WWE Brand Extension: Could We Be Seeing The End As We Move Into 2011?
The WWE Brand Extension, as it is known, has been a staple in WWE since March 18th 2002. The idea behind the Brand Extension was to compensate for the overabundance over talent that WWE had following the purchase of competitors WCW and ECW. As most of us can remember there was an Invasion storyline that took place in the months following the purchase. At first this was successful in giving the extra talent roles in the company and on screen time. However as time went on and the storyline steadily drew to an end much of the talent found its self with no place in the company. Then Linda McMahon announced the Brand Extension, which would split the roster into 2 brands; Raw and Smackdown! Both of which were previously shows on WWE television. This would in theory allow all superstars to have some screen time and opportunities at championships within the company.
The entire roster was divided and for the most part was very evenly distributed. Only a few problems were evident. Firstly there was only 1 World Title in the company, it was made up of both the WWE and the WCW Heavyweight titles. Originally the plan was to have superstars from both brands eligible to compete for the top title. However as time went on it became clear that this left many superstars with no title to compete for. Then in September 2002 the World Heavyweight title was made and became RAW exclusive. This move sorted this problem as it allowed Wrestlers of both brands to have equal chance at the top prize. Secondly there was only one tag title and other belts that were division defined floating around the WWE. This problem was soon fixed however as WWE introduced two sets of tag team belts; one for RAW and one for Smackdown! They also revived the old WCW US title, re-naming it the WWE US title and placed it on SD! as a parallel to RAW's Intercontinental title. On top of this WWE got rid of the original plan to allow the Women's Championship to be contested over both brands and made it RAW exclusive while having the Cruiserweight Division compete over on Smackdown!
Once the dust had settled both brands had a World title, a secondary title, a set of tag team titles and what I would describe as Niche titles. This allowed both brands to have their own reason for viewers to tune in and to some extent their own unique product. On top of this PPV's were made Brand Exclusive e.g. Backlash RAW and Judgement Day Smackdown!
This formula was very effective and it really allowed WWE to showcase all it's talent, as a pose to what seems to happening in TNA now where only the top stars get screen time. We had some great moments from both brands in the years since 2002. Such as the domination of Evolution and the eventual spin-off and growth of such huge stars in the form of Randy Orton and Batista and over on SD! we had moments such as Eddie Guerrero capturing the WWE title from an unstoppable Brock Lesnar.
However in 2006 following the second One Night Stand a third brand was created. ECW. This can only be described as a great idea gone horribly wrong. But being as it no longer exists I don't want to spend time writing about what a waste of space it became after a year or two. Due to this however WWE removed the brand exclusive PPV's and brought in the Tri and late Dual-Branded PPV formula that was previously used in the years before 2002. This was in my eyes the beginning of the end for the brand extension.
Soon after this I took a break from watching wrestling for around 2 years up until January of this year. I know I missed out on some big moments and in a lot of ways I regret it now. However because of this I can now see what dramatic changes have happened over the past few years. Where as before if a Smackdown! superstar appeared on RAW it was amazing and a very rare event, now it is a common occurrence that is in most parts expected. The unification of the tag titles also shocked me as that now allows superstars to jump brands and compete. Not to mention the seemingly larger importance of RAW than Smackdown that wasn't there a few years ago.
With current rumors suggesting that titles across both brands will soon be unified to create a nostalgic pre-2002 WWE formula, one can only ask where does this leave the separate brands? Will superstars not competing for titles be the only people to remain brand exclusive? Or will we once again see a WWE in which one roster appears over two shows? The answer remains to be seen.
To add to this you have to ask yourselves, is the original problem that created the Brand Extension any longer in need of a solution? There are pretty much no superstars left from the purchase of WCW and ECW anyway and it now seems as if WWE is bringing in talent just to fill in the gaps left by these departed athletes.
So all in all it seems clear that there are going to be some major changes in WWE in the near future. Whether that comes in the form of a roster unification and the end of the brand extension who knows? However I have to say it does seem likely and the most logical thing to do from the point of view of the WWE. I mean what is the real point of Unifying all the titles if you are still going to have exclusive rosters, it would just recreate the original problem of not enough championships for superstars to fight for and thus less screen time for smaller stars.
In my opinion these are the last days of the Brand Extension, a formula which has lasted through three era's in WWE. That said I want to know what you all think the future for RAW and Smackdown hold and your opinions on the current way WWE seems to be headed. Look forward to hearing from you and any constructive criticism is welcomed as this is my first article.
Thank you for reading.
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