What's Wrong With WWE Smackdown?
Smackdown Live had a very rough 2017. Going into Wrestlemania, Smackdown had the extremely over Bray Wyatt as WWE Heavyweight Champion with former tag team partner Randy Orton winning the Royal Rumble to challenge for the belt. John Cena was an exclusive member of the roster. Heck, even the two rivalries that weren't pretty good on paper weren't horrible, with the AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon rivalry resulting in a great match at Wrestlemania and the lackluster Dean Ambrose vs Baron Corbin rivalry over the Intercontinental Championship still not being horrible.
Smackdown was still regularly pulling in higher critical ratings and ticket sales (though not television ratings) over it's Monday night counterpart RAW, but then things changed. Between the Royal Rumble and Backlash, the belt changed hands four times in as many months, making the best feud on the show with the most long-term booking (Wyatt v Orton) almost meaningless. AJ Styles was hanging around in the midcard with no significant rivalries coming up, and then Wyatt, Ambrose, and Miz all went to RAW as part of the 2017 and the Heavyweight Championship was given to Jinder Mahal, who had been a jobber with one of the worst win-loss record in the company up until that point.
The 2018 Shake-up
With Raw getting most of Smackdown's main event scene in the 2017 shake-up, including the one former Shield member who wasn't previously on RAW, and Jinder Mahal being picked to carry the brand in an effort to break into the wrestling market in India (despite being from Calgary, Canada), it's not hard to imagine why Smackdown had a very disappointing 2017 and RAW a very successful one.
By most accounts, Smackdown won the 2018 Superstar Shake-up. Daniel Bryan has returned from a four-year injury, Miz returned to Smackdown, Samoa Joe joined Smackdown, Paige replaced Daniel Bryan as manager, Jinder Mahal's gone, Nakamura is a main event heel, Jinder Mahal is gone, Asuka joined the women's division, Jinder Mahal is gone, Paige's former stable Absolution moved to Smackdown with their former leader now General Manager. If Smackdown won the Superstar Shake-up, then why is it still getting middling reviews? Did I mention Jinder Mahal is gone?
The damage done to RAW certainly shows. It still pulls in slightly higher TV ratings, but it's critical ratings are near the bottom and once again, it's ticket sales are sliding. Most people are describing it as "boring." They have a top champion who's never there to defend his title. Roman Reigns is still booed by everyone. Performers who should be top draws are fledgling around in the midcard. But for Smackdown, it's almost as if the roster changes have made no difference whatsoever. And that's it's biggest sin.
AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura should be an amazing feud, but they haven't lived up to expectations and fans are now getting sick of five matches in three and a half months. Samoa Joe has only had a handful of matches, and when we include his RAW stint, he has only about a 30% win percentage. He's amazing on the mic but WWE has underbooked him so he can't back that up. Bryan is in an underwhelming feud with Big Cass, a guy fans just don't seem to care about. Miz is in the Money in the Bank match but the only feud to really come out of that match is his feud with the New Day, which is underwhelming. Smackdown is doing critically better than RAW, not because Smackdown is actually doing better, but because RAW is doing worse.
You see, Smackdown's biggest issue isn't that it's not good. Smackdown's biggest issue is that it hasn't improved this year. It's not worse by any means. It certainly "won" the Superstar Shake-up in the extent it moved out it's underused midcarders and brought in some good names and people who can help carry a main event scene, as well two of the best microphone artists in the world in Samoa Joe and the Miz. But where Raw has gone downhill since April of 2018, Smackdown has just stayed the same. It's status quo for Smackdown and that's what is hurting it most.
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