“On a personal note, from all of us just to you - Since you want to shoot, Cowboy: The only reason you were WWE Champion for a year is because Triple H didn’t want to work Tuesdays!”
(Paul Heyman to John Bradshaw Layfield, ECW One Night Stand, 12th June 2005)
Evening The Odds:
It has been six years since WWE made the decision to separate its roster in two with the ‘Brand Extension’. Just over a year after the collapse of ECW (February, 2001) and buying out top competitor WCW (March, 2001), the promotion was filled with talent new and old. Since Raw and SmackDown! tended to feature the same wrestlers, the idea was that by allocating half the roster to each show it would allow more wrestlers more time to be on television and thus enable the creation of new stars.
How does one decide, who goes where? Why with an NFL-style Draft of course! From the fans’ point of view the main problem with these kind of things is that only a handful of ‘name’ stars change brands each time, so they spend all their time getting excited over the upcoming ‘Draft Special’ speculating where Triple H and John Cena will end up, only to be let down by hearing about the move of a Mark Jindrak or Danny Basham. For the workers, the criticism is that, with the exception of one or two bona-fide main eventers, the ‘Draft Picks’ are kept secret even from those within the company. That’s right, apparently no one knows where they are going to end up until the night! As you will have gathered from my previous articles I like this unpredictable side of wrestling and preferred it when not everything was scripted to the letter by a comedy writer (but this is taking things to the other extreme and I would imagine this is quite a drag if for example you normally work Mondays and Wednesdays and you suddenly find out you are now working Tuesdays and Thursdays, then it must be stressful to only find that out via watching Raw backstage on a monitor. “What does it matter, it’s all fake anyway” the anti-wrestling critics say when you tell them about the Draft. Anyone who uses that line should have their work-shifts changed on live television and see how they react. The first ‘Draft Special’ was held on 25th March, 2002 with Vince McMahon and Ric Flair picking the wrestlers for Raw and SmackDown! respectively. The first ten Drafts for each brand were televised live on Raw. For the record, the results were as follows:
1.) The Rock
2.) Kurt Angle
3.) Chris Benoit
4.) ‘Hollywood’ Hulk Hogan
5.) Billy and Chuck
8.) D-Von Dudley
9.) Mark Henry
1.) The Undertaker
2.) The n.W.o (Kevin Nash, Scott Hall & X-Pac)
4.) Rob Van Dam
5.) Booker T.
6.) The Big Show
7.) Bubba Ray Dudley
8.) Brock Lesnar
9.) William Regal
As it turned out, the Draft itself was not definitive in terms of where wrestlers ended up. It wasn’t a smooth process: it took several months of ironing out the differences (including the creation of a separate World Title for Raw) and some big names switching brands (Triple H to Raw, The Undertaker to SmackDown!) to get the balance right, but once they did they put together the respective rosters that for the most part would remain intact for each brand for the next two years. Don’t get me wrong, the WWE was far from perfect at the time but one thing they did get right was the idea of two pretty equal brands with their own identities. Raw was nicknamed ‘The Triple H Show’ due to twenty minute monologues which seemed to open every other episode. It tended to feature more talk, shorter matches, more gimmicks (tables, ladders, cages, etc.), blood and shocking angles reminiscent of the ‘Attitude Era’. SmackDown! was where the action was with longer matches featuring the companies top in-ring competitors and less over the top soap opera storylines (which isn’t to say they didn’t happen, see Al Wilson). This was most notable during the period SD! was booked by Paul Heyman (2002 to early 2003) where the emphasis was on building up the still-green Brock Lesnar as a credible WWE Champion and giving the then-new WWE Tag Team Titles some credibility by having the much revered ‘The SmackDown! Six’ fight over them. After Heyman was sent home, internet critics were quick to blast the decision to turn the ‘Blue Brand’ into a clone of Raw but even without Heyman, the actual rosters were still evenly balanced.
From late 2002 to early 2004, both brands had a dozen or so credible, over, merchandise-selling acts from the main event and upper-mid-card brackets. On Raw Triple H was complimented by Shawn Michaels, Kane, Rob Van Dam, Booker T., Chris Jericho, Christian, Trish Stratus, Ric Flair, Jeff Hardy, The Dudleys, and later Bill Goldberg. At the same time SmackDown! was based around the likes of Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, The Big Show, Matt Hardy, John Cena and the so-called ‘SmackDown! Six’ of Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Edge, and Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, as well as Hulk Hogan (whenever he was around). The two rosters would work different television tapings and house shows and the only time you would see stars from both brands together would be at the monthly pay-per-view events. In 2003 they took things a step-further by making all pay-per-views ‘Brand Exclusive’, with the exception of ‘The Big Four’ (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series) this arrangement lasting until No Way Out 2007 since then all PPV events have all been ‘tri-branded’ (i.e. featured a mixture of stars from all three brands). By that time things had been further complicated by the addition of the ‘Third Brand’ in ECW. McMahon’s decision to revive ECW in 2006 and turn it into a WWE product (covered a hundred times before), its relevance here is that instead of promoting two separate rosters with their own versions of the ‘World’ Title we now had three.
