The school district on Long Island that I attended from first grade through senior year of high school was huge. It’s one of New York State’s largest, not only in number of enrolled students, which currently exceeds 15,000, but it’s also sprawling in terms of square miles. When I was still very young, the district set about redrawing the borders of the areas that fed into our twelve elementary schools to accommodate what was considered an influx of school children in our area. To prevent one school, for example, from ending up with class sizes close to forty while another had classes with only 15 students, they shuffled everyone around. This meant that when I was 9, I lost half of my classmates to other schools, and started fourth grade with a classroom full of unfamiliar faces.
Then in sixth grade, the district voted to make even larger changes: they were going to build a second high school and a fourth middle school. This meant we ended up with double of everything: sports teams, music groups, extra curricular clubs, etc. Everyone in the district predicted we’d eventually fully split in half (as it is, half of the students never meet the other half.) At some point it would become clear that the newer houses with the wealthier families were feeding into one high school and wouldn’t want to pay taxes to the other school where the lower income families lived.
I couldn’t help but see the similarity of my old public school district with what is currently happening in WWE. It seemed entirely sensible that as the roster grew, not just the main roster but the NXT roster as well, it was necessary to accommodate that by creating more unique screen time opportunities to the performers. What better way to do that than to separate the two programs of Monday Night RAW and SmackDown Live into independent programs with entirely separate rosters. Now there were more chances for each wrestler to actually perform for the WWE Universe, both live and at home.
What this split, at first, was lacking in was the ultimate goal any wrestling promotion needs to move the action along: something worth fighting for. Storylines regularly can create motivation for wrestlers, but in the end it is the promise of being a champion that drives everyone. Immediately after the draft occurred we were presented with the following issues: the tag teams and female wrestlers on the SmackDown Live roster did not have a title to compete for, and the men on Monday Night RAW did not have a major title to set their sights on.
The day after Battleground, Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon announced Monday Night RAW would have it’s own major title, the Universal Championship, which was crowned at SummerSlam in August. This past Sunday at BackLash, the first SmackDown Live exclusive pay-per-view post-brand split, a new Women’s Champion and Tag Team Champions for the Tuesday night program were crowned. With the coming of the Cruiserweight Division to RAW in the next few weeks (and what is a new division without its own title?) it is likely that WWE will have two major brands, with a combined roster of 86 performers and nine titles. NINE TITLES.
A lot of arguments were made before the WWE draft happened about the benefits of dividing the roster up in a myriad of ways, not the least of which was having certain divisions, like the women or the tag teams, being exclusive to one program. It was clear, though, when the rules of the draft were released that the rosters would essentially be mirror images of one another. For the first few weeks this felt fine, but now that there are an equal number of titles on each program, it feels like an exact replica of my school district.
The rosters, at this moment, really are still carbon copies of one another: two serious, strong willed women divisions with ex-NXT stars as champs; two tag team divisions based in being the comedy act of the roster with violent heels challenging for the titles; mid-card men’s singles titles held by individuals with pretty blonde wives who’ve held other titles and are not in their first reign, turning previously silly storylines into vicious battles; and two ex-Shield babyface/tweeners who have been cheated out of their main titles by indie sweethearts and are now looking for redemption or revenge.
Of course, the stories aren’t EXACTLY the same, and there is something or someone worth watching on both programs. However, two problems immediately jump out. First of all, the limited rosters per division mean the potential for recycled storylines or never-ending feuds between performers. Second, what is the value of one championship when another just like it exists somewhere else? What do I mean by this? Well, let’s look at the tag divisions.
