WWE officially announced that, from July 19, SmackDown will be broadcast live on Tuesday evenings with its own individual roster and storylines. Raw will also be its own brand with its own stars. This of course is not the first time they have done this. From 2002 to 2011 Raw and SmackDown were separate entities running their own programmes. With a number of superstars currently stuck in a creative rut, we take a look at the 15 superstars who could stand to benefit most from the upcoming WWE draft.
With two full rosters, the potential to build new stars or to reignite old ones is limitless. There is no way they can possibly screw this up is there? (ED: two words - Invasion Angle. Quiet, you!!)
15 Bray Wyatt
By far the most frustrating name on this list. Wyatt should be one of the biggest names in WWE. He has the best character, the best promos, and is a great worker in the ring, but still he has ended up on the losing end of almost every feud he has engaged in. Having come up short against Cena (who doesn’t?) Bray entered a programme against a largely absent Undertaker. Cutting promos to caskets and chairs, Wyatt still managed to make his segments must watch TV, again ending in a losing effort against the Deadman at WrestleMania. Wyatt would then find himself cutting promos against another inanimate object in Roman Reigns. With that reaching its conclusion with another inevitable loss to the human push in boots. Wyatt would find himself teaming up with his foe, and that looked to have potential before being cut short with a calf injury. Wyatt’s imminent return should finally see him placed at the top of either roster and we could finally see the former Husky Harris make good on his promise of being “The New Face of Fear.”
14 Kevin Owens
Undoubtedly the best heel on the roster for everyone to see (except the people booking the show) Owens has had a great first 12 months in the company. A couple of stop/start reigns as Intercontinental Championship hurt his momentum. But all that’s needed to give him that back is a microphone and a briefcase. Owens is the perfect choice to win the upcoming Money in the Bank match. Owens with the briefcase waiting for the perfect opportunity to cash in on a vulnerable champion is so clearly box office gold that it almost certainly won’t happen. Owens is capable of having a great match with anyone on the roster and with his brilliant and frankly hilarious mike work, it’s not a stretch to see him as the bad guy you love to hate. The brand split should see the spotlight shine solely on Owens and away from the multi-person programmes he has found himself in as of late.
13 AJ Styles
The phenomenal one has lived up to his name since his debut at the Royal Rumble this year, consistently putting on the match of the night and doing more in 2 months to legitimize Roman Reigns than the WWE could do in two years. His mike work has improved dramatically and his heel turn was brilliantly handled. However, he inexplicably lost to Jericho at WrestleMania and lost both PPV matches to Reigns. Styles needs a main event programme that he comes out on top on. The start of his programme with Cena is promising. However, history has taught us that “big match John” tends not to come out on the short end of feuds, especially to guys who have made their name outside of WWE. This feud could be what the new SmackDown is built around, with Styles eventually turning baby face to clash with the incoming Balor over control of the (Bullet) Club.
12 Finn Balor
If not now, when? With Styles, Gallows and Anderson all in the main roster, the timing for the long rumoured call up for the Irish star has never been better. With a built in story of reuniting or turning on the Bullet Club ready to be pushed, Balor is probably the best placed star on the NXT roster to slide straight into the main event picture. Good looking, athletic and with charisma to burn, the former Prince Devitt has incredible versatility and can be used as a heel or face. Not to mention his jaw dropping entrances that scream "main eventer." At 34, now is the time to build a revamped SmackDown around Balor, who will give the show a much more different feel to Raw. That will be essential if the WWE want fans to sit through two PPVs a month.
11 Shinsuke Nakamura
When the fans are chanting “This is awesome!” before you have even entered the ring for the first time, you know you have something special. "The King of Strong Style" is a main event player right now. He has that “it” factor that separates the A from the A+ players. As soon as his debut match with Sami Zayn had ended I was already on WWE.com looking for a Nakamura shirt. His limited English hasn’t been a problem getting over in NXT, even helping in some cases. His “me neither” response to Austin Aries taunt of not knowing what Nakamura was saying half the time was comedy gold. He is also a legitimate bad ass, with a 3-1 (1) MMA record. Nakamura could have a fantastic feud with Lesnar, who he previously has trained with and indeed replaced as the main eventer in New Japan. It’s tough to see Vince giving a big opportunity to a foreigner who can’t cut 20 min promos, let alone one who has made his name outside the WWE. However, considering the lack of depth for two main event level rosters, Nakamura and his stupidly catchy entrance theme could find himself at the top of the card before long.
