The WWE Brand Division Jumped The Shark – TJR Wrestling
Welcome back for more collective thoughts. Let’s go back to 2002 when WWE decided to create a competition of their own. The previous year saw the other two major North American promotions, WCW and ECW, shut down and it left WWE in a pickle on how to create compelling storylines and matches when you were the only game in town. .
After all, Vince McMahon had been wrestling with the NWA and WCW for almost 20 years by then and wrestling had always had some kind of variety between shows. For the first time, on a large scale at least, WWE was self-sustaining. The real question, at that point, was how WWE was going to keep its fans engaged. They decided to split the shows and have two separate slates, which would effectively create competition within the company. Best of all, you didn’t have to have a bunch of other moving parts and different companies involved, just create with whatever talent you had. On paper, this sounds like a great idea. Some parts were great, and some parts not so much.
When the split first happened, it seemed fresh. Which wrestler was going to be on which show? Would fans exclusively watch one show over another in a show of solidarity? For the first two years, they did. You could say that at times in 2002-2005, Smackdown had the top show on Raw, which had been the A show since 1993. Paul Heyman played a part in how Smackdown was booked for almost the first full year of the brand split. and he just seemed to have the best roster of talent and the contestants just seemed a little more motivated. You had guys like Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Edge and others waiting for their chance to shine and they definitely took advantage of it. Over the years and when Heyman left the brand, things started to dilute. WWE even resurrected ECW as the third talent brand in 2006, but it ended up not being as successful as some people might have thought.
WWE tried to end the brand split in the early 2010s and began hosting “Super Shows” in their place with talent from both brands working on both shows. It seemed to freshen things up a bit because it was the Summer of Punk and business had picked up a bit. Punk was the WWE Champion on Raw, and while the World Heavyweight Championship was still being defended, it definitely looked like an inferior world title. It did have its upsides though, with guys like Daniel Bryan having the chance to win a prestigious title with the company. If you go back and watch those shows, you get the feeling that the two belts were treated very differently. It was almost like the WWE title was for guys who had been on the main event stage, while the other title was for guys that the company was trying to see if they could put on an event main.
This went on for several years before the company decided to split the brands again in the summer of 2016 when Smackdown finally became a live show first on Tuesdays and before moving to Fridays on Fox in October 2019. This tells us brings us to where we are now.
I wanted to take a trip down memory lane because all of these eras of the company had one thing in common. They didn’t have much competition in space. You had promotions like TNA and Ring of Honor 20 years ago, the first of which had a real chance of making noise, but ended up falling on their face in the end. Impact is still a promotion today, but much less viable than before. Ring of Honor has also made some noise, but they are currently in the process of rebranding and questions remain about their future.
Everything changed in 2019 when AEW entered the scene. It was the first time WWE had seen someone with deep pockets try to compete directly in about a decade. The brand split ended around the time TNA was really making an effort to compete, and it might be time to run that same program right now. AEW has a star-studded roster (many of whom were WWE’s best) and I truly believe competition in wrestling could be there, at least for the foreseeable future. With rumors of bigger moves to come, WWE is going to have to do something to spice things up.
In the end, does the brand split serve any purpose? This is the case for networks that pay WWE millions of dollars to make their Superstars “exclusive” to one show, but only if you have two separate brands that are run differently and have a different feel to them. They achieved this when they first appeared, but really since then both shows have felt exactly the same. With AEW being as aggressive as they have been, I think the game here is for WWE to return to unified television and have a champion in each division that runs on both shows. When the brand split was first announced in 2002, they decided the WWE World Champion couldn’t be drafted and would work on both shows. Seems like the best way to do something like this, and with a dominant champion like Universal Champion Roman Reigns, you could have your guy to lead the charge for wrestling supremacy.
With a company that’s been around as long as WWE, they shouldn’t mess things up.
What do you think of the brand split? Do you love or hate? Do you think he had overstayed his welcome? Either way, carry on the conversation. @collectiveheel on Twitter, and let me know your thoughts. In case you’re wondering about the title, the phrase “jump the shark” is “the moment when a popular or critically acclaimed television show begins its inevitable decline in quality.” (Grammar)
Next week we will continue in the WCW timeline with WCW Halloween Havoc 1999. This was the first Pay-Per-View that WCW produced with Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara at the helm and I would like you to feel my excitement through the screen. Until then, take care of yourself and others. I’ll be back soon with more collective thoughts.