wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Should WWE Do Away With the Brand Split?

May 10, 2024 | Posted by Ryan Byers
WWE Smackdown 4-26-24 Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.
If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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JN is auditioning for a pro wrestling version of Project Runway:

I recently heard a clip of Sting talking (perhaps in jest) about Bret Hart copying his pink “Sergeant Pepper” jacket, in addition to the Sharpshooter/Scorpion DeathLock.

a) Can you please tell me who wore the jacket first – I think the Harts wore it first at Summerslam 90. Was Sting already wearing his by then?

b) Can you provide a rundown of American wrestlers using the Sharpshooter. Was Sting the first? I know DiBiase and Ron Garvin also used it occasionally before Bret. Anyone else?

Regarding the ring jackets, it’s hard to say exactly who first debuted a look during this era, because so many matches were not televised and so many matches were shown on television out of the order in which they were taped.

However, as near as I can tell, Sting actually did roll out the “Sergeant Pepper” style ring jacket before Bret Hart did.

I think that JN is correct when he says that Summerslam 1990, held on August 27 of that year, was the debut of the Hart Foundation’s iconic ring jacket, with a waist cut, a simulated double breast, and fringed shoulder pads. Even if it wasn’t the actual debut, it certainly appears to be the “big match” debut of the look. The Foundation’s jackets were not there for their Wrestlemania 1990 encounter against the Bolsheviks, even though the Bolsheviks got to rock some sweet satin windbreakers with Russian bears on them.

That being said, I’ve got evidence of Sting wearing a similar style of jacket ever so slightly earlier, namely at . . .

The 1990 Great American Bash on July 7, 1990.

Sting won his first World Championship from Ric Flair on that show and, as he came out to the ring, he was wearing more or less the same style of jackets as the Harts would later become known for. Yes, the Stinger’s version had an American flag motif as opposed to the Foundation’s pink and black attack, but the wasit-length, the double breasts, and the fringed shoulder pads were all there.

It appears that Sting really did beat Bret to the punch on this look. Of course, given the time it takes to produce outfits like this and the close proximity of the debuts, it is entirely possible that this is a coincidence as opposed to a true ripoff.

On the subject of the Sharpshooter, it is well accepted that Sting was the guy who first popularized the hold in the United States, though versions were earlier used by Ted DiBiase and Greg Valentine as JN notes. Bret Hart took it from there.

Who else was using it before Bret and Sting in the U.S.? Though there may have been some occasional instances, Valentine and DiBiase are really the main guys. In his autobiography, Bret credits Konnan as the one who taught him how to apply the move after Pat Patterson suggested he use it as a finish, though I don’t know how regular a part of K-Dawg’s game it was at the time – and at that point he would have been significantly more popular in Mexico than in the United States in any event.

Of course, even though this was technically not part of the question, I would be remiss if I didn’t give at least some credit to Riki Choshu, the Japanese wrestler who was really the first person to popularize the hold and would have been the inspiration behind guys like Sting and Konnan using it.

Matt B. is a replica of a girl I know:

From a booking perspective, how do you re-introduce the championship if Benoit had been champion at the time of the tragedy (sorry if this is not the right word). A new champion is a celebration but, rightly so, that wouldn’t have been appropriate. Who would the belt have gone to and how?

Based on the tone of the question, I assume that you are talking about the primary WWE Championship or the then-existent version of the World Heavyweight Title as opposed to the ECW Championship, which Benoit really was in contention for at the time he instigated the double murder-suicide that left his family dead.

You’re absolutely correct that this would be a difficult booking situation, and it would have to be handled with the utmost sensitivity, which unfortunately is not a hallmark of professional wrestling.

One of the main things that I think you would need is time. The more time you let pass between the vacating of the championship and its being filled, the less the new champion would be affiliated with Benoit. Thus, I would suggest a large tournament to crown a new champ, lasting at least one month and possibly two.

The second thing that I would consider is completely redesigning the championship belt. Presumably if Benoit died holding the title, pictures of him holding the belt would have been plastered all over national news, moreso than they already were as a result of his 2004 World Title win. A new design would further distance the title from the killer. I’d even scrap the historic Big Gold Belt design if necessary.