By this point the treatment of the respective rosters was anything but even. Raw was positioned as the top dog, SmackDown! as the ‘B Show’, and ECW as the bottom rung of the ladder. If I were to pin-point one night that highlight’s this decline in equality, the second ‘Draft Special’ held on the 22nd March 2004 Raw, a full two years after the original, would be a good place to start. Brock Lesnar’s decision to quit his multi-million dollar contract for a chance in the NFL came just months after Royal Rumble winner Chris Benoit had decided to use his World Title opportunity by jumping to Raw to challenge Triple H. At the time SmackDown! was further weakened by injuries to top stars Kurt Angle and The Big Show who would both be sidelined for months. With no obvious challenger for WWE Champion the late Eddie Guerrero, the aim of this show was supposedly to even the brands. Instead SmackDown! emerged even weaker than they went in. Since then things have gone much the same and as the years have gone on more and more Raw seemed to be the priority. At this point, I should point out that for the most part I have actually preferred the SmackDown! product over the last few years: guys like Matt Hardy, The Undertaker, Rey Mysterio and Finlay have been amongst my favourites to watch, whilst the commentary from JBL and, more recently, Mick Foley has seemed like a breath of fresh air compared to Raw’s long-standing combination of JR and The King. However there is no denying which brand was marketed as being the company’s ‘Flagship Show’ and that was Raw. Heading into pay-per-views it was normally the Raw main event that was given the most coverage in terms of build-up. It was constantly rumoured that those inside WWE, right up to Vince McMahon himself, saw it as the ‘A-Show’ and whenever anything major was scheduled to happen (like the ‘Draft Specials’) it was Raw and not SmackDown! on which they were held. Wrestling conspiracy theorists would claim Raw’s positioning as ‘King of the Mountain’ was due to the presence of McMahon’s son-in-law and Head Booker Stephanie McMahon’s husband Triple H making the show high-priority. Personally, I think it goes much deeper than that: starting in 1993 Raw is the older, more established show and thus has more history behind it than SmackDown! which was only added in 1999 at the height of the boom period. Unlike SmackDown! (which is taped on a Tuesday night and broadcast on Friday), the show is broadcast live every week and its position on Monday means that it is always the first show directly after a pay-per-view (which almost always take place on a Sunday). Most importantly, Raw is also the show that went head-to-head with arch-rival WCW’s Nitro every week in ‘The Monday Night War’ - A war it eventually won. As a result moves to the other two brands have mostly been seen as a demotion. June 23rd, 2008 was the night things changed…
Where They Went:
Yes, last Monday’s edition of Raw was the ‘2008 Draft Special’ and by the end of the night all three brands were looking very different already. On Wednesday 25th June, they held a ‘Supplemental Draft’ in which a further seventeen wrestlers made the switch. In total twenty eight SuperstarsTM, including announcers, changed brands. Since the creation of the ‘Brand Extension’ there have been two main criticisms of the Drafts, one from the fans and one from the workers. I’m working from the list provided here. Although, I should note that ECW actually lost seven stars in the Draft, since that list is missing Kofi Kingston. Regardless, here’s a look who will be working where in the future and what I think their chances of making it are in their new surroundings.
Talent Joining Raw (11)
1.) Rey Mysterio: Since 2002 there have been very few members of the roster who have remained exclusive to one brand: Mysterio is one such wrestler. Debuting on SmackDown! shortly after the initial ‘Brand Extension’, Mysterio stayed there ever since winning Cruiserweight, Tag Team and World Championship gold. As a result, there has been speculation for years on how he would do Raw. They set the tone for the rest of this year’s ‘Draft Special’ Raw when he was the first pick of 2008. According to The Wrestling Observer, the injured Mysterio busy doing promotional work in Mexico doing for the company when he was asked to fly in for Raw and was not directly told about the move he was about to make. So far the reaction to this move has been decidedly mixed. When the move was first announced on Raw I was excited by the prospect of Mysterio in new matches against not only Hunter but also Umaga and Jeff Hardy. Three hours later, by the end of the show they had removed the possibility of all three. Then there are the demographics: one of the reasons Mysterio was kept in a strong position on SmackDown! was that it is the brand with the stronger Hispanic audience and presumably WWE are hoping that audience will follow the masked man over to Raw, but it is a gamble. Some have even argued that he’s “too small” to make it on Monday Nights… But then again the same arguments were given on his debut in WWE and his presence in U.S. wrestling in general and he’s always done okay for himself. Bearing in mind he hasn’t made his comeback yet, I’d say Mysterio would be a perfect fit for building up the Intercontinental Championship ‘Division’ and feuds with old rivals Chris Jericho (who he hasn’t had a singles match with since their days in WCW’s Cruiserweight Division), William Regal, Randy Orton and JBL would seem a good possibility. Beyond that it will be interesting to see how he ‘fits in’ on Raw since he is one of the few who is so strongly associated with one particular ‘brand’ of World Wrestling Entertainment. If nothing else, it’s something new.
2.) CM Punk: I think everyone was expecting Punk to move somewhere, but I was hoping he would go to SmackDown! as he seemed to be building up a nice rivalry with Edge as of late. It is an interesting one in that as the winner of WrestleMania XXIV’s ‘Money In The Bank’ Ladder Match Punk is in the position where he could cash in his briefcase for a shot at any World Championship he chooses. Previous ‘Money In The Bank’ winners Edge and Rob Van Dam went on to win gold so you would assume that Punk is in line for a push and that whichever World Title ends up on Raw, may be the one he goes for. On the other hand since winning the match at WrestleMania he seems to have taken a step backwards and been booked on a losing streak. Which raises the question: could Punk become the first man to win MITB and then fail in his eventual title shot? Either way, if they do plan on making him champion anytime soon then they have to focus on slowly building him up because right now it’s very difficult to imagine him winning the WWE Championship from a John Cena or a Batista. To be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if they put him on Raw to give him greater exposure only for him to choose the ECW Title and return to that brand as a bigger name when it comes time to ‘cash in’ the briefcase. For the time being, re-matches with King Of The Ring opponents Regal and Jericho, new feuds with Orton and JBL, and a possible ‘Dream Match’ with Mysterio (whom he previously wrestled on the independent circuit) all have potential. One of the few true ‘Dream Matches’ left without adding someone new to the payroll is Mysterio against Shawn Michaels. The one and only previous Mysterio/Michaels match took place during the Tribute Show, the night Eddie Guerrero passed away and that match gave us a taste of what could be a pay-per-view match at a WrestleMania or SummerSlam.
