World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) missed an opportunity to put its best foot forward.
Tuesday’s brand split draft was supposed to push the company further into its “New Era” of sports entertainment, but all it did was leave viewers with as many questions as they had heading into the first live SmackDown event.
Here’s some background:
The WWE product has awful for much of the last decade. To keep it modest, it has been an abysmal failure. Poor television ratings aside, writers and show-runners haven’t shown the ability to draft and execute quality shorelines on par with the thrilling tales of the Attitude Era.
The Triple H/ Stephanie McMahon Authority concept, which was billed as a replacement for the on-screen “maniacal billionaire” persona of CEO Vince McMahon, has grown tiring and predictable.
Raw has twiddle from Spike TV, to the WWE Network all the way back to its original home USA. SmackDown couldn’t keep pace with NXT, acting only to tie up loose ends left over from Raw and promote seldom used main roster talent.
In an effort to reinvigorating the SmackDown Brand and infuse the wave of NXT talent into the main roster, the WWE turned to a concept they’ve used eight times between 2002-2011; brand split draft.
And after months of speculation and hype the WWE got everything it didn’t want – more of the same.
Here were the rules:
Draft order: Raw got the first pick first because obviously, it’s the flagship show. For the televised portion of the draft, Raw received three picks for every two SmackDown picks.
Tag teams: Could be drafted as a single unit (two or three wrestlers) unless a member was drafted as an individual superstar first.
NXT eligibility: There were six planned call-ups from WWE’s developmental brand.
Here’s the result:
Seth Rollins (1)
Dean Ambrose (2) World Heavyweight Champion
Charlotte (3) Women’s Champion
AJ Styles (4)
Finn Balor (5) From NXT
John Cena (7)
Roman Reigns (6)
Randy Orton (9)
Brock Lesnar (8)
Bray Wyatt (12)
The New Day (10) Tag Team Champions
Becky Lynch (14)
Sami Zayn (11)
The Miz w/ Maryse (17) Intercontinental Champion
Sasha Banks (13)
Baron Corbin (19)
Chris Jericho (15)
American Alpha (22) From NXT
Rusev w/ Lana (16) United States Champion
Dolph Ziggler (24)
Kevin Owens (18)
Enzo and Cass (20)
Alberto Del Rio (29)
Gallows and Anderson (21)
The Usos (32)
Big Show (23)
Nia Jax (25) From NXT
The Ascension (41)
Zack Ryder (43)
Golden Truth (31)
Apollo Crews (45)
Titus O’Neil (33)
Alexa Bliss (47) From NXT
Darren Young w/ Bob Backlund (36)
Eva Marie (51)
Sin Cara (38)
The Vaudevillains (53)
Jack Swagger (40)
Erick Rowan (55)
The Dudley Boyz (42)
Mojo Rawley (57) From NXT
Summer Rae (44)
Carmella (59) From NXT
Mark Henry (46)
Braun Strowman (48)
Bo Dallas (50)
Shining Stars (52)
Alicia Fox (54)
Dana Brooke (56)
Curtis Axel (58)
The company did a horrible job of establishing any distinct differences between the two shows. This proves that officials haven’t learned anything from the last brand split effort.
The inclusion of Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan over on SmackDown does provide a new buzz to that program, but it doesn’t achieve the long promised “SamckDown is its own thing” idea.
SmackDown still feels like a B-show to that of the flagship Raw.
Maybe there are some new, surprising storylines that no one has ever conjured up before.
Maybe there is some new way to approach the Cena/ Styles feud, or the Cena/ Orton feud or even the Cena/ Bray Wyatt feud.
Let’s keep our fingers cross on this one.
Moreover, the WWE spent much of the last two months introducing loyal fans to its new Cruiserweight Division. The CWC, in a few short episodes, has completely flipped the game by bringing back that high-flying in-ring action that the WWE has lost in recent years.
Why the hell wasn’t this Cruiserweight Division included in either SmackDown or Raw, providing that brand with an interesting and unique angle to build on.
I have a similar problem with the Diva’s division. All that work by the company to set up what became a good thing, just to tear it apart now with no point.
I guess Sasha Banks and Charlotte both being on Raw together means there is a chance that they can continue their feud, but the depth of the Diva’s Division was what made this entire Diva’s Revolution angle work.
Ah well, I guess another hope down the drain.
Winner – The SmackDown brand certainly came away with a roster, if not better, definitely on par with that of Raw. Veterans like John Cena, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt and Alberto Del Rio are all marquee guys that can carry to billing for two to three month stretch.
Added to the mix, the call up of American Alpha, a standout Tag-Team from NXT and promises that Baron Corbin could finally be give a chance to produce; SmackDown looks capable of becoming must watch TV.
This roster can easily fill a two-hour product window and prove to be a golden draw for the USA Network moving forward.
Loser – NXT since its establishment has become one of the best draws in the business. A platform for young, vibrant characters to develop a way from unforgiving buzz of prime time and television ratings.
As if the six guarantee call ups doesn’t show the quality of talent in NXT, the idea that Bray Wyatt, Kevin Owens and Sammi Zayne all were in NXT a few short years ago might do it.
NXT has proven to be a breathing ground for talent. The gutting of quality talent from that roster may backfire and weaken the NXT brand.
Biggest Surprise – The dismantling of the Club is something I didn’t expect. Since their arrival in the WWE, the members of the Club have captivated WWE audiences with their in-ring chemistry and talent.
Why the WWE decided to split this up, I would never understand or respect. Yes, it is good to prove that AJ Styles could stand on his own, but splitting up the Club wasn’t needed to do that.
When AJ Styles first arrived in WWE he proved he was an A-list superstar by jumping into the title fray and earning a couple of shots at the belt. He didn’t have the Club then.
I am still on the fence on whether this move would pay off for the WWE with Styles on SmackDown; and Gallows and Anderson over on Raw.