Once the ashes had cooled from what was a red-hot Attitude Era, the WWE felt like it was time to really shake up the corporation and do things differently in a way which had never been done before. World Championship Wrestling (WCW) had folded and was purchased by Vince McMahon. There was the “Invasion” story line that would occur in 2001, and largely fail for being mostly intriguing compared to what it could have been. What the Invasion brought was an expanded roster with several talents coming over from WCW, and when the story line ended, there were just too many people on the roster to get everyone on television. What came of this was the brand extension of 2002.
What the brand extension meant was that both Monday Night Raw and Smackdown each had their own set of wrestlers that would only appear on the show that they were drafted on. There were also brand specific pay-per-views as well, with the major pay-per-views such as the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and the Survivor Series being a combined pay per view. The draft occurred on March 25, 2002 when Smackdown had the first pick and took The Rock; while Raw took The Undertaker with their first pick. They would then continue for another 28 rounds to round out the roster for each show.
Fast forward to July 2016, nearly five years after the first brand extension ended, and a new one has been announced. The key component of this new brand extension is that Smackdown will permanently be live for the first time in its 17 year history on Tuesday night. With the rise of NXT, and the signing of top talents from Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, the roster is deep once again, and it makes sense for a brand split to occur.
This article is going to draft the first ten rounds for both Monday Night Raw and Smackdown to create the top tier of talent for each show. Since the Women’s Division and the Tag Team Division are not fleshed out, I am just focusing on singles wrestlers here. Let us know in the comments what you would like to see, what you agree with, and what you disagree with.
20. Seth Rollins (Raw #1 Pick)
While Smackdown is going to have a lot more importance going forward with it being a live show, it is still a two-hour show, while Monday Night Raw is a three-hour show. With that said, it is safe to assume that Vince McMahon will still put more effort into Raw than Smackdown, though they will not publicly admit it. Due to this fact, I went ahead and had Raw be the top pick in the draft, with Smackdown being second.
So with the first pick of the 2016 WWE Brand Split Draft, I select a wrestler that has the most value for the future of the WWE, and that is Seth Rollins. At age 30, Rollins has many years ahead of him to lead the company into this “new era.” His work ethic (to get back to an active status after his knee injury well ahead of schedule), shows you the desire he has to compete for the company. As a heel or a face, he’ll be the top guy for sure.
19. Kevin Owens (Smackdown #1 Pick)
Many people suspect that with Smackdown going live on Tuesday nights beginning on July 19th, that it will be a catalyst for the “new era”, and so I will draft Smackdown according to this theory. The definition of the “new era” can be up for interpretation as to who falls into this category, but I see it as a mixture of former independent wrestlers that Vince McMahon wouldn’t have signed in the past and call-ups from NXT.
The top pick for Smackdown fits this mold as he made his mark in Ring Of Honor before taking NXT and the WWE by storm since 2014- Kevin Owens. Many feared that Owens wouldn’t have success on the main roster since he’s not the prototypical wrestler that Vince McMahon likes, but his all-around work in and out of the ring has shown that he is on another level, and capable of leading a brand like Smackdown.
From 2007 to 2014, Owens would be in not just Ring of Honor, but also Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. He was in NXT for less than a year before making his main roster debut laying out John Cena. Since then, Owens is a two-time WWE Intercontinental Champion to go with being the NXT Champion once as well.
18. Roman Reigns (Raw #2 Pick)
While Roman Reigns gets booed by a majority of the WWE Universe, there is no doubt that a polarizing figure with talent is huge, and that is why I am drafting Roman Reigns to Raw with their second pick. Reigns is basically the new generation’s John Cena. The women and children love him, and the smart mark men hate him, but if you have paid close attention to Reigns the past year and a half, the hate is definitely out of place. Reigns has performed very well, and it was basically booking and scripted promos that put him under with some of the fan base.
With having Reigns go to Raw, it keeps The Shield feud with Seth Rollins together, which would be entertaining to go to at any time, and at age 31, Reigns will be around for a long time to come. He only made his debut back in 2010, so with just about six years of wrestling under his belt, there are still a lot of miles in the tires. He’s already a three-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion; so you have a bona fide main event player that can lead the brand.
17. AJ Styles (Smackdown #2 Pick)
The WWE Universe received quite the shock in the beginning of 2016 when it was announced that four huge stars from New Japan Pro Wrestling were signed to the WWE in Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, Shinsuke Nakamura, and A.J. Styles. Styles, he would make a surprise debut at the Royal Rumble as the #3 entrant with Roman Reigns looking on confused as there was some entrance music playing that had never played before. The crowd went completely wild when the word PHENOMENAL flashed on the TitanTron as everyone knew the best wrestler to never be in the WWE full-time was now there.
