2 February 2004 | Gary Ballance
The better of the two brands.
Ever since the brand extension in April 2002 it's been fairly obvious that Smackdown is the stronger show. And while WWE seek to flush all of the SD! talent to help boost the floundering Raw show, SD continues to provide better wrestling on a week-to-week basis.
That said, Smackdown is not without its own flaws. I'll go into those in a moment.
But, first the good elements of the show.
1) a fresh and entertaining commentary team. Tazz and Michael Cole are no J.R. and The King- and they're much better for it! While Raw's announce team had to hop into the ring in September 2003 to make a change, Cole & Tazz don't need that kind of gimmicky crap. They focus on the action (not harp on about puppies or put Triple H over) and have respect for the wrestlers in the ring. [One of the things I hate about Heat is the fact that Marc Lloyd and Jonathan Coachman just cannot call a match, instead waffling on about what's happened on Raw. It's a lack of respect for the wrestlers- no wonder Heat is regarded as a relegation!] Tazz is one of the best colour analysts I've heard (and adds some comedic value- particularly crooning along to The Cat's theme tune 'Somebody Call My Mama'!) and Michael Cole has really come on as a commentator in his own right. A good commentary team is essential for a wrestling show and Smackdown are lucky to have such a good team.
2) A great roster of superstars. While Smackdown has lost a lot of its stars from the original draft pick (Jericho, Matt Hardy, Randy Orton, etc) it still has a great array of superstars- Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio, Eddy Guerrero, John Cena, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas and even The Undertaker has his moments! The roster- particularly the use made of it is also one of my pet peeves about the show.
3) Better solo-PPVs than the Raw show. Compare Bad Blood and Unforgiven to Vengeance and No Mercy and it's obvious that Smackdown can put together a superior PPV.
4) PPV-like matches often on the show. While Raw are happy to churn out lacklustre matches w/ Mark Henry every week, Smackdown! has, on numerous occasions, held PPV-quality matches. Examples: TLC 3, the Edge-Guerrero ladder match, the 60 min Lesnar-Angle Ironman match, a Royal Rumble, 2 battle royals and one of the matches of 2003- Undertaker vs Kurt Angle in a one-on-one match for #1 contendership. Even recently, the Rey Mysterio-Jamie Noble match on Smackdown was BETTER than their match at the Royal Rumble. Smackdown provides frequently.
and finally 5) Smackdown is, for the most part, a younger show giving time to non-established stars. (At least it was originally.) Cena, Orton, Edge, Mysterio, Lesnar all flourished on Smackdown. Compared to Raw, which has a decrepid Ric Flair, a worn-out and downright poor Triple H, Kane and Mark Henry, Smackdown has a fresher feel to it.
As I said though, Smackdown is not without its faults. There are a few:
1) McMahon overload. 2003 was quite simply pure and utter hell for me. Action speaks louder than words, but Smackdown was barely audible last year w/ Vince and Stephanie hogging the limelight. Every week would start w/ Vince and another promo. It was a joke. Stephanie was a joke as a GM and Paul Heyman is doing an absolutely fantastic job as the current GM at the moment. Vince and Stephanie even booked themselves into matches on the SD-only PPVs- Steph vs Sable, Vince vs Zach Gowen, Vince vs Steph- it was abominable. Vince and Stephanie were ruining their own show for the most part of 2003 and I hope such an occurrence never happens again. I don't take kindly to promo time taking away from match time or non-wrestlers getting matches where other actual wrestlers suffer on Velocity or dark matches. Hopefully SD will continue along the road it's on now without the McMahons interfering.
2) Stupid storylines. Mr.America. Dawn Marie and Al Wilson. The Undertaker's "affair". I'm saying no more except these were embarassing and unnecessary.
3) Misuse of the roster. In particular here, I mean misuse of the entire Cruiserweight division- since when has the division been 3 guys (Mysterio, Tajiri and Noble)? Shannon Moore, Paul London & Billy Kidman are fantastic talents yet WWE lets them sit on the shelf and passes at the opportunity to expand the division. It's ridiculous. And the loss of Brian 'Spanky' Kendrick was in my opinion a huge blow. Tons of charisma and a brilliant wrestler. They didn't know what they had. It looks like Ultimo Dragon will go the same way- what an embarassment for this well-renowned Cruiserweight.
Benoit and Guerrero were also criminally misused in 2003- the former wrestling A-Train or the F.B.I frequently, the latter in a feud with the Big Show! Things are looking up for these two though, thankfully.
4)Misuse of the roster II. Ignoring the Cruiserweights and pushing overweight slobs or "legends" (read: geriatrics who can't string a move set together.) How A-Train, Nathan Jones, Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Big Show, Matt Morgan, Rikishi, Chuck Palumbo and Bradshaw got unlimited TV time in 2003 while the above superstars (Cruiserweights) got relegated to Velocity shocks me. Hogan and Piper put on the worst match of the year at Judgment Day and Hogan is an overrated embarassment who can't wrestle worth a damn. His Mr America feud w/ Vince was pathetic.
The problem is- if WWE decide they need to cut the roster, no prizes for guessing from which list they'll choose from.
5) Main events limited. Angle and Lesnar has been overdone a bit. They need to put a few new faces up for title contendership- NOT Undertaker. Good to see Eddy Guerrero get a shot and I hope it's the start of things to come.
Weighing up the pros and cons SD is a much more watchable show than Raw. While its use of its star power is highly questionable, at least the action is generally very good.
Could be better though. I'm begging for an expanded Cruiserweight division. Hopefully 2004 will be a good year for it.
Unless a drastic loss of superstars to Raw occurs, I don't think SD should worry- it has a better GM, better commentary team and all-round better matches. I don't see this changing anytime soon.