This past weekend, WWE celebrated the time-honored tradition of Sonya Deville picking her favorite people to hang out with. WWE claims the Draft is the only time a year where superstars can switch brands, but anyone who’s watched the product for a month can tell you that’s not true. Still, there’s some novelty to a definitive ranking of how important talent is, and it’s a fair enough ratings grab for two nights. The Royal Rumble has surprises, Mania has returns, but the Draft has some of the most mind boggling decisions we get to see this company make in a given year. Let’s break it down.
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First, there were the predictable top picks; Reigns and Big E are to stay on their respective brands, while Bianca Belair travels to Monday nights and Drew McIntyre brings his sword to Fox. The Usos get to stick with their cousin, and Bobby Lashley and his Hurt Business coworkers stick around on Raw. While we found out later in the night that it would be McIntyre and Big E at Crown Jewel, it’s still a relief to send Drew away from the WWE title. I like a good sword gimmick, but we’ve all earned this break.
Brock Lesnar is the hottest free agent in the business, a position secured by Paul Heyman, who put more effort into mending that relationship than he did getting to know the Usos. This conceivably means Lesnar could even go after Tommaso Ciampa if he felt so inclined. Or future NXT champion Bron Breakker—now that’s a match I’d love to see. Lesnar’s status makes sense for his position in the company; he can come in and tear things up for a few months, then dip out to hang with Sable or grow pigtails or something.
The Women’s Division
Belair is an exciting addition to Raw’s women’s division, but with the exception of the two top ladies in Bianca and Becky, Raw seems like they’ll have a lot less going on for women’s matches than the blue brand. SmackDown has Hit Row’s B-Fab and Xia Li moving up from NXT, alongside Charlotte Flair, Naomi, Shayna Baszler, and Sasha Banks.
It’ll be interesting to see if Tian Sha joins Li; they weren’t mentioned, but I wouldn’t expect to see the group hang around NXT without Li. Xia has been a great performer during her time on NXT and can easily be a fresh opponent for Banks, Flair, or the newly drafted Baszler. She might not have the accolades that Baszler brings, but she was recently working with an undead thousand years old trainer. If nothing else, that’s memorable. B-Fab doesn’t have the in-ring experience yet, but alongside a hot group like Hit Row, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to show off. Naomi has been overlooked for way too long, and boasts two SmackDown Women’s Championships in her time with WWE. Finally, she, Baszler and Banks are the kind of performers who can work with literally anyone, so the possibilities feel endless.
Raw, on the other hand, has fewer instant options with their new roster. Mia Yim—as Mia Yim this time—was called back, along with Liv Morgan, Carmella, and Teagan Nox. While lots of fun in the ring, Yim and Morgan have both suffered from WWE’s misbooking over the past year and a half. Meanwhile Nox is being pulled from a tag team with Shotzi Blackheart, leaving her with no main roster singles experience. And Carmella is Carmella: she’s obnoxious, she’s hateable, and she plays that role very well, but in ring she frequently doesn’t match up with the other competitors.
There’s plenty of talent on the roster, but nobody who, right now, could conceivably step to the Man or the EST. With some TLC and hopefully sans haunted doll midcard matches, Morgan, Yim, and Nox could all be possibilities for the title scene come Royal Rumble, but that leaves almost 3 months of treading water for Lynch or Belair. Depending on when they’re cleared, both Asuka or Bayley would be great picks to return to Mondays—but again, that’s a waiting game. In the immediate post-Crown Jewel future, Raw’s title scene looks a bit unsure.
Refreshing the Main Event Scene
After Friday night, the red brand’s men’s main event was equally suspect; their biggest non-Big E pull was Edge, who has my forever respect for a tenured career on Syfy’s Haven, but obviously isn’t wrestling the same way he was in 2002. Monday managed to turn that around by snagging Edge’s new houseguest Seth Rollins, Bobby Lashley, Keith Lee, and Kevin Owens.
While we’ve still got Big E vs McIntyre this month to get through, I’d put my money on Owens going for the title again. I don’t see E losing any time soon, but in the meantime he and KO could put out some fantastic matches that make them both look like the stars they are. Lesnar is still tangled up with Reigns, but depending on how that saga goes, I’d be very interested him and Big E slapping meat. Lee and E is just as enticing; with the addition of several new fresh faces, the title picture is a far cry from when we had to watch McIntyre and Lashley cut the same promo for six weeks post-Mania 38. Dark days. Having someone like Big E spearheading the show is nearly enough to make Raw appointment TV again.
For the second year in a row we’ve lost The New Day as a trio. I don’t understand what the Draft specifically has against E, Woods, and Kingston when groups like Hit Row and the inseparable duo of Happy Corbin and Madcap Moss were drafted together. Big E is the champ so he’d be a natural first round pick, but why couldn’t Kingston and Woods come along for the ride? Last year, when E was again drafted solo, the talk was all around him becoming a world champion—which took 11 months to happen.
Don’t get me wrong, E has had one of the better written journeys over the past year, and his victory over Lashley was a fitting culmination, but I don’t want to sit through another 12 months without the New Day complete. All three men bring out the best in each other, both inside the ring and slinging pancakes at people outside of it. The good news here is that WWE breaks their own rules as much as they make them, so I wouldn’t be too shocked to see Kofi and Xavier make some crossover appearances. Maybe we’ll get a “losing tag team leaves SmackDown forever, but also can’t show up on NXT” match this winter.
So which brand had the better Draft? Angel Garza and Humberto Carrillo are going to SmackDown, so you already know I’m gonna side with the blue brand on this. Even beyond my own personal rating scale (which counts the number of hotties divided by the number of bogus matches I’ll have to sit through,) it seems Fridays on Fox are just a little more stacked than their Monday night counterpart. But let’s remember—it’s not the depth of your talent, but what you do with them. And WWE has shown us that no matter how good the roster, there’s always a way to mess it up somehow.