On July 19, the WWE gives itself yet another a golden opportunity when it conducts its 9th WWE Draft. Although the company has squandered brand splits of the past, the upcoming one possesses a pivotal attribute that its others did not; SmackDown Live.
In its current format, the WWE shoots SmackDown on Tuesdays and airs those two-hour shows on Thursdays. Due to these restrictions — and the program being in the 8pm ET time slot — SmackDown has remained the weaker of the WWE’s weekly shows since its August 26, 1999 debut. While Raw will undoubtedly continue putting out a strong product, the blue brand now has the chance to compete with the red brand in terms of its quality. There was a time in the original brand split when SmackDown was actually the better show and the blue brand now has a chance to surpass the flagship show once again.
Furthermore, they’ll likely be several big-name superstars and a combo of others — NXT callups and underutilized veterans lost in the creative shuffle — headed to the SmackDown brand and its seemingly greener pastures.
If it’s orchestrated correctly, the WWE brand split could raise the bar even higher for Vince McMahon’s entertainment monopoly. On the flip side, if the brand split is done wrongly, it could form a larger wedge between diehard Reality Era wrestling marks and the WWE’s product.
15. Having Just One World Champion
It’s a given that having too many championship belts on WWE’s roster could water down each title’s significance. However, if the company is fully committed to completely separating Raw and SmackDown’s superstars, then this route is a must. To properly execute this — for starters — it’s imperative that each brand has its own heavyweight strap. December 15, 2013 was the last time the WWE Universe saw the World Championship and the World Heavyweight title exist — it saw Randy Orton beat John Cena at WWE TLC to unify the straps.
In the past, SmackDown’s World Heavyweight championship was predominantly given to strong upper midcard wrestlers. It never quite made it up to snuff with Raw’s WWE Championship.
Post-brand split — and with SmackDown going live — this should no longer be the case. With the WWE roster’s depth, crowning a well-deserving champion for the blue brand shouldn’t be an issue. Theoretically, they’ll be some veterans — such as Orton and Cena — mixed in with some talented upper midcarders — ala Bray Wyatt and Kevin Owens — that could be elevated into its main event picture.
14. Giving John Cena a Heavyweight Title
While the “Let’s go Cena, Cena sucks” chants won’t be going extinct any time soon, true wrestling marks have high hopes that the redundancies of a John Cena heavyweight title run will; even if he hasn’t had one since August 2014. Although WWE’s future Hall of Famer is arguably the company’s hardest worker — both inside the ring and out — he never need a any belts to get over. Additionally, it never takes away from his five-star matches with superstars such as AJ Styles (Extreme Rules 2016) and Owens (Money in the Bank and Elimination Chamber 2015).
Keeping the Cenation leader as the go-to guy for parlaying upper midcard talent into stardom — without a heavyweight title — would be the smartest move.
The brand split should be all about giving new guys a chance to shine since the roster is deeper than it’s been in years. Going back to the same well again would be a major mistake and set the new era back.
13. By Keeping Kevin Owens on Raw
Garnering heel heat post-Attitude Era has proven to be a lost art. One of the few superstars that can do so — without a hitch — is Kevin Owens. Since his main roster debut, KO has put together a slew of highly successful programs with a ton of top talent, including John Cena, Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler. The two-time Intercontinental champion has continually dominated the upper midcard. A little over a year since his NXT call up , the French-Canadian is just about ready for his first WWE heavyweight title run.
Once his feud with Sami Zayn finalizes, it would be wise for the WWE to draft him on SmackDown and into a program with a Roman Reigns-caliber star; the recipe for his upper card permanence. Owens has what it takes to be the no.1 heel and since SmackDown is the show that needs the biggest boost, Owens would be great in filling that role.
12. Not Giving SmackDown the Right GM
Lately, the WWE has teased fans by having former SmackDown GMs such as Teddy Long and Vickie Guerrero appearing to vie for their positions back. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be “what’s best for business.” If the WWE is aiming for sheer impact, they may want to make SmackDown “a Paul Heyman brand.” In a dream-like scenario, the company could make the former ECW owner its GM; opening the doors for UFC 200 victor Brock Lesnar to follow him there. What better way to show the WWE Universe that you’re serious about the brand split than that? A Mick Foley, Eric Bischoff or Vince Russo would also go over well.
Alternatively, if the WWE is looking to give the nod to a fresh face, bringing back a certain bearded superstar — Daniel Bryan — would certainly get SmackDown further over. Another former superstar the company wouldn’t be opposed to is Edge, who can really relate to the younger fans. Shane O’Mac as Commissioner with Edge or Bryan as his GM; doesn’t sound like a bad formula to me!
