THE SPLIT BREAKDOWN
They did it.
That ACTUALLY did it.
That is a shock to me, if you can't guess. Considering that this "split" has ben pushed back since freakin' JULY, I'd finally settled down with th idea that we would never again see two national promotions in the US again. I guess the WWF is going to try and prove me wrong.
Because make no mistake about it, they've done no such thing yet. I've still yet to see any sort of evidence that suggest the split will be anything but a big bust-in fact, the only concrete thing about it at this point in time seems to be the basic rosters. There's been no discussion of trades so far (this is taking into account SmackDown! spoilers, bear in mind) and the tag teams that've been split actually seem to be staying that way. So going into next week, I'd say we have a fairly good idea of who's going to be on what show-but aside from that, we've very little else about the mechanics of the split. So let's have a look, shall we?
First off, the draft itself was both creative AND lame, for entirely different reasons. Holding the majority of it on WWF.com was an interesting and smart way to draw attention to the website, as well as giving the draft a "legitimate" feel. But what looks good in theory can fall flat on it's face in practice. The website became overloaded, pissing off many fans who were denied access to the final picks. And it's safe to say that a number of egos were bruised by the order of the pick-Chris Jericho is the name that immediately springs to mind here. I'm sure they could have come up with a better way of drafting the former Unified Champion than simply throwing him in with the random drawing. I would also take issue with putting relative rookies like Brock Lesnar, Mark Henry and Maven above other more established names, as while it pushes new (or returning) faces to the forefront, it detracts from those who have worked just as hard in the spotlight. And one final negative point: no explanation whatsoever was given for the supposedly "fired" Alliance superstars suddenly cropping up at a WWF draft. Come on guys, that's just SLOPPY-you could have at least had Linda McMahon spin some BS about "offering all free agents a contract to flesh out the rosters".
But putting all those criticisms aside, we now have a reasonably concrete set of rosters for both Raw and SmackDown! Let's take a look at 'em.
Ric Flair's RAW Roster: The Undertaker; the nWo (Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, X-Pac); Kane; Rob van Dam; Booker T; The Big Show; Bubba Ray Dudley; Brock Lesnar; William Regal; Bradshaw; Steven Richards; Matt Hardy; Raven; Jeff Hardy; Mr. Perfect; Spike Dudley; D'Lo Brown; Shawn Stasiak; Goldust; Justin Credible; The Big Bossman; Tommy Dreamer; Crash Holly; Lita; Terri; Jackie; Trish; Molly.
Vince McMahon's SmackDown! Roster: The Rock; Kurt Angle; Chris Benoit; Hollywood Hulk Hogan; Billy; Chuck; Edge; Rikishi; D-Von Dudley; Mark Henry; Maven; Billy Kidman; Tajiri; Chris Jericho; Albert; The Hurricane; Al Snow; Lance Storm; DDP; Scott II Hotty; Christian; Test; Faarooq; Tazz; Hardcore Holly; The Big Valbowski; Perry Saturn; Ivory; Torrie Wilson; Stacy Keibler.
Sixty names, two rosters. And interesting division to say the least. It's clear from first glance who the "star roster" is supposed to be, and it's probably not a coincidence that Vince is at the head of it. Almost every well-established name can be found on SmackDown's list, not just in the main event but in the midcard also. In contrast, Flair has a group of unproven undercard talent, and I assume that there will be some pushes granted to new candidates in order to spice up the show a little. What makes this split even more perplexing in the dispersion of championships between the two rosters. Whilst Vince's is undoubtedly the name-heavy group, they have, at the time of this writing, only two championships under their umbrella-the Tag Team Titles and the Cruiserweight Championship. On the other side of the fence, Flair has his hands on THREE singles titles-the Intercontinental, European and Hardcore straps (the last of which was won by Raven on SmackDown this week). Considering which side has the majority of name talent, you'd have to think that there has been a slight error along the way somewhere, as now names such as Christian, DDP, Edge, Test, Storm and Rikishi have no secondary strap to fight over. Personally, I'd have traded the more mat-based European Champion William Regal for Maven on SmackDown, so that the ECWish Raw roster can fight for the Hardcore belt and Smackdown has it's midcard title.
