We are on the verge of professional wrestling history when on July 19, 2016, not only does Smackdown go live permanently on Tuesday nights for the first time ever, but there will also be a brand split draft where the WWE Superstars will be sent to either the mainstay Monday Night Raw or the upgraded and fresh Smackdown. It was announced this past Monday that Shane McMahon will be the Commissioner of Smackdown, Stephanie McMahon will do the same for Monday Night Raw, and they each will designate a General Manager next week.
The first brand split occurred in 2002, largely because of the expanded roster the WWE had when Vince McMahon purchased WCW from Ted Turner. Those WCW wrestlers were introduced in an “Invasion” story line and pay per view, but then after that battle had settled down, so did the WCW wrestlers who remained with the company. This brand extension would essentially come to an end in 2013 when they united the WWE Championship with the WWE World Championship.
This article takes a look at 15 possible shocking wrestlers that could be drafted on July 19, 2016 on the first ever live edition of Smackdown in its permanent home on Tuesdays. This list has no one currently on the main roster, and will include some NXT stars, as well as some superstars that have left the company and are rumored to return. Take a look at the list and let us know who you think will be a big draft surprise come July 19th.
15. Samoa Joe
The first in the list of wrestlers that could be a major surprise at the WWE Draft is the current NXT Champion in Samoa Joe. In my opinion, anyone that is a current champion within NXT is good enough to be on the main roster, but in the case of Samoa Joe, he could have easily went straight to the main roster much like AJ Styles did. It was never a matter of “If” with Samoa Joe, but “When,” and he is almost needed when it comes to the brand split.
When Samoa Joe was signed and debuted in May 2015, it opened up a lot of eyes as this was the first signing of an Impact Wrestling megastar whose roots were with the company (unlike Sting). Prior to this, many speculated that Vince McMahon and Triple H wouldn’t sign some of this top talent like Joe, AJ Styles, James Storm, and Bobby Roode. The fact that Joe broke down that wall has made NXT and the WWE much more valuable.
14. Shelton Benjamin
It is well known that Vince McMahon wants to bolster the Monday Night Raw and Smackdown brands even further after the brand extension draft, and now would be the perfect time to bring back Shelton Benjamin. At age 41, he is still very active and in great shape and is currently wrestling for Pro Wrestling Noah, and was in Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling prior to that.
Benjamin was last in the WWE in 2010 after a modest push in the midcard as a singles wrestler. Drafting Benjamin makes sense as there is already a built-in feud with American Alpha in NXT (who is all but certain to be called up for the draft) as there are many comparisons with Benjamin and his former tag team partner Charlie Haas. While Haas has since retired, you could pair Benjamin up with a newer wrestler like Apollo Crews to create a great tag team feud.
13. The Revival
Just as I said with Samoa Joe earlier, if you are holding gold in NXT, you are definitely deserving to be drafted and called up to the main roster. While it is up in the air if tag teams will be drafted together (I think it was actually ridiculous that they split up teams in the prior draft), we’ll just assume they’re not going to split up any teams getting the call-up. If each brand is going to have their own tag team division, The Revival is going to be needed on either Raw or Smackdown.
The Revival is a great old school tag team that has shades of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard from The Four Horsemen. The Revival have one huge claim to fame, they were the first ever tag team to capture the NXT Tag Team Championship twice when they defeated American Alpha in June 2016 at NXT Takeover: The End. These guys work very well as a tag team and have had “Match of the Year” candidates with American Alpha. It’s only going to be a matter of time with these guys.
12. Mickie James
Mickie James broke into the WWE in 2005 playing a stalker of Trish Stratus, which eventually led to a great feud with some great matches. Once Trish left the WWE, Mickie took over as one of the top women in the division. Just like Shelton Benjamin, she would leave the WWE in 2010 and wrestle in Mexico and then Impact Wrestling. Her list of accolades is impressive: five-time WWE Women’s Champion, one-time WWE Diva’s Champion, and three-time TNA Knockouts Champion.
Since leaving TNA, Mickie is still somewhat active wrestling for Global Force Wrestling, a company founded by Jeff Jarrett that hasn’t quite gotten off the ground yet. If each brand is going to have a women’s division, there will definitely be a need for more depth and Mickie would be a welcome return to the WWE. She is also married to former Impact Wrestling star Magnus, and he could be someone that catches the eye of Vince McMahon and Triple H as well.
