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Posted in: Mr. Tito
MR. TITO STRIKES BACK - The Unlikely Story of the WWE RAW Brand from 2016-2017
By Mr. Tito
Aug 23, 2017 - 11:57:09 PM

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Welcome back to the column that waves like a red cape to a bull, MR. TITO STRIKES BACK exclusively here at LordsofPain.net / WrestlingHeadlines.com. You cannot read this "Excellence in Column" writing anywhere else, so please bookmark LoP and follow us on Twitter. That way, you can quickly get to the columnist that you want to hold accountable for something he said over a year ago.

Through the end of 2015 and then following Wrestlemania 32, the WWE flagship show Monday Night RAW began flirting with the idea of breaking 3 million viewers. As the summer went on, talk of the WWE splitting its roster into 2 separate brands kept getting louder and louder... Then, by July 2016, the WWE actually did it! They split the rosters into 2 between RAW and Smackdown which coincided with Smackdown going "LIVE" on Tuesday nights. I remember remarking at the time how much I DISLIKED the RAW roster because the following 3 individuals remained:

a) Roman Reigns
b) Seth Rollins
c) Stephanie McMahon as General Manager


Then, the first episodes of RAW with the split roster occurred... Ugh. Just awful. Based on the trends seen during late 2015 and just after Wrestlemania 32, I made the BOLD prediction as we were heading into the Fall season: "RAW will permanently have under 3 million viewers."

Following SummerSlam and through early November 2016, I was proving to be right... With the NFL Season underway, new television seasons, and the turmoil over the WWE Universal Title (remember, Finn Balor was injured and another title tournament was held), many wrestling fans were SHOCKED that their beloved RAW show was flirting with less than 3 million viewers per week.

But then...

One man showed up...

Bill Goldberg

And not only did Bill Goldberg show up, but he answered Brock Lesnar's challenge that everyone thought was a joke. Goldberg was hyped to appear and he was on the 3rd hour of RAW. That week alone caused a 400,000 boost in RAW viewership and subsequent Goldberg appearances would cause 200,000 - 300,000 increases. Bill Goldberg actually wins his Survivor Series 2016 match against Lesnar in shocking fashion and suddenly Goldberg hypes that he's entering the 2017 Royal Rumble. Goldberg knocks Lesnar out and then Goldberg goes for the WWE Universal Title. He wins it and then has a rematch with Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 33. This 50 year old former WCW superstar who was a disappointment in the WWE 2003-2004 drew many older fans back to the product. WCW fans ate their member berries and came back to see Goldberg adding to his legend.

On top of all of that for early 2017, it was Wrestlemania season and the likes of Triple H and the Undertaker were also around. That never hurts.

But then following Wrestlemania 33 with Brock Lesnar saving up his appearances for later, Bill Goldberg, Triple H, and Undertaker all going away... My prediction of "under 3 million permanently" for RAW rang true. Between Wrestlemania 33 and July, RAW was UNDER 3 million viewers for 8 out of 13 episodes of RAW. Note, my numbers include just the 2 weeks following a Wrestlemania event so thus my count is generous.

And then, an unexpectedly BIG match up happened that, in my opinion, the WWE hasn't appreciated: Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe.

During the 2000s, Samoa Joe on the Indy scene and Brock Lesnar in the WWE has the then "crown jewel" of the Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) "Class of 2002" developmental class were talked about as not just being the top 2 new rising stars in wrestling, but also 2 of the most legitimately tough performers. There were some early "Dream Match" discussions back then as Samoa Joe kept rising as a performer but when Samoa Joe join the WWE (or NXT), those dream match discussions returned. When July 2017 rolled around for the WWE Great Balls of Fire Pay Per View, it was Joe vs. Lesnar and RAW's viewership kept popping above 3 million again. In fact, excluding the July 3rd RAW (day before the 4th of July), the latter 4 weeks of July scored above 3 million viewers for RAW. Remarkable.

Then, of course, we have SummerSlam 2017 which was hyping Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman match-up. During the end of July nad throughout August, the WWE had multiple variations of that Fatal 4 Way such as Joe vs. Roman, Joe vs. Roman vs. Braun, and Roman vs. Braun. Those are PAY PER VIEW level match-ups given away for free. The result? Holding consistently above 3 million (just under 3.3 million at most). And that SummerSlam 2017 was BADASS and is presently holding my 2017 "Match of the Year" honors. That match was pure chaos and excitement although I find, in hindsight, Samoa Joe's role could have been better.

This week's RAW pushed 3.4 million... How about that? The Post-SummerSlam RAW which featured the WWE now hyping Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar at the next RAW exclusive No Mercy 2017 Pay Per View.

And then, the "Free Agent" returned to RAW: John Cena

BOOM!

