Saturday, November 25News That Matters

The Ultimate WWE Question: Which Brand Is Superior, Raw or SmackDown?


Raw and SmackDown Superstars fighting for brand superiority at Survivor Series 2016.

Raw and SmackDown Superstars fighting for brand superiority at Survivor Series 2016.Credit: WWE.com

The war for brand supremacy may be manufactured by WWE in order to create competition for itself, but this battle has spawned a real debate among wrestling fans.

Because Raw and SmackDown Live each has its own roster, announcers, authority figures and pay-per-views, it’s not surprising some members of the WWE Universe prefer one show over the other. WWE even named all its video games after the brand war for several years to push the concept.

Raw has always been the flagship brand of WWE programming, so SmackDown has usually had an uphill battle to catch up.

Erik Beaston and I decided to debate this topic in order to spark conversation among Bleacher Report’s readers.

This is a subject we could have debated for hours, so we chose to split up the main arguments into three sections to cover each major division. But before we get into the heart of the argument, we present our opening statements.

      

      

Erik Beaston (EB): There is a reason Raw is considered WWE’s flagship. Not only is it the company’s longest-running show, but it is the hub for the promotion’s top stars. It houses Brock Lesnar, features the three biggest breakout stars of the past decade in The Shield’s Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose and 12 former world champions.

With a greater emphasis placed on it from a roster depth and storyline development standpoint, the show has surpassed SmackDown as the higher-quality program in WWE. The hotter show, where everything feels more important than just about anything the blue brand has to offer, it is no wonder the marquee production in professional wrestling is succeeding at the level it is.

Chris Mueller (CM): Monday Night Raw may be the more recognizable of the two programs, but SmackDown has been known to give it a run for its money. While Raw is usually bloated with non-wrestling segments, interviews and recap videos, the blue brand has generally put a greater focus on in-ring action.

At three hours, Raw can drag and make fans want to see what else is on. SmackDown is a crisp two hours and usually leaves fans wanting more. Tuesday night has become the land of opportunity and second chances. The SmackDown roster has a healthy mix of indy darlings and homegrown talent, so there is something for everyone.

       

Women’s Division

CM: SmackDown’s women’s division is superior for a number of reasons, but the biggest is the variety of personalities. Each woman has a distinct persona she has crafted over time. You can tell the heels from the faces more clearly on SD than you can on Raw, which is important when creating stories.

EB: I don’t disagree with the notion SmackDown Live has a better mix of characters and personalities in comparison to Raw. With that said, the red brand’s women’s division is superior because of the star power and the complex stories that are based in reality.

Sasha Banks and Bayley are real-life friends, but the professional rivalry is already established. Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax’s friendship is apparent to anyone with a social media account, while Jax’s desire for the gold is obvious. Mickie James is the established veteran, and Emma feels disrespected.

While SD may have a variety of personalities to draw from, Raw’s roster has real stories to play to. Drama and “real” emotion create intrigue.

CM: It’s true Raw has done a good job positioning its female talents in recent months, but it only feels like something the company has recently put effort into. SmackDown has been the more competitive division for a long time, going back to before the most recent draft. Becky Lynch, Naomi, Charlotte Flair, Carmella and Lana have been focal points.

Alexa Bliss became a star on SD before moving to Raw, and there’s no denying how much better Mickie James was used when she first came back. It took her months before she was put into a storyline with the champion on Raw. Tamina Snuka is starting to become more relevant, Natalya is the champion and if Nikki Bella ever returns, she can add the needed star power to the division.

EB: The biggest issue facing the SmackDown women’s division is bringing out those personalities. The Money in the Bank ladder match and the weeks proceeding that bout hurt the momentum the division had built over the spring. Too many multi-women matches diminished those characters to the point there are a bunch of Superstars fighting for the title without rhyme or reason or any real direction.

Yes, Natalya is great, Naomi is explosive and Tamina’s dominance has been played up nicely, but WWE Creative on that side of the aisle has not done as strong a job of late when building on their foundations and giving fans a reason to care. It feels too much like the Charlotte Show, while Raw has recently refocused and built a division full of interesting and compelling stories—even if it did not have to work all that hard to do so.

