By Will Pruett
“To all that come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land.” – Walt Disney at Disneyland’s opening ceremony on July 17, 1955.
“It started as a whisper until you screamed it at the top of your lungs. We gained momentum. You made us unstoppable. We had a vision for change. You made it a revolution. We told you we are the future until you told us the future is now.” – Triple H opening NXT Takeover: Brooklyn on August 22, 2015.
“You are merely the blind sheep who follow. You exist to serve us. We are the providers and protectors. We are the leaders, the chiefs, and the generals. We are the absolute power. We own you.” – Stephanie McMahon introducing Triple H at WrestleMania 32 on April 3, 2016.
WWE has a major branding problem. I could go on listing quote after quote here, but I’ll spare you the screen space. For the last 18 years, WWE’s major villain has been WWE. They seem themselves, the corporate entity, as the true antagonist in their world and it shows in every story they tell. While the Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon story was downright revolutionary for its time, the after effects of it have hurt WWE again and again.
Even WWE knows they have this issue. Look at how the main roster/corporate entity is presented on NXT. On November 25, 2015 the entire episode is dedicated to the idea that main roster WWE is going to steal the NXT Women’s Championship from Bayley. It’s a truly insane story for a company like WWE to tell, and yet, it’s the only one they tell.
As Daniel Bryan spoke about making Smackdown about wrestlers and about the fans (as opposed to authority figures) last night, I thought of this problem again. WWE tends to paint itself as the villain in their stories. NXT has done a great job of making the brand the protagonist. Sure, NXT stories have centered around Finn Bálor, Sami Zayn, Neville, and a host of other top babyfaces, but more than anything, NXT makes NXT feel like your show.
Walt Disney knew the secret to branding Disneyland was to call it “your land” and make it feel this way. He created a welcoming world people would travel from everywhere to be a part of. WWE, under the direction of Vince McMahon, has done the opposite. They use the main roster as a villain in their scrappy (and beloved) developmental program. Raw is going to be run by a maniacal commissioner who referred to fans as “blind sheep” on WWE’s biggest show ever just three months ago.
Even on Raw last night, WWE couldn’t help but make Smackdown feel like the brand of the people while Raw feels like the inevitable juggernaut of sadness. Daniel Bryan is the most likable guy ever to do anything on WWE television. Shane McMahon is as popular as he is tan and sweaty. Stephanie McMahon is, at best, a confusing character. Mick Foley is an overexposed legend who can talk a little, but probably shouldn’t be on TV full time.
Where does this get us? Smackdown’s power players are beloved. Raw’s produce some anger and some joy. WWE has made their longest show feel like the antagonist in their own story. They call it the flagship, but the branding of Raw thus far make it seem like the flagship of Vince McMahon’s regressive thought process in regards to authority figures.
WWE shows outright disdain for fans of its main roster show. They hide this behind a thin veil of “heel authority figure” silliness. They continue doing so. Now, the intelligent branding of NXT is moving to Smackdown and Raw is left with the disdain of the people all alone. Raw is also the longest show. Raw is also the show up against Football in about two months.
Remember this when fans leave Raw in droves to watch Smackdown. Remember that WWE has lead fans to disliking Raw from the very beginning. Remember that Raw is the last bastion of WWE’s attempt to make heel authority figures stand for their brand.
The end of Raw was intensely confusing. I know WWE cleared it up on the WWE Network, but the finish of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose’s WWE Championship match was super weird. Raw is a very long show. I watched the entirety of it last night and I was exhausted. Randomly (and without telling anyone) switching over to the WWE Network was quite strange.
The match itself was fine. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose didn’t pull out every stop. Despite a few fun moments, the match was broken up by a ton of commercial breaks and is hard for me to judge.
More enjoyable were the promos from Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose prior to this match. Both men digging into the history of The Shield made me want to see Sunday’s Triple Threat. WWE has disappointed me when it comes to promoting Sunday’s match, but I am confident in the match itself delivering. It’s a shame WWE didn’t use some of the 25 hours of first run primetime cable programming they’ve had since Money in the Bank to promote Battleground’s main event. Think of the excellent video packages they could have made.
The announcement of a rematch on Smackdown makes some sense, but with a Triple Threat match on Sunday, does the human who leaves Smackdown with the WWE Championship even matter?
This seems like WWE setting up somehow for the separation of the World Championship into two titles. This is an idea I actually like, even though the execution of it seems flawed.
– I really enjoy the idea of WWE adding a Cruiserweight Division. I wonder how this will change the draft itself? Will Cruiserweight wrestlers automatically be on the brand? This could be a fun opportunity for some great talent to fill time on Raw.
– Most of the 12 man tag and the promo before it seemed like a way to use A.J. Styles, John Cena, The Crew, Enzo and Cass, The New Day, and The Wyatt Family to take up their standard amount of time all in one big match. It sort of failed. I just didn’t find myself caring enough by the halfway point of this (also insanely commercial filled) match.
– Are Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens blowing off their feud at Battleground? They’re beating around the bush when it comes to this being the final chapter and it would be cool to know.
– Remember the WWE Women’s Division? Charlotte and Dana Brooke vs. Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch went about how I expected it to. It would be cool if WWE gave these women more time on the show. Sigh.
– This show left me less excited for Tuesday night’s draft than I was going in. I wish I had left all enthusiastic and happy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m at least mildly excited (probably more so), but still, WWE didn’t produce a compelling show.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.
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