The WWE has decided to give a brand split another go with Raw and SmackDown each receiving their own roster of dedicated wrestlers. Over the next few weeks, each show will also receive their own announcers, titles, and Pay-Per-Views, giving the WWE Universe even more content to digest every single week.
Last night was the first live SmackDown (no more taped episodes, sorry, fans of spoilers) which included the WWE Draft as Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon and General Manager Mick Foley went against SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan. A big plus to having split rosters is wrestlers that got lost in the shuffle previously could now really stand out on a smaller roster. The negative is SmackDown has always been considered WWE’s “B Show” and while WWE attempted to make things even, by the end of the draft it still looked that way.
This collection will cover eight wrestlers who could really take advantage of their newly assigned position on SmackDown, while also going over another seven that might not find as much success working on Tuesday nights. Where will wrestlers like John Cena, Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose, and Alexa Bliss shake out? Let’s get right to the list!
31 THE WRESTLERS WHO WILL THRIVE
30 AJ Styles
Selected second by SmackDown, Styles has a prime opportunity to become their number one heel, getting even more TV time now that he has to share less of the spotlight. Since debuting at the Royal Rumble, Styles has been on fire with the WWE feuding with many of their top stars like Roman Reigns and John Cena.
Styles had a number of fantastic matches that should be up for Match of the Year when we get closer to the end of the 2016. He’s also performed quite well in stories as he played the loyal, but unsure friend of fellow Club members, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Styles eventually ended his charades and showed his true colors as he teamed up with his old New Japan Pro Wrestling friends. Now, he’s separated from them and with people like Ambrose, Orton, and Cena to feud with, Styles should continue to have plenty of must-see moments.
28 Becky Lynch
Even though Becky has everything it takes to be a top face in the women’s division, she hadn’t quite reached that point thus far in her career. With Sasha now feuding with Charlotte, it seemed like she was being brushed to the side, for the time being. Although not official yet, it’s likely Bayley will also join Raw, if she teams up with Sasha at Battleground, which would have only pushed Becky further down the card, because let’s face it, Bayley is the ultimate babyface.
On SmackDown, Becky only has Carmella for competition and she’s brand new to the roster, so it will be awhile before fans really rally around her gimmick. Until then, Becky could get plenty of time as one of the best talkers in the promotion. Very much looking forward to when Becky meets up with Alexa Bliss, one of the very best mean girls on the mic.
26 American Alpha
When you consider rate of speed, Chad Gable and Jason Jordan could be the fastest risers in the entire company. Each with amateur wrestling backgrounds, they have awesomely intense promos, and almost always put on the best match of the night with their incredible in-ring skills, fans should have no problem latching onto these two. WWE has also setup things nicely by positioning them as the top tag team on SmackDown.
For now, they will contend with The Usos (popular, but peaked), The Ascension (awful), Breezango (a great heel tandem), and The Vaudevillians (need gimmick tweaks and have little backstage support). This will be a perfect time to get these two guys off to a hot start and show a larger audience what made Jordan and Gable so popular in NXT. If you haven’t paid attention to NXT, make sure to hit up the Network and watch their matches against The Revival and Gargano/Ciampa.
24 Alexa Bliss
Here we have another NXT call-up that should be able to make waves as already being the top heel on SmackDown. Eva Marie may receive more hate, but her overall skills still need some work. Naomi may return as a face, that’s still up in the air for now. Natalya is currently a heel, but she’s more naturally aligned to be a face, so Alexa could easily overtake her in a few months.
Alexa is basically a 5’1” angry powder keg, with a nasty mean streak she often performs moves that someone her size shouldn’t be dong. With her “Blissed Off” attitude, perfect facial expressions and keen speaking abilities, fans will soon see why she was one of the must-see NXT wrestlers during the first half of 2016. Just watch pretty much any of her matches against Bayley or Carmella and you’ll see why she was called up to the main roster.
