#TeamBlue: Smackdown Live is Superior to RAW Through Storytelling, Character Moments
News of a WWE draft earlier in the year created two reactions in the core audience.
The majority reaction was that a draft would solve the main roster’s bloat issue, as too many performers were getting too little time and not enough developmental focus. In general, the reaction to a new draft was positive, especially given the news that beloved developmental NXT had a place at the table.
The second reaction, a reasonable one, was that another draft was a recipe for disaster and causing Vietnam-esque flashbacks to the mid-00’s draft; a professional wrestling version of the kobayashi maru, where the likes of Orlando Jordan and Sylvain Grenier held prominent roles on television screens worldwide.
The basic concept of the draft was solid, but the infrastructure just wasn’t there. Nobody in their right mind was going to buy auxiliary events like Capital Carnage or December to Dismember, which were the same price as “sure bet” PPVs such as Summerslam or Survivor Series.
Enter WWE Network.
Mock the $9.99 ad campaign and constant reminders of how wonderful the Network is all you want, but it beats the pants off of buying WWE events for full price. Given the new “2 PPV events per month” schedule after the 2016 draft, legitimately following one brand over the other is now a possibility.
Good thing, because Monday Night Raw is hot garbage inside a dumpster fire that’s being launched towards the sun. The three-hour exercise in combating narcolepsy somehow feels like it has less content than the show’s tuesday night sibling, despite the extra hour. More over, the flagship show’s general writing quality and character development -- outside of the main event players -- is downright laughable.
Why is Bo Dallas in squash matches? Were fans supposed to pretend that Jinder Mahal wasn’t on Raw a month ago, before showing up with a gimmick where he glows about having left WWE to travel the world and find peace? Why does Braun Strowman look like a baby on steroids?
These are all important questions, yet I have no answers to give. The Raw mantra seems to be memorable moments instead of overall quality. Sure, title matches and stakes are abound, but none of them have meant anything in the long run. Triple H returning to screw over Seth Rollins and help Kevin Owens is a memorable moment that plays well on a highlight reel, but zero follow-up or explanation is offered the next week.
Raw employs the scattershot approach: Throw as much as you can against the wall and see if anything sticks. Meanwhile, Smackdown Live has put together compelling weekly television and professional wrestling that force my hand in giving up on Monday Night Raw.
While the opening week of the blue brand was rough, the show has formed a tight-knit narrative that’s as compelling as NXT during the Neville and Sami Zayn era. Smackdown is doing more with less, where the likes of Jimmy and Jay Uso, Carmella, Naomi, and even Heath Slater have found ways to create new, compelling reasons for fans to care about their characters.
Two months ago I wasn’t even sure if employment with WWE was in Heath Slater’s future. Now, I stop whatever I’m doing and pay attention to the man and his insane, endearing quest of moving on up for the sake of his angry friend Rhyno and his family, the WWE version of the Weasleys from Harry Potter.
The Miz is relevant as a main-eventer in 2016, keeping a feud alive with Daniel Bryan that has real-life intrigue and has even managed to make fans care about jobber extraordinaire James Ellsworth. That's impressive.
There are few holes in the Smackdown armor, with the only dull spots belonging to Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton, a feud that nobody should care about in 2016. I mean, is anyone into a feud with a guy who was -- in kayfabe -- trounced and bloodied by Brock Lesnar and a dude who hasn’t won a feud without deploying a mystical exploding television?
Yet, I’m not offended. If the overall quality of the show wasn’t so high then the Orton/Wyatt dirge might be even less palatable. I find it difficult to be too down when so many good things are happening on Smackdown, such as the women’s division forming into a real division. Don’t get me wrong: I love Sasha, Bayley, and Charlotte. However, three women do not a division make.
Smackdown has went out of its way to create character moments, whether it's Carmella’s obsession with Nikki Bella or Alexa Bliss on Talking Smack, showing true depth for heel while talking about not having a childhood and striving for something she’s worked for her entire life.
I never thought I would care about Talking Smack, something I chalked up as Network fluff. Yet, the off-the-cuff feel and honest emotional reactions each week have made the half-hour addendum a must-watch for every fan.
The main event scene on Smackdown is the crowning achievement, managing to find ways of getting a crowd to legitimately cheer for John Cena in 2016, all while Dean Ambrose channels his inner jerkhole and AJ Styles watches in amusement. The best Raw can muster at this point is a tease at Roman Reigns 4th potential title reign (yes, you read that correctly) and an obsession with Stephanie McMahon being the focal point of every segment.
Perhaps Raw can bring the thunder and turn in an excellent first brand-exclusive PPV, or maybe they’ll fall and continue its WWE Thunder-like quality. Only time will tell, but with a busy schedule and other television shows to watch, I only have time for one show, and that’s the blue team.