11. Shinsuke Nakamura
Early in 2016, there were rumblings that Triple H had made some major signings from New Japan Pro Wrestling. While AJ Styles was a huge surprise to finally land in the WWE, I believe it was even more shocking that Shinsuke Nakamura decided to leave New Japan and head to the United States. I just never thought he would leave the promotion ever, but was more than excited when he did as a whole new crowd gets to witness the greatness that is Nakamura.
Those who weren’t familiar with Nakamura were given an amazing crash course when he debuted at NXT Takeover: Dallas and took on Sami Zayn in what will no doubt be the Match of the Year across all wrestling promotions. The talent and charisma are off the charts for Nakamura, and he most likely started in NXT to get acclimated to the WWE style of things like production and entrances.
In August of 2015 Triple H signed a woman who was regarded as one of the best women wrestlers not currently in the WWE- Kana, who was then re-branded as Asuka. To go along with the rest of this article, I had to include Asuka as she is the current NXT Women’s Champion and I believe that all current champions should be included in the draft coming up. She’s been wrestling professionally since 2004, and has looked amazing in NXT so I think she’s more than ready for the main roster.
Asuka has yet to be defeated in the near year she has been in NXT, and became the NXT Women’s Champion at NXT Takeover: Dallas by defeating Bayley (another woman almost guaranteed to be drafted). Bringing her up to the main roster undefeated would be a great story to tell as she takes on a whole new group of women trying to keep that undefeated streak alive. Asuka is an extremely talented wrestler with a unique move set, and a move up to the main roster is just a matter of time.
Primo and Epico were re-branded “The Shining Stars” and there have been never- ending vignettes with this duo for months now, but only one squash match on Monday Night Raw since they ditched the “Los Matadores” gimmick. People are wondering why they had a match over a month ago only to go back to vignettes, and the answer could be the return of Carlito. Ny themselves, The Shining Stars are not really that interesting, but if you throw Carlito into the fold, that is a stable worth watching.
Carlito was originally in the WWE from 2004 to 2010 (a common year for past WWE superstars leaving the company on this list), and it was rumored that he was let go due to his work ethic, but it sounds like it depends on which side of the story you believe. Carlito has remained active since 2010 by returning where he started with the World Wrestling Council (WWC) in Puerto Rico.
8. Nia Jax
Nia Jax has been showing consistent improvement in NXT since her debut in the fall of 2015. Is she ready for the main roster? Probably not, but neither was Dana Brooke. Sometimes if you have a great look and promise, you get thrown in the fire and learn on the fly- much like Apollo Crews has also had to do. Jax has only been in the business for a little more than a year and a half, so she isn’t quite ready for that big step yet.
The thing that Jax has going for her is that she has a very unique look compared to the women on the main roster right now. She’s a menacing figure that hasn’t been seen since the likes of Kharma (Amazing Kong) when she was in the WWE from 2010 until 2012. One would think that her presence has definitely impressed Vince McMahon, and that makes Nia Jax a possible surprise in the brand split draft.
7. Rey Mysterio
One of the most likable and popular superstars of the past decade in the WWE is Rey Mysterio. The WWE also liked him because his merchandise would fly off the shelves with kids and adults alike. Rey made his debut in the WWE in 2002 after Vince McMahon bought WCW from Ted Turner. The accolades for Rey in the WWE include three world titles, three WWE Cruiserweight Championship, two WWE Intercontinental Championship, and four WWE Tag Team Championship reigns.
Currently Rey Mysterio is in Lucha Underground, but it’s unknown what kind of a deal he has with them. I would assume, much like Alberto Del Rio, he would be able to return to the WWE if they came calling. One thing you could do with Rey is draft him with Kalisto (and split up the Lucha Dragons) to form a tag team while passing the “Lucha” torch from Rey to Kalisto. While the Lucha Dragons have been a great tag team, they haven’t had much traction on the main roster, and the pairing of Rey and Kalisto could be magical.
6. John Morrison
Another Lucha Underground star appears on this list with Johnny Mundo, who was known in the WWE as John Morrison. The run for Morrison lasted from 2004 to 2011 where we was be a five-time tag champion, three-time WWE Intercontinental Champion, and once the ECW Champion during the WWE’s failed reboot of the brand. He had the makings to become a WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but never got to that point. With the brand split draft, this could be another shot for Morrison.
He has been one of the major players for Lucha Underground since he debuted in the fall of 2014 using the same Hollywood heel persona that he had as a singles star in the WWE. One thing is for sure, a change in character for Morrison would not be needed at all, and he could just pick up where he left off as a babyface when he feuded with The Miz, or as a heel like he currently is on Lucha Underground.
