World Wrestling Entertainment chairman Vince McMahon opened yesterday’s Monday Night Raw by swaggering to the ring and announcing a new “wild card rule.” But what does it mean? And is it a good thing?
Up until now, the WWE’s brand split restricts superstars to either Raw or Tuesday’s Smackdown Live. But, the new rule allows as many as three wrestlers from the opposite brand (later amended to four, because WWE couldn’t keep the new rules straight for even a single show) to appear on any given Raw or Smackdown. Last night, Smackdown’s Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, Daniel Bryan, and Lars Sullivan all popped up on Raw. (So did Elias for that matter, but apparently, he doesn’t count?)
For those who haven’t been keeping abreast of the latest pro-grappling happenings, WWE is not in a good place right now for fans or combatants. Raw and Smackdown posted record-low ratings last week, live-event attendance is down, and a general malaise seems to hang over the WWE Universe despite us being less than a month removed from WrestleMania 35. Something needs to change, and it seems Vince McMahon has earmarked the WWE brand split as the scapegoat du jour.
WWE hasn’t officially retired the brand split yet, but it seems likely it will be driven out to the farm to run free with the World Bodybuilding Federation, WWE mobile app and other abandoned concepts soon enough. You don’t have to be terribly perceptive to foresee what the new wild card rule will mean – the same top guys will bounce back and forth between both shows, monopolizing precious TV time, while the brand split will only really apply to lower-card talent.
It’s ironic that Vince made his announcement while new WWE Champion Kofi Kingston was in the ring, because he would not be holding that belt without the brand split. The fact that Kofi got to compete for the championship at all felt like something of a miracle, and there’s no way it would have happened if there was only one world title or if Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, and other former Raw stars had been all over Smackdown prior to WrestleMania. Daniel Bryan, who was also in the ring for Vince’s announcement, is another one who owes his first world title to the brand split. WWE’s hottest thing right now, Becky Lynch, was 100 percent a product of Smackdown. The brand split provides opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise, but beyond that, WWE has shown they have no ability to create two compelling weekly shows without it. When WWE dropped the concept between 2011 and 2016, Smackdown quickly devolved into an almost unbearably-bland carbon copy of Raw.
Don’t get me wrong, Raw’s opening segment was exciting enough at the moment and packing more stars onto each show may shore up ratings temporarily, but the wild card rule is a short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction. The enemy of creativity is the absence of limitations, and as anybody who’s sat through WWE’s recent programming can tell you, a lack of new ideas, not the brand split or some other convenient patsy, is the real source of WWE’s ills. Well, that and too many damn Baron Corbin matches, but that’s a gripe for another day.