       

Tag Team Division

EB: The Raw tag team division is one built on the backs of stars. Sheamus, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Jeff Hardy are all former WWE champions whose resumes lend credibility to the division. There are some who will argue that teams like The Bar and the reunited Rollins and Ambrose are thrown-together to compensate for the fact WWE Creative does not have anything better for them to do. Their inclusion in the division, though, has led to some of the best matches of 2017.

The Hardy Boyz are an iconic duo whose work with Sheamus and Cesaro was phenomenal. Then there is the team of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, who are merely complementary of the higher-profile teams, if only because the division is that stacked they cannot possibly fit them into the title picture. Factor in The Revival, with Scott Dawson currently recovering from injury, and The Miztourage’s Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel, and you have a division that is loaded with talent. 

CM: I agree that Raw has put on some incredible tag team matches this year, and as a fan of The Hardys going back to when they first broke into WWE, it’s hard to argue with their success. However, SmackDown’s offering feels more like a real tag team division to me. The New Day, The Usos and even The Colons, if they ever return, have been together for years. They have the kind of longevity we used to see in tag team wrestling.

Then you have The Hype Bros and the newly formed Benjamin and Gable adding something different to the mix. We can’t forget about Breezango. Even when they are not wrestling, Tyler Breeze and Fandango have put on some of the most entertaining segments in all of WWE. Jeff Hardy’s injury takes his team out of contention, The Revival can’t seem to stay healthy and Gallows and Anderson haven’t been given the spotlight they deserve.

EB: The injury bug has been a major detrimental factor in the Raw division. If the teams could stay healthy, there would be potential for secondary feuds that would allow the brand to build a division away from the title scene, which oftentimes is the sole focus of the writers. Even with The Revival missing time or Jeff Hardy suffering a significant injury, the potential for Titus O’Neil to manage Apollo Crews and Akira Tozawa to title contention is there, especially under the Titus Worldwide banner.

SmackDown does not have that. There is such little depth across the board that a single injury could derail months of plans. Yes, the brand appears to love Breezango—but as comedic characters only. They have about the same credibility as The Ascension. Better booking would help everyone involved, but the blue brand’s division is propped up by two teams. With that said, the Hell in a Cell match between those teams is going to kick all sorts of ass.

CM: SmackDown may only be featuring two teams, but a lot of that has to do with the two-hour show. Raw has a whole extra hour to work with, and they often go an extra 15 minutes past that. SmackDown has managed to feature comedy segments with The Fashion Police while still having a competitive title storyline.

As for The Ascension, they have more potential than WWE has allowed them to realize. When they were in NXT, they were unstoppable. When The Usos and New Day are done, you can bet Benjamin and Gable will be next in line for a shot at the gold. 

        

Men’s Singles Division

CM: SmackDown’s men’s singles division is head and shoulders above Raw’s. A big reason for that is how they keep it fresh by having main event stars compete for the U.S. title while pushing new talents like Shinsuke Nakamura and Jinder Mahal in the WWE Championship scene.

Then you have guys like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Bobby Roode, Baron Corbin and Tye Dillinger delivering solid performances week after week. The Miz is awesome, but what does it say about Raw when its top champion comes and goes as he pleases? Like AJ Styles said on an episode of Talking Smack, SmackDown makes the stars, and Raw comes in to reap the rewards after all the hard work is done building them up.

EB: What Raw lacks in fresh new talent, it makes up for with the sense of urgency with which it approaches its singles stars. Braun Strowman was made a star on Raw through beating established wrestlers like Reigns, Rollins and Chris Jericho. Ditto Samoa Joe, who instantly made the jump from NXT and was positioned as a legitimate star at the next level.

The same can be said for Finn Balor, who made his debut and became universal champion in mere weeks. In fact, the idea SmackDown is responsible for Raw’s top singles stars is debatable, at best. The company took Jason Jordan from the scrap heap on Tuesdays and made him a star. It took Miz from the midcard and has him feuding with legitimate main event stars like Reigns.

Even someone like Crews, wallowing away in the SD midcard, has come over and found a niche on Raw. The red brand has elevated Enzo Amore, Big Cass, Elias, a rejuvenated Goldust and Neville through increased exposure on the flagship show to the point that any of them can utilize the credibility they have from working Monday nights to jump to SmackDown during the next Superstar initiative and portray legitimate main eventers.