3.) Michael Cole: Like Rey Mysterio, Cole is a name associated with SmackDown!. Having “called every episode except for two” as he put it on Monday, it will be interesting to hear his dulcet tones on a Monday. The decision to move the announcers was surprising but more so for the fact that the play-by-play guys were the ones to move. If it had been Mick Foley going to Raw and Jerry Lawler to SmackDown!, I wouldn’t have thought as much of it but this is a pretty big change. Previous attempts to replace JR as Raw’s lead announcer have failed and always resulted in the Oklahoman being brought back, so it will be interesting to see if this lasts. Another point is that Cole and ‘The King’ were the original SmackDown! team so they have plenty of experience together. A lot of commentators have been quick to pan the idea of a Cole-Lawler combination as the announce team on the company’s ‘Flagship Show’ but I will reserve judgement for now except to say that it will be interesting to see if the change in broadcast partners can bring out the best in Lawler.
4.) Batista: A very good move. The timing for this one couldn’t have been better since ‘The Animal’ has “done it all” when it comes to SmackDown! Since joining the ‘Blue Brand’ as the final selection Batista is a big name and makes up for the loss of some heavy-hitters from Raw and on in the 2005 Draft, Batista has rarely been out of the World Title picture either as champion or challenger and as a result it has become tiresome watching him either challenge for or defend the gold against the same opponents again and again. Here is an interesting statistic I worked out: Batista was featured in the World Title Match (either as Champion or Challenger) every time it was defended onpay-per-view from SummerSlam 2006 to Armageddon 2007. In fact the only two times in that period the World Championship wasn’t defended on pay-per-view (at Armageddon 2006 and No Way Out 2007) it was because Batista was still World Champion and in the main event just in a tag team match. Even when he lost a “Do or Die Match” (meaning it would be the big guy’s final shot at the World Title as long as Edge was champion) at Vengeance 2007 Edge suffered a torn pectoral muscle, was forced to relinquish the title Batista back challenging for the belt at the next PPV The Great American Bash! This Sunday Batista is challenging Edge for the same title at Vengeance 2008 as well… In short, it was time for a change. The question is whether he will beat Edge and bring the World Title back to Raw with him. Batista – win WWE title? I hope not since I’d rather they kept that belt as the top one on SmackDown! and the WWE Championship on Raw so I can see Edge winning. I also think Batista has enough to be getting on with without chasing the Championship for the time being. In storyline terms there is unfinished business with Jericho and Michaels, as well as the long awaited pay-per-view match between him and former Evolution stable-mate Randy Orton. Of course, been on also Raw makes the possibility of an eventual showdown between ‘The Animal’ and John Cena appear more likely than ever. First hinted at way back at Royal Rumble 2005, they have done a good job at keeping these two apart so that when the eventual match takes place it should really mean something. The move makes sense for the brand as well since Batista is a big name and easily makes up for the loss of some heavy-hitters from Raw.
5.) Kane: It’s hard to believe that a gimmick which at first seemed to be designed just for a feud with The Undertaker has been in the WWF/E for over a decade now and over the last couple of years Kane has done a tour of all three brands and back again. Of course, the most interesting thing about his move is that he takes the ECW Title with him. What is the point of having the ECW Title on Raw? As I see it, there are a couple of different ways they could go with this. Firstly, they could have him drop the belt to Mark Henry at Night Of Champions, thus ensuring the belt returns ‘home’ to ‘The Land Of Extreme’. Secondly, they could use this as storyline device to explain a Talent Exchange between Raw and ECW. For those who are not aware, it was recently announced that WWE will be filming episodes of ECW On Sci-Fi on Mondays alongside Raw rather than SmackDown! as had previously been the case. Since SmackDown! and ECW have a storyline ‘Talent Exchange’ which allows performers to appear on both shows it makes sense that a similar angle could be used with Raw (since obviously the SmackDown! roster won’t be on hand when ECW do their tapings). If that does turn out to be the case, then having the ECW Championship ‘held hostage’on Raw could be used as the excuse to allow ECW wrestlers to appear on the show to challenge for the belt. There would be the possibility for a long-running feud with various ECWers trying to get the belt back and failing before finally CM Punk cashes in his MITB briefcase and returns with it to ECW. Whether either of those scenarios takes place, the long stare-down with JBL that followed the announcement of Kane’s Draft seems to suggest a feud between the two is imminent. Who knows, maybe they will have him drop the ECW Title to JBL and do the above scenario with the various challengers and Punk, with the story based on Bradshaw’s hatred of the original ECW? Beyond that, a heel turn and series of matches with John Cena may be what it takes to revive ‘The Big Red Machine’s’ stagnating career.
6.) Jamie Noble: Raw’s first Draftee in the ‘Supplementary Draft’ was an unusual choice since Noble (like Finlay) is employed as an agent backstage on SmackDown!. Whilst I’m sure he will continue that role on Raw, one has to question whether this is the right brand for him to do so. Given his size if they were going to move ‘The Pitbull’ anywhere then I would rather he’d gone to ECW where he would stand more chance of standing out given the smaller roster (in terms of both numbers and physical size of the wrestlers). ‘The Redneck Messiah’ would have been the perfect fit for ECW in terms of working with the younger guys, giving them a good match and training them on the job. On Raw it is difficult to see him being used as anything other than someone to put people over. The only way I see him moving beyond that is forming a full-time tag team with a fellow underutilised performer like Charlie Haas or Paul London (both of whom could desperately use a partner right about now, in my opinion). A couple of things that separate him from a lot of the other Cruiserweight-sized guys are that Noble has shown he can cut an entertaining promo and he apparently has the respect of the established stars backstage both of which will work in his favour and he could well end up in a lot of comedy skits. Given some mic time and a partner I could see him doing okay. If he is thrown out there to ‘just wrestle’ every week then he would have been better off on SmackDown! or ECW.
