Wrestlemania Preview: A Storm is Brewing
If the picture above wasn't indication enough, I've been watching Monday Night Raw lately, and my fear can be summed up by the fantastic illustration a few lines above. While a picture of Wink Martindale on waterskis may not seem like much of a metaphor for WWE's current product, it is an illustration of what is to come.
For those not in the know, Shane McMahon has returned to the WWE, seeking to cash in on some sort of unknown clause in his contract that apparently gives him control of Monday Night Raw. As MNR is a barometer of the direction of the company at large, Vince McMahon saw fit to place the control of the company on the line in a wrestling match. The match in question? A match against The Undertaker in Hell in a Cell at Wrestlemania.
Without any stipulation, McMahon/Undertaker is everything I expect out of a Wrestlemania match. The pairing is either high profile or unpredictable, and who would have predicted Shane McMahon as 'Taker's opponent? The match will likely be violent, and contain a considerable amount of color. This match is what dreams are made of quite honestly.
Unfortunately, there is a stipulation and its a doozy. While there are those at 0069 Kultureshocked Tower that believes The Deadman is to walk away with a “W”, the writing is on the wall to the contrary. With Control of WWE on the line, Undertaker is likely not walking away with a win. The build up to this event can be measured in days, not months. Any sort of sense of dread The Undertaker can instill in foes is negated by both a lack of presence by The Undertaker and a poor sell job via Shane after learning of his opponent.
While on the subject of his opponent; Vince's immediate announcement of The Undertaker, the stipulation, the location and match type kills any illusion of the suddenness of Shane's appearance and cashing in of his contract. Furthermore, The Undertaker's bullshit appearance (if you can call it that) seemed little more than a dress rehearsal to make sure the pyro in his entrance still worked.
You may be asking, “So what?” There is very important verbiage taking place in this challenge and it's paramount that we pay attention to what is being said. Shane isn't wrestling for control of WWE, he's wrestling for control of Raw. Why is this important? Because WWE is building to a return of one of the more controversial business decisions the company has made in regards to the product, and one that I can say with the utmost confidence I absolutely dread the thought of it's seemingly imminent return...
The WWE Brand Extension...
For those unfamiliar with history, allow me to enlighten you prior to the debut of Wrestling 201: Terminology. After the purchase of WCW by WWE in the early 2000s, WWE's roster became bloated with both mediocre and main event caliber talent. WWE, unable to cut everyone, was faced with a conundrum; how to give equal screen time to a roster that has essentially doubled without overlooking your established talent? Their hand virtually forced, WWE saw the best course of action as splitting the roster.
After a very high profile and highly publicized “draft,” certain wrestlers would appear on either Raw or Smackdown, each with their own, “B” show (WWE Velocity for example) and each with their own set of belts. Times were different and the brand extension solved what WWE saw as a problem of visibility. However, with different programs on different television networks, those such as myself were forced to watch WWE Raw as UPN wasn't widely available.
Fast forward to today, and you will find that WWE is suffering exactly zero of the same problems that it was facing during the lead up to the last brand extension. The roster is nowhere near as large nor as deep as it was a decade ago. WWE doesn't have the same amount of popular tag teams as it did back in the day, and of course, half of the roster is injured.
One problem that WWE does currently faces is the damage that WWE and their half-assed booking practices have inflicted on the current wave of title belts. I've rambled on and on regarding saving the championship belts, and none of my solutions involve splitting what is already a stretched roster.
Splitting the roster in the current atmosphere does nothing to build new talent, nor does give your established talent an opportunity to shine. Your three hour Monday Night Raw will really drag if half of the main event talent is only appearing on Smackdown. If Smackdown were booked stronger in the first place, perhaps we wouldn't need to talk about a brand split in the first place.
Imagine if you will, three hours of Ascension, The Social Outcasts, John Cena, Brock Lesnar and the New Day, every Monday Night. Imagine watching Dolph Ziggler lose to The Miz week after week on Smackdown, only wait a week for the impending rematch. There's television that'll put butts in the seats. However, this does bring up an interesting question. What does a split roster look like? Could WWE survive another draft?
No... No, it can't.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention one very positive function of a split roster. A split roster would (in theory) lessen the travel and workload for the roster, giving talent time to spend with families and keep them healthy. If and only if this is the primary function of the brand extension, I would be on board in the strongest sense.
While I'd love to think that I'm wrong and WWE will be just fine, it seems all but apparent that a brand split is imminent. WWE will likely keep Smackdown as the “B” show and its pay per view offerings will likely suck. Therefore, as a public service, I present to you, my ideal fantasy draft.
Monday Night Raw
Feeder Show: WWE Superstars
Belts: WWE World Heavyweight Championship, WWE United States Championship, WWE Tag Team Championships
The New Day
The League of Nations
Thursday Night Smackdown
Feeder Show: WWE Main Event (BRING IT BACK TO THE NETWORK)
Belts: WWE Intercontinental Championship, WWE Hardcore Championship, WWE Women's Championship
- Kevin Owens
- AJ Styles
Alberto Del Rio
The Big Show