McGuire’s Mondays: Five ways to improve the WWE Draft

By Colin McGuire, Staffer

It’s draft day. Or, well, it’s the second of two draft days.

Despite WWE reminding us ad nauseam that it is a completely new era for the company, one of the things the worldwide leader in sports “eventertainment” kept around was its yearly draft. It began on Friday’s Smackdown and will continue/conclude tonight on Raw. Using a draft in the pro wrestling world has always been silly to me, but WWE somehow managed to make it worse over the years with the whole process feeling haphazard, thrown together at the last minute because Vince McMahon was too busy … eh, it’s Monday. You know what I mean.

And yet, with the shiny new leadership team that Paul Levesque now heads up, we as fans have been conditioned to give WWE the benefit of the doubt when it comes to creative decisions. That’s the good news. The bad news? Friday’s opening four rounds of the WWE Draft felt a lot like years past. As such, I have five suggestions for how to make the whole thing meaningful within the confines of that pesky thing they call the WWE Universe. Oddly enough, I also have a Monday column on a pro wrestling website which I can use as a conduit to share those suggestions.

So let’s see …

1. Commit To The Brand Split

The most obvious suggestion and the one anyone reading this was most likely waiting to see. From pundits to legends to wrestlers to producers, this seems to be the talking point a lot of people bring up when they talk about how to make the WWE Draft better. The thing is, the thought isn’t wrong.

When Kyrie Irving was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in early 2023, he didn’t get to Dallas, play 26 games and then say, “Hey, you know what? I’d like to head back to Brooklyn and play a few games for them before the playoffs start. See you soon!” In real professional sports, things don’t work like that. You don’t assign residence to someone and then play flipsy-flopsy with it just because someone is injured. Case in point: Russell Wilson isn’t going to head back to Denver to play quarterback for the Broncos after being traded to the Steelers in the offseason just because Denver has a quarterback shortage in week five.

I know the push back: But it’s sports entertainment! Don’t take this too seriously! Get a life! All those responses have merit, yes, but the truth is that we, as fans, have allowed WWE to get away with hiding behind the entertainment argument for years. The results haven’t warranted … well … entertainment. Think of how much more intriguing the draft could be if it actually had parameters by which the company stuck after the draft was over. “Boy, it really would be nice to see Randy Orton on Raw soon,” some might think.

Too bad. Wait until next year’s draft. The rules are the rules. If you want us to take your shit seriously, take it seriously yourself. These are basic fundamentals. Now with that said …

2. Treat Trades With The Respect They Deserve

Should a wrestler jump from one brand to the other, make the move feel like something important actually happened. I’m not opposed to the occasional wrestler moving from one brand to the other – just do it right. Create an aura around the possibility of one wrestler from one brand moving to the other brand for another wrestler. In pro sports, all the talking heads often lead with trade speculation, what it could mean for both teams involved and how the potentially traded player could be affected by a trade.

Enter Lee Fitting. He came to WWE from the College Gameday/Monday Night Football world, where things like trades (and filling time on pregame shows by talking about said trades) were important. What would the ramifications be if Kevin Owens were to be traded to Raw in the middle of his developing blood feud with The Bloodline? What if Owens had been on the trading block week after week due to whatever storyline circumstances you want to make up, and as he’s working to be traded from Smackdown to Raw to try and get away from those dastardly samoans, new developments occur each week to thwart the trade?

One of the more fun things that happened over the weekend in WWE Land was the Carmelo Hayes video that trickled out. Just like you’d see on the NFL Draft, which also happened over the weekend, a split-screen video of Hayes on the phone with Smackdown GM Nick Aldis popped up. During the video, Aldis was explaining to Hayes that he was drafted to Smackdown, much like you see the requisite college kid sitting at home with 100 of his closest friends getting a call from the Atlanta Falcons GM, telling him that he’s been drafted to sit behind Kirk Cousins for the next four years.

Or something like that.

Either way, the more WWE can incorporate real-life sports draft wrinkles, the more appealing the draft will be. Building stories around potential trades throughout the year is one of the ways WWE can do just that.

3. Institute Prerequisites For Those In NXT

I don’t know about you, but when Smackdown went to the Performance Center in Orlando to check in on the NXT roster during Friday’s draft, I couldn’t help but think this when I saw Brian Pillman Jr. (or, um, Lexis King) sitting in the front row of wrestlers: “There ain’t no way this guy is getting drafted; he’s been there for about 75 seconds. Also, what’s up with those stonewashed jeans?” His presence got me thinking: What if WWE didn’t just automatically insert every NXT wrestler into the draft equation?

Consider: If you are a current or former NXT champion, you are eligible to be drafted from NXT to Raw or Smackdown. Too small a pool? How about if you’ve been in NXT for five (maybe three?) or more years, you also can be considered to get the call to move to the big time. This way, you have nothing but meaningful players in the mix when it comes to these things. Between the Tuesday night NXT show and whatever that Level Up thing is, NXT has become crowded in recent years. Take a look at some of those random nameless-women backstage segments they’ve been running for a little while now and you’ll know what I mean.

