The Brand Extension is officially back, as the first live episode of Smackdown saw the entire WWE roster split in two via a draft. Just like the original split in 2002, lives were disrupted, teams torn apart, and some very questionable picks were made. If nothing else, in the course of a two-hour episode of Smackdown, plus an hour-long supplemental draft on the WWE Network, there were certainly a lot of potentially interesting things that developed while creating the new rosters for each brand. So, let’s run down all the most important stories that came out of the WWE Draft.
20. It Showed WWE Has A Lot Of Good Wrestlers
It sounds obvious, but just look at that draft board. Fifty-nine picks, and only one or two on either brand could potentially be considered a waste of a slot. Everyone on there is either an incredible wrestler, a hot prospect, a competent midcard hand, or at the very least, a decent character. This stands in direct contrast to the original WWE Draft back in 2002, which even though WWE had access to the former rosters of WCW and ECW, actually had less available bodies (only 57 picks and 60 wrestlers total, compared to 59 picks and 74 wrestlers in 2016), and once you dipped below the top tier picks (which itself was full of questionable picks, like The Rock, who was off making movies, an aging Hulk Hogan, and the entire New World Order, which was already basically dead in the water), there was a significant drop in talent and potential. The 2002 Draft saw wrestlers like Rikishi, Maven, and Billy Gunn go in the top 20, and the post-show supplemental draft is a cavalcade of assorted jobbers with occasional bright spots. The 2016 Draft, on the other hand, is stacked with talent from top to bottom (with a few obvious exceptions). When you can look at the bottom few picks for both sides and say “these Superstars all have potential to be something”, that’s a pretty good draft.
19. So, Who’s Still A Free Agent?
You might be interested to know who didn’t get picked up in the Draft, leaving some free agent options open. We checked WWE.com for their listing of the entire active main roster, and here’s the wrestlers that didn’t get drafted:
– The Bella Twins
– Heath Slater
– Luke Harper
– Rosa Mendes
– The Undertaker
– Triple H
– Tyson Kidd
Now, most of these are due to long-term injuries. Luke Harper had knee surgery a few months ago and hasn’t been seen for a while, Emma has a severe back injury and isn’t expected back for months, Tamina had surgery after WrestleMania to repair torn ligaments, Tyson Kidd may never wrestle again due to a severe back injury, Brie Bella is retired, and Nikki Bella is recovering from neck surgery that might also end her in-ring career. From those remaining, Triple H disappeared at WrestleMania and is likely busy running NXT, the Cruiserweight Classic, and other day-to-day backstage duties, and The Undertaker only shows up for WrestleMania (and has once again been muttering about retirement, for real this time), so why would they bother drafting him? Besides, he’s going to appear on whatever show he wants to anyway. Oh, and Rosa Mendes had a kid in February (belated congratulations to her), so she’s on maternity leave. That leaves us with two guys that we wanted to address specifically, starting with…
18. Big Guy, Out!
While he’s still listed as a member of the active WWE roster, Ryback has not appeared on WWE programming since the Payback PPV, as he was sent home as part of a contract dispute. Since then, Ryback has been fairly vocal on social media about his disdain for how WWE handled his negotiations, and recently revealed that his contract will expire within the next few months, at which point he’ll be a free man. It’s hard to feel completely sorry for a wrestler who was given seemingly every opportunity to succeed, only to be held back by his very obvious failings. While Ryback did make some strides as a character, as a wrestler, he never really improved. After going undrafted and largely unlamented, this looks like the definitive end of Ryback’s WWE career, and given how he exited, and his well-known limitations, it seems unlikely that he’ll make another appearance on that level again.
