After weeks and weeks of buildup, hype, rumors, and reports, the WWE Draft has finally taken place and the rosters are now split. With Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley in charge of Raw while Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan are in charge of SmackDown, the WWE now has two separate brands that will be competing amongst each other to be recognized as the best. Though it has been rumored that this brand split was in the works for a while, this can ultimately be viewed as the fallout of Shane McMahon’s return and his pursuit for control of Raw. But whatever the case may be, the brands are split and fans will be debating amongst themselves which rosters are having better shows and are doing things right in the near future.
But in the midst of all this dialogue about the brand extension, many wrestling fans will recall the first ever draft in 2002. The exchanges and the presentation of the previous draft was completely different from what we were presented with this past Tuesday. From the quality of the title matches, to the reactions of the Superstars, and how the WWE fans got to view the rest of the draft, a lot has changed since 2002.
And to see how different these two drafts were, this article will be comparing the WWE draft of 2002 to the draft this year to see how they stack up against each other.
16 2002 Had A Star filled Roster
This was probably the most obvious point when thinking of the draft other than the fact that Raw and SmackDown had the same length of time back in 2002, but this point definitely needed to be addressed. The last couple of years for the WWE have been riddled with criticism as the star power has declined, potential stars were squandered, and the current main event scene is fixated on the former members of The Shield; each of whom hit record low ratings. In 2002, the WWE didn’t have a problem with star power. In fact, the sheer number of stars on the roster necessitated the brand split to occur in the first place.
When looking at the biggest stars in WWE today, the first names that come to mind are Brock Lesnar, John Cena, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose. And on one show, that roster would be good but on separate shows that would be problematic especially considering Lesnar is a part-timer. Now compare that to the pool of talent in 2002 and you’ll see big time names like The Undertaker, The Rock, Kurt Angle, the entire nWo, Hulk Hogan, Kane, Big Show, Stone Cold, Triple H, Chris Jericho, and Brock Lesnar.
Not even close.
15 2002: Less Rules Worked
Once the rules for the WWE Draft were announced on Raw this past week, many fans were given an understanding of how some things were going to operate, such as who would pick first and how tag teams would be drafted. With that in mind, this year's draft still had many questions left unanswered. Many fans are still questioning whether or not the Tag Team Belts will be defended on both brands, if another women’s title will be created, and what the fate of the WWE Championship will be.
In 2002, the program was kicked off by Linda McMahon explaining the rules of the draft as well as what Superstars were ineligible. Not all the championships were mentioned, but the ones that were focused on certainly felt like bigger deals overall. The most confusing part of the draft in 2002 was the decision to separate Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley.
14 2002: Different Brands, Different Dynamics
As it stands now, Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon are commissioners for their perspective brands while Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan are the General Managers (GMs) for the shows. And the most interesting fact about this is that the face/heel dynamic is off. Though the writing of these shows is often too inconsistent to show it, Stephanie McMahon is a heel authority figure. And as a result of this, the selection of Mick Foley as a GM seems more like a cheap way to promote his new reality show or transition his daughter into WWE rather than a logical decision.
In 2002, the dynamic between Ric Flair and Vince McMahon was crystal clear with Vince as the heel authority figure on SmackDown and Flair as the face authority figure. This made the two shows feel much different, as while one show had a hot-headed arrogant authority figure, the other had an unpredictable smooth-talker. Two polar opposites, both equally entertaining.
13 2016: Women Got More Attention
When discussing the WWE’s attention to their women’s division, the past eras pale in comparison to the focus and attention they are being given now. In 2002, the women’s division was such an afterthought that the only televised woman draft pick was Lita at number ten.
In 2016, the WWE made an unexpected decision to draft the Women’s Champion Charlotte as the second overall draft pick for Raw. And in nearly each round of this year’s draft, a women’s wrestler was selected. And while some will call Charlotte being drafted over John Cena and Randy Orton a cheap ploy to add emphasis to their women’s division, the fact remains that it would put a lot more eyes on the women of WWE for the casual viewer. Though the women’s title probably won’t be defended until SummerSlam, the fact that the WWE choose to acknowledge the Woman’s Title as quickly as they did speaks volumes.
12 2016: Better Wrestling In The World Title Match
When comparing past eras in the WWE to present, hardcore fans all say that the quality of the matches has greatly improved. And when looking at the WWE Championship main event this past Tuesday, there is some validity to that argument. Though the purpose of their matches were completely different, this draft’s World Title match was a much better technical showcase than the triple threat match that occurred between Stephanie McMahon, Chris Jericho, and Triple H.
