With two weeks of Raw and two weeks of Smackdown Live programming now complete since the brand split happened, there have been some improvements within WWE’s weekly programming.
As some examples of that:
– Freshened Up Roster – With the brand split came new feuds, new pairings and some repackaging. Catch phrases aside, there aren’t a lot of things that a WWE fan can say that they are tired of.
– Talent Returns – Rhyno has made a few cameos. Jinder Mahal is back. Shelton Benjamin is coming back. Curt Hawkins is rumored to be coming back. It’s great to see some talent coming back, not only because it’s fresh blood, but because these are people that can help put the next generation of talent over.
– Brand Identities – The two shows are doing what they can to look and feel very different than one another. Previously, Smackdown was largely rooted in recaps of Raw and rematches of little significance. They both now give reasons to watch.
– Squash Matches – Every now and then comes a new competitor that warrants jobbers in their introductory matches. Ryback had them, as did The Ascension. We now have two competitors that have relied on them for two weeks, Braun Strohman and Nia Jax. Both effectively used the enhancement talent to not only look better, but these segments also had memorable things to them. Braun’s opponents cut scared promos before the matches, and Nia Jax pulls up opponents after they are already done with.
– Heath Slater – The storyline of Heath Slater running his mouth and then getting squashed by someone on a surprise appearance was done a few years back. Vader, Rikishi, Sycho Sid, and Bob Backlund all beat Heath; I believe Doink The Clown was the one surprise victory against a legend. This is a great way to keep Heath Slater visible, which in turn helps other talent get over.
– Charity Tie-Ins – So far, we have been preached to less about social causes and charity work. For someone like me, who tunes into WWE largely to forget about news and politics, this is a very positive thing.
– Less John Cena – Both Raw and Smackdown used to be heavily-rooted around John Cena. Now that John Cena is only on Smackdown — forgetting that Cena has done post-Raw dark matches two weeks in a row — and there are bigger storylines happening, there is less John Cena overexposure. In turn, this might be what helps get the crowd to refrain from booing him.
However, there are some obvious areas for improvement:
– Women’s Division – It’s very obvious that the women’s roster on Raw has plenty more going on than the roster on Smackdown. It’s not that most of the women’s division featured on Smackdown aren’t talented, it’s that they’ve never gotten over because they have little to no experience on the main roster. Too much new blood.
– Tag Team Division – Smackdown Live also has a much weaker tag team division than Raw. I suppose this is likely to happen when only one show has a particular title belt. However, American Alpha — whose debut was excellent, as expected — don’t have much to work with on the Smackdown roster at the moment.
– NXT Talent Call-Ups – Related to my comment about Smackdown’s women’s division, some NXT stars are being elevated too fast. Baron Corbin has a great theme song and a cool look, but I don’t think he was ready for the main roster. Apollo Crews is an excellent worker, but his character has not been established beyond the fact that he smiles a lot. Alexa Bliss wasn’t doing much in NXT right before her call-up. Carmella is very talented, but she also didn’t have much going on before her call-up, and her Staten Island gimmick isn’t going to get over in most of the country; Enzo and Cass, on the other hand, were very over in NXT and were introduced in a talking segment that made them look great.
– Too Many Tweeners – The two main events at this year’s Summerslam are between two babyfaces; I am referring to Brock Lesnar versus Randy Orton and Dean Ambrose versus Dolph Ziggler. Arguably, A.J. Styles is still a babyface because he’s against John Cena, who gets booed by a substantial part of the crowd in a lot of markets, while A.J.’s high-risk moves get cheers. If the Rusev and Roman Reigns feud happens, as evidenced by TV a few nights ago, you have two heels. The audience needs someone to cheer for.
All in all, I think that WWE has improved substantially over the past two weeks, and look forward to seeing how everything plays out post-Summerslam. For example, will there be anymore inter-brand matches like Lesnar and Orton? Will the two brands feuding become a storyline of its own? Will more titles be introduced to WWE? Are more legends set to return? How will the cruiserweight division be worked in?