Styles has since turned heel with The Club, and that is the better spot for him to be in. He shines so much better in promos and mannerisms as a bad guy, and drafting the Club to come with him makes complete sense. While Kevin Owens is a heel currently, he can be (and will eventually be) a tremendous babyface as well. While Styles is 39, he is the epitome of the “new era,” someone from the likes of the independents and/or Impact Wrestling that you never thought would be in the WWE just a few years ago.
16. John Cena (Raw #3 Pick)
While Smackdown is going to have a lot more importance going forward being live every Tuesday night, and having their own look, feel, and separate roster, there is no doubt that Monday Night Raw is still the flagship program of the WWE. Due to this fact, it makes complete sense to draft John Cena to Monday Night Raw with their third pick. Just like A.J. Styles, Cena is 39 years old, and should have a good five years left in the tank to perform at that top level he has for many years.
While he has feuded with Seth Rollins, a feud with Roman Reigns would be fresh (and probably make the Internet Wrestling Community, or IWC, explode as they wouldn’t know who to boo more). Not only would there be the main event feuds for Cena, but much like he did with the U.S. Open Challenge, he can help make new stars by putting on quality matches. Over the past year, Cena has proven that he can still be a big deal and not hold the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
15. Randy Orton (Smackdown #3 Pick)
Smackdown started the draft with taking two leaders of the “new era” to start building their brand, and now it is time to take an established Viper to prey on those of the “new era.” Randy Orton is set to come back any day now from injury, and putting him on Smackdown with Kevin Owens and A.J. Styles makes for some fresh feuds for Orton to have. Orton is great as a face, but better as a heel; which makes turning Owens face make even more sense in this situation.
Drafting Randy Orton to Smackdown gives them one of those top tier Superstars who has been with the company for quite a long time to give the top of the card some legitimacy. He is a 12-time world champion (four times with the World Heavyweight Championship and eight with the WWE Championship / WWE World Heavyweight Championship), who is only 36. He can be that top guy to anchor a Smackdown show that the WWE is trying to give a shot in the arm.
14. Dean Ambrose (Raw #4 Pick)
To complete the drafting of The Shield, I have Monday Night Raw take Dean Ambrose with the fourth pick. It makes complete sense to keep the three former members of The Shield together to not only have them feud with one another, which is going on right now after Dean Ambrose cashed in the Money In The Bank briefcase for the 2016 pay per view, but also it lets Monday Night Raw have the option of reuniting The Shield down the road for some different feuds.
As for Ambrose himself, he has a bright future, and a unique crazy demeanor that is similar to Stone Cold Steve Austin and Roddy Piper. He’s only 30 years old, so he’s right on pace with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to have another 10 to 15 years left in his WWE career. There are a lot of stories left to tell with Ambrose, and it would be a shame to not put him back together with The Shield somewhere down the road.
13. Sami Zayn (Smackdown #4 Pick)
It makes complete sense to draft Sami Zayn to Smackdown because his chief rival in Kevin Owens in on the roster. It has been one of the best feuds the WWE has done lately, but there is so much more they can still do with them. They are former best friends, so if you turn Kevin face, they can make up and form a team that watches each other’s back against the likes of The Club and such. There is definitely proof in Ring Of Honor that they work well as a tag team.
Zayn definitely fits the “new era” mode with his time in Ring Of Honor before coming up through NXT and then arriving for good on the main roster at the Royal Rumble. At age 31, Zayn will be around for a very long time, and it is a good investment for Smackdown. If done right, you can possibly put the Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn feud up there with The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin when it is all said and done.
12. Shinsuke Nakamura (Raw #5 Pick)
Now it is time for the first shocking draft pick from a member of NXT- none other than Shinsuke Nakamura. As mentioned previously in this article, Nakamura was announced to have signed a deal with the WWE early in 2016 along with A.J. Styles, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows. He made his debut this year at NXT Takeover Dallas during WrestleMania weekend, wrestling Sami Zayn in what many have regarded as Match Of The Year, and nothing will come close to it.
Nakamura would fit well into Smackdown’s “new era” but he’s been regarded as one of the best in Japan, and I think he fits the mold of Monday Night Raw better where he can have fresh new feuds against Superstars he has never faced such as Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and John Cena. His charisma is off the charts and there is no doubt he can have Match Of The Year type contests against anyone on the top of the card, and anyone in the mid-card as well.