The only thing that hindered this match was the fact that the exact same match happened the night before on Monday Night Raw; a trend that many fans thought was a thing of the past following the brand split. Regardless, this match was much better in the technical department than the World Title match in 2002.
11 2002: More Interesting World Title Match
It is a true statement that the WWE Championship match this past Tuesday was better from an in-ring standpoint than the title match between Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Chris Jericho. But for all of the technical counters, back and forth exchanges, and everything else that occurred in that match, the match in 2002 was much more interesting.
For one, the feud between Triple H and Chris Jericho wasn’t as overplayed as the feud between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins; a match that has occurred more than ten times in the last two years. Not only that, but the fact that the exact same match happened the night before without the confusing ending made it even less interesting. In the case of Jericho and Triple H, their title match had the benefit of including Stephanie McMahon with a stipulation that if she lost she would have to leave the WWE. The match itself was average from an in-ring perspective, but the antics of all three individuals involved made the match fun.
10 2002: Better 1st Pick
Seth Rollins was the number one draft pick for the Raw brand this past week and was a justifiable pick seeing as how he is The Authority’s boy, a two time WWE Champion, and a contender for the title in the upcoming main event for Battleground. Rollins is a great in-ring talent and has steadily improved on the mic, but there are very few who can hold a candle to The Great One.
The Rock was not the best in-ring wrestler, but his character, charisma, and promo ability made him stand out far beyond majority of the WWE throughout his entire run with them. And unlike Rollins, The Rock had earned more championships and defeated a lot of credible Superstars without cheating. And if that weren’t enough, the segment between The Rock and Vince McMahon when he was drafted to SmackDown was truly entertaining. Rollins is good enough at speaking, but he’ll never be able to start a chant that’s used throughout the entire show like The Brahma Bull did.
9 2002: Championships Were Focused On More
Though 2016 did a good enough job placing importance on the titles by drafting the Women’s Championship and the WWE Championship in the first round of the draft, 2002’s draft did a better job by discussing the importance of those titles on television. When Ric Flair drafted the Intercontinental Champion, Rob Van Dam, Vince McMahon appeared to be visibly upset at not getting the title for Raw which prompted Angle to ask for a championship match later that night so he could bring the title to SmackDown. Later on in the draft, for the lesser titles like the European and Hardcore Championships, Vince and Flair still went pick for pick by drafting one championship right after the other.
In the 2016 draft, after the WWE Champion and Women’s Champion were drafted, the titles seemed like an afterthought due the distance between champion picks. And while there was distance between the championship picks in 2002, that was to secure strong picks in an attempt to counteract each other. The same could not be said for this year’s draft.
8 2002: More Engaging Authority Figures
Ever since Shane McMahon’s return earlier this year, there has been a lot of segments involving The McMahon family and other wrestlers. And although both Shane and Stephanie McMahon have probably been trying their best in these segments, they haven’t been good. Not only that, but the inclusion of Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan as GMs is even more confusing, considering neither of them really have the personality you would associate with a good or memorable authority figure.
But when you have Vince McMahon interacting with "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair, nothing but good could come from that. Vince does the heel authority figure better than everybody else. His iconic voice, his delivery, and facial expressions are all factors that made him a good authority figure and Ric Flair, with his outlandish personality, and his ability to go from cool and collected to over the top and nearly psychotic made for good TV.
7 2016: More Focus on the Future Stars
The draft in 2002 primarily focused on bigger and, quite frankly, older stars more than the latest draft did. The nWo, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, and Kane were all big names in the WWE, but were pretty old compared to some of the other members of their roster at the time.
In 2016, the WWE did a very good job of picking younger and newer stars all to stick to their claim of this being a “New Era.” Look no further than Finn Bálor, American Alpha, and Nia Jax and how highly they were drafted to see the WWE’s effort to promote the new talent. Bálor especially was made to look like a star by getting drafted in the first round. Now there were some questionable picks like Mojo Rawley, Carmella, and Eva Marie, but only time will tell if those Superstars were worthy of being called up to the main roster.
6 2002: Better Reactions of Drafted Superstars
When looking at all the drafts over the years, one thing that the WWE did well was show the reactions of the Superstars after they were drafted to a particular brand. This year’s draft did little to nothing to capture the reaction of the WWE Superstars being drafted on live TV. A few of the reactions were shown on TV, but a vast majority of them either were shown on the WWE Network, on YouTube, or won’t showed at all.
In 2002, the WWE did an excellent job, by not only having the wrestlers react to being drafted to a specific brand, but having some of them interact with each other and with their GMs. The reactions of The Rock and The Undertaker were especially entertaining to watch, but they even managed to work in a little sadness with the breakup of The Dudley Boyz. Cesaro managed to show a little indifference, but aside from him, all the reactions were practically the same.
