McGuire’s Mondays: The WWE Draft is useless, but failure this year could result in the worst fallout yet

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By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)

Before we get any further down the line, let’s establish the obvious: I know that pro wrestling is scripted television. Some people call it a soap opera, and I don’t think those people are entirely wrong. There are good guys. Bad guys. Lots of drama. Words are written for those who say them. Winners and losers are determined ahead of time. The physical action is coordinated and understood that it is conducted under the safest pretenses possible. Pro wrestling is a serialized drama.

And yet what makes that serialized drama so unique is that part of its lore is dependent on allowing space for those who watch it to believe that not all of it is predetermined. The more real it feels, the better it becomes. The more we find ourselves questioning the blurred lines, the more invested our minds turn when it comes to the product. It’s an addictive space in which to reside intellectually. The whole backbone of pro wrestling is the ability to outsmart the onlookers who believe they are the smartest of smart consumers. It’s a weird codependency and it’s not not toxic.

So, it’s not like pro wrestling is held to the same standards to which anything else athletic is held. I understand that. This is TV. This isn’t life or death, like, to some people, their hometown NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL team actually is. A close loss on a Sunday for a Chicago Bears fan can single-handedly ruin a weekend for so many loyalists. In those cases, it’s because real competition exists. The outcomes are in doubt until the final second clicks off the clock. It speaks to the competitor in all of us.

One thing those real-world forms of entertainment utilize each year is, of course, a draft. In fact, drafts in all major American sports have become big business. The NFL installment is a cash cow and even Major League Baseball, which has something like 1,032,583 rounds of it, is garnering more attention each year the draft boon inflates. Here’s how it works: Players are drafted to a team and those players play for said team whenever the next season starts (or draft day trades happen … or, in rare cases, an athlete refuses to play for a particular city and is moved to another city, but you get it).

Steph Curry was drafted to the Golden State Warriors in 2009. He has since played exclusively for the Golden State Warriors. When his brother Seth, an undrafted guard out of Duke, got picked up by the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, the Warriors didn’t say, “Go ahead, Steph, and suit up for the Mavs next Friday; we know you want to be out there with your brother. We’ll see you back here in Golden State on Monday.” It’s all to say, drafts in professional sports are real. Nobody hops to other teams on a whim. That doesn’t adhere to the fundamentals of what a draft is meant to be. You get a jersey. You play for a team. There before the grace of God go you.

Such is why there is no place in pro wrestling for a draft of any kind – and especially so, there is no place in pro wrestling for a draft of any kind if you aren’t even going to respect the boundaries that come along with implementing such a tired, fruitless exercise in a world that is closer to The Young And The Restless than it is to a three-point contest.

This is said, of course, as we sit in anticipation of yet another upcoming WWE draft. For all the faith and optimism that WWE Land exuded after Vince McMahon stepped down, that good will became brutally compromised over WrestleMania weekend, and more so after it was explained that McMahon had a hand in the Raw after WrestleMania this year, too.

Nobody on the outside is really quite sure what influence McMahon now has on a week to week basis when it comes to WWE TV, but if we are to believe some reports circulating, the process of the WWE draft hasn’t changed much heading into 2023’s installment. In other words, there may or may not be frustrations from talent when it comes to the notion that they continue to not know which brand they’ll be on in a couple weeks. Longtime factions could be split. Real-life romantic partners could be prone to different traveling schedules. The list goes on.

And while those issues are certainly worth their own discussions and examinations, let’s take the draft from a purely entertainment standpoint. As fans, it’s needless. Detrimental. Damaging, even. Think back to the good old days when pro wrestling bookers split up tag-teams or factions because one of the people involved decided to be an asshole after a match and the former friends feuded for a couple months before ultimately becoming singles stars (or, well, at least some of them became stars … sorry Marty Jannetty). Or how about the process of heating an act up with, you know, smart booking and a long-term plan for their story? Pro wrestling succeeded for decades based on the mere competency of those things.

The draft, meanwhile, is an easy out. It’s a cheat code. Above all else, it’s intellectually lazy. Think someone needs a new coat of paint? Move them from Raw to Smackdown. Is there a wrestler who could use a little nudge up the card as a prominent player, even if it’s for only a secondary title? You betcha. Instead of coming up with a creative way to get that wrestler where you want him or her to be, the draft invests in the oh-too-simple solution of making an entertainer wrestle on Mondays instead of Tuesdays or Fridays. That’ll do the trick. Right?

Not always. Shoot. Not even often. And this time around, these types of criticisms feel even more acute if only because of the issues surrounding the unified titles the company has at the top of its card. Looking for a way to split the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship back into two because your biggest star just isn’t around all that much to defend that unified title? The draft can help that, however thin-brained a solution based on it might be. Ditto for the tag titles. I mean, hell. By this time eight days from now, the current unified tag champs, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, could be on different shows just … because.