Currently, the RAW tag champions are The New Day, and the longest reigning tag champions for that particular belt (previously the WWE World Tag Team Championship which was, ironically, developed for the SmackDown roster in 2002.) Alongside Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods are only 4 other tag teams: Enzo Amore and Big Cass, Epico and Primo of the Shining Stars, Goldust and R-Truth of the Golden Truth, and Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Meanwhile, on SmackDown, the newly-crowned champions of Heath Slater and Rhyno have 6 potential opponents to face: Aiden English and Simon Gotch of the Vaudevillains, Chad Gable and Jason Jordan of American Alpha, Fandango and Tyler Breeze of Breezango, Jimmy and Jey Uso, Konnor and Viktor of the Ascension, and Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley of the Hype Bros. Keeping this in mind, why wouldn’t it be in, say, The Hype Bros best interest to ask to be released from SmackDown in order to hedge their bets at RAW? Or if Anderson and Gallows find that being outnumbered by the New Day to be unfavorable, why not just roll into SmackDown and take the tag titles from Slater and Rhyno?
Also of note: the way the talent was distributed between the two promotions. Arguably all of the tag teams on the SmackDown roster have elevated their division and have found success in getting over with the crowd, with perhaps the Ascension being the only exception. On RAW, New Day, Anderson and Gallows, and Enzo and Cass leave Golden Truth and the Shining Stars in the dust in terms of being over. With such a small division, you’d expect them all to be over, or at least at the same level, instead of there being such inequality with the crowd. Considering all of this, it’s easy to see the brand new SmackDown titles as the more important ones, even though RAW‘s titles have more history, because there’s more talent, more general popularity, and more potential for diversity in booking.
Now, if WWE had decided to keep their WWE World Heavyweight championship on RAW, maybe alongside the tag titles and the incoming Cruiserweight division, while elevating the IC title on SmackDown with the US title and the entire women’s division, there would still be something for every viewer on both programs, but no need to create new titles (except, as previously stated, one for the cruiserweight.) Then, between 86 individuals there would only be 6 titles – a far better ratio, in my opinion. Also, having one title per division means there is a best – there is one goal. All of the women fight for one title. All of the tag teams fight for one title.
There’s some things I didn’t mention in my comparison between WWE and my school district. First of all, both high schools compete as if they are in their own district. Any time there is cause for competition – whether it be in sports, test scores, music competitions – the schools are going head-to-head. But to the outside world, they are still one district, and as such a win for one is a win for the whole district. The difference here is that WWE isn’t in competition with other companies, not really anyway. While many other wrestling promotions have found successes for themselves and wrestling as an industry becomes popular again with mass markets, no one is functioning at WWE’s level. That could be a good reason to pit two version of the main roster against one another, but not if they rarely face off, and have enough titles on each program to basically be self-sufficient.
I also didn’t mention that in the time leading up to my generation’s influx of children in that area, the district was working on paring down their expenses, because there was less of a need. Not too long ago, WWE was spending a lot of time unifying titles and cleaning up the remnants of a time when there were two rosters, or competing companies with rival titles. Also, some [redacted] years since my graduation, the tide has turned again. The district has closed down two elementary schools and that middle school they built during my time there. As much as WWE’s roster split is fitting for the massive roster they are currently sporting, it is only a matter of time before that changes, too. It will likely be years before we see the WWE roster shrink enough to warrant a move away from two unique programs, but that possibility still exists in the future, at some unpredictable time. Then what?
There’s one major issue with the two rosters that can’t be drawn in parallel to anything else, though, and that is the sheer volume of wrestling content that exists in the world right now. Most large promotions have some sort of online or DVD components now so you can check out what they’re doing, regardless of where in the world you are. Live in Texas but want to check out Chikara? No worries. Live in the UK but want to see BOLA? Not a problem. When we step back and look at how the industry is absolutely flooded with content, it becomes hard to motivate yourself to check out a second night of WWE doing the same basic thing. If the rosters had unique divisions, that would be a good incentive to tune in on Tuesday – to see the Women, or the Tag Teams, or the Cruiserweights. But to see a carbon copy of the way WWE books shows, just with different wrestlers…that’s not motivation to do anything except be anywhere but my couch on Tuesday nights.
I think it’s human nature to try to solve the problems that exist before us without worrying too much about what is coming down the pike or how our problem fits into a greater, global community. If we do, it’s easy to become totally overwhelmed by the prospect of every possible outcome. However, a lack of foresight cannot be considered a virtue when the realities of single-mindedness are standing right in front of you – back to back on Mondays and Tuesdays.