For years, RAW has been the WWE’s flagship brand, boasting the biggest draws and showcasing the best of the best. That’s why it’s pretty surprising that SmackDown Live – its relatively younger sister brand – is the one chugging like a train at full speed right now. No, RAW technically still beats SDL in terms of pure viewership (3.2 million vs 2.7 million, this week). But a closer look at everything else tells us that team blue is where the real wrestling is at.
And with WrestleMania 33 coming up, both brands are kicking it into full gear.
Doing More With Less
Tuesday night saw ratings for SDL rise, as AJ Styles and Randy Orton faced off for the first time ever. At stake: the opportunity to face Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania and challenge for the WWE Championship. The singles match was representative of how well SmackDown Live has been doing. In terms of in-ring performance, the wrestling was, as Styles would say, phenomenal. It was highlighted by Styles feinting a Phenomenal Forearm, making Randy Orton fall flat on his back in a premature counterattack. It ended on a high note, with Orton landing an elevated RKO to win.
In terms of storyline, it was heavy too. Styles was a man jumping through hoops to reach WrestleMania. Orton, however, had very personal beef with Bray Wyatt, having dismantled the family from within. Both were deserving.
In contrast, RAW’s decision for Goldberg to win the Universal Championship was kind of confusing. Lesnar challenging him for the title may be appropriate, but it strips Kevin Owens a chance to shine at ‘Mania. Instead, Owens is relegated to the midcard, battling former best friend Chris Jericho for the United States Championship.
Meanwhile, the Undertaker looks like he might be facing Roman Reigns at his yard: WrestleMania. But fans can only wonder: why? Why give the Undertaker’s probably farewell match to one as disliked as Reigns?
Picking Up Steam
It’s the fans’ consensus that matters. And this week, with thousands of voters on an online poll for Forbes, fans let it be known that SmackDown Live was the show on top. It scored a 73% approval rating, while RAW scored only 61%.
Wrestle Zone held a more telling poll, simply asking which show was better this week. And 68% said SmackDown was preferable, while 32% said RAW. That’s two blue votes for every red one.
It’s a testament to the way both shows use the talents and resources at their disposal. RAW right now has the benefit of a larger roster, a more storied history, and an extra hour of airtime. Yet, fighting with less, SmackDown Live still manages to do more. The champions are more consistent with their grip on the belts, and the promos more exciting (Miz vs Cena, remember?).
SmackDown Live has picked up steam and is leading the way for the WWE right now. And if it’s Orton vs Wyatt that tops off WrestleMania 33, rather than Goldberg vs Lesnar, there won’t be any surprise.