tag division, the cruiserweights, the secondary titles, managers and the women's division the brand split was no different. Just one of those things that WWE seems gung-ho on for about a couple weeks and then looses all interest in it shortly thereafter. Like a child who bugs you non-stop for a toy that he needs so bad he makes a scene in the store and then when you buy it for him he throws it out the car window on the way home after getting bored with it.
Vince McMahon famously said, WCW will be buried and remain buried. The brand split is just the latest war flashback to that era. Smackdown, the show once considered to be re-branded as Nitro, is the WCW to the WWE's Raw. It was true 10 years ago. It's true today. The split is a proven failure. If it benefits anything, it benefits Raw because the up-and-coming hot Smackdown talent always seem to graduate to the 'flagship' on the next draft.
There's my thoughts on the state of the brand split in the fall of 2017. This is probably a whole different topic for another day, but I do wonder what the point is of Smackdown in 2017. It is a show dying a death right now and it's only hope was this brand split, but the company would never allow these shows to operate as separate brands to give the show a chance.
No this piece wasn't a heel turn, but you can't say I didn't tell you so.
Do you remember when the Big Gold belt was opening WrestleMania events? There's not even a guarantee that being the world champion representing Smackdown even gets you a bump up the card. It pretty much just guarantees that you wont be on the pre-show, which is more than getting a secondary title push means, I guess. Getting a “big push” on Smackdown barely means dick to WWE. It's funny how Jinder is their world champion to try and pop India, yet for some reason they didn't leave him on Raw and make him Universal Champion over the likes of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns on a show where more eyeballs would be on him. Funny how that works. Perfectly fine to have the bulked up Hulk jobber to walk around with that prop title on the blue brand though who will be joining the Raw brand when they tour India because this brand split means NOTHING! It also hasn't benefited anyone. Even former world champions on Smackdown last year like Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose are in their same old spot on the card they were before since moving to Raw after the "Superstar Shakeup" so, it is what it is.
Thanks for reading everyone. If you have an idea for a future column or a comment or question follow me on Twitter @PlanetKayfabe
As always, I'm glad you could join me again and enjoy your weekend. Take care.