Remember - I made my "under 3 million" call just after the 2016 DRAFT when RAW was going to feature Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins as the Main Eventers again after a rough 2014-2016 of data (I statistically proved how weak of drawing champions both were) and Stephanie McMahon as the authority figure. With September 2016 and October 2016 beginning to prove me right, I was confident in my prediction. Nobody called me out then.

I could not predict these "outliers" which are events that are outside the existing data. If you take statistics and study bell curves, you'll find that 95% of the data resides around the average (or mean) of the samples while the outside 5% (2.5% on each end, higher or lower) are deemed "statistically significant" from the rest of the data. I could NOT predict the following events...

(a) The return and rise of Bill Goldberg.

(b) The draw of Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar

(c) Braun Strowman growth as a performer and "larger than life" wrestler.

The last one, Braun Strowman, was one that I totally did NOT expect. And that's where I'm truly wrong on my prediction.

Think back to July 2017... The Wyatt Family joke broke up, especially with members being split up to different brands. Braun Strowman was beginning to be pushed as a singles wrestler and destroyed jobber wrestlers in squash matches. This decision to keep him in the midcard allowed him to work on his in-ring work and character. It also allowed him to "shake" the Wyatt Family gimmick and become his own man. Then, he started wrestling higher profile wrestlers. Kept improving! The power lifter that Vince McMahon gave a job to become a wrestler was legitimately owning it.

But then, Braun Strowman found his best opponent... Roman Reigns!

If there was ever a positive thing to say about the controversial Roman Reigns is that his work with Braun Strowman has been perfect. Most wrestlers against Roman throw their usual offense at him and then he comes back with the Spear and Superman punch, game over. However, with Braun, it's different... Roman lets Braun toss him around and because Strowman is a Vince McMahon hand picked favorite, Roman is booked to look vulnerable against him. Braun is allowed to win matches against Roman... Most of all, Roman is selling the vulnerability against Roman as it he's completely overwhelming to wrestle. Winning or losing a match, THAT'S what puts another wrestler over. Can you show fear or vulnerability against another opponent so that fans believe on any given night, that opponent can win? Roman sure as hell does it with Braun Strowman and making Strowman into a main eventer could be Roman's #1 achievement when his career is said and done.

Going alongside Bill Goldberg's WWE return, Wrestlemania 33's hype, and then Brock Lesnar's July return to feud with Samoa Joe has been the continued growth of Braun Strowman. All of those "outlier" events are difficult to predict and if Strowman's ongoing growth as a superstar keeps the WWE "above 3 million", then I'd be glad to be wrong.

In my opinion, Braun Strowman is the NEXT BIG SUPERSTAR DRAW of the WWE. Because of his growth during 2016-2017 and especially seeing his July/August 2017 work, I'm convinced that he's the next #1 guy. As you may have read in previous columns, I presented the infamous "Tito Plan" which had Braun Strowman (a) winning the 2018 Royal Rumble and (b) defeating Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Title at Wrestlemania 34. That was the perfect set-up to make Strowman into a MEGA-superstar.

But the WWE has other plans... Instead, we're getting Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman at WWE No Mercy. Thus, that may retain Vince McMahon's long term desire of having Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania 34. Oh lord... So if wins over CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Undertaker, and Triple H couldn't help Roman Reigns... How will beating Brock Lesnar help? Seriously? Fans see right through WWE's scheme to force Roman Reigns down our throats as a Main Eventer.

WWE is foolishly attempting the "strike while the iron is hot" with Braun Strowman who received huge pops for his work with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2017. Yet, they are potentially missing the STAR MAKING moment of Strowman winning the Rumble and finishing Brock Lesnar off (3 year contract expires) at Wrestlemania. Roman has just headlined the last 3 Wrestlemanias... What does he have to show for defeating Triple H and Undertaker while looking strong against Brock Lesnar? If the plans still remain of Lesnar vs. Roman, it has to be for the WWE Universal and with Lesnar on a winning streak. Thus, chances are strong that Strowman is NOT winning at No Mercy.

But we'll see... Maybe we'll Braun Strowman winning the WWE Universal Title at No Mercy and then wrestling John Cena for the title at Wrestlemania 34. Strowman getting a 100% clean win over Cena at Wrestlemania would be impressive. WWE could also have its Lesnar vs. Roman match... Both the fans and WWE management win.

There's one last "outlier" that to discuss about RAW.

Did you notice that John Cena is BACK on RAW? Uh huh... You just knew that when Cena became a "free agent" thanks to the Superstar Shake-up (who has that kind of contract?), he'd rejoin RAW at some point. Surprise surprise, he returns to RAW following SummerSlam. Cena hasn't been on RAW since the Brand Split of 2016 and hasn't been featured heavily on RAW as a legitimate main eventer since August 2014. Think about THAT for a second. Do you wonder why I've put so much blame on Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins for 2014-2017? Well, they've been main eventers for much of that time while the WWE's true #1 guy, John Cena was US Champion or on Smackdown. Yes, I'm aware of his recent Hollywood schedule... But would Cena start caring more about that stuff if he was used better by the WWE?