7.) Deuce: I think they telegraphed this one a bit with the recent break-up of Deuce and Domino, since it gave me the feeling one of them would be switching shows. Of course, switching shows means that there will be no feud between the former partners which in this case isn’t exactly anything to lose sleep over! Considering Deuce was the one who made the move, I think he will be the one to get repackaged and get the push. In this case the repackaging is easy: as the son of ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka he would make a perfect addition to the rumoured Second Generation stable on Raw with Ted DiBiase Jr. and Cody Rhodes. Provided that idea is still going ahead, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason they moved him and he turns out to be DiBiase’s ‘Mystery Partner’this Sunday.
8.) Chuck Palumbo: ‘Chucky P’ is a guy who has at times shown a lot of potential but he’s never really gotten to the proverbial ‘next level’. The guy has size, a good look and, unlike the majority of wrestlers to debut in the last ten to fifteen years, knows how to throw a punch! Since WCW folded, with him and Sean O’Haire (remember him?) as the final WCW Tag Team Champions, Palumbo has been through a bunch of gimmicks from Natural Born Thriller to half of a ‘gay’ tag team to Full Blooded Italian to motorcycle enthusiast. His current biker gimmick seemed to be getting over on SmackDown! at first but following his heel turn on Michelle McCool and feud with Jamie Noble it never really went anywhere and he faded back into the background. His recent interaction with Punk on ECW suggests that a feud between the two is a possibility now that both of them have ended up on the same show but that is far from definite. If nothing else, the move to Raw will give him yet another chance to start again but first they need to decide where it is he fits in on the card: is he an Intercontinental Title contender or a ‘Jobber To The Stars’ (JTTS)? If it is the former then they need to make the decision before he re-debuts and give him an actual feud right off the bat, otherwise he will end up as the latter.
9.) Matt Striker: This looks like a bad move for the former New York school teacher. Striker is a good promo and an entertaining character in his role as cowardly heel. I also think he’s underrated as an actual wrestler. He’s also quite small and with the likes of Orton, JBL, Jericho, Palumbo, Lance Cade and Santino Marella all vying for TV-time on the heel side, Striker is the kind of character that could get lost in the shuffle. He was doing well enough in his role as Big Daddy V’s mouthpiece so I’m surprised they want to separate them since there are so few decent manager types around and Daddy V’s Monster Heel gimmick is exactly the kind of wrestler who needs a spokesperson to do the talking for him. Striker’s best chance of success on Monday Night’s might be in an out-of-ring role, managing someone else or if they turn The Classroom into a regular segment on Raw. If on the other hand they wanted to use him mainly as an actual wrestler he would surely have been better off staying put on ECW.
10.) Layla El: A year ago this move would have meant nothing but since that time, the 2006 Diva Search winner has come a long way in terms of improving her overall act so I wouldn’t be surprised if this move worked out very well for her. Although still a bit awkward, she seems to have made a lot of effort to improve inside the ring and understands how to play the bitchy heel role well which make her a potential future challenger to Mickie James’ Women’s Championship. If she continues to improve and develop, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her do well on Raw and feuds with a babyface Melina and Candice (whenever she recovers) have potential as well. If they had a plan for her when they made the decision to move her it could also be that she will be used as someone’s valet/manager. From ECW’s point of view this is a loss since their total number of Divas is brought down to two: Kelly Kelly and Lena Yada.
11.) Kofi Kingston: “Jamaican Me Crazy?” Another bad move. One of the more entertaining newcomers in recent years, ‘The Jamaican Sensation’ was getting really over on ECW, his feud with Shelton Benjamin was bringing out the best in both, and Kofi seemed well on his way to establishing himself as the brand’s number two babyface. After that he would have been in with a shout for a future ECW Title run within the next year or so. Or in fact a good choice to move up to Raw/SmackDown! in next year’s Draft once he’d had the chance to establish himself. Instead of following in the footsteps of CM Punk and seeing that he was over on ECW, then keeping him on the brand and building up his reputation until he almost needed to be moved to one of the bigger brands, he’s been thrown onto the big show (not Paul Wight) and given a chance to ‘sink or swim’. With his flashy moves, I’m sure he will be popular with the live crowds and have some entertaining matches on the undercard of Raw every week but with the babyface likes of Cena, Batista, Michaels, Mysterio, Kane and Punk all above him Kofi will be lucky to get a spot on any pay-per-view not named Survivor Series or Royal Rumble.
Talent Joining SmackDown (12)
1.) Jeff Hardy: With ten losses, for twelve gains SmackDown! got a good deal out of the Draft nowhere more-so than with Jeff Hardy who has been on a roll for the last year now - with the exception of his two suspensions, of course. The second Draft to be announced during the live Raw, in many ways this was a ‘like-for-like’ pick in exchange for Rey Mysterio since instead of one high-flying, underdog with a loyal fan base they get another. Like Mysterio, Hardy had spent all his time on one brand - albeit with a three year gap separating his two runs in the company. After being chosen as the ‘Number Fifteen Pick’ for Raw in the initial Draft of April 2002 Jeff remained on Raw up until he was released from the company after he refused to go to rehab. In August 2006, he returned to Raw and has been there ever since. This move seemed like a good idea because as popular as he is and as entertaining as he can be to watch Jeff’s matches with Umaga, Mr. Kennedy, Carlito and even his friendly rivalry with Triple H had started to grow overly familiar so it made sense for them to give him a change of scenery... Unfortunately between the live and ‘Supplementary’ Drafts, they then proceeded to move all those guys over to SmackDown! to keep him company! In terms of matches I expect more of the same against those guys, as well as renewing his long-standing rivalry with World Champion Edge. The biggest question is not who he will work with, but how will far up the card he will progress on SmackDown!. Right now ‘The Rainbow-haired Warrior’ is one of the most over acts in the entire company so it makes sense that he will be in a prominent position on whichever brand he’s part of. That said, with only one suspension left before he would face a compulsory release putting either World Title on him could be seen as somewhat of a gamble.
2.) Jim Ross: Of all the Drafts it’s safe to say this was the most controversial and the one that has generated the most discussion in the days since Raw. Overshadowing moves by the various wrestlers, arguably the defining moment of the live Raw was Jim Ross’ facial expression after learning he had been Drafted. Like most of the talent, Ross was apparently unaware this was going to happen and when it did he wasn’t a happy camper by any means. How annoyed was JR about this development?
