July 19, 2016 vastly approaches as SmackDown will be moving to its new live format on Tuesday nights. The re-debut will play host to the first brand extension, with the exception of NXT’s exclusive roster, in almost five years.
Who will end up where? Will the World, Women’s and Tag Team titles become brand exclusive? What new championships will they introduce to remedy this? What NXT stars will breakout onto the main roster? Which past Superstars will return? Is the two PPV a month thing legit and, if so, what other retired events will make a comeback? And, of course, the big question… will SmackDown stay the B-list product it is now and did during the last brand extension or will WWE actually allow it to thrive opposite Raw?
While the answer to these questions is anyone’s guess, a new split has left fans themselves divided. Some are excited by the prospect of duplicating NXT’s success by turning the company’s main cast once again into two distinct entities. Others are hating it before it’s happened, expectant that WWE will duplicate the annoyances that came along with the original split.
To help you decide where you stand, here’s a trip down memory lane. On this list we’ll be counting down each Draft Day in order of worst to best, detailing the highs and lows, the best and worst picks of the night and determine which brand won out each year.
18 2006 - Highlight: Promo Showdown
While no official draft was held in 2006, a night of picks took place to mark the debut of WWE’s failed and flawed attempt at bringing back ECW. Paul Heyman was allowed to draft a person from both SmackDown and Raw to take with him into the new land of extreme, followed by Tazz also rejoining ECW soon after as a commentator.
It’s hard to think of any two people better on the mic than Paul E. and Mick Foley. The picks occurred during a face-to-face promo where a recently turned heel Foley and Heyman did what they do best by destroying each other on the stick.
Best Pick: Rob Van Dam
17 Lowlight: Not Really a Draft
The downside here was not having an official draft. Die hard ECW fans were hopeful for the brand’s success but Heyman would soon exit the company, leaving creative fully with WWE. If SmackDown was Raw’s red-headed stepsister, ECW would become the creepy cousin nobody talked about!
Worst Pick: Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle can never be considered a bad pick but his selection proved this wasn’t going to ever truly be the ECW fans wanted. Heyman claimed Kurt embodied the new vision of ECW, and he wasn’t wrong, it just wasn’t our hopeful vision. It all ended up failing, as Kurt Angle was released by WWE that summer, leaving ECW without its most established star.
16 2010 - Highlight: No Celebrity Guest Host
2010 marked the first draft without the defunct (again) ECW. It was back to SmackDown vs Raw in standard inter-promotional matches to determine picks. This was also the first draft since 2006 where a holder of a World Title status championship was not selected.
For a whole year WWE stupidly had celebrity guest hosts on Raw like Bob Barker, Al Sharpton, Jerry Springer and even Mini Me, who took up air time that could’ve been given to, oh I don’t know, wrestling! Thankfully the draft took precedent and no unwanted B-lister was there to ruin Raw.
Best Pick: Edge
15 Lowlight: Hornswoggle vs. Dolph Ziggler
Whenever you feel like Ziggler just can’t catch a break, take solace in the fact that this has always been true. Hornswoggle beat The Show Off for a pick in 40 seconds, by countout mind you, but still! What an idiotic way to waste a talent like Ziggler.
Worst Pick: Kelly Kelly
Kelly Kelly may have been the hottest Diva in WWE at the time, but her being the only female selected on-air was underwhelming. I have nothing against her but, especially now living in the era of the women’s revolution, Kelly was always one of those eye candy Divas who never quite “got it” in the ring.
14 2007 - Highlight: Brand Warfare
2007 was the first draft to include ECW as a third brand and the first where picks were selected by inter-promotional matches. The winners gained a pick for their brand, an initiative that carried on to every subsequent draft until the brand split ended in 2011.
Inter-promotional matches were great. It was fun to see stars mix it up with ones you normally didn’t see together. That excitement fizzled later in 2007 after ECW allowed its wrestlers to appear on other brands and stars from all three began cross pollinating.