22 Dean Ambrose
Drafted first by SmackDown, the WWE Champion went second overall, most likely due to Stephanie’s previous history with Rollins in terms of storyline. In reality, Ambrose has proven himself to be a crowd favorite and has been rewarded with not only a title win, but he has been put in a position where he will be one of the cornerstones for the SmackDown brand.
He’s had to play second fiddle to guys like Cena, Rollins, Reigns, and Lesnar over the past year, so moving to a brand where only Cena sits will surely help him grow as a performer. There are a few heels that he can work with and Ambrose has a really good shot at winning most of the feuds, unlike previously, when he was booked to lose a large majority of them. Ambrose has worked his way to the top and there’s no reason why he won’t continue to stay there after this draft.
WWE made a really interesting decision with Carmella by placing her on the show opposite of her old pals, Cass and Enzo. Had she gone to Raw, there was at least the option to put her with them right from the start or down the road, but now there’s really no way of them working together. She had a few months to herself on NXT, once Cass and Enzo were called up, and did just fine with her bubbly “How you doin’?!” personality, so one would think she will be okay on the main roster.
She’s got great style, decent enough in-ring skills, she’s solid on the mic, and has a very likeable personality that larger crowds should be able to get behind. Carmella is probably one of the shakier picks on this list though, as it’s entirely possible that she could become champion or just talent enhancement, only time will tell with “The Princess of Staten Island.”
18 Bray Wyatt
The booking of Bray has been more confusing than most of his cryptic promos, he’s been an enigma when it comes to the possibility of becoming WWE Champion or just fodder for whoever is coming up the ladder. Initially, The Wyatt Family was a unique and fantastic stable to help give Bray a platform, but they’ve hit a plateau over the past few months, even with the addition of Braun Strowman.
Unfortunately, Erick Rowan and Braun do nothing for him, in fact he brings them up and Luke Harper is an underrated wrestler (and talker) who's been living in Bray’s shadow. So now that it looks like the family has been broken up, Bray can finally focus on his solo career, hopefully SmackDown will be a place where he can remain in that upper tier of heels, alongside Styles and Orton (if he returns as such). A championship reign is long overdue for Bray and this might be his best shot at getting one.
In terms of gimmicks, these two are a match made in heaven, Fandango, the sultry dancer and Tyler Breeze, the self-indulgent model play off each other so well. They had a horribly rough start as they were booked against The Golden Truth, losing matches to them along the way, which made absolutely no sense at all.
Their up and down booking has continued since they teamed up and hopefully their new home will give them a more prosperous foundation to build on. Both guys can talk and their in-ring skills have never been questioned, they just need a solid opportunity to build a following and winning is one of the best way to achieve that. The tag division is fairly wide open, so it’s entirely possible they could start out as the top heel team in the division. They have had the support from fans (especially on social media) now they just need some from the creative team.
14 THE WRESTLERS WHO WILL FAIL
13 John Cena
So this is a tricky one with Cena, as he doesn’t ever really “fail” at anything with so much support within the WWE, but this could be seen as a bit of a demotion for him. For business purposes, it makes sense to utilized your biggest brand to get SmackDown up and going, and Cena will still remain as one of the top guys on that show. WWE makes no bones about it though, Raw is their flagship show and for Cena to no longer be on there is a hit to his gimmick, especially at thirty-nine years old.
Yes, at this point in his career Cena is going to be putting over a lot of talent to get the next generation up and running and for that he could be put in the thriving section. This is about Cena though and if he’s losing a bunch (or at least in important spots), that’s not great, that’s failing, so here he stays.
11 The Ascension
Honestly, it didn’t matter where these guys landed, it would be a fail either way for The Ascension. After being in development for an extremely long time, WWE finally had to just give them a shot on the main roster. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst few weeks any wrestlers could have, not only did fans not get behind them, but they got buried by creative only two weeks into their run by having old time tag teams like APA and The New Age Outlaws beat the crap out of them.
