With SummerSlam in the books, we’re officially into the depths of the WWE brand extension, as we head towards the first of the brand-exclusive WWE Network specials that will be held next month – Backlash for and Clash of Champions for SmackDown Live and Raw respectively. Things seem to be off to a booming start, because despite one iteration of crossover with Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton both jumping ship for one night only, both brands seem to be holding their own as independent branches of the WWE roster.
The big question heading into this was whether or not SmackDown would be able to hold water against a much more in-depth roster on Raw, but they’ve been able to deliver shows that have been on-par or even superior to that of the red team. Even so, now that we’re over a month removed from the draft, we’re starting to get a good idea as to what decisions were made in July that resulted in success and what decisions should have been rethought.
There is a whole host of talent on both Raw and SmackDown Live, but talent only gets you so far; opportunity is arguably the most precious thing to any WWE Superstar, and even if someone is extraordinary in any field of pro wrestling, there may not be an opening for that star on Raw that there maybe would be on SmackDown, or vice versa. Lets’ take a look at fifteen stars that the company should have considered thinking twice about before drafting them to their current place of work under the WWE umbrella.
15 Mark Henry
It almost came as a shock to see Mark Henry on Raw a few weeks ago, challenging Rusev for the United States Championship. “The World’s Strongest Man” hasn’t done much of anything over the last few years, so to see him even drafted to Raw might have turned a few heads.
At this late stage in Mark Henry’s career, the man is likely thinking about hanging it up and getting dominated by Rusev isn’t exactly the most graceful, or necessary way to go about doing so. The U.S. Champ is at the stage where he’s already established as a top guy. The SummerSlam feud he had with Roman Reigns essentially proves that.
Mark’s efforts would have been put to better use endorsing The Miz in a brief program for the Intercontinental Championship. The Miz has all the makings to be a top heel on SmackDown, as he has the look, the charisma and the in-ring ability. But he needs an impressive win/loss record to really put him over as champion. If you want to use Mark Henry to put anyone over before he calls it quits, it should be against a guy like The Miz on the blue brand.
14 Becky Lynch
First things first, Becky Lynch is the top woman on SmackDown - that much is clear. With the exception of maybe Nikki Bella, there’s really nobody on SmackDown’s female roster that could believably represent it as a champion apart from Becky Lynch.
She’s the one member of The Four Horsewomen that Team Blue managed to snatch before Raw did. But looking at her as an individual as opposed to a cog in the WWE machine, is it really fair to Becky Lynch to see her former Horsewomen brethren all taking up the limelight on Raw while she struggles to get an entire women’s division over on Tuesday nights?
She created magic in NXT alongside Charlotte, Bayley and Sasha Banks, so it’s almost disappointing to see Becky Lynch be excluded from what will undoubtedly be some exquisite angles between her three friends on Raw, both for her and for the fans.
13 Jack Swagger
Looking at Jack Swagger now - although most of the time you can’t, because he’s not on TV - it’s actually hard to believe that the man had a number of runs in the World Heavyweight Championship picture, even capturing the title the week after WrestleMania XXVI by cashing in his Money in the Bank contract. He’s pretty much a non-entity on the WWE roster at this point, so it’s a wonder why he was even drafted to Raw if he’s never going to be featured.
The odds of seeing Swagger climb the ladder once again are extremely low, but the man is still an extraordinary in-ring talent. His mat-wrestling ability is on another level. He should be allowed to use that to build up one of WWE’s mid-card scenes and with a stacked deck on Raw with Sheamus, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho and Sami Zayn, the best bet for Swagger to make an impact would have been SmackDown.
He could have brought the best out of a man like Baron Corbin, who despite having a tremendous debut at WrestleMania, is in dire need of a good storyline to take him to the next level, and to the next step towards winning the Intercontinental Championship. An opponent like Jack Swagger would have been absolutely perfect for him.
For many who were fans of the trio in NXT, it came as quite a mystery as to why Carmella wasn’t reunited with Enzo Amore and, her real-life boyfriend, Big Cass when the “fabulous” star was drafted to the main roster in July. As great as the tag-team is alone, having Carmella by their side was extremely entertaining before the gang was forced down separate paths.
Keeping Carmella in NXT following WrestleMania allowed her to grow out of the shadow of Enzo and Cass, and make a name for herself as a wrestler by taking on all comers that the booming NXT women’s division had to offer. After successfully doing so, however, there would have been no harm done in placing Carmella back alongside her boys, considering she’d be allowed to shine both as a manager and as a performer in that role.
It would also open up the door for more frequent - and less random - mixed tag-team matches on Raw. It’s understandable that Carmella is being groomed to be a focal point of SmackDown Live’s female roster, and if she was to leave the brand now, the already thin division would be in even more scraps, but it would have been easy to shift things around and have somebody replace her, so she could resume her rightful, and most exhilarating, role alongside Enzo and Big Cass.
11 Summer Rae
Some may be shocked to hear this, but Summer Rae can actually go. It’s something that’s gone unbeknownst to a lot of members of the WWE Universe simply because Summer has never been relied upon for her abilities inside the ring. She’s been Fandango’s dance partner, she’s been involved in ridiculous love affair angles with Dolph Ziggler and Rusev, but rarely has she been given a worthwhile storyline based purely on competition. Even when she is given the chance to wrestle, it’s usually to put someone else over.
