It was “go home” time this week as Raw and Smackdown looked to secure all loose knots leading into Clash of Champions.
The King of the Ring finals were set, contracts were signed, and Kevin Owens apparently got fired! It’s difficult not to label both shows this week as hasty attempts to bring most storylines to their planned conclusions, but that generalized observation doesn’t answer the question we’ve gathered here today to decipher. In the category of Clash of Champions “go home” shows, which brand did it better?
Ladies and gentlemen, my weekly task is to watch both Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live noting the positives and negative aspects of each respectively, then I’m charged with giving you fine readers my humble opinion of which show was better. As some of you may know, this series is still relatively new and therefore still has some bugs that need to be worked out. With that said, in an attempt to shorten the overall length of each article moving forward, this week I’ll cover the pros of both shows in one section, the cons in the following section, and then we’ll wrap everything up with the announcement of this week’s winner and a few examples of what earned them the victory. With all the opening shenanigans handled, let’s jump right into the positives of Raw and Smackdown this week!
Over the last few months, I’ve both praised and scorned WWE’s repeating of the nostalgia tactic. This week saw the company return to the well once again as Raw kicked off with Steve Austin reliving some of his most iconic Madison Square Garden moments, and Smackdown launched with an impassioned speech from The Undertaker about the future of WWE.
Usually, segments like this can easily be received as pandering to the crowd. Ratings are low, so you bring a legend on to bump up viewership, most fans are familiar with this. However, this time around seemed oddly different. Both segments came across as real conversations each legend might have with a fan or coworker. Austin’s humble remembrance of his career was undeniably heartfelt, and Taker’s call to embrace the future stars was beyond earnest. Sure, both these segments were designed to draw fans, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were both handled precisely how they should’ve been.
Moving on, let’s take a look at how both brands covered their respective King of the Ring semifinal matches. My past critiques of nostalgia aside, I’d be lying if I said this rebooted tournament hasn’t been one of the most entertaining things WWE has produced recently. Raw’s semifinal match featured Baron Corbin, Samoa Joe, and Ricochet facing off in a triple threat to determine the red brand’s finalist, while Smackdown Live saw Shane McMahon step in to meet Chad Gable after semifinalist Elias was announced as unable to compete. Not only did both of these matches incorporate unique match types usually not seen in typical tournament formats, but both Raw’s triple threat and Smackdown’s 2 out of 3 falls match felt like they had legit stakes.
Raw’s semifinal was a shoot out between decidedly three of the top talents on the red brand, making the outcome incredibly difficult to predict, and Smackdown’s match was a clinic in how you book underdog storylines. If you want more proof that this has been some of the best content WWE has delivered as of late, just think about the fact that there’s legitimate hype going into a match between Baron Corbin and Chad Gable!
Wrapping things up with a Raw exclusive pro – if there’s a Firefly Funhouse, it’s making the positives section! This week’s edition of the Funhouse focused heavily on “stranger danger” and the continued rumors of the Fiend challenging for the Universal Title at Hell in a Cell. As Bray’s puppet cast disdainfully referenced the inclusion of Steve Austin on Monday Night Raw, Wyatt sought to keep focus on the possibility of what Hell in a Cell may bring. This Funhouse seemed to be Wyatt’s attempt to minimize the Stone Cold nostalgia hype in an effort to refocus fan’s attention on his own angle. Bray even went as far as to “repair” Abby the Witch’s broken clock (ominously stuck on 3:16) with a mini sledgehammer, changing the time shown to 11:19, which immediately sent fans to search out WWE related November 19th events. This was perfect booking for the continued arc of Bray’s Fiend gimmick. Instead of ignoring the present goings on elsewhere within the company, Bray plays off it and proves why the most attention should be placed squarely on him.
As good as both shows were this week, no WWE program is without its flaws. With that being said, it’s time we look at a few of the downsides from this week’s shows.
Last week, I praised both Raw and Smackdown for seemingly showcasing their respective Women’s divisions correctly. However, it would seem WWE is back to the lacklustre style of highlighting their female roster that they’ve become infamous for. You can crow about your Women’s “Revolution” all you want, but when you’re only showing us the Four Horsewomen continually, it really stops the momentum you’re trying to give yourself. That’s not even bringing up the fact of how overly convoluted this entire angle is! This week’s Raw featured a tag match between the four women, with Lynch (face) and Charlotte (heel) teaming against Sasha Banks (heel) and Bayley (face). Now, I’m all for gimmick fluidity, but in what world does any of this make sense?! In all fairness, I’m sure both upcoming Women’s championship matches will deliver this Sunday, but that doesn’t change the fact that everything leading up to them has not only been received as pointless but also has taken focus away from other great female competitors within the company. Just look at the treatment of Ember Moon on this week’s Smackdown Live as further proof.
Next up, the Viking Raiders go face, and Heavy Machinery start the squash schtick on Smackdown! I know I’m not alone in the opinion that WWE can’t book tag team wrestling to save their own lives. Scenarios like this are the basis for that opinion. For weeks we’ve been given squash victory after squash victory by the Viking Raiders, with heavy emphasis being that they are an unstoppable, beast-like team.
All signs pointed at the Raiders being an overbearing heel faction until this week’s Raw saw them coming to the defense of Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, and Cedric Alexander. I completely understand that it makes more sense for the former NXT Tag Team Champions to be seen as a face team, but why all the destruction style build to get to this point? And what does this mean for Heavy Machinery? Tuesday’s Smackdown Live saw Tucker and Otis take part in their usual food centric backstage antics only to follow it up with a quick victory over a “local talent” team. This very much feels like the same angle the Raiders were given but pushed through a face filter instead. Could we see Heavy Machinery eventually go heel? The real question we should be asking is, will we even care by that point?
Finally, let me end this week’s cons with something I’ve noticed over the last few weeks. Remember months ago when we were told that commercial breaks during matches was going to be a thing of your past? “Legitimate sports don’t cut away from the action, so why should we?” Ignoring the fact that the biggest pro wrestling company in the world basically labeled their own product as fake sport, it certainly would seem that this was just more of WWE blowing smoke.
Over the last two weeks, both Raw and Smackdown have featured multiple commercial breaks during matches. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not personally bothered by the occasional commercial break. I’ve watched wrestling and other sports long enough to know that sponsorship pays the bills and therefore takes high priority. However, I take great offense in being lied to by a company that prides itself at giving people what they want. Telling us you’re changing for the benefit of our overall experience just to go back on your word months later is the perfect example of what happens in an unhealthy relationship! Time and time again, WWE goes right back to insulting our intelligence.
An all around decent week of programming presented by WWE. Certainly not perfect, but definitely not unwatchable either. But, no matter how adequate this week’s show’s were, only one can be declared as the overall winner. Therefore, it’s my opinion that this week… the winner of Red versus Blue has to be…
The blue brand came to fight this week with moments like Kofi’s table spot, and Chad Gable beating the odds to reach the King of the Ring finals, but in the end it wasn’t enough to overcome the three hour juggernaut that is Monday Night Raw.
So, with this article and both shows in the book, it’s time I bid you fine readers farewell in my usual manner.
Until next time, may all your kicks be super, and every frog splash five stars!