When I first heard rumors of another potential brand split in WWE between Raw and Smackdown, I didn’t take it too seriously. Sure, the WWE Universe roster is expanding as rapidly as any good universe should, but the Raw vs. Smackdown days weren’t exactly a huge success for the company.
The idea that it was an attempt to recreate a brand rivalry in the spirit of the Monday Night War was lost on fans. A manufactured competition between the two weekly shows just wasn’t real enough to capture the imagination of their audience. That’s why I was so surprised to hear that Smackdown will be going live on Tuesdays starting July 19th. Though they have yet to elaborate on details of a roster split or if they will be holding a draft like they did throughout the 2000s, what can we expect from a resurgence of the Raw vs. Smackdown era?
Brand Splitting Heirs
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On Monday Night Raw, Stephanie McMahon got all up in Teddy Long’s mug and broke the news to him that he would not be returning as the Smackdown general manager. As Teddy was GM of Smackdown for the better part of the late 2000s, it was good to see him make an appearance, but I think we can all agree that having Stephanie as the GM will give the show some much needed legitimacy. This is Smackdown we’re talking about, after all. It’s not exactly an easy sell. Smackdown has always been the B show; the ugly sister to the Raw brand (apologies to ugly sisters. You all have lovely personalities).
So, with Steph at the helm of Smackdown, this would leave Shane in charge of Raw, splitting up the McMahon children once again to compete with each other. Making the show air live will hopefully put the show on the same level as Raw, at least in how it’s produced. If anyone has watched Smackdown in the past few years, you’ll immediately noticed how heavily edited the crowd noise is. It’s pretty pathetic. Watch any Roman Reigns promo from Raw or Smackdown back to back from the past year and you’ll be alarmed at how eerily enthusiastic the Smackdown audience reaction is. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could even hear where the same “Good_Guy_Cheers_Track_4.mp3” file loops on each weekly episode.
Hopefully, Stephanie can capture the same magic with Shane that she had countering Eric Bischoff when he was Raw GM (or to a lesser extent, a Teddy Long/Vickie Guerrero dynamic). But Smackdown’s peak couldn’t be attributed to any on-screen General Manager; it was under the backstage creative mind of Paul Heyman. The initial brand split back in 2002 saw Heyman as head writer in charge of Smackdown, leading Smackdown to an unprecedented promised land of actually beating Raw in the ratings. This was in large part due to what was dubbed as the “Smackdown Six.”
Mr. Heyman thought that Smackdown would find success as long as he could utilize 6 specific superstars: Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, Edge, and Rey Mysterio. It just goes to show that a draft can actually be greatly significant if you know how to use your talent properly. Since Paul Heyman is still under contract, it might be wise to put him back in the Smackdown creative room.
NXT and Free Agents
But what would a new draft even consist of? Even though a draft is fun, if only for the reveal of which superstar will be picked next for dodgeball, the old way didn’t make a whole lot of practical sense. Every year, WWE would more or less shuffle the deck between Raw and Smackdown. Usually, a superstar would be selected to switch brands if they seemed to need some fresh feuds and had depleted all of the options on their brand. However, WWE never had anything resembling a real draft. All of those wrestlers were already under contract, so they didn’t have any kind of advertised farm system to pull from.
Even though WWE technically did have a developmental system prior to NXT with Ohio Valley Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling, this is the first time sports entertainment has had a legitimate training program where fans are already well acquainted and excited about new superstars. Much in the same way that sports fans would prefer to watch hungrier college athletes vying for a spot on the main show, NXT is arguably a more entertaining product than Raw or Smackdown.
Having seen the success of former NXT athletes like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Seth Rollins, to name just a few; the WWE draft can have actual prospects. NXT guys and gals would be legitimately excited to get the call up. Of course, they would have to limit how many superstars who would be able to be drafted at any given time. The original ten Draft picks per show might be excessive, as they wouldn’t want to completely harvest the NXT talent pool at the expense of their own show. Five picks apiece might be a bit more manageable.
Not only can they draft from NXT, but WWE hasn’t been shy to acquire free agents in the wrestling world as of late. Great established talent like A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Asuka, and Finn Balor have been very successful in their WWE/NXT runs thus far. A combination of NXT talent and free agents would make for a very exciting and authentic draft.
Could we see a modern Smackdown Six? Perhaps we’ll see a former member of the “Six” return to lead a new wave of talent. Drafting Kurt Angle as a free agent would make for a very appropriate kickoff to a new and improved Smackdown brand. Especially since he’s already worked with fellow TNA alum, Samoa joe, we already have some intriguing speculations as to who would be influential in redefining a proper WWE Draft.
Hopefully they can do the brand split right this time around and build some suspense akin to a true major sports draft. Just one suggestion: Don’t let the grand prize for coming out victorious in the eternal battle between Raw and Smackdown be “Bragging Rights.”