It has been a whole year since WWE decided once again that they simply have too many Superstars on their roster to cram into every single show. On July 19th 2016 WWE staged its latest manifestation of the draft and their roster was split in two with half the company's Superstars becoming exclusive to Raw and the other half to SmackDown Live. It's really the most even draft we've ever seen since the idea became a staple of WWE all the way back in 2002. For the first time the company's so-called B brand was actually given a real chance to compete with Raw as it was moved to Tuesday nights and broadcast live on a weekly basis.
At the time Jim Ross regularly said that we would not know whether the draft was a success or not until WrestleMania 33. Well that event has been and gone and here we are on the roster split's first anniversary. It has almost definitely been long enough to assess whether the 2016 draft has been a success or not. WWE has done a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong over the past twelve months, and this article will break down equal amounts of each. As it stands it would seem that the roster is better off in two parts than all together on both shows, but I'll let you judge for yourselves as you make your way through the upcoming list outlining many of the pros and cons of a split WWE.
20 Right: The Return Of Squash Matches
Before the roster was split in two via the draft a year ago both Monday and Tuesday nights felt a little crowded, and also a little repetitive. There was no room for local talent to be brought in which has been a staple of professional wrestling for years and years. Instead when a Superstar needed a quick boost WWE would do it at the expense of a fellow contracted wrestler. While that still happens somewhat with the likes of Curt Hawkins, immediately following the draft WWE attempted to take a step away from that. The likes of Braun Strowman and Nia Jax were being fed local talent to squash in short matches in order to raise their stock, while not diminishing another WWE Superstar's worth in the process.
19 Wrong: Keeping James Ellsworth
Speaking of squash matches, on to a product of those post draft squashes that was good to begin with but has far out stayed his welcome, James Ellsworth. Ellsworth began his WWE career as a local talent being fed to the aforementioned Braun Strowman. For one reason or another the crowd took to him and WWE decided to sign him to a permanent deal. Like Vince McMahon can be with so many things that he thinks are popular, he did the Ellsworth angle to death. Most fans were sick of him by the time he was feuding with AJ Styles, so now they're at the point where they simply can't stand him. As I type this the winner of the first ever Miss Money In The Bank (sort of) is suspended as part of an angle. How about we keep it that way.
18 Right: The Rise Of Braun Strowman
While most tag teams were drafted together twelve months ago, The Wyatt Family decided to be selected separately. While Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan wound up on SmackDown Live the biggest member of their dysfunctional family, Braun Strowman, was drafted to Raw. Since then the Monster Among Men has gone from strength to strength. It's almost hard to believe how far Braun has come in such a short amount of time. Strowman is a bonafide main event player on Raw, seemingly with a Universal Championship run and a marquee match with Brock Lesnar somewhere in his future. WWE have done an extremely good job of booking Braun since the draft and here's hoping that his and Bray's paths cross soon now that The Eater of Worlds is back on Raw.
17 Wrong: Crossing Over Too Quickly
While the draft understandably caused a lot of buzz and there were clear boundaries on who was on which brand, for the most part, WWE didn't keep the two rosters separate from the off. It meant that the new post draft era didn't kick off as quickly as it could have. The SummerSlam that came a month after the draft featured Raw's Brock Lesnar up against SmackDown Live's Randy Orton. Then after WrestleMania 33 the Superstar Shake Up took place and the ambiguity between brands returned. Bray battled Orton after Wyatt had been drafted to Raw in a match where we weren't even sure if the WWE Championship was on the line or not. From here on in WWE keep the shows separate, aside from the Royal Rumble of course.
16 Right: The Resurgence Of The Miz
Who would have thought that in 2016 we would be talking about The Miz as being one of the most entertaining Superstars of the year? Certainly not me! Yet here we are in 2017 and The Miz is continuing to make the Intercontinental Championship mean something again. There are a number of things that we can attribute to Miz's recent success, and the draft is most certainly one of them. When everybody was lumped in together clearly The A Lister was lost in the shuffle. I'd argue that he may have not been long for the WWE realm. Given the spot light and the opportunity to shine on SmackDown Live however and Miz has taken the ball and run with it. Now Miz is arguably more relevant than he was when he was WWE Champion four years ago. Impressive work from him, Maryse and of course WWE.
15 Wrong: 205 Live
Last summer WWE staged the Cruiserweight Classic. It was an incredible tournament that enjoyed tremendous success, so much so that they're about to do it all over again with the Mae Young Classic. WWE managed to sign up a few of the great cruiserweights that took part in the classic, and it's there where the wheels began to fall off. Vince McMahon and Triple H quite rightly gave the new signings their own show but WWE's purple brand, 205 Live, has fallen flat. There's a few things they could have done to potentially avoid it. Not having them perform on Raw, pre-taping the show rather than it being live (despite it's name), and keeping the show in Full Sail where it had thrived as the CWC. So far no good with 205 Live, and WWE really needs to make some changes.
