Why The Brand Extension Never Works

Corbin Macklin

Credit: WWE.com

I recently watched the excellent Ruthless Aggression series on the Network and it was not lost on me, as I listened to talking head after talking head tell me how the idea of splitting the rosters made sense, that all these years later WWE keeps attempting the same thing and then literally weeks or months later pulling the plug because the ratings are falling. Why the viewership has fallen steadily since the early 2000s is somewhat related to what I have to say about this specific issue. The number one thing: they never push or build anything new. The main problem that splitting the roster is meant to address is that WWE would naturally give the bulk of their tv time to their biggest stars and have every episode of every show recapping and advancing the storylines with the big names. This would leave little tv time for more fringe talents. So, theoretically if you cut the roster in half, it opens up more opportunity for everyone. Until it don't.

If I am a casual observer of WWE, I can tell that they really want me to care about Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt. God bless you if you are anyone else. Now that Becky Lynch is out with pregnancy, that theoretically opens up a spot for someone new. Theroretically. Does Bianca Belair still exist? Did Rhea Ripley sort out her visa issue? Idk. I, unlike many marks, do not bring up these names to suggest they should be thrust into the spotlight to be given the world championship. As much as WWE pats itself on the back for highlighting women's wrestling, things have not changed from the old Divas days in that on both shows, even when you split the brands, they only focus on the Four Horsewomen and few other talents. It is fair to say that like 8 women get featured on both shows. The thing that's crazy is, it feels like most of the women WWE has now have been a champion. So when you don't see Naomi being featured on tv much except to do jobs, that is a multiple time women's champion there, doing mad jobs. Am I trying to say Naomi should always be main eventing and winning championships at the rate of Four Horsewomen, Asuka and Alexa Bliss? Yes and no. Yes, Naomi is one of the best athletes in the company right now. If she botches a lot it is mostly because she tries to do a lot of flashy things that her opponent might not know how to react to. And no, I am not that fan that thinks that just because someone is not in the championship picture they are being buried. I don't even think not getting tv time or taking lots of losses is being buried because that actually describes most of WWE and that is the problem.

AJ Styles is one of the greatest wrestlers in this era, and one of the greatest wrestlers in any era. He does a TON of jobs. If somehow you were to decide to become a fan right now during the pandemic, HOW could you not see AJ Styles as a very talented enhancement talent? Pretty much everytime you see him he is getting beat up, made to look like a fool and losing matches. You can't even couch that shit in "oh he's a heel". The past year plus, he has reminded me of Razor Ramon back in the day. Razor Ramon was sort of the gatekeeper to the upper mid card/main event in WWF before he left to go to WCW. He was the guy who was often beaten by young wrestlers who were being pushed and all the main eventers. BUT. If you wrestled him and he beat you, you were clearly NOT a priority. Think Humberto Carillo, Cedric Alexander, Ricochet and other newer WWE talents who have been booked to lose to AJ on tv and on the pre show of pay per views. The difference between AJ Styles and Razor Ramon is that Scott Hall retired without ever winning a world championship anywhere. AJ Styles has won world championship gold multiple times everywhere he has been. I once again point out, I do not say this to say "he should consistently be in main events and holding belts" but the presentation matters.

A lot of observers of WWE say things like "they don't have stars." Yes they do. "No one draws." They don't. There is a difference between the drawing power of Mike Tyson at this peak when he was knocking everyone out in seconds and people would complain about how they weren't getting their money's worth but then they would shell out the money everytime to see it... and then there was the Mike Tyson that was getting beat up by Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis. Wrestling is no different. You can convince people someone is a big star they need to see when that star is very rarely taking a clean L. It's hard to do but not impossible. One of the lasting impacts of this era we're still in where WWE prostitutes everything they have to bring in names from other sports and other professions and then give those people wins over their stars and they bring back old stars who ALSO get wins over their current talent... is once Goldberg, Undertaker, Brock and all these old names really are gone forever NOW WHAT??? Nowadays if WWE wants to pop a rating they bill a show as some kind of anniversary or homecoming or old school whatever and they trot out the same names that appear at all these shows. And the rating jumps less and less. Law of diminishing returns. AT SOME POINT WWE NEEDS TO MAKE NEW STARS.

