It’s hard to tell what the long-term reaction to the WWE Draft and brand extension will be, but the immediate perception is a simplistic and a rather pessimistic one: In the minds of many observers, SmackDown was robbed. If not outright buried.
At least, that’s what WWE fans began steadily tweeting as the night went on.
@PKSparkxx I feel like Smackdown got robbed. It's as if we traded Cena for everyone else. I'm disappointed tbh. Hopefully Shane can work it— Ken (@SonicKeyblade00) July 20, 2016
Smackdown always gets screwed in the draft. That's just how it goes.— Nicholas Jervey (@crispycrunch95) July 20, 2016
There were warning signs this could happen. Specifically, a particular rule shared via the WWE website ahead of the draft.
“Since SmackDown Live is a two-hour show and Raw is three hours, for every two picks SmackDown Live receives, Raw will receive three picks.”
Apparently, no one considered this fact a sign that RAW might benefit by once again being a two-hour show. Such a change would easily allow WWE talents to be more evenly divided between RAW and SmackDown.
And then for many, things got cringe-worthy levels of predictable really fast, with things being embarrassingly lopsided in favor of RAW very early on. Even moving John Cena to SmackDown was viewed negatively.
CBS Sports updated the draft results live, and the complete list of the WWE Draft selections is now available.
There was a lot of promising talent on that draft list. Possible storylines that would have worked for driving both RAW and SmackDown forward in equal measure. And then a bizarre pattern formed. Aside from a couple of early promising picks in AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose, things fell into a disappointingly familiar pattern. RAW took most of the established talent, and SmackDown made a series of choices that apparently worked against its best interests for ratings purposes.
That isn’t to say there aren’t potential breakout stars on SmackDown‘s roster. For instance, there were predictions that Bray Wyatt would be drafted solo, breaking up the Wyatt family and potentially allowing him to develop on his own. And despite RAW retaining the highly popular Sasha Banks and Women’s Champion Charlotte, SmackDown just might have the more promising women’s division overall.
Having said that, NXT babyface Bayley getting left out of the WWE draft altogether had quite a few wrestling fans fuming.
Despite the shock and disappointment, some are still hoping Bayley will make an appearance as Sasha Bank’s mystery tag team partner at Battleground.
Meanwhile, there was no surprise that NXT‘s Finn Balor was drafted. Or that he was drafted to RAW. Which brings WWE back to the problem that many feared would be the case: RAW is “top-heavy” with SmackDown being given the “B Team” wrestlers. As one disillusioned WWE fan put it:
Vintage WWE: big expectations, bigger disappointments #WWEDraft— Thore Ziebell (@thethorez) July 20, 2016
Is it logical to view RAW continuing in a “business as usual” fashion while the WWE stomps on SmackDown once again? Not necessarily.
Sure, SmackDown took a few notable veterans in the form of John Cena, Randy Orton, and Kane. However, it’s pretty light on aging talent. There were only six NXT call-ups overall, with everyone left to scratch their head at most of the top talent in NXT staying put — for now. But notice that most of the NXT talent that did receive the opportunity went to SmackDown.
The more one looks at the SmackDown draft picks, it seems to have been based on developing upcoming talent rather than sticking to developed and already popular WWE stars. The choice to send Bray Wyatt to SmackDown and breaking up the three-way rivalry between Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns could be proof of that. After all, Ambrose, despite his endless hard work, could be construed as the third wheel in that rivalry. With Rollins and Reigns on RAW, Ambrose could get a chance to shine away in his own way once separated from his fellow ex-Shiebrethrenern.
That is if we’re assuming this was the method to the madness that was the SmackDown portion of the draft.
Others are not convinced, and it doesn’t help that there is a series of drafts behind us, or a history of lopsidedness to justify the cynicism. RAW is still the flagship show and it’s still an hour longer. Thinning out the herd would allow RAW a chance to showcase more talent while leaving less room for wrestlers that fans aren’t sold on. SmackDown may have once again fallen on its own sword to push the RAW brand forward.
If the latter outcome is true, letting SmackDown be run by Shane McMahon and his very popular general manager Daniel Bryan could cushion the impact of this in the short term. Fans may be excited to see how the duo handles the monumental task of trying to build momentum following the WWE Draft. However, if there’s no long-term game plan, things could resume a stale and frustrating pattern, making the draft and brand extension ultimately pointless.
How do you feel about the WWE Draft? Did SmackDown get the short end of the stick, or are WWE fans overreacting? Share your reaction below!
[Image via WWE]