The pro wrestling world is already abuzz with Wednesday's news that SmackDown will begin airing live on July 19 and will be the beginning of a brand-new, much-anticipated WWE brand split. Given the massive stockpile of talent in WWE and NXT at the moment, combined with the rampant injuries that have plagued the roster, this is a much welcomed change that is a long time coming.
There are lots of questions, of course, but they all boil down to the same thing: what will this new status quo in the WWE look like? How will the roster be divided and what will be the respective focuses of RAW and SmackDown going forward? I'll attempt to make my best guess, given what we already know.
In the golden age of the last brand split, both shows had distinct personalities and aesthetics. RAW was the live show where the established stars were and where "anything could happen." SmackDown featured lights-out wrestling and showcased the best talent in the world in athletic competition. I think the new brand split will have a dichotomy that isn't too far off from that.
I believe that SmackDown will focus on up-and-coming talent and have a heavier emphasis on in-ring action, while RAW will continue to be storyline-heavy and will showcase the biggest stars in the company. The momentum was already heading that way, as SmackDown has just been rebooted on USA Network with Mauro Ranallo, who is a brand-new voice in the company for the first time in a very long time.
Indeed, Ranallo himself has gone on record in the past that when he joined the company, it was his understanding SmackDown was to be a "hybrid" of NXT and WWE. I believe those plans will finally come to fruition in July.
The next question is, what will be done with the WWE championships? The first time the brands split, the WWE Undisputed Champion floated between shows, but eventually a secondary title -- the World Heavyweight Championship -- was introduced to RAW, bestowed upon Triple H by then-general manager Eric Bischoff. There remained two world championship belts until Randy Orton unified them at TLC in 2013.
I'm in the minority of believing that having two distinct world championships doesn't diminish their value -- just take a look at the world of boxing, for crying out loud -- particularly if the top performers on RAW and SmackDown don't cross paths in a given calendar year. That being said, there are only two possibilities for the world title: either have the reigning world champ "float" between brands, or reinstate the distinct WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Championship lineages. Either one is equally likely and neither is a bad thing.
With the secondary titles, I believe that the Intercontinental Championship will go to SmackDown and the United States Championship will stay on RAW. I also believe that the tag team and women's divisions will be split, one per show. Because while both the women's division and the tag team division are more robust than they have been in years, they aren't that robust. Besides, we just got the Women's Championship back. It's too early to dilute it.
At the same time, dividing up the tag team and women's divisions allows more time and focus to be given to each. While RAW is usually overstuffed at three hours, you still have the entire WWE roster fighting for time and performers and divisions often get lost in the shuffle.
That's my best guess at what the basic ethos of each show will look like. SmackDown can be used as a feeder system for NXT and international performers to get their legs on the main roster and can build a reputation as the show for the hardcore wrestling fan, just like the "SmackDown Six" did back in the day.
As to what the draft might end up with, here's my stab at fantasy booking:
RAW (United States Championship, Tag Team Championship)
Bubba Ray Dudley
Alberto Del Rio
SmackDown (Intercontinental Championship, Women's Championship)
That ends up with RAW having slightly more performers, but they have an extra hour of television to fill each week. Look at how many people are on the main roster right now (with my lists only including four very likely NXT call-ups). It will be wonderful to get a lot more people some significant air time and even on paper, it feels like a refreshing change.
Time will tell how close this comes to looking like the real thing. (Probably not close at all, but a boy can dream.)
Feel free to guess at your own roster in the comments below.