Actually, the Bloodline saga is truly at the center of the current draft dilemma. How’s this going to work? You have the most successful story WWE has told in years in your hands – and one that not just allows for, but demands the players in the story be on both Raw and Smackdown each week – and you think a draft at this point in time is going to … help keep that story interesting?

Huh? For all the good the Bloodline has brought to WWE, one unintended consequence at this point has to be the lack of focus on building others outside the Bloodline realm. Let’s pretend that the entirety of the Bloodline is drafted to Friday nights later this week. With them goes, in theory, Owens, Zayn, probably Cody Rhodes, Matt Riddle and at least a couple peripheral players I’m sure I’m leaving out.

What does that leave you with on Monday? Omos vs. Seth Rollins Part Deux week after week? The latest celebrity du jour, be it a Paul brother, a Bad Bunny or some returning legend, stepping in for a six week program before heading back to their real lives? The Judgment Day getting hot and heavy with Maximum Male Models? Imperium beating up on Mustafa Ali, Dolph Ziggler and Johnny Gargano? The money is in the Bloodline. This much, we all know. As such, it’d feel silly to split that mini-world up on any level, but it also means you’re going to have to find draws on other parts of the card if we are going to adhere to the fundamentals of the draft.

And yes, herein lies the problem each time WWE tries to do this. We might go a week. We might go a month. Hell, we might even go multiple months before we see a crossover. But rest assured, friends. We’ll see a crossover. The biggest reason the draft is WWE’s biggest farce is because WWE treats the draft like it’s WWE’s biggest farce. Why should we invest in it if the decision-makers won’t even give it an honest-to-goodness shot? If you’re trying to hotshot a Bronson Reed mid-card title run, maybe spend more than four weeks giving the guy a chance at breaking through.

That, of course, leads us to another tangential issue with the draft: Hot-shot booking doesn’t work anymore. I’m not so sure it had impeccable returns decades ago to begin with, but especially in this day and age, fans are too smart. Between their own opinions and the millions of others that can be found on everywhere from Twitter to podcasts, the amount of emphasis put on story in pro wrestling these days is debilitating.

The focus on that has only been exacerbated by how great the Bloodline tale has been over the course of the last couple years. If you think you can draft wrestlers to different brands, magically give someone a title in short order and expect that title run to connect with the fan base … not these days, pal (ironically, if you are a wrestler the fan base thinks is being wildly underserved, this is a company that appears to gleefully turn the other way when it comes to an out-of-no-where title win, but I digress).

My point is that even if WWE leaders think the draft is the magic reset button that solves a chunk of booking problems, this is the one year that such an approach will be more futile than ever. Between the Bloodline, the fed up fans and a lack of attention to mid-card development, it has become increasingly hard to understand where the forest begins to take shape through the trees. If I’m wrong, and one year from now, we have no brand crossover, the Bloodline is still thriving and a handful of once-toiling wrestlers gained momentum as a result of whatever is about to happen on Friday and next Monday, I’ll happily sit here and own precisely how wrong I am. Knowing WWE … I’m not so sure that’s expected to happen.

Still, my mind is open. As I said at the beginning of this, I know we’re talking about scripted entertainment. In theory, there should be reasonable plans in place for what happens after they divide the roster up again. While I know I’ll suffocate if I hold my breath waiting to see if that is indeed the case this time around, I can still leave my mind open for at least some good to come out of this. My only pushback? If this year’s draft installment not only refuses to yield better results for the umpteenth year in a row it’s been held, but it also begins the dissemination of the Bloodline story, can we all finally agree that we should put a moratorium on this thing? Please? Pretty please?

Because scripted or not, pure entertainment or true athletic competition, failure is failure. And if you have the ability to right a wrong based on the stroke of a pencil on a piece of paper, at some point, someone in WWE has to understand, the eraser can be a hell of a friend.

WE VALUE YOUR PRIVACY

Readers Comments (3)

  1. I prefer a strongly adhered to brand separation. However, if they aren’t going to do that, I’d just as soon leave things the way they are, as it’s pointless otherwise.

  2. This didn’t age well.

  3. People used to get a “new coat of paint” by moving from one territory to another. As this really doesn’t exist anymore (yeah I know a few people have moved from WWE to AEW) creating the brand split really is the only way to reboot people

    Personally I wish they would do more with NXT as the minor league. To speak in soccer terms wrestlers with losing records should get “relegated” to NXT and then have to “work their way back” to one of the main roster shows

    And I agree with others who want to see a more defined split. I am not advocating for “heel authority figures” again but I think that each show should have a figurehead leader to accentuate the difference between shows

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