Ever since the brand split, the arguments over SmackDown Live and Monday Night Raw has been incessant. Team Blue vs. Team Red. The debates have been heated, tempers have flared, and the WWE Universe at times appears utterly and hopelessly divided.
But still we must attempt to reason, for if we abandon logic for our base impulses—or embrace faulty logic—we become no better than our opponents.
There are many things that have made Tuesday's program so eminently watchable (and I encourage you to read Hollywood Chris Hall's recent piece on booking philosophies), but two reasons in particular stand out. If you're still on the fence, this is why you should support SmackDown Live.
The Good Guys and Girls Win
Sometimes you need your favorite baseball team to lose in heartbreaking fashion in the 10th inning of Game Seven of the World Series to remember why you like the things you like.
The world is a messed up place, and sport is a needed release valve for many. But sometimes your sports teams break your heart. However, it doesn't have to be this way in the scripted environment of professional wrestling; it shouldn't be this way. Wrestling should be fun, right? Fans spend money to attend shows and buy merchandise and watch on TV or pay-per-view because they get joy in return—so those fans should receive that reward.
And the reward, more than smart booking and good stories, is seeing the favorites win—a lot.
It seems overly simple to suggest that merely having babyfaces win makes a wrestling show successful ... but it's really not. Make babyfaces the crowd likes, and have them win—a lot. People tend to like that.
Indeed, history tells us that crowds respond to this very simple maxim. WWE killed the territory system because a certain larger-than-life figure embodied America at the end of the Cold War—and won, a lot. WWE killed WCW because a beer-swilling anti-hero fought against an evil billionaire—and won, a lot. WWE experienced a rise in fortunes in the mid-aughts because a man touted the values of "Hustle, Loyalty, Respect"—and won, a lot.
But Monday Night Raw, judging by collapsing ratings and critical reaction over the last few years, is frustrating, depressing, and simply tiring—and in no small part because the performers that win, a lot, aren't the preferred options of the audience. But enough words have been written about the errors of the red brand.
We're here to celebrate a wrestling program that brings joy to its fans.
Here are the current SmackDown Live champions:
- WWE World Champion: The one heel in the championship bunch—and AJ Styles just so happens to be the only active full timer getting megastar reactions in the company. He's the very definition of a Heel Ace: despite being the bad guy, he is relentlessly cheered because he's exceptionally good at this whole pro wrestling thing. But Styles still plays his role correctly—his character is so unremittingly loathsome that even though he's cheered, he still does the real job of any good heel: get your opposing babyfaces over. What's more, the long-term plan appears clear, and its goal is to have the babyface hero stand triumphant on the mountaintop on the grandest stage of them all.
- Women's Champion: A bright orange punny ball of straight fire. A life-long fighter who made her own way to the championship. Who doesn't like Becky Lynch? Case closed.
- Intercontinental Champion: Dolph Ziggler literally put his career on the line to overcome the deviousness and underhandedness of The Miz. A hard luck loser, being down to your last shot, laying it all on the line—these are quintessential babyface traits. For a man that was adrift for a very long time until very recently, Ziggler's success is remarkable.
- Tag Team Champions: A beloved, quirky odd couple that were given a story, meaningful characterization, and got over. Not only that, but the show responded to the fans' adoration for Heath Slater and Rhyno, not only putting the tiles on them but giving them a meaningful reign (with multiple successful title defenses) when common expectation was that they were mere placeholders for The Usos.
Three face acts, and one heel act that fans universally respect and enjoy watching.
Booking Responds to the Crowd, Not Vice Versa
Obviously, there are a number of exceptional programs running on Tuesdays. The battle between Dolph Ziggler and The Miz over the Intercontinental Championship has been almost certainly the best feud of the year. A.J. Styles and Dean Ambrose's (ft. John Cena) tussle over the WWE World Championship has been similarly on point, and Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss are running the best Women's Championship feud on the main roster by a mile. The improbable success of Heath Slater and Rhyno as SmackDown Live Tag Team Champions is also noteworthy. And of course the brilliance of Renee Young and Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack is a huge advantage for the blue brand.
