One of the best times of year in the WWE is not only the lead up to WrestleMania, but the weeks following the biggest event in sports entertainment. The Raw After Mania (as it’s come to be known) is now an event in and of itself. Now an official part of the WrestleMania weekend experience, this episode of Raw is the biggest concentration of wrestling geeks on television. And now, since Smackdown Live is on Tuesdays, even it is considered part of this marathon of WWE content. With surprises galore, and pretty much squeezing in anything that didn’t make the cut at WrestleMania, this is the equivalent of buying a few pounds of discount Easter candy the day after.
Aside from the Smackdown after Mania, we also have a new addition to the events following the Showcase of the Immortals. Vince McMahon appeared on Raw to announce the “Superstar Shake-up,” which, presumably, will be in lieu of another Draft. The idea being that Superstars will switch from Raw to Smackdown to create new matchups and feuds, which makes sense…since you can’t redraft those who have already been drafted, I suppose. But the term “Shake-up” is ambiguous, though it appears to be mostly a form of trade between shows. Rather than it being some kind of random shuffling of the roster or lottery, the General Managers from Raw and Smackdown will be wheelin’ and dealin’ with the lives and schedules of their performers. No matter how fake you might think wrestling is, this does greatly affect the lives of some wrestlers, potentially altering their careers or breaking up relationships (as was the case with Big Cass and Carmella being on different shows).
In previous brand split years with the old WWE Draft every year, trades were made behind closed doors and with little explanation. Now that we live in an age when WWE is discussed on ESPN and we have our WWE Network for 24 hour over-analysis, we might be able to see some General Manager negotiations. It could be fun to see WHY a Superstar could be utilized on a given show, and some real logic behind some of these trades.
Some of the returns and debuts following WrestleMania on either show don’t indicate that those Superstars are safe from the trade. There is guarantee that Finn Balor, The Hardys, and The Revival will stay on Raw or that Shinsuke Nakamura and Tye Dillinger will stay on Smackdown. Either way, these were some great surprises, as anticipated as they were. We all knew that Finn Balor was healthy and Nakamura was due. The Revival was the only tag team that made sense to call up, and Tye Dillinger had already proven he was an asset by his Royal Rumble pop.
So far, no women have been called up from NXT, considering Asuka retained her title at NXT TakeOver: Orlando. But since she’s long overdue for a debut, we could see he lose her NXT Women’s Championship very quickly, or since she can’t be beaten, this could be the first time that title is vacated. Either way, we’re due at least one surprise on tomorrow’s Shake-up, and it could be Asuka.
Easily one of the most memorable WrestleMania moments this year was the return of The Hardys. While Jeff had drug issues for years and was too much of a liability in WWE, the brothers made a new name for themselves in TNA. Over the past few years, they were the highlight of a dying company, creating original content that was bizarre and hilarious. The “Broken” Matt Hardy gimmick was a cult phenomenon and the “so bad it’s good” idea has never been as well executed as it was with the former Team Extreme. Alongside Jeff’s new “Brother Nero” character, the WWE Universe took notice and The Hardys’ stock skyrocketed, making them a top commodity for WWE. Seemingly a more mature and more creative brother duo, they are back home, winning the Tag Team Championships upon their return. Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether or not Matt will be able to take the “Broken” gimmick with them, but time will tell.
Probably the biggest speculation surrounding the Shake-up is if they will reunite The Club. Finn Balor returned entered back into a world where fellow and former Bullet Club leader, AJ Styles, is at the top of the totem pole. If they were to put Balor, Styles, Anderson, and Gallows all on the same show, we could see them come together, or clash…or both. With Nakamura in the mix, there is great potential for rehashing some New Japan rivalries. No one can put on a show like AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, and it would be incredible to see something like this culminate at SummerSlam. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We will see what happens tomorrow night, and Nakamura will get over like he always does, with undeniable charisma.
The King of Strong Style is impossibly appealing. His effortless personality is, quite literally, beyond words. On Smackdown Live, while The Miz is cementing himself as one of the great heels of all time, he was interrupted by the plucks of a violin string that is Nakamura’s entrancing entrance. And that was all it took. Nakamura had arrived. Not only is his popularity unparalleled, but it’s unprecedented. Never before has a Japanese Superstar had such command over a WWE audience. This leads one to think that Shinsuke has what it takes to be the first Japanese Superstar to be a top face of the company. And the fact that he does thing with as loose of a grasp on the English language as he has is only a testament to his ability. With this roster, it’s bound to be an exciting year in new stories and new feuds, so let’s see how things shake up on Monday’s Raw.
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston. He hosts the comedy podcast, “So Now I’m the Asshole” on Fans.FM and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke