In the WWE Draft’s pro-con list, one of the positives is a return of some healthy competition between shows Raw and SmackDown. We get to see a different depth in the Authority/Bryan rivalry from 2013-14 as Stephanie McMahon commissions the flagship program, while Daniel Bryan tries to help the “B+ Show”. It’s also inevitable we see Raw versus SmackDown in areas like the Survivor Series PPV and on special events, likely prompting Champion versus Champion showdowns. But the most exciting for me is to see which show is better from week to week. This is what I’ll be covering in this series called “WWE Brand Wars”, where week after week I’ll break down Raw and SmackDown, tell you who I believe put on the best show, then at the end of 52 weeks, we’ll see which was the better show in “Season 1”.
Obviously, I’m starting this a little late, so the first edition is Week 3. I did this on purpose and there’s a couple reasons for that. One, it’s for the nostalgia to wear off. This “New Era” reminds me so much of the Ruthless Aggression era, my favorite era in sports entertainment. The second reason, is to let both shows get their feet wet. What new championships they introduce, what spots do they freshen up (ie. commentator table), how they introduce the NXT draft picks, etc. So, if you asked me, I’d say Raw had taken Week 1, then SmackDown took Week 2 with the better show. Luckily, this offsets and won’t matter, because I’ll only count from this week forward.
Monday Night Raw this week, seemed to focus more on the mid-card scene. It dedicated much of its show to Rusev and his inevitable United States Championship defense against Roman Reigns at SummerSlam, as well as advancing the Cesaro and Sheamus rivalry. Each of those took two segments to hype up, while the main event featured Cesaro challenging Rusev for the championship, in which Sheamus comes down to cost Cesaro’s opportunity, all while Roman Reigns comes down to hit the finishing Spear on Rusev. It also spent its opening 40 minutes to give mic time to Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady, as well as Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho, while also using that forty to place Chris Jericho and Enzo Amore in a 1-on-1 match. Jericho ended up on top, with dirty-handed help from Kevin Owens, while making a tag team match for SummerSlam afterwards.
Believe it or not, the highlight of the entire show was Roman Reigns. The Wedding Celebration segment where he invaded Rusev and Lana’s celebration was classic, and we’ll have a memorable moment for the next decade. More shockingly, when Roman Reigns came to the ring, the fans cheered him – or at least they didn’t drown out his entrance music with boos. I was skeptical placing Reigns immediately in the mid-card picture, especially without ever earning it. Though afraid how the fans might react, Rusev draws so much heat that it’s worked so far. We’ll see in Brooklyn at SummerSlam.
The rest of the show, it was meh. There wasn’t a must-see match, much like we had 3-4 awesome matches the first week, but none on the show were really any good. We saw tiny advancements in the Women’s Championship match at SummerSlam (Sasha Banks© vs Charlotte) and the WWE Tag Team Championships match (The New Day© vs Gallows/Anderson). It felt they were filling more time with promos than they were with long, classic matches – which is fine, as long as we don’t see 3 commercials and 2 promos in-between matches. Filling three hours must be hard, considering they took the time to interview Braun Strowman’s squash opponent Jorel Nelson (who oversold everything), and even let Nelson have an entrance.
Now let’s see what SmackDown could do this week!
Tuesday Night SmackDown “Live” focused mainly on their main event title picture, as they should. The opening segment was Bray Wyatt’s in-ring promo with Erick Rowan, then the WWE Champion Dean Ambrose came out and was prompted to attack Bray, but Dolph Ziggler came down and just did it. Then as Ambrose and Ziggler got into it backstage, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan made a tag team match where SummerSlam competitors would work together tonight, where eventually they’d overcome Wyatt and Rowan, as Ziggler pinned Erick Rowan and received Dirty Deeds from the champion to end the night. Also, SmackDown continued hyping Orton/Lesnar the best they could as Randy Orton squared off against Alberto Del Rio. Alberto worked the surgically repaired shoulder most of the match, and after escaping an RKO, Del Rio went right after a chair to get himself intentionally disqualified, handing the victory to Randy Orton. Orton would eventually hit an RKO on Alberto, going on the line that it only takes one RKO to go to Viperville – mocking Brock Lesnar’s Suplex City.
SmackDown, was truly, action packed. The writers only have two hours to work with, and made the most out of it. Aside from those two matches, they worked on building the new characters of SmackDown, namely American Alpha, Carmella, Alexa Bliss, and without wrestling, Eva Marie. While I would’ve used different tactics in how they built up American Alpha and Eva Marie, they were original and worth noting, they got the job done. People hate Eva Marie now more than ever, and American Alpha’s being gunned down by three other tag teams ready to emerge. I came away highly impressed how they’re capitalizing on the youth and staying true to Shane McMahon’s words for months, to give their talent opportunities to showcase themselves.
When I try to spot a low-point of the night, it’s nit picking. The way SmackDown utilized Eva Marie was creative, yet pushing the envelope for PG and the more Eva’s pushed (albeit a heel) the bigger step backward in the Women’s Revolution. I’d also make the case with American Alpha wrestling two local competitors and winning cleanly before The Ascension, Hype Bros, and The Vaudevillians attacked, I would’ve scripted it differently. Firstly, I probably would’ve put Breezango down there as well. Secondly, I probably would’ve had the match thrown out because the teams attacked American Alpha before it was over. Other than that, the only complaint I have comes with the thunderstorm that knocked out 14 minutes.
It’s pretty obvious where I’m going with this. Raw this week felt so much like a common WWE show we’ve seen the last three years, probably worse. SmackDown Live, however, had an Attitude Era feel in terms of how the show was scripted. SmackDown Live, I’m impressed with. Along with building up their new superstars, they also managed to help those involved in losing efforts for SummerSlam – I’ll explain. Although Alberto Del Rio gets a loss tonight, and although Randy Orton’s seen with great tolerance for pain, Del Rio was no pushover tonight, as he showed malicious intent tonight, and was never pinned to make Orton look strong. While often we’d only see Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler at odds, they added a common enemy Bray Wyatt and Erick Rowan to the fray. This keeps Wyatt in the main event title picture post-SummerSlam, while Erick Rowan gets much needed work with main event talent to improve.
So I’ll give Week 3 to SmackDown Live, making it a 1-0 lead.
BONUS… Segment of the Week: Roman Reigns crashes Rusev and Lana’s Wedding Celebration