The paradigm has shifted. World Wrestling Entertainment has finally stopped insisting that All Elite Wrestling is not competition, and are directly competing with the rival promotion on October 15’s edition of Friday Night SmackDown. The “middle child” of WWE television, having launched in 1999, SmackDown was long considered the “B” show to flagship program Monday Night Raw. With Raw’s rating’s slump and Roman Reign’s phenomenal ‘Bloodline’ storyline becoming the focal point of SmackDown, that has changed. Now, WWE seeks to capitalize on SmackDown’s recent surge in popularity and consistency in ratings to go head to head against AEW’s secondary show, AEW: Rampage with an extra half hour of SmackDown airing on FS1 at 8/7 central.
The last thirty minutes of “Supersized” SmackDown on October 15 will be commercial-free, a strong enticement to fans not to change the channel…especially, WWE is hoping, not to change the channel to TNT. The episode is a loaded one. As per WWE.Com, Brock Lesnar is set to appear on SmackDown ahead of his Crown Jewel match against Reigns on October 21. The Queen’s Crown tournament continues with Carmella pitted against Zelina Vega in the semifinals. The King of the Ring tournament also continues with Finn Balor vs. Sami Zayn in the semifinals. Sonya Deville’s and Naomi’s weeks of ire will finally come to blows in Deville’s first match since her ‘loser leaves WWE’ match against Mandy Rose at SummerSlam 2020.
However, it is the commercial-free main event upon which WWE is surely pinning its hopes, Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks. Despite its recent uneven booking of the women’s division, WWE still gives the division’s top tier the star treatment. Banks and Lynch are two of the pioneers of the initial overhaul of the women’s division in 2015-18, with Lynch being the first woman to headline a WrestleMania in a triple threat against Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey at Wrestlemania 35. Banks also made WrestleMania history: she and Bianca Belair were the first two African-Americans to share a WrestleMania headlining match, as well as the first African-American women to do so, for which they won an Espy in 2021. Both have also found crossover success in pop culture outside WWE, with Lynch having appeared on the Showtime drama “Billions” and cutting a BT Sports ad for Connor McGregor ahead of UFC 264, and Banks co-starring on Disney drama “The Mandalorian.”
Between their mutual accolades and popularity with WWE fans and beyond, WWE is turning to Banks, Lynch, and the “blue brand” sum total to grab viewers from Rampage. However, this strategy is still one that treats AEW as a fad, a novelty that viewers are ‘checking out’. That’s not the case. In a short span of time, AEW has built an enthusiastic fan base all its own. While some of their biggest stars, like Punk, Danielson, Jon Moxley, Christian Cage, and Chris Jericho are veterans of WWE, just as many are not, and have fan bases that were previously outside the scope of mainstream televised pro wrestling. Those audiences have been brought to the proverbial party, now, and are no doubt a significant factor in AEW’s rapid success.
WWE, which spent the ‘80s culling talent from the NWA territories until the system collapsed, and from smaller regional tv programs, once knew that looking far afield for talent and bringing them together on a grand stage was a formula for success. It is the formula AEW is using, bringing together wrestlers from disparate backgrounds together in great matches, on shows with dynamic production and exciting pacing.
To combat their ascent, WWE is hoping that they have star power on their side. WWE stars have their own place in pop culture, and the affection that fans feel for their favorites is immense. Fan favorites Lynch and Banks are WWE’s great hope for October 15’s head-to-head with Rampage.