RBTR – A New Brand Of Entertainment?

Mitchell Gadd

Hello everybody, and welcome to another edition of Reading Between The Ropes. It’s been a while since my last edition (Summerslam Preview) and I could bring up many reasons why that is the case; a temporary job I landed myself last week, staying with my friends for a few days, trying to find a more permanent job, etc. However, the truth is that I simply haven’t found anything that has literally grabbed me and shouted out “I’m column-worthy” in that time. Sure, I could write about HBK, or the latest Diva Search winner, but that wouldn’t place me in an illustrious list now would it? I’d be joining a line of 500 other columnists who’ve already written about the aforementioned topics.

In searching for something more substantial and perhaps more debatable as a topic I found myself searching the shows as to what to write about. In the end it wasn’t something on the show as such that grabbed my attention but, more so, the shows themselves that were worthy of a talking point or two. During the draft lottery I frequently talked about which brand was holding the aces, and which brand was struggling to keep up with the other. I also talked about the impact and result of the lottery on both brands. well, two months after the lottery is done and dusted, it’s time to see how the brands are fairing against each other. Before doing so, a quick announcement.

David Long will be signing autographs outside every supermarket in the West this weekend. Be there, or be… disappointed. Expect Long queues… haha, okay, I won’t go there. I hear DDP won’t be attending, though, so I guess it’s just another case of “DDP screwed DDP.”

Anyway, enough of that. In most people’s opinion, Raw was the stronger brand before the roster split. In my eyes it was the stronger brand. The draft lottery harboured the prospect that the WWE would address this issue and that the issue of an inferior brand would be solved. However, following the draft lottery, it was this writer’s opinion that Smackdown! had been given a little extra to work with, but not enough for it to really sink it’s teeth in to this battle.

I try to listen to the complaints of fellow fans quite often as to try and gage what the majority makes of the current product. Recently I’ve heard many grumblings about Raw and how, for a wrestling show, there isn’t nearly enough wrestling during the 2 hour programme.

To those grumblers I shall helpfully divert their attention to Smackdown!. Smackdown! cops a lot of flack from the average fan. However, one thing Smackdown! has done very differently from Raw in the past year is the inclusion of longer matches that really seem to be a focal point of the show. If you look back to last year, we had Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero, and this year we’ve had Rey vs. Eddie (which will happen again next week), Angle vs. Booker T, just to name a few. These matches have all lasted around, or in excess of, 20 minutes. They are the focal point of the broadcast. A true main event, if you will.

I realise that it is dangerous to generalise, but Raw’s angles don’t seem to centre around wrestling action, but more on altercations and incidents. All of the action that is seemingly being lined up for Unforgiven are feuds that are a result of interview segment altercations or some attack of some form. Smackdown! seems to promote it’s broadcast as wrestling and that’s what we get 80% of the time. The feuds and angles are mostly built on wrestling matches. Even the Rey-Eddie feud, which is perhaps the most soap-opera orientated feud in the WWE right now emanated from wrestling matches and was a direct result of Eddie Guerrero’s frustration and desperation in not being able to defeat Rey Mysterio.

Randy Orton needed to beat the Undertaker because it was his “destiny”; a desire to overcome someone through competition. Chris Benoit and Orlando Jordan feuded over the US Title based on a shared desire to win the belt. Sure, the feud wasn’t exceptional, but it does highlight how Smackdown! seems to be more about competition inside the ring, or at least promote feuds which at least have a foundation in on-goings inside the squared-circle.

However, I’ve noticed somewhat of a change recently in Raw’s broadcast. While, to me, it seems the larger proportion of wrestling exists on the Smackdown! brand, Raw has definitely looked to increase the amount of wrestling action on it’s programme in recent weeks. We saw two very lengthy matches in he Street Fight and the main event handicap match. Sure, only one of those matches was enetertaining, but at least it showed a desire to promote what was happening in terms of WRESTLING action before anything else.

Both of those matches were a result of incidents or altercations that did not have origins from a wrestling match, which is something thta perhaps still differentiates Raw from Smackdown!. However, it was certainly a change in tact.

As an old school fan I prefer to see a lot of wrestling action, and feuds stemming from competition before anything else. Of course, you need the right balance and, of course, this business is all about taste – where no one person’s taste should pack more punch than another – but wrestling is ultimately why I watch… errm, wrestling.

Am I making the case that Smackdown! is the better alternative for fans like myself? Not necessarily. The fact is that Smackdown! doesn’t have as strong a roster as Raw does. If the cruiserweights got more focus, and certain guys got more attention then perhaps it would have, but looking at who Smackdown! regularly uses as it’s trump players in it’s big matches then they are immediately stretching certain athletes’ limitations.

What this means is that Smackdown! has an excuse for it’s failure. It promotes a more wresting-orientated product when it has fewer excellent wrestlers than Raw. Raw doesn’t have quite the get-out clause. It has outstanding wrestlers with great experience, and some very promising young wrestlers. Mix this combination together and you should make for a great broadcast. Well, it would be great if these guys were allowed to wrestle a little more. Case in point; Kurt Angle vs. Shelton Benjamin and Shelton Benjamin vs. Kurt Angle. Two matches on Raw this year that have been heavily praised and talked about because they utilised the undoubted talents on the Raw roster in a wrestling environment. I don’t care what anyone says, if you have a SUPERB match then it will definitely be talked about more than a GREAT interview. Of that I’m positive. Both of those matches were talked about more than Edge’s promo about Matt Hardy and his main event spotlight when I would class all three of those productions as “superb”.

Will Raw continue to shift it’s priorities? The likelihood is that it won’t. The fact is that this week was probably an anomaly. Indeed, I should point out that this week’s show wasn’t a good show by any stretch of the imagination. However, I appreciated the minor shift in what prioritised the broadcast. I hope this continues, because I feel they have the fire-power to hit the nail on the head more times than not. It should also be pointed out that Raw is aiming to create new stars instead of relying on some of the old guard and, once again, I think that is the right move. However, it’s finding the youngtsers who are ready and talented enough to grasp that chance that is the problem right now. I think they may be looking in the wrong place.

On the Smackdown! side of things, Burchill debuting on Velocity this week is great news, as is the re-signing of Noble and Spanky. Pairing Burchill will Regal is an excellent move, and I’d love to see the British flag make a reappearance on WWE TV so it can be thrust in some poor guy’s throat! On the Regal front, I hear Benoit will be feuding with Regal soon which will lead to a PPV match. Believe me, this is one of the best things I’ve heard this year. Regal and Benoit put on a 5 star quality match on Velocity this year, which I still regard as contender for match of the year. Give them a PPV opportunity in a 15 minute plus match and we WILL see fireworks.

So, is Smackdown!’s future a brighter one than Raw’s. Quite possibly. I truly believe that Smackdown! could really score big if they promote some of the stars we see on Velocity on to their main show. The Regals, Burhcills, Londons Spankys and Nobles should get off Velocity and head right for Smackdown!, because the potential for fantastic matches is endless and, as I have pointed out, Smackdown! is not afraid to throw it’s roster pool in to lengthy matches on it’s weekly show. While Raw is still searching for the right youngsters to fill the right spots, then Smackdown! has an opportunity to make up some ground on it’s opposition brand.

Until next time,

Mitchell L. Gadd

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