Finally, I think you have to put the title on a veteran. Becoming a world champion for the the first time is already a lot of pressure on a young wrestler, and putting it on a young wrestler during this fraught a situation would almost be setting them up for failure.

That’s why only one name emerges as the man who should be new champ in this hypothetical:

Shawn Michaels. The Heartbreak Kid had significant goodwill built up with the fan base at this point, and he was a master of reading a crowd and reacting how he needed in order to bring them along on the journey he was taking. If anyone in the audience was inclined to react poorly to a new champion based on the circumstances under which they were crowned, Michaels would probably be best served to deal with that.

Bryan has already booked his flight to Paris:

With the Olympics coming up, something I always wondered, for the agile workers, what would happen if they actually tried out of for the gymnastics or competitive diving? I mean is it really that different from what they do in the ring? A shooting star press off a ring post involves landing on a hard ring and worrying about your opponent. A diving board you get water, if prime Rey Misterio Jr., or John Morrison can get a crowd to pop, would they be as effective with judges, RVD (assuming he could pass the weed test) would be amazing to watch as a gymnast. Do you think they would excel if given the chance?

No, I don’t think they could, at least not if you transferred them directly from professional wrestling into an Olympic event.

Though it’s being raised in a different context, this is more or less the same question that I answered last week about why NFL teams don’t recruit sumo wrestlers to play American football. I’ll not restate that whole answer because you can go read it for yourself if you like, but the short version is competing at an international level in any sport requires years and years of training for that specific sport and, even though there may be broad similarities in some skills that are needed across some sports, there are differences of conditioning, muscle memory, and other factors that result in those broad skills not being completely transferable from sport to sport.

In response to last week’s question, Disqus user JimmyDanger commented with what I thought was the perfect example of this phenomenon: Michael Jordan. Jordan is the single greatest basketball player of all time and had freakish levels of natural athleticism. However, when he briefly retired from professional basketball to play professional baseball – a sport that on a surface level looks less physically demanding than basketball – he was a middling baseball player who could not make it out of the minor leagues.

I’m giving Tyler from Winnipeg some malicious compliance:

Have you reviewed 123 Kid vs. Bret “The Hitman” Hart on Raw for the WWF title?

I don’t think I have, but I’ve been writing about pro wrestling on the internet for over twenty years now, so it’s entirely possible that I did at one point but have forgotten about it.

JonFW2 can’t trust his ears:

During Attitude Era Raws, there is a sporadic but very specific audio quirk that takes place (I think) only during in-ring mic segments:

The audio will get very “tinny” out of the blue. You can still hear the speaker, but almost like his/her voice is in the background and the crowd sounds much louder.

As an example, Stone Cold and Vince had an in-ring segment mid way through Raw on July 20, 1998- towards the end, the audio changes and Vince (with the camera shot on Stone Cold so you can’t see McMahon) says “you’ll force me to strip you of the title.”

That line sounds NOTHING like any of the other dialogue in that segment.

Was this simply a legit audio problem, or was the “audio glitch” done later on to edit and/or change the original dialogue?

I think what you’re hearing is a byproduct of the company altering the crowd noise, either to sweeten it or to mute something that might be vulgar or otherwise interfering with the story that they company is trying to tell over the microphone.

Though I’m open to being corrected on this point, I’m not aware of any instances of WWE going back and editing shows to change the dialogue during in-ring promos (aside from muting the “WWF” acronym or inappropriate language), though if you listen to interviews with WWF/WWE announcers, the commentary team would go in studio and re-record some key lines for shows that originally had live commentary but were airing on tape delay.

Big Al wants to give people their flowers but questions who owns the flower shop:

Now that TKO owns WWE would any of the executive try to decide who goes into the HOF or would that solely up to HHH now?

Based on reports from the 2024 Hall of Fame, the inductions were Triple H’s baby. Granted, people have speculated – and rightfully so – that new member of the board of directors Dwayne Johnson had quite a bit to do with his grandmother Lia Maivia being inducted, but Trips is the main guy in control. That could evolve as the new corporate structure shakes itself out over the next few years, but thusfar it seems as though the high level execs are not meddling much in creative and leaving that to the wrestling people, and HOF inductions are considered part of creative.

