The most recent NXT graduates drafted to the SmackDown brand include Apollo Crews, Baron Corbin, Mojo Rawley, The Vaudevillains, American Alpha, Alexa Bliss, and Carmella. Corbin and Crews debuted on the main roster at WrestleMania, and they both appeared the night after on RAW. Gotch and English followed shortly after, and the rest were called up via the brand extension draft.
Of those mentioned, Baron Corbin was the highest draft pick, selected as the 19th overall pick and chosen eighth by Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan of the blue brand. Jordan and Gable are on the cusp of a push within SmackDown's tag team division, and Bliss recently became the Women's Champion, but expectations were obviously tempered for this crew based on draft positioning alone.
There might have been somewhat lofty plans in the works for Baron Corbin upon his promotion due to the fact that he won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal in his first night on the main roster. But his momentum fizzled out during his inaugural program with Dolph Ziggler. As we now know, Ziggler even admitted to "checking out" prior to putting his career on the line in his feud with The Miz after the brand split, so that certainly could have played a part in Corbin's struggles.
Even after the roster was divided, Baron was in an uphill battle for relevance, engaging in insignificant angles with the likes of Crews, Jack Swagger, and most recently, Kalisto. An injury to the latter stalled any progress he and Corbin had been making together, but WWE creative remained committed to their feud when Kalisto returned.
Predictably, Kalisto was used to get Corbin more over as a dominant heel. It's assumed that their program has reached its conclusion after Baron won a Chairs Match at TLC and followed that up with another singles victory two days later on SmackDown. His segment afterward on Talking Smack ignited a report from Cageside Seats, indicating that WWE plans on focusing more on Baron Corbin and pushing him to the next level.
As noted, the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal victory was designed to kick-start a meaningful first year for Baron Corbin before things stalled out. Vignettes promoting his path of destruction that aired in late summer were another attempt. Corbin's break almost came when he was booked to compete in the marquee elimination match at Survivor Series, but was replaced at the last minute because WWE officials thought Shane McMahon would help sell more tickets, subscriptions, and pay-per-view buys.
But after dispatching of Kalisto on SmackDown, Corbin proclaimed to GM Daniel Bryan that he now belongs in the main event picture. While Bryan didn't agree with Baron's assertion, the plans behind the scenes indeed call for Corbin to get pushed into the title picture at some point in early 2017.
It will be interesting to see how exactly Corbin is used in the title hunt as the report did not specify whether early 2017 meant before or after WrestleMania. At this point in his career, it'd be difficult to imagine Baron Corbin in a WWE World Championship match on the grandest stage, especially because the three main superstars expected to be involved in the championship picture include AJ Styles, John Cena, and the Undertaker.
The one loophole in Corbin's favor would be the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, set to take place in February before WrestleMania and just two weeks after the Royal Rumble. The main event of that pay-per-view would most likely feature a multi-man match, and Corbin could certainly stake a claim. That's assuming Styles is still the champion. If the Undertaker comes out of the Royal Rumble as champ, then it's unlikely he would defend the title just two weeks after, and Corbin's ascent would be put on hold until after WrestleMania.
[Featured Image by WWE]