It might sound completely absurd to loyal WWE fans, the audacity of anyone calling SmackDown (the so-called B-show) a superior product than Raw (the flagship WWE show). If this was five, or even two years ago, I would find that statement utterly ludicrous myself. But there has been a change in the winds over the past several months, a change that has seen the B-show surpass the A-show. It is easy to pinpoint when this revolution started, right when SmackDown made its move to USA Network on Thursday nights, the same network as Monday Night Raw.
Ever since SmackDown’s USA Network debut this past January, the show had a renewed sense of importance in the weekly wrestling television landscape. The network has given nearly as much advertising and promotion as it has Monday Night Raw. Main eventers and important storylines didn’t only seem to be woven through Raw, as usual. Feuds and angles have been given a more nuanced pace now that SmackDown is being used more effectively. Part time mega stars like Chris Jericho and even Brock Lesnar have made an impact on the Thursday night program. The first step for the audience to stop treating SmackDown like the red-headed stepchild was for WWE to stop treating it as such and ever since the move to USA Network, I would say mission accomplished.
Another upside of SmackDown is that it is, fortunately, only two hours long. The three hour Raw on Monday nights can often be a chore to make it through, as it tends to drone on during many segments. Too many promos running way longer than they should, too many recaps of what happened not only last week but what happened earlier in the broadcast, too much filler in general. By the third hour of the broadcast, I and many others veer dangerously close to just changing the channel. SmackDown is much more productive with its 120 minutes and approximately 10-12 segments. The show rarely opens with a long drawn out promo, to the show’s benefit. They get right down to the action. The match quality has also been just as good, on a few occasions even better than Raw. If any advice I could give WWE is to NEVER take SmackDown to a three hour format.
Quite possibly the deciding factor placing SmackDown above Raw is commentary. Ever since the addition of former New Japan Pro Wrestling and MMA play-by-play announcer Mauro Ranallo to the commentary team for SmackDown, it has infused the program with new life. Ranallo is by far the best commentator that WWE has had since good ol’ J.R. (Jim Ross) parted ways with the company in 2013. Ranallo has an extensive knowledge of combat sports and brings authenticity to the proceedings, making it feel like a real sport. Not only has Ranallo improved the product, but he’s lit a fire under Jerry ‘the King’ Lawler. Lawler has been rejuvenated, delivering some of his most witty and entertaining lines since the late 1990s. This is a sharp contrast to Monday Night Raw. No knock to Michael Cole, JBL or Byron Saxton, but they are so over produced and are stuck shilling sponsors and storylines instead of calling matches that it makes Raw feel like a bad circus sideshow instead of a hard hitting sports entertainment program. Yes, the wrestlers are the main course, but the announcers set the table. And so far in 2016, SmackDown is the preferred table.
Yes, SmackDown has its downsides. The top stars may not appear every single episode. The results are leaked early because it is taped, not live. Many times, there have been cheers edited in, where you can clearly see the fans in the arena not cheering. But the negatives are far outweighed by the positives. Four months of comparing the shows have led me to one conclusion, Raw is not the A-Show. That title belongs to SmackDown. Let the bickering from the IWC begin.
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