By Will Pruett
WWE presented their best fictional draft yet on Tuesday night. It sounds absurd, as criticism was quite popular as the draft was occurring, but stepping back and looking at the big picture, WWE presented something better than they had before.
I watched the 2002 WWE Draft last week to get ready for this one. I was shown two awkward “war rooms,” picks made out of spite while yelling at each other backstage, and wholly absurd moments that wouldn’t work anywhere but in a fictional world. Among these moments we saw the NWO and Billy and Chuck picked as units, but The Dudley Boys being randomly picked as singles stars (despite one claiming to want an all-star tag team), Ric Flair mocked when he took Lita with his last pick (who would waste a pick on a woman?), and some weird production choices (like every wrestler hanging out in a draft green room). What WWE did on Tuesday was actually pretty good.
Compare Tuesday’s WWE Draft to the subsequent “draft lotteries” they had in the 2002-2011 split. Wrestlers weren’t randomly working to win matches to get their brand a pick. The picks weren’t made by a random generator on the screen. It was an actual draft, not some approximation made by people who have never watched a real sports draft.
On Tuesday night, WWE managed to give us a draft with actual defined rounds. They had some awkward rules in place (the Raw and Smackdown pick differences), but they handled it well. They examined why teams or singles stars were drafted as such. They told us ahead of time about developmental call ups. WWE did a ton of good with this draft.
Among the good elements were the positioning of certain picks. Charlotte was Raw’s second pick in the first round. WWE showed us a major emphasis on Women’s Wrestling here. Despite their poor storytelling in the Women’s Division since WrestleMania, they continue to position it well in major moments (WrestleMania and the Draft). Finn Bàlor getting picked in the “first round” of the draft also gave him a leg up. This was a great call up and a great way to make NXT’s number one talent feel important. WWE used their first round to make statements and it was great.
On the negative side, WWE didn’t make the Smackdown management team look strong. Fans were clamoring for certain picks (like Kevin Owens), but Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon seemed to make odd selections. I’m not going to say the rosters turned out horribly, but they definitely weren’t even. The system giving Raw more picks than Smackdown definitely emphasized the imbalance as well. I know WWE had to do something, but it didn’t help fans have confidence in the new management team.
WWE also needed to tell us why certain wrestlers from the NXT roster were not being picked. How does a star like Shinsuke Nakamura not get picked in the first round? Many fans were asking this with a certain indignant passion. I don’t blame them. This is an easy problem for WWE to solve. Give NXT General Manager William Regal a number of “franchise tags” and let him mark wrestlers as his. Say the idea is protecting the future NXT Takeover card and let the wrestlers get called up later. This took me about ten minutes to come up with. The WWE writing team is not dumb. I am sure this was suggested and shot down by the head of said writing team (and head of WWE in general). It makes no sense to me.
I was particularly disappointed to see the awkward bright red and blue t-shirts back on television. They make WWE look absurd and make the wrestlers look ridiculous. It might seem like a small thing again, but WWE needs to present their wrestlers as better than awful t-shirts.
Simple logic holes abounded in this draft. Even with this being WWE’s best ever presentation of a draft, they still have a long way to go. Even with WWE doing a little better, they still made weird mis-steps. I’m willing to say this was a decent presentation, but that it would have been way better.
– Looking at the Raw and Smackdown rosters side-by-side, they don’t surprise me. I expected Raw to have more depth because it is a longer show. I expected Smackdown to be top heavy, but have some room for upward mobility. This is how WWE used to divide the rosters in general. Smackdown made stars, Raw presented already made stars.
– Seth Rollins as the number one overall pick to Raw was a great story. I do believe Rollins is the most valuable wrestler on WWE’s roster today. This is great presentations of Rollins, who should leave with the. WWE Championship on Sunday.
– While Seth Rollins certainly seems like the centerpiece of Raw, Dean Ambrose doesn’t seem like the centerpiece of Smackdown. Ambrose is lacking in star power and story. He’s an afterthought even when carrying the WWE Championship. Ambrose doesn’t strike me as a star with staying power at the top of the roster.
– Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar as back-to-back Raw picks made me laugh. Both men are currently missing from WWE’s landscape. Reigns’ suspension just ended. Lesnar should probably be suspended, but likely won’t be. Raw is apparently the All Steroid Brand.
– Bringing Finn Bàlor, American Alpha, Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and Mojo Rawley in from the NXT roster delighted me. I appreciate WWE making more room on the NXT roster for (hopefully) homegrown talent and (especially) female talent. I covered the awkwardness of certain NXT wrestlers being ignored above. I do want to see how NXT fills in its current roster now.
– Speaking of wrestlers being ignored, I’m 95% sure Bayley will be Sasha Banks’ mystery partner on Sunday and will be greeted like a hero. Bayley will be better off for being brought up this way. This creates more odd logical flaws in the draft, but WWE doesn’t care about those.
– The matches on this show felt pointless. I wish WWE could go have gone full-NFL with their draft and not presented wrestling matches at all. Show us stars at the gym, at home, or elsewhere training and learning of their picks. Show us General Managers strategizing and trading. Show us something fun and more sports-like. The matches on this show were just opportunities to check out WWE’s second screen show on the WWE Network.
– Speaking of this second screen show, WWE Draft Center was kind of awkward. Renee Young and Corey Graves were their routinely great selves in their roles. Booker T was kind of weird. Lita was downright terrible. Lita rambles a little too often to be put on a show like this.
– Why did Kane have to beat up both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn? This was a very poor way to bring Zayn vs. Owens to a head before their Battleground match. What did Kane gain here? This was the most upsetting moment of the show.
– Kevin Owens slipping in the draft and being upset about it is a great story. It propels his character forward in a nice way.
– I appreciate the idea of dividing AJ Styles and Anderson and Gallows. I also appreciate the idea of Styles going above John Cena. AJ is being pushed as a major star and is set to be a centerpiece of the Smackdown brand.
– There is so much to unpack after this draft. I’m feeling optimistic about both shows going into next week, but I’m not feeling particularly compelled to watch them. Coming out of the WWE Draft, the best/most enjoyable way to watch WWE programming will likely be watching the big shows and ignoring the weekly shows. This isn’t good for WWE, but it is a consequence of how much content they produce on a weekly basis. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.