Hello TJRwrestling fans, and welcome to a brand new feature I’m calling the Brand Split Breakdown. With all the focus placed on WWE diverging the product in two separate directions in hopes of forging some distinct characteristics between the two weekly shows, we thought it would be a good idea to offer a quick primer on what worked, what didn’t, and what just struck me as absolutely hilarious (unintentionally or otherwise) each week on Monday Night Raw and Tuesday night Smackdown Live. This is not a full recap of the shows because TJR Boss John Canton has you covered with Raw here and Smackdown is here.
I’ve taken the difficult mission of gluing myself to my armchair for your literary pleasure, immersing myself in five hours of wrestling mayhem each and every week to keep you posted on where things stand and where they might be going. And hopefully we’ll have some fun along the way. Let’s get to it.
Monday Night Raw
Overview: What a difference a week makes. Monday’s Raw sought to galvanize the viewing audience for the quickly approaching SummerSlam weekend, and made the call to go heavy on pre-taped and talking segments and not so much on some of the bigger names actually being in action or getting that much to do. While Raw was successful in setting up another match for Slam Sunday with Canadian heels Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens forming a marriage of convenience to take on popular fan favorites Enzo and Big Cass, many of the other major angles remained stuck in neutral for most of the three hours. Seth Rollins cut a promo on Finn Balor, who did not appear except in previously recorded footage but will next week. Sasha Banks and The New Day made some minor advances in their respective upcoming title defenses. And that was about it. Oh, and Lana and Rusev bragged about how none of us got to see them get married in their exclusive wedding and then re-enacted their exclusive wedding. So that happened.
Best Match: It’s a pretty easy answer this week, but the closing match of United States champion Rusev defending his gold against Cesaro takes the cake. (And you know I had to go there after mentioning the wedding celebration.) Cesaro had a great night overall, wrestling and beating Sheamus in an entertaining match for the second time in as many weeks and then coming out during the overhyped Mick Foley/Daniel Bryan meeting of the minds to get his just desserts (again!) with a title shot against the Bulgarian Brute. The whole thing made sense and gave both guys a chance to show their skills, and I particularly appreciated the nod to how dissatisfied both Cesaro and a good portion of the WWE Universe were with his draft position. The idea that both general managers might be looking to poach talent is one that has both merit and legs. While the phony finish brought Sheamus back into the mix (predictably), there could be no doubt that both men took a big step forward.
Worst Match: Unfortunately for the new Women’s Champion, Raw has done a pretty poor job of showcasing her talents as champion thus far. Sasha Banks wrestled Dana Brooke this week, with the stipulation being that if Banks won Brooke would be banned from ringside. If Brooke won, Charlotte and she would earn a handicap match for SummerFest (thanks, Jeremy Piven!). I’m not sure where creative is going with continually setting up Brooke and Charlotte as adversaries, but it’s not making too much sense. Complicating matters is the fact that Brooke just isn’t very good in the ring. By the time we got to the sloppy finish of Charlotte accidentally costing Brooke the match, this short affair had gone much too long.
Best Non-Wrestling Segment: It probably should have been the showdown between Foley and Bryan, which the WWE marketing machine made such a huge deal out of, but I’m going with the video package pushing the Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton match. There are a lot of reasons why this match is a tougher sell than WWE likely even thought, and I’m not sure that anyone feels it’s truly 15 years in the making. And that was before Brock’s issues with the UFC. With neither man on the show, it would have been expected for the rolling boil of last week’s shock moments to have been reduced to a slow simmer, but the shared roots of Ohio Valley Wrestling and the off-the-cuff nature of the comments by both combatants made even Paul Heyman’s natural state of awesome somewhat pushed to the background. Really solid work to keep it going without any kind of physical action or presence. Keep in mind, though, you’ll be seeing it another sixty times before SummerSlam Sunday.
Worst Non-Wrestling Segment: The New Day’s rather one-sided feud with Gallows and Anderson hasn’t really done either team any favors. TND had an awfully abbreviated feud with the Wyatt clan that ended abruptly and appear to be running out of things to say in their endless promos each and every week, while Gallows & Anderson were separated from the only real juice they had, AJ Styles, and have yet to make the impact we expected upon their signing. If harkening back to the Attitude Era, when DX made anatomy jokes to an extent that defied reason was your thing, then this build is for you! I’ll give credit where it’s due that WWE only forced Puff Daddy upon us for one backstage segment (and that in itself was just to plug merch), but expecting us to imagine Mick Foley shaking his groove thang at one of Puff’s reunion shows is far more hilarious than any upcoming episode of Holey Foley. Having not had their fill of impressing upon us the dire straits Big E finds himself in, we were then treated to seeing the “comedy” side of G&A. If it reminds you of Jerry Lawler and Dr. Isaac Yankem D.D.S., you’re not alone.