If you establish who in NXT might actually be available for the draft each year, the stories you could surround that premise with are endless. Just think: The year is 2031. Chase U has been in NXT for 46 years. This is the final year they are eligible for a call up. Will it happen? Because if it doesn’t, they will be NXT for life, stuck in the space where your highest ceiling is main-eventing something called “Stand & Deliver.” The story writes itself.

I know there have been rumblings that WWE wants to make NXT a legitimate third brand and not just its developmental space. But until I see Roman Reigns pop up each Tuesday for six months on that show, there’s no escaping the reputation NXT has as the company’s third, lesser brand. Lean into it with the draft and make the step up to Raw or Smackdown feel earned. Don’t just throw all 693 wrestlers out there, sit them in folding chairs and pretend that each one of them has a shot at moving up. It cheapens the process.

4. Give The Draft Stakes

And no, I don’t mean that stupid “battle for brand supremacy” Survivor Series nonsense. The point of a draft is to establish a solid roster from top to bottom, is it not? In that case, hold a WreslteMania invitational Tournament each year. All SmackDown and Raw champions are excluded from the tournament. Shoot. Take it further and let’s say anyone drafted within the first five rounds on each brand is excluded.

Then, over a series of weeks on television, unfold two tournaments – one for men and one for women. One set of matches on Raw. One set of matches on Smackdown. The winners of each bracket get a chance to have their one-on-one WrestleMania match against each other. The winner of that match earns the No. 1 pick for their brand going into the next draft, which always seems to happen within weeks of WrestleMania.

This way, the lesser-known, late-round picks will matter. As things stand now, it’s hard to see Zoey Stark – who fell into that dreaded “this person was drafted on Friday, too, but just not on TV!” spot – getting a singles match at WrestleMania, which is traditionally one of WWE’s most coveted things it can offer its wrestlers in a real life context. You know how she can get one? Win the Raw women’s WrestleMania Invitational Tournament.

It’s a much more fun way to get lesser-known stars on the WrestleMania card than a dumbass battle royal that isn’t even on the WrestleMania card anymore. It could serve as proof that one GM excelled over the other in curating the roster with the most depth over the course of the WWE calendar year. Champion vs. champion is lame. Chances are, whoever holds the belts are top people in the company anyway and they will have already met at some point prior to a gimmick like that. This way, it gives the little guy/gal a chance to experience the ‘Mania spotlight and perhaps even cobble together a match that we haven’t seen and could steal the show. Why not give it a shot?

5. Video Packages

Ah, yes. AEW isn’t the only company who could stand to utilize video packages more with its product. You watch any draft in any sport and you’ll see countless montages of potential picks in a variety of manners. Caleb Williams went No. 1 in this year’s NFL Draft? Here’s a three-minute highlight package of his best college moments while Mel Kiper Jr. talks over it. I understand that as fans, we feel like we’ve seen all there is to see when it comes to these wrestlers, but let’s not forget that running a video package in times like these could also be a way to freshen any and all wrestlers up.

Case in point: Smackdown actually did air a Carmelo Hayes vignette after he was drafted on Friday. Good stuff. Yeah, he’s done a few Smackdown shots in previous months, but that package established him as a major new player for the brand. Imagine if they would have done the same for LA Knight in round three. His heat has been slowly fading in the tiniest of ways ever since The Rock came back and hogged 50 minutes an episode; put together a 45-second ditty that shows all those rabid crowds yelling ‘Yeah!” at Knight over the last year. Gold. Plus, it’d make the pick – and the wrestler – mean something more than a mere announcement read off a card by a Dudley Boy.

The alternative to all of these, of course, is to just, you know, kill the draft. But that’s not constructive, now is it? And so, as the Paul Levesque era continues to unfold, maybe at least one of these ideas could be worth consideration around this time next year? Don’t forget: It is all about the game, you know.


Readers Comments (1)

  1. I will say the one thing I genuinely liked is that it seemed the NXT callups genuinely didn’t know until they were called. If that’s legit I loved it!

    As for the brand split, in all honesty it doesn’t mean much to me. Raw gets to have a bigger roster by virtue of being a longer show. Otherwise for all intents and purposes they’re the same show. I’d really love to see them take an approach where one show is very different from the other, so the roster picks you have need to make sense for that style of show. They can both still be WWE shows, but I feel like they should be run like relatively different entities that only “clash” or crossover at particular times.

    Also… what if smack down had rules Raw didn’t? What if on smack down only the legal competitors are allowed in the ring area during a match? Or what if on raw all matches had a particular time limit, or championships could change hands in a count out in all match types? Not real suggestions I’m just trying to describe my thought. The right trades could bring some interesting stories. I just don’t feel they are otherwise different enough for me to care.

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