17. Poor Heath Slater
On the other hand, there’s the case of the One Man Band, Heath Slater. Not only did he see his Social Outcast cohorts drafted as singles wrestlers (although both still ended up on the same brand, technically rendering the whole thing moot), the final image of the draft was Slater, by himself in a room full of empty chairs, watching the lights get turned off, completely undrafted. Now, obviously, part of that was just so WWE could do a hilarious comedy bit to end things, and another part of it might have been the fairly gruesome eye injury you might have noticed on TV, a massive cut over his eye that required a lot of stitches and will probably keep him sidelined briefly. The important thing is, Heath Slater, by default, is now the hottest free agent in WWE, presumably able to appear on whatever brand he chooses. If WWE can turn this into an actual angle, it could be a pretty fun use of Slater, who has spent his entire career clearly being up to do anything, and is reportedly considered one of the company’s secret best workers. Our guess is that Slater ultimately ends up on Smackdown, because otherwise, why tease breaking up the Social Outcasts? And frankly, Smackdown should welcome him, because…
16. Smackdown Lite!
That’s not a typo, it’s a reference to the fact that thanks to the rules of the draft, Raw got an extra pick in all of the televised rounds of the draft. While things evened out in the supplemental portion, when everything shook out, Smackdown was left with a grand total of 18 singles wrestlers, 5 tag teams, and 6 women (2 of whom are debuting NXT call-ups, as well as the basically useless Eva Marie). We get it, Raw has an extra hour to fill and theoretically needs more wrestlers to do so, but that seems like an awfully small roster going forward, especially when you think about filling out a single-brand Pay Per View starting in September. In addition, while Smackdown currently owns the WWE and Intercontinental titles, neither of those are guaranteed, thanks to potential title changes at Battleground, and either way, they have no title for either their tag teams or women to fight over. Most likely, they’ll have to introduce their own titles, but that hands them a lot of heavy lifting in establishing new, credible championships, which might be extra challenging thanks to a smaller roster. And they can’t look to NXT for more reinforcements either, without leaving developmental even more barren than it is post-Draft. Which actually begs the question…
15. What’s Up With Bayley?
Seriously, WWE? It was disappointing enough when Bayley had to watch her fellow Horsewomen all make the jump to the main roster and leave her behind due to an unfortunate broken hand, and it was even worse when you ran that episode of Breaking Ground that had her watch a bunch of other NXT wrestlers graduate while basically wondering out loud if she’d ever get her chance on the big stage. But now, after she has literally carried the NXT Women’s division on her back for the past year, you actually drafted basically every other major female member of the NXT roster to the main roster instead of her? We have nothing bad to say about Alexa Bliss, and Nia Jax and Carmella have improved a lot, but come on, already! Nobody deserves to be on the main roster more than Bayley, not the women they chose, not Mojo Rawley, not even American Alpha or Finn Balor. The only possible way this makes sense is if WWE wanted to save the surprise of Bayley being Sasha’s mystery partner at Battleground, so we’ll hold off final judgment until then, but otherwise, this is inexplicable and inexcusable. And sticking with NXT for a second…
14. The Future Of NXT
Clearly, guys like Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura are being left in NXT to hold down the main event scene there, although if Nakamura isn’t on the main roster by the Royal Rumble at the absolute latest, WWE has either lost their minds or decided they really don’t like money all that much. Despite losing their former Champion and best tag team, NXT is actually still fairly well situated in that regard, since both Balor and American Alpha’s promotion was clearly planned for weeks. They’ve still got a good mix of up-and-comers and veterans to carry them (including some set to debut in the next few weeks), and more importantly, will likely be more focused on tag teams for the fall, thanks to the annual Dusty Rhodes Classic, which is an area where NXT is currently strongest. The real void is now in the Women’s division, which basically lost every “name” female on the roster except Asuka, with Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and hopefully still Bayley on the way out. While it’s good to refresh the division, we’re hoping that NXT was hiding some gems off-screen (indications are that recent indie pick-ups Athena and Nikki Storm could fit into those roles), because otherwise the division could be heading into a painful transition period.
