Last week, the "Smackdown Live" roster invaded "Raw." Will "Raw" go after "Smackdown Live," and how do they shape the upcoming pay-per-view?
Last week, Raw made news first when A.J. Styles teamed with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins in a rare Raw/Smackdown Live team-up. The match against The Miz, Cesaro and Sheamus brought the old Marvel Team-Up comic book because in it, Spider-Man collaborated with another superhero every issue and it always seemed like an event, even though it happened monthly. Styles, Ambrose and Rollins are all such dynamic performers that they were exciting together, even if the event was manufactured.
The show ended when the Smackdown roster invaded Raw and shitkicked the locker room. The next major pay-per-view is “Survivor Series,” which pits one WWE show versus the other, and the invasion prompted speculation that Raw would similarly attack Smackdown Live—something that didn’t happen last Tuesday night. Those waiting for the Raw reciprocation will likely have to keep waiting as it seems unlikely that the action would simply be repeated. It doesn’t fit the Raw timetable, with the roster leaving on Tuesday to England for house shows, and it would be repetitious to do the same thing twice. (Not that that’s been a problem in the past. But still …) If anything happens, I expect members of the Raw roster to mug a Smackdown Survivor Series team member a few weeks from now, which will lead to Kevin Owens or Sami Zayn—Smackdown’s two top heels—being added to the team to create additional drama.
The whole invasion angle addresses a basic question: How do you build heat for an essentially intramural activity? How do you make people care about a brand v. brand fight, particularly when many of Raw’s top performers were on Smackdown Live this time last year? This isn’t the WWE/WCW Monday Night Wars, where fans took sides as to which company put on a better wrestling show. The WWE fans who watch one also watch the other, so the company faces the basic challenge of establishing who’s a face and who’s a heel in a month without doing something that would kill one of the brands?
This year’s show comes at an awkward time because it pits each brand’s champions against those of the other in a series of singles matches, but heels hold all the belts. That means there are no natural rooting interests to build on, and few of the pairings promise great matches. Raw’s Alexa Bliss is great on the mic but still an average in-ring performer, and she’ll face Smackdown Live’s Natalya, who’s strengths and weaknesses are the opposite of hers. Baron Corbin’s last six months of in-ring work has been lumbering and uninspired, so the match-up of intercontinental champs with him facing The Miz puts a lot on The Miz. Smackdown’s Jinder Mahal has been made to look like a weak champion, while Raw’s Brock Lesnar has been built up as a suplexing force of nature, so only the reliable Usos and equally dynamic Ambrose and Rollins sound like an exciting match.
Those matches mean that the five-on-five Survivor Series elimination matches are going to do a lot of the work selling the show, and much of the next month will be spent selecting members of the men’s and women’s teams. At a time when the WWE has been plagued with illness and injuries, new short-term storylines are welcome, but it will be interesting to see what happens with some of the in-brand feuds. Raw is clearly building to a Kane/Braun Strowman match-up, but will “Survivor Series” have brand-specific matches? If not, they’d have to drag the feud out until the new year to be part of a pay-per-view, though it seems like a big match for Raw.
- Last week, Raw introduced Asuka and made a ham & egger like Emma look like stiff competition for her. I hope the WWE starts building her and Nia Jax for a program, but that would require the writers to pay attention to the Raw women’s division in a way that they haven’t in the last three or four months.
Related to that, before the introduction of the current crop of women wrestlers in the WWE, writers would regularly contrive matches that got three to six “Divas” in the ring at one time for some kind of match that involved a lot of women without actually developing any stories. All did their high spots, the better wrestlers worked the matches, and none of it led to anything. Recently, women’s matches on Raw and Smackdown Live have slipped back toward wrestling pageant matches, which is disconcerting as well as wasteful. When the women were models first, wrestlers second, that treatment helped hide some vulnerabilities. Most of the women in the WWE can now work a match and sell a character; if they don’t get a chance to, that’s on the WWE and its writers.
- Someone will have to explain why it made sense for Finn Balor to go out and take a beat down from Kane last week. Curt Hawkins was too busy?
- Are The Usos turning face? Gable and Benjamin turning heel? There are signs of both, but since the WWE has tested and chickened out on a number of turns (Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt for starters), I’ll believe them when I see them. The Usos’ style has always been acrobatic and loaned itself better to being faces, and now that they appear to be done with The New Day, they can turn face against Gable and Benjamin, two guys who don’t have to cheat to win but choose to do so.