The Fallout from the 2016 WWE Draft
By Adrian Dy
The tenth WWE Draft came and went Wednesday morning (PH time), splitting the WWE universe into two once more.
The event happened on the first episode of a newly rescheduled SmackDown, which jumped from Thursdays in the US to Tuesdays. In addition, the show loses its old pre-taped format, becoming live like Raw.
Throughout the episode, Raw commissioner Stephanie McMahon and Raw general manager Mick Foley, and SmackDown commissioner Shane McMahon and SmackDown general manager Daniel Bryan went back and forth, handpicking the wrestlers to form their new rosters. The draft ultimately wrapped up on the WWE Network, with a total of 59 picks being made (the odd number due to the fact that Raw got to make three picks for every two selections by SmackDown, because Raw runs for three hours to SmackDown’s two).
So, who went where, and what else happened? Here’s the rundown:
8. Seth Rollins was the first overall pick, taken by Raw
7. WWE Champion Dean Ambrose was the second overall pick, taken by SmackDown
Raw went with a franchise player, while SmackDown went with the reigning champion.
Former Shield stablemates Rollins and Ambrose were selected with the top two picks, with Rollins getting the nod ahead of the guy currently holding the belt.
You can go in all sorts of directions analyzing those two choices. Does this mean that WWE believes Rollins projects to be a bigger star than Ambrose? Is this WWE trying to throw SmackDown a bone by having them draft the champ? Could this mean that Rollins will be winning the title at the upcoming Battleground PPV?
The two did square off again with the title on the line to close out the show. Unlike on the previous night’s episode of Raw, which ended in controversial fashion with Rollins claiming the title before the show ended, only for the decision to be changed to a draw on the WWE Network, thus allowing Ambrose to retain, “The Lunatic Fringe” won this one clean with Dirty Deeds. So for now, the champ, and the face of the company, resides in SmackDown.
6. Raw claims the WWE Women’s Champion, the WWE Tag Team Champions, and the WWE United States Champion
5. SmackDown claims the WWE Intercontinental Champion
Presumably making up for the lack of the WWE Championship, Raw scooped up a trio of titlists, in the form of Women’s Champion Charlotte (#3 overall), Tag Team Champions The New Day (#10 overall, with tag teams being selectable as single picks), and the US Champion Rusev, along with his valet Lana (#16 overall, with valets allowed to accompany their partners).
Given how on the previous episode of Raw, Stephanie McMahon also announced that Raw would be the exclusive home of the Cruiserweight Championship, following the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, set to end in September, Team SmackDown made sure to scoop up the last available title, the Intercontinental Champion The Miz, along with Maryse (#17 overall).
Sure, we now know where the belts currently are, but how does one go about challenging for them? In the past, WWE had two main championship belts, the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship, giving each show something to fight over. The Cruiserweight, Intercontinental, and US Championships were also show-exclusive, while others like the then-Diva’s belt and the Tag Team straps got to float between brands.
Further muddying the waters is the fact that the three championship matches on Battleground feature Superstars from both brands, so further title moves could happen.
Obviously, this is an on-going situation, and will likely be cleared up on the shows next week.
4. Seven wrestlers, one tag team and five singles wrestlers, got called up from NXT
There was a ton of hype over the fact that a total of six selections would be made from NXT, the developmental brand of WWE. Though it’s nominally the place where up-and-comers are sent to hone their craft, plenty of fans hold NXT in higher esteem than Raw/SmackDown, because of a combination of toned-down gimmicks, a greater emphasis on wrestling, and the fact that WWE has been seeding big-name talent from other promotions to help train with the neophytes.
As such, there was plenty of buzz about who would finally make it onto the main shows. Would Finn Balor get the call? How about fan favorite Bayley, to complete the Four Horsewomen faction? King of Strong Style Shinsuke Nakamura? Former TNA stars Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, and/or Samoa Joe?
Ultimately, Raw went with Balor all the way up at #5 (BEFORE JOHN FREAKING CENA WOOHOO!!!), and then added Nia Jax at #25. SmackDown got the lion’s share, pulling in former NXT Tag Team Champions American Alpha at #22, Alexa Bliss at #47, Mojo Rawley at #57, and Carmella at #59.
While some might be disappointed at some of the names being added to the main rosters (did anyone clamor for Mojo Rawley?), WWE likely had to leave some big names from the current crop in NXT to maintain fan interest. You probably figure we’ll be getting Samoa Joe versus Nakamura for the NXT Title, and a rematch between Bayley and Asuka for the Women’s belt, before they get promoted.
3. No themed rosters.
Leading up to the Draft, fans went nuts with mock drafts all over the internet. In the style of professional sports leagues, much time was killed by playing fantasy GMs crafting their dream Raw/SmackDown rosters.
One trend that emerged from all of these mocks was the concept of “theming” the two shows’ rosters. The argument? One show, usually Raw, should be the home for the younger wrestlers, Generation Next, so to speak, the place for the majority of the NXT alumni.
Combined with the Cruiserweight division, Raw would become the high-flying, energetic brand. And because these guys have taken less bumps, their matches could be longer, fitting for a show that needs three hours each week to fill.
On the other hand, SmackDown could be the place for the aging veterans and any returning big names. With one less hour of running time, the older guard wouldn’t have to put on too much wear and tear, and could instead save themselves for PPV spectacles.
That would have been a fine idea, but the actual execution of the brand split came off like all the other ones–“I get this guy, you get that guy,” repeat until finished.
That’s not to say WWE Creative hasn’t plotted out storylines involving the selections. It’s just that there isn’t a whole lot thematically differentiating Raw and SmackDown. And if the goal is to make SmackDown stand on its own two feet more, it’s hard to say that they accomplished that, based solely on their picks.
2. No surprise returns
Here’s a breakdown of the rosters:
Raw – 40 wrestlers (7 female, 13 belonging to a tag team or faction)
SmackDown – 31 wrestlers (6 female, 10 belonging to a tag team)
That’s…not a whole lot, considering where people fall on the card, potential injuries, and the whole question mark regarding the belts. And as such, prior to the Draft, many figured that WWE would spice things up by bringing back some old names like Kurt Angle, Goldberg or Carlito.
Well, the Draft came and went, and WWE went strictly by their current roster. But that doesn’t mean we can discount the possibility of a few returns completely.
If the WWE really wants to emphasize certain aspects of the “sports” part of “sports entertainment,” I could see them implementing returning names by dubbing them as “free agent acquisitions.” It’s not like this is a completely new angle either. NXT has been throwing that term around whenever it lands someone with an established rep, and the WWE proper did it with AJ Styles and The Club.
Now all the WWE needs is an Adrian Wojnarowski-esque figure to kayfabe break news of signings, and we’ll be all set.
1. What about undrafted guys?
The WWE Network coverage of the Draft ended with Heath Slater left in the room, with the lights turned off, the only guy not taken, hardeeharhar.
But in reality, there are two big name wrestlers who weren’t mentioned over the course of the Draft: Triple H, and The Undertaker.
Now, both of those guys are far from regular competitors anymore, so their omission could possibly feed into the above “free agency gimmick” (“We just signed The Undertaker to a special bout!”), or the WWE can throw their hands up and say “to heck with it,” and randomly insert them into big PPVs like SummerSlam or Wrestlemania.
Surprisingly, one guy who didn’t get this treatment was Brock Lesner, who in the past, was far from a regular wrestler himself. Ah well, maybe his on-going clashes with USADA have him looking for a more regular gig.
You can view the complete results of the 2016 WWE Draft here.
What would have been your own draft picks? Tell us below!