So angry that “reportedly, there was an argument between Jim Ross and Vince McMahon after Raw as Ross turned down an invitation to fly on the WWE corporate jet from San Antonio to Houston for SmackDown!” (see: here for full story). In an angry addition of his Barbeque Blog, Ross wrote:
“As many of you know, I was “drafted” to Smackdown Monday night in the “random lottery”. Obviously that means I will be leaving Monday Night Raw and my long time partner Jerry Lawler.
I am not happy about this surprise development.
I also contemplated calling it a career Monday night and not going to Houston to tape SD.
After speaking with my wife and thinking on this matter until 6 a.m. Tuesday morning, I have decided to do the right thing for the fans who care and the talent who care and begin my new assignment.
It has been explained to me that the WWE’s Smackdown tenure on My Network is a high priority within the corporation. Allegedly, my presence is needed in that effort.
Many are speculating about when I learned of this development…the same time those of you were watching at home. I should have detected something with the demeanor of certain individuals either thru their plastic, poker faces or the perceived smirk that I thought I might have seen on some of their faces during the day.
As far as going to Connecticut each week to do Smackdown post production, that’s not going to happen. Either Mick Foley can handle it or the WWE can install a DSL line in my home to facilitate the work.
I will miss working with the King as the wrestling biz is one in which a guy can count his legit friends on one hand…even after a 30 plus year career. King has been like a brother to me….albeit an “older brother”. We will remain friends no matter that our team has been corporately imploded.”
See link for JR’s full entry.
Ouch. The Oklahoma University loyalist’s anger seems justified since speculation is that the real reason he was moved had much less to do with the upcoming move to MyNetworrk and much more to do with the fact that ‘Good Ol’ JR’ had been so vocally against such a move and it was another chance to embarrass him in front of the world. Over the last decade Ross has been beaten-up, mocked and publicly humiliated on international television more times than I care to remember so it’s certainly more than a strong possibility. The good news is that in the end he did make it to SmackDown! and things seem to have been smoothed over, at least for now. The next question is how will he and Mick Foley work as a team? Very well if their brief time together on Raw is anything to go by. The two are long-time friends and as anyone who’s read one of Foley’s autobiographies will have gathered ‘The Hardcore Legend’ has a great deal of respect for Ross as an announcer. The change could well do JR good as well since he was in his ‘comfort zone’ with Lawler and this will be a new challenge. Whatever happens it is going to take a lot of getting used to hearing ‘The Voice Of Monday Nights’ on a Friday evening…
3.) Umaga: The least surprising move, Umaga had needed this for a while. The only disappointing thing is that they didn’t move him a year ago. Having been booked to lose more matches than he should have done, the character needs re-establishing and protecting. Moving to the ‘Blue Brand’ should reinvigorate the character gives ‘The Samoan Bullodzer’ a fresh set of undercarders to smash his way through in weekly squash matches. Whilst the fact that some of his more regular Raw opponents (Jeff Hardy, Triple H, Brian Kendrick, etc.) takes there are still plenty of guys he hasn’t wrestled a great deal (if at all) and matches with MVP and Shelton Benjamin and have potential, as does the novelty value of bouts with The Great Khali and Big Daddy V. Personally, I’d like to see a proper feud between Umaga and Vladimir Kozlov where they are each built up as invincible by plowing through a load of jobbers en route to meeting the one man who can stand toe-to-toe with them. Then there is the big one: Umaga versus The Undertaker. In terms of the company rather than the individual, then along with the other moves made during Raw this seems like a serious attempt to give SmackDown! some much needed ‘big names’ as whilst Umaga might not have the merchandising potential of a John Cena or the legacy of a Shawn Michaels he is over and has been consistently featured near the top of the card for long enough to carry some name recognition.
4.) Mr. Kennedy: I would say this was a good move, but really it just highlights what a bad move it was to move him away from SmackDown! in the first place. One year ago during his previous run on the brand, ‘SmackDown!’s Big Mouth’ was promoted as a future headliner and seemed to carry himself as if he believed it. Having previously impressed the ‘casual’ punters with his ring announcer gimmick he was finally starting to look the part in-ring as well and solid outings with in televised bouts with veterans Chris Benoit and Matt Hardy, were complimented by better-than-expected pay-per-view encounters with The Undertaker and Batista. Although he lost both feuds, the telling thing here was the way in which he was booked to look like the equal of two of the top stars in the company rather than being totally destroyed. When he won ‘Money In The Bank’ at WrestleMania XXIII it confirmed that his time would come. It almost came sooner than expected: when The Undertaker suffered torn biceps, Kennedy was booked to ‘cash in’ his briefcase and gain a pinfall win on ‘The Deadman’… Only for Kennedy be sidelined with an injury of his own. As you might remember, this was explained in storyline terms by having Kennedy turn seemingly babyface (which turned out to just be for one night) lose his ‘Money In The Bank’ opportunity to Edge (who then cashed it in on the injured Undertaker). Following that it would have made perfect sense to have Kennedy challenge Edge on SmackDown! as soon as he was cleared to return, right? Instead WWE Drafted him over to Raw where he spent his first two months wrestling the likes of Bobby Lashley, Carlito and Umaga Cena in meaningless matches that did nothing to elevate him further. In fact for the most part, his run on Raw was a complete wash-out and even though he was given a push and feuds with Jeff Hardy and Shawn Michaels water whilst we waited for Creative to come up with the next big scheme to transform him into a mega-star. Of course that wasn’t supposed to be the case: Kennedy was meant to get a big push from the ill-fated Vince McMahon ‘death angle’ which would have led to a main event run and top-line feud with Triple H… the Benoit tragedy put paid to that. Next, he was going to be revealed as Vince McMahon’s illegitimate son which would have guaranteed a ton of TV time and allegedly led to a WrestleMania bout with Hunter… Only Kennedy got suspended for steroid use the week before the angle would have concluded so Hornswoggle got the role instead. With this move back to SmackDown! it seems like the next big push for ‘Kennedy Kennedy’ is on it’s way... He’ll be keeping his fingers crossed nothing goes wrong this time.
