Brand Warfare: It’s All About Second Chances

Welcome back to Brand Warfare, where we compare this week’s episodes of Raw and Smackdown and try to determine who is actually winning the brand extension by putting on better shows. This week, there was a certain sense of repetition on both brands, with Goldberg making his second appearance on Raw, Dean Ambrose getting a second (and final) opportunity to beat AJ Styles, James Ellsworth begging for a second chance to prove he can help, and all sorts of rematches from Hell in a Cell. We didn’t say they were all good things. So, who emerged victorious as we start the road to Survivor Series? Let’s go in for a closer look…

Opening Segment – Raw

Raw decided to open strong with the second appearance of Goldberg, this time with interruptions by Paul Heyman, followed by Rusev (because obviously, Brock Lesnar wasn’t there). We saw someone point out that Rusev is currently in the perfectly solid position of “disposable heel”, which means that he can be the guy who loses a bunch to top guys, but then spends a couple months squashing lower card wrestlers to build him back up as a monster, and people buy it because he’s really good at playing that role. Sure, it sucks that he’s not dominating the main event, but there’s something to be said for job security, and knowing the company trusts you to go out there and make a retired 49-year-old guy who hasn’t been in the ring in years look good. Clearly, Goldberg was a little over-amped, leading to a slip that was deftly edited out of replays, but it was the right segment to hype people up for the eventual Lesnar-Goldberg match, showing that Goldberg can still deliver the Jackhammer and the Spear when he wants. And of course, Heyman played the crowd like a fiddle, because this time he wasn’t trying to get Lesnar’s hometown crowd to boo him, the wrestling equivalent of attempting to sell ice to the Inuit. Momentary slip aside, this was a great opening to Raw to help sell their marquee Survivor Series match.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/raw/2016-10-31#fid-40059687 Source: WWE.com

Opening Segment – Smackdown

Meanwhile, Smackdown featured the extensive and effusive apology of James Ellsworth, which momentarily reminded (and saddened) the audience that he doesn’t actually work there, and as such, assumed that this was his only chance to make things right with Dean Ambrose. Dean, for his part, did accept the apology, but also walked the line between “crazy loner” and “bad friend” a little tightly (also, his beard is really weirding us out for some reason), and it’s reached a point where we fully expect Ellsworth to turn on him at some point. Furthering that theory, AJ Styles showed up to point out that Ambrose has actually been using Ellsworth this entire time, just to get another shot at the World Title. He’s correct, of course, but he’s also a jerk (and telling the crowd “I know who I am, shut up and let me talk” is a perfect example of how smart wrestlers can control crowd reactions), and Ellsworth might be the most sympathetic, human character in WWE right now. Even at the end, when things threaten to break down into a brawl, he tries to separate Styles and Ambrose, because all he wanted to do was apologize and make peace, not cause more trouble. Ellsworth is getting his once-in-a-lifetime shot to be someone, and he is playing it to the hilt, and we can’t help but enjoy watching what he does.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/smackdown/2016-11-01/gallery/james-ellsworth-apology-dean-ambrose-photos#fid-40060080 Source: WWE.com

Low Point – Raw

It’s actually hard to pick a low point for Raw, because the show kind of surfed along on a steady wave of mediocrity for the full three hours, but if we had to choose, we’re going to go with this weird insistence of WWE to continue and run out the Cruiserweight division in a series of interchangeable six-man tag matches. We’re sure their argument is that they’re maximizing the exposure of the Cruiserweight roster by putting a bunch of them out there at once, but the problem is, they’re not really creating any characters for the wrestlers, they’re just throwing them out there every week and hoping the fans will cheer for the ring work. Except they also handcuffed the wrestlers compared to what they were doing in the CWC, and when you’ve got Seth Rollins doing suicide dives in the main event, even smaller guys doing variations on the same stuff that the rest of the roster is doing isn’t a way to make them look unique. The fact of the matter is, wrestlers are smaller than they were during the Monday Night Wars, when there was an obvious difference between a cruiserweight and a heavyweight, and the styles they could each work. The majority of wrestlers on the WWE roster these days are well-rounded performers that weigh closer to 225 than 300, which almost eliminates the need for a completely segregated division in the first place. The bottom line is, WWE hasn’t committed to actually building an interesting division, they’re hoping that it will just organically catch fire like the CWC did, when it’s clear that they’re actually going to have to do some work.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/raw/2016-10-31/gallery/rich-swann-cedric-alexander-lince-dorado-vs-tony-nese-drew-gulak-ariya-daivari-photos#fid-40059754 Source: WWE.com

Low Point – Smackdown

It’s not so much a low point as a series of question marks, but what has Baron Corbin done to earn a prime spot on Smackdown’s Survivor Series team? Has he even been on TV in the last month? We’re pretty sure they ran that vignette shortly before the announcement just so people would remember he’s on the roster. Obviously, his inclusion is the result of Smackdown having a thinner roster, which was made worse when it was revealed that John Cena wouldn’t be available for Survivor Series, and still needing to contribute a couple of non-Survivor Series Elimination matches to the card, which tied up Dolph Ziggler. Once the Miz was eliminated from contention, the choices are actually kind of limited. That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to sit here and question the decision, but we can also recognize that Smackdown didn’t have many options, and if it means they might actually follow through on Corbin’s continual “start-and-stop” push, then we’ll give it a chance. We still don’t like him, though.

