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31 Days of Wrestling (12/18/16): The Return of the Brand Split

Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. It's that time of year again when we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match a day for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling this calendar year produced for us.

Today, we're focusing on one of the game-changing moments for WWE's programming in 2016.


Over the last five years, WWE's roster has only gotten deeper and deeper, with the company acquiring and developing more talent, but not having enough room nor time to showcase everyone on television. Fans had been clamoring for the return of the brand split, especially since the main roster storylines had gotten repetitive and bland. It didn't help that RAW's three-hour format has become increasingly tiresome to watch (it still is, actually), and that SmackDown had become just a glorified RAW recap show.

Last June, WWE announced that SmackDown was going to become a live program with its own distinct roster, which ultimately meant that a brand split was imminent. With a brand split, comes the WWE Draft, which immediately became one of the most anticipated moments of this year's WWE programming. The Draft signified more opportunities for underutilized talent, while also allowing fresh match-ups to take place on both RAW and SmackDown Live.

And then there were the new championships instituted as a result of the brand split. From the Universal Championship to the SmackDown Women's and Tag Team Championships, these new titles allowed more Superstars to step up and lead their respective divisions. This led to the rise of the Kevin Owens Show, as well as Becky Lynch's own ascent, Heath Slater's redemption angle, and the Wyatt Family's resurgence as a dominant force on SmackDown.

It also led to the call-ups of seven NXT mainstays in Finn B├ílor, Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Mojo Rawley, and American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan), which added a lot of depth to the main roster, even when you consider that the likes of Baron Corbin, Enzo Amore & Big Cass, the Vaudevillains, and Apollo Crews were already called up right after WrestleMania 32.

The brand split also gave us the return of Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan (!!!) as fixtures to WWE programming thanks to their roles as the General Managers of RAW and SmackDown Live, respectively, which have led to some pretty interesting storylines. And we haven't even gotten to the perennial Shane vs. Stephanie sibling rivalry that continues to loom over both brands as a ticking timebomb waiting to go off.

And what about Talking Smack? The 30-minute post-SmackDown talk show has become the addendum to SmackDown Live that we never knew we needed. It's become the place for SmackDown Superstars to practice their mic work on a live show, while effectively advancing their respective storylines.



The best part of the Draft and the brand split is how it gave us the brand warfare storyline for this year's Survivor Series, something we wouldn't mind seeing every November from here on end. It was the perfect storyline to encourage invasion angles across both brands, while adding stakes to what had become a boring Thanksgiving showcase.

And we haven't even mentioned James Ellsworth yet. (But don't worry, we will.)

The brand split is truly the gift that keeps on giving; and we're just so glad that it has returned.

*****

31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2016.

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