WWE Brand Split Breakdown: Week of 10/3/16 by Mike Holland

The wrestling week is in full swing, and that can mean only one thing: it’s time for another trip through the Brand Split Breakdown, where I review what worked and what didn’t on World Wrestling Entertainment’s two signature shows, Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live. Smackdown has very much been on a roll of late, with their one less hour seemingly tightening up the action and providing less opportunity for meaningless segments. They also had an advantage given that this was the go-home show before this weekend’s No Mercy event. Would that leverage secure the blue brand another victory? Let’s hit the clip trip and check it out.

Monday Night Raw

Overview: I’ve been begging and pleading the WWE to make the Women’s division more of a focal point, and it’s been one of the largest areas of opportunity for Monday Night Raw thus far in my view. Despite featuring some of the best talent on either roster, it’s rarely been the crux of the program. Monday fortunately changed that to the positive, promising a title match between champion Charlotte and challenger Sasha Banks that explored their lengthy shared history and turned into one hell of a contest. It felt super important because it was, and both ladies delivered in a major way that we’ll explore shortly. The rest of the show was built around setting up some Hell in a Cell encounters and finally pushing Seth Rollins as a complete and utter face rather than the lame tweener he’s been treading water with since Trips made his surprise appearance and sided with Kevin Owens. Much improved.

Best Match: It’s becoming a bit of a theme in the BSB, but building up energy for your big match is always a smart play and a way to make sure the viewing audience at home gets a bit of the same experience those in attendance get. WWE has always been fairly boss with video packages, and their decision to give Charlotte and Sasha the “big fight” treatment with a look at their previous battles dating back to NXT was both smart and effective. These two have been going at it for such a long while now that it’s easy to forget just how good the rivalry has been, and I also supported the decision to take Dana Brooke out of the equation by having her get “injured” in a backstage segment with Bayley. Make it about these two and let things play out in the ring, as it should be.

It didn’t hurt that the match itself was near perfect. Charlotte focused on the very real injuries Sasha has sustained during this feud early, playing off the storyline issues. She also nailed a corkscrew moonsault from the ring to the floor that looked impressive. She needs to hone her craft on the microphone (and couldn’t have bigger boots to fill in that regard), but she’s clearly a natural athlete and delivered the goods. She also did a perfect heel sell with reactions, such as Banks kicking out of Natural Selection. Banks was solid in the ring as always, and got the win that they probably should have done at Clash of Champions with a painful-looking dominant Banks Statement to get Charlotte to tap. Following the match, the emotion was palpable. Charlotte’s shock turned to rage and disbelief while Banks once again got the moment she’s earned in front of the WWE Universe. Nothing made me happier this week than seeing these two tear the house down again, except for perhaps hearing the rumor that they will battle again inside Hell in a Cell shortly. I’ll give extended thoughts on that after the bell, but needless to say it’s fantastic news. Bravo.

Worst Match: Obvious candidates for this would be the squash matches for either Braun Strowman, who at least got a slight wrinkle in the game plan when he demanded better competition or he’d be taking his roar and going home next week (doesn’t speak much to Sin Cara, but hey), or the Sheamus/Cesaro frenemies tag team, which treated us to Raw’s standard mostly unfunny backstage segments before the half-comedy short victory over a couple of nobodies. The thing that puts the latter over the bottom for me is it’s essentially the same routine as last week, when it was fresh but equally lame. The idea that Mick Foley is trying to inspire both guys by doing this odd couple tandem is fine, but still feels like a slap in the face as the payoff for the best of seven series. And does anyone doubt they can perform well in the ring, particularly against jobbers? Foley is acting like it’s unheard of that we could fathom them defeating New Day or the like. At the end of the day, it’s the same kind of Cesaro booking that’s bothered us all in the first place. Send him over to Smackdown to compete for Miz’s I-C Title? Please?

Best Non-Wrestling Segment: Michael Cole’s sitdown interviews have been a mixed bag, but this week’s chat with Seth Rollins scored in a big way for me. Rollins needed to flesh out his side of the story in his ongoing rivalry with Universal Champion Kevin Owens, and so far it’s been a steady diet of face tendencies with periods of backtracking in between that fall into the category of jack of all trades and master of none. Fans clearly want to support Rollins, and his heel act always felt a little overdone anyway. Seth performed well here, laying out his issues with the Authority and getting a very good line in on Stephanie later in the show when he said Hunter had made the worst decision since their marriage. Stephanie didn’t seem overly offended by that news, but perhaps that’s because she was drugged and driven through that Vegas drive-thru. Rollins irritated Owens and sowed some potential seeds of discord with KO’s partner Chris Jericho later in the evening, but he’d made his mark by that point. This was good stuff, and added some character to a feud that started strong but has hit the wall a bit. More please.