Fortunately, RedBeard is not asking about any other hidden significance that handkerchiefs may have:

In the 1/29/2024 column, you posted a video of the Fantastics vs. Original Midnight Express. Starting about 2:20, we see Dennis Condrey take the bandanna off his neck and tie it around his leg. Any idea as to the significance of that?

I think the significance is that the guy didn’t want to lose his bandanna but knew that he shouldn’t wrestle a match with it tied around his neck.

Andy wants to close the window, because he’s feeling a little . . .

With the WWE Draft around the corner, it doesn’t look like the brand split is going away any time – but should it? And what is the benefit of keeping it?

When it was introduced, it made some sense due to the huge roster and famous championships the WWE had acquired, especially given the rumoured ‘revival’ of WCW as a brand, although that never happened. But today, the split means you have smaller rosters for each show (and lots of repeat matches), I doubt many (if any) fans have a particular loyalty to Raw or SD over the other (or could even tell you off the top of their head who is on what show) and in any case, WWE breaks the brand split rules whenever they feel like it (remember the Wild Card Rule?) so they’re kind of pointless.

Whereas, ending the brand split would mean a bigger roster, with fresh matches, and you could have storylines about the unification of, say, the men’s women’s and tag team championships – personally, I’d be inclined to keep the US and IC belts like the US/TV titles in the old WCW/NWA. Plus, Fox/USA would have all the WWE’s talent pool for their shows, so wouldn’t that please them?

At a time when the WWE is under fire for lack of creativity, this seems an obvious way to fresh things up, have titles (and title changes) that actually matter – surely having one world champion is the way it’s meant to be? – and open up new storyline options. So am I missing something? Why keep the brand split going?

I don’t have a huge problem with the brand split. I think one factor that people who call for its end don’t consider is the impact that it has on being able to split the roster into two different touring crews. Rather than every wrestler (or at least most wrestlers) having to make every television show, you can divvy up their travel commitments, which makes life as a professional wrestler significantly easier for those involved. Plus, when it comes to advertising house shows, it’s a good way to give fans a little bit better idea of the lineup of talent that they might be seeing in a world where advertising matches for non-televised events is largely a thing of the past.

Plus, though the WWE television universe is about to be shaken up with Fox exiting and Netflix and the CW entering, there were have been reports over the past several years in which it was indicated that network executives from Fox and USA did appreciate having “exclusive” talent that fans would have to tune into their channel to see week-to-week.

Brad is revisiting an old conceit:

Over the last few years you’ve documented various linear titles (i.e. “The Man” from Ric Flair) and from what I remember a lot of them ended up merging and going to Roman Reigns. Does he still have them or did he lose somewhere along the way? If so, who currently holds them?

Well, he just lost them all to Cody Rhodes. We’ll see if Rhodes is booked differently than Reigns in a way that breaks up these lineal titles from the WWE Championship.

Night Wolf the Wise has razor blades strapped to his fingers:

I was watching an episode of Stories with Brisco and Bradshaw. Lex Luger was on. He talked about being put in a cage match with Brusier Brody. He had never been in one before and didn’t know what to do. Luger states in the video he tried whipping Brody into the cage and Brody just stood there refusing to work. Luger said he got scared and climb out of the cage to get out of there. What is the truth behind this story?

Luger told the true story. He’s been telling it in shoot interviews over twenty years now, and his version has been remarkably consistent. Plus, what benefit would Luger get from telling a story in which he gets scared of a guy and runs away? He doesn’t exactly come off well there, and the fact that he is sharing the anecdote in which he can be seen as a bit of a coward bolsters his credibility. On top of that, third parties who have recounted these events also have versions of the story that match up with Lex’s.

Continuing from my question above, how many times has a wrestler refused to work because their opponent didn’t know what they were doing?

There are not a ton of examples of this phenomenon, but one of the most noteworthy that exists is Antonio Inoki versus The Great Antonio in New Japan Pro Wrestling on December 8, 1977. Great Antonio had actually been in wrestling since 1959, but his age, physical deterioration, and, reportedly, arrogance had left him unable to perform at standards that were expected in NJPW of this era. After some embarrassing looking headlocks and a couple of forearms that landed hard in an unsafe place, Inoki decided he had enough of Great Antonio’s bullshit, stopped working, and knocked him out with some kicks to the face.

We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.