Welcome to Brand Warfare, a weekly look at the supposed “war” between Raw and Smackdown which began with the revival of the brand extension, and continues to be pushed as some sort of fight for survival on a regular basis. Even though the feud is scripted, that doesn’t mean there still can’t be legitimate winners and losers, so rather than do separate reviews for both shows, we thought we’d compare and contrast them together, across a few standardized categories, and each week, decide which brand came out on top by putting on the better show. Along the way, we’ll perform expert analysis, hand out some awards, and maybe even have a few laughs. Let’s not waste any more time, and take a look at what Raw and Smackdown Live had to offer us this week!
Opening Segment – Raw
Raw opened with one of its strongest acts, sending Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens out to complain about Hell in a Cell and add people to Jericho’s list, as well as continue to subtly imply that Jericho would be very interested in winning the Universal Title if the opportunity were to arise, which we all know will inevitably destroy this beautiful friendship forever. Seth Rollins shows up to rebut and christen Jericho “Sparklecrotch”, which isn’t incredibly clever or anything, but earns a chant because as The Rock knows, you can get the fans to chant anything if you repeat it with enough energy. This transitions into another match between Rollins and Jericho, which absolutely nobody should have a problem with. If nothing else, Raw started off on the right foot with a good promo and a great match to kick things off.
Opening Segment – Smackdown
Smackdown, on the other hand, started the show with the continuing adventures of Randy Orton, who suddenly has a losing streak against Bray Wyatt and might be going crazy (well, crazier) as a result. This week, Wyatt begins teasing an eventual Casket Match, which would certainly be an interesting idea to throw out there for a Survivor Series match, but which also draws the ire of Kane, possibly claiming gimmick infringement on behalf of his brother. In between Wyatt’s usual creepy promo and Kane’s appearance, we get a decent match between Orton and Luke Harper, which is the usual Orton TV match until Wyatt comes to ringside with the casket and sends us to a chaotic and energetic finish. While we still expect Wyatt to lose in the end, the last week has at least made him look halfway competent again, and the entire segment worked, but wasn’t nearly as entertaining as what Raw offered to kick off their show.
Low Point – Raw
Dana Brooke continued to show why she should not have been called up from NXT and should probably be sent back there as soon as humanly possible, until her wrestling skills match her personality. This week, Dana managed to spectacularly blow another finish, this time in her match against Bayley, entirely failing to position herself so she could put her feet on the ropes in order to explain how she managed to pin Bayley with a transition move, and in fact obviously flailing her legs when she realized she was too far away. Any time that the announce team sits in stunned silence because they just can’t figure out how they’re going to explain this in a way that makes sense, somebody messed up huge, and in an occurrence that’s happening far too often, this week it was once again Dana’s fault.
Low Point – Smackdown
The ladies were not bringing the good stuff on either brand this week, as a dueling promo between Carmella and Nikki Bella was the kind of disaster we’d thought we left behind with the era of the Divas. This segment hit all the lowlights: a woman being accused of sleeping her way to the top, bringing material from Total Bellas onto regular WWE programming despite the show being taped months ago, awkward cattiness, Nikki Bella unironically claiming to be the centerpiece of the new era of women’s wrestling, and a segment that lasted far too long, actually went nowhere, and only ended when Carmella simply decided she was done, dropped the mic, and walked away. Not everyone can cut a killer promo, but when neither person in the ring is particularly strong at it, they probably shouldn’t be given as much time as these two were.
Have Some Squash!
It was a rough night for jobbers on Raw, as Braun Strowman effortlessly crushed three local boys at once, including an impressive spot where he launched one member of the Mile High Trio halfway up the entrance ramp from the ring. In addition, Neville continues to not be a part of the Cruiserweight division because apparently WWE thinks he’s better used in a two-minute job to Bo Dallas, and The Club continues to get absolutely buried for no discernible reason as Karl Anderson got even less offense than Strowman’s opponents while facing Big Cass. The announce team even pointed out how easily Cass had dismantled Anderson! Meanwhile, over on Smackdown, Jack Swagger got treated like little more than enhancement talent by Baron Corbin, who absolutely destroyed the Real American and barely broke a sweat while doing so. It looks like the first talent jump in the brand extension is turning out to be a pretty weak signing for the blue brand. On the bright side, despite never really having a chance, James Ellsworth was an inspiration to jobbers everywhere as he wrestled for the WWE World Heavyweight Title and even got a two-count on AJ Styles with a pretty darned good-looking Superkick!
Authority Figure Watch
Raw continues to over-use both its GM and Commissioner in situations that probably don’t warrant it, such as Stephanie McMahon showing up just to yell at Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho like she was lecturing a couple of wayward children, forcing them to avert their gaze in her awesome presence. The situation didn’t need any outside involvement at all, as Owens and Jericho were doing just fine showing tension between them without having Stephanie spell it out for everyone, and make sure she was the dominant figure when all was said and done. Following it up with a fluff segment where she talked with Foley about Survivor Series and set up next week’s main event was equally useless, as nobody has believed for a single second that Stephanie doesn’t have ulterior motives that will end with Foley humiliated and out of a job. Sharks gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Stephanie’s gotta have evil intentions. Compare this to Smackdown, where Shane was only present as the unheard half of a phone conversation, and Bryan showed up for a segment to patiently listen to Natalya quote Whitney Houston and show off cat photos, before denying Dean Ambrose his request to be the referee for the main event, but still allowing him to be at ringside. And yet, shockingly, Smackdown still managed to have a show without the GM making all the decisions on-screen!
