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By Shawn Valentino, PWTorch specialist
The biggest wrestling story of 2016 so far may be the return of the WWE Roster Split. We are now three weeks into Raw and Smackdown having separate rosters, and we have already seen some of the positives and negatives that many of us envisioned when WWE announced the split.
It seems most fans and journalists have revisionist history when it comes to the original “brand extension.” Although people seem to remember it as a failure, WWE was disciplined in keeping the shows separate for a few years. It resulted in dream matches like Kurt Angle versus Shawn Michaels and gave opportunities for stars to rise like JBL, Edge, and Eddie Guerrero.
So far, I have a positive attitude towards WWE “extending” its brand, but I already see signs of the mistakes that ultimately destroyed the concept the first time around. Here are ten simple strategies to make the 2016 WWE roster split successful.
(1) Keep the characters on each brand separate.
This seems like common sense, but WWE needs to be disciplined in keeping the characters on each brand separate. Note that I said characters, not just wrestlers. I do not want to see Daniel Bryan appearing on Raw for no reason or the McMahons arguing on Smackdown. The Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar interaction before Summerslam make sense, but that is because the match was created before the draft.
There are alarmingly few dream matches left in wrestling so the WWE needs to manufacture their own fantasy battles by keeping their superstars away from each other. The return of squash matches should help in making stars showcase their finishing moves and entrances and making them larger than life, but it should not be done in a way that the jobber looks like the star. Fans need to salivate over the possibility of seeing two of their favorites face off, and with a hard line between the two brands, it can result in dream matches.
(2) No contrived rivalry between the two brands
While the characters in the two brands need to be kept separate, there should be no contrived rivalries between Raw and Smackdowns. We have already seen the WWE try to manipulate us into feeling the two shows are in competition and the results are lame. Look no further than the Smackdown roster celebrating Dean Ambrose’s World Championship victory at Battleground.
Superstars should not care about being loyal to one show over the other, and fans do not root for one to be a better program. We all want to see two great shows that each maximize their talent in compelling storylines.
(3) Both Raw and Smackdown should have a different vibe.
Although I do not want to see a brand rivalry, I do want to see each show to have its own unique vibe. They have already taken steps towards this with separate commentary teams and different stage production. I want the presentation of the shows to feel like they each have their own vision.
This is not a perfect analogy, but an excellent example would be Raw and Nitro in 1997. WCW was already feeling corporate while WWF had an edgy underground look. NXT is a modern example of a successful wrestling show underneath the WWE umbrella showcasing its own vibe and giving fans a reason to tune in.
(4) Brands should only cross in the big four live specials.
Raw and Smackdown talent should only cross paths on major live specials like Wrestlemania, Summerslam, Royal Rumble and Survivor Series. With each show getting their own Network specials, it gives WWE an opportunity to make superstars from the two shows crossing be an event onto itself. That way if A.J. Styles and Seth Rollins happen to bump into each other in a backstage segment, it should be considered a major moment.
(5) There should be consequences for appearing on the opposing show.
Randy Orton has been appearing on Raw to give Brock Lesnar an RKO. I would like WWE to announce that they imposed sanctions on the Viper for doing so. We cannot take the roster split seriously if talent makes random appearances on the opposing show without any consequences.
This may contradict the tone of the article, but I would like certain wrestlers to be outlaws that have no respect for the rules such as the Wyatts. It gives them the aura of being uncontrollable backwoods lunatics that cannot fit into a corporate culture. They should still be fined and suspended, but they are so deranged that the money does not mean anything to them. I would love to see Bray laugh in Shane’s face maniacally when he is issued a fine.
(6) There should be one top world champion.
The WWE has already created the Universal Championship on Raw, but I would have liked to see one world champion and make it the ultimate honor. The top guy could float between brands, but he would only wrestle on live specials and rare television matches. It would make the championship more prestigious instead of having a multitude of watered down titles like they do now. Now that they have decided to have two top champions, I would like them to be kept on their own show until down the line when it feels like an epic dream match.
(7) Announcers should talk about dream match possibilities.
I have mentioned the concept of dream matches numerous times already, and it is because this is the main thing that excites me about the roster split. I would like to see that same excitement from the announcers on each brand. There should be discussions about the possibilities of two superstars meeting in a battle of the titans.
WWE has a chance to simulate the time where wrestling magazines contemplated fantasy warfare between wrestlers in different territories. When the moment is right, a wrestler should call out someone from the other roster planting a seed for a potential showcase match. Even though there should be minimal interactions between Raw and Smackdown, they should do their best to make us thirst to see bouts between top superstars of each brand.
(8) Each show should discuss highlights of the other.
I would also like to see a segment of each show highlighting the top moments of the other. Even when the brands were not separate, WWE did an awful job on Raw of making us feel that we could not miss Smackdown. Now that the rosters are separate again, this gives them another opportunity to really make the audience feel the need to watch both shows.
This is a prime reason why there should not be a manufactured rivalry between the two brands. I want to see a dialogue between Raw and Smackdown and some type of continuity that entices me to tune in each week.
(9) Authority figures should take a step down.
Shane McMahon has never appealed to me as a character, but he is likable and tolerable in small doses. Stephanie at her best is arguably the best performer in the business, but when she is around too long, she drags the shows down and emasculates the talent. I would like to see both of them take a cue from their father and make fewer appearances, but to make these appearances mean more.
Unfortunately we are seeing another problem in the first few weeks, and that is the general managers overexposed on the shows. Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan should make one or two short appearances on their respective shows, and they can really maximize their value. It does not do the wrestlers any good if fans feel that the management are bigger stars than they are.
(10) No more goofy scenes where the rosters are lined up.
The biggest part about authority figures taking a step down on WWE programming would be that hopefully there will be no more atrocious scenes of the wrestlers lined up in the ring or by the entrance stage. These are absolutely embarrassing and destroy the notion that these are dangerous outlaw fighters that do not cower in the face of authority. Hopefully with the splitting of the roster and two hero general managers, we have seen the last of these scenes. As Chris Jericho would say, it makes all the wrestlers look like stupid idiots.
The roster split is less than a month old so we have to watch it play out, but hopefully WWE takes some of these common sense strategies to maximize the excitement of each show and make the audience feel that Raw and Smackdown are must-see programming.