By Graham "GSM" Matthews
I have gone on the record in the past in saying that 2015 was unquestionably my favorite year as a fan (in the eight years I have been watching wrestling). But honestly, 2016 has come close to topping it if not exceeding it if the last ten months have been any indication. Raw has gotten increasingly better, the Brand Split has been brought back, NXT is in the process of building new talent, and Lucha Underground is constantly killing it. A large part of why I have thoroughly enjoyed 2016, however, has been because of SmackDown's success on the USA Network.
All right, so I'm not talking about ratings-wise. If anything, numbers have decreased compared to one year ago, and I'm not saying ratings don't matter, but I personally don't care about them. I tune in every week and do my part to help keep them steady, but other than that, there's nothing I can do, so why worry about them? At any rate, while SmackDown ratings haven't changed all that match this year, the quality has improved drastically. And this is coming from someone who thought moving to USA Network wouldn't change a damn thing about the show.
I mean, how many times has WWE tried to take SmackDown seriously as a top priority again over the past decade? I can name at least ten times where that was the case (in fact, I wrote an entire article about it last year), and each time, SmackDown was back to being the B-show of WWE. It was essentially Raw-lite for the longest time. Nowadays, SmackDown has served as a reminder as to how much fun wrestling can be when the stories are well-told, the commentary is on par, and the in-ring action is amazing.
It's pretty well-documented that SmackDown has been the better show since the return of the Brand Split three months ago, that much is obvious. But I want to go back to the beginning of the year for a moment when SmackDown initially arrived on the USA Network. The move was was long overdue, as SmackDown had no place on SyFy. I'm sorry, but not only is the network not my cup of tea, wrestling did not belong there at all. I would dread tuning into SmackDown as its aired every week and seeing a crappy B-rate horror movie with giant spiders and cartoon sharks minutes before it started. Thankfully, those days are over.
With SmackDown on the same network as Raw, it would allow for more cross-promotion between the brands, and remember, this was even prior to when the Brand Extension was instituted again. The show started to feature occasional appearances from notable names such as Brock Lesnar (who hadn't shown up on SmackDown in over a decade at that point), Triple H and Shane McMahon, but more importantly, it had a renewed focus on the midcard.
Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Chris Jericho and Superstars of that caliber were constantly headlining the then-Thursday night program, and it was a refreshing change of pace compared to Raw. Thursdays became my favorite day of the week up until it was announced that Raw and SmackDown would have their own distinct rosters again and that it would be making the move to Tuesdays, and then, it was only inevitable the blue brand returned to its former glory from 2002, 2003.
When Week 1 of the "New Era" was over, fans were raving about Raw and how amazing of an episode it was. I was too, but I knew deep down that in the long run, SmackDown would be the better brand. We're three months into the Brand Extension and I can safely say that I was right after all.
I could write another article all together about everything SmackDown Live is doing right at the moment (and maybe I will), but simply put, they are firing on all cylinders. Despite having a limited roster, they are making the most of who they have in every division. All the women are being utilized in a meaningful manner. The tag team scene is slowly heating up with The Usos rejuvenating their careers. The main event scene is stacked with AJ Styles, John Cena and Dean Ambrose vying for the WWE World Championship. Even the midcard scene is engaging with The Miz and Dolph Ziggler having one of the best feuds all year.
Watching Raw is almost a chore every week, whereas I am genuinely looking forward to SmackDown each Tuesday night. It is not only my favorite wrestling show in WWE, it's my favorite wrestling show of any kind all week. Lucha Underground, Impact Wrestling and Ring of Honor are all enjoyable, but nothing compares to the thrill that the blue brand gives me when I sit down to watch SmackDown. The two hours never cease to fly by as every match is significant in some form or fashion, the storylines are compelling and the authority figures are almost nonexistent.
Furthermore, their premiere pay-per-view of the Brand Split, Backlash, was a total success, and now I look forward to how No Mercy can top it this coming Sunday. If you were one of those people who wrote off SmackDown as being throwaway in recent years, you would be remiss not to give it another chance. The show's resurrection has been a real treat to watch, and I get the feeling that this is only just the beginning.
SEE ALSO: "RJ's Two Cents - Why WWE SmackDown Live Is No Longer the "B" Show"