Raw Or Smackdown? Which Brand Is Superior?

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One month on from the 2016 WWE brand extension draft, I feel now is the time to form opinions on which brand is superior. While I have my personal feelings, I asked around to see what others think on the EWN Facebook page (cheap plug). Here’s some highlights:

Rick Bislich: “SmackDown. Without question. Better storylines, better matches, better pacing. SD is s painful reminder that the worst decision made regarding to Raw was going to 3 hours. Raw does have talent and a lot of hard workers but SmackDown seems to just be instantly clicking wherever Raw is misfiring.”

Robert Mamea: “Smackdown – Ziggler is finally getting himself back into the spotlight again not only that but the tag team division looks pretty good especially with American Alpha amongst the favorites to be Smackdown Live tag Champs. Raw – Reboot of the cruiserweight division coming back soon while guys like Sheamus and Cesaro still continue getting over looked by creative. Overall Smackdown live has the better brand and one that’s got more opportunities for guys like Bray Wyatt and AJ Styles too.”

Don Burgess: “I’d have to say SmackDown. SmackDown’s two hour broadcast allows for less “over” exposure, more condensed and concise segments, and the current rivalries feel much more important. Ambrose/Ziggler is a surprise fued, Cena/Styles is truly a dream rivarly, and Orton has definitely found a good flow of work with his character that he hasn’t had in years. Sprinkle in the new talent from NXT, and you have one good show.”


Nathan Casterton: “SmackDown has been better than Raw. I like guys on both shows but SmackDown has been good. I’m not a fan of constant squash matches on Raw every single week. Occasional squash matches are okay but not every week. SmackDown’s match quality has been better than Raw’s in the most part. It just shows that having a two hour show is good because you can have good segments and good matches, instead of things that are just there to fill time. Hopefully with this Cruiserweight division coming in soon squash matches will be on Raw rarely.”


Thanks for the feedback! A small sample, but I asked for reasons and I certainly got them. Smackdown is clearly the winner, but do I agree? We’ll see. Til then let’s delve deep into the major differences of each show. Let’s begin with the commentary teams.


Commentary Teams

WWE reshuffled the commentary teams. Two teams of three consisting of (Raw) Michael Cole, Corey Graves, Byron Saxton, and the other (Smackdown) Mauro Ranallo, JBL, David Otunga. Initially I was accepting, but at the same time I felt it was a little too much.


Three-man teams are unnecessary. What does the third man do exactly? Be a hybrid play-by-play/colour guy? What would have been cool is if they put Renee Young and another woman on each show; a third perspective to draw from. With more emphasis on women’s wrestling, it makes sense to have female talent on commentary. WWE likes to talk about giving women equal chances to succeed, but when Renee Young works as an interviewer while Otunga sits at the table, you have to question the logic behind it.


The weak links are Saxton and Otunga, you could put them in NXT with Tom Phillips and free Graves up for Raw, leaving us with Cole/Graves and Mauro/JBL, which to me is the best way to go. The problem with Saxton is he used to be the NXT background guy, but with Graves in the mix he’s become a third wheel looking for somewhere to fit. Otunga needs experience, and JBL insulting his educated background isn’t clicking for me. An advantage of two-man teams is that it doesn’t get too crowded when they get guests. Also it’s less likely to have drawn out debates which take away from the action in the ring.

I strongly believe Smackdown has the better team. Mauro is fresh, passionate, and intelligent. He knows the moves, and isn’t shy in expressing opinions. His long words can be a little ridiculous, but that’s fine because you have JBL to play off it. Mauro is the right guy for JBL to partner with, I don’t think he’s used to having someone who isn’t going to be put off by his obnoxious character, Mauro will calm him down if it gets out of hand. Otunga is just … there.

