For all the hype, build-up, mock drafting and armchair quarterback analysis, the WWE Draft will ultimately be as significant and important as WWE wants it to be. After all, the last time the company attempted an ambitious Draft-driven brand extension, it was a colossal failure and was soon scrapped entirely. Even if there is some continued separation between the rosters of Raw and SmackDown Live, for whom the split was put in place, the permanence of Tuesday night’s selections can be shattered on a whim if WWE says so. Sure, Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan may be the new on-screen GM’s for each respective brand, but everyone knows the real power lies behind the scenes in the hands of Vince McMahon, HHH and WWE Creative.
Despite questions regarding the long-term permanence of the picks made on Tuesday, change came on the first live Smackdown as both rosters were established moving forward. Even though the McMahon family still looms over the proceedings and WWE seems determined to fuel a brand war that no fan can be bothered to care about, there is reason to be excited with fresh general managers, the intriguing inclusion of NXT talent and some fascinating roster dynamics left now that the dust has settled. More change is surely coming, with rumors of former stars returning to beef up each brand. For now, though, the WWE landscape seems to offer new opportunities for some and raw – no pun intended – deals for others.
Won’t Benefit: Bo Dallas
Even the most ardent Bo-liever might be hard-pressed to carry any remaining faith that WWE will ever do anything meaningful with the former NXT champion – and rightly so. At the height of Bo Dallas’ WWE career, he was often being left laying on the mat after being pummelled by a babyface wrestler, but at least he was being given mic time. More recently, he has gotten only intermittent TV time in throwaway segments as part of the jumped-the-shark Social Outcasts alongside the equally forgotten Heath Slater and Curtis Axel and the now-released Adam Rose. The Draft presented some shred of hope that The Outcasts stable could be scrapped and its members could go their separate ways, but Dallas and Axel wound up together on Raw. Slater wasn’t even taken with one of the 59 picks made, but one could easily envision the three winding up on Superstars or Main Event again with no WWE fans caring enough to notice.
Will Benefit: Kane
At this point, there isn’t much that WWE could do with Kane to freshen him up and make him a compelling on-screen character. That doesn’t mean they won’t try, as evidenced by the fact that he was booked to chokeslam both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn on Tuesday night. Turns out that Kane will be sticking around, having been drafted with SmackDown’s 14th pick. While that may not spark many hotly anticipated feuds for The Big Red Machine, it could make for some entertaining backstage segments alongside his former Team Hell No partner, Daniel Bryan. At this stage of the game, with retirement looming, joining the SmackDown roster could serve as a transition of sorts for Kane. No, that probably doesn’t mean that any more main event runs are forthcoming, but capturing the unique chemistry he had with Bryan could inject some comedic energy into the blue brand with Enzo and Cass, The Golden Truth and Darren Young and Bob Backlund all Raw-bound.
Won’t Benefit: Carmella
The likelihood of main roster stardom for Carmella has never been particularly high. She was often greeted with tepid reactions from the typically easy to please NXT audience, even when paired with the red hot tandem of Enzo and Cass. Since the tag team graduated to the main roster after WrestleMania, Carmella has enjoyed a slow, gradual push as a singles competitor in NXT, earning some fans along the way who appreciated her improved in-ring work. WWE didn’t exactly do her any favors in setting the stage for her first main roster foray, though. As SmackDown’s last pick, she was marooned on an island that not only fails to feature the WWE Women’s Championship, but also doesn’t include her former running buddies. WWE fans might one day warm to Carmella in the same way they did with her NXT counterparts, but she will need to earn the faith of SmackDown writers to take the first step in earning their affection.
Will Benefit: Becky Lynch
It’s fair to wonder why I would highlight one SmackEown-bound woman as being a poor fit on the title-less blue brand while praising the fit of another women’s wrestler drafted to the same brand. But without Charlotte and Sasha Banks around, SmackDown now unmistakably becomes Becky Lynch’s brand. Once her feud with fellow SmackDown draftee Natalya concludes, she will have possible clashes with Naomi and Alexa Bliss – more on her to come – down the road. It’s not a deep enough roster of women’s talent to warrant a separate title, but Lynch will be afforded plenty of TV time to cement herself as an upper tier force in the division. And if WWE ultimately rules that titleholders can jump from brand to brand, the fiery redhead suddenly becomes SmackDown’s top contender. That isn’t a bad position to be in for a woman who previously felt like a third wheel confined to the background with Charlotte and Sasha Banks generating bigger reactions.