14 Right: Crowing The King Of The Cruiserweights
Despite what I may have just conveyed it's not been all doom and gloom on the 205 Live roster. There is one man who has been reborn via the division and has led the way as its champion since January, and that man is Neville. The cruiserweights needed a Superstar who wasn't involved in the CWC who knew exactly what WWE want from their performers, and the now self proclaimed King of the Cruiserweights had exactly that. Neville had been struggling to make an impact on the Raw roster so it was a match made in heaven for him and 205 Live. Unfortunately the only man to come anywhere close to the Neville Level was Austin Aries who has now left the company, so WWE are going to need to come up with a new plan to keep the momentum that The Brit has created going.
13 Wrong: Divvying Up The Tag Teams
Another division that hasn't exactly thrived since the draft last July is WWE's tag division. While the roster itself may have been packed and easily contained enough Superstars to cover both shows, that was not necessarily the case for the tag teams. WWE's tag teams seemed few and far between as it was, then having to share them across two shows only heightened those problems. Some fans even called for tag teams to be exclusive to one show or the other which probably would have been a much better idea than doing that with the cruiserweights on Raw. Recently Raw has lost two more teams in the form of The Golden Truth and Enzo and Cass, so things are only set to get worse on the tag team front.
12 Right: The Continuation Of The Women's Revolution
Not every division has floundered since the draft. One section of the locker room that was on the up heading into the draft was the female side of things. There were fears that splitting them would have the same affect as it's had on WWE's tag teams, but it's actually been quite the contrary. The majority of WWE's women have attempted to grab for that proverbial brass ring over the past twelve months, especially with there now being two women's titles. Perhaps the most improved woman has been Alexa Bliss. The Goddess of WWE was more or less an after thought in the draft but one year on is currently the only person to have been Women's Champion on both Raw and SmackDown Live.
11 Wrong: Booking American Alpha
As part of the draft six acts from NXT were brought up to the main roster. We've already covered Alexa Bliss who has done tremendously well, and Finn Balor has done pretty well for himself too, more on that later though. Aside from Finn the act who the fans likely had the highest hopes for were American Alpha. Chad Gable and Jason Jordan were incredibly popular down in NXT and were former Tag Team Champions for the brand. It seemed like a home run for WWE to make them into just as popular an act on SmackDown Live. No such luck. For some reason the once amateur wrestlers have not made the transition to WWE's big time as smoothly as we had all hoped.
10 Right: The Sasha And Charlotte Feud
Perhaps the biggest and best feud that has taken place since the draft was one that would have never got the attention it deserved had the brand not been split in two. Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair. The two talented women not only overshadowed the rest of the females on Raw, but for quite a while they were the best thing about Monday nights full stop. The Boss and Baby Flair traded the Raw Women's Championship back and forth while setting some awesome records along the way. They were the first women to headline Raw since Lita and Trish Stratus did it years ago, the first women to ever main event a PPV, and they did that inside Hell in a Cell, yet another first for WWE's females.
9 Wrong: Booking Bayley
When it comes to Superstars that WWE have managed to mess up despite all the odds, there is no other story quite like Bayley's. Fans of NXT absolutely adored Bayley and it seemed completely inconceivable that WWE could screw that up. Well here we are, less than a year later when it comes to Bayley, and when the former NXT and Raw Women's Champion comes out on Monday nights it's to a very flat reaction. Getting Raw's Resident Hugger over seemed so simple as well. Bayley was on a collision course to WrestleMania where she would beat Charlotte in what could have been the feel good moment of the year. Instead the title change happened on the PPV before, WWE Fast Lane, in what was frankly a confusing choice. Despite Bayley being champion her stock has just continued to fall, and it's very sad to watch.
8 Right: Making Finn Balor Universal Champion
One of Bayley's close friends, Finn Balor, did not get treated in such a way. Balor was quite rightly treated like a star and shot straight to the top in the weeks following the draft. In fact Finn's very first order of business on Raw was to defeat Vince McMahon's chosen one, Roman Reigns, in order to win a shot at the newly created Universal Championship. As soon as I saw Finn would have to face off against The Big Dog I lost pretty much all hope, so to see him win came as an extremely welcome surprise. Not only that but Balor went on to SummerSlam and became the first ever Universal Champion. WWE's big plans for Finn were coming to fruition, and they really got it right with Balor. Sadly the Irishman would have to relinquish the belt the very next night due to injury, but that's not WWE's fault.