5.) Triple H: When Triple H’s face appeared on the Titantron as the final random pick during the televised portion of the Draft, many in the Internet Wrestling Community were quick to dismiss it. “He’ll be back on Raw by this time next week!” they said. I’m not a ‘HHHater’ but in this case their cynicism is well-founded. As most will remember, this isn’t the first time Triple H was announced as the newest member of SmackDown! during one of these Raw ‘Draft Specials’: the same thing happened in 2004. That particular move didn’t last very long, in fact Triple never even appeared on the show (surely he could have made one appearance, right?) since it was announced on wwe.com the next day that Triple H had been traded back to Raw, in return for Booker T. and both Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley. There are two theories on why this confusing series of events happened, neither of which are particularly flattering to ‘The Game’. The first, scenario was that Triple H was indeed supposed to make the jump but was able to argue against the move and persuade McMahon to keep him on Raw because he saw the Draft to SmackDown! as a demotion and, well, “didn’t want to work Tuesdays”. The second is that this was the intention all along and was written purely to boost a certain person’s ego by illustrating he was worth three wrestlers, whilst making Triple H’s old nemesis Booker T. look bad in the process. Either way, the good news is this move looks to be more permanent. Why do I say that, well for a start that was four years ago since that time Triple H has been on Raw so long and has wrestled many of the same opponents so many times that, like his pal Batista, has “done it all”. Working as a heel or a face, serious or comedy Hunter’s character has been involved in every kind almost of situation he could be involved in and something as major (and unexpected) as a move to another brand may be the best thing to freshen it up. Then there is SmackDown!’s move to MyNetwork TV which is good enough reason in itself, as they needed to move a couple of recognisable big name over to boost ratings on the new network. Perhaps most importantly, Trip has a young daughter (which wasn’t the case in 2004) and his wife (and Head of Creative) Stephanie McMahon-Levesque is due to give birth soon. Since Monday’s Draft it has been reported (e.g. here) that Hunter was in favour of the move because it would allow him more time to spend with his family: up to six days a week in fact. Of course Triple H isn’t coming to SmackDown! alone: he brings with him the WWE Championship. Since keeping both versions of the World Title on the one brand seems unlikely, there is a good chance either Edge or Triple H will be losing their belts this Sunday. If that is to happen, I would rather it be Triple H do the job to Cena simply because there is more potential in having Hunter, as the babyface, chase Edge for the title than there is having Triple H debut already as the top dog and have the SmackDown! guys chase him. So since it looks like he’s going to stick around for a while what is there for him to do? Well a singles feud with Edge has never been done before and seems like a definite; they still haven’t pulled the trigger on the suggested feud with Kennedy so I would expect it to happen only on a different brand; his last pay-per-view match with The Undertaker was way back at King Of The Ring 2002 (it was a dreadful match for the record) but it would be interesting to see how they matched up now; and if he is willing to work with under-card guys then a series of matches with a brand new opponent in MVP could really help Porter get to the next level. Presuming he’s there for the long-term this could be a good move in terms of freshening up both ‘The Game’ and SmackDown!.
6.) Trevor Murdoch: As with Deuce and Domino, at least they split up Cade and Murdoch before the Draft. With his former partner Lance Cade now set to get a big push on Raw, being Drafted was probably the best move for Murdoch. The second Cade aligned himself with Chris Jericho in his feud with Shawn Michaels, it seemed highly unlikely the former Redneck Wrecking Crew were going to engage in a long-running series of grudge matches since Cade had moved on to better things. Now that he is working a Country Music singer gimmick I expect Murdoch to be given time in backstage skits. Which is a good point: Murdoch has a gimmick with the potential to get over as a comedy character, but if he had stayed put there is a good chance Murdoch would have been lost in the shuffle. Indeed, Raw’s midcard is over-crowded, especially following the Draft, so I think he stands more chance of getting noticed on SmackDown! where there are less heavyweight babyfaces at that level. His solid old-school in-ring work also means he should fit in perfectly against the likes of Carlito, Benjamin and MVP in weekly TV-style matches. Where he goes from there is anyone’s guess.
7.) Big Daddy V: Last year’s ‘Supplemental Draft’ turned out to be the best thing in over a decade for the former Viscera. After floundering on the undercard for years, the move from Raw to ECW allowed him to ditch the over-sized pyjamas, reinvent himself as Big Daddy V and start all-over again as serious a Monster Heel. BDV was receiving a strong push as an upper-mid-card act right up until he was taken off the road earlier this year after he was told to lose weight due to his health problems associated with chronic obesity. The fact that he was moved in the ‘Supplemental Draft’ for the second year running would seem to be an indication that he is now almost ready to return. In some ways this is another ‘like-for-like’ move as Daddy V will no doubt fill into the role previously occupied by Mark Henry of squashing Cruiserweights and acting as the big ‘obstacle’ for babyfaces to overcome en route to winning the World Title. In fact, this won’t seem like that much of a change since during the course of the ‘Talent Exchange’ between ECW and SmackDown! it seemed he wrestled on the ‘Blue Brand’ almost as much as in ‘The Land Of Extreme’. Presuming The Undertaker stays on SmackDown! when he returns I would say there’s a good bet the feud that was rumoured between the two in late 2007 will take place later this year. I’d also expect him to do the job to Triple H, Kennedy and likely Hardy at some point. Beyond that, a ‘Battle Of The Monsters’ with The Great Khali and possibly even Umaga has some comedy value.