Won’t Benefit: Braun Strowman
Remember when Braun Strowman was supposedly being positioned for a breakout singles push that would have reportedly included a WrestleMania match against one of either Brock Lesnar or The Undertaker? Backstage rumors had McMahon and co. souring on the still-raw behemoth over time, particularly after an underwhelming match with Dean Ambrose, but any fall he may have taken down the WWE ladder has been somewhat masked by his continued role as a Wyatt Family member. Well, those days now appear to be over. Strowman was drafted to Raw while both Bray Wyatt and Erick Rowan were sent to SmackDown. It’s entirely possible that Strowman could find an intriguing character hook to go along with his massive frame and carve his own path towards the main event scene. More likely, however, is that he fails to gain any traction on his own. It’s a path that has already been forged by Rowan, who was given a babyface push before quietly being shuffled back into the Wyatt fold.
Will Benefit: Baron Corbin
It’s hard to get an accurate read on just how firmly WWE currently stands behind Baron Corbin. On one hand, he hasn’t been given much to sink his teeth into since reigning as the surprise winner of WrestleMania’s Andre the Giant Battle Royal, save for a long feud with Dolph Ziggler. On the other hand, the company has maintained his mystique by preventing him from taking any pinfall losses and featuring him in numerous vignettes to cement his ‘Lone Wolf’ persona. On SmackDown, as one of the brand’s top 10 picks, Corbin has a real chance to quickly move up the heel depth chart. A.J. Styles currently looms as the top heel on the Tuesday night show, with Wyatt serving as an interchangeable main event part. But Corbin isn’t far behind, currently sitting in a mid-card position alongside Alberto Del Rio and The Miz with the high-end potential to move up higher.
Won’t Benefit: American Alpha
When NXT fans fantasy booked the inevitable main roster arrival of the wildly popular American Alpha tag team of Chad Gable and Jason Jordan, this probably wasn’t what they had in mind. Though the duo was taken in the fifth round, well before some established main roster tag teams, WWE didn’t do them any favors by placing them on a SmackDown brand devoid of much tag depth. Maybe the plan is to bring them along slowly until they join the deeper tag scene on the Raw brand, but fans who already know what they have to offer won’t likely find much excitement in watching them do battle with the likes of The Usos, The Ascension, Breezango and The Vaudevillains. On NXT, Gable and Jordan have thrived on lengthy and compelling technical matches that have breathed live into the tag team division, but it isn’t easy to see where those matches will come from on the blue brand.
Will Benefit: Enzo and Cass
Now, the tag team scene on Raw is a very different story. There, you have the titleholders in The New Day, the imposing Club tandem of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, the entertaining Golden Truth and Enzo Amore and Big Cass. In fact, Enzo and Cass were the second team taken off the board on Tuesday, a pretty clear statement on WWE Creative’s lofty opinion of them. On top of joining a stacked tag team division and being positioned on the same brand as the tag team titles, Raw offers a number of options once they are inevitably sent off on their own singles careers. Big Cass seems ideally positioned for a main event singles push on the flagship brand down the line, while Enzo could lend some color and personality to the Cruiserweight division being launched on Raw. WWE insiders have long suggested that the powers that be are high on Enzo and Cass, and Tuesday’s Draft seemed to confirm as much.
Won’t Benefit: Dana Brooke
It wasn’t that long ago that Dana Brooke was getting across her arrogant heel persona on NXT with some in-ring muscle flexing, cocky promos and, as a unique final touch, dishing out patronizing head pats to backstage interviewers. Much of that heel charisma has been left behind since her main draw debut, largely based on the way she’s been booked. As assistant to women’s champion Charlotte, Brooke has certainly gotten her share of screen time and has even gotten involved in high stakes programs with the likes of Sasha Banks and Ric Flair. However, she has also been firmly established as a second fiddle talent. That didn’t change on Draft night, with Brooke snapped up by Raw with their second-last pick to reunite with Charlotte and continue getting fed to her rivals to protect the champion. Had she been drafted to SmackDown, she would have automatically become one of the top three women on the roster.
Will Benefit: Alexa Bliss
So who is that third woman on the SmackDown roster? Neither Bayley nor Asuka was drafted, meaning that WWE has other plans for them down the road. That surprisingly leaves Alexa Bliss as a potential candidate for the spot. Yes, she is a relative unknown to WWE fans and hasn’t even really entrenched herself as a main event talent in NXT. But she has proven herself as a skilled wrestler and stole the spotlight away from Wesley Blake and Buddy Murphy as a valet for the former tandem. She’s a fresh face on the scene that oozes personality and could generate crowd responses in a way that the likes of Naomi and even Natalya may not. Bliss has the potential to thrive on her own as a singles wrestler or could even do well on the arm of a male superstar to introduce her to WWE audiences. Either way, Bliss is uniquely positioned for a surprise breakout.
