Guest Column: The Lost Main Event Generation (or How WWE Ignoring the Brand Split Led to AEW)

Note from John Canton: This is a guest column from Zander Rodriguez. It was sent to us by Zander after he inquired about writing a column, I told him to check out our Contact Us page that has simple instructions on how to send in a sample column. Here’s Zander.


“The only reason you were WWE Champion for a year, is because Triple H didn’t want to work Tuesdays!”

That quote was said by Paul Heyman to JBL at ECW One Night Stand 2005. It’s a pretty great burn, but if you think about it, in hand with a strong belief of the butterfly effect, the idea of “working Tuesdays” and the stark separation of two world titles in WWE, could’ve prevented WWE from having their biggest domestic competitor in 18 years, and created new stars in the process.

Up until very recently, Monday Night Raw was the A-show and was always the A-show. Why is that? There are two main reasons, it’s their flagship show, being “the longest-running weekly episodic program in the U.S.™”, and it’s broadcast live ninety percent of the time. SmackDown was always the B-show with some other show like ECW, an incarnation of NXT, or god forbid, Main Event or Superstars, holding the C-show spot. Mainly because it was newer, and was pre-taped most of the time. So, it was given less attention, and the bigger stars were almost always on Raw. The first brand split was put in place in 2002, with two main World Titles being in play later that year, usually one per brand from there on out.

During the time of the brand split, World Champions weren’t always people you would immediately think of as main eventers. People like Booker T with an English king gimmick, a repackaged Bradshaw, and Jack Swagger for some reason all got a run with the World Title on Smackdown during the brand split. When there were two World Championships, a World Title reign could be used on a wrestler who WWE weren’t quite ready to make into a true main event star, like Daniel Bryan, or to give a veteran the marks on their resume that they deserve, like Christian, among other reasons. People often forget that two of WWE’s most recent crossover stars, Batista and John Cena, were both World Champion at the same time throughout most of 2005. Thinking about it with the benefit of hindsight, that’s an incredible fact. It also shows the benefit that they can market and push two major stars as the “face” of a brand at once.

In late 2011, with the “Raw Supershow”, Raw and Smackdown wrestlers could freely appear on each other’s shows and cross boundaries freely. This meant that the champions of each brand could wrestle on both shows, muddying the lines of who was the “A-champion”. But when the WWE Championship is being contested between The Rock and CM Punk, and the big gold belt is being fought over by Big Show and Alberto Del Rio, it’s pretty easy to tell which belt WWE cares about more. Very soon after that, in December of 2013, both World Titles were unified into one, and Smackdown was somehow given even less attention.

In the era of one world champion, very few new or surprising champions were chosen, in fact, the only people who won the world title for the first time during the two and a half years of one world champion were the three members of The Shield; Rollins, Reigns, then Ambrose.

Cody Rhodes, love him or hate him, has changed the wrestling industry. We can only hope that this turns out as it did in the Monday Night Wars, with each company pushing the other to put out as great a product as possible. Minus the part where one company dies forever and is bought by the other and humiliated at every opportunity.

People like Cody Rhodes seemed perfectly poised to become future World Champions. At their WWE peak, he was incredibly over and held several titles throughout his WWE career. When the titles were unified and the brand split was over, the chances of Cody winning a World Title and being the one face of WWE, even briefly, seemed very unlikely.

At the time of his release from WWE, Cody Rhodes was stagnating as Stardust in singles competition, with seemingly a very low ceiling. It seemed like he knew he couldn’t make it to the top as Stardust, and maybe couldn’t even make it to the top as Cody Rhodes, as long as there was only one world champion to represent the company. After his release, he went on an indie tour, settled up in Impact Wrestling, ROH and NJPW in Bullet Club, ran All In, and the rest is history. But if he had had a run with the World Championship, there’s a fair chance he would’ve stayed. And without a pronounced singles star like Cody Rhodes to help create a new wrestling promotion, AEW as we know it likely would not exist.

Kofi Kington and maybe The Miz seem to be the only people of their WWE generation to achieve World Champion status, but even then, it was done during a brand split, when there were two World Champions. When the titles were unified, and the brand split was over, the chances of a mid-carder making to the main event out of nowhere and a new star being made drastically went down. We can see proof of this happening in Jinder Mahal’s sudden surge to the top of the card, which definitely would not have happened during a time when there was only one World Champion. To be fair, it was awful, and I would’ve taken one world champion over him and someone else.

There are many benefits to having two World Champions in the WWE, with being able to promote two world champions at once, it makes sense with a roster that runs that deep with talent. It seems like WWE has learned from there mistake by reinstating the brand split, but when things like the Wildcard Rule are put in place, you never know what could happen.