11. Not Calling Up Bayley
If the WWE was smart — aka wanted to rejuvenate the simmered-down Divas Revolution — they would call up a certain hug-loving NXT superstar named Bayley. After three-plus years in WWE’s developmental, the 27-year-old is more ready to make the jump to the main roster. The brand split is the perfect time to do so. When NXT’s top talents drop titles, it usually indicates that they are soon headed to the WWE’s main roster.
Hopefully that’s the case for Bayley, who more than deserves it. Assuming the creative brass divides up the women’s division between Raw and SmackDown (more on that later), Bayley would flourish on the brand that’s opposite of Charlotte — or whoever holds the women’s championship. Her run should lead to her becoming the new Women’s Champion by WrestleMania 33. If Bayley is not called up soon, it’ll be a massive blow for a main roster that will now be divided.
10. Not Calling Up Finn Bálor
The man, the myth, the body paint. From the production value he offers to his in-ring work skillset, Finn Bálor has made a significant impact in his two short years at NXT. With Dean Ambrose now in the main event picture and Kevin Owens just about ready for it, the WWE’s midcard division could use another fresh face. Who better than Bálor, a seasoned veteran with 16-plus years wrestling experience. The 34-year-old could serve to raise the bar for competitors such as IC champion, The Miz, and US champion, Rusev. To either brand’s benefit, Bálor has already worked with a large portion of the WWE roster’s prime talent in Owens, Zayn and the now-injured Neville, to name a few.
Balor will more than likely be the best NXT call-up, but it’d be best for WWE to strike now and have Balor in a feud going into SummerSlam. Balor will only have so many more good years in WWE and he’s been in NXT long enough.
9. Not Bringing Back a Handful of Legends
Very few occurrences are more pop-worthy than the return of a WWE legend. Rumor has it that the company is seriously entertaining the possibility of bringing back superstars Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Carlito, and others. Further speculation stated that the WWE has interest in putting “Your Olympic Hero” with NXT tag team specialists American Alpha. Although that buzz has since been shot down, those possibilities undoubtedly still exist. After all, the brand split gives the WWE the roster room for it; too bad Cody Rhodes or Wade Barrett didn’t know about this sooner… “The Gold Standard” Shelton Benjamin is also a name that’s been thrown around. Time will truly tell which WWE alumni — if any — will come back and make an impact.
The WWE has made it known that they are serious about having stacked rosters. Mixing up old names with the young talent will make the product feel fresh and delivers endless possibilities to both brands.
8. Not Keeping Tag Team Wrestling Relevant on Both Brands
For a while there, the WWE totally turned a deaf ear to its tag team division. More or less, they were pairing random superstars — with no direction in their singles careers — together. It seemed that the days of legit tag team wrestling — aka the Demolitions, the Rockers, The Hart Foundations — were long gone. Fortunately, the company has turned a new leaf in the past year. A slew of homegrown talents such as Big Cass & Enzo Amore, The Vaudevillains, and The New Day have all proven to be formidable tandems; and who could forget Anderson and Gallows along with The Usos? Vinnie Mac himself even has a new favorite team; Breezango (Tyler Breeze and Fandango).
Also, veterans such as the Dudley Boyz and The Golden Truth have benefited the new-and-improved tag team division from a mentoring standpoint. With an overflowing hot-bed of talent, the company now has the resources to split this division up. The New Day should remain at the top of its game on Raw while up-and-coming teams such as Big Cass and Enzo continue duking it out with The Club at the top of SmackDown’s tag team division.
7. Not Splitting Up the Women’s Division
The 13th of July 13 in 2015 marked a historical night for women’s wrestling as Stephanie McMahon announced the inception of the Divas Revolution; a true testament to the growth and talent of women’s wrestling. The women’s division landscape — and its championship belt for that matter — has permanently changed for the better. Talented female grapplers that could give the boys a run for their money — a la Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Becky Lynch — have emerged to cement themselves on WWE from NXT. Charlotte was able to step out of her father Ric Flair’s shadow while Lynch and Banks have flourished as fan favorites. Dana Brooke and Billie Kay have also fared well since coming up.
After closing out a very successful NXT title run, Bayley should be the next to get the nod. The dominant Nia Jax along with “The HOTTEST chick in the ring,” Carmella, also have shots at making the WWE roster come brand split time. Nonetheless, there should be two women’s championships, which would benefit underutilized talents such as Paige and Naomi.
6. Not Bringing Back the Cruiserweight Division on Raw
The WWE is in the middle of its Cruiserweight Classic; a 32-man elimination tournament showcasing the talents of several indie darlings. The various competitors — all under 205 pounds — are competing across a slew of independent promotions, including EVOLVE, Revolution Pro Wrestling and Progress Wrestling until a winner is crowned. The event features the in-ring returns Tajiri and Brian Kendrick (best known as Eva Marie’s NXT trainer). NXT superstars Rich Swann, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa are also in the brackets along with Progress Wrestling’s Zack Sabre Jr. and MKW’s Ho Ho Lun.