With SmackDown being the land of opportunity, you'd think that a woman like Summer would be able to thrive on its roster and showcase her skills once and for all, but instead she was drafted to Raw, where she's yet to even appear on the product.
Names like Sasha Banks, Paige, Nia Jax, Bayley and the WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte are going to be taking up space in Raw’s top spot for a long time, and it’s just unlikely that Summer Rae will be used as anything more interesting than enhancement talent. She has the makings to be a really compelling heel, so to instead see her talents continue to go to waste is a disappointment to say the very least.
10 The Vaudevillains
It’s such a shame to see how far Aiden English and Simon Gotch have fallen since their debut. The two were one of the most exhilarating tag-teams in NXT before they left, amassing a ton of fan support on their journey to capturing the NXT Tag-Team Championship last August and getting over with the fans regardless of their heel/babyface status.
Their track record on the main roster has been a whole other story, however. They started off well, gaining a WWE Tag-Team Title opportunity against The New Day at Payback, but it’s been downhill ever since. The worst possible thing that could have happened for these two guys was to be drafted to SmackDown and it happened on July 19th. They had the potential to be great, to take on the likes of Enzo and Big Cass, The Club and The New Day once again on Raw, but now they find themselves getting embarrassed by American Alpha on a weekly basis.
They’re in a hole they can’t dig themselves out of now, as poor booking has made American Alpha look phenomenal while The Vaudevillains and the remaining tag division on SmackDown Live look like the weakest teams in all of WWE.
9 The Dudley Boyz
The historic team of Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley recently announced that they’d be making their retirement, in a touching segment after which Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows gave them a beatdown. It seems that this was actually the swansong for The Dudley Boyz, but it can be heavily argued that a worthwhile spot on SmackDown’s tag-team roster might have made The Dudleys stick around a bit longer.
They just hadn’t done anything of interest since being drafted to Raw. If they had been given the chance to feud with American Alpha on SmackDown, however, it could have done more for both teams than anything they’ve been given since the brand extension began. A team as extraordinary as The Dudley Boyz should be going out against an upcoming babyface duo, so to see them toil their way to retirement on Raw feels like a wasted opportunity.
8 American Alpha
Although it has been great to see American Alpha become SmackDown Live’s hottest tag-team, to do it on a roster filled with WWE’s lower-level teams seems like an unnecessary waste of their talent. You can’t blame the company for wanting to make the show worth watching, so it makes sense why they’d put NXT’s most popular tag-team at the forefront of SmackDown Live, but there is so much talent on Raw that Alpha would have thrived against.
They can still do that eventually, but to see Jason Jordan and Chad Gable rise through the ranks would have been far more satisfying if they were up against far more formidable competition. Instead, when the two go up against the likes of Anderson & Gallows, The New Day and Enzo & Big Cass, the biggest victories they’ll have under their belt on the main roster will only be against teams like The Usos and Breezango.
Raw’s division is a whole other kettle of fish and putting American Alpha on SmackDown Live seems to be a move that benefits the blue brand far more than it benefits Alpha.
Once upon a time, Paige was the breath of fresh air that WWE women’s division sorely needed. Her anti-diva persona challenged the cookie-cutter style of “Diva” we had become accustomed to and it could be argued that the work she did in her early days set the wheels in motion for the women’s evolution that has occurred over the last year in the WWE.
But while Sasha Banks and Charlotte are being celebrated atop Raw’s female division, and new competitors such as Nia Jax and Bayley are making their rounds, there’s very little space for Paige to showcase her own abilities. In theory, Paige would be justified in being a little irked over her position on the roster, but if she had been drafted to SmackDown Live instead, she could have easily become the face of the division alongside Becky Lynch.
All this is coming after her suspension of course, so any hopes of receiving a big opportunity are quickly fading away for her. But it’s worth wondering if she, and Alberto Del Rio for that matter, would still have violated the company's wellness policy if she was drafted to SmackDown Live with her boyfriend. Maybe WWE should have just let it happen.
6 Alberto Del Rio
If WWE wasn’t interested in drafting Paige to SmackDown alongside her boyfriend, the two could have both easily resided on Raw, and Del Rio might actually still have a future in WWE. Instead, the split was finalized with Alberto sitting on Team Blue while Paige donned red.
Alberto Del Rio is a former multi-time world champion, whose return last year was met with an electric ovation. He used to mean something, but since being named as a member of SmackDown, he’s barely been acknowledged. He was shockingly omitted from the Six-Pack Challenge on the inaugural episode after the draft and only appeared again two weeks later to get decimated by Randy Orton as he built towards his SummerSlam clash with Lesnar, before losing to John Cena a week later.
It’s no wonder why Alberto Del Rio has no intentions of re-signing his contract when it expires. If the company used him right, he could have been a legitimate fighting machine on Raw, taking on the likes of Sami Zayn, Cesaro and Kevin Owens as the WWE tried to hash out a marketable upper mid-card.
