The Three Count

T3C: The Split: Past, Present and Future

In my second column for this site, I thought I’d take a look at the history of the brand extension. The humiliations, the failures and what the future holds in store.

Welcome to the second edition of ‘The Three Count’, next week I’ll be previewing Wrestlemania XX but this time around I thought I’d take a look at the Brand Extension, or as it’s also known ‘Sorry but you can only see Mick Foley on a Monday.’

When the idea of separate existences for Raw and Smackdown began, I could see the point of such a move. After the demise of WCW and ECW, Vince was facing the fact that his roster was simply too large. Of course, a lot of this was his attempt to rid himself of any credible opposition. In the 80s he simply wiped out territories and took their best wrestlers, now he was faced with finding a way of ensuring another WCW wasn’t created.

But Vince had a problem. With too many wrestlers on his books he had to keep them happy. Sending some to OVW wasn’t the solution, even if it might help them and Vince in the long run. How could Vince fit all his roster onto his main shows? The only solution was to create two rosters, one for Raw and one for Smackdown, leading to further splits for Heat and Velocity. The lesser stars would find themselves with regular TV time and the occasional push on the big shows, perhaps even a PPV appearance other than making up numbers in the Royal Rumble.

The big split also gave Vince the chance to liven things up. He split up the APA and the Dudleys and would do the same to the Hardy Boyz as well. Would this create some new stars in the singles division? Only Matt Hardy has had anything resembling success and the odds are that if Jeff gets himself sorted out, all three teams will be back together by the end of the year.

In its early days the brand extension was reasonably successful, there were some new stars being created. But there was no real heat between the two brands with the McMahon v Flair war dying a death the night Austin walked out. Then things began to change for the better with the introduction of the General Managers. The arrival of Eric Bischoff and the return of Stephanie McMahon breathed new life into the split. Finally the two brands were at war with each other. Poaching of stars became a regular occurrence, though it was probably just Vince fine-tuning the changes he’d made.

Eric v Steph had a lot of promise, there was even the teaser of the two getting together when Eric kissed Steph at the Halloween party. Eric and Steph v Vince? It never happened, perhaps Vince was still having nightmares over his last invasion/takeover plot.

Then it started to change again. Instead of Raw v Smackdown, we suddenly drifted into Civil War territory with the introduction of Austin on Raw and Vince/Sable on Smackdown. OK it made it look as there were two separate brands but with retirement matches aplenty on both brands, it just became rather predictable and going nowhere.

So what do we have now? Well on Raw it’s just the Austin and Evolution show. Austin keeps finding ways of humiliating Bischoff and Coach and it’s just so predictable. I actually feel sorry for Austin that he’s got to do this every week, the poor guy just wants to get back in the ring again, and every time I see him on his quad bike, I can’t stop myself thinking of Ozzie Osbourne.

Over on Smackdown it’s the let’s humiliate Paul Heyman show, again I feel sorry for the guy after the power he had in ECW. I reckon Vince is loving every minute of it. On Mondays he can beat up Bischoff then watch Heyman eat soap later in the week, how the mighty have fallen!

But how does the Brand extension help WWE? PPV rates aren’t high, especially when it’s the single brand events. We can’t keep seeing the same limited number of wrestlers fight each other every week. All Vince can do to keep interest is to have continual face and heel turns.

What happens if Angle wins the title at Wrestlemania? Who does he feud with next? There aren’t that many top level faces on Smackdown, ok he could face the deadman Undertaker or Cena again but after that it’s getting a bit desperate. Edge has to return to Smackdown, he can’t go to Raw.

It’s the same on Raw. Who can Michaels feud with after the Triple H and Benoit saga ends? If he stays face then there aren’t that many options, if he turns heel then there are options but simply repeats of what we’ve seen before but from a different angle, eg Michaels v the new face Jericho.

WWE simply doesn’t have enough true un-exposed top stars to justify a brand extension. The fact there are so many inter-brand matches at Wrestlemania proves this. Each brand is not capable of delivering 5 or 6 top matches worthy of such an occasion.

So what does Vince do? He can re-introduce the war between the two brands. Swop some stars: Take Big Show or Cena and dump them on Raw, do the same with A-Train or Billie Gunn. He can take RVD, Booker T and Christian and swop them over to Smackdown. A few changes like that can change things, all of a sudden we can have Angle v Booker T or RVD, Edge v Christian (or tag them again) and Triple H v Cena. New life, new ideas.

So what do you think? Just email me and let me know. Next week I take an in-depth look at Wrestlemania XX and I’ll leave you with one thought. There’s a gaping, insulting hole left in the card that has been announced so far. What is it? Think about it, sense just doesn’t come into it. Well that’s all from ‘The Three Count’ this week, see you next time around.

Stephen Ashfield