Back in February, I wrote about a potential WWE brand split; specifically, how it would be a positive move for the company and its growing talent pool. Over four months have passed since the WWE split their roster into two separate brands (in similar fashion to the first brand split back in 2002) and things have gone well so far. As we approach The Road to WrestleMania, I believe that the WWE has laid the foundation necessary to make this the smoothest and most enjoyable ride we’ve been on in quite some time.
One thing that many people, myself included, were hoping to see were new entrance sets for both Raw and SmackDown. It took a few weeks, but WWE delivered – we got unique sets for each show. Personally, I think the current SmackDown Live set is the best that WWE has ever constructed, excluding pay-per-views. The introduction of new theme songs for both shows has also been a welcomed change.
Both Raw and SmackDown have individual pay-per-view events, and each brand has created their own vibe – something that I hoped for as soon as the brand split was announced. Although the number of pay-per-views has increased, the WWE Network has made it cheap and easy to watch all of them, which certainly couldn’t be said 15 years ago.
The brand split has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do: create opportunity for more Superstars and make SmackDown Live must-see television again. Many Superstars have taken advantage of the opportunities created by the brand split, but none have done so better than AJ Styles. In true heel fashion, Styles refers to himself as “The Face that Runs the Place.” The joke is on The Phenomenal One’s doubters, however, as he is indeed the face of the blue brand, as well as the best wrestler in the company. His feuds with John Cena and Dean Ambrose have carried SmackDown Live, and his WWE Championship reign has been nothing short of spectacular.
The inception of the SmackDown Live women’s division came when the WWE Women’s Championship, introduced at WrestleMania 32, was drafted to Raw along with Charlotte, the current champion. Although in its infancy, it is not only the better women’s division, but it may be the best in the entire company, regardless of gender. Becky Lynch has made an honorable and deserving champion, while new stars like Alexa Bliss and Carmella have shown that the future is bright for women’s wrestling in WWE.
Tag team wrestling has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember, and the Tuesday night teams have brought back all of the old excitement. The Usos turned heel and, since joining the dark side, have quietly become one of the best parts of the show. Heath Slater, one of the biggest stars born of the brand split, joined forces with Rhyno, and the two are currently SmackDown Tag Team Champions. American Alpha, the most promising team in WWE, are more than likely going to be on the hunt for the gold (silver) as WrestleMania 33 approaches.
The Miz and Dolph Ziggler have both reignited their careers, as well as the Intercontinental Championship. The two men are currently scheduled to face off in a Ladder Match at next month’s TLC pay-per-view on the WWE Network – one that is surely to be in the running for match of the night.
Finally, Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton have joined forces, along with a returning Luke Harper, to create The New Wyatt Family. All three men are hitting on all cylinders after an impressive showing at Survivor Series. The group is destined for failure, which will be fun, but for now, I’m enjoying the three as a faction more than I expected to when the concept was first introduced.
I haven’t enjoyed Raw as much as SmackDown, but there have been a few bright spots on Monday nights that are worth mentioning. Firstly, The Kevin Owens show is alive and well. Owens has carried the main event scene for the red squad, and his friendship with Chris Jericho has easily been the most entertaining thing on WWE television from week to week.
That being said, I have not forgotten about the incredible debut of Finn Bálor. For months, fans speculated about Bálor’s introduction to the main roster, many fantasy booked multiple scenarios for his debut. Although many great ideas were tossed around, I don’t recall thinking of or reading anything better than the actual debut provided for The Demon King. Bálor was easily the biggest star in WWE when he went out with a shoulder injury back in August and should return just in time for WrestleMania 33, where he will undoubtedly be a prominent feature of the biggest wrestling show of the year.
All things considered, the WWE brand split has been a success so far. Time will tell if the WWE can keep the ball rolling and use the momentum they have accrued, as well as the opportunities they have created, to continue to establish new stars.