“WTF?” Moment: The endless segments of Golden Truth playing Pokémon Go to the delight of Vince McMahon ran headlong into WWE’s latest direct-to-video schlockfest. Prepare to feel embarrassed for Scooby Doo.
Overview: Smackdown got the advantage in actual wrestling content this week, but suffered a similar fate in the fact that headliners John Cena and AJ Styles were both notably absent from the show due to the Australia/New Zealand tour. The focus was (and should have been) on World Champion Dean Ambrose and his feud with number one contender Dolph Ziggler, and Smackdown smartly put a twist on it by adding the always fantastic Bray Wyatt into the mix to shake things up a bit. Alberto Del Rio also got something to do, but the disparity between the two rosters looked pretty evident once you dipped past the surface. American Alpha’s second Smackdown match was a squash, but still effective at selling the impact these two can and should make once they figure out the tag side of things.
Best Match: The most effective way to set up on a match on a wrestling show is very similar to the way a great novel works, which is to say giving us some foreshadowing early and then letting the story take its due course. It sounds obvious, but it’s not employed nearly enough in this day and age. Smackdown kicked off with Bray Wyatt delivering a promo against Dolph Ziggler, who defeated him the week prior, and was interrupted by Ambrose. This kicked off a sequence of events which saw an impromptu brawl end with Ziggler accidentally kicking the champion’s head off while trying to inflict damage on Bray. It also led to the re-introduction of Erick Rowan as someone we should sort of care about, as well as a tag match between the sides to close the show. Everyone did their part well enough and Ambrose got some revenge when he laid out Ziggler with Dirty Deeds after Dolph was booked very strongly in the match. Smart booking and good hook to bring some needed juice to this surprising feud.
Worst Match: There appear to be two schools of thought on the Heath Slater gimmick, and I’ve graduated. Slater, undrafted by either show, has been continually stooged in his quest to land on either roster. This has done little to either elevate his star power or make him any more or less likable than he already was. This week’s hook was Slater’s chance to land a Smackdown roster spot by defeating the elder statesman Rhyno, who’s reasonably effective as a quick NXT run-in to get the crowd going but clearly on the downside of his in-ring career. Do we care? Not at all. Rhyno is pursuing a career in politics, and this idea should have been vetoed.
Best Non-Wrestling Segment: I really dug the beginning of Tuesday’s show, where Randy Orton was interviewed backstage after taking an F5 from Lesnar last week. His response, which included the laughably awful “Viperville” moniker that WWE insists on offering up as Suplex City repartee, was immediately lampooned by Alberto Del Rio, setting up their match later in the evening. I like that WWE has reached a point where they can have their cake and eat it too, coming up with something ridiculous and running it down themselves. It also made sense to have ADR try to take out Orton’s arm to render his finisher moot. Nice work to keep the Lesnar train rolling knowing the Beast Incarnate wouldn’t be around to do it himself.
Worst Non-Wrestling Segment: I feel compelled to bestow this to Eva Marie each week just on principle. While I appreciate WWE’s efforts to give Eva something tangible to do, it feels tired already. On the heels of failing to wrestle Becky Lynch last week due to a feigned injury, this week Eva suffered a “wardrobe malfunction” and couldn’t compete. Why they couldn’t just fix it and have her wrestle is as silly as the rest of this hot mess. While I like that it led to a decent match with Alexa Bliss vs. Lynch, the idea that heat will be garnered by preventing us from seeing Eva Marie wrestle when most of us are horrified at that exact prospect boggles the mind.
“WTF?” Moment: No offense to the newly drafted Carmella, as I’ll admit to being curious how her act works without Enzo & Cass, but what did Natalya ever do to deserve the lousy booking she’s suffered over most of her career? I don’t mind Carmella getting a push here, but Natalya couldn’t lock in the Sharpshooter and lost to a choke. Strange decision making for someone who frankly deserves better treatment in a thin division.
I’d call this a decision for Smackdown, which did more with less and gave us two solid matches with decent builds. The jury is out to some extent with so much talent MIA, but the Foley/Bryan dynamic left a lot to be desired in my view and did not help Raw coast through its extra hour of programming. Between the constant video shilling and looks forward to SummerSlam, it felt like we were on pause for much of this week’s shows. Tuesday night leads in my informal brand split battle, 1-love.
After the Bell: My final thought for this week concerns the ongoing Olympics, which I’ve had the misfortune of suffering through as I attempt to convince myself I’m finding just about any of it interesting. There may be fleeting moments, perhaps, and call me a false patriot if you will, but these summer games are lacking some serious drama. I can’t help but think Vincent Kennedy McMahon could exorcise the demons of his XFL past by producing the games next time around. If you think about it, pro wrestling already has plenty of what makes the Olympics newsworthy: athletic individuals running around in skimpy clothes, nationalistic feuds, over-the-top personalities, steroid controversies, and questionable decision making by folks in authority positions. Think about it and tell me ratings wouldn’t improve with a Vinnie Mac makeover. Plus, all anthem ceremonies would now be like this: