WWE Raw vs. SmackDown: Winner, Top Highlights and Botches for Week of March 30
In the most important week in the battle for brand supremacy yet, both Raw and SmackDown Live delivered broadcasts that sold their respective contributions to the WrestleMania 33 card this Sunday night to the masses.
Raw hit hard with segments devoted to Seth Rollins vs. Triple H, Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens, Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker. SmackDown Live countered with a contract signing for Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles, Mixed Tag Team Match hype and a supernatural warning from Randy Orton to Bray Wyatt.
Which brand was able to claim victory, though, and which one suffered an unforgivable botch that cost it a certain victory?
The answer lies within.
Just days before WrestleMania, relive the week that was in WWE programming and decide for yourself which brand delivered the best product on the road to The Showcase of the Immortals.
The Road to WrestleMania has seen Raw dominate SmackDown Live in the weekly battle for brand supremacy, thanks in large part to the sense of urgency with which it approached every episode.
While that sense of urgency may not have been as prominent as it was in previous weeks, Raw still did a fine job of setting up the majority of its portion of the WrestleMania card.
The hold-harmless contract signing between Seth Rollins and Triple H was phenomenal. Rollins delivered his finest performance as a babyface to date, and in the process, he intensified the emotion surrounding his impending showdown with The Game.
Roman Reigns was defiant in the face of mind games and parlor tricks, unfazed by The Undertaker's last opportunity to leave a lasting impression before they take to the squared circle in Orlando, Florida. He was unfazed by the mystical powers The Deadman apparently possessed. That fearlessness created intrigue for Sunday's match, which might be the hottest on the entire card.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson obliterated Sheamus, Cesaro, Enzo Amore and Big Cass with a ladder, setting up a special gimmick bout for the Raw Tag Team Championships at The Showcase of the Immortals.
Nia Jax stood tall, establishing dominance ahead of her first WrestleMania appearance, laying out Bayley, Charlotte and Sasha Banks and admiring the Raw Women's Championship.
Every segment on Monday's show was responsible for selling WrestleMania to the masses. Time will tell if it was effective or not, but the brand's writing staff certainly put it in a position to succeed.
Like its competition, SmackDown Live turned its attention toward presenting the final hype for many of its WrestleMania matches.
Randy Orton sent a terrifying message to WWE champion Bray Wyatt, driving a stake in the ashes of Sister Abigail to close out the show. This came moments after The Reaper of Souls picked up some momentum for himself courtesy of a victory over Luke Harper.
John Cena and Nikki Bella added to the intensely personal nature of their rivalry with The Miz and Maryse, as the franchise star of the WWE Cena unloaded on Miz with a scathing semi-shoot promo that served as the babyfaces' response to weeks of humiliation and disrespect at the hands of the heels.
AJ Styles, in one of the finest mic performances of his WWE career to this point, reminded Shane McMahon that he will not be able to hide behind tables or chairs when they meet Sunday at WrestleMania, as their match is a straight singles match.
That fact had not been explored or announced to that point, so allowing Styles to smarmily and condescendingly remind McMahon was a great way to enhance The Phenomenal One's heel persona and sell the story of the match.
Naomi made a surprising return, laying out the villains of the SmackDown women's division and announcing her entry into the SmackDown Women's Championship match.
Even the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal received attention in the form of a big 10-Man Tag Team match that featured Heath Slater, Rhyno, American Alpha and Mojo Rawley defeating Dolph Ziggler, Breezango and The Usos.
A show with less time than Raw to accomplish all it had to, SmackDown utilized its two hours admirably, and the result was a sprint of a show that never overstayed its welcome and adequately promoted what it needed to.
Usually, we look at one major botch from the week that was on WWE programming, but this week, each brand committed botches that deserve recognition just days before WrestleMania 33.
Raw's marquee contribution to Sunday's card is the Universal Championship match between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar. It is a contest that features two industry icons and one of the stronger backstories on the entire card.
Yet, the final segment of television devoted to the feud Monday night was so lackluster and weak it left fans unsatisfied and unexcited for Sunday's titanic clash.
After a fantastic promo from Paul Heyman, Goldberg flattened Lesnar with a spear at ringside and stood tall to close out the show. There was no big brawl, no red-hot angle or even a tug-o-war over the championship. Like so many of Goldberg's matches during this latest run, it was one move and a celebration.
That does nothing to heighten expectations for Sunday's match or increase anticipation for it. After all, fans have already witnessed Goldberg run Lesnar over on two other occasions, so why should they be eager to see it again?
SmackDown's error was on a smaller scale but equally as puzzling.
Sunday night, Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin square off for The Lunatic Fringe's Intercontinental Championship.
You would not know that by watching SmackDown Live Tuesday night as the feud was not represented on the broadcast at all. In fact, if you wanted to know the opinions of either man ahead of Sunday's title bout, you had to tune into WWE Network's Talking Smack show.
Is it a sound marketing ploy to get fans to watch WWE Network for exclusive content? Absolutely, but to deny fans the latest chapter in a feud that has been unfolding on SmackDown Live every week for the last month is a mistake.
If Ambrose vs. Corbin did not already feel like one of the weaker matches on the WrestleMania card, it does now.
Winner: SmackDown Live
Both Raw and SmackDown did a fine job of wrapping up the feuds it will present to fans Sunday at WrestleMania 33. The prominent stars were front and center, top rivalries were featured and excitement for the upcoming extravaganza was heightened.
In most cases, that is.
SmackDown Live wins this week, though, because it did a better job of presenting its top contributions to Sunday's card than Raw did.
Sure, Raw featured the strong Rollins-Triple H segment, but the Reigns-Undertaker showdown was not better than Styles' verbal confrontation with Shane McMahon.
The main event segment involving Goldberg and Brock Lesnar paled in comparison to a so-so angle featuring Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt, though, and it too often felt like the flagship show was in cruise control ahead of the biggest event of the year.
That will lose any show the battle for brand supremacy this close to The Showcase of the Immortals.