13. What Cruiserweights?
Part of what we thought would fill the void in NXT was signings from the ongoing Cruiserweight Classic, but with WWE announcing that Raw would be reviving the Cruiserweight Division on the main roster, we’re almost certainly going to see most of those top talents bypass NXT altogether. The reason for that is simple: WWE doesn’t actually have any cruiserweights on Raw besides Neville, Sin Cara, The Shining Stars, and maybe Xavier Woods. Even Kalisto, who probably should have been the centerpiece of any cruiserweight division, ended up on Smackdown somehow! Technically, Finn Balor also fits the requirements, but we’re pretty sure he’s not being called up to anchor that particular area of the show. In any event, that’s not exactly enough to make a compelling division, so we’d venture that names like Kota Ibushi, Gran Metallik, and Cedric Alexander could be making their Raw debuts in the very near future. That’s good for Raw viewers, because those guys are awesome, but it could exacerbate the void left in NXT by the Draft. But speaking of Finn Balor…
12. Finn Balor, Meet The Club
Hey, we were as surprised as anyone when WWE broke Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson away from AJ Styles, since they’d basically only gotten together for real last month. However, we were quickly reminded that while Anderson and Gallows might be leaving the man who was in charge of Bullet Club when they were signed away from NJPW, they did, quite coincidentally, move onto the same brand as the guy who formed Bullet Club in the first place, and who has been teasing a reunion on social media for literally months at this point. Listen, we’re not saying that Gallows and Anderson are definitely going to hook up with Finn Balor, but WWE does have a bunch of “Balor Club” merchandise already (and suspiciously, none for The Club itself), and even if they did technically abandon the trademark a couple of weeks ago, we’d bet they can get it back pretty quickly. Besides, without a charismatic leader, Gallows and Anderson aren’t really that interesting, and by all accounts, Balor can play the heel role just as well as Styles does, if not better.
11. Braun Strowman, Singles Wrestler?
Over on the other hand, another group was quietly broken up during the supplemental phase of the draft, with Braun Strowman getting separated from the Wyatt Family. While the Family will probably be fine without their largest member, and can always bring Luke Harper back into the fold to shore up the ranks, you should probably have some alarm bells going off on your head whenever WWE decides to split a guy the size of Strowman away from a stable and into a potential singles run. Maybe we’re underestimating Strowman, and he’s hiding some good talent under that black sheep mask, but we’d have to imagine that if he was, he might have actually wrestled more than a small handful of matches (and virtually no singles bouts) since his debut nearly a year ago. We’re probably going to find out one way or the other, however, because we’re pretty sure WWE didn’t break up the Wyatts for no reason. Well, unlike the last time, where they totally did it for no reason. You know what, never mind.
10. Someone Really Over-values Baron Corbin
There’s some sort of poetic justice in Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan proudly announcing that they were selecting Baron Corbin, only to have Stephanie and Mick Foley take Enzo and Cass, because frankly, if you pick Baron Corbin ahead of that team, you don’t deserve to have the Realest Guys In The Room anyway. Seriously though, what is with WWE and Baron Corbin? We mentioned in our mock draft that Corbin’s position on the main roster seems to fluctuate on a weekly basis, and while making him a featured pick for Smackdown suggests that they still see incredible potential in him, we have to ask how long it might be before he ends up back as “just another guy” in the midcard, occasionally being completely forgotten about and not even showing up on TV. The relatively thin Smackdown roster should help with that last part, actually, as they can’t afford to have wrestlers not on TV right now, but WWE needs to decide what they’re going to do with Baron Corbin, and soon, before he ends up in the same boat as the woefully forgotten Apollo Crews (who, coincidentally, also ended up on the blue brand).
9. The Chip On Cesaro’s Shoulder
If you happened to watch any of the WWE Network coverage of the Draft, you might have noticed that things were a little less scripted than they usually are on the televised product. For instance, the wrestlers were clearly ad-libbing parts of their promos (poor Kalisto managed to completely forget what he was planning to say and basically ran off screen in embarrassment), more sensitive topics were addressed publicly, and also, we’re pretty sure many of them really had no idea when or where they were being drafted. The best example of a wrestler actually speaking his mind would probably be Cesaro, who not only lost cleanly to Chris Jericho on Smackdown, but was inexplicably drafted very late, behind names like the aforementioned Corbin, The Big Show, Nia Jax, Dolph Ziggler, Natalya, and Neville, who hasn’t even been on TV in months. During his post-Draft interview, Cesaro was visibly fuming, and his words expressed obvious disgust at being passed over for so long, and he had some choice words for how the entire Brand Extension is focused on the McMahons and their GMs, instead of the wrestlers. In addition, he basically said he would have preferred to be drafted to Smackdown! We really can’t blame Cesaro, who is probably the most poorly utilized talent on the roster right now, but hopefully this leads to good things, and not punishment for daring to air some legitimate grievances.