Won’t Benefit: Kalisto
Alongside the introduction of Mick Foley as the new Raw general manager on Monday night, Raw “Commissioner” Stephanie McMahon announced that the brand would serve as exclusive host of the Cruiserweight division, which has been relaunched and reinvigorated thanks to the WWE Network’s Cruiserweight Classic. And who better to anchor the division than the electrifying Kalisto, who has already been the highlight of the now-split Lucha Dragons tag team and even held the US title? However, what seemed like a no-brainer of a pairing did not transpire on Tuesday. Instead, Kalisto was moved to SmackDown while former tag partner Sin Cara stayed with the home of the Cruiserweight division. Perhaps this means there are bigger plans awaiting Kalisto, and sure enough, Monday’s Raw hinted at a forthcoming feud between he and fellow Smackdown draftee Baron Corbin. It says here, however, that it won’t be long before fans are pining for clashes between the Mexican high flyer and some of the world’s best Cruiserweight talents.
Will Benefit: Neville
Cruiserweight division fans may not be treated to seeing Kalisto’s Salida Del Sol finisher anytime soon, but they can expect to witness Neville’s Red Arrow in the near future. Neville’s return from injury is forthcoming and it will come on the Raw brand, making him an immediate candidate to anchor the cruiserweights. WWE clearly remains high on The Man That Gravity Forgot, as Raw took him to open the sixth round, ahead of legacy stars like Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus and Kane. So instead of serving as fodder for the likes of Seth Rollins and Sheamus as he was doing prior to fracturing his ankle back in March, Neville looks as though he will have a meaningful role as a key member of the new division. And when McMahon inevitably tires of the cruiserweights and pulls the plug on the division, Neville should be able to return to his previous respectable mid-card standing with the company.
Won’t Benefit: Sami Zayn
Ahead of his grudge match against Kevin Owens at next Sunday’s WWE Battlegound pay-per-view, Sami Zayn has promoted the match between bitter rivals as a necessary culmination so that he can move on with his career. These promo statements carry plenty of truth in real life too, with Zayn still looking to make a name for himself in WWE beyond the shadow of a history with Owens that dates back to their indie days. The messaging seemed to point to a split of the two during Tuesday’s Draft, but that split never came. Both men will be properties of Raw, with Zayn taken to open the third round and Owens left waiting to hear his name until deep in the fourth round, a snub briefly referenced when he yelled at both GMs for having not selected him yet. But while Owens has already made in-roads towards the main event scene, Zayn will likely be stuck in the mid-card, seen as a capable in-ring worker who can stretch a segment to help move along the three-hour Raw.
Will Benefit: Cesaro
After the Draft ended on Tuesday and all 59 picks were made, Renee Young interviewed Cesaro about being drafted to Raw during some post-Draft coverage on the WWE Network. Surprisingly, The Swiss Superman expressed frustration about how he was being used and how SmackDown was more of a wrestling show in a manner that certainly seemed to veer into shoot territory. Maybe this is the start of a heel turn or maybe Cesaro was just having a bad day. Whether the interview was real or kayfabe, either the man or the character was flat out wrong. Despite not being selected until the sixth round, Cesaro arrives on a roster rife with opportunity, particularly if he remains on the babyface side of the ledger. Raw is painfully short on reliable crowd favorites, with a wildly unpopular Roman Reigns and Finn Balor, who has yet to make his main roster debut, standing as the top two babyfaces. If Cesaro is going to reach the main event in WWE, this might be his big chance.
Won’t Benefit: Roman Reigns
During a huge week for WWE as SmackDown went live and the brand split was initiated, the Stamford-based corporation still had to deal with the headaches of Brock Lesnar’s positive drug tests and a concussion lawsuit against WWE filed by more than 50 former superstars. Then there was the looming awkwardness of Roman Reigns’ 30-day suspension for violating the company’s Wellness Policy. Reigns did not appear at SmackDown Live on account of his suspension, but his name was booed upon being drafted to Raw. There aren’t many appealing options for Reigns’ return to WWE TV after ending his suspension at WWE Battleground, but carrying the pressure of being the top babyface on Raw up against a ‘cool’ heel in Seth Rollins seems like a recipe for disaster. It will be interesting to see WWE’s next move, whether they stubbornly continue pushing him as a face or let him go heel while recognizing his unwinnable situation.
Will Benefit: Finn Balor / AJ Styles (tie)
Though they have had surprisingly little interaction in any wrestling promotion, former Bullet Club leaders Finn Balor and AJ Styles will forever be connected, a link that will surely play out on WWE TV in the future. For now, though, Balor and Styles have been shuffled off to Raw and SmackDown, respectively, with both being positioned for golden opportunities. Balor could pick up where Styles left off, taking the reins of The Club while sharing a roster with the tag team of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. More importantly, however, is how both appear to be slotted smack dab in the middle of the main event scene of their respective brands. Balor has never appeared on Raw or SmackDown, yet all that stands in his way from being the face of Raw is the unlikable Roman Reigns. On SmackDown, Styles will be without his Club running buddies, but is firmly entrenched as top heel – at least until Bray Wyatt’s main even push is green-lit – and will have a ready-made feud with WWE champion Dean Ambrose set to go once his feud with John Cena ends.
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