Usually, the point behind re-trying something is that failures of past attempts have been understood and recognized so the present time will be an improvement and a success. This was the hope for fans as soon as WWE announced 2016’s brand split; if WWE must attempt a brand split again, then at least it had a decade of experience in the old split to know what worked and what did not.
Typical WWE though. Only a week removed from the big draft to kick this new era into motion, and WWE has already reintroduced a pivotal blunder of the original brand split — once again, there will be two WWE world championship titles; one for SmackDown and one for Raw.
Back in 2001, WWE (then still WWF) began the Invasion angle. As a result, the WCW world title became part of the promotion along with the WWE world title. Survivor Series saw the Invasion storyline end, and by the very next PPV the decision was made to unify the two titles into the Undisputed WWE title. Fantastic; two titles which held a ton of individual value on their own, given they came from two separate promotions entirely, were combined into a most valuable title ever.
Then, 2002 saw the birth of the original brand split. Fine. Vince McMahon wanted a way to create competition within WWE in order to fuel creativity. At least it started off right though, in that there was still only the undisputed champion, and he defended across both Raw and SmackDown.
Only months later the fateful decision was made though, and the undisputed title became called the WWE Championship and was relegated to SmackDown, and Raw reintroduced the ex-WCW title and it was named the World Heavyweight Championship.
This foolish choice lasted for over 11 years until WWE finally decided to unify the titles again back at TLC 2013. Once again, there was a single champion, just like it should be.
Deja vu to that fatal Raw in 2002 — the night after Battleground where Dean Ambrose retained the title and, in WWE’s words, kept the title on SmackDown, the Raw brand was left without a world title. And immediately upon the show’s start, General Commissioner Mick Foley made the awful announcement about the new “WWE Universal Championship.”
The moment WWE started talking about the issue pre-Battleground of where the world championship would end up, it was a given conclusion that two world titles would be introduced. Everything about the decision is a mistake, and it is a mistake that could have been avoided altogether in such a simple fashion.
The logic behind the concept of value is relatively simple. If there is a great abundance of something, its value on an individual basis is lowered. In contrast, if there is a great scarcity of something, its value individually increases with less to go around.
When there is one world champion, the value is essentially priceless because it is an individual entity completely alone — there is only one. The moment you can say there are two world champions, the entire concept of the world champion is halved in value, at a minimum.
Hell, WWE can just look at actual competitive sports to see the adverse effects of multiple world champions. Boxing has been permanently demeaned with the sheer amount of world champions that now exist as opposed to 50 years ago.
What is so hard to understand about the more champions which exist just meaning a greater quantity of individually lesser champions?
And if the basic value demotion on its own was not enough, WWE’s execution in birthing the new belt was just awful.
Raw’s position was it had no champion. SmackDown’s Ambrose managed to defeat two of Raw’s guys, Reigns and Rollins. So how exactly does it give any credibility or value to the new belt when its whole reason for being created in the first place was: “Well our two top guys were not good enough to beat the world champion, so we are just going to make a new belt since we were unable to win the real thing.”
That very move has essentially made the Raw world champion an inferior version of the SmackDown world champion right out of the gate. It is, in a sense, the reject title created from defeat, rather than victory.
Yet, to think, this did not have to be the way things went. And the alternative is not even difficult to comprehend or to implement, because WWE did it the first time around before splitting the title in 2002.
All WWE had to do was establish that the world champion would be open to both brands, and would defend against all comers.
Rather than having made the draft an initial game to pick the guy who will most likely be champion, the draft could have simply been done with the intention of acquiring the best roster overall from the beginning. Because SmackDown could have still drafted Ambrose while he was champion, and he would have technically been a SmackDown wrestler, but as long as he held the title he was obligated to cross brands in order to defend his title. And the moment he lost it, he would go back to being SmackDown exclusive, and the new guy would fill those shoes of jumping brands.
Because you know what that does? It not only harbors the prestige of there only existing a single champion, but it adds prestige with the champion having the unique responsibility to appear on both brands and defend against the top guys from either side, all in one fell swoop.
Instead, Raw has already spearheaded a tournament to determine the first “Universal” champion, and one of the main events of SummerSlam will crown him as Seth Rollins takes on Finn Balor for the prize. What makes it even worse is either Balor wins and his first run as a WWE champion is marred by the duel-champion circumstances, or Rollins wins and Raw’s new champion is simply the guy who failed to win the world title back at Battleground and had to have a new title created in order to be champion again.
As great as the new brand split era began on Raw with one of the more excellent episodes in memory, the repeat of the two-world-champions mistake right out of the gate looks like a bad sign of things to come with brand split no. 2.