Sunday, June 16, 2013

WWE: Putting all their eggs in one basket

It's been a while since I've updated the blog (although I WILL be doing another "A Case of the Summer" feature over the next couple of months) so I thought I'd do a post about an observation I (and many others) have had over the past few years:  Basically, that WWE seems to be putting all of their eggs in one basket.

Once the brand extension found its footing, things seemed relatively level.  Whether it was the company's top stars, the World Championship, or the shows themselves, nothing ever seemed THAT much superior to their counterpart.

First, you had your top stars.  During this time period, the main event scene seemed pretty evenly divided between top stars like Stone Cold, Hulk Hogan, the Rock, Triple H, the Undertaker, Kurt Angle, and a handful of others.  I honestly cannot think of a period of time where you could say, "Wow, this guy was in the main event (that is to say, the last match of the night) for every single PPV for the past year or so."  One month Stone Cold vs. the Undertaker might be the featured feud.  Then it was Hogan vs. Triple H.  It seemed to shift around pretty regularly.

Even as new stars emerged, things seemed spread out pretty well.  Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit climbed up the ladder at the same time, as did Randy Orton and Edge and later John Cena and Batista.  And when Cena and Batista finally cemented their status as "THE" new top guys, for many years they seemed to be regarded as being at the same level.

And then there were the TV shows.  Sure, at first Raw was still TREATED as superior (with their announcers calling the PPVs) and Smackdown clearly had the superior roster.  But, again, once the dust settled things were treated pretty evenly.  Raw had Chris Benoit, while Smackdown had Eddie Guerrero.  Raw had Triple H, while Smackdown had the Undertaker.  Raw had John Cena, while Smackdown had Batista.  Raw had Randy Orton, while Smackdown had Edge.  Smackdown had Brock Lesnar while Raw had Goldberg.  And while both shows seemed to have a lengthy period where they'd usually close the show, it seemed like both Raw and Smackdown pretty evenly got highlighted as the main event of the night at PPVs.

Finally, there were the World Championships.  Initially, the WWE Championship seemed to be the "featured" title, with Brock Lesnar (of Smackdown) being the champion.  His matches seemed to close out the show while Triple H and the World Heavyweight Championship was your mid-show attraction.  Then the World Heavyweight Championship took center stage with Goldberg's arrival, Chris Benoit's rise to the top, and the ascension of Batista.  Things shifted to John Cena and the WWE Championship when he moved to Raw, but for quite some time things seemed to flip flop between the two titles.  Looking at the first six years of the brand extension, the WWE Championship closed WrestleMania at 19, 22, 23, and 25, while the World Heavyweight Championship main evented 20, 21, and 24.  This seemed fairly consistent with how the title was treated at other events as well.

But then, things changed.  While John Cena was once a handful of stars along with Batista, Orton, Edge, Triple H, and the Undertaker (amongst others), he's now regarded as THE star.  His angle is always the top angle, regardless of the stories, characters, or whether a championship is involved.  Even when somebody like CM Punk (who challenges him in every regard) emerges, John Cena remains the center of the show.  John Cena is unequivocally the center of the promotion, with guys like CM Punk and Sheamus behind him, and guys like Randy Orton, Alberto Del Rio, and Daniel Bryan even behind them.  But unlike any other time in the company's modern history, nobody is the counter to John Cena.

And then there's the show.  Consider this:  At one time Raw had Austin and Smackdown had Rock.  And now?  The company's two biggest stars (Cena and Punk) are both on Raw.  The guy currently getting the best crowd reactions (Daniel Bryan) is part of Raw as well.  The hottest new prospects -- the Shield -- are all members of Raw's roster.  And your big star part timers (Triple H and Brock Lesnar) are on Raw as well.  And who does Smackdown have?  A directionless Randy Orton, and a floundering Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio.  I award them bonus points for officially keeping Undertaker on that roster, even though 90% of his appearances happen on Raw.

This ties into the championship matter, but when's the last time Smackdown ended a PPV?  Admittedly, the WWE Championship isn't even guaranteed to close the show these days, but at least that title is treated like a big deal.  While each championship was treated as prestigious, the WWE goes right out and now says that the WWE Championship is THE most prestigious championship.  Sadly, the World Heavyweight Championship is typically relegated to opening match honors.

So why did WWE go from trying to keep things even steven to suddenly deciding that John Cena stands alone as the biggest star, Raw is undoubtedly the superior brand, and the WWE Championship is unequivocally the most prestigious championship in all the land?  What changed?  And what's the benefit?

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