Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A New Era of Branding, a Down Raw Live Smack, and Vera

Okay, I thought I would pounce on this while this is hot.

Obviously, there is a red side and a blue side to just about any pairing.  Crips and Bloods.  Red pill and blue pill.  Republican and Democrat.  And so on.  However, I am going to share my thoughts on this pairing:

Raw and SmackDown Live.

So for those playing at home, World Wrestling Entertainment (the WWE, formerly the World Wrestling Federation [WWF] until 2002 when they lost a copyright suit to the World Wildlife Fund) has gone through a rebranding phase, if you will, to improve not only the quality of the product, but to showcase more fresh talent than reusing the same folks night after night.  Enter the WWE Draft that took place last week during the first episode of SmackDown Live.

Now, the WWE has done this before with similar drafts dating back to 2002, the previous draft being done in 2011.  What makes this year's draft unlike previous ones is that the two brands are uniquely different in their own identities.  One seeks to be more fast paced with explosive action.  One seeks to be more detailed with their roster and to develop a more round storyline for each competitor.  Both shows have a commissioner and a general manager to help run their respective brands.

Enter this week, where Raw (originally known as Monday Night Raw back in 1993) and SmackDown Live (debuted initially as SmackDown! in 1999) took to the airwaves, marks (a wrestling term for "fans") and the curious got to see just how much of "The New Era in Sports Entertainment" was a shoot (meaning "unscripted") or a work (meaning "scripted").


Let's start with the Mother Russia of WWE programming, Raw.  Commissioner Stephanie McMahon (daughter of WWE Chairman, CEO, and might as well be G-d, Vincent "Vince" K. McMahon) and General Manager Mick Foley (2013 WWE Hall of Fame Inductee) knew off the bat that their roster was going to be loaded with stars, but not with championship belts.  Considering the WWE World Heavyweight Championship currently is in the hands of one Dean Ambrose, who was drafted by SmackDown Live, the Steph/Foley team had to do something, and quick.

Folks, introducing the new WWE Universal Championship belt.

It is supposed to have the same status as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt, but it is exclusively the property of Raw.  And with both rosters converging for their one of the four major Pay-Per-View events, Summer Slam, in August, there will be two top dogs in the WWE and not just one, thanks to this new title.

SmackDown Live

Just because blue is their color, doesn't mean that SmackDown hasn't been viewed as the bastard stepchild for the past 17 years.  Commissioner Shane McMahon (son of said G-d, Mr. McMahon), and General Manager Daniel Bryan (founder of The Yes Movement, soon to be in the WWE Hall of Fame within the next couple of years due to his career ending injuries) wanted to make their brand a more emotionally intense brand, whereas Raw is more physically intense.  It helps to enhance that emotional intensity with the play-by-play commentary of one Mauro Ranallo (and for those who have listened to Cleveland major sports teams on the radio over the past 15 years, you will understand when I say Mauro's play calling is of quality along with Tom Hamilton, Joe Tait, Jack Corrigan, Casey Coleman, z"l, and Jim Donovan).

And because SmackDown Live does have the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt on their side, they can tinker with who wants to challenge Ambrose bad enough at Summer Slam.

Pros and Cons on Raw

Pros: the commentators (Michael Cole with the play-by-play, Byron Saxton and NXT's Corey Graves delivering color) perched away from ringside to give a more "fight night" feel; two fatal 4-way matches to determine who would compete for the number one contendership and face against Seth Rollins, the number one overall WWE pick, for the WWE Universal Championship; in the Women's Division, Sasha Banks dethroning Charlotte to become the new WWE Women's Champion; Finn Bálor delivering the upset victory in his first Raw match over Roman Reigns to face Rollins at Summer Slam; Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn actually stayed away from each other as each was in their own fatal 4-way match.

Cons: not capitalizing on doing something with the WWE Tag Team championship, which is currently with the longest reigning team of all time, The New Day (Xavier Woods, Big E, and Kofi Kingston); anything and everything to do with The Shining Stars (Primo and Epico), the return of squash matches with unknown wrestlers.

Pros and Cons on SmackDown Live

Pros: the fact that it was live and not taped in advance; the Shane/Bryan team putting the focus on quality with their talent roster and to the WWE Universe (the loyal fanbase); Ranallo staying on play-by-play commentary and having John Bradshaw "JBL" Layfield and David Otunga join in as color commentators; having a "6-pack" match, where six wrestlers would face off one another (five wrestlers already selected, the last slot belonging to the winner of a first card battle royal) to earn the number one contendership and face Ambrose for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Summer Slam; the promo cuts from the five chosen wrestlers about their thoughts on being in the 6-pack match; in an unnerving twist, Dolph Ziggler was given new life into his career by winning the 6-pack match.

Cons: no one challenging Mike "the Miz" Mizanin for his WWE Intercontinental Championship (Randy Orton could have easily done that and won it, but for some reason chose not to); the introduction of new faces in the Women's Division on the SmackDown brand was confusing at best, questionable at worst; the camera work under the technical direction was a bit spotty (at one point, Ranallo tapped his left shoulder while looking at the camera to signal to take the camera away from viewing him); not doing more with the Women's Division or a separate Tag Team belt.

With all that said; here are my options for both Raw and SmackDown Live to improve themselves for the upcoming week.

For Raw: if you're going to do squash matches, have them be a bit more legit with the upcoming Cruiserweight Division in a few weeks.  Or, if you can't wait that long, have the losers from the Cruiserweight Classic (on the WWE Network) be the jobber (the wrestler that is supposed to make their opponent look good and win at the same time) to give the current talent like Owens, Zayn, Antonio Cesaro, and Adrian Neville some work to hone their craft so they can face bigger challengers like Rollins, Reigns, and Brock Lesnar.

For SmackDown Live: be a bit daring. Next time you do a battle royal, really make Raw squeamish by having EVERYONE, regardless of gender, compete for a slot at a contendership or even a championship match.  That would give equal footing for both the men and the women; something that Raw does not have the luxury to have.  Yes, it would be something straight out of Lucha Underground's philosophy, but imagine the boost each wrestler would receive.  From another playbook, have the card change some before Summer Slam or their following exclusive Pay-Per-View event, Backlash.  Say "The Phenomenal" A.J. Styles is slated to face Apollo Crews at Backlash for the WWE Intercontinental Championship (say Crews beat the Miz for that belt), but Crews loses that belt to Mojo Rawley (a hypothetical, but run with it) on SmackDown two weeks before Backlash.  Then the card would change to Styles against Rawley.  This was quite the deal when WCW did this during the Monday Night Wars.

For both brands: eliminate the need for a second color commentator, too much yap leads to too much crap.  If the chemistry I saw continues for the next several weeks, then a balance needs to be made.  Have JBL return to Raw and work with Cole, and have Graves work alongside Ranallo on SmackDown Live.  I know this doesn't help the diversity representation some, but neither Saxton nor Otunga bring anything compatible to either show, which is highly disappointing for me anyways.  If I had a choice, if a fill in needs to be made for Cole, JBL, Graves, and/or Ranallo for a show, Booker T is a fabulous first choice, followed by Otunga.  I'm just personally not feeling Saxton's personality at all.

Nonetheless, keep up the great work, WWE.  It's about time "G-d" heard the demands of the WWE Universe and not shoving down shit down our collective throats.  And for heaven's sake, have A.J. Styles beat Dean Ambrose (even I can't believe I'm typing this) at Survivor Series (should Ambrose beat Ziggler at Summer Slam).

1 comment:

  1. I agree - "too much yap leads to too much crap".

    It's something our sporting commentators could follow.