Monday Night Raw is over three hours long and runs from 8:00-11:15 PM EST. In recent months, WWE Creative has opted to put the headline-making match or segment at 10:00PM instead of 11:00 PM; the final hour is typically low-key. But last Monday, WWE concluded Raw with a true crowd pleaser. The Smackdown roster, along with Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon, beat up Raw's entire locker room--the first shots fired in the month-long, cross-brand build to Survivor Series on November 19. It was a perfect closer, and it set up all sorts of potential storylines.
But lest we forget, WWE has done these sorts of "invasion" angles before, which pit one brand or promotion against another. The most notorious angle was when WCW and ECW invaded WWE in 2001. Another instance was when The Nexus stable of rookies pummeled John Cena and destroyed the ring in 2010. And the most recent, a mini-invasion, happened when Stephanie McMahon kicked off the Women's Revolution by introducing Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch to Raw in 2015. They promptly locked Team Bella into three different submission holds.
But those three invasions, in hindsight, are also widely perceived as failures--key examples of when WWE had the chance to do something classic and consequential and either delivered a sub-par product or dropped the ball entirely. By examining these misadventures, we can draw lessons from them. WWE can ensure this invasion goes better than the others by:
Drawing Out The Drama
In all three prior invasion angles, the narrative moved too quickly for fans to care about what was happening and why it was happening. During the Nexus invasion, the writers fleshed out Wade Barrett, but the storyline glossed over everyone else in Nexus as a replaceable stand-in. During the Women's Revolution, the new women were immediately put into factions--Team B.A.D. and Team PCB--instead of giving them time to introduce themselves.
WWE has an impatient fanbase. And the minute the Raw beatdown happened this past Monday, fans started asking on social media: "When is the retaliation happening? When will Raw invade Smackdown and even the score?" And after Smackdown went off the air with no such retaliation, social media blew up again because fans were angry.
Two invasions in a single week is no way to start a month-long feud. From a kayfabe standpoint, the Raw locker room needs to time to "heal" and lick its wounds before mounting any sort of reasonable counterattack. From a narrative standpoint, two invasions would effectively numb the audience. What could WWE possibly do for a follow-up act after that much concentrated mayhem? There needs to be at least a week--if not two weeks' time--between these massive, locker room clearing brawls. Use that time to explore individual wrestlers' reasons for participating in the beatdown and develop their characters. Otherwise, the company will reduce itself to performing tricks, rather than telling a story.
Keeping the Top Talent Involved
When the 2001 Invasion angle rolled out, many major WCW and ECW stars were not yet signed to WWE. Goldberg, Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash were all latecomers to the party, and this robbed the storyline of necessary, high profile matches to kick things into high gear.
This is why it was great to see Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles, and Shinsuke Nakamura all involved in the backstage Raw brawl. Still, there were some key wrestlers missing. Asuka wasn't there. Braun Strowman wasn't there. Brock Lesnar wasn't there. Randy Orton wasn't there. Sami Zayn wasn't there. Kevin Owens wasn't there.
Some of this made storyline sense; why would Sami Zayn fight on Shane's behalf? And some of it was probably to protect individual wrestlers; Asuka shouldn't be beaten up this early in her run anyway (and kayfabe-wise, she wouldn't have allegiance to a brand she just signed to). But for WWE to do this invasion angle properly, the writers must involve the main event talents, consequentially and consistently. WWE will get from this feud what it puts into it. If it's just midcarders and enhancement talent fighting and feuding with other midcarders and enhancement talent, the fans will treat this storyline with an equivalent level of respect.
Making It Less About The GMs and More About The Active Wrestlers.
During the Invasion angle, WWE dedicated too much time to exploring the dynamic between Vince McMahon and his two kids, Stephanie and Shane. The fans care most about the wrestlers in the ring who are doing the actual fighting. This unequal focus on non-wrestling talent reared its head again during the Superstar Shakeup two years ago. Jojo interviewed Cesaro about Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon's relationship, and Cesaro said, quite succinctly, "I don't really care."
Right now, the lasting image that fans will remember from Monday's beatdown is Shane McMahon and Kurt Angle staring each other down in the center of the ring. That needs to change. If this entire feud becomes Shane vs. Angle, it's a disservice to the multiple, talented individuals on the roster, who would benefit from getting a bigger moment to shine. The superstars should have individual, varying motivations for their actions. That's more difficult to script. But it's also a lot more compelling.
Following Up After Survivor Series
Invasion angles tend to end on a whimper. After the big culminating match and the big finish, WWE immediately pivots away to another storyline. Take the cross-brand Bragging Rights PPV, for example. For weeks, the two rosters are at each other's throats. And then after the PPV, which split wins between both brands, there is no cross-promotion bickering. No lingering resentment. No angry, pointed promos. The wrestlers just pick up their brand-specific storylines where they left off, and it all reverts to business as usual.
For Survivor Series to gain notoriety, its effects need to be felt long after November 19. It should affect the Royal Rumble in January and the various in-ring alliances during the main event. And thus, come April of next year, it should affect WrestleMania 34.
How can Superstars keep it going? By continuing the cross-brand fight at any opportunity. Keep it going on social media. "Welcome" any wrestler who switches brands with open hostility. Put over the idea that the brands truly resent each other--that the actions may be scripted, but the feelings are real. This is a much preferable narrative to, "It's time for Survivor Series, so for one month only, we're going to hate each other."