5. Bobby Roode
Bobby Roode is in that category of AJ Styles and Samoa Joe where they could easily start their long-awaited WWE career in the hottest brand today in NXT, or they could completely bypass NXT and go right for the main roster. While Roode is doing NXT live events, he has yet to make his television debut for NXT. If I was one of the General Managers, I’d make absolute sure to draft Roode- he was the hottest free agent of 2016 once Styles came off the market.
Roode has been in the business a very long time (since 1998), so his time in the WWE is long overdue, but at the age of 39, he’s still got a few solid years left in the tank. He’s been great in tag teams with six Impact Wrestling titles with teams like Beer Money (with James Storm) and the Dirty Heels (with Austin Aries), but he’s also a very accomplished singles wrestler as well, with two Impact Wrestling World Heavyweight Championships.
Montel Vontavious Porter, better known as MVP, has been in the business since 2002 and is known for his flashy “ballin'” style. He’s had solid runs in the WWE and Impact Wrestling, and there are rumors that the WWE could be targeting the 41-year old to return to the company to help bolster the roster. His run in the WWE lasted from 2006 to 2010 and in Impact Wrestling from 2014 to 2015. While his run in Impact was short, he was the leader of a major stable of The Beatdown Clan; which had members including Low Ki, Samoa Joe, and Lashley.
The return of MVP to the WWE would definitely help strengthen the roster of a brand split draft. He’s proven to still be able to go in the ring with the likes of Lashley recently, and also was a good leader of a faction. He’s never been at the top of the ladder in terms of championships, but he was once the New Japan Pro Wrestling IWGP Intercontinental Champion, a two-time WWE United States Champion, and once a WWE Tag Team Champion with Matt Hardy.
3. Cody Rhodes
Now wouldn’t it be interesting if the release of Stardust (aka Cody Rhodes) earlier this year was a ruse. Cody penned a statement and created a checklist of things he wanted to accomplish all to throw off us off the track that Stardust is dead and Cody Rhodes was going to return to the WWE via the brand split draft. Logistically it is possible, there have been NXT and WWE superstars who were allowed to finish their indie obligations while being with the company at the same time. Most, if not all, of Cody’s appearances are not televised, so the WWE would be cool with him finishing those out.
Is this scenario likely? Probably not, but it would make for a great swerve (pun intended from the WWE Network’s show). It goes against what has ever happened in a WWE release, so it’s such a brilliant idea that it’s basically a pipe dream. However, one can hope, as recently after the release the WWE and Rhodes came to terms on a Legends contract for merchandising. If his name is called at the draft, it will truly be THE shocker of the night.
2. Kurt Angle
The story of Kurt Angle as a professional wrestler is an amazing one. He never had an extensive career in developmental and jumped right into the WWE in 1999, and the proceeded to have one of the greatest first year’s in WWE history by obtaining the WWE European, Intercontinental, and World Championships all within the span of a year. The backstory of being the first Olympic gold medalist in the WWE was a good story when he started as a babyface, and then was able to turn it into being cocky when he turned heel.
At age 47, this will be a farewell tour that will last a year, maybe two at most. He is currently a free agent and has had active discussions with Vince McMahon and Triple H. While he has denied that he is going to be a part of the brand split draft, that really doesn’t mean much, and he is still a possibility to be drafted for one final run with the WWE. It’s been ten years since he’s been in the WWE, and the WWE Universe will definitely welcome a return.
1. Jeff Hardy
It’s hard to imagine that Jeff Hardy has been in the business over 20 years, and even more impressive that he’s only 38. Starting at a very young age of 17, Hardy was in the WWE as enhancement talent that would basically get squashed by the more established superstars of the WWE at the time. Jeff and his brother Matt, along with Lita would revolutionize the business during the Attitude Era as Team Xtreme and capture multiple tag titles before Jeff broke off as a singles wrestler and gained a total of three world championships.
Jeff’s demons cost him his job with the WWE, but he was able to settle in with Impact Wrestling for 12 of the past 14 years; capturing their world championship three times as well. His contract with Impact Wrestling is coming to a close soon, and now that he’s been on the straight and narrow for several years now, another chance with the WWE is definitely in the cards. After “The Final Deletion” of Jeff by his brother Matt recently, you might be able to see Jeff get a surprise draft pick.