After months of speculation, the WWE finally delivered its draft last night on SmackDown. While there was a lot to like, including fantastic performances from Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan, there were also a handful of missed opportunities by the worldwide leader in professional wrestling.
I sat in the live crowd last night in Worcester, MA–home of Mick Foley's first WWE title victory–and was disappointed that there was not an NFL or NBA feel to the draft. Why not have a huge draft board? Or a continuous draft ticker running across the bottom of the screen? The draft also felt extremely rushed. This was particularly frustrating because the past three weeks of Raw–July 4, July 11, and July 18–could have allowed for a draft pick per week to continue to build interest. Also, why was Raw simply handed the first pick? Couldn't there have been a match where the winner decided where he wanted to wrestle? I would have been far more invested in last night's John Cena-Luke Gallows opening match if that stipulation was included.
With all of that being said, I am looking forward to the brand split. Even though the roster is finally healthy, and it would have been great to finally see this roster at full strength, the opportunities with two brands should be far greater for outstanding performers such as AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt, Kevin Owens, and Cesaro. Ultimately, it will be worth watching to see if there any significant changes in booking in WWE's "New Era."
Here are my top ten takeaways from the WWE draft:
10) I am devastated that The Club was split up. Is WWE trying to hurt the brand because they were created in TNA and New Japan? Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson work perfectly when paired with AJ Styles, so it leaves me disheartened as to why The Club would be fractured. The only saving grace is if Finn Bálor teams with Gallows and Anderson on Raw.
9) The time is right to unleash Bray Wyatt. Why not have Wyatt string together wins in meaningful feuds and truly build him up for WrestleMania 33? WWE needs to embrace the cult leader that is Wyatt, and allow him to be as maniacal and frightening as possible.
8) John Cena to Smackdown is the absolute right call. People underestimate how much value a television show loses when it runs consecutive nights, and Smackdown has also lost value during its move from Friday nights to Thursday nights and now to Tuesdays. Cena, who is the new spokesman for Hefty, brings a guaranteed fanbase in children and his presence is a necessity for Smackdown.
7) The announcement of Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan as, respectively, Raw and Smackdown GMs was a beautiful moment on Monday. Foley was part of Bryan’s most vocal supporters when Bryan was passed over for Batista as the winner of the 2014 Royal Rumble. When I interviewed Foley shortly after WrestleMania 30 in June of 2014, he displayed his usual charm to explain his backing of Bryan:
“I was pretty new to the iPhone, and I was sending a text message–one I thought I was sending to Brie–and I told her I was going to get in touch with Mr. McMahon,” said Foley. “I rarely interfere in the course of WWE events, but when I do, I like to think my opinion carries some weight and so I told her I was going to send a message to Mr. McMahon. Then I sent what I thought was a message to Brie, saying ‘Give Daniel a hug and tell him how wrong I think this whole thing is.’ Then my son looked at my phone and said, ‘Dad, you just sent that to Mr. McMahon.’ My next was message, ‘Oops, sorry about that.’”
6) Providence, Rhode Island served as the perfect location to reintroduce Daniel Bryan to WWE programming. Bryan experienced many highlights during his ascension to the top of the wrestling world at WrestleMania 30, but my personal favorite was the Raw in Providence on January 13, 2014.
Bryan had been abducted by the Wyatt Family and was scheduled for a far longer feud with Bray Wyatt, but the overwhelming fan support–which literally hijacked the show in Providence (and was later turned into an angle with the Raw “hijacking” storyline before WrestleMania 30)–caused WWE creative to quickly change plans. Bryan went on to lose to Wyatt at the Royal Rumble and was scheduled to face Sheamus at ‘Mania, but the voices of the WWE Universe–including the likes of Mick Foley–helped change Vince McMahon’s mind on the road to WrestleMania.
Intermission: In the shadow of the WWE draft, which was even live-blogged on ESPN.com, sits a massive class action lawsuit filed by fifty-one former wrestlers. The suit claims that the head trauma of the plaintiffs is directly related to their work in WWE, and includes some names that were once major WWE stars – most notably “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, Road Warrior Animal, and King Kong Bundy. It will be worth following to see if there is any substance to this suit.
5) Why, in the year 2016, is Kane choke-slamming both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn? Owens and Zayn are obviously not being buried, but neither rising star should be doing favors for Kane. Without question, that was the most infuriating spot of the evening.
4) Very disappointed to see that Jerry “The King” Lawler will not be part of the broadcast team on either Raw or Smackdown. While I am looking forward to the new Raw broadcast team of Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton, WWE made a mistake by replacing Lawler with David Otunga (who is paired with Mauro Ranallo and JBL) on Smackdown.
3) The inevitable Brock Lesnar suspension from the USADA fixes itself for WWE: Lesnar fights Randy Orton at SummerSlam, does the job, and then goes away until January for his build to WrestleMania.
2) Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins worked a match with a far different pace on Smackdown than they did on Raw, but I enjoyed that the talented pair were able to vary their styles on consecutive nights while still telling a strong story in the ring. I did not expect to see Ambrose go over cleanly on Smackdown, so I do expect a title change this Sunday at Battleground.
1) The reason behind breaking the roster into two brands, at its core, is simple–the WWE is trying to recreate,albeit in a manufactured fashion, the “Monday Night Wars.”