Since then, they’ve just been talent enhancement, Konnor was suspended for failing the WWE Wellness Test, and there’s just been no light at the end of the tunnel. It’s possible they could rise up with a smaller tag division, but this group just seems dead in the water and needs a total repackaging. At their age it seems unlikely, WWE could just ride these two out until their contracts are up.
There hasn’t even been an episode with the new rosters and Kalisto is already failing! On the Draft Post-Show he was interviewed about his move to SmackDown and he got totally lost in his thoughts, basically saying nothing before running off-camera. It was a rough start for Kalisto, but promos were never really his strong point, the stuff in the ring is where he truly shines.
The issue with that though is he’s considered a cruiserweight and it was announced that the cruiserweight division would be on Raw, so, it’s a bit confusing how he landed on the other show. He’ll probably hang around in the midcard, but rising up won’t happen, so why not place him in a division where he could thrive and become champion? Losing Sin Cara was positive for him, but ultimately we may have seen Kalisto peak and there's only one place for him to go from there.
Natalya is in a similar situation to John Cena, where she’s 34 years old and is most likely going to be spending a good chunk of her time putting the other women over. Again, for the business this is a positive, it’s thriving, but for Natalya herself, it’s failing. Currently a heel, Natalya is in position to help bring Becky Lynch and Carmella up to the next level.
For years, she’s worked as the smiley gatekeeper, the veteran leader that basically is the test for the new talent to see if they are ready for the next step. This will continue, but just as an annoying “How dare they break any rules!” soccer mom. We know what to expect out of her and it’s unlikely a move to Tuesday nights will really boost her stock, it may not drop a ton, but with some fresh faces coming up, fans might find Natalya even less interesting.
5 Mojo Rawley
At the age of thirty and after almost three years in development, it’s time for WWE to take a chance on Mojo and see how he does on the main roster. Even though he was picked separately from Zack Ryder, it’s possible those two could team up down the road if the tag division needs help, or, if Mojo completely fails.
Look, he’s got an intense gimmick that most kids will love, if he can really grab that audience, he might have a chance on SmackDown. Most other people will find him pretty annoying, with average in-ring skills that may not be enough to make up for the gimmick. He barely rose up the ranks in NXT, so going up against even more talented people it’s tough to see him really thriving. It’s pretty much now or never for Mojo as a repackaging doesn't seem likely while he's in his early 30s.
3 Dolph Ziggler
For those two fans that were absolutely enthralled with the Ziggler/Corbin feud that feud will possibly continue with both men on the same show. Most likely we will be spared though as Ziggler will continue on being booked at a fairly steady win and then lose streak. At thirty-five, he could become the Cena/Natalya of the midcard by putting over younger talent as needed, while still getting a win here and there to maintain some credibility.
As fans, we know creative isn’t going to give him a major push, so aside from just cheering on the guy, he’s not really going to explode in popularity thanks to this move. As much as fans would probably enjoy it, Ziggler’s time as a major contender is long gone, which was definitely a missed opportunity for the company. Instead, we just wait for him to fully embrace his stand-up comedy life and move on from wrestling.
1 Erick Rowan
Well, what can we say about Erick Rowan that hasn’t already been talked about in the past? He’s an average skilled big man that really doesn’t blow people’s hair back on the mic. Without Bray or Luke to help cover his weakness in promos, Rowan will have a tough time on his own. How is this a given? Well, it’s already happened before in 2014-2015 when the Wyatt Family broke up the first time.
WWE attempted to keep him in the mix during his singles’ run, but was promptly dropped down the card over time to being basically irrelevant on the WWE landscape. Once the family got back together his stock immediately rose back up, but now that he’s back on his own, it’s going to go right back down. His best chance at succeeding is either teaming up with Harper once he returns, or find someone else to tag with that can talk. If joining the tag division doesn’t happen, it’s highly probable he’ll be losing consistently to Baron Corbin and Kane.