11. Finn Balor (Smackdown #5 Pick)
The run of drafting NXT talent continues as Smackdown will counter the phenomenal drafting of Shinsuke Nakamura with the wrestler who has the record for the longest reign as NXT Champion in Finn Balor. Putting him on Smackdown with a lot of the wrestlers of the “new era” will immediately give him a large list of feuds he can jump into right away. He can rekindle the feud he had with Kevin Owens in NXT, and he can have a completely brand new feud with A.J. Styles in a battle of the former leaders of the Bullet Club. He could also join The Club and create a completely powerful faction.
Balor is one of the most interesting wrestlers on the NXT /WWE roster today, and there is no doubt he will be at the top of the card for years to come as he is only 34. He was the original leader of the Bullet Club, which is regarded as the best faction in pro wrestling since the nWo. He debuted with NXT in the fall of 2014, and with the signings of A.J. Styles, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson, many have believed that his call-up to join The Club is coming very soon.
10. Bobby Roode (Raw #6 Pick)
The string of NXT talent in the draft continues with someone who hasn’t even debuted on NXT Television yet, Bobby Roode. At the Download Festival in the UK, Roode made his NXT in-ring debut to the surprise of the fans in attendance. Even though he hasn’t been on NXT Television yet, his talent is so major that he can bypass NXT just like A.J. Styles did. You can still have him fight a match on Takeover Brooklyn during SummerSlam weekend, but after that, he’s on the main roster full-time.
After the signing of A.J. Styles early in 2016, many felt that Bobby Roode was the best wrestler to never compete in the WWE. This is a title that has been bouncing around a lot ever since the WWE came to terms with Sting late in 2014. At age 39, Roode will still be around a good five years or more, and I think it’s a better fit to have him on Monday Night Raw and feud with the likes of Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Shinsuke Nakamura. That is, feuds we have never seen play out on television ever.
9. Cesaro (Smackdown #6 Pick)
In breaking the string of NXT wrestlers being drafted to Monday Night Raw and Smackdown, I slot the “Swiss Superman” Cesaro as the sixth pick of the draft for the “Blue Brand.” There are a lot of intriguing options for Cesaro on Smackdown, including feuds with Finn Balor and A.J. Styles, but Sami Zayn is also on the roster. They always have high quality matches, and I think there is a growing respect between the two to the point where they could be a viable short-term tag team as well.
Cesaro is one of the wrestlers in the WWE that will benefit most from the brand split because it gives him the best chance to finally become a world champion, provided they have two champions like they did in the past. The time for him to be “the guy” (to steal from Roman Reigns) has been long overdue. If you draft him to Smackdown away from the likes of John Cena and Roman Reigns, it will definitely help like it did for guys like JBL and Rey Mysterio– guys who became world champions in the first brand split era.
8. Samoa Joe (Raw #7 Pick)
We dip back into the NXT pool once again to give Samoa Joe his long awaited debut on the main roster with the seventh pick for Monday Night Raw. He is the current NXT Champion, but with the brand split, there is going to be a need to call up a lot of the more established people who are currently in NXT. They can easily just have Joe vacate the belt and hold a tournament for the championship after the draft to determine a new face of NXT.
Samoa Joe is currently 37 years of age and is definitely a recognizable star from his decade with Impact Wrestling and also some time in Ring Of Honor as well. During the tail end of Joe’s run in Impact Wrestling, it seemed like Joe was out of shape and didn’t care, but that all changed when he was signed to NXT a little over a year ago. He’s in amazing shape and completely motivated, and there is no doubt he is going to be heading to the main roster very soon and be a major player.
7. Austin Aries (Smackdown #7 Pick)
The run of NXT Superstars continues with Smackdown drafting “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived” in Austin Aries. He will tell you himself, everywhere he’s been, he’s been a champion. That is proven with his three world title reigns (two with Ring of Honor, one with Impact Wrestling) and a total of six X-Division Championship reigns with Impact Wrestling as well.
Aries finally made his way to the WWE in the beginning of 2016. His first match would be at NXT Takeover: Dallas on WrestleMania weekend as he took on Baron Corbin. He has since started a feud with No Way Jose, turning heel in the process, a persona that fits Aries much better than the babyface role. Having him take on the likes of Sami Zayn, Cesaro, and Kevin Owens would be a treat.
6. Bray Wyatt (Raw #8 Pick)
Bray Wyatt is one of the most unique characters on the WWE roster right now, and it is baffling how they haven’t pulled the trigger on a major push, or even a mid-card title push for him since he’s been on the main roster (his debut was in early 2013). He hasn’t held a single piece of gold in the WWE, just two tag team championships with his brother Bo Dallas while they were in Florida Championship Wrestling.
