When the brand extension got underway, we were promised a competitive atmosphere between Raw and SmackDown that would add a new layer of excitement to the weekly WWE experience.
Each brand would host unique rosters, management, championships and pay-per-views that would allow the fans to pick and choose what they liked, starting a ratings war between the company’s prime shows that would allow for everyone on the payroll to shine bright on live television.
Since then, a list of factors have led many fans to gravitate towards SmackDown as the place to be for WWE’s most exhilarating action, because the show comes across a lot smoother, and it’s often easier to become invested in since the shorter product makes it feel more organized.
Now, heading into Hell in a Cell for Monday Night Raw and No Mercy for SmackDown, one of the predominant factors leading to the latter’s superiority in the brand wars has started to rear its head quite clearly, and pinpoint exactly why Raw’s become so difficult to get behind.
This past week’s episodes, in particular, highlighted the discernible difference between the champion-challenger dynamics in almost every case between the two shows.
Simply put — with the exception of Sasha Banks and maybe even TJ Perkins — Raw’s remaining champions have hardly any week-to-week interactivity with their challengers that evoke real emotion like we see on SmackDown. The Miz, AJ Styles, Becky Lynch and the team of Heath Slater and Rhyno are all bringing out fire in their No. 1 contenders that Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens and The New Day are struggling to match, despite their personal efforts.
It’s not the delivery of the individuals listed that falls flat, but the booking in each case. It’s like Raw is afraid of having its champions and challengers interact with each other on a personal scale prior to the eventual match on PPV, while SmackDown actively encourages it.
Let’s first take the world championships for example.
Seth Rollins has gone on record to say that his beef on Monday nights isn’t with WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens in particular, but more so The Authority and the fact that Triple H betrayed him in favor of handing the title belt over to “The Prizefighter” in his stead.
As such, Kevin Owens has had very little to do on the flagship show, and has turned the majority of his attention to developing his relationship with Chris Jericho in the tag team division.
The chemistry of Jeri-KO might be exemplary, but Owens is still the face of the show, and the lack of a clear-cut story between he and Rollins has made their rivalry lose a lot of the steam it needs to be a main event draw. In fact, it’s most likely why a lot of fans felt that their Clash of Champions encounter disappointed, not in terms of physical action, but in terms of emotion and storytelling.
On the flip side over on SmackDown, the main event scene is booming.
The thought of seeing WWE World Champion AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose and John Cena competing in a triple threat match at No Mercy was a bit daunting at first, but the build-up has been so enthusing that it could result in one of the best triple threat matches in the title’s storied past.
The difference here is that SmackDown has put the effort into building this feud up. Tag matches, singles matches and three-way encounters have taken place weekly and it’s allowed the fans to experience each side of the story so they can make an informed decision on who to cheer.
It’s breathed new life into a once stagnant Dean Ambrose, it’s given John Cena grounds to finally equal Ric Flair’s coveted world championship record, and it’s placed a chip firmly on the shoulders of AJ Styles to prove himself as a worthwhile champion despite his shady victory at Backlash.
The tension between the three men heading into the world championship match is palpable, which is way more than can be said for Raw’s equivalent.
Then we come to the mid-card titles, and boy, is it clear as day what the problem is here.
For starters, the feud between Rusev and Roman Reigns is on its last legs, in dire need of a Hell in a Cell match stipulation to mask the fact that the rivalry has long since run its course, while Dolph Ziggler and The Miz have continued to tear it up on Tuesday nights to the extent that the Intercontinental Championship is widely considered the most intriguing title in the company.
Once again, it’s all about the dynamic between champion and challenger. The Miz has been getting under Dolph Ziggler’s skin every Tuesday, causing “The Show-Off” to experience so much inner-turmoil that he’d go so far as to put his career on the line just to get one more shot at the title.
Roman Reigns, however, spends his time basically bullying Rusev, for lack of a better word, poking fun at his relationship with Lana and carrying himself in a way to comes across as less confidence and more indifference to his role as United States Champion.
As two big men with lacking mic skills, the best they can do for this feud is when they’re dishing out haymakers, and even that has got the fans rolling their eyes in distaste after about two months of the same old business. There’s just no comparison — one feud has featured immense emotion while the other continues to fail in making a significant impact in its slot.
Finally, the tag team division on Monday Night Raw is a total mess.
The New Day has carried the championship for well over a year, and they’ve come to a point where it’s hard to even know who the No. 1 contenders are. Between Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, Sheamus and Cesaro, Enzo Amore and Big Cass, and Jeri-KO, nobody has been able to make any waves in the division, leaving the championship with very little direction.
The belts on the blue counterpart, however, have a clear cut plan ahead that involve The Usos hopefully walking out of No Mercy with the straps and continuing their highly intense feud with American Alpha with the division’s grand prize to sweeten the pot.
While SmackDown has not one, but two stories in place that could both run with the SmackDown Tag Team Championship, Raw has well-established champions with no clear challengers.
It’s almost infuriating. Even with a lot of scope for Raw’s women’s and cruiserweight divisions, the brand fails to capture the level of intensity and emotion that has proven to drive championship rivalries forward in the past, and continues to do so over on SmackDown.
It’s a serious problem that will continue to plague the so-called “flagship show” with mediocrity if there are no alterations made for the betterment of the product.
We need to care about our champions and their challengers if we’re going to invest in them, and the way they’ve handled the majority of those dynamics on Raw in comparison to SmackDown is making the once unmissable show become stale and uninteresting.