As former NXT Champion, big things were expected of Neville when he made his move to the main roster (ED: Wasn’t Bo Dallas an NXT Champion? Quiet, you.) Ironically, things never quite took off for the man gravity forgot. He started promisingly enough with a cracking match with then WWE Champion Seth Rollins, in which Rollins only came away with the belt after interference from J&J Security. He then continued his streak of great matches with a losing effort against Cena during his wonderful United States Championship open challenge run. Neville would find himself looking at the lights for Barrett, Jericho, Owens, Stardust and The Ascension in quick succession. Despite this, Neville somehow won the Slammy Award for "Breakout Star of the Year." Even then, his acceptance speech was interrupted by Kevin Owens and he slunk off the stage looking like a jobber. His losing streak continued when he was beaten by Kalisto for the WWE United States Championship. He injured his ankle in a match with Jericho which may turn out to be a blessing in disguise, as now Neville can return to either roster and essentially begin from scratch. Unbelievably talented, Neville could be rebuilt with a cracking programme with former NXT nemesis Sami Zayn over the Intercontinental title.
She is one of, if not the most talented female wrestler ever in NXT, or the main roster for that matter. Monstrously popular with young girls, Bayley is as close to a female version of John Cena as the WWE have on their books. But somehow Bayley hasn’t joined the rest of "The Four Horsewomen" on the main roster. That surely will change with the upcoming draft as the women’s division is thin enough without having to worry about potentially adding a second division to the split roster. Sasha Banks Vs Bayley was the first women’s match to ever headline a major WWE event. It’s not unthinkable that with each brand doing their own monthly PPV, the two ladies could repeat their milestone on the bigger stage.
8 Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe versus Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. How good does that sound? If Lesner comes out of his match with the other Samoan wrecking machine Mark Hunt at UFC 200 in one piece, that is. This is a feud that could anchor either brand. Joe has been around for what seems like forever. His undefeated streak in TNA all but kept them afloat during the 18 months of his run. He has long been considered one of the best independent guys WWE never signed. Now in NXT and coming off a white hot run against Balor which finally saw him pick up championship gold, Joe is the legitimate, terrifying heel that WWE have been crying out for. He is far from a lumbering big guy, as he has an athleticism that his physical appearance does not portray. WWE is baby face heavy at the moment and a monster heel run would help the already popular Joe (he was initially only working part time in NXT before his merchandise started selling huge numbers and he was quickly signed to a full deal) get over even further.
7 American Alpha
Jordan, Jordan, Jordan… Gable, Gable, Gable. Undoubtedly the most popular tag team in NXT, Chad Gable and Jason Jordan are not only ready for a call up, but in my view ready to step into the Tag Team title picture straight away. The fact that the Dudley Boys and the Vaudevillians are seen as legitimate contenders shows how much new blood is needed in the tag division. Having dropped the NXT Tag Team Championship to The Revival, the path is clear for the duo to breathe life into the stale tag team scene. Strong, athletic and lightening quick, the duo also boast an impressive amateur wrestling background. They could be the team a revamped SmackDown tag division is built around. As they said themselves: Didn't ask for it. Didn't beg for it. We EARNED it.
Remember when Rusev was an unstoppable, undefeated monster? He rolled into WrestleMania 31 on a tank and then had all his momentum taken away by one man………..and his name is JOHN CENA!! Following that, Rusev became Bulgarian and was dropped into a pointless love triangle with Lana, Dolph Ziggler, and Summer Rae (wouldn’t 4 people be a love square?) Thankfully, Lana tweeted about the couple's real life engagement and the angle was dropped. Rusev has then added to the recently formed League of Nations with Sheamus, King Barrett and Alberto Del Rio, who seemed to have no agenda or reason for existence past “hey, we are all from different countries, let's team up.” Their job seemed to be getting beaten up by Reigns for a while. Mercifully, the group has now disbanded and Rusev again has the U.S. title. However, he needs some serious work to be built back up and a feud with Titus O'Neil, who is best known for being a good dad and being psychotically chivalrous, isn’t the answer.
