The 2016 draft edition of SmackDown Live is officially in the books and what a night it was. The landscape of both Raw and SmackDown has been decided for the upcoming year as Stephanie McMahon & Mick Foley, as well as Shane McMahon & Daniel Bryan made the picks. There was even occasional banter from the siblings, which never really is a good deal.
Like any WWE draft, there were plenty of shake-ups up and down the card. Brand new main events, women’s rosters, tag divisions, etc. needed to be carved out of this previously singular locker room as two distinct shows were made. Even the announce teams were needed to be reshuffled because if something has to change then everything has to change.
The realization that the total roster pool might be a tad thin likely crossed the minds of a few people as the show was underway but let’s face it, it’s too late now to take any of it back. Time will tell if these unique shows will remember this night as a night of good decisions or bad, but it can’t erase how fascinating it was. The talent is exceptional all around even if it feels like the numbers aren’t high, so there’s plenty of reason for optimism.
Several shocking moments happened through the night, including wrestlers being separated from both the Wyatts and The Club, a few long overdue NXT promotions, and a Cesaro reaction to his drafting that caused many heads to turn. The surprises of the night were aplenty, so continue to read all about them all.
15. Braun Exits The Wyatt Family
There weren’t too many big shakeups among tag teams during this draft but the stables were fair game to be ravaged. The Wyatt took a big hit as leader Bray and Erick Rowan went to SmackDown, yet big Braun Strowman got drafted to Raw. This doesn’t look like the end to the Family – just Braun’s involvement in it.
Erick Rowan would’ve been the worst off if he was separated from Bray, so it’s good that he’s still alongside his leader. The muscle is out of the group but if Luke Harper returns soon, then Bray’s faction can fill itself out again. It might not even be a bad idea to add another member. Is it time to add a female follower or Sister Abigail to the backwoods cult?
It’ll be exciting to see how Braun is handled by himself. In the buildup to this past WrestleMania, there was much talk that he was slated for a huge match, possibly against The Undertaker. That never came to fruition, but his gigantic size has kept the push on the horizon. He will get a chance to be major player and that could happen relatively soon. Time will tell if he’s improved much inside the ring because his time in the main event will come whether he has or not.
14. Homes For The Secondary Singles Titles
If anyone was worried about their favorite WWE show going without a secondary championship, well, have no fear. Raw was lucky enough to draft United States Champion Rusev. That prompted SmackDown’s successive pick to be Intercontinental Champion The Miz. Watching the U.S. Title go to Raw left Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan no choice but to draft the IC Champion. They couldn’t be a show without one of those stepping stone straps.
As an added bonus to these picks, both of these titleholders also come with a beautiful blonde, as well. Both Lana and Maryse are also the real life love interests of the men they accompany, which seems just slightly serendipitous. The heel mid-card titleholder with a love interest is simply what works now WWE. Perhaps Zack Ryder should turn heel and ask Emma to dye her hair. These ladies work well with their men, although Lana would be better off if she Rocky 4’d it a bit more.
One interesting tidbit from the draft is that both Battleground challengers to these titles, Zack Ryder and Dolph Zigger, were drafted to SmackDown. Knowing that fact, a Rusev win on Sunday seems like the most guaranteed pick of the Battleground card at this point. It would be highly unlikely that neither of these titles would end up on Raw.
13. New Announce Teams
Breaking extremely late into the night on WWE.com, the announce teams for Raw and SmackDown have both received a shakeup to coincide with the draft. Raw will now be a team consisting of Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton while SmackDown will host the voices of Mauro Ranallo, JBL, and David Otunga. Tom Phillips will also handle the secondary shows, joined by Graves on Superstars and Otunga on Main Event.
The big positive to this change is that Corey Graves has been promoted to WWE’s flagship show. The NXT commentator has been the darling of the critics for a long while so many will see this as a long overdue bump. Many were hoping that he’d instead be paired alongside play-by-play virtuoso Mauro Ranallo, but it’s still okay to be happy for him to now be on the Raw lineup. Additionally, David Otunga is joining the SmackDown team along with a transfer from Raw, JBL.