8. Unexpected Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
Speaking of people who were clearly not informed about where they were heading, you should try and check out the interview with the 29th overall pick, Alberto Del Rio, who ended up on Smackdown. The reason why this matters is that Del Rio has recently been closely linked romantically to Paige, a relationship that recently became fairly public knowledge, and Paige was drafted to Raw. This actually isn’t the first time WWE has done something like this, as they broke up real-life couple Lita and Matt Hardy at the original draft in 2002 (Matt eventually campaigned to be re-united with his girlfriend, which infamously did not turn out well for him once he finally got his wish). We’ve often talked about how Del Rio has looked “dead behind the eyes” in his recent WWE run, due to terrible booking since his return, but his post-draft interview shows a man who literally just learned that his job has essentially forced him into a long-distance relationship, and he is almost certainly none too pleased about that.
7. She Really Is The Worst
We had to reserve a spot on this list for Eva Marie, who simply will not go away. Despite having not been on TV since her ill-fated WrestleMania match, Eva Marie somehow ended up eligible for the draft, and was picked up by Smackdown. We’ve covered it before in the past, and likely will have to again now that she’s probably going to be back on TV (with only six women in the division, it’s a virtual certainty), but Eva Marie is a relic of the “Divas” era of WWE and has no place in a legitimate Women’s division centered around actual wrestling. We’ll give her credit for trying to improve, even going so far as to get personal, one-on-one training from former WWE Superstar Brian Kendrick, but her incremental improvement over a very long period still makes her the worst wrestler in the company by a large margin. Eva Marie is, quite simply, not a wrestler, and if she wanted to be a valet and use her nuclear crowd heat to get someone else over, we’d be fine with it, but it just doesn’t seem like WWE is going to stop putting her in the ring, and sooner or later (likely sooner), it’s going to be a disaster.
6. Roman Reigns Might Not Be Forgiven Yet
Sure, Roman Reigns was drafted comfortably in the top 10 at 6th overall, and maybe we’re just reading too much into it, but we can’t help but feel like there was a message in Reigns dropping below AJ Styles, the Women’s Champion Charlotte, and newly graduated NXT talent Finn Balor in the draft order. From a certain perspective, Reigns going 3rd behind Rollins and Ambrose would have made sense, as the third man with an opportunity to become WWE Champion at Battleground, especially since that would have still put him on Raw, the brand he ended up on. Instead, Reigns was passed over three times before getting picked up, to an expected overwhelmingly negative response from the crowd. Furthermore, during the WWE Network’s Draft coverage, Booker T actually addressed The Usos about their recent alignment with Reigns, and how it caused the crowd to turn on them as well. It was actually shocking to hear both Booker T and The Usos talk openly about the fact that Roman Reigns is not well-liked, even if it was only on a Network show that a lot of the Raw audience likely didn’t see, and it does beg the question if WWE really might be reconsidering a future that has Roman Reigns on top.
5. Always Bet On Brock
One guy who looks to be getting away with everything, including two failed drug tests, is Brock Lesnar, who was drafted 8th overall mere hours after UFC publicly revealed that he’d been flagged for a second, separate drug test related to his fight at UFC 200, one which will likely end his MMA career. However, none of that seems to matter to WWE, who are clearly desperate to keep Brock around despite what damage it could do to their public image, especially due to the questions it will almost certainly raise about the company’s own Wellness Policy (as a part-time Superstar, Brock was likely not tested, which is definitely not going to be a satisfactory answer). In any event, Lesnar’s match with Randy Orton is still on for SummerSlam, and the smart money is on Lesnar winning (mostly because Orton winning does nothing for anyone), guaranteeing that the questions about Lesnar’s test failures and WWE’s decision to keep using him will continue. Of course, everything still works out for Brock, who might lose some money and probably won’t fight in MMA again, but who will still get paid a large amount by WWE regardless and gets a main event match at their big summer Pay Per View.
