It’s exciting times for wrestling fans…or so we are told. We are getting a brand split in July and we expect many of our favorite stars to be exclusive to the red or blue brand. This, in theory should make Smackdown a relevant show, utilize a packed roster of underutilized talent, cut down on the endless string of rematches and 50/50 booking as well as create fresh and interesting feuds down the road as the rosters shift over time. This all sounds great right…right? I mean we all want to AJ Styles, Cesaro and Sami Zayn to get there due and Smackdown, aside from Mauro Ranallo’s excellent work is the definition of can miss television. Also we all love wrestling and desperately need two more hours on Tuesday that we simply must watch in order to not miss out on the New Day, Kevin Owens or The Golden Truth. That is where the problem lies for me and that is why I am skeptical and worried about brand split 2.0.
I think that we should just face facts, WWE is not hot right now. Yes they are getting SportsCenter coverage, Ellen’s face was on John Cena’s jorts and they sold 250,000 tickets to Wrestlemania Star. But really, beneath that we are faced with a rather stale product that has lost casual fans and has turned to desperately repeating the phrase “New Era” in order to mask the fact that other than the new faces the machine is running exactly like it has for the past decade. New Eras in wrestling are defined by character and story while The WWE seems to think that they are defined by catch phrases. Now catch phrases are important, we call that marketing, but if you put the marketing before the substance you have a cart before the horse dealy. The Attitude Era was already becoming that before Austin 3:16 or Suck It and well before the Hulkster was a real American the rock and wrestling era had arrived. What is new about the New Era? What has been the seismic shift that has put on the road to this New Era? I can’t figure it out and I think the WWE are stumped too. The McMahons are in charge, the world champ is a miscast heavily booed babyface that couldn’t write the words character and development in the same sentence. We continue to have feuds fought over potted plants, new talent showing up with no build up and sent to 50/50 land and the main roster seems determined to highlight the weaknesses and hide the strengths of its talent because the WWE style is the WWE style and must stay that way until the heat death of the universe.
None of this is to say that there are not positives a plenty in the WWE right now. They may have the best in ring talent (NXT included) they have ever had. There is charisma abound in Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, Enzo Amore among others. The next breakout/crossover star may already be on the roster and story lines like Sami and Kevin as well as Roman and Seth could defiantly define a generation. The problem then comes down to how they use all this talent and that is where the ball has been continually mishandled. While they have tried to make Roman Reigns the leader of the new era they’ve willfully ignored that a heel turn by him could easily kick one off. But it goes deeper than Roman or any one talent. The WWE is a company that plays it safe and revolution is born from the unpredictable. As they ignore the “internet fan” while comically blind to the fact that the better word for them is “fans” as in there fan base. Now I get back around to the brand split. The fan base is not what it was, Raw is too damn long and Smackdown while disappointing was at least not required viewing. Five hours of live TV (plus 1 of NXT) per week is too much for a product that is not exciting or innovative. There is a lot of talent but how many characters are must see every time out? What recent story lines will we be talking about 10 years from now? WWE wants to solve the problem of overexposure with more exposure. So very much of Raw seems to be just killing time yet they’ll have new intriguing story lines involving 20 or so superstars when July comes around. If the WWE was red hot right now with a couple guys or girls on the brink of next level stardom I could understand and even get behind an idea like this, but at this point it seems like square peg round hole material. They want to use the brand split to build new stars and bring in fresh ideas but it doesn’t seem likely from what I’ve been watch this year.
Please understand that I am a fan. I enjoy professional wrestling and I would like to enjoy it more but true innovation goes beyond buzz words and brand splits and all the talent in the world cannot make up for poorly scripted promos and a stubborn devotion to old ideas. Taking peoples’ favorite star off of Monday night and sending him to Tuesday is not a surefire way to make Smackdown a success, it could also make the less hardcore fans check out all together and right now the WWE needs all the casual fans that it can get…I mean who else is going to cheer for Roman Regins.