One big name that’s noticeably absent from both shows is Jerry “The King” Lawler. His name was completely gone from WWE’s statement on the new lineups, so let any and all speculation abound as to what’s going here. In the meantime, rejoice that Corey Graves now gets to offer color commentary on Monday nights.
12. Owens & Zayn Both Go To Raw
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have one of the most storied rivalries in all of wrestling. They came up together in the independents, warring alongside and against each other long before they stepped foot into WWE. When they both found themselves together in NXT, they were at each other’s’ throats almost immediately. That heated feud has continued onto their ascension into the main roster and has led to many fantastic encounters over the past several months.
Maybe it’s silly to act so surprised about getting more of a good thing but it did seem like these two would wind up on different shows. After Battleground, they could’ve cooled off for a year or whenever a 2017 draft might occur. They’ve been wrestling each other a ton and being on separate shows could’ve been an easy way to cool them off, but that didn’t happen.
This surprise is by no means a complaint because these two are awesome whenever they’re on screen together. They’ve been doing this for years and it keeps getting better and better. They likely will know how to keep dozens of more encounters throughout this calendar year fresh. Maybe they’ll even take their battles all the way up to the level of whatever the title of Raw winds up being.
11. American Alpha Arrives
One of the hottest tag teams in all of wrestling as of late has been the fantastic duo of Chad Gable & Jason Jordan. With their successful amateur wrestling backgrounds and their ability to wrestle circles around all the competition, these guys have been wowing Full Sail since their American Alpha inception.
Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan apparently recognized their talents because they drafted them to SmackDown. This will be a solid addition to a tag team division that appears to have The Vaudevillians, Breezango, The Ascension, and The Usos. One likely matchup that should be unexpectedly exciting is whenever Chad & Jason pair off against Tyler Breeze & Fandango. Not only is the comedy Zoolander-ish shtick hilarious and could push American Alpha’s comedic potential, but they’re also a pair of great wrestlers that haven’t really gotten a fair chance to go on the main roster. Maybe this brand split will be a true second chance for teams like them.
Raw may have gotten the WWE Tag Team Championships but without being defended against American Alpha, whichever team carries those belts will always have to ask themselves how they’d hold up against the best tag team in WWE right now.
10. A Hype Bro Reunion?
There were a limited number of draftees coming up from NXT – six picks to be exact. One of the more surprising ones that was snuck in during the final (eleventh) round was the hypest man in the room, Mojo Rawley.
Even though his NXT tag team buddy Zack Ryder has been getting plenty of singles opportunities recently, Mojo on SmackDown could see a main roster run from the Hype Bros. In fact, pairing Rawley with Ryder is the most logical spot for him on that roster.
One option for introducing Rawley to the SmackDown could be as a save for the Long Island Iced Z. It appears that Zack is merely a temporary challenge to the United States Champion, so an eventual “crush” should be on his horizon. If Ryder finds himself caught in the Accolade with a Bulgarian refusing to let go, Mojo can run down to the ring to bail out his pal.
Regardless if Mojo is slated for a tag run with Ryder or if he’s going solo, he should be giving plenty of mic time. His cheery jock charisma becomes more and more infectious over time, so play that to his advantage. Give him his chance to talk and he’ll show the WWE Universe that he doesn’t merely get hype, he stays hype.
9. Women’s Champion In Top Three
Hopefully this isn’t false hope but the drafting of WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte as the third overall pick makes it seem like these ladies are going to be given more of the NXT treatment on the main roster. Sasha Banks is also on the Raw brand, along with Nia Jax, Dana Brooke, and Paige, so there’s plenty of talent to go around somewhere on the three hours of Raw.
One ally that might ensure that something resembling a women’s wrestling revolution is given an opportunity to flourish is the returning Mick Foley. Sure, his on-screen role is that of just a character, but his real life appreciation of women’s wrestling could be of influence. He’s more than willing to speak his mind and if he wonders why the ladies aren’t being given enough time, Mick will ask those kinds of questions.
On the SmackDown side, the top ladies on that show look to be Becky Lynch and Natalya. If this division introduces its own Women’s title, that will very much favor a girl like Lynch who’s very talented but hasn’t gotten quite the opportunities that some of her peers have yet. A SmackDown Women’s Championship is just what’s needed for Lynch to light that show on fire.
