I’m not sure how else I can put this: “Smackdown Live” is blowing “Monday Night Raw” out of the water and the gap is getting wider and wider every single week. You can put a lot of this praise at the arrival of new “Smackdown Live” head writer Ryan Ward (formerly at the helm of “NXT”) but the key to the whole thing is in the details, which we’ll be taking a look at today. We’re going to go through this week’s “Monday Night Raw” and “Smackdown Live” and compare the major elements of the show and see why “Smackdown Live” just flat out does this better.
To clarify: I’m not talking about which show has better talent, time slot issues, etc. This is about what is done with the talent available and how the show is structured in general. Things like three hours vs. two hours is beyond the writers’ control and has been debated to death already. We’re looking at the specifics of what we see on the actual shows.
Let’s start with the subject that tends to dominate way too many episodes of the red show: authority figures. Starting with “Monday Night Raw”, we had General Manager Mick Foley making a tag team and giving them a shot at the titles and then getting yelled at by Commissioner Stephanie McMahon because of whatever her latest reason is. I think it was something about Foley thinking too much with his heart instead of his head. That segment took up a few minutes and was mostly booed out of the arena.
Over on “Smackdown Live”, there was a title match made, a World Title match for the main event, and a segment to set up Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton. In total, the bosses made zero appearances combined. Yeah they weren’t there. At all. Not once. And yet stuff still happened and everything went just fine. This certainly does feel like a Ward influence from the NXT playbook.
Over on “NXT”, when is the last time you remember General Manager William Regal appearing for more than about five minutes in back to back weeks? If I had to guess, it hasn’t happened very often if ever. This is one of the best things that the main roster shows could learn from the minor league: you don’t need to walk us through every single thing that happens on the shows. We can get along just fine with the announcers saying “this decision was made by” and then just doing it instead of showing us every single thing. It saves time and keeps us from having to sit through the same talking points over and over.
To tie in with the authority figures theme, let’s take a look at the main events from this week. On “Smackdown Live”, we have Smackdown World Champion AJ Styles defending against Dean Ambrose with John Cena sitting in on commentary to help set up the triple threat match at the upcoming “No Mercy 2016” pay per view. This was announced a week in advance, which isn’t exactly a long build but at least it’s some time to help set things up a bit.
Over on “Monday Night Raw”, the main event of Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens was announced with a commercial break’s notice. In addition to that, the final segment announced was the Highlight Reel with Owens as a guest. With Seth Rollins already being announced as being out with injured ribs, what else were we supposed to expect? Rollins came out but was quickly sent to the back, leaving us with only a surprise to carry us through the end of the show. Other shows aside, there’s a good chance that this had something to do with the “Monday Night Raw” ratings tanking so badly earlier this week.
At the end of the day, you need to know what you’ve got coming up on the show. It doesn’t have to be a title match or some big showdown but don’t make us have to tune in to see what we’re getting that night. A big talking segment, almost no matter who the guest is, isn’t going to be enough to draw fans in on one night’s notice. If nothing else, it means the creative team might actually have to set something in stone more than a few hours in advance.
Let’s shift gears a bit and look at putting together tag teams to go after the respective Tag Team Titles. “Smackdown Live” did this first as they put together the comedy duo of Heath Slater and Rhyno, who would win the inaugural Smackdown Tag Team Titles. This came at the end of a story where Slater was trying to get a contract on either show and had to become a champion to finally get himself signed. On the other hand, we’ve found out that the veteran Rhyno really enjoys Cheese Whiz on crackers.
“Monday Night Raw” on the other hand presented a best of seven series (ignore the two previous matches that didn’t actually count) where Sheamus and Cesaro tied at three matches each before a draw in the deciding match. The winner of the series was supposed to get a championship opportunity but since they both technically won (or at least neither lost), let’s just give both of them a title shot and basically ignore the last month and a half of feuding.
Now this one isn’t as cut and dry but I still think it goes to “Smackdown Live”. At least in this case Sheamus and Cesaro accomplish a goal and by giving New Day some fresh challengers for the Raw Tag Team Titles. However, look at what it took to get there: nearly two months of matches, the introduction of “establishing physical dominance” and an inconclusive ending which really didn’t accomplish anything. It gets to the point eventually but that doesn’t mean the fans are happy with the road to get there.
Finally, you have the importance of the World Titles. Look at Styles. He’s pinned Cena twice and won the Smackdown World Title from Ambrose. Styles only debuted in the company back in January and is now possibly their best overall performer. His promos have been better and his matches already speak for themselves. Above all else though: he’s gotten the big wins over the big names and doesn’t feel like he’s second to anyone, including Cena.
Compare that to Owens, who is arguably the fifth biggest star on “Monday Night Raw” (after McMahon, Reigns, Triple H, Foley at least) and lost a big match to Reigns three weeks after being handed the title by Triple H. He never feels like the top story on the show and is stuck in a feud with Rollins over who is Triple H’s favorite kid. That’s what the Raw World Title is: a prop in the latest McMahon family squabble. I know they’re the stars of the company but I could go for a champion who is actually closer to the top of his roster.
I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out and “Monday Night Raw” certainly has its own strengths (most of its titles, better talent throughout etc.) but there are so many problems running through the show that drags it down. There’s so much good stuff on “Smackdown Live” though and they just do things so well with what they have to work with. It’s just a much more fun show to sit through and doesn’t feel like the labor that “Monday Night Raw” has become. In other words, it’s like “NXT” feels more often than not and that’s a good thing.
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