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Calm down, the RAW brand is just fine

The consensus says SmackDown won the latest talent exchange. How does RAW measure up?

SmackDown got better last week, especially as an in-ring product. Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Charlotte all dramatically improved the Tuesday show, and as a whole, the roster appears to have all the tools to make new stars, or to enhance the shine on the existing ones.

On Monday, I cautioned people not to proclaim SmackDown dead after RAW, because every move was going in one direction. It was easy to ask questions about who the other show would have left, because the exodus was a one-way street. Tuesday at 10 ET, we had seen the balance, and then the questions shifted entirely to the holes on Monday nights going forward.

Taking a look at who moved where, it seems apparent that WWE has an interest in separating the very identity of the brands. SmackDown is the wrestling show, and the show with more unpolished characters. Baron Corbin is still a work in progress, but he’s making strides. Sami Zayn never had a chance to break through on RAW as a babyface, but on Tuesdays, he’s likely to be in much better position, even if he doesn’t ever reach a main event. Kevin Owens is a stud, which we know, and moving AJ Styles to more of a confident babyface from an overbearing heel creates a natural rivalry between those two.

RAW, on the other hand, is pushing the charisma and wavering on the matches themselves. That’s not to say there aren’t tremendous wrestlers on Mondays, because that’s entirely untrue, but it is to say most of the moves from SmackDown were of people known more for what they do outside the ring than inside it. The Miz is an MVP character and an average worker. Dean Ambrose, when inspired, can be a terrific performer, but his ring work is along the same lines as Miz’s. Alexa Bliss is improving as a worker, but she’s a dynamite character. Bray Wyatt has plenty of good matches, but he also has many forgettable, gimmicked-up bouts all centered around the essence of Bray, not his actual wrestling.

What it all points to is this simple fact. RAW will be about the stories first, then the matches, while SmackDown will likely be the opposite. There will be overlap, and we’ll get tremendous work on both brands, for instance the Cruiserweights on Mondays, but breaking it down, stories on what’s still considered the “A” show makes complete sense in a Vince McMahon world. Several longer tenured, familiar names moved from blue to red, while many possible leaders of the next generation joined the house AJ Styles built.

If you’re looking for great wrestling, expect SmackDown to be the better show. In actuality, if you like “real” promos, SmackDown will be the show, as Kevin and Sami excel within those confines, and guys like Rusev are ready for the stage. In his case, far past ready. He might be my favorite promo in the entire company.

The names are bigger on Monday if taken in totality, but the heart of the future pumps on Tuesday. That said, Braun Strowman could be the key to the entire thing for Monday nights. Roman Reigns will be Roman Reigns, which is a good thing, the Hardy Boyz are on fire right now, and Finn Balor is an immediate contributor. If Matt can get the rights to the “Broken” universe, they become all about charisma and out-of-the-ring effects. Not that they can’t work, but it won’t be the focus. Balor is terrific, but his entrance remains the biggest pop he gets in every match.

Again, Strowman is the real x-factor here. If he’s pushed correctly, coming off the insanely awesome angle last week, he’s worth multiple superstars in a trade. His improvement and potential marketability are staggering, and he makes RAW worth watching for any wrestling fan. He has a little old school mixed with plenty of new, and as long as the company allows him to rampage, he’s got money written all over him. The expectation of battles with Reigns and Brock Lesnar, among others, should keep the main event of RAW humming nicely. Sprinkle in a little Big Show and maybe a few surprises along the way, and Monday will be just fine.

If you’re looking for another RAW advantage, look no further than the tag team division. The Revival is a big deal, and Cesaro and Sheamus still have some steam left. The New Day departed, which simply had to happen, and it hands back a little of the “character first” left when Miz, Ambrose, and others moved on. Gallows and Anderson need to be given something different to do, because there’s not much there without the titles hanging around. Enzo and Cass are certainly characters first, second, and third, and interplay with Kurt Angle could greatly enhance their already fairly bloated profile.

Speaking of Angle, he’s another positive for RAW coming out of WrestleMania. He’s relentlessly entertaining and willing to play ball, but he can also play the serious executive, because he has credibility as both a champion and a clown. He’s also fresh, whereas we’ve seen plenty of Shane and Daniel Bryan over the past several months. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Kurt offers something new and different.

Stephanie McMahon’s absence should be extended as long as possible, just to allow Angle to maneuver in this world unchecked. WWE can bring her back around SummerSlam or shortly thereafter, perhaps to lead to some kind of match, but let’s just enjoy the FUN Kurt Angle brings and leave the conflict in the background for a while. We just got finished watching Mick Foley emasculated week after week, and it’s a tired concept.

I would agree SmackDown is the more exciting show and the one I’m most looking forward to watching, especially with the Shinsuke Nakamura call-up and hopefully a nice midcard title angle for Tye Dillinger, but RAW isn’t working with a barren cupboard. There’s talent all over the place, almost an embarrassment of riches for WWE across the board, and Monday will have plenty of excellent content to offer.

Especially if Vince learned something from the Strowman angle and continues to allow the talent to be ALL they can be, instead of residing somewhere in the middle and never achieving true love or true hate.

Oh yeah, and Corey Graves is on Monday. He’s the best announcer on the main roster by a wide margin. As long as Otunga doesn’t talk much, that’s still an advantage for RAW, and even if he does, he can only bring greatness down so far.

New feuds, new pairings, new ideas, and Braun Strowman. RAW’s going to be aight. Probably better than aight. We’ll have a little better sense in a handful of hours.

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