The Main Event – Raw
After heavily promoting his return all night, the main event of Raw was, obviously, Goldberg, stepping foot into a WWE ring for the first time in twelve years and delivering the longest promo of his entire career. We could quibble about how it might have dragged on a little long, but by and large the promo actually worked to establish Goldberg as a heroic figure, a guy who knows he should probably stay retired but wants one more chance to show the world, and his son, exactly why he used to be one of the biggest stars in the world. After his contentious first run in WWE, it was legitimately shocking to see how easily the fans, many of whom probably weren’t even watching wrestling twelve years ago, took to Goldberg, to the point that it seemed to actually surprise the man himself. Goldberg spent his career with a reputation of only being interested in the money, but on Monday night, it was clear that on some level, he actually did care about performing for fans.
The Main Event – Smackdown
Smackdown’s main event was heavily promoted as well, and even though absolutely nobody thought James Ellsworth had any chance of walking away as WWE World Champion, and indeed, he got squashed like the good little jobber he is, but the entertainment value of the match was off the charts. Ambrose’s ringside mindgames with AJ Styles were on point, and Styles sold his frustration incredibly well, until he believably snapped after failing to put away Ellsworth for far longer than it should have taken, and earned himself a DQ as a result. The best part was that, even though it was literally an extended squash, the fans were into the sheer spectacle of the matchup from the beginning, and the moment when Ellsworth hit that Superkick out of nowhere actually got people out of their seats. Deep down, everyone knew there was no chance Ellsworth would get a pin, but in that second, WWE made us believe that it might be possible.
Promo Of The Week
There weren’t a lot of standout moments promo-wise this week, with gems like Carmella and Nikki Bella fighting over John Cena and Stephanie dominating two of her main event stars, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about Rusev killing it with another promo in which, if you squint your eyes a little, you could easily believe that he’s the actual good guy in the feud. Well, right up until he throws his family under the bus when he thinks he’s been disrespected, of course. Watching Rusev wax poetic about his strong, championship-caliber family was simply fascinating (and as a follow-up that he posted on social media, apparently Rusev’s mother was in labor delivering him for three days, as he was a 15-pound baby, making her the real strongest person in that family), and we just wanted to keep being introduced to more and more members. Rusev really doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the most entertaining acts in WWE, and if his country of origin hadn’t made it far simpler for WWE Creative to make him a stereotypical foreign heel, he’d probably be the biggest babyface on Raw by now. In fact, he might still be.
Match Of The Week
As mentioned, Raw was a bevy of short matches, outside of a pretty good opener between Seth Rollins and Chris Jericho that saw Rollins continue to unleash his crowd-popping babyface offense. It was fine, as you’d expect from a match involving two of the better ring generals in WWE right now, but also the same match that closed the show last week and one we have seen multiple times in recent weeks, so it lacked a certain freshness, even though it did add a new wrinkle to Jericho and Owens’ relationship. Over on the other side, Smackdown had its share of decent matches that were obviously shorter due to having less time to work with, and while from a technical perspective Randy Orton vs Luke Harper was probably the best-worked match of the evening with a screwy but chaotically fun finish, what kind of people would we be if we didn’t give the Match of the Week award to the well-built and tightly scripted in-ring dramedy that was AJ Styles vs James Ellsworth for the WWE World Title?
Wrestler Of The Week
We’re tempted to go back to Smackdown and give the award to Ellsworth, who we might never see again and certainly did his job with aplomb, but in the end, this category has to go to Chris Jericho, who has gone so far into awesome heel territory that he’s almost come full circle back to being a face, and by the way he’s delivering his lines lately, you can tell that he knows it too. Plus, as we said, he had another good match with Seth Rollins in the bargain, and the moment when he nearly called his best friend a “stupid idiot” before quickly backtracking was the sort of veteran move we’ve come to expect from Y2J. It will be too bad (although obviously not unexpected) when Jericho and Owens go their separate ways, but when Jericho finally does add the Universal Champion to his list should be huge, and a large part of that is thanks to the great work being done by Jericho on a regular basis.
It’s a tighter race than we would have thought in this first week of Brand Warfare, as Raw opened and closed strong, especially the main event, which pretty much singlehandedly carried the show to the best ratings since football returned thanks to a strong return from Goldberg. However, the show also had a mostly forgettable middle portion, and the Lita interviews continued to expose how WWE is floundering to book their women outside of having them put on good matches. At some point, Sasha and Charlotte need to stop being so happy about making history and get emotional about how much they don’t like each other. Meanwhile, half the roster continues to tread water, and while we’re sure Sami Zayn will bump like a madman for Braun Strowman, and it’s nice to see Neville on TV at all, isn’t there something better they could be doing?
Over on Smackdown, we didn’t get a blow-away show, but the main event definitely delivered. Plus, Alexa Bliss got some actual in-ring time to show off what she can do, Baron Corbin actually took real steps towards looking like a threat instead of a guy floating around aimlessly, Curt Hawkins continues to play his gimmick to the hilt in a way that will make it an absolute delight when someone finally rips his head off in a match, and overall, the show continues to put people into a position to succeed. To put it another way, on Raw, although they’re slowly making progress with a few of them, they continue to struggle with getting the best cruiserweights in the world over, which should be relatively simple. Meanwhile, on Smackdown, they managed to take an actual jobber, make him a fan favorite who got a once-in-a-lifetime chance to wrestle for the WWE World Title against AJ Styles in the main event, and got the entire audience on board for the ride. It’s things like that which is why Smackdown is considered a better show, and this week, even though Goldberg made it close, the blue brand showed their overall superiority.