7 Wrong: Turning Kevin Owens Into A Joke
Much to WWE's credit they did not panic when Finn Balor was sidelined through injury, or at least if they were they didn't show it. They put together a fatal four way match on Raw with the prize for the victor being the then vacant Universal Championship. With Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins a part of the bout it seemed pretty obvious that it would be one of those two former Shield members that would win the strap. Then once Triple H got involved we all collectively rolled our eyes as he began to help The Architect claim the belt. Then came the swerve and it was Kevin Owens who left as champion. An amazing twist followed by months of poor booking. The title run should have solidified KO as a main event player, yet comedy booking and cowardly acts diminished what we thought of The Prizefighter. Such a wasted opportunity.
6 Right: Portraying Samoa Joe As A Destroyer
With the sporadic booking of NXT Superstars since the draft, and in all fairness before it as well, the WWE Universe was a little wary of how Vince McMahon and his cronies would treat Samoa Joe when he arrived in either Raw or SmackDown Live. When The Destroyer didn't show up in the Royal Rumble there were a fair few of us that were confused and disappointed. We only had to wait another 24 hours for Joe's arrival however. To begin with it was a slow boil for Joe's main roster career, but over the last couple of months it has really taken off. At Great Balls Of Fire Joe showed Vince that he was right to trust him in the ring with Brock Lesnar, and hopefully there'll be a Universal title reign in the Samoan's future.
5 Wrong: Making Seth Rollins Mundane
Much like we were eagerly awaiting the return of Finn Balor recently after a long time away due to his aforementioned injury, last year we did the exact same thing with Seth Rollins. Unfortunately aside from the initial return when he attacked Roman Reigns we didn't get the same Seth that had been setting WWE alight prior to his injury. Then came the draft and an opportunity to get The Architect back on track. At first it sort of worked, then once Triple H turned on him his career went into a lull once again. In fact it was a whole seven months of seething for Rollins before he actually managed to get his hands on The Game at WrestleMania 33. After such a long absence because of his injury, what Seth really didn't need was a long wait in limbo biding his time before Triple H was match ready, and he's is still suffering from it today.
4 Right: The Rapid Ascent Of AJ Styles
Not many Superstars in present day WWE are afforded the opportunity to completely bypass NXT. One of those lucky few back at the start of 2016 was AJ Styles. Yes that's right, it may feel like a lot longer but The Phenomenal One has only been a WWE Superstar for a little over eighteen months. Styles has achieved an incredible amount in that time and it's hard to imagine that his rapid rise through the ranks would have been as fast had it not been for the draft. AJ was doing well before the roster was split in two, but as he puts it SmackDown Live is very much the house that AJ Styles built. WWE quite rightly made Styles their WWE Champion after he and the title were made exclusive to Tuesday nights, and despite being an ex TNA star Vince McMahon has given AJ everything he deserves in WWE.
3 Wrong: Too Much Too Soon For Jinder
This may come as a surprise, especially considering the side of the list that Jinder Mahal falls on, but unlike most fans I don't completely hate the idea of Jinder Mahal being WWE Champion. Maybe that's because I've gotten used to it, I'm not sure. I say that because at first I was as shocked and frankly disappointed as everyone else. We all understand that SmackDown Live is the land of opportunity, but Jinder did nothing to earn that opportunity. He had been on a losing streak on Raw before being moved to the blue brand where he continued that losing streak. Some of us may have simply gotten used to Mahal being champion, but WWE are going to have to do a lot more to convince us he was a good choice in the first place.
2 Right: SmackDown Live
SmackDown Live's champion may not quite be up to scratch right now, but when judged for their work over the past twelve months Shane McMahon's show definitely gets more than a passing grade. It may not have caught up with Raw in the ratings quite yet, but there's a list as long as your arm as to why it's a better show to watch of the two. For starters there's the obvious, SmackDown Live is only two hours while Raw is three. Even the most ardent wrestling fans suffer to make it through an entire Monday Night Raw most weeks. We've also got SmackDown to thank for the Styles versus Cena feud, the first ever women's Money In The Bank, the rebirth of The Miz, and the recently cancelled Talking Smack which was very entertaining while it lasted.
1 Wrong: Dean Ambrose
One man who has sort of just been floating there since the draft is Dean Ambrose. The reason he tops this list is because heading into the split he was hotter than he had ever been. WWE Champion and the winner of a triple threat between all three members of The Shield. Then WWE decided to put him in a SummerSlam match with Dolph Ziggler while the Universal title match on the same card was being fought between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. Dean's match was overshadowed to say the least, and shortly after he lost the belt and has been floundering ever since. Even a shift to Raw in an attempt to regenerate interest in him has fallen flat after he's been forced to continue his seemingly life long feud with The Miz.
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