8. Cesaro Reluctantly Goes To Raw
The Swiss Superman was drafted in the 6th Round to Raw, along with Neville and Sheamus. If you were hoping that Cesaro would’ve been drafted a little higher, Cesaro would be the first to agree with you.
After SmackDown went off the air, Jojo interviewed Cesaro about his thoughts about heading to the flagship show of WWE and it sounded like he was none too pleased about it. He mentioned pretty quickly that he hoped that he would’ve been drafted at least top 10. He also said that he thought he would’ve been a better fit for SmackDown because that looks like it was going to be the more “wrestling” show.
Jojo then asked Cesaro about how he thought Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley might coexist on Raw, which was not the right question to ask the agitated King of Swing. He immediately said that was part of the problem. The focus needed to be about the wrestlers and the action in the ring. He even specifically used the word “annoying” in regards to having to talk about the leadership of the show.
After hearing Cesaro’s rant, most wrestling fans will likely offer a hearty Amen. If the comments weren’t scripted and truly from his heart, here’s to hoping that he doesn’t suffer too much heat for speaking his mind.
7. No Heath Slater?!
Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, the lovable Heath Slater was one of the more notable omissions from the draft. His Social Outcast buddies still found some love as Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel went to Raw in the 10th and 11th rounds, respectively.
It was actually pretty funny on the WWE Network after Bo Dallas was drafted but the other two Outcasts weren’t. Bo was his usually giddy self while Slater and Axel were sweating it out. The reasoning for this travesty is likely due to a significant amount of stitches currently on Heath’s face thanks to a mishap at a recent house show.
Other superstars on the disabled list seemed to be quietly absent from the draft, so it doesn’t look like his WWE career is in jeopardy or anything. It’s just disheartening to see no Heath Slater by the time The Shining Stars were brought to Raw in the 10th round. One topic on the bright side for these lower-tiered guys is that all of them being on Raw at least fills out the Superstars lineup every week.
The WWE Network coverage actually went off the air with Heath in an empty room as the lights went out. He was confused why he didn’t know where he’d be going, which is a shame to such a likeable creature. Can we at least get some confirmation that Heath is joining his pals?
6. New Day To Raw
Yes, American Alpha went to SmackDown and that’s going to give a huge boost to tag team wrestling on that show. However, the current WWE Tag Team Champions, New Day, are headed to Monday nights and they’re taking their titles with them. They’ve been one of the bedrocks of WWE for a long while, bringing the funny on a very consistent basis. It’s a shame there won’t be a battle against Gable & Jordan any time soon but they’ve got a little bit of competition to still tough it out with.
The Raw tag division is filled out with The Club, The Dudley Boyz, Golden Truth, The Shining Stars, and enough Social Outcasts to make a tag team. The depth isn’t great on that side of the roster split but there’s always the chance that Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho will make a serious run in the division together. Those two have great chemistry.
Regardless of who battles it out with Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods, New Day are on the verge of breaking the longest reigning tag record set by Paul London and Brian Kendrick. This tag division still belongs to New Day and likely will for a long time, whether they drop the belts soon or not.
5. Sad Face Because No Bayley
With Sasha Banks absent a tag team partner going in to her big match against Charlotte and Dana Brooke into Sunday’s Battleground, the buzz is strong that Bayley will fill that role. Her entry into the main roster seemed like a shoo-in, being that there were six picks from the NXT roster. Yet throughout the SmackDown broadcast and the WWE Network coverage afterwards, there was no mention of everybody’s favorite hugger.
Some NXT women who did find their way to the main roster via the draft included Nia Jax, Carmella, and Alexa Bliss. Nia was drafted to Raw while the other two NXT alum are going to SmackDown. This is all fine and good, especially with Alexa Bliss. That girl has the meanest glare in all of wrestling. She’s a wonderful heel based on her facial expressions alone.
