WWE SmackDown preview: The brand split is dying, and that’s a good thing

SmackDown airs tonight (Apr. 15) with a live show from DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. This is the second SmackDown episode during the five week build towards WrestleMania Backlash on May 8.

WWE’s brand split is dying, and that’s a good thing

Roman Reigns became the undisputed WWE Universal champion when he defeated Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 38. WWE says the Universal championship and WWE championship are now unified, but Roman still carries around both title separately, and it sounds like WWE doesn’t know how the unified title concept will work going forward.

Regardless, Roman has pretty much cleared out all potential challenges on SmackDown, with the exception of Drew McIntyre. Due to his sheer dominance and lack of credible threats, Roman has decided to sit back and send the Usos over to Raw to go ahead and unify the SmackDown tag team titles with the Raw tag team titles. The Usos kicked off that journey earlier this week on Raw when they crashed the main event scene and stood tall over RK-Bro as the show went off the air.

Why were SmackDown wrestlers Jimmy and Jey allowed to show up on Raw? Did they use the Wild Card rule? What about the Brand-to-Brand Invitation rule? Thankfully WWE didn’t bother to cite one of those very dumb rules to justify the Usos’ appearance on Monday night. The Usos showed up on Raw because it made sense for them to do so. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.

WWE has been bending its roster rules over the last month. Commentary explained it away as sort of an “all hands on deck” situation for the build to WrestleMania last month. But WrestleMania is in the rear-view mirror at this point, and the roster rules are still not being enforced. In addition to the Usos showing up on Raw each of the last two weeks, Raw wrestler Liv Morgan competed on SmackDown last week, and WWE keeps talking about unifying both sets of tag titles. Unifying multiple sets of titles is the sort of decision that accelerates the end of the brand split.

Furthermore, the events page on WWE’s web site is advertising Randy Orton, Matt Riddle, Seth Rollins, and Cody Rhodes for tonight’s episode of SmackDown. WWE has not officially booked anything for these men to do tonight. Perhaps Rollins and Rhodes are only there for dark match duties, for example. But it makes sense for RK-Bro to show up on SmackDown after what happened to them on Rawso that’s exactly what should happen.

The bottom line is that WWE creative struggles with getting over new stars, and the brand split has been losing viability as a result. When the number two babyface on SmackDown is arguably Ricochet, and he’s only a little bit higher than jobber status, that’s a big problem. When Roman Reigns has practically nobody left on SmackDown to challenge for his undisputed championship, that’s a big problem.

The easiest solution to those problems is to move away from the brand split, even if it’s a gradual process. For example, the Usos’ storyline with RK-Bro now opens up the possibility for Orton or Riddle to go after Roman’s WWE Universal championship down the line.

WWE’s brand split is slowly dying, and it’s a welcome and necessary change at this point.

The rest of the title scene

SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair will defend her title against Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania Backlash in an “I Quit” match. Flair understandably tried to avoid this match last week when Ronda issued the challenge, but someone higher up in the chain overruled Charlotte on this one. What scheme will the champ come up with to weaken Rousey in the weeks leading up to the match?

Intercontinental Champion Ricochet is back on SmackDown tonight, defending mid-card gold against Jinder Mahal. Mahal earned the title match by begging Adam Pearce for it. Former WWE champion Mahal isn’t much of a threat by himself, but having the intimidating Shanky by his side could make all the difference in the world.

Sasha Banks and Naomi are scheduled to defend the Women’s tag team titles next week on Raw against Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan. Morgan defeated Banks but lost to Naomi in recent singles matches, while Ripley was stuck “in protocol” earlier this week.

Other stuff to keep an eye on

– Drew McIntyre goes one-on-one with Sami Zayn tonight. Zayn accidentally talked his way into a match with Drew last week, so he wisely ran away and got counted out. Will he try to do the same exact thing tonight?

– Xavier Woods used his new finishing move to defeat BUTCH last week. This was BUTCH’s debut match on the main roster, and he’s already lost. But don’t fret, BUTCH fans, because BUTCH got all angry about it afterwards and started to slap around Ridge Holland, until Sheamus finally got things under control and put BUTCH in timeout. You see, BUTCH is a small and feisty chap, and it’s funny watching that rabid little fella get all worked up about losing a match.

WALTER Gunther debuted last week on SmackDown (alongside his trusty sidekick, Ludwig Klaus Kaiser) and squashed a jobber. I have a feeling we’re in for more of the same tonight.

– Is Natalia leaving SmackDown for a little while to go hang out in NXT? If so, where does this leave her makeshift tag team partner of less than a month, Shayna Baszler?

– Former NXT wrestler Raquel Gonzalez is now on SmackDown and for some reason has changed her name to Raquel Rodriguez. Will she compete in her debut match on the main roster tonight? Or will she instead fend off more unwanted advances from Los Lotharios?

– It appears that Lacey Evans is now a babyface and on her way back to SmackDown. Before that happens, however, she will spend a few weeks telling us all about her life story.

Will Shinsuke Nakamura look for revenge on the Bloodline after they kicked his ass last week?

– Happy Corbin is a jealous douchebag and terrible friend, and it led to his breakup last week with Madcap Moss. Will Happy find a new buddy who can get him to laugh with more corny jokes, or will he have to learn to make himself laugh going forward?

What will you be looking for SmackDown tonight?

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