As if it hasn’t been beaten over our heads from the past four months, WWE has entered a New Era following the WWE Draft last week. The brands of Raw and Smackdown are once again gone their separate ways and the roster is split between the shows providing new opportunities and a well-needed change in the product. This week was the first test of the new brand split and it brought us a glimmer of hope and the struggle we all feared as well. The latest edition of Three Points will highlight of the best and the worst of both brands so far as SummerSlam quickly approaches.
1. Stars Were Born, Stars Were Crossed, And Then They Fizzle
Monday Night Raw delivered in a way that exceeded many expectations heading into the post-draft arc of the WWE year, producing a number of quality matches and star-making performances. NXT ace and Raw’s 3rd overall draft pick Finn Balor made an immediate impact after not only defeating Cesaro, Rusev, and Kevin Owens in a Fatal-4-Way, but advancing to defeat Roman Reigns in an impromptu final to become #1 Contender for the inaugural WWE Universal Championship. It was a moment close to two years in the making with fans eagerly anticipating the Irishman’s main roster debut and he did not disappoint.
He screwed up royally at the wrong time and now he’s going to pay for it in the form of big match jobs and a deemphasized role. No one would ever expect for Reigns to be in the doghouse, but this actually might work in his favor for the time being and the Raw roster as a whole. Now there’s a fresh act into the story of Finn Balor becoming the wrench that breaks in the plans of both Reigns and Rollins respectively, adding more intrigue into the Universal Title Picture. Plus judging from Rollins’ reaction to Finn’s introduction, a lot can be made out of that scenario.
2. A Tale of Two Shows: Raw Is Still The A-Show
With Monday Night Raw, the show went through a complete overhaul in presentation and production. New camera angles were set with a redesigned set and a commentary team that sounded reinvigorated. The pre and post-match interviews highlighted the importance of winning matches, the authority figures’ presence were kept to a minimum, and even enhancement talent were brought back to put over the likes of Nia Jax and Braun Strowman. Oh and with the deep, talented pool of workers Raw had at its disposal, an abundance of quality matches came out of a show that kept the crowd hot for three-plus hours.
If felt as if every moment of the show was not wasted, barring a New Day segment that stretched a little too long. It’s only one week and Vince and Co. can change their minds every other hour, but Monday Night Raw has new life and if the show continues to produce 4-star matches on a consistent basis, then we may be on to something.
3. New Day, New Settings, Same Ol’ Smackdown
Monday’s excellent Raw episode set the bar of how post-draft shows were going to be presented heading forward and it only meant Smackdown to follow-up with something as equally great, right? Well it the complete opposite. While it now may be live with Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan at the helm as commissioner and GM, everything that made Raw grand and ultimately superior was absent on Smackdown. The show exposed itself early with a Battle Royal that showed the lack of depth this roster have in both the main event scene and the midcard. A number of the talent had to work double-duty and Kane of all people was continued to look strong after 20+ years in the company.
It felt like watching these two hours, the blue brand was set on self-sabotage. Even with the announcement of Shelton Benjamin’s return and an awesome Eva Marie entrance, most of the show felt like a flat Raw episode that we all have suffered through early in the year. It was clearly Vince McMahon being involved in the worst way, with the old tropes of WWE TV rearing its head throughout. Adding Shelton Benjamin and Rhyno to the roster adds to the depth and brings in some veterans to help with the young talent, but it’s a tell-tale sign that a bunch of names from 2005-08 will be flooding this brand.
The real kicker however was in the main event Six Pack Challenge where Dolph Ziggler became #1 Contender for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam. Alright, let’s unpack everything right here with what is wrong with this. Ziggler for the better part of two years has been buried left-and-right with pushes that were stopped faster than the aforementioned Benjamin and he pinned AJ Styles (SD’s #2 draft pick I might add) to get the opportunity. I know that both brands pushed the hard restart button for this draft, but Ziggler challenging for the WWE Championship at this stage is more Royal Rumble than second biggest WWE PPV of the year. He’s also had shown massive flaws as a potential top guy on the mic and in-ring, making it hard for many to care about him again.
A lot of fans that are against this would say, “At least Dean and Dolph will have a great match!!” in which they which they only had one good match together out of six. Their chemistry is akin to John Cena and Randy Orton in they have to be in the right place and right pace at the right time. With a rowdy Brooklyn crowd coming off of a NXT show, WWE brass is hoping this will go over well too. I doubt that it will.
That being said, it’s only been one week for both shows so we have to see how this SummerSlam build will go. Raw could suck next week and Smackdown could turn out to be very good, but first impressions can be very lasting. It was already proven that Raw is and always will be the A-Brand, but will Smackdown even be considered B-Level as NXT and CWC continue to outshine?