There are three acts that haven't gotten as much attention as the above list. But they're just as representative of how thoroughly entertaining SmackDown Live has been the last three months. All three demonstrate that SmackDown Live doesn't try to fight the crowd—it intelligently uses the audience's reactions to their advantage.
Carmella's debut on the main roster was rocky. The connection with Enzo and Cass wasn't explained, making her mimicking of Enzo's gimmick seem totally out of place for many viewers. Her crowd reactions were virtually non-existent, including in her kayfabe billed town of New York City at SummerSlam.
SmackDown Live immediately used this to good effect a mere two days later, turning a dead babyface into a psychotic heel by having her start a campaign of terror toward Nikki Bella (cementing Nikki's face turn in the process, giving her a conclusive—and correct—alignment). It was a radical departure from everything she'd done in NXT, and to her great credit, she's knocked it out of the park.
Creative saw what the crowd was offering—zilch for face Carmella, and the desire to cheer for Nikki—and went with it. Few people even imagined the possibility of a heel Carmella—surely the third to Enzo and Cass and Bayley's best friend wouldn't work as a heel.
But SmackDown Live envisioned it: they made her a relevant player in the women's division and launched a real blood feud.
The Usos' story is similar to Carmella's, except they were a long-established act leading into their turn. They would be the first to note that their run had grown stale. While the crowd hadn't necessarily rejected them, they were clearly apathetic toward the duo.
Coming out of the draft the tag division on SmackDown Live had no obvious top heel team. In terms of faces, Heath Slater and Rhyno struck gold, and American Alpha are the eventual heir apparent. But the heel side was ... not good. Breezango, The Ascension, The Vaudevillains—while there's some promise in the first, it's hardly controversial to note that there aren't any star teams in that trio.
It made so much sense to turn The Usos, an established but stale act, to feud with the top babyface teams. And so the blue brand turned them. In the process they revitalized Jimmy and Jey—the new look and theme are just perfect; made Slater and Rhyno look like legitimate champs by having them retain at No Mercy; and got over the brotherhood of American Alpha by having Jason Jordan refuse to tag in an injured Chad Gable during a match with The Usos.
It makes so much sense to have The Usos eventually win the tag titles in nefarious ways in order to set up an eventual championship program with Alpha. SmackDown Live is laying the groundwork for a potential feud months before it actually begins.
Predictability doesn't make wrestling bad. It means the show makes sense—a quality that everyone should appreciate.
A Struggling Prospect
This last choice might seem an odd selection.
Apollo Crews has done very little of note since his call up after WrestleMania. While his potential remains clear, he's struggled to connect with the audience on any level.
He found himself in a rerun of his NXT feud with Baron Corbin, which was a natural fit. The two have really strong chemistry, and consistently produce better-than-expected matches.
But the brand wasn't prepared to commit to a big face push for Crews. What did SmackDown Live do?
Instead of choosing to follow a stop-start, 50/50 booking philosophy, the heel definitively went over—not just beating Crews, but also geeking him out in a beatdown—and largely took Crews out of the limelight. Corbin got a strong push up the card, and Crews got a needed breather.
This is what you do with struggling prospects—take the pressure off and allow them to make adjustments. It's important for a wrestling show to know whom to push. But it's also important for a wrestling show to know whom not to push—and have valid reasons for doing so. Hopefully Crews and creative can use this time to find a way to make a bigger impact.
Given the success of many other acts on SmackDown Live, that seems a reasonable assumption to make.
Make Your Voice Heard
There's no doubt SmackDown Live has the odds stacked against it. It has to overcome a long-held reputation of being the "B show," its counterpart got the bulk of notable acts in the brand split draft, its top babyface has missed numerous shows since July. On paper, one would expect Raw to clobber the blue brand. That it's been the exact opposite is a huge testament to the strength of Tuesday's creative team and roster.
SmackDown Live needs your support. Cagesiders, make your voice heard, loud and clear.
Vote for the Blues.
Watch SmackDown Live.