Best Pick: Johnny Nitro
13 2007 - Lowlight: McMahon Goes Boom
2007 holds the dubious honor of happening the same night as the terrible Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night, cumulating with Vince entering his limo and it exploding. Yep! He “died”! You can’t even say fortunately that the storyline ended so quick as it was only due to the Chris Benoit tragedy weeks later. Overall, it was a very tough month for the WWE.
Worst Pick: The Great Khali
Usually when a person gets drafted and receives a World Title run it’s considered a best pick. In the case of Khali, his SmackDown push and presence in the main event picture for the better part of a year was about as exciting as watching one of his matches.
12 2009 - Highlight: A Lot of Gold
2009 again featured inter-promotional matches to decide picks while a supplemental draft took place online. Champions could again take their titles with them to their new brand and the year marked the final time ECW would be included as it would fold at the start of 2010.
Seven championships switched homes as the WWE Championship went to Raw with the Unified Tag Team Championship, though the tag champs could operate on any show. The U.S. and Divas belts swapped with the Intercontinental and Women’s, leaving the ECW and World Heavyweight titles the only ones staying put.
Best Pick: Triple H
11 2009 - Lowlight: Tag Team Exodus
There was already a lack of tag teams in WWE at the time and the draft put a big nail in the coffin of established tag team wrestling. The Miz and Morrison, Jesse and Festus, Hawkins and Ryder, The Bellas and Cryme Tyme would all be split up on different shows by the end of the night, leaving next to no tag teams in the company.
Worst Pick: Vladimir Kozlov
No wonder ECW folded within a year of the draft as the only on-air ECW selection was the extremely forgettable Kozlov, making you wonder if WWE was expecting the land of extreme to vanish soon after. It was a pick as exciting as Kozlov’s expression.
10 2011 - Highlight: Cena Goes Twice
2011 marked the final Draft of the old WWE era where Superstars were appearing between brands so often already it seemed moot to even hold a Draft. The brand extension officially ended when they unified the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships later that year.
It’s happened before with Triple H where someone was selected on TV but was traded back to their old brand during the online Draft. Cena holds the honor of swapping brands within the same episode on-air as he would be the first and last picks taken that night for SmackDown and Raw respectively.
9 2011 - Lowlight: All for Not
What was the point of it all really? Superstars seemed to pop up all over the place as the brand split was coming to a close. It was almost as if they did the Draft because it had become a tradition, despite what the backstage plan was at the time.
Best and Worst Pick: John Cena
John Cena was the hottest star in the company in 2011. His being drafted to SmackDown to kick off the show was a big deal. By the end of the night he was selected back to Raw from SmackDown, which was fun, but it did a disservice to the blue brand as it made the feeling of SmackDown being the B-show all the more blatant.
8 2004 - Highlight: Triple H Switcheroo
The brand extension more or less stood in place for two years, as no draft occurred in 2003. This all changed when Mr. McMahon announced that it was time to “shake things up” and the first draft was scheduled. Raw GM Eric Bischoff and SmackDown GM Paul Heyman picked names at random and had until midnight to make off-air trades.
Triple H was picked by SmackDown and put into the main event against WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero as a preview of things to come. However, The Game was traded back to Raw off the air and his classic with Eddie was merely a tease to the fans.
Best Pick: Edge
7 2004 - Lowlight: Failure to Elevate Stars
For being the first real draft, the picks seem underwhelming in retrospect. Mid-card picks intended for pushes like René Duprée, Shelton Benjamin and Mark Jindrak would all instead fizzle out. The draft didn't really shake things up at all. Things pretty much stayed the same.
Worst Pick: Paul Heyman
The problem isn’t Heyman was drafted, it was that it never came to fruition. Paul E. was written off TV and the payoff of seeing him opposite arch-rival Bischoff never took place. This also led to Kurt Angle becoming SmackDown’s new GM.
