Everything That’s Right About WWE SmackDown and What’s Wrong with Raw
Wrestling fans have more options than ever before and that's a good thing because WWE's flagship series, Raw, has been difficult to watch for the last few months.
It's hard to understand how the same company can give us superior shows on Wednesdays and Fridays; SmackDown is consistently fun to watch even with some similar flaws, and one has to wonder why that is.
In 2002, Paul Heyman and the SmackDown Six proved the blue brand can deliver compelling television, and it has had a strong history since the advent of the brand split.
Similarly, the series excelled after WWE re-implemented the extension in 2016 with AJ Styles as The Face That Runs the Place. SmackDown struggled after the move to Fox, but the return of Roman Reigns has made it a must-see event again.
Raw, on the other hand, was treading water heading into WrestleMania 37 season, and the boost of excitement following The Showcase of Immortal hasn't helped much at all.
So, what exactly is WWE doing right on Friday nights, and what's wrong with the red brand? Let's take a look.
Too Much Filler
Raw simply doesn't make good use of its three-hour runtime. Many of its slapdash and meaningless segments often make the show a slog to get through, while SmackDown is much more concise.
Frankly, too many things happen on the flagship series feel inconsequential because viewers don't get an adequate payoff. Instead, it seems like WWE is just attempting to fill time between matches and significant matches.
Sometimes, the sum of its parts makes for a greater whole, but it doesn't work when there is so much filler and the angles we're supposed to invest in miss the mark.
WWE has also developed a bad habit of ending most of its matches tied to an ongoing storyline with a disqualification or some other type of non-finish. This isn't a new storytelling tactic by any means, but there's a clear overreliance on decompression.
Slowly ladling out the plot developments isn't necessarily a bad thing if it's done well and the eventual conclusion is rewarding. But it frequently makes it easy to skip the weekly show and just watch the pay-per-views because you're not missing much.
Devoting three hours to something when a large chunk of it won't mean anything the following week is deflating. If fans believe they're wasting their time, they will just watch something else and catch up on YouTube or Hulu if they need to.
Too Many Repeated Matchups
That brings us to our next point: There are way too many repeated matches on Raw. The Monday night show isn't the only offender when it comes to this but it's easily the worst.
Sometimes, it seems like we're watching a rerun of WWE's flagship series because the company will rebook the same bouts on back-to-back episodes. As stated earlier, the overabundance of non-finishes ensures many opponents will run it back the next week, which often happens even if there was a definitive outcome.
No one wants to keep watching the same chain of events several times, especially when it seems like it won't amount to anything. Wins and losses don't appear to matter because someone can lose and come right back out to challenge the same opponent seven days later as if nothing happened. Again, it makes for hours of television that feel largely insignificant.
Furthermore, PPV contests used to come off as a special attraction because the wrestlers wouldn't face each other in the ring until the event. For example, Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair benefited because they didn't go one-on-one until WrestleMania 37.
This overexposure also makes it easy to get tired of someone WWE wants us to get behind. The current roster has too much depth to rely on the same pairings and conclusions week in and week out. That's why Raw appears stale sometimes.
The Women’s Segments
WWE has done the Raw women's division a real disservice for months, and the segments surrounding this talented group of Superstars have become all but unwatchable. It's certainly a far cry from the episodes featuring Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey or even Alexa Bliss.
Lynch carried the division for the better part of a year, and her year-long absence has played a part in the red brand's decline. But the company has done a poor job building anyone into a suitable replacement since The Man went on maternity leave.
Asuka should've been an excellent successor as Raw women's champion, but she never made it out of Lynch's shadow because her character didn't grow. WWE never gave her meaningful storylines or even a defining win. Even worse, none of her challengers ever felt like they were on her level or in a position to develop into a legitimate threat.
Lynch was a great champion because she had the star power to be the face of the division, but she was also able to elevate her competition. The Empress of Tomorrow never got the same opportunity to blossom in the role, and the rest of the show suffered because of it. So, Rhea Ripley's predictable win over her at WrestleMania put her at the foot of an uphill battle to restore relevance to the division and its top prize.
The SmackDown women's segments aren't that much better right now in terms of match time and screen time. However, Sasha Banks and Bayley's feud was more compelling than any rivalry featuring women on Raw. As such, The Boss had a more impactful win and title reign when she finally defeated her longtime friend and partner. In addition, Bianca Belair's rise to dethrone her was a feel-good moment.
To further illustrate the stark difference between the two brands, look no further than the women's tag team division. Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler have held the titles too long, but their feud with Natalya and Tamina is interesting because it's not based around something as inane as Jax slipping and falling.
Raw Needs Genuine Crowd Reactions
Professional wrestling needs reactions from a live audience. It just doesn't work without that, and the piped-in crowd noise in the ThunderDome has become a crutch for WWE.
The pandemic era has been difficult for every company, but WWE has weathered the storm better than most because of its unmatched production value. Honestly, empty arenas have improved Raw and SmackDown in some ways because viewers can hear the banter between wrestlers, and uninterrupted promos are much more thrilling.
However, the lack of genuine feedback from fans in the arenas has also hurt Raw more than any of the company's other brands.
It's hard to tell which acts are popular and which aren't getting a reaction at all. That matters because WWE may have abandoned Retribution sooner if it had direct proof it wasn't working. Conversely, The Hurt Business may not have split up if it didn't have to have to rely on the response from fans online, which is harder to truly gauge, as a metric.
WWE needs to know what's failing with its fanbase and what's actually getting over. Without the reception from a live crowd, it is having a difficult time determining what to devote screen time to on a weekly basis.
The Lack of an Engaging Top Star
The biggest problem with Raw right now is that it doesn't have a top star like Roman Reigns to rally behind.
The Tribal Chief has almost single-handedly saved SmackDown, and it has a host of prolific personalities like Big E, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn to fill the other segments. Sasha Banks also established herself as a consistent draw last summer. The red brand doesn't have anyone as captivating as Reigns or The Boss at the moment.
Raw was at its best in recent years with the threat of Brock Lesnar looming and Seth Rollins' incredible matches as a phenomenal workhorse champion. Monday Night Rollins was a high point for the brand, and the show hasn't captured that same magic since. To tell the truth, Becky Lynch's hiatus has had the same effect.
Bobby Lashley fits the bill as a strong heel flag-bearer for the brand, but he desperately needs a better foil or a charismatic secondary titleholder to reinvigorate the midcard. Maybe, Daniel Bryan will join Raw, the initial birthplace of the Yes! Movement, following his loss to Reigns on Friday. The brand could definitely use an affable babyface like him to elevate the world title scene.
There are other options such as AJ Styles or Kofi Kingston. This could also be the perfect time for Finn Balor to return to Monday nights. Nevertheless, WWE needs to reshuffle the deck sooner rather than later.