The lack of straight wrestling titles on SmackDown is even more bizarre considering that Vince's roster is by far the best in terms in of pure wrestling ability. Compared to Flair's show, SmackDown is a veritable "Who's Who" of good workers-The Rock, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Christian, Edge, Lance Storm, DDP, Al Snow, Tazz, Hardcore Holly, The Big Valbowski. And yet THESE guys will have no title to fight over come next week. Perhaps the only gain that Vince's stacked roster has in terms of championships is the final emergence of a decent Cruiserweight division.. Kidman, Hurricane, Maven, Scotty, Christian, current champ Tajiri, and possibly even Lance Storm can put it all into a decent cruiser class, and with possible newcomers like Super Crazy and Rey Misterio, Jr, and undrafted guys like Funaki and TAKA, this part of the show could very well end up being the best thing going on WWF TV.
In comparison to SmackDown, the Raw show has a long way to go before becoming anything resembling a star-studded show. As well as holding onto the three big midcard singles belts, Flair's roster also includes the majority of good women's workers, with Ivory being the notable exception. So it would be safe to say that the majority of women's action would take place on Monday nights. As mentioned, the Hardcore title is now in Flair's camp, and this is, in my book, a good thing. Flair's undercard has the best roster of brawlers out of the two shows, including Raven, Tommy Dreamer, Steven Richards and Spike Dudley. Toss in Crash Holly and possible standout star Bubba Dudley and you've got a decent-looking Hardcore division which, given time-and a lack of goofy shenanigans-could get over big. The other two championships that exist on the roster are where problems begin developing. As I said before, I firmly believe that Regal's European strap should have somehow found it's way over to Vince's show as a secondary title. But it seems that it's staying right where it's been drafted, meaning that there will be FOUR championship divisions in WWF Raw. I'd look at European-level superstars as somewhat interchangeable with those competing in the Hardcore bracket, as both have roughly the same stature and prestige. So on top of the aforementioned Hardcore stars, the European division could consist of: Regal, Bradshaw, Stasiak, Goldust, Credible, X-Pac and the Bossman. The Hardys (one or both) would also be ideal starting candidates for this championships level, as they are no longer in any kind of tag team division.
Which leaves the Intercontinental Title. With the Unified Champion flitting between both shows, I'd look at this as an opportunity to reaffirm the IC belt as the number two title in the world, by keeping it amongst a group of high-quality workers mixed with top-level names. With that in mind, I'd have the following names compete for the IC belt: RVD, Mr. Perfect, D'Lo, Booker T, Brock Lesnar, Scott Hall, Kane, Nash and The Undertaker. This would effectively transform the IC strap into Raw's "World Title", whilst still leaving room for Triple H's occasional title defences against the expanded top card. Perfect, Booker and RVD would all be elevated to main-event status by default, and D'Lo and Brock would be hovering just below. It'd be hard work getting all of these names over, but figuring that the "Wild Card" Steve Austin might also end up on this show, there would be more than enough heat to go around.
So, when all is said and done, the final rosters may look something like this:
RAW Is FLAIR
Intercontinental Title/Top-Card Superstars
European Title/Hardcore Title Superstars
Tag Team Division
Already it's clear that BOTH sides are going to require INCREDIBLY creative writers to cover the holes in their respective products. For Flair, some deft storytelling will be needed in order to get the majority of the roster over enough to perform well at the box office and get sustained fan interest. For Vince, the challenge is making matches and feuds interesting without the aid of secondary titles to drives the angles. It should be an interesting challenge, and I'll go on record now as saying that the Unified Title should mainly stay in Vince's little sphere of the WWF. The talent list is way more impressive, both in terms of name value and match quality. Some egos may be bruised by such a decision (COUGH*Austin*COUGH) but hey, that's the way the cookie crumbles. Of course, another solution would be to hotshot the title to Austin and have HIM run rampant on both shows, placing Triple H on the Raw show in his place. Another helpful suggestion would be to hand Heyman the book for Raw. The majority of guys working on that roster have worked under him before, and most of those did their best work as part of Paul E's posse. A return to his leadership, coupled with his creative ideas and fun storylines, could be exactly what is needed to motivate the wrestlers and get them over.