6 2008 - Highlight: Championship Carousel
The 2008 calendar year saw several big names move in a second year of inter-promotional matches. It also saw groundbreaking shifts in WWE commentary teams and featured the culmination of McMahon’s Million Dollar Mania, a failed gimmick that saw Vince give away money through random phone calls.
U.S. Champion Matt Hardy went to ECW, ECW Champion Kane went to Raw and WWE Champion Triple H went to SmackDown. Unlike Bobby Lashley having to vacate his ECW Title the previous year, all champions kept their belts, though all titles would wind up back on their proper shows by the end of the month.
Best Pick: CM Punk
5 2008 - Lowlight: McMahon’s Million Dollar Mania
This botched ratings attempt saw Vince misdial, get Rick-roll’d and unable to hear people. It took up tons of air time, stalled Raw and ended at the draft where the set collapsed on top of Vince, leaving him “paralyzed”. Hey, at least he didn’t die in a limousine explosion!
Worst Pick: Jim Ross
It was the end of an era as the voice of Raw was drafted to SmackDown while Michael Cole went to Raw. Apparently good ol’ JR had no idea he was to be drafted that night! WWE seemed to be pulling another rib on Ross, almost leading him to quit the company.
4 2005 - Highlight: World Title Swap
2005 may have seen higher profile stars drafted as well as world titles switching brands, but was plagued with problems. It was a month long event where picks were selected over weeks of TV. While it was exciting to see who would arrive and depart from week-to-week, not holding a one night event took a lot of the fun out of it.
The draft kicked off with John Cena bringing the WWE Title to Raw, leaving SmackDown without a champion for the better part of the month. SmackDown GM Teddy Long intended to create a new SmackDown World Championship, but plans changed when Batista came along with the World Title in tow as the final pick.
Best Pick: Batista
3 2005 - Lowlight: Month Long Ordeal
There’s something exhilarating about having all these transactions packed into one night. Holding the draft over a month may have gained WWE ratings but it seemed to drag on and excitement about the draft itself seemed lost after a week or so. It was a relief when it was finally all over.
Worst Pick: Christian
Christian’s cocky, heel character Captain Charisma was a fantastic gimmick that should’ve taken him to World Title status and made him one of the elite picks in 2005. Unfortunately WWE bogged him around the mid-card until his contract expired and he would jump ship to TNA.
2 2002 - Highlight: History
The inaugural brand split happened for the same reason WWE returns to it today - - the roster was too big! An influx of talent came from a strong development program at OVW as well as the WCW purchase and closure of ECW in 2001. On-air co-owners Mr. McMahon and Ric Flair selected 20 Superstars on Raw with the rest determined via online lottery.
The Kurt Angle comedy act was at an all time high in 2002. Kurt couldn’t believe Vince didn’t pick him first! After being chosen second, and giving McMahon a big hug, he spent the night as Vince’s right hand man and challenged RVD for the Intercontinental Title after it’d been drafted to Raw.
Best Pick: The Rock
1 2002 - Lowlight: Stone Cold's Free Agency
Austin was ineligible to be drafted because of a kayfabe contract stipulation while backstage developments had WWE and Stone Cold on shaky ground. It was unfortunate he wasn’t included but he did eventually return, choosing Raw as his brand. Austin's run on RAW in 2002 would be very subpar, engaging in feuds with the nWo, a heel Ric Flair and finally leaving the company altogether by June. The ideal situation would have been Austin carrying RAW, while Rock would carry SmackDown, but neither event occurred, as The Rock had left for Hollywood right after the draft.
Worst Pick: Maven
Remember Maven? Don’t worry, nobody else does either. Truth be told he was only chosen on television because he was Hardcore Champion at the time, but still… what a terrible pick!
Raw may have taken heavy hitters like The Undertaker and new WWE stars like Booker T, RVD and the nWo, but SmackDown received household names like The Rock and Hulk Hogan as well as Edge, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and Y2J.
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