Worst Non-Wrestling Segment: Have you had enough of Roman Reigns and Rusev already? I sure have. This week we again opened with what’s seemingly become the gold standard for Raw, with Roman Reigns trying to convince a booing and frothing fanbase that he’s “the man” and sounding just as unconvinced of that as most of us. This boasting bravado brought Rusev’s handler Lana to the ring, who received cheers for ending the promo. This is what you’re leading with? Reigns grinned like a heel while Lana related all the ways he’s ruined her life, and then Edge’s Interrogation partner dropped the foreshadowing hammer by telling RR to go to hell. I felt like I was already in it yawning my way through this segment. By the time the Bulgarian Brute showed up and the two fought their normal seesaw power struggle, I was over it. The blowoff to this will be inside the cage. It can’t come soon enough. We will never be into this as much as Vince and friends want us to be. Sorry, chief.

“WTF?” Moment: I can at least thank WWE creative for putting an end to the ridiculously bad Prime Time Players breakup feud between Titus O’Neil and Darren Young, but even letting Titus go against the always game and solid Sami Zayn didn’t do much to make him relevant. The match itself was short and forgettable, but what made things even stranger was the segment that aired during the match where O’Neil discussed the new “Titus Brand” and what it would mean. O’Neil is a below average talker and therefore the constant choice to have him do so is idiotic in the extreme. To sell his brand and have him lose in short order is even less intelligent. They might as well put PTP together again at this point. At least the fans enjoyed that duo.

Smackdown Live

Overview: Smackdown’s main job this week was to get you and I equally pumped about this weekend’s No Mercy event, and therefore their big build wasn’t a match at all but a talking segment featuring the three competitors involved in the WWE Championship match: AJ Styles, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose. These guys did essentially the same bit during Cena’s surprise return in Philly several weeks ago, so it lacked that special feeling you’d hope for to close out a show. We definitely got more wrestling this week, but the jury is out on whether it made the show better. Plus more Randy Orton/Bray Wyatt chicanery! What’s creepier heading into Halloween than a smoke machine, rocking chair, and storage unit? Nothing I can think of.

Best Match: Smackdown’s last match, which aired right before the Triple Threat segment that closed the show, finally allowed Raw transplant Jack Swagger to get some ring time in. Similar to Titus, Swagger’s best moments are rarely with the microphone, and it’s been odd to have the announcing team putting him over so much without giving us any opportunity to see him wrestle. His character really hasn’t changed that much anyway, but his battle with Baron Corbin was set up with a backstage segment that was effective in letting both men convince us that actions speak louder than words. Corbin’s been a bit cowardly in the past, which doesn’t make a lot of sense given his size. Swagger is a good choice to be his rival, and hopefully if this feud is booked correctly both men can come out getting elevated. Smackdown needs it, because the dropoff between their best talent and the rest is significant.

The match itself wasn’t anything special, with Corbin getting the early drop on the action before Swagger’s rally. What scored it some extra points was the ending, where the referee made a controversial decision to give Swagger the submission victory when he clamped the ankle lock on Corbin. Corbin appeared to be trying to reach the ropes while swatting at the mat, and heel announcer JBL played up how awfully unfair it was to the Lone Wolf. That was smart booking setting up their match for this weekend, and it made sense to me to give Jack the victory considering it’s supposed to be a big deal that he’s there at all. This is one of the critical tests for the brand split, presenting the characters in competition between brands, and this was a solid step in that direction. They could have gotten to this moment a bit sooner, as they’ve not focused on this much at all since his arrival, but I’ll take it.

Worst Match: On the flip side of the coin was the opening battle between Kane and Bray Wyatt. Wyatt has wrestled very rarely on the blue brand since the draft, whether due to injury or otherwise, so seeing him in action feels like a treat. Kane is a decent enough opponent, so you’d have hoped the two would continue some of the physical action they started when the Big Red Machine subbed for the concussed Randy Orton at the last Smackdown PPV. Instead, they brawled for a bit before Orton appeared upside down on the TitanTron and Bray decided to go find him instead of continuing the match. So Wyatt loses to the ageless wonder again and a marquee match goes out with a whimper? Not a good start. At least we got the spider walk.

