The trigger has been pulled. WWE have split their already thinning roster in two, and we once again have separate touring groups. But with SmackDown already been tagged as a B-show yet again, it’d be fair to be a little cynical about the blue brand’s future.
WWE took every effort to firmly tag Raw as the number one show, from giving them extra drafts (under the guise of “we’re a longer show, we need them”), to Stephanie McMahon outright saying “the number one show gets the number one pick”. The whole point of SmackDown going live, and the return of the draft was to in essence, bring SmackDown up to the level of Monday Night Raw. After several failed attempts to boost SmackDown – invariably ending when someone’s mind changed – the piper called the tune, and USA Network made the call.
As part of the draft, six picks were made from NXT. Cue speculation over who’d get the nod, but remember that since WWE considers NXT to be more than “just developmental”, it was always unlikely that all of the top stars would be removed in one fell swoop.
The first pick from NXT was the obvious: Finn Balor. For months now, it was teased that he would make the move, and after he dropped the NXT title to Samoa Joe in April (then lost a rematch at the last NXT Takeover event in June), it was clear that his time in developmental was up. Although Raw will have a cruiserweight division, I would hope that Balor isn’t just slotted in there – and there will be plenty hoping for the long-awaited “Balor Club” reunion with Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Let’s just ignore that WWE let the trademark on that term expire though, eh?
American Alpha’s call-up was equally expected, especially since they had their brief run with the NXT tag team titles. Once they’d dropped the belts back to the Revival at Takeover, the writing was on the wall for a team that has really only been together for eighteen months! As a part of a reborn tag team division, Gable and Jordan should have their chance to stand out – and unusually for WWE, have a shot at capitalising on their popularity while they’re at their peak, rather than fizzling and trying to rebuild all over again.
Nia Jax’s call-up wasn’t too strange when you think about it. In NXT, there’s a certain “class” of competitor who’s slotted for title reigns, thanks to the brand’s designation as the home of indie superstars. Just look back to last year’s match between Bayley and Eva Marie – granted, that was one extreme end of the spectrum, but there are just some wrestlers that the Full Sail crowd simply won’t accept as champions. Nia was just about one of them, and since she’d already steamrollered through most of the roster, there simply wasn’t much left for her in Florida. Whether Nia ends up getting the Awesome Kong/Kharma-like push remains to be seen, but whilst Charlotte remains Women’s champion, I’d say “don’t count on it”.
SmackDown took the final three NXT picks, buried away on the Network-only extension to the show. Carmella, Alexa Bliss and Mojo Rawley. None of those names will instantly turn into buys, but they’re solid choices – Mojo Rawley will most likely be reunited with Zack Ryder at some point as the Hype Bros ride again on SmackDown. Unfortunately, their ceiling as an act will likely be in the same area as the Social Outcasts, and with the Lucha Dragons having gone their separate ways, the Hype Bros will likely just slot into that part of the card, doing opening matches on house shows and picking up the occasional win on Main Event. Or even worse if Rawley ends up as a singles act.
As for Alexa and Carmella… well, both of them had been in developmental for a while, and fell into the same bracket as Nia Jax in that neither of them really would have been accepted as long-term champions there. Sadly for the pair of them, both are best known as valets rather than wrestlers. I’m surprised that Carmella wasn’t reunited with Enzo and Cass on Raw – but then again, WWE likes messing around with talent like this in these drafts. Depending on how WWE handles the women’s division, both Alexa and Carmella will find themselves in the shuffle on SmackDown, or propping up the overall women’s division, at least until “creative has something for them”.
Look, I know there’s plenty of people annoyed that the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Bayley, Asuka, Austin Aries and the like weren’t called up. The simple answer is this: NXT has to survive as a touring brand. If you took away those names, NXT would die on the vine almost instantly. Finn Balor, as we’ve said, has done all there was to do in NXT, and these days people aren’t buying tickets solely to see Finn in the yellow brand… especially when there’s other guys around there.
The big question mark though, does surround Bayley. Immediately, people decried the “stupidity” of Bayley being left behind. Perhaps she will debut this weekend as a mystery partner for Becky Lynch at Battleground… perhaps not. But either way, however her eventual debut will come will be infinitely better than being “just another person” brought up in the draft. Balor and American Alpha will be the NXT guys getting the spotlight from this; had Bayley come up, the spotlight would have been weaker, and her chances of success possibly lesser, especially as creative figure out how to play with their new toys.
In other notes… Heath Slater was the only man eligible who was left undrafted in a comedy skit. Whether this leads to him being an outsider as well as a Social Outcast remains to be seen. For all of the bluster of “tag teams being split”, the only notable split was from the Lucha Dragons. Whose split was done via a Facebook post before Raw on Monday. The Social Outcasts sort-of live on, with Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas staying on Raw (with Heath Slater marked as a TBC)… They split up the Wyatt Family, with Bray and Erick Rowan on SmackDown, whilst Braun Strowman went to Raw. Cue the expected big man push! Luke Harper’s injury meant he wasn’t considered eligible, hence his exclusion…
Seth Rollins, Charlotte, Finn Balor. Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston, & Xavier Woods), Sami Zayn, Sasha Banks, Chris Jericho, Rusev (w/ Lana), Kevin Owens, Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady, The Club (Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows), The Big Show, Nia Jax, Neville, Cesaro, Sheamus, The Golden Truth (Goldust & R-Truth), Titus O’Neil, Paige, Darren Young, Sin Cara, Jack Swagger, The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray & D-Von), Summer Rae, Mark Henry, Braun Strowman, Bo Dallas, The Shining Stars (Epico & Primo), Alicia Fox, Dana Brooke, Curtis Axel
Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles, John Cena, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, Becky Lynch, The Miz (w/ Maryse), Baron Corbin, American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan), Dolph Ziggler, Natalya, Alberto Del Rio, The Usos (Jimmy & Jey), Kane, Kalisto, Naomi, The Ascension (Konnor & Viktor), Zack Ryder, Apollo Crews, Alexa Bliss, Breezango (Tyler Breeze & Fandango), Eva Marie, The Vaudevillains (Simon Gotch & Aiden English), Erick Rowan, Mojo Rawley, Carmella