This week, WWE announced a plan to change the landscape of their company – one that has been used previously to minor effect, but could prove extremely beneficial going forward.
In the year 2010, WWE split their main roster of superstars and Divas between their two flagship shows: Monday Night RAW, which aired live each week, and SmackDown, which was taped and aired later that week. The two rosters were eventually consolidated back into one large roster, and rather than introducing and encouraging storylines to happen on both shows, RAW became the centerpiece of the main storylines while SmackDown faded into the background.
On the evening of May 24, WWE announced the return of the brand split, which will again separate the rosters and championships of the promotion across two shows. Unlike the previous split, SmackDown will be airing live on Tuesday nights rather than being taped and edited for a Thursday night release. The show, which has been on air since 1999, has not been regularly televised live in its 17-year history, so this signals a huge change for the company and shows that WWE recognizes just how badly SmackDown had been doing up until this announcement.
The change is scheduled to take place with SmackDown’s first Tuesday night live episode on June 19. This means a lot of things for the future of the company, most of them very beneficial, but also presents its fair share of challenges to overcome for the move to truly be a success. Let’s look into these ups and downs and see how WWE can capitalize on this move.
Pro: Splitting prevents the overuse of talent and reduces the risk of injury.
Because SmackDown has recently just been a 2-hour glorified house show with almost no impact on storylines whatsoever, any main roster wrestler could be booked into matches for two nights in a row just for the sake of wrestling another match. When it comes to their main event talent, WWE pushes stars like Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to their limits, having them wrestle so often that the amount of times they get in the ring per year far outpaces any other major wrestling promotion.
With the split, Superstars can stick to their main show (with the exception of non-televised house shows) without needing to prepare for another match in an extremely short amount of time. For example, if Kevin Owens is “drafted” to RAW, then he won’t be wrestling on SmackDown the next night. The split will spread the workload out to several different Superstars, and will allow many of them to finally find success in this business after having been forced to lose to other wrestlers as a result of too much talent packed onto a show.
It also lessens the risk of a Superstar injuring themselves during the course of a match. The basic theory with sports, or sports entertainment such as this, is that the less time you actually spend in the ring, the chance of injury will go way down. If Superstars are no longer wrestling on multiple shows in the same week, WWE can preserve some of their star talent and reduce the risk of yet another string of injuries to multiple stars at the same time, such as the one they’ve seen recently with Seth Rollins, John Cena, Randy Orton, and Adrian Neville all forced to leave and recuperate after years of wear and tear.
Con: Splitting could potentially spread the roster of available stars very thin.
The reason why WWE has been calling up Superstars from their developmental NXT brand recently has been due to main event talent suffering injuries. Most of the talent in NXT might have stayed there had it not been for WWE’s need to fill the void left by these men and women. But what happens when the tank runs empty? What happens when there just isn’t anyone left to fill space during shows? WWE has a very small number of main event talent, and splitting them up just means that more midcarders will need to be brought to prominence to fill the void of those leaving for other shows.
Let’s break it down simply. If John Cena and Randy Orton were the only two main event wrestlers that WWE had, and you put one on each show, then the question becomes who else you bring up to fight Cena and Orton in the final matches of the night. This is where recent releases such as Wade Barrett and Damien Sandow would have thrived.
Pro: If there is space to be filled, give the space to a midcard talent.
Give Zack Ryder a push to the top? Have The Ascension become Tag Team Champions? These scenarios are very plausible once the brand split begins. WWE now has lots of opportunities to give midcard talent the chance to rise to the top.
With all the talent packed onto one show in the past, talented wrestlers didn’t have the chance to get featured in storylines or really get much time on television, but now they have the opportunity to stop watching matches from home or backstage and actually be in the ring.
It’s as I said before: if there’s less main event talent, WWE can use midcard Superstars and spend more time developing them into the type of characters that fans can get behind and that can be seen going up against current main event wrestlers. The possibilities are essentially endless here.
If you took a good in-ring talent such as Curtis Axel and wrote him into a storyline in such a way to make fans care about his motivations and his character, then before you know it, he could be going up against John Cena in the main event of a pay-per-view.
People thought that Seth Rollins could be a bust, and years later, he’s at the top of the company ladder through his own hard work and WWE making the space for him to succeed. With a brand split, there will be plenty of space for Superstars to make a name for themselves.
Con: There could be some serious repercussions on developmental rosters.
Traditionally, developmental trainees are vigorously trained and prepared for matches on NXT shows, and once they create enough of a following, can become champions and prepare for a main roster debut. WWE has already been heavily pulling from NXT due to several main roster injuries recently, and the brand split will only continue pulling from that roster, sometimes before they are fully ready for the call up.
There would be no interest in NXT shows if there weren’t bigger or more developed stars on it. For example, having Samoa Joe as NXT Champion puts a big name at the forefront of the promotion, but if a no-name star were to be in Joe’s place, people would lose interest and would be a lot less likely to actually pay attention to the show.
Sami Zayn’s main roster call-up would have had a lot less impact if he had come from NXT earlier, as he established his in-ring ability, incredible match reputation, and likable character down on the developmental promotion before ever stepping foot in a RAW ring. However, there may be less time for these Superstars to spend in NXT if WWE needs to keep dipping back into their developmental rosters to fill time on their two main shows.
Pro: The split allows more time for feuds and storylines to develop.
Let’s use a lesser-liked feud as an example here. Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin have had two consecutive pay-per-view pre-show matches, both with stories attached to them. Neither one of the matches has really given fans much of a reason to be invested in the finish because the amount of time and good writing that has been invested in the feud in turn has been less than sufficient to make fans legitimately care.
Now imagine that rivalry building up over the course of several weeks with match interference, backstage attacks, and in-ring promos cut by both Superstars. It’s a formula that has worked well with many other storylines in the past, and is the reason why so many main-event Superstars are as well-liked (or hated) as they are today. With more space to allow talent to spread its wings in this way, fans can expect more developed and interesting storylines in addition to wonderful in-ring action.
Con: WWE will try a lot of strange things until they find stories that click with the crowd.
Remember back in 1994, when the 5-on-5 Survivor Series Tag Team Elimination Match included one side consisting entirely of clowns? WWE has tried a lot of different characters on television over the years, attempting to find something that is both popular with the fans and provides a clear babyface or heel in a storyline. But sometimes, the things that they try look absolutely ridiculous and absurd. A feud could be built up between two Superstars because one of them coughed in the other’s direction. Stranger things have happened in the past. WWE doesn’t know what is popular with the fans unless they try something out and gauge the general reaction. This means a lot of these experiments falling flat.
Let’s hope this latest grand experiment of returning to a brand split doesn’t fall flat, and results in more quality wrestling programming for fans to enjoy.