5 Sin Cara
As if it wasn’t bad enough for Sin Cara to be split up from Kalisto as part of The Lucha Dragons, the man now finds himself without a paddle on the Raw roster.
The WWE has been high up on Kalisto over the last year and since they haven’t been too willing to push more than one masked luchador in the past, the odds of seeing Sin Cara do well after the alliance broke up are pretty low to say the least. He’s had one good showing on Raw since the brand extension began, teaming up with Neville against The Dudley Boyz, but he’s practically non-existent when it comes to being a fixture on the flagship show.
Looking at the direction in which Sin Cara is headed now, it would have been far more beneficial to keep him with Kalisto for the time being and try to add some more depth to SmackDown Live’s tag-team roster. He may be able to get some good matches out of the oncoming cruiserweight division, but with the surge of talent that’s going to be heading to Monday Night Raw as a result, don’t expect much in the way of a push for Sin Cara.
Alternatively, if Sin Cara wasn’t going to join his partner on Tuesday nights, why didn’t Kalisto get drafted to Raw? At a glance, you’d think that having Kalisto on his own on SmackDown would be a good thing, but he’s had nothing but upset after upset since joining the roster. He came up short in a Battle Royal during the first episode and after getting pinned via roll-up by Apollo Crews, he’s been decimated on a weekly basis by Baron Corbin.
If the former Lucha Dragon isn’t going to be a worthwhile feature on SmackDown, why not put him on Raw and have him dominate in the cruiserweight division? The man is arguable the WWE’s best high-flyer at the moment, so to exclude him from a division he would thrive in seems unreasonable. He’s nowhere near a title victory on the blue brand, and even if he was, it would probably go down the same route as his U.S. Title run from earlier this year. A Cruiserweight Championship, on the other hand, would suit Kalisto quite nicely.
It’s hard to think of any combination of Kalisto against any of the CWC’s brightest competitors that wouldn’t be a treat to watch. It’s a shame we’ll have to wait before seeing such instant classics as Kalisto vs. Gran Metalik or TJ Perkins.
3 Sami Zayn
If there’s anybody on the Raw roster who should be upset right now, it’s Sami Zayn. The man went from winning one of the best matches this year against Kevin Owens at WWE Battleground, to competing in the pre-show for SummerSlam in a match that wasn’t announced until the weekend of the event. The booking that saw Zayn close the final chapter (for now) of his heated rivalry with his arch-nemesis was superb.
Zayn fought tooth and nail to overcome his challenger and move onto the next step in his career, but while Owens got a nice victory in the opening match at SummerSlam, anyone who only watched the main programme wouldn’t have even known that Sami Zayn was on the line-up. The only way he’s been utilized since the brand split has been as a glorified enhancement talent, which is a huge waste of his potential. How many times has Seth Rollins beaten the man in recent months so he can look good heading into Pay-Per-View matches?
It’s only true to a point that wins and losses don’t matter as much as putting on a show, because when your only use is to put other guys over, someone like Sami Zayn isn’t getting the opportunities he’s paid his dues for. You can’t help but think his talents would be put to far better use in actual storylines against the likes of AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt and Dean Ambrose on SmackDown, which is a real shame considering how high he was drafted to Team Red.
2 Randy Orton
Although Randy Orton is one of SmackDown’s biggest names, all booking over the past month has suggested that he should have been drafted to Raw instead. His rivalry with Brock Lesnar alone was enough reason to have both men on the same show. Having the two cross paths on both Raw and SmackDown, albeit entertaining, was extremely questionable considering the brand extension had only been in place for a week at that point.
Placing them on separate brands basically prevented any interaction, save for that one week, which could have harmed the build-up for SummerSlam’s main event. But even after the hype subsided and all that was left was for Lesnar and Orton to leave it all in the ring, the finish of the match left a huge opening for a rematch. Lesnar beat the holy hell out of "The Viper" and you know that no amount of staples is going to make Randy Orton back down from a fight.
The man’s blood is going to be boiling when he gets back to in-ring action, and even though there’ve already been seeds planted for a feud with Bray Wyatt, there’s going to be nobody that Orton wants to get his hands on more than the beast himself.
When Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan discussed what they’d be bringing to Tuesday nights, they described the blue brand as the WWE’s new land of opportunity. Instead of toiling away in the depths of the roster, talented athletes would finally be judged based on their in-ring ability and it’s proven true given Dolph Ziggler and AJ Styles’ recent successes.
That concept of being judged on wrestling skills and time spent in the squared circle had one man’s name written all over it – Cesaro. With the exception of an opportunity at the U.S. Championship a few weeks ago, Cesaro hasn’t had much of any direction since the brand extension began. He’s currently locked in a best-of-seven series against Sheamus and although this will be a good way to occupy both stars’ time for the next couple of months, it doesn’t come close to the kind of push Cesaro could have received on SmackDown.
The man is a wrestling machine, and that kind of talent would be extremely welcome on SmackDown. There are a lot of draft picks from July that can be questioned, but it goes without saying that the WWE got things wrong with Cesaro. Hopefully he can make the best of this unfortunate situation somewhere down the road.