5 2016: More Secretive
The 2002 draft caused a lot of controversy due to Ric Flair and Vince McMahon choosing unlikely foes and opponents for their brand. Vince brought in the nWo to ruin the WWE for Flair, so when Flair chose the nWo, it made for quite the interesting choice. This year’s draft did a good job at causing controversy as well as raising a lot of questions. Due to the popularity of the WWE during 2002, it’s probably because they had such a packed roster that they were able to do more of a straight forward draft.
This year, the WWE has done a lot more in secret and without much explanation. Now in some ways this could be bad because it’s causing some confusion amongst fans, but it could also be good because it gets people talking. The Cruiserweight division has not been explained, nor has an explanation been given for the fate of some of their titles, but the only way to find out will probably be to watch the two shows. It may lose some fans who are tired of the confusion, but others will have to watch the shows to get their information.
4 2002: More Interwoven Storylines
When looking at the storylines of 2016, most of the ideas and matches didn’t have anything to do with the other. The challengers for the Intercontinental Championship and United States Championship teamed up to fight the champions, but that’s about as close as this show got to overlapping storylines.
In 2002, the WWE did a much better job at having storylines overlap and intertwine with each other. The overarching storyline for the draft was the rivalry between Vince McMahon and Ric Flair, so all the other storylines going on at the time were ultimately going to involve the two authority figures and the WWE did so perfectly. The feud between The Undertaker and Flair took an interesting turn when Flair drafted Undertaker to Raw. The same could be said involving the feud with the nWo and The Rock. Stone Cold Steve Austin has gone on record stating that interwoven storylines are needed a bit more and having a few on this year’s draft probably would’ve helped make the show better.
3 2002: More Balance Between Non-Wrestlers & Wrestlers
One of the major takeaways from the promo Cesaro cut this past week was the fact that the authority figures are taking away time and attention from the wrestlers and that is nothing but true for 2016. Simply looking back at the past few months since Shane’s return will show that these authority figure segments take up way too much time and the majority of them aren’t even funny.
Now in 2002, the WWE did a good enough job focusing on the wrestlers while simultaneously adding more to the feud between Vince McMahon and Ric Flair. Now it goes without saying that Vince and Flair took up a good amount of TV time, but the way they balanced it out and focused on the wrestlers made it even better. There were little to no meaningless matches on their show, the title matches all focused on the draft, and any makeshift matches that occurred added to the story that was already being told. And even if Flair and Vince took up a lot of time, the fact that the wrestlers' characters and motivations were already developed meant that they could afford to focus a little more on the authority figures.
2 2002: More Exciting
When it was announced that the brand extension was returning to the WWE, it undoubtedly created a buzz. Multiple sports news and wrestling news websites, including TheSportster, were all speculating and wondering what the rules of the draft would be, what titles would possibly come back, what wrestlers would be drafted to which brand, and a bunch of stuff like that.
But even with all the excitement that the WWE was able to generate, they paled in comparison to the excitement of the first draft. Now it’s easy to cite the law of diminishing returns to explain why this draft wouldn’t be as exciting as the first, but the execution and timing of everything made 2002’s draft far superior to this year’s edition. For starters, the anticipation of the brand split and the time inbetween the announcement and this year’s draft meant that there would be more time for people to get their hopes up with rumors and reports saying certain wrestlers were coming back or being called up. In 2002, the WWE brilliantly built on the momentum of WrestleMania by having the draft take place on the Raw after the post-Mania show, which actually caused a ratings and viewership increase. And with all the different wrestlers from WWE, WCW, and ECW at their disposal, it made for a much more exciting show and a much better product overall.
1 2016: More Disappointing
As stated in the previous entry, the sheer momentum and star power of the initial draft meant that it would be tough for the WWE to live up to the hype, but after looking at the draft, it seems like they didn’t even really try. When the draft occurred in 2002, it seemed like a plan that had been in the works for a while. The fact that they just moved onto the draft following the post-Mania show and that all of the picks were either interesting or nice swerves meant that the WWE had a plan and they executed it brilliantly.
Today’s draft seemed much less like a well-executed plan and more like a rush job with last minute decisions being made. Now the draft did just happen, so there may be some more exciting things to come, but, as of right now, the majority of the WWE’s fans are disappointed with the lack of equal star power, draft picks that didn’t make sense, and everything inbetween.
And considering the fact that SmackDown was only able to match Raw in the ratings could either be a sign that SmackDown is on the rise or that the weeks and weeks of hype weren’t enough to get more of their fans interested.
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