I'm not here to make the point that one of the names WWE needs to invest in is Roman Reigns but really I just typed this sentence out to have an excuse to, unlike WWE tv, mention The Big Dog. I am here to advance my main point here, that when you look back at the Ruthless Aggression era, the same stars they're touting as the stars of the future THEN, are the biggest stars WWE has NOW. It can't last FOREVER. Lol. The Ruthless Aggression is my favorite era of wrestling. It acknowledged that the biggest stars of the Attitude Era and the guys who were coming over from WCW couldn't be relied on to be the draws going forward. Hulk Hogan beat HHH for the championship during this time and as a mark for Hulkamania I loved to see it. At the same time, they also had Hogan tap out to Kurt Angle. They had him lose to Brock Lesnar in a bear hug. This era gave us the Money in the Bank concept, which I honestly think has definitely outstayed its welcome and run its course. It saw guys who existed in prior eras of wrestling who weren't getting chances to work on top get those opportunities like Edge, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Jeff Hardy etc. And all of the people who were made back then that are still alive today, are still the biggest stars in the world. It's crazy to me that Vince McMahon is considered a genius but he has Jeff Hardy and Ricochet at the same time but it has not occurred to him that he could use one to get the other one over. I'm aware that they're on different brands now. But I just want to drop the idea in your head: Jeff Hardy v Ricochet in a TLC match for a belt. Bruh. It could be for the IC or US belt Idc. BRUH. Such an event could be a passing of the torch, the past generation's reckless risk taker to the new king of high spots and flippy shit.

I think it's weird that WWE is programming Edge vs Randy Orton because in a way, they don't get any real value out of that. Most people hated their last match and they are setting up the next match to be disliked by promoting it as the greatest wrestling match ever. I think it would be better if they played off of Randy Orton's past as the Legend Killer and set up a young talent to push as the new young gun hungry to make a name for himself at the expense of the older talent. Edge made a career off of being the Ultimate Opportunist so it would make sense to make a new slimy heel who will do anything to go over at his expense. But. Instead of booking in this way, WWE just constantly tries to make dream matches between old and veteran talents. The entire time I have been writing this I have thought about how much it meant to the career of Jeff Hardy when he had the ladder match against Undertaker and how rarely Undertaker ever acknowledged talent on air by raising their hand or shaking their hand or anything like that. The reason the first brand split worked is because they actually used it to make new people, not just retread the same old same old.

Anyone who has fondness for the Ruthless Aggression Era has no need to Google "The SmackDown Six", they know off top that it was Chavo and Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Edge, Rey Mysterio and Kurt Angle. This nucleus formed the core of the upper midcard on SmackDown and caused many fans to feel that while Raw still had the bigger names and storylines, SmackDown was home to the best wrestlers. Can you look at either the Raw or SmackDown roster and point to a handful of names that makes that show stronger than the other one? I can't. We cannot look at any one star on any of their telelvision and say "Oh so and so is being effectively built up and pushed to the forefront" because that shit isn't happening. But imagine there was a Raw and SmackDown Six. When you look at the dearth of compelling storylines and feuds, you have to think that when they're doing these drafts for the brands no thought is being given to who is going to be programmed with whom. And then when the ratings plunge, now I'm supposed to get excited that AJ Styles is in a tournament for the SmackDown midcard belt and King Corbin had a match with the WWE Champion on Raw. LOL.

I am here today, writing this, not because my friend has given me a platform to rant on my keyboard. But because I love wrestling and I want to express how I think it could be better. WWE DOES have far too much talent to just have the same 15-20 people featured on every show and most of the roster never sees tv time. They NEED the roster split to work. The way that it would work is a hard structure and plan in place. They need to establish the big name stars on both brands and have those people win like all the time. Then you have guys who aren't made yet but you plan on making them over a few months or a year or more. You smash them over by having them win allllll the time. Then it doesn't bury them if you want to do a match where they fail to capture the world championship on the first try if you don't beat them like a drum afterward like WWE typically does. It can be one of those deals where they gain respect for the effort. And then down the line they learn grow and improve and it means something when they finally rise and succeed. Now... this part is important: SOMEBODY needs to lose. There need to be people who are just there to lose all the time. This is the only way. You need guys who win consistently, and you need guys who lose consistently and some people somewhere in between. What WWE currently has now is TOP guys who lose all the time but constantly win belts and lose all the time but retain the title. Again: being a heel does not excuse that shit. There was this long past era where only heels cheated to win that I'd like to see come back. Too often, guys go from losing consistently to immediately winning a belt and it doesn't make sense.

You know who went all the way from jabroni to world champion? Jeff Hardy. That shit took like a decade. I remember when him and Matt were doing jobs on Shotgun Saturday Night. I remember being so broke I used to watch a black and white tv with a coat hanger in it and the dials on the front. Around the time I finally got a really old color tv that you had to slap to get it to display correctly, you could tell Matt and Jeff were making that psychedelic gear they were wearing. And they were clearly there to do jobs. I knew they would be stars. I think a year or so later, they started being managed by Michael Hayes and changed their look. Then we got the epic ladder matches they had with Edge and Christian. Then over the course of YEARS they split up and everyone knew Jeff was the one earmarked for singles success, which was FIRST teased in a WWE Championship ladder match I aforementioned against Undertaker. THAT shit happened in the early 2000s and he didn't break through and win the first one until years later. Again: this shit took a decade. Nowadays, a tag team debuts and breaks up INSIDE of a year and rumors hit that one of them is a pet Vince project and then less than a year later both of them aren't even in the company.

The biggest key to success in anything is patience.