WWE are heading into one of it’s biggest programming shake ups ever. Their developmental brand, after 7 years of building an identity, will be going to it’s first major network. NXT will be headed to the USA Network this September, along with the move of SmackDown from USA to one of the premier sports channels in the USA, Fox. With all these changes about to hit WWE’s main roster, WWE is having a draft next month.
The superstar shakeup was a serviceable affair which did move wrestlers over and create possibilities of new storylines. However, it did start losing its effect after the moves started seeming a little plain. They didn’t have the same vibe of the old drafts at the end of the last decade. The best moment of the modern brand split was Finn Balor’s moving to Raw with the fourth pick. Apart from the moves of AJ Styles and Roman Reigns this year, the superstar shake-up doesn’t have a lot of credibility behind it. The wild card rule essentially killed its validity.
Now that you have three brands, a complete reshuffle of the roster would be a good idea. Even if you don’t include NXT, so as to not destroy the make up of the roster, Raw and SmackDown need to change as soon as possible. It seems unlikely that Fox and USA will be happy with talent just jumping brands stating the wild card rule. Crossovers between Raw and NXT could still happen (we’d prefer if they don’t), but SmackDown and Raw are soon going to be two different planets.
A completely new draft achieves a lot of things. Firstly, it will re-inject life into the product. While it has been steadily improving, there is a certain level of lethargy to the product. A lot of what we see feels forced and very fake. The only characters or segments that you can say have felt real are Kofi Kingston, Kevin Owens, Ali and Sami Zayn. Kingston’s story was easy to buy into and came to fruition as an accident, not as a carefully thought out 11-year plan. KO’s Stone Cold persona is interesting and reflect how the guy has always been, but even that is losing momentum because of the unnecessarily long feud with Shane McMahon. Ali is a lovable character that will be champ one day, but his story is yet to become anything big. The saddest is Sami Zayn, as his promos are some of the best in the company, but he doesn’t seem to be getting the attention that he deserves. While there are also characters like Randy Orton and The Fiend which are really hot right now, the roster surrounding them feels a little bland.
A complete re-draft between the two major brands, and a provision which sees 4 NXT superstars go to the other two brands and in return get 4 superstars from Raw and SmackDown would reinvigorate interest. Seeing Dolph Ziggler come into NXT or see someone like Keith Lee on the main roster. Maybe Baron Corbin can move to SmackDown and rehabilitate his character’s image. Maybe WWE fix their tag division with equal spreading of tag talent across the brands. Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman become on-screen figures for at least one more day and draft their respective rosters. The possibilities to actually just reset WWE programming are endless, and it something they should look into.
What is extremely exciting about a possible re-draft is that maybe it is the catalyst that WWE need to change their programming and be a more competitive company, especially now that AEW’s debut on network TV is just around the corner. It isn’t about just making NXT do better, they need to ensure positive health across all their shows and brands. If one show does well, the other two will automatically have more fans watching. This means that three shows need to consistently deliver good content for the viewers so as to not turn people away. Brand identity has merged in the WWE and they need to be cognizant of that fact and book their shows accordingly. When people watch Raw and see a plug for SmackDown or NXT, they will feel the need to also go watch the other shows.
One last final point is, maybe bring back cross-brand competition. The last Survivor Series PPV was an absolute disaster in terms of what brand warfare is, but the first one was actually well received. The champ v. champ stipulations and the big inter-brand tag matches were genuinely fun to watch. The wild-card stipulation has absolutely destroyed the credibility of a show that promotes inter-brand warfare, after that’s what we have been seeing for months. A re-draft may just help WWE sell the battle of the brands once again.