8.) DH Smith: Until the moment he was Drafted, the son of The British Bulldog was heavily rumoured to be Ted DiBiase Junior’s ‘Mystery Partner’ and part of the rumoured ‘Second Generation’ stable. The move to SmackDown! makes that appear less likely. Still it shouldn’t come as a total surprise: Smith has had next to no push since being suspended for violating the Wellness Policy last November. That said, I wouldn’t be as quick as some have to write him off completely. At twenty one he has youth on his side as well as international experience. Also whilst it looks like just another random move on paper, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have a storyline in mind considering the move to SmackDown! brings him into contact with Natalya Neidheart. Natalya has been getting over well and looks like a star for the future, so hopefully Smith wouldn’t drag her down but rather they would use this as an excuse to give Smith some more TV-time. We may finally see that ‘Hart Foundation: The Next Generation’ gimmick that has been rumoured for so long come to WWE television after all.
9.) Brian Kendrick: Every year WWE use the Draft as an excuse to break-up a tag team. Whether it’s The Dudleys in 2002, The World’s Greatest Tag Team in 2004 or The Basham Brothers in 2005, it seems to be part of the process of ‘proving’ the Draft is ‘real’ whilst further weakening the Tag Team ‘Division’ (if you can even call it that). In 2008, it was the turn for LonDrick (Paul London and Brian Kendrick). On the surface, this doesn’t look like good news for the little fella and I’d imagine he’s in for a Shannon More type role as a JTTS bumping all over the place and taking a beating for Monsters like Vladimir Kozlov, Big Daddy V, The Great Khali and Umaga. Perhaps I’m wrong and the Creative Department have a new character lined up for one or both of the duo but at the moment this looks suspiciously like one of those ‘random’ Drafts done just to illustrate that teams can be split up. without any real thought for the future of the individuals involved. Considering the role of most Cruiserweights, both are surely more valuable as a team?
10.) Maria: This is another interesting one since it was another one I didn’t expect. Maria has been a staple part of Raw for a few years now during which time she has worked as a clueless interviewer, a valet and a wrestler. The Playboy cover girl is also relatively over (compared to some of the other Divas) and was heavily featured in the hype for this year’s WrestleMania (due to her appearance in Playboy) which is a bonus since SmackDown! is currently trying to establish its own ‘Divas Division’. At the same time, SmackDown! is also currently pushing two babyface Divas in Cherry and Michelle McCool. Do they really have time on a two hour show to push a third? I predict a lot of ‘Six Diva Tags’ in the coming months.
11.) Shelton Benjamin: A strange move. After treading water for so long on Raw, the self-proclaimed ‘Gold Standard’ seemed to be in the process of turning his career around on ECW. Following his feud with Kofi Kingston, it looked like rivalries with Evan Bourne and CM Punk were on the horizon and with Matt Hardy now in ECW Benjamin would have been the perfect opponent to challenge for his U.S. Title. A run with the ECW Title itself was not out of the question either. Now he finds himself on SmackDown! not at the level to challenge a Triple H, Undertaker or Edge for the World Title and with no mid-card belt to aim for. Hopefully they have something planned for him because if not, why would you move someone who was starting to get their career back on track and become a useful part of the brand they were on? Benjamin’s success here will depend mainly on how he is booked from the start since at this stage he needs something to focus on: if he can find himself in a feud, with say Jeff Hardy, right off the bat then the work that has gone into resurrecting his career won’t be wasted; if however he ends up ‘just wrestling’ on TV every week then this will be a return to the aimless matches he found himself in on Raw circa 2006-07.
12.) Carlito: Reports of Carlito being disgruntled go back over a year to his complaints about being left off WrestleMania XXIII. By last October it had apparently gotten so bad that he was ready to hand in his notice, only to be talked out of it by Vince McMahon supposedly in return for a push. That push never really happened although he was given a place at this year’s ‘Mania in the annual ‘Money In The Bank’ Ladder Match. More recently it appeared that Carlito and Santino Marrella were set to win the World Tag Team Titles on Raw, but when that never materialised reports of ‘The Cool One’ being frustrated at his position on the card returned again. One of the reasons WWE have been so keen to keep the Caribbean star is that so few members of the roster speak good Spanish. Therefore this move may be part of WWE’s plan to at least partially compensate for the loss of Rey Mysterio to SmackDown!’s loyal Hispanic audience. If that is the case, it would also suggest that the push he had been waiting for may finally be on its way.
Talent Joining ECW (5)
1.) Matt Hardy: Although they are considered WWE veterans at this stage, The Hardy Boyz were apparently not in the select club of those ‘in the know’ when it came to Monday’s ‘Draft Picks’ so I can only imagine how surprised Matt Hardy must have been when he found out that not only had his younger brother being Drafted to SmackDown! but that now he was moving… To ECW. Considering the elder Hardy’s status as U.S. Champion I thought a move from SD! was highly unlikely, unless they decided to do a straight switch with Intercontinental Champion Chris Jericho. Instead we now have a situation where ECW don’t have their own World Title, but have Hardy’s U.S. Championship theoretically making that the top belt on the ‘Extreme Brand’ and Hardy the top dog. In some ways this might seem like a demotion for Matt, but in terms of the wider picture it really does make sense. With the loss of Punk, Kane and Kingston ECW needed an over babyface and Hardy fits the bill. Also with his brother Jeff moving to SmackDown! it makes sense not to have both Hardyz on the same brand unless you are planning on using them as a tag team. Considering how well their respective singles careers have been going as of late, that would be seen as a step backwards so the best way to avoid this situation is to keep them on separate brands. Of course they could have solved this problem by just moving Jeff to ECW directly from Raw, but this is obviously the way they wanted to go. Rather than the familiar role of being the number three babyface on one of the bigger brands, this allows Matt the chance to be the top babyface on his own show - the big fish in a small pond. As much as I like watching the guy, it also seemed unlikely that Hardy was going to get the World Title on SmackDown! any time soon. If and when the ECW Championship returns to Sci-Fi Hardy should have no trouble holding that belt, since he is at least (and probably more) credible as the usual crowd of Punk, John Morrison, The Miz, Elijah Burke and Chavo Guerrero. With guys like Mike Knox, Evan Bourne and Super Crazy around he also gets a fresh batch of opponents to work with on television as well as some familiar faces (Burke, Finlay, etc.) who he has shown chemistry with in the past. ECW get the United States Title and the most consistent worker in the entire company.