http://wrestlingrumors.net/baron-corbin-wins-andre-the-giant-memorial-battle-royal/ SourcE: wrestlingrumors.net

Midcard Madness

Raw basically shoved its entire midcard in a Battle Royal to feed to Braun Strowman, because like Baron Corbin, he’s the best of a bunch of bad choices once you eliminate Sami Zayn. Now, we wouldn’t have eliminated Sami Zayn, but we’re not writing the show, and it is time to actually do something with Strowman anyway. At any rate, if you’re like us, you looked at the other participants in that match and realized just how many wrestlers on Raw are getting wasted on a weekly basis, while Smackdown has to put everyone they have, plus guest appearances from The Spirit Squad, just to have a full show. Hopefully the rumors of the prize for winning at Survivor Series involving being able to draft Superstars from the losing brand, because you could pretty much lop off four or five Superstars from Raw’s midcard that would never be missed on Monday nights, but who could probably get a fresh start and make decent contributions on the blue brand. Speaking of which, Smackdown kept its midcard busy by having qualifying matches for their tag teams (here’s some surprising news, Smackdown somehow has enough tag teams to that they can run qualifying matches to get down to 5, even if it means bringing in The Headbangers for another cup of coffee), furthering the Orton-Wyatt storyline, and having Miz and Daniel Bryan snipe at each other for twenty minutes, all of which kept the show running smoothly and the crowd engaged.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/raw/2016-10-31/gallery/battle-royal-to-earn-spot-on-raw-mens-team-at-survivor-series#fid-40059767 Source: WWE.com

Authority Figure Watch

We’re not sure how many times we can keep prefacing statement with “We love Mick Foley, but…”, however, we find ourself in that situation yet again, after Mick decided to flip a switch and go from kindly, befuddled old Legend to angry guy with PTSD who demands to be taken seriously, this time because Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho “mocked the integrity of Hell in a Cell”. The thing about Mick Foley’s angry promos is that they work, but only when he’s not delivering them on a weekly basis. Mick’s best work as an authority figure came when he would goof off ninety-five percent of the time, then ramp it up in that one shining moment when he absolutely needed to sell the importance of a match. The more WWE leans on “angry Mick”, the less we like him, and unless that’s the actual plan, it’s only hurting the product when they keep trotting him out to yell at wrestlers every week. On the bright side, Stephanie was apparently busy somewhere else this week!

Meanwhile, over on Smackdown, Daniel Bryan showed exactly why it works when you take a guy who spends the vast majority of his time being calm, cool, and collected, and then have someone finally push him to the point that he throws a chair and starts spitting fire. Bryan was actually all over this show, setting up Survivor Series teams with his usual calm rationality (although we question his belief that the women’s team will do well because Natalya gets along with Naomi and Nikki on Total Divas), until Miz poked him a little too hard. Even Shane made a rare appearance to fall for Natalya’s encylopedic knowledge of Aretha Franklin lyrics and make her a “coach”, which, arguably, plays into Smackdown’s entire motto of letting the Superstars try and do pretty much whatever they want to become stars and help the brand.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/raw/2016-10-31/gallery/unlikely-allies-unite-for-survivor-series-photos#fid-40059732 Source: WWE.com

The Main Event – Raw

Raw decided to close the show with Roman Reigns defending the United States title against Chris Jericho, which was, of course, a good match, even if it ended with a hackneyed “partner runs in for the DQ loss just before you would have lost anyway” finish. Beatings commenced, and at least Reigns didn’t fight off both Owens and Jericho by himself, waiting instead for the inevitable Seth Rollins run-in to clear the ring and tease everyone with the possibility of another Shield reunion. Frankly, Reigns shouldn’t forgive Rollins, who really hasn’t changed his stripes from the day he ended the Shield with some well-placed chairshots, and who is currently a face because he’s mad that the evil heel authority figures no longer have his back, which makes no sense when you think about it. However, it’s fairly obvious that Rollins will be the fifth man on Raw’s Survivor Series team (so obvious, in fact, that they should have just announced it as Raw ended, or on the post-show), so it’s certain that Reigns and Rollins will find themselves working together at some point in the next few weeks.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/raw/2016-10-31/gallery/roman-reigns-vs-chris-jericho-united-states-championship-match-photos#fid-40059899 Source: WWE.com