Best Non-Wrestling Segment: While not exactly deserving of the premier spot to close the show, the three-way staredown between the contenders for the WWE Title delivered in terms of adding some excitement and giving good talkers the chance to do so. Oddly, nothing said here was superior to Cena’s excellent defense of himself on the Talking Smack post-show last week. While WWE did show a bit of it Tuesday, and I get that they want to push their Network offerings, it’s strange that the coolest stuff that seems to happen is not on their actual show. The segment itself delivered mainly due to the ferocity of Styles, who tore into Cena before the golden boy got to utter a syllable. Ambrose followed suit, and it was good to show Cena being the physical aggressor when he couldn’t take it anymore. Each man had an opportunity to land their signature move and take a spin with the belt, adding some intrigue into the upcoming huge match Sunday. Effective enough for a promo segment.

Worst Non-Wrestling Segment: The BSB has been an ardent supporter of the Miz/Dolph Ziggler spat and all the very excellent moments it’s provided Smackdown over the last several weeks, and last episode’s announcement of Ziggy putting his career on the line somehow found a way to provide even more intensity into what’s been a truly powerful war of words. That might be why their segment this week fell pretty flat for me. How many times will Dolph show up to Miz TV only to be offended by the champion? Miz’s video package promoting a false show on the Network was funny enough to make you chuckle once or twice, but to be honest it really buried Ziggler in a confusing way before Sunday. All of that was a set-up to “sort of” bring back the Spirit Squad (not that you asked for it), and only two of the other four were involved so even that was half-assed. The big reveal was Miz got two male cheerleaders to attack Dolph? Not so much. And Maryse had literally nothing to do but sit there. Opportunity wasted.

“WTF?” Moment: We’re finally going to see Wyatt and Orton renew hostilities this weekend, and as mentioned above things kicked off with Orton baiting Bray to give up on his match and head to the back to pursue him. Things were bad enough last week, when the Viper endured bargain basement haunted house theatrics in an attempt to locate Bray. One can only assume that Erick Rowan injured his shoulder by video editing that wacky segment. Even more bizarreness was in store this time around, as Wyatt giggled his way through the darkness before falling victim to the oldest trick in the book: going into a storage container to collect his prized rocking chair only to get locked inside. We were then treated to black and white footage of Bray cracking up before meeting the off-screen Sister Abigail, leaving Orton stunned to see that his plan to asphyxiate his opponent failed courtesy of his disappearance. This is why WWE can’t have nice things. It’s also why they would completely and utterly screw up the Hardy stuff from TNA.

The Verdict: Smackdown has made it look easy lately, but their roll came to an abrupt and crashing halt this week. Raw powers to the win on the strength of their most excellent main event alone, but all around Monday’s show seemed better assembled and executed. I was disappointed that Smackdown Live didn’t up the ante for Sunday’s No Mercy as much as they might have, and while their closing talk segment was solid enough it failed to deliver enough punch for a go-home show. Raw closes the gap to 6-4-1 and notches a win in the red column.

After the Bell: Monday’s Raw was a bigger deal than just the state of the brand split, as WWE finally gave the women the center stage spotlight they so richly deserve. The effort displayed by Charlotte and Sasha was more than solid, and as far as I’m concerned they have earned the right to main event Hell in a Cell for the Raw brand. Part of this whole idea to split the roster was to present the product in a new way, and I can’t think of a better way to illustrate that than to let two athletes who have the crowd firmly behind them and their feud to score the main event. Can there be any doubt that will get people talking? I think not. Letting these two demonstrate their skills in a steel cage setting after the Universal Title match is far more than the symbolic slap on the back that it would appear to be. It would demonstrate a true statement by the WWE that they are sincere about their plans to pay more than lip service to a revolution in the making. It would also underscore that spots are to be earned rather than handed out. These two have more than earned theirs. It’s time to make history. Again.

Looking for even more analysis on the winners and losers of the week? Best way to get it is to tune into the excellent Main Event Madness podcast every Thursday at 8 PM. Let your voice be heard in the space below or give me a shout on Twitter @DharmanRockwell Thanks for reading and see you back in the BSB next week!