Raw has the Cole factor. On one hand, he’s recognizable, on the other hand he’s Vince’s advertisement board. Cole isn’t useless, but he certainly goes through long periods of going through the motions. When the product gets better, he can reach the next level and call a match really well, but most of the time I wish he would be replaced … just because of his voice. You know what I mean? How annoying can his voice get sometimes? Perhaps it’s just me, because I’ve listened to him since he debuted on Smackdown all those years ago. He was pretty good back then … but he had to be to keep his job.

Graves is fresh, and it’s largely because he has the motivation to make a name for himself after being forced to retire. You can tell he loves the business, and gets it from a fans perspective. His work on NXT continues to be top-notch, as he literally carries Phillips on his shoulders every week. As for Saxton, aside from his confrontations with Kevin Owens, I’m not getting his appeal. Are there any Saxton fans out there? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the guy or anything, I’m just trying to understand what he adds to Raw.


Presentation


To my surprise no one has talked about this. I seem to prefer Smackdown’s layout, with the commentary table at ringside, and the theme music is better. The Raw logo looks like it has an upside-down “M”, while Smackdown’s logo emphasizes “Live” and is easier to look at. You would think a logo for “Raw”, would be a little … raw? A bit wild. But it doesn’t say that to me. Why can’t they bring back “Raw Is War”?


I also like how Smackdown gives statistics for the wrestler’s entrances, and have shorter backstage promos which add to the storylines and feuds. I realize this is all perspective, so it’s not a major breaking point on whether a show is better than another. For those who care about how the show looks and feels, I think Smackdown has the edge at this point, the show changed more than Raw after the brand extension.


Booking

Ok, here comes the spicy stuff. From what I see, there’s one huge difference in the booking of both shows. Raw has three hours, while Smackdown has two hours. Because Raw has three hours, it has a bigger roster, and is the first to air after a PPV event. Therefore, it is already established as superior (to the company) to Smackdown. WWE tried to compensate by giving Smackdown the WWE title, but then decided to introduce the Universal title. Rollins/Balor is likely to be higher up the card than Ambrose/Ziggler, giving the new title more attention at one of the biggest PPVs of the year. Had the WWE title match at Summerslam (for example) been Styles vs. Cena, it would be hard to argue which match would get most attention.


You know what I hate about three hours? I’ve said this for ages … you have people who can barely sit through a two-hour movie without getting bored, so why does WWE think we can sit through three hours of Raw every week? Don’t get me wrong, Raw has been good, but it’s also had a lot of filler. It would’ve been fine if they had the cruiserweight division ready to go, but we’re a month in and it’s still being advertised with no information given as to “Who?” “When?” and “Will There Be A Title?”. Nothing at all. They stated months ago the brand extension would be seriously thought out and implemented, but the lack of cruiserweights on Raw is clear by the squash matches and filler segments.

Meanwhile on Smackdown, two hours is like … you get into the show, then you realize it’s halfway through. It ends and you kinda wish there was more, but you’re fine with it because the show was consistently good. I noticed how guys like Rhino, Shelton Benjamin and others were moved on to Smackdown when the show had enough talent already. Smackdown promotes a competitive environment where a wrestler appreciates the airtime and performs to a high level so they get a chance the following week, while on Raw it feels like some go through the motions because they know the airtime will come. This is one reason NXT is successful, because it gets one hour a week, so the best will get on the card while others have to train and prove why they belong on the show.

While Smackdown is good, it doesn’t feel complete. The women and the tag teams are fighting over nothing til new titles are introduced, and with no details revealed leading into Summerslam, it seems unlikely we will see new champions for a few weeks. While Raw has the Women’s title, Smackdown’s women are a good mix and are doing a good job. Sasha and Charlotte are a selling point of Raw, while the tag team title scene needs a shift in direction. I’m hoping Gallows and Anderson win at Summerslam so they can be established as the force they say they are. As for Smackdown’s title scene, American Alpha are seriously cool and need titles, but there’s no one on their level unless The Revival are called up.

