Question 1: Again, let's start at the top with the main event scene, which undeniably is packed on Raw. Who's work since the brand split has earned them a run with the Universal Title by the end of the year?
CHAFFIOTTE: Big surprise here guys, Jordan is pulling for Sami Zayn yet again. I know, he's hardly at the top of the food chain on Raw, but that's all a matter of perception. With a long, hard climb, he could easily be a believable champion this year. Sami is not only a workhorse and a stellar one at that, he's one of the most charismatic performers that WWE has right now. His take on the tried and true underdog story is a breath of fresh air, this isn't a guy who's just happy to be here, he's not satisfied with his position, but it also hasn't turned him bitter. No matter how many times he gets knocked down, he gets up and he doesn't stoop to heel tactics. He has the ability to make an entire crowd feel for him, not just because we see ourselves in Sami, but because we see a fortitude and perseverance that we wish we could see in ourselves. He is, without a doubt, WWE's second chance at Daniel Bryan, and this time they have got to seal the deal.
The road to Sami Zayn's championship may seem like it should go through his arch-rival Kevin Owens, but I would save that up as it can main event WrestleMania one day. Instead, this summer Sami should need to go through another good friend of his, Seth Rollins. The story writes itself, as after defeating Triple H at Mania, Seth will inevitably expect a title shot and Sami can try to insert himself, feeling like Seth gets everything he wants. From there it can start as a friendly competition and slowly devolve into a prideful battle, Seth unwilling to admit that Sami can get the better of him. When Sami eventually does win a 2-out-of-3 (match of the year candidate, easy) he'll be established as a true main eventer.
WIGGINS: Braun Strowman. It still sounds bizarre coming out with that, because if I'd have mentioned Strowman and a world championship this time last year people would have laughed their asses off. Don't get me wrong, he is far from the finished article. His in-ring work still needs to develop, and I'd prefer if his promos reflected more of his own personality rather than "I am a monster heel". But Strowman has been one of the most consistently entertaining parts of RAW since the Brand Split, from his one-sided squashes with the likes of James Ellsworth to the engaging feud with the loveable underdog Sami Zayn. Braun Strowman has the look, presence, and power to be THE monster heel for a decade, and that run of dominance should start with a Universal Championship run before 2017 comes to a close.
Of course, there are many other deserving candidates, including the aforementioned Sami Zayn. Kevin Owens would also merit another championship reign (especially considering how the last one ended) and of course, the likes of Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe and Finn Balor will be ever-present in the main event scene. I just think WWE would be foolish not to establish Braun Strowman early while he is over with the fans as a monster. If they hold off on him too long, Strowman will undoubtedly fall into the comedy giant character that ruined the credibility of the likes of Big Show and The Great Khali. With Strowman's athleticism and desire to learn, now seems the perfect time to go all out in establishing as a bona fide main event talent while they still can.
PARKHURST: I agree with both Sami and Braun. I was going to go with Braun actually, but for the sake of variety, I'll go with my three back-ups.
Kevin Owens. What? The former champ? Why would he deserve another shot by the end of the year? Because he shouldn't have lost it in the first place. He never should've been facing Goldberg, much less drop the title to him so they can give it to Lesnar at WrestleMania. He deserves it back, and I hope he gets it.
Samoa Joe. Pretty simple right? He is truly a monster, and will have a title run either by the end of this year or the beginning of next. They are building him up to be a true destroyer for the business. As they should because he had a ton of steam coming up from NXT.
Last but not least, Finn Balor. This one seems rather clear as he had to drop the belt with an injury and definitely deserves it back. Why not let him have another run because when he comes back because we know that the WWE Universe will be behind him.
Question 2: Raw is also home to the vast majority of MVPs in the women's division, yet has struggled by many estimations. What's missing?
CHAFFIOTTE: Depth, consistency, smart booking, a willingness to take risks, I could go on. Now, I will grant you that all of this stems from breaking up a division that was too small to begin with, but Raw is really struggling with the fallout. Depth has been a major problem for them, partially because Paige and Summer have been out on injury, but mostly because they're too stacked with top tier talent. Charlotte, Sasha, and Bayley are fantastic but their concentration make the division top heavy and leave Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke out in the cold. Don't even get me started on the Emma mess. They simply don't have a deep enough bench.
Even so, the problem has become too many superstars who need protection. Nia cannot lose because she needs to look big and powerful. Sasha and Bayley cannot lose because they're just under Charlotte in the hierarchy. Charlotte can't lose because of her status and because of the pay-per-view streak that has dominated the majority of the year. What we're left with is strange booking and work-arounds in order to keep everyone looking strong. As Chris Jericho says, if you push 4 people at once, no one gets pushed. Instead of building strong stories around several of the best characters they have, WWE has fallen into holding patterns with their women on Raw, making matches feel less important than they should. Sasha vs. Charlotte was the rivalry of the year but the fact that it happened again and again drove fans away. There are ways to work with smaller, character-driven rosters, just look at NXT's 8-woman efforts. Sure we see Billie and Peyton vs. Ember and Liv a bunch but there's also enough variety to keep it interesting. It's all about the continuous storylines that run through the division.
WIGGINS: Unquestionably the biggest problem has been depth, and no matter how good the matches are, eventually that is going to catch up with you. Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Bayley are undoubtedly three of the biggest stars in women's wrestling today, while Nia Jax has the benefit of having a unique look and style. However, it means nothing when all they have to feud with is each other. It feels like we've seen every combination of these four in matches together besides the Fatal Four-Way we will get at WrestleMania 33, and that doesn't bode well for the future of the division if numbers aren't bolstered very soon. Emma, Summer Rae, and Dana Brooke all need to be back and beef up their ranks.