Moving forward, it should be interesting to see how much John Cena's return to RAW and Braun Strowman's continued growth could keep RAW afloat above 3.0 million.

Oh, and there's yet 1 more thing to discuss...

THE SHIELD

WWE has to be observing the reaction of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose as a tag team. Fans LOVED the Shield. From late 2012 through mid 2014, they were a stable that fans legitimately enjoyed. They were quickly growing as babyface sensations during their 2014 feud with Evolution and then the WWE quickly broke them up. BIG MISTAKE in hindsight, particularly how whiny Seth Rollins was as WWE Champion during 2015 and how overpushed Roman was during 2014-2017. Listen to their reaction as a team now that they've reunited. That's the kind of reaction that the WWE wants for Roman Reigns.

#ReuniteTheShield

Oh, did I forget Kurt Angle as the new RAW General Manager? That is WAY BETTER than Stephanie McMahon even if the Jason Jordan "son" angle is a complete joke.

Things are looking up for the RAW roster... Despite the HEAVY competition coming its way during the Fall of 2017, they have some positives in place... Yet, the maximum viewership that the WWE can achieve for a post-SummerSlam show that hypes Lesnar vs. Strowman and the return of John Cena to RAW can only do 3.4 million viewers. What happens next week? The week after that? What happens after No Mercy when Brock Lesnar's WWE appearances expire for the year? John Cena finishing up his filming on the "Bumble Bee" movie and other projects? What if RAW suffers another big injury like seen with Big Cass? (what a shame!)

I'm still confident in my "under 3 million" prediction... Short-term, I could be wrong at the moment, but I'm the kind of investor who buys stocks for the long-term. Unless the WWE finds its next MEGADRAW like Hogan, Austin, Rock, Lesnar, or Cena (which could be Brock Strowman or a reunited Shield, in my opinion), under 3 million is still very, very possible. Right now, were "just above" 3 million and holding strong "under 3.5 million" despite the effort on RAW.

And remember - RAW had just over 4 million viewers throughout 2014. When WWE made the choice to DESTROY John Cena on SummerSlam 2014 and begin pushing other wrestlers like Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins, things went South. That's 1 million or 1/4 of the viewership audience left. And if you want to blame that on YouTube, illegal streaming, Hulu, or other things to do/watch, then why is WWE attendance for Houseshows significantly down? You need to have significant stars to pack those houses...

I HOPE that I'm WRONG on my "under 3 million" call but those months of September, October, November, and December have been tough on the WWE recently and have been the biggest source of "fan erosion".

In my opinion, pushing Braun Strowman TOO EARLY towards Brock Lesnar could be a mistake... Should have saved that for Wrestlemania 34 instead of a non-Big 3 Pay Per View. I understand the principle of "strike while the iron is hot", but I know my history. Wrestlemania is the star making show, period, and is the moment when at least 1 million households are eyeballing the WWE on Pay Per View. Repeat attempts at making Roman Reigns into the big star is absolutely killing the WWE. Signs are there that "anyone but Roman" draws thanks to July with Samoa Joe and now Braun Strowman rising to be real threats to Brock Lesnar.

Let's sit back and see what happens... Let's see if I'm wrong. If I'm wrong, then let me have it in the Comments section or with Tweets. "I can feel your hatred". But if I'm right, you'll have to endure those famous "I told you so" columns and not cry if I'm gloating. If the AVERAGE of RAW viewership between September to December is "under 3 million", then I'm right and 2018 could see some real struggles. However, if Braun Strowman and possibly reuniting the FULL Shield happens, I'll be wrong and will have to reconsider what RAW is becoming.

I can EASILY admit that RAW has greatly improved, though. Cannot deny that. It is definitely NOT the Stephanie McMahon/Roman Reigns/Seth Rollins rehashed crap that we saw following the 2016 Draft. Thank God for that!

Just like I cannot deny what a DUMPSTER FIRE that Smackdown has become. But we'll save that for another column. I'm getting to the point where Roman Reigns seems tolerable compared to Jinder Mahal... Maybe that was the WWE's plan all along?

I am BUYING Braun Strowman as the #1 guy. PUSH HIM HARD!

SO JUST CHILL... 'TIL THE NEXT EPISODE!

Comments and feedback are welcome. Follow and Tweet me @titowrestling or login in below to post comments.

© Mr. Tito and LordsofPain.net/WrestlingHeadlines.com - 1998-2017

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