I know that Ricardo and I have both bemoaned the faults of the superstar shake-up the last few weeks on the OTTB pod (thus the metaphor in the image up top – they literally threw every post-Wrestlemania story in the trash), but rather than continue to wallow in misery, I have decided to be proactive with my approach to this issue. So what follows is an instructional guide for the WWE (hit me up for the account to send the royalty cheques to Vince) on how to ensure the Superstar Shake-Up™ is a success in the years to come. But first, let me talk to an old friend.
First things first. Vince, listen to me buddy. In fact, pull your chair up real close. Lean in and listen closely – EXERCISE SOME FLIPPING PATIENCE. That was therapeutic. Now, what do I mean? So you decided last July to split the WWE roster back into two distinct brands – Raw and Smackdown. You quickly established the necessary (and unnecessary) titles to be defended on each brand. So far, so good. Both shows went out of their way to establish new talent at the top of the card – Raw did it by having Finn Balor be the first Universal Champion, then having Kevin Owens win it after Finn’s injury. On the Smackdown side, Dean Ambrose came over as WWE Champion and was followed by title runs for AJ Styles and Bray Wyatt – for all five men it was their first world championship in WWE. In Smackdown’s women’s division you had the emergence of Alexa Bliss and in the tag division you had the underdog story of Heath Slater and Rhyno. All of these were good to great stories told over multiple events and matches in the immediate aftermath of the split. All (outside of Roman Reigns still being shoved down our throats) was right in WWE.
Then, you… Yes, you Vince! You decided that you weren’t willing to wait until summer to have another draft and rework the roster for fresh feuds. You decided that you wanted your big changes now. So you shotgunned this Superstar Shake-Up rather than just using post-Mania as the time for NXT call-ups and newly signed wrestler debuts. What’s worse is this was clearly unplanned as the stories coming out of Mania were already in motion. Bray Wyatt was set to challenge Randy Orton, we assumed in a title match, but that isn’t what happened. No, instead Bray got moved to Raw and still fought Randy, seemingly for nothing, in a House of Horrors match. Thanks Vince.
We were supposed to have what looked like a potentially amazing feud between The Miz and the newly called-up Shinsuke Nakamura, but no, you decided we don’t deserve nice things. Just imagine, the King of Strong Style vs the King of Soft Style, it writes itself. Instead, The Miz, who was also a prime candidate for a surprise MITB win, gets moved to Raw and thrust into a feud with none other than Dean Ambrose, who got moved to Raw at the same damn time. So now, no Miz vs Nakamura and no payoff of a MITB win and cash-in for The Miz who had definitely worked himself into being deserving of both spots. No, now we have Dolph and Nakamura and Miz and Dean. So yea, thanks Vince.
How to Fix it
Now, don’t get me wrong, after having some time to mull over things, I am okay with the idea of using post-Mania as a time to hold a draft or shake-up. Historically, post-Wrestlemania season is a drag. Too often the events following Mania have seen rehashes of the same Mania feuds with little difference in the overall quality. So if we are going to use post-Mania season as the annual draft/shake-up time then here are a few suggestions.
Post-Mania Raw and Smackdown
As mentioned above, this is the perfect time of year in the WWE calendar to shake things up. The main problem with this year’s shake-up was it came a week too late. If you want to reset the rosters after Mania, do it exactly then, on the post-Mania episodes of Raw and Smackdown. By changing the draft/shake-up date to the post-Mania Raw and Smackdown events WWE can solve two problems at once. They can effectively neutralize the insane post-Mania Raw and Smackdown crowds by holding the draft/shake-up on those two nights. People will be so bonkers over all the change and new stuff that is happening that (hopefully) they don’t end up chanting stupid things or playing with beach balls during your main event. The second issue solved is eliminating the need for rehashing completed stories by having all the same guys on the same rosters. This acts as an immediate Wrestlemania reset. That is what you call two birds, one stone.
When you add in the fact that NXT call-ups usually debut around this time, it makes even more sense. The specific point here is to have it immediately after Mania. One, this prevents the debacle that took place this year – new feuds developing, or existing feuds appearing to continue only to have the rug pulled out a week to three later. Secondly, by knowing that this is coming both shows have the ability to approach Mania storylines in new ways. They can either plot stories out to end organically at Mania thus leaving fans with a satisfying conclusion and a natural reset point OR they can plot stories out to break off a feud without a conclusion to tease the audience out for a year in hopes that the feuding parties end up on the same roster to feud down the line. Imagine if they were retelling the “who knocked down Stone Cold” storyline and instead of teasing out the whodunit aspect of the story, they revealed who the culprit was at Mania, only to have the two superstars separated by a draft/shake-up. While it could lead to frustrating results, the potential for creative long-term storytelling is very compelling in such a situation. Check out Smackdown if you don’t think long-term storytelling is meaningful (and money-making),
At least for the time being we got this…
Create Actual New Feuds (And Feuds Fans Want to See)
One of the primary challenges with this year’s shake-up was the perception of fresh feuds vs. the reality of same-old booking or same-old feuds or fresh feuds that no one wanted to see. Now a part of this was the stupid decision to start new feuds before the shake-up happened and an entire week after Mania. So instead of the Miz Nakamura feud that we all wanted, fans got disappointed with the Dolph Nakamura alternative. So although that is a fresh feud, it is not the one we wanted.
Additionally, rather than immediately reposition AJ Styles back into a title feud with Randy Orton, they moved AJ into a US Championship feud with Kevin Owens. (Don’t tell me this makes sense because Randy is a face. That dude burned down someone’s property, he is a heel.) Instead of allowing Bray to recapture the WWE Championship from Randy, they move Bray into a potential feud with Finn on Raw. Instead of Kevin Owens challenging Brock for the Universal Championship, we get KO holding the US title and moving to Smackdown. Now yes, you may say “Alex, you are being a spoiled wrestling fan. We are getting KO vs AJ and Finn vs Bray.” And you may be right, those are two feuds that, all things considered equal, most fans would be primed for (and most still are). The issue is more of what we were potentially robbed of – KO battling Brock for the Universal Title and an extended program between Bray, AJ and Randy over the WWE title. So you see, we want our cake and we want to eat it too. Pause.
The last thing I will mention with regards to the draft/shake-up is that WWE needs to be consistent. If the decision is to make the shake-up a consistent post-Mania event, then stick to your guns. Allow the breathing room of a full calendar year in order to have multiple feuds develop. Consider that if fans have to sit through another shake-up of talent in the summer, we could potentially end up with Nakamura and AJ Styles on different shows. God knows wrestling fans don’t want to wait some undetermined amount of time for a potential money-making feud like that one. So if this is the road that you have decided to take WWE, stick to it. Allow your wrestlers the opportunity to have three or four major feuds over the course of a year within the same roster. For AJ, let him do three months with KO, then three months with Nakamura, then three months with Corbin, then three months with Randy before winning the Rumble and challenging for the Universal Title against Finn at Mania. He can switch brands and setup a whole new year of feuds.
Ultimately I think the overall lesson here is patience. WWE needs to be willing to keep talent on the same roster for a year. They need to be willing to have the shake-up around the same time every year, for more than one year at a time. They need to be willing to allow fresh feuds to grow organically and use those feuds to create and elevate new and young stars. They need to be willing to listen to the fans and create the feuds that we want to see. Be patient Vince, and for God sakes, don’t rob us of AJ vs Nakamura.
Just in case Vince is stubborn, I left this here for you…