That is where the brand split should benefit Bray Wyatt. Though I put him on Monday Night Raw, which has a stacked roster, the brand split could be the fresh start Wyatt needs, where Vince finally puts a major push behind him. The problem is that he has lost so many feuds along the way, and the most recent reboot of the Wyatt Family would have to defeat The New Day for the WWE Tag Team Championships to start this momentum.
5. Rusev (Smackdown #8 Pick)
Yet another wrestler who has been around for a couple of years now who will really benefit from the brand split is Rusev. He has the charisma, athleticism, and gorgeous fiancee that, combined, will definitely make him a future world champion within the WWE. He hasn’t been a stranger to individual championships in the WWE as he is the current holder of the WWE United States Championship, and this is his second reign with the title.
The future is definitely bright for Rusev. He is great on the microphone and getting better every day. The humor he throws into what he says is great, and having his real-life fiancee Lana alongside him is a bonus as well. While Rusev has been a heel for his entire young career so far, there is definitely room for him to be a top babyface in the company as well. There are quite a few faces already on Smackdown now, so for the time being he’d stay heel.
4. Dolph Ziggler (Raw #9 Pick)
One of the most dependable wrestlers on the WWE roster is Dolph Ziggler. You can count on him to “steal the show” any time he is in a match. You wouldn’t guess it with as little of a push as Ziggler has received lately, but he is a two-time World Heavyweight Champion to go along with four WWE Intercontinental Championships, a United States Championship reign, and one run with the World Tag Team Championships when he was with the Spirit Squad.
His two world championships were a benefit of the brand extension, and if the WWE Championship is going to be on Monday Night Raw, Ziggler has a good chance to win that world championship for the first time in his career. Ziggler has been wrestling since 2004, so he is definitely deserving of a run with that title. Putting him on Raw with the likes of Nakamura and Bobby Roode are going to create some dream matches for sure.
3. Baron Corbin (Smackdown #9 Pick)
Baron Corbin debuted on the main roster at this past WrestleMania in 2016 in grand fashion, by winning the third installment of the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Since then, he has been in a lengthy feud with Dolph Ziggler, but now his sights are set on the brand he will be drafted at. As part of the new blood from “the new era” in the WWE, I put him on Smackdown, where, in a year or two he could be a World Champion within the WWE, but in the near future, he can hold whatever mid-card title is going to be on the show.
As a Lone Wolf, Corbin fits the role of a prototypical bad guy very well, almost in the mode of Randy Orton to a degree. He has impressed Vince McMahon and the WWE brass so far in 2016 based on the high profile feud with Ziggler and vignettes they have been running lately. The future is bright from the former NFL offensive lineman, and there will be a quick ascension to at least the top of the mid-card this year, but the sights can be set even higher on a brand split.
2. Sheamus (Raw #10 Pick)
Sheamus has been a great talent for the WWE in his seven-year tenure on the main roster. His Irish demeanor makes for a great bad guy with a mean streak, or a great babyface that is a fun loving/pint drinking Irishman. That sort of flexibility will enable him to be in any sort of feud on the Monday Night Raw Roster from the mid-card all the way up to the main event. While I do not have Sheamus and Finn Balor on the same roster right now, down the road there could be some sort of an Irish stable that could even include Becky Lynch.
There is also a championship pedigree that comes with Sheamus as he has held three world championships within the WWE (two WWE and one World Title), along with two reigns with the United States Championship belt. If the WWE Intercontinental Championship is on Monday Night Raw, it would be a great story for the seven-year veteran to have his first ever reign with this prestigious title.
1. Kalisto (Smackdown #10 Pick)
While I am not drafting tag teams on this draft, as that information has not been fleshed out yet, I still have Kalisto being drafted alone to Smackdown with their final pick of this article. Long-term, Kalisto has a lot of value as that lucha-style wrestler that can rise up to the levels of super-stardom that we have seen previously with Rey Mysterio. At the age of 29, Kalisto still has a lot of years left in his WWE career.
Kalisto got a taste of singles gold when his tag team partner Sin Cara went down with an injury. In 2016 alone, he has already won the United States championship on two different occasions. For the time being, he is back to tagging with Sin Cara since his return from injury, but it is only a matter of time before he becomes a star on his own for good. If there is a split in tag teams for each brand, it’s a good chance for a team who has held the NXT Tag Team Championships once, to run a tag gold on the main roster.