Despite the quality talent that got drafted from the developmental brand, none of these ladies have filled the role of being a tag team partner for Sasha on Sunday. For those of us that still have hope that Bayley will be that lucky lady opposite Dana and Charlotte, there’s still a chance. No Bayley on the main roster would really be the one of the biggest disappointments of the year if that ends up being the case.
4. Styles Splits From The Club
The Club has been a fun faction as of late. Being the thorn in John Cena’s side, they’ve been quite trendy as they find new and unique ways to beat up the face that runs the place. All of that fun is now coming to an end because AJ Styles has been drafted to SmackDown and Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson have been drafted to Raw. It must be true that all good things must come to an end.
Initially, this feels like a risky move. Gallows & Anderson were much better off aligned with AJ. Even when AJ was feuding against Roman Reigns as a reluctant ally to his former Bullet Club buddies, it was still better than the few moments they’ve been on their own. As for Styles, he was fine before fully embracing the WWE version of this faction but they’ve helped him show off way more personality since becoming his backup.
It is risky breaking the tag team away from this the singles star but as will be covered momentarily, The Club looks to be quite alright. The Phenomenal One should be more than fine as well. Being on this split roster, his chances of holding a major title has shot through the roof. It’s just a shame that he can’t do it without his buddies.
3. Finn Finally Goes To Raw
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson are going to be perfectly fine on Raw without AJ Styles because another New Japan Bullet Club crew member is meeting them there. Finn Balor was the first NXT pick announced in the draft and the 5th one overall, which is a pretty high spot to be in. He’s been prominent as the face of NXT for the past year and it would be a good sign for this New Era if he continues to hold an important roster position on Raw, too.
It’s a little strange that The Club will likely become Balor Club without a dramatic changing of the guard-style feud, but that does look like what’s about to happen. Apart from pushing Finn to the moon on arrival, this three-man team could have a read-made story if they choose to selectively set their sights on the tag division upon arrival. Balor Club could also opt to use the Freebird format like New Day on their path to tag championship glory.
Another perk to a potential Balor Club feud with New Day is the competition that would ensue over who could make more of an Elite inter-promotional rivalry happen. New Day have been razzing on the current NJPW Bullet Club trio for a while and it would be funny if actual Bullet Club guys were joining in on the fun with them.
2. Lesnar & Orton Get Drafted To Different Shows
There’s a ton of buzz, both positive and negative, currently associated with Brock Lesnar. From a “no news is bad news” perspective, all of that can only help with the hype concerning the big match between him and Randy Orton at SummerSlam. What doesn’t help create buzz is the fact that both superstars have been drafted to completely different shows.
Brock Lesnar is now a Raw athlete and Randy Orton is a wrestler for SmackDown. With limited schedules, it was assumed that these guys would have minimal interaction before they meet in the ring anyway. Now it’s a virtual impossibility that there will be much, if any, face to face confrontations.
Perhaps the idea is that this match is so big that it sells itself, which isn’t entirely wrong. Lesnar is still a gigantic crossover star of an athlete and the WWE audience is extremely Orton deprived. Maybe this will even play into their advantage. This matchup can be presented with much more legitimacy if it’s simply two guys wanting to prove who the better man inside the ring is. It can be presented almost UFC-ish with a pre-fight weigh in (not that weight classes matter in this case) and a press conference open to the media.
1. Numbers One & Two Are…
The rules were explicitly spelled out that Raw would be getting the first pick of the draft. Perhaps the most surprising moment of the night was that the WWE Champion was not chosen first. Sure, Dean Ambrose is a heel and why would Stephanie want to have a scallywag like him on her show? Still, he carries the biggest title in the company. Surely that’s worth the trouble to them.
Seth Rollins is consistently one of the best performers in the company so from a fan’s perspective his number one draft pick is a big win for Mondays. He’s still feuding with both of his Shield buddies and will face off against them at Battleground for Dean’s title. Seth definitely wants to win that belt again and even got the chance to do so in the main event of SmackDown.
Unlike the goofy ending to their Raw match just one day prior, Dean defeated Seth clean with his belt on the line. Using the classic “win on TV, lose on PPV” philosophy, does that mean that Rollins is the more likely to win on Sunday? With Roman Reigns’ return looming, there’s probably no way to guess that outcome safely.