There are, of course, other concerns with such a big change in the product. For instance, how will pay-per-views be handled? They need to take much more "legitimate" approach to the booking of pay-per-view shows, perhaps designating that each championship WILL be defended in some way, shape or form at each monthly extravaganza. That would guarantee a set number of places for both weekly shows, as well as giving viewers an incentive to buy the damn PPVs in the first place. The remaining number of matches could then be divided equally between the two owners, to hand out as they see fit. An interesting premise, but one that is necessary to handle all of the possible storyline holes that could occur from this split.
Then there are the special events such as King Of The Ring and the Royal Rumble, and, to a lesser extent, the Survivor Series. These-plus SummerSlam and WrestleMania-are the big events of the year, and as such both rosters should have a significant presence on them. In fact, these five pay-per-views are where the interpromotional matches should take place, as a way of reaffirming their status as a cut above the other monthly shows. I like the idea of having more "preset" matches, much like the WrestleMania main event. For instance, perhaps the "King Of The Ring gets a title shot at SummerSlam" should once again be enforced. And by having each roster enter eight of their top men for the tournament, the excitement and competitive nature of the KOTR title would be restored. Say each side holds first round, quarterfinal and semifinal matches to determine their KOTR finalist, then the two men meet in an interpromotional tourney final. Call me crazy, but that may just garner ratings and improve buyrates-and return some meaning to the KOTR crown.
The same thing applies to Survivor Series. By returning to the eight-man tag team matches of old, the WWF could have a potential goldmine in interpromotional matches and angles. By keeping the big stars separate for months on end, you guarantee a huge payday when they finally do lock horns. Imagine a card including Triple H/RVD/Kane/The Undertaker Vs. Hulk Hogan/Kurt Angle/Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho, with The Rock Vs. Austin as the main event. THEN imagine that you haven't seen these guys in the same match for six months or so. You want to increase heat for such shows without taking away the aura of interpromotional magic? Turn Excess into a talk show format, independent of BOTH promotions, where the opposing sides can appear, cut promos on each other and do those serious sit-down interviews that the fed is so fond of. THAT is money, my friends.
There are undoubtedly a lot of plusses to be had from the promotion split, but to reach them the WWF has to pull their act together NOW. A heated start is needed to this particular angle, otherwise it will simply flop, much like the "InVasion". The first big no-no is holding back on the interpromotional matches. What killed the invasion, first and foremost, was the stupid squandering of potential money-drawing "first-ever" matches. The first WCW match on WWF television, the first-ever interpromotional match, the first-ever title unification match...all were given away on free television, for no real reason. Mistakes like that cannot be made here, because there is more than just the rival's brand name on the line this time-there is the WWF itself. The second no-no is, of course, keeping the rosters concrete, with an absolute MINIMUM of jumping around and promotion switches. Done right, a star jumping from SmackDown to Raw could be a goldmine, especially if that star has grown stale in his drafted stomping ground. But if too many talent exchanges take place, then the entire concept of split promotions will become a laughing stock. And finally, the biggest and most important rule of them all: these promotions should be about the WRESTLERS and no-one else. This one should be easy enough to follow, as Flair and Vince shouldn't even be on the same show together to cut promos, but with Vince's rampant ego you never can tell. We don't want any more "Kiss My Ass Clubs", no Fightin' McMahons, no battling bookermen. These are two wrestling shows, so let's keep it at that: wrestling.
Obviously, there's a long way to go before a lot of these goals can be reached. I'm just hoping that the WF brains can follow some of these simple ideas, and make sure that, unlike the past flops we've been subjected to, this split really does make it as one of the biggest wrestling angles ever. Here's hoping.