Look at Mahal, whose work with Reigns, Rollins and Balor this past spring is often underrated when discussing his rise to prominence on Tuesdays. It can be argued SmackDown does not do the work in getting singles stars ready for Raw but, rather, the flagship gives them exposure to the point lifelong midcarders can find success at the top of the SD card. Except for Zayn, who can’t catch a break on either roster apparently.

CM: Samoa Joe and Strowman aside, I would say Raw has failed at utilizing some guys who could be top stars. Balor has been stuck in a feud with Bray Wyatt that everyone is hoping will end sooner rather than later, and Wyatt has been all but destroyed by a lack of credible wins. Jordan is a great hand in the ring, but you can hear a pin drop during his entrance.

Elias gets good reactions for his songs, but he has yet to put on a memorable match with anyone on the main roster. Reigns may be a top star in the eyes of the company, but he still has many critics. Mahal has a lot of work to do before he can be taken seriously as a champion, but at least WWE is doing what needs to be done to get him heel heat, even if it rubs some people the wrong way.

And let’s face it, having Randy Orton on SmackDown means we get RKOs out of nowhere on a regular basis, which is always fun. When it comes to potential WrestleMania matches, I would much rather see Nakamura vs. Styles than Reigns vs. Lesnar.

EB: Raw is a brand targeting the casual audience, with recognizable faces and names like Reigns and Lesnar. No, it does not properly utilize its stars all of the time, but the argument can be made that SmackDown has not, either. Mahal is cracking race-based jokes about Nakamura. That feud does not need it. Styles and Corbin are feuding because…reasons.

The show has not made the most of its talent. It just has a more internet-friendly crop of Superstars, whereas Raw treats Reigns like a major star but is not shy about using him to get others over, a fact the most ardent of haters would not be quick to admit. He lost numerous times to Owens on pay-per-view and, whether anyone wants to say it or not, single-handedly got Strowman over as a credible main event star.

Yeah, Balor and Wyatt have been underutilized, but that has as much to do with Creative on either show not knowing how to use The Reaper of Souls. Balor, still highly marketed and merchandised, will be back in the title picture sooner rather than later, and Joe will be back to wreaking havoc once he returns from injury.

There are some who complain about Lesnar’s infrequent appearances, but those are the same fans who will tout the greatness of 1980s territories, where pay-per-view title matches meant more because the champion was not overexposed on television every week. If anything, Lesnar’s absence from television has helped enhance the meaning of that title and create opportunities for others to headline pay-per-views, as we saw at Extreme Rules in the Fatal 5-Way main event.

       

Closing Arguments

EB: WWE Raw is far from a perfect professional wrestling show. It has obvious flaws, including a runtime that is entirely too long. A star-studded roster, more meaningful booking and greater emphasis placed on it than its counterpart, though, have helped the flagship excel as the premier program in Vince McMahon’s wrestling empire.

The blue brand may house a more internet-friendly crop of Superstars, but there is a sense of significance surrounding the Monday night staple that other shows have been unable to replicate. The sense of urgency with which writers approach the red brand is palpable. The matches, moments and angles simply mean more to the product than those of SmackDown Live.

For better or worse, Raw is a significantly better product than SmackDown at this point because it is allowed to be.

CM: Raw has all the big names because WWE wants it that way, but SmackDown has been a more reliable show for years. It feels like we see the same things over and over on Monday nights, while Tuesdays give us a greater variety of personalities engaging in more interesting feuds.

You would never see The Fashion Police on Raw because it is too ridiculous for the so-called flagship show, but it has been a highlight of SmackDown each and every week. The blue brand has somehow managed to give more Superstars a chance to shine with an hour less to work with every week, and some of those stars were stolen by the red brand because SD was constantly outshining Raw.

Even a guy like Aiden English is finding a way to succeed on SmackDown. On Raw, he would be working dark matches. Raw has a lot going for it, but SmackDown is simply the better show.


We’ve made out arguments, but it’s up to you to decide which brand is superior. Share your thoughts in the comments section and hit us up on Twitter (@ErikBeaston and @BR_Doctor) to let us know which show you prefer.

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