The cruiserweight title — which made its way to the WWE from the defunct WCW — was last held by Hornswoggle on September 25, 2007. Prior to its removal, several prominent names occupied it, including Billy Kidman, Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho. Although several superstars in the division’s weight class did win heavyweight gold, its title was initially a platform for smaller talents to break into WWE. Theoretically, wrestlers in the size range of Daniel Bryan, CM Punk and Jericho are best suited for this division. With Raw being an hour longer than SmackDown, it’s a no-brainer to acknowledge this small yet potentially impactful division on Mondays.
5. Having SmackDown and Raw Superstars Face Off Too Often
There’s no denying that the WWE Universe wants to see the very best superstars face off against… the very best. However, when the brand split materializes, it’s imperative that they keep Raw vs. SmackDown events to a bare minimum. If done right, the red and blue brands would each possess their own unique and individualized products. There’s no denying that most WWE superstars — at one time or another — has faced everyone on the roster. However, with several new talents both emerging and being signed, this is a novelty can be restored.
The rule’s only exception should be an annual WWE Bragging Rights pay per view of some sort. Furthermore, the big three events — Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, Summerslam — should feature both brands; but with Raw and SmackDown matchups kept separate. Like George Costanza said in Seinfeld, it’s important to keep your worlds separate.
4. Splitting Up The New Day
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that The New Day has developed into one of the WWE’s best acts in years. More astonishingly, who would’ve guessed that Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods would get over this well after initially tanking? Presently, The New Day has held the tag team titles for 300 days and counting. Lately — appearing to be a ploy to add more depth to their characters — the WWE has begun teasing fans about possibly of splitting the group up. Woods has gotten leery of joining his stablemates in the fight — that they started — against The Wyatts. Although the WWE should be intelligent enough not to do such a thing, just the mere thought of it sounds preposterous.
Between the overpowering “New Day rocks” chants, and the appeal of Booty-Os, it’s clear as day (pun intended) that Big E, Kingston and Woods should remain stablemates for the foreseeable future. If one of them were drafted to a different show, it would arguably go down as one of creatives’ most boneheaded moves in WWE history. For the fans’ sake, the company should keep all three of its “W… W… E… world tag team champions…” together — and the tag straps on them for a while longer.
3. Not Putting The Club on SmackDown
AJ Styles, Gallows and Anderson have indeed made an impact in WWE since moving over from Japan. Although Styles, Gallows and Anderson’s work against Roman Reigns and the Usos was quite impressive, it was the inception of The Club’s #BeatUpJohnCena campaign that really got them over. With Seth Rollins and Reigns presumably staying on Raw, Styles and his cohorts would be better suited running things on SmackDown. It’s likely that John Cena will be going to SmackDown too if reports are true, so it’d be a good opportunity for Cena and Styles to keep going at it.
Since making his long-awaited debut at the Royal Rumble, “The Phenomenal One” has continuously exceeded the WWE’s expectations — for both his face and heel work. Anderson and Gallows (remember Festus?) have served to further elevate his game along with the depth of the tag team division.
2. Keeping Samoa Joe in NXT
After nearly 10 years with TNA, Samoa Joe announced that he was parting ways with Dixie Carter’s promotion. Since coming to NXT, Joe hasn’t skipped a beat in terms of his in-ring work and crowd appeal. He debuted for Triple H’s brainchild on May 20, 2015 via saving Sami Zayn from a Kevin Owens beatdown. After a tag team title run with Finn Balor — when they won The Dusty Rhodes Classic — he turned on the demonic superstar to capture the NXT title that he still holds today. Although Joe has certainly upped the ante for his NXT competitors, not calling him up to the main roster, given his popularity, would be a wrestling travesty. Aside from Bray Wyatt and Owens, there aren’t many superstars that don’t fit Vince McMahon’s hoss-like mold that could get over like Joe.
1. Keeping All Former Shield Members On One Show
It has been two years since the faction breakup-heard-round-the-wrestling world. On June 2, 2014, Seth Rollins adhered to Triple H’s “plan B” when he turned on his fellow hounds of justice members and ultimately become WWE Champion. Fast forward to 2016, Dean Ambrose is now in the midst of his first WWE heavyweight title run, and Roman Reigns — currently serving out a wellness violation suspension — is a three-time WWE heavyweight champion. With Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose all successful upper card players, it wouldn’t be a good move to keep them all on Raw. “The Lunatic Fringe” would be a great fit on SmackDown while “The Architect” and “The Guy” would fare better if kept on the three-hour Raw. Leaving all three main eventers on one brand would not only limit their opportunities, but likely put a ceiling on the main event-ready midcarders ready to make the leap.
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