2.) Mark Henry: This is a welcome move for me, since Henry was starting to get stale on SmackDown! Now I like ‘The World’s Strongest Man’ better than most, but he’s the type of wrestler who’s limited by his size, his style and his ability. Unless you have the charisma of a Hogan or a Lawler there is only so many times you can repeat the same basic moves, in the same order, week after week, when you have to do them on the same opponents. I know there are some people groaning right now at the prospect of Henry on ECW but with the loss of Kane and Daddy V they were short of ‘Big Men’ and it makes sense to have one in every brand. If you’re a Henry-hater then it gets worse because I would not be surprised to see him come out of the Triple Threat Match as ECW Champion at Night Of Champions. In fact, even if he doesn’t get the belt this Sunday I’d say there’s a good chance he will get it down the line. When Edge suffered his injury last summer (see above), Henry was considered a strong possibility for World Champion. Obviously hat didn’t happen and they went with The Great Khali instead (desperate times call for desperate measures!) but the point is if they would consider Henry for a World Title run on SmackDown! I’m confident he could get one on ECW. If that happens, I reckon the best bet is a strong three to four month run during which Henry runs over everyone before eventually succumbing to a plucky underdog like Matt Hardy or CM Punk - thus putting them over as having beaten an ‘unbeatable’ opponent. After that I see him working with the younger guys on the roster, at least until the next Draft at which point you simply move him to a different brand and repeat the same process again.
3.) Hornswoggle: So let me get this straight: ECW lose seven people, including their top two stars, and only get five in return yet one of the five is a Leprechaun?
4.) Super Crazy: It is easy to crack jokes, acting like one is surprised “He’s still employed” upon hearing of Super Crazy being traded but sometimes it’s the moves that everyone overlooks that end up having a greater impact later on. That could be the case here. Case in point, The Miz and Viscera were not much higher up the pecking order than Crazy before the 2007 Draft yet they ended up becoming pushed members of the ECW roster and entertaining acts, to boot. Shelton Benjamin was doing nothing of note on Raw before he jumped ship to ‘The Land Of Extreme’ last November and he was able to turn his career around quite nicely. One reason for that is that with a comparatively small roster everyone who wrestles on ECW is normally given some time to show their stuff even if they are just there to put the other guy over (see: Stevie Richards). That is good news for someone like Crazy who was never going to get much of a look-in on Raw and with ECW having lost so much talent, there’s a chance he will become a regular on TV again and his flashy offence could mean he is used to fill-in the blank left by Kingston’s jump to Raw. It will be interesting to see if they play up the fact he is an ‘ECW Original’ and too bad most of his fellow co-workers (RVD, Sabu, Sandman, etc.) have long gone, but with his experience ‘The Insane Luchadore’ is exactly the kind of guy they need in ECW right now.
5.) Finlay: Once Hornswoggle was moved it seemed inevitable Finlay would follow. Like Hardy this might seem like a demotion, but ‘The Fighting Irishman’ is a pretty good fit for ECW both stylistically and in terms of being able to help the brand move forwards. I’d imagine his role will be similar to the one Chris Benoit was supposed to play last year, namely working with the younger talent, whilst training them ‘on the job’ and carrying inferior opponents to good matches. Finlay has shown in the past he is more than capable at doing all those things. For now I’d expect him to carry on his teaming with Hornswoggle in a feud against John Morrison and The Miz, but an eventual heel turn and return to the badass ‘Belfast Brawler’ would be a good bet for the future especially if he moves into a feud with Matt Hardy (with whom he had one of the best WWE matches of the 2007, in my opinion). Like Hardy and Henry he’s not someone who you would think of as necessarily being in line for a World Title reign on Raw or SmackDown! (in this case due to age more than anything else) but I reckon he’s a lock for a future ECW Title run. The guy still has a lot to offer and in a lot of ways he’s now on the perfect brand to do so.
Finally, one brand’s, gain is another brand’s loss… So here’s the ‘damage’ for each brand:
Talent Leaving Raw (11)
Talent Leaving SmackDown (10)
Talent Leaving ECW (7)
Big Daddy V
Overall, some interesting changes there. Unlike in previous years (2004 and 2007 spring to mind), the trades between Raw and SmackDown! were pretty even in terms of like-for-like. If anything SmackDown! may have gotten the better end of the deal for a change. ECW is the biggest loser since they not only lost their only two top-line babyfaces (and World Champion) in Kane and Punk, but also three of the more pushed/regularly featured acts on the brand in Daddy V, Benjamin and Kingston. Still, at least they get Finlay and Hardy two of the more reliable and better workers in the company, in return. Anyway, you can’t have everything, and on this occasion the other two brands did well. A utilitarian argument would be that given the choice of having one brand get stronger and the other two get weaker (as was arguably the case last year) or two brands benefiting, even if the third doesn’t then I’d take the second option every time. Raw gets some fresh new acts that at the very least will give the show a different ‘feel’ in Mysterio, Punk and Kingston as well as the returns of Kane and Batista, and SmackDown! gets established main event and upper-mid-card talent in Triple H, Jeff Hardy, Umaga, Kennedy and even Big Daddy V, along with the best play-by-play man in the business. It’s now up to The Powers That Be (not Vince Russo) to work out what to do with them.
Of course it’s possible this could just be a temporary arrangement: Jim Ross could quit tomorrow, Jeff Hardy could fail his final drug test, and Triple H could be back on Raw by the time you read this but I’ll try to stay optimistic. Right now, for the first time since early 2004 the company has two marketable and evenly matched brands in terms of star-power. Now That’s What I Call Wrestling.
Carl ‘TheBigBoot’ Robinson