But it is not only the shortage of stars that is hurting RAW's women's division, but the creative surrounding it also. Bayley's booking in the lead up to WrestleMania has been horrific in my opinion. Sure, she is heading into the biggest show of the year as champion, but at what cost to her character? Bayley is a perfect underdog, but having Sasha Banks interfere on her behalf (and gladly accepting this) alongside numerous crushing defeats in singles matches to Nia Jax is crippling her credibility. The division being far too top-heavy is wreaking havoc on the booking decisions, and it is going to have to rely on a stellar four-way match and the anticipated Banks heel turn to point the Raw women in the right direction once again.
PARKHURST: By far the biggest disappointment of the brand split. When you have names like Sasha Banks and Charlotte you have a ton of high expectations to not only keep up with but exceed. But Sasha and Charlotte are the biggest problems. Because they only have Sasha and Charlotte. Yes they have Bayley, but still they have to center their storylines around Sasha or Charlotte(or both) along with Bayley. They have three viable stars with side pieces like Nia and Dana who are both not fun to watch do anything, in my opinion.
To reiterate what my colleagues have said, depth is becoming the destruction of the Raw women's division. Plain and simple they need another viable talent to shake things up. They aren't building their own stars like SmackDown has done with Alexa, Naomi, and Becky(even though she had some clear star power walking into SmackDown). SmackDown is winning here thanks to their new faces, and their established stars like Nikki and Natty all working together wonderfully. Raw has three faces, one of which we are all tired of seeing, and two side pieces that will struggle to be relevant.
Question 3:Raw's tag division hasn't fared much better than SmackDown's, and it doesn't seem like it'll get better before WrestleMania. How can WWE rearrange the division?
CHAFFIOTTE: Raw is missing a midcard for their Tag division. There's big teams, Sheamus and Cesaro, Enzo and Cass, The Club, and then there's the Golden Truth. The Club needs to be wherever AJ is, so assuming he's traded to Raw after his match with Shane McMahon, they stay put. The Revival uses way too many of the same gimmicks so they can't be on the same show, instead #DIY (worst name in history) can come up and fill that middle space. Trade Cesaro and Sheamus to the brand that Cesaro said he wanted to be on in the first place, and justify an uneven trade with the fact that they're unhappy on Raw without GM Mick Foley. Breezango, The Ascension, and the Vaudevillains are all teams who, if handled correctly, could be really valuable to Raw. They need teams who can eat pins from the Club, but if they go on a streak of wins and gain a bit more credibility, they can move up to hold the titles for some time. Okay, maybe it's going to need a bit more than a couple wins to get Breezango on the level of credible champs, but with the right elbow room, they can do it. That's the biggest issue, not the lack of elbow room, the lack of elbow room in the right places. Filling out the mid card Tag division on RAW with a team or two who can play both the hunter and the prey is vital for this to get off the ground again.
WIGGINS: What is it with WWE and tag team wrestling? It seems like on both RAW and SmackDown they spend 95% of their time building men's singles and women's feuds and then throw a couple of tag teams together at the last minute. I will say in their defence that the Raw tag team title match has built animosity among all three teams, and should have the makings of a very good kickoff/undercard match. However, the lazy route to creating it where Gallows & Anderson take out both teams in a number one contender's match leading to a triple threat makes them look incredibly stupid.
Personally, I think the tag team divisions are too thin on both shows to be remedied alone, and I would advocate for a single, cross-branded tag division. That way you can establish your top tier teams including Gallows and Anderson, Enzo and Cass, and Sheamus and Cesaro, some mid-card prospects that can have a couple of mini-feuds and the jobbers that currently fill up SmackDown's ranks. Failing that, Raw needs either The Revival or #DIY to join their roster along with one of SmackDown's jobber teams to add much-needed depth.
PARKHURST:WWE, aside from NXT, just does not like tag team wrestling for whatever reason. The Ascension came up after running train on NXT, they get destroyed. The Vaudevillains had one of the best tag team matches NXT has ever seen with The Revival, they come up and get destroyed. American Alpha comes up after a hot run in NXT (even though they weren't ready yet) and they win the belts! Only to get thrown into obscurity with 5-minute interviews on Talking Smack every other week, and then recently dropping the belts to The Usos on their first title defense in a while. To keep it short and sweet, Vince does not see the value in tag team wrestling quite like Hunter sees the value in tag team wrestling.
In NXT, the tag team matches are something to look forward to. Something you can be excited for thanks to #DIY (what a name..), The Authors of Pain, and everyone's favorite tag team in The Revival. TM-61 cap off a well-rounded tag team division with viable opponents. Raw just doesn't have that. Enzo and Cass are great on the mic but haven't won a big match. Cesaro and Sheamus should be on SmackDown. The Club needs AJ. Teams like The Vaudevillains, Hype Bros, and Breezango should be traded for Cesaro and Sheamus. Let AJ go to Raw for Anderson and Gallows, and have SmackDown get the rights to #DIY and The Revival when it's their time to come up. Raw can make use of Vaudevillains, Hype Bros, and Breezango if they have teams like a full Club, Enzo & Cass, and maybe a solid version of The Ascension. If Vince pays attention to NXT(which who knows if he does) he'll put a priority on good tag team wrestling.
Those are our thoughts on the issue, but where do you stand?
Let us know your answers to these questions in the comments below!