WrestleMania 38 could eventually become known as the show where WWE’s brand split between Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown began to get phased out. Since the brand split’s current inception was introduced in 2016, the massive roster has been divided between the two shows, with a “superstar shakeup”—the wrestling entertainment version of a traditional sports draft—being thrown in every now and again to move certain performers between programs. It also hasn’t prevented superstars from one show from appearing on the other, even when Survivor Series isn’t right around the corner.
It’s a concept that has been hardwired into WWE programming for more than half a decade in its current iteration, but the first draft took place back in 2002. At that point it was a “brand extension” and neither the men’s champion or women’s champion were eligible to be selected. In more recent years, it’s been a way to get NXT talent into the fold without worrying about storylines, and 205 Live was even included at one juncture.
The reality is that the concept has never been an overly popular one with audiences. WWE’s refusal to play by its own rules, even the most basic ones, prevents the draft and subsequent split from having much bite. If Raw and SmackDown were treated like teams in other sports, then the impact of trades or a wrestler defecting from one brand to another would be massive. How fun would it be to see SmackDown trade an older, established star for an up-and-coming but underutilized talent? That isn’t the case, though. It seems like pretty much anyone, especially Reigns and The Bloodline, can be where ever they want whenever they want. This is why fans may be hanging onto hope that current booking choices may be moving towards eliminating the so-called brand split all together.
Roman Reigns already unified the Universal and Heavyweight titles, while it appears that RK-Bro and the Usos will do the same in a winner-take-all match for the tag team titles. It looked like that particular unified title match was going to take place at the recent WWE WrestleMania Backlash premium live event, but creative was taken in a different direction. It seemed like an idea that WWE could and would simply act like had never been broached. Yet on the May 9 episode of Raw, Randy Orton opened the show by stating that RK-Bro’s goal was to unify the tag team titles as had originally been planned for WrestleMania Backlash. So now it seems like the tag team titles will be unified, which means that all of the major men’s titles will be combined, at least in name.
While reports as recently as April have indicated that WWE still plans to move forward with the brand split, fans have to be wondering what the point is of unifying the titles if there are still two distinct brands. That’s why each show was given its championships in the first place. In the early days of the split, champions would be allowed to defend on both Raw and SmackDown, and with Reigns’ prevalence on all things WWE related since WrestleMania, perhaps that’s the direction that is being taken here. Is there just as good a chance that this has all been to make Roman Reigns feel larger than life? Of course, but audiences have been clamoring for an end to the brand split for a while. Maybe they’ll actually get it this time.