Evaluating the WWE Brand Extension 13 Years Later – Could it Work Today?


A look back at the WWE brand extension 13 years later.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015, marked 13 years since WWE initiated their brand split in 2002. Raw and SmackDown were divided into separate rosters because of all the talent that came over from WCW following Vince McMahon’s purchase of the company. With just four hours of main programming back then, it was a limited amount of time for everyone to get in on the action, so the move was made.

On March 25, 2002, we had the first ever “draft,” which pitted Raw owner Ric Flair against SmackDown owner Vince McMahon. This split in ownership would only last until June, when McMahon defeated The Nature Boy for “sole ownership” of WWE.

Anyway, the inaugural draft was a show that WWE fans had never seen before (it is up on the WWE Network). It almost felt like watching the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, the draft process kind of became a joke as the years went on. WWE tried finding ways to make it more exciting, but the truth was that it was not needed anymore since the talent pool was not deep like it used to be.

The brand split was at its best when it was necessary, which was early on from 2002-05. Raw and SmackDown felt like their own shows with Superstars specifically designated for them. When you thought of Raw, the first stars to come to mind were Shawn Michaels, Kane, Rob Van Dam, Goldberg (for a year) Lita, etc.

My personal favorite from Raw was the Evolution stable that featured Flair, Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista. This group dominated the red brand for nearly 2 years with multiple championships and WrestleMania wins until their split. Who could forget the moment when they turned on Orton? How about when Batista declared his intention of going after Triple H’s World Heavyweight Championship?

With SmackDown, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, The Rock, John Cena among others, came to mind. The shows were plenty of fun to watch and so star-studded.

One of my favorite moments from SmackDown was the 60 minute Iron Man match between Lesnar and Angle for the WWE Championship. This was a phenomenal match that was rated among the best in 2003, according to Pro Wrestling Illustrated.

Around the end of the 2000’s, you could tell the brand split was fading. As noted, there was not a big pool of talent anymore with most of the WCW stars gone from the company. There was also a constant shifting of talent from Raw to SmackDown, SmackDown to Raw and ECW thrown in there too. It did not feel like Superstars were exclusive to one brand or the other anymore, which likely confused fans. By 2011, WWE ended the brand split so the shows could have a better flow.

If WWE had the brand split going as of March 25, 2015, I would not have a big problem with it because of the deepening pool of talent. Much of this is due to the work that is being done in NXT with the independent wrestlers coming in one by one.

Eventually, the WWE roster is going to be overloaded with talent to the point where top stars are not going to get the time that they need or will be left off the shows completely. Adrian Neville, Finn Balor, Hideo Itami, Kevin Owens, Tyler Breeze, Sami Zayn, Kalisto, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Bayley are all waiting in the wings. Add in the recent signing of Uhaa Nation and the potential development of Dana Brooke, Chad Gable, Solomon Crowe, Baron Corbin, Hugo Knox, Becky Lynch and others. There is so much talent for so few main roster spots. The solution would be to make NXT an exclusive brand that has the same significance as Raw and SmackDown, but that is unlikely to happen, for now.

The negatives of a brand split would be a problem that WWE caused with an old brand split. WWE seemed to enjoy toying around with the rosters, having Raw stars appear on SmackDown often and vice verse. If they stayed patient and kept stars exclusive to shows, it could work.

While a brand split likely will never happen again, it is always fun to look back on and do a “what-if” on one for today.

Do you want the WWE brand extension to return?

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