4. Raw Is For Part-Timers?
Lesnar’s not the only questionable draft pick for Raw, who really loaded up on guys who aren’t going to be around a lot. Semi-retired rock star Chris Jericho went with a fairly high pick, and while he has hung around longer than expected for this run, it’s only a matter of time before Fozzy makes another album and goes out on tour. Meanwhile, Raw also added The Big Show, who has barely been on TV this year and is rapidly approaching the end of his career, and Mark Henry, who had to refute reports that he’s already retired, and also hasn’t been seen on WWE programming much in 2016. From an outside perspective, it’s probably a good thing that Raw got an extra pick every round, because they certainly wasted a few on wrestlers who won’t actually be appearing on their shows very much, or in some cases, for much longer.
3. Continue To Fight Forever
As further proof that they simply can’t be separated by any known available means, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens both ended up on Raw, likely ensuring that they will be consistently up in each other’s business for the foreseeable future. This takes a little of the sting off WWE originally selling their match at Battleground as their final confrontation, then proceeding to basically forget to build up the match as anything important, and hopefully means an even bigger blow-off could be in the cards for SummerSlam. And, of course, Sami was drafted several rounds before Owens (which, quite honestly, was ridiculous, something Owens was quick to inform the rest of the world on social media), just to ensure that Kevin Owens has yet another Zayn-related injustice to stew over for the rest of his wrestling career. Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain: somehow, somewhere, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are fighting with each other, and we couldn’t be happier.
2. Massive Announce Table Shake-Up
With the rosters becoming exclusive, it was assumed that the commentary tables would also do the same. This meant that change was guaranteed, as Byron Saxton had been pulling double duty on both Raw and Smackdown, and WWE seemed inclined to keep both shows with three-man booths. Many were calling for NXT’s Corey Graves to ascend to the main roster, expecting him to be paired with Mauro Ranallo and Jerry Lawler on Smackdown, but we’re pretty sure nobody dreamed of what WWE actually came up with, when they revealed the newly revamped commentary teams for a post-Draft world. On Raw, Michael Cole and Byron Saxton will remain, with Graves making the jump all the way to the flagship show in a shocking move. Meanwhile, over on Smackdown, Ranallo will now be joined by a decidedly odd pairing in David Otunga and JBL. You might have noticed that this leaves Jerry Lawler on the outside looking in, and it appears that, outside of potential appearances as an analyst on Pay Per View pre-shows, that is indeed the case. Lawler recently returned from a suspension, which was lifted when charges of domestic assault against his fiancee were dropped, but even before that, the alleged feeling was that Lawler was getting too old to continue a regular commentary job, and would better served slipping off into retirement. It appears that we’re now living in a post-Lawler commentary world, the first time he has not been a regular presence on WWE programming since 2001, and we’re curious to see what the future holds for both him and WWE’s new announce teams.
1. Is John Cena No Longer The Franchise?
Perhaps even more perplexing than the fall of Roman Reigns was the one involving John Cena. The fifteen-time World Champion, face of the company for over a decade, and inarguably the top full-time star in WWE fell all the way to 7th overall in the Draft (we had him at #2 in ours). Interestingly, Cena actually wrestled a match before he was drafted, and the commentary booth began questioning why he hadn’t yet been chosen. More importantly, Michael Cole attempted to justify Cena’s fall, citing his increasingly crowded schedule of reality shows, movies, TV appearances, and hosting award shows, openly suggesting that Cena might actually not be around enough in the future to be a good choice for either GM. Much like discussing Reigns’ suspension on TV, the fact that WWE is even discussing the idea that Cena might no longer be “the face that runs the place” and talking about a world where Cena isn’t a full-time Superstar on their program is shocking, to say the least. Realistically, it’s almost certainly true, especially after Cena spent most of the past year recovering from a litany of injuries and returned looking like age, and a lifetime on the road, was finally starting to catch up to him, but WWE actually talking about it as if it might be an inevitability (combined with the news that Cena is currently not scheduled for any North American non-televised live events for the rest of the year) leads us to wonder if the end of Cena’s time as a full-time WWE Superstar might be coming sooner than anyone had originally thought.