This past Tuesday, SmackDown took a necessary step towards rectifying the nagging issues the brand has had with regards to its tag team and women’s divisions. Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan introduced two new championships, one for the female and tag team divisions respectively, both of which have been struggling to become compelling realms of WWE programming lately.
The SmackDown Tag Team Championship in particular kicked off in tremendous fashion, with the inception of an eight-team tournament that will run all the way to Backlash on Sept. 11, where the inaugural champions will be crowned. Things got started nicely with The Usos defeating The Ascension, and American Alpha overcoming Breezango in two competitive matches which served to prove that the division actually can deliver, in contrast to what we’ve seen thus far.
Not to belittle anyone on the roster, but it’s no secret that the division has been stagnant up until now. All the viewers have had to go on is the fact that Jason Jordan and Chad Gable are steamrolling through the competition, cementing themselves as the only team worth tuning in for.
As good as they are, no team should be bigger than the division. If that happens, fans can’t get invested, because their opponents won’t be formidable enough to make the bout interesting.
It’s a problem that WWE has been failing to deal with up until this week, but now that the titles have been introduced and the rest of the division are getting a fair shot at relevancy on the SmackDown roster, it begs the question of why the WWE didn’t play this hand to begin with.
If they were capable of having the titles ready for the Tuesday after SummerSlam, why didn’t they just do what Raw did for the Universal Championship, and debut the straps at the biggest party of the summer by awarding them to the winner of a tag team tournament?
Assuming that American Alpha is going to go the distance and compete in the finals at Backlash, it would have been smarter to have this tournament be what puts them over as SmackDown’s top team, instead of using them to bury the rest of the division beforehand. It would’ve also put the other teams on the map from the beginning, considering both of the matches as part of the tournament so far have been long enough to give each team some decent exposure, even in defeat.
If American Alpha had been able to run the gauntlet all the way from the day they were drafted to the day they competed at SummerSlam, it would have been a more exciting moment when they won the tournament and captured the championships. But now, basically everyone is expecting them to win. They’re almost guaranteed to make it to the finals at least.
It’s unfortunate because American Alpha’s rise to stardom on NXT was gradual, and it’s what made the fans get behind them the way they did. They took their time, and allowed the fans to get used to them as a brilliant team with impeccable chemistry, before capturing the titles to an enormous ovation. The way they’ve been booked, it’s genuinely worrying to think that their booking on the main roster will make the casual fans root for whoever they find themselves up against.
Everyone loves an underdog after all, and that might be exactly why they’ve held off on this tournament for so long. The story of the underdog has been a recurring theme in WWE since the company was founded – and who, pray tell, is the biggest underdog on the WWE payroll right now?
WWE could have easily made this a six-team tournament culminating in a triple threat tag-team match at SummerSlam, but it held off so that Heath Slater could build fan support and get the crowd behind him in his efforts to capture tag-team gold. This has to be why WWE has held off on the tournament for so long. If Slater and Rhyno come up short, then what’s the point?
They will have thrown away the perfect opportunity for Alpha to become the brand’s hottest team while preserving the integrity of the division. If they find themselves up against Rhyno and Heath Slater at Backlash, it’s safe to say the crowd will probably end up leaning towards Slater to win. Unless they plan on turning Alpha heel, this would be terrible for the duo.
The only way we’ll be able to see Alpha settle back into the underdog role, which allowed them to become one of the best tag-teams in NXT history, is if the duo that face Heath Slater and Rhyno next week is The Revival in a shock debut. History would suggest that Dash and Dawson are better than anybody at putting American Alpha over with the audience, both in a victory and defeat, so the only way back for Alpha would be for their greatest rival to join them on SmackDown.
Again, this week was a great start for the newly established SmackDown tag-team titles, but unless it culminates in a shock victory for Heath Slater and Rhyno or the shock debut of The Revival, this tournament really should have gotten underway back when the brand extension kicked off.
If Alpha does win, which compared to the rest of the division they absolutely should, the WWE needs to do a bit of work getting them back where they need to be as the most popular team on the brand.