The Ziggler factor is an odd one. With Bray Wyatt doing nothing, I’m sure some assumed he would face Ambrose for the title, but instead Ziggler gets a major push out of nowhere. I’m sure it wasn’t long ago he was an enhancement talent. The problem with WWE is they don’t know how to build Ziggler, they are completely stumped and have no clue. When you stop/start a career, it tells the fans he doesn’t belong in the main event. Now the fans are expected to treat him like a contender when he’s never been taken seriously, even during his World title run.

Many wrestlers have spoken out on the treatment of him, and even Vince mentioned the “glass ceiling” live on television to his face. So why now? Is it because everyone else was too busy? Can’t have Cena, Styles, Orton, Or Wyatt, so I guess it’s Dolph’s turn? That’s what it feels like to me. Like he’s challenging Ambrose because they needed a WWE title match and everyone else was taken.

Back to Raw, a frequent thing I see mentioned is the amount of squash matches. I understand why someone like Strowman (who needed a reset after being split from Wyatt) squashes unknown jobbers each week, but do we need Nia Jax doing it too? Wouldn’t she be better off fighting Becky Lynch on Smackdown? Showing us she can work matches against the best? Sometimes it’s like they don’t think many of us watch NXT and are aware of what she can and cannot do.

Moving on to Rusev, I really enjoy what he’s doing, but I’m totally disinterested with the feud he has going with Reigns. We’ve seen this match enough times, and literally the only way their title match at Summerslam will amaze me is if Rusev beats Reigns in ten seconds. We know what’s going to happen here, the writing is on the wall, the better wrestler is putting the guy over who embarrassed himself only a few weeks ago. If that isn’t the case, then Reigns is seriously in the dog house and the critics will rejoice in the fact he’s not getting a push to the main event any time soon.

Cesaro vs. Sheamus in a “Best Of 7” series? Why? I mean, Cesaro and Sheamus do have some pretty decent brawls, but what’s the point? Do they get a Universal title shot afterwards? Any kind of reward? I suppose it beats just booking them in seven matches for no reason at all, but at the same time it kinda feels that way. What makes this worse is that Cesaro cut a worked shoot promo when he got drafted to Raw, so I assumed he’d get a push of some kind as he continued to make comments over the way he’s used by the company. Daniel Bryan made the point that Cesaro is underutilized and it wouldn’t be that way if he was on Smackdown. This week, Cesaro was on commentary to answer questions, and stated he’s a “team player”, like the worked promo never existed. Why? I don’t get it. They could have played off that angle for months, teasing the fact he was going to jump to Smackdown if he didn’t get some decent opportunities. To me it feels like a lost one. Disappointing.

Finn Balor right in there. He was in NXT for a long time and did everything he could there, so it was cool to see him get thrown in the mix right away. The only fans who say he’s “being pushed too soon” haven’t seen his work in NXT or don’t get his appeal. He’s like a mix of Jeff Hardy and The Undertaker, he’s athletic, artistic, and loves to express his creativity. It takes a while to get used to “The Demon”, but it will get over eventually. I just hope he changes the look sometimes, because the current look will get stale if he keeps using it. As for Finn’s mic skills, he’s not the greatest talker, and had you seen the program on him where he discusses his life, he admits to being a quiet, and somewhat geeky individual, so his mic skills are a weak point, but he tries to make up for it with his matches and creativity.

So to end this long section, I could have gone into this more, but I’d be here all night so let’s finish up. While Raw has the potential to be better with more talent and airtime, I feel like the storylines are too drawn out, and the filler can make three hours a tiring experience for the average fan. It’s certainly improved, but not to the point it hooks you in for the entirety, so you may find yourself multi-tasking or nodding off in the chair. Smackdown has improved by a country mile, there was a time I didn’t care if it was on, and sometimes missed it as I found it be a “Raw Recap” show with a few good matches (with no real importance) thrown in, and that’s no longer the case.

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