The Main Event – Smackdown

Much like Raw, Smackdown ended with the usual fine match between Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles, with Ambrose justifiably getting one last shot to become #1 Contender. After all, it wasn’t actually his fault that he got DQ’d last week, so it makes sense that the fair and rational GM of Smackdown would give him a second chance. Of course, everyone was just waiting for the run-in from James Ellsworth, especially after Smackdown spent the show ensuring that he wasn’t even in the building when the match began. To their credit, Ellsworth’s interference was done correctly and creatively, and when there’s a skinny guy being chased around the arena by a team of security guards, it actually does justify AJ Styles getting distracted and leaving an opening to get pinned. We also have to again appreciate the acting capabilities of Ellsworth, who got absolutely destroyed, dragged off by security guards, and still managed to smile at a job well done when he heard Ambrose’s music.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/smackdown/2016-11-01/gallery/dean-ambrose-aj-styles-photos#fid-40060218 Source: WWE.com

Promo of the Week

New Day dressing up as the 3 Faces of Charles Wright made it close, but we prett much have to give it up to Daniel Bryan and The Miz, who continue to leverage the fact that they know each other incredibly well and are adept at pushing buttons to get the right reaction. As we mentioned before, watching the normally quiet Bryan, who only moments earlier had been blissfully responding “Nope” to all of Miz’s attempts to figure out why he wasn’t named to the Survivor Series team, moved to actually raise his voice added incredible weight to the words he was saying. Since he became GM, we’ve seen Bryan do his best to make sure he deals with everyone fairly, keeps an even keel, and when confronted, attempt to defuse the situation rather than escalate. Well, this week he decided to go a different way, and had the crowd hanging onto his every word as he ruthlessly eviscerated Miz with carefully chosen words that also happened to be a true and correct justification for why Miz doesn’t deserve to be on Smackdown’s team for Survivor Series. Miz gets credit as well, for playing the role he was clearly meant for, especially his sudden rage when he realized that he’d been outmaneuvered by Dolph Ziggler, and wouldn’t be getting his rematch for the Intercontinental Title at Survivor Series, and perhaps ever.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/smackdown/2016-11-01/gallery/daniel-bryan-miz-tv-photos#fid-40060171 Source: WWE.com

Match of the Week

Wrestling quality was generally solid but unspectacular up and down the board for both shows, aside from Curt Hawkins’ long-promoted debut match lasting less time than it took you to read this sentence, so we’re going to give into the holiday spirit and give credit to Enzo, Big Cass, and The Club for smacking each other around with pumpkins and keeping it entertaining. We’re not entirely thrilled that Gallows and Anderson are losing comedy matches the day after attempting to re-establish themselves as a serious team that doesn’t joke around, but Anderson sold the pie to the face like a champ and followed it up with a table dive, and really, the whole thing was just good, light-hearted fun that has been seriously missing from Raw as a whole. We wouldn’t watch something like that every week, but it was a nice treat on a Halloween-themed Raw that otherwise only extended to the graphic departments and Byron Saxton’s pajamas.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/raw/2016-10-31/gallery/enzo-amore-vs-luke-gallows-trick-or-street-fight-photos#fid-40059658 Source: WWE.com

Wrestler of the Week

We don’t want to over-praise him, but we needed to find an time to thank James Ellsworth for taking his two hands and making the most of his opportunity. His run on Smackdown up to this point was a true “lightning in a bottle thing” that WWE has done right, and he has worked his butt off to justify his presence in the main event. There’s every chance he’ll end up with a contract (and he should) and the joke will inevitable get beaten into the ground, but up to this point, everything about his journey from quirky jobber to lovable underdog has been scripted absolutely perfectly, and he deserves all the good things that have happened to him.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/smackdown/2016-11-01/gallery/dean-ambrose-aj-styles-photos#fid-40060237 Source: WWE.com

Final Result

It might seem like we’ve been beating up on Raw ever since we started comparing the two weekly shows, and we have. But when you get right down to it, while Smackdown isn’t necessarily a great show by any means, it’s been a far better one than Raw, taking its relatively limited time and talent roster and playing to the strengths of both, making sure that the matches on the show, even if they aren’t twenty-minute affairs between great workers, at least have some sort of stakes to keep people invested. Meanwhile, Raw continues to misuse its time and talent, and even if it were to magically lop off the third hour of the show (which isn’t happening as long as USA is willing to pay for it), it’s questionable if the quality of what’s being presented would be any better, or just shorter. While Smackdown hasn’t necessarily created new stars, they’ve certainly allowed everyone they have to try and contribute, while Raw has leaned on established big names having marquee match-ups every week, to the point of stretching feuds with obscene amounts of rematches, without really preparing for the time when those match-ups will be played out. Goldberg’s return may have moved the ratings needle for a single week (although it’s been downhill since then), but once Survivor Series is over, what do they have to fall back on? The brand had a PPV this week featuring three Hell in a Cell matches, a gimmick which used to be a definitive feud-ender, and the next night on Raw we saw most of those feuds continue in one form or another, plus a bunch of rematches. That’s why, once again, Smackdown takes the crown for another week.

http://www.wwe.com/shows/smackdown/2016-11-01/gallery/dean-ambrose-aj-styles-photos#fid-40060236 Source: WWE.com
Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.