Now that the blue brand has officially crowned its tag team and women’s champions, the playing field between Raw and SmackDown Live is starting to level off. We’re beginning to get a glimpse of how each entity on the roster, and each division, are being handled in comparison to one another.
With the exception of Monday Night Raw’s extra weekly hour – which, let’s face it, has done more harm than good since SmackDown’s product comes off a whole lot smoother — and the new cruiserweight division which will be captained by TJ Perkins, there are really no excuses for one brand falling behind while the other continues to dazzle.
Though the much more condensed rosters that come with the brand extension mean that each and every person on the payroll is of vital importance, it’s fair to say that nobody is more significant regarding the progression of each division than its respective champion.
They take point as the leaders of their division and set a precedent that everyone else on the roster should seek to uphold, if they want to create a consistently entertaining display every week.
Now that each brand has a relatively even spread of titleholders, it’s worth analyzing just how each of them are being used to further the product and really take us into the new era, regardless of how long they’ve been carrying the distinction of being a champion.
Tag Team Champions
One would think that having both Raw and SmackDown’s tag-team divisions led by semi-comedy acts would hurt either division, but with the amount of effort put in by The New Day and the unlikely team of Heath Slater and Rhyno, it works really well. With that in mind, however, it can be argued that both teams may have already reached the pinnacle of their respective title reigns.
The New Day has been a consistently hilarious, and physically dominant, tag team for quite some time, but given the fact that they’ve taken their second WWE World Tag Team Championship reign to well over 12 months long, a lot of fans are starting to grow tired of the same old shtick.
The team of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson have a very real opportunity to capture the titles and round out The Club as the top faction in all of WWE at Clash of Champions, with AJ Styles as world champion on SmackDown, and it’s fair to say most fans are hoping that’s the next step.
It’s a similar story with Slater and Rhyno. The biggest draw behind Slater was the fact that he didn’t have a contract. It was really entertaining to see what shenanigans he’d get up to in order to land a spot on either brand. Now that he’s signed to SmackDown, they’ll need to do something big to further his story along, otherwise there’s really no excuse not to put the SmackDown Tag Team Championships on a more credible duo like American Alpha or the recently rejuvenated Usos.
As comedy acts for the most part, it’s difficult for both The New Day and Slater & Rhyno to maintain their buzz, and since the latter of those are far more fresh in the eyes of the fans, they might stand to last a lot longer as champions from this point forward than the trio of Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods.
The introduction of the SmackDown Women’s Championship essentially brought the female roster on Tuesday nights back from the brink. They had zero direction heading into SummerSlam and were paling in comparison to that of Raw. But when the title was revealed on the following episode, the women’s division started to pick up monumentally for the blue brand.
Now, Becky Lynch represents SmackDown with the championship — the perfect candidate to do so.
That said, while Lynch leads the SmackDown women’s division with a lot of work to do to make the new title something worth fighting for, Charlotte sits atop the Raw roster as a proven champion with almost a year’s worth of experience defending the top title.
Despite some rocky work on the mic, Charlotte is a phenomenal heel, which only serves to get fans behind the likes of Bayley and Sasha Banks as they try to oust the two-time WWE Women’s Champion.
At the moment, Raw is giving much more of a spotlight to Charlotte’s potential challengers as opposed to the champion herself, while SmackDown has done its best efforts to give both Lynch and Alexa Bliss as much exposure as possible as they head into their encounter at No Mercy.
It’s still early days in Lynch’s reign, but with almost 14 years of experience, Lynch has a real opportunity over the coming months to make the SmackDown Women’s Championship just as prestigious as the title that debuted at WrestleMania 32 this year.
Heading into SummerSlam just last month, Rusev and The Miz were polar opposites with regards to their championship reigns. For starters, “The Bulgarian Brute” was starting to pick up speed again as the United States Champion, after having fallen way down in the pecking order.
The fact that he went into Brooklyn against Roman Reigns, one of the biggest names in the company, and didn’t end up losing the championship despite being torn apart by the would-be challenger, clearly meant the WWE had faith in Rusev as Raw’s mid-card representative.
The Miz, however, was going into his defense against Apollo Crews as somewhat of a throwaway champion, who hadn’t done anything of note since winning the strap.
Now, things have completely changed, with the Intercontinental Champion showing new life and taking SmackDown’s upper mid-card to new levels of interest while Rusev is just coming back from his honeymoon following SummerSlam. The absence of the United States Championship has significantly impacted the state of Raw’s mid-card and since Rusev himself has lost the majority of his momentum as a result of it, we could see Reigns taking the championship at Clash of Champions.
If that were to happen, surely the title would have an enormous amount of buzz similar to that of John Cena’s reign in 2015, but as for now, Rusev’s hiatus means that the United States Championship just isn’t measuring up to the blue brand’s equivalent.
Main Event Champions
Having both won their respective championships within the past few weeks, we have yet to see the level of impact that Kevin Owens and AJ Styles will be able to make atop the individual rosters.
At the moment, both men are in the same boat, winning the titles under shady circumstances – with Owens pinning Seth Rollins following a Pedigree from Triple H to hand-pick “The Prizefighter” as the second WWE Universal Champion, and Styles capitalizing on a briefly indisposed referee to nail Dean Ambrose with a low blow and capture the WWE World Championship at Backlash.
The booking going forward is pivotal in proving that both men are deserving of the ends in spite of the means. Even with only one week to judge based on Styles’ booking, it still might be safe to say Owens’ was superior as far as his credibility goes. Owens is being booked like a champion.
He may have his issues with Mick Foley, but he’s still acknowledged as the titleholder, and people still have to earn the right to face him, i.e. Reigns. Styles, on the other hand, was instantly reprimanded for his antics with the announcement that not only will he be defending the title against Ambrose at No Mercy, but Cena will be involved to make it a triple threat.
Regardless, both men are perfect in their roles as the top heels. Their work ethics are extraordinary and they both get the job done as well on the mic as they do in the ring.
Given the validity of the new era, Owens and Styles are the most fitting world champions on each roster. All they really need now is to keep doing what they’re doing and try to build back up whatever integrity their shady championship victory knocked off.
SmackDown doesn’t have a cruiserweight division, so it’s worth wondering if the introduction of CWC winner TJ Perkins and more of the tournament’s finest will be able to get Raw back in the game.
The story of Perkins’ victory, particularly his emotionally driven victory over Kota Ibushi in the semi-finals, was a truly beautiful thing to witness. Provided they’re given the proper time to flourish on a weekly basis, the cruiserweights could use that immense in-ring storytelling ability to bring Raw a level of entertainment the show has seriously been missing.
SmackDown has been doing an incredible job to equal, and even surpass Raw in terms of the other divisions on each brand, so hopefully the cruiserweight division does its job to even things up a bit more once again.