5 Tyler Breeze
Initially, Breeze was brought up to the main roster with the intention of being a solid mid-card heel. His mentor Triple H reportedly wanted to protect Breeze and saw him as part of a rejuvenated Intercontinental title programme. He started strongly enough, beating Dolph Ziggler at Survivor Series. However, Vince didn’t get the gimmick and Breeze found himself often having his entrance cut from Raw and SmackDown. The entrance is such a big part of the character. Imagine if Enzo and Cass had their entrance taken away. Would they have gotten over so quick? Breeze would lose the next 2 matches with Ziggler and then the next 20 matches after that! Now trapped in the horrendous Breezango gimmick with back shaving included for reasons I can’t fathom, Breeze needs an escape from this programme as soon as possible before he is reduced to jobber status forever. He is a talented and charismatic worker and has a gimmick that is crying out to be used as an insufferable heel.
4 Sasha Banks
Looking every inch the main event superstar during her WrestleMania entrance with her cousin Snoop Dogg, Banks looked like she was being set up for a long-term feud with Charlotte that would see her crowned champion at Summerslam. Those plans seem to be on ice at the moment, as "The Boss" would take a break due to injury and upon her return would find herself relegated to Superstars and Main Event shows. The reason for this is said to be that Vince McMahon had concerns about Sasha's aggressive in-ring style and that the WWE boss feared it would result in her becoming "another Daniel Bryan." But with the upcoming brand split its hard to see her sitting on the side-lines for long. Possessing the best mike skills of anyone in the Women’s division and with undeniable star quality, Banks should find herself primed for a push when the dust settles and see herself finally getting her oft delayed run with the belt.
3 Alberto Del Rio
The only former WWE Champion on this list, Del Rio looked to be destined for big things on his return when he defeated John Cena to win the WWE United States Championship. However, he would find himself paired with Zeb Colter during the "MexAmerica" angle which was as confusing as it was pointless. Jumping from one bad idea to another, Del Rio would then become part of Sheamus' new stable, "The League of Nations." He would then lose his title to Kalisto, whose title run was every bit as uninspired as Del Rio’s. Now involved in the Money in the Bank match, Del Rio seems to be subtlety trying to turn face (which he should have been in the first place) by encouraging fans to get behind him with his “Si” chants. Now free from ridiculous factions, Del Rio can break out on his own and try regaining some of the momentum he had during his previous run. Still, it’s hard to feel too sorry for a man who gets to go home to Paige every night…
2 Becky Lynch
Becky Lynch got off to a poor start on the main roster being part of Wrestling Observer Newsletter Worst Feud of the Year during her run as part of PCB (Paige, Charlotte and Becky) in their feud against Team B.A.D and The Bellas. Lynch would go on to be integral in turning the initially failing "Divas Revolution" around during her battles with Charlotte. The well-travelled Lynch, who was trained by fellow NXT breakout Finn Balor, has found herself in something of a rut as of late. Defeated by Emma and Dana Brooke, "The Irish Lass Kicker” has dropped out of the title picture. The upcoming draft could be the shot in the arm that’s needed. A skilled submission wrestler, a great talker and possessing that “it” factor, Lynch has the complete package needed to further legitimize the growing Women’s division.
Cesaro has famously been dismissed as “boring” by Vince McMahon, who also said that Cesaro has failed to connect with the WWE audience “probably because he’s Swiss.” He has since returned from injury and reinvented himself as a Swiss, Stripper James Bond. Outside of Daniel Bryan, few have been hampered by McMahon as much as Cesaro. Great in the ring, and blessed with fantastic wrestling charisma, "The Swiss Superman" keeps getting himself over with gimmicks like the Cesaro Section, before having his legs taken out from under him and his momentum stopped. Cesaro has the size, strength and the ability to be a main event player, but has lacked an engaging feud to showcase his full set of skills. A run against Kevin Owens could do wonders for both men who have shown great chemistry in their limited interactions with each other in the run up to Money in the Bank.