Tuesday 26 April 2011

Getting Drafty

Last night on RAW WWE presented its annual Draft lottery. It’s the company’s way of switching people between the RAW and SmackDown rosters to create new feuds and instigate or restart fresh pushes. The current method of switching people is to hold an inter-promotional match, with the winner earning a “randomly chosen” talent for their show. Years ago they used to simply pick a name from a tumbler. That was scrapped for the current system. Both ways are predetermined (as is almost everything in WWE) but the tumbler method always felt somehow more believable. Anyway, it’s not a flawless process but it achieves the results needed.

This year’s Draft had originally been planned for its regular slot in June but was brought forward when Edge’s retirement left SmackDown with gaping holes at the top of its roster. The show was struggling with him, without him things were only going to get worse.

The first draft of the evening was John Cena, which was a big shock to me. For the past six months or so Orton and Cena have been presented as babyface equals. With SmackDown losing its top face I was sure one of those men would be moved from RAW to replace him, and with Cena being WWE’s biggest merchandise seller and having a huge match against The Rock set for next year’s WrestleMania I didn’t see him being moved. WWE likes its top guy on RAW, and I can’t imagine Rock being used for (or agreeing to appear on) a taped show. I was suspicious of that Cena move from the moment it happened.

The rest of the show saw RAW gain Rey Mysterio, Big Show and Alberto Del Rio, before Cena was moved back with the final “random selection”. Why did this happen? Partly it was to fill air time. It was also to maintain the status quo whilst propagating the lie that “anything can happen” in the Draft. Meanwhile SmackDown gained Randy Orton, Mark Henry and Sin Cara and we were told to stay tuned to WWE’s website on Tuesday for the supplemental Draft (which is basically all the changes that are not considered important enough to be announced on television).

So who came off better in the televised exchange? Well, each show got a dud in the form of Mark Henry and the Big Show. This could signal a renewed push of Mark Henry, which will peter out within a couple of months as the creative team realise (once again) that he is not cut out for a top spot. The Big Show will continue to appear on SmackDown as a tag team champion alongside Kane, which is good for the blue brand because it means they won’t be losing him just yet. Ultimately RAW came off better in the dud swap because Show’s a more charismatic worker.

Mysterio and Del Rio are far bigger losses to Friday nights. Del Rio has been built up on the show since last year and had a promising feud with Christian on the cards. Had he stayed put he would have been in a better position to step into a key position and help carry the brand. With The Miz occupying the top heel role on RAW and talent typically getting less exposure there, Del Rio will find it harder to be noticed. That’s not to say he will be forgotten, but a lessened role is a possibility. I think it’s a shame because he was a good fit on SmackDown and had worked hard to work his way to the top. Rey was a good fit too, and one of the show’s top babyface workers. In his case I think the move is good. He’s been on SmackDown for the majority of his WWE career and there are several fresh opponents for him on RAW, most notably The Miz.

The transfer of Randy Orton to SmackDown should have been huge. In its way it still is, but I’d envisioned men like Jack Swagger and Alberto Del Rio remaining there as opponents for him. Orton’s never feuded with either man and I was fully expecting a confrontation between him and ADR over the summer. Perhaps something will happen at Extreme Rules or tonight’s SmackDown taping to keep Del Rio on the show, but it’s unlikely. If Christian wins the World Heavyweight title on Sunday I think he would make an excellent opponent for ‘The Viper’ and the two could really carry the show. It would help to establish Christian as a top guy too.

Then there’s Sin Cara. His move was shown on TV to put emphasis on him as a rising star. Tucking his move away in the supplemental Draft wouldn’t have had the same effect. WWE need him to succeed as the next Rey Mysterio and that’s probably the thinking behind the switch. Sin Cara gets Rey’s spot on the show people are accustomed to seeing a masked wrestler on while Rey gets fresh opponents. I think it’s an intelligent move that should work out well in the long run (they just need to stop Sin Cara doing that trampoline entrance because it’s not working out).

What about the supplemental Draft that was hosted on WWE’s website? As usual it was fairly anti-climactic. The big moves all occurred on RAW so the focus of the supplemental Draft was mid-card performers.

While it’s a long-winded process with a lot of tedious switches it does give an idea of what sort of rosters are being put together. This year RAW gained Jack Swagger, Kelly Kelly, JTG, Drew McIntyre, Curt Hawkins, Chris Masters, Kofi Kingston, Tyler Reks, and Beth Phoenix, while SmackDown got Daniel Bryan, the Great Khali, Jimmy Uso, Alicia Fox, William Regal, Yoshi Tatsu, Natalya, Jey Uso, Ted DiBiase, Tyson Kidd, Tamina, Alex Riley, and Sheamus.

I’ll do a simplified list of all switches here:

Complete draft list:
Rey Mysterio
Big Show
Alberto Del Rio
Jack Swagger
Kelly Kelly
Drew McIntyre
Curt Hawkins
Chris Masters
Kofu Kingston
Tyler Reks
Beth Phoenix
To SmackDown:
Randy Orton
Mark Henry
Sin Cara
Daniel Bryan
The Great Khali
Jimmy Uso
Alicia Fox
William Regal
Yoshi Tatsu
Jey Uso
Ted DiBiase
Tyson Kidd
Alex Riley

With so many people having changed shows it’s difficult for every switch to have the desired impact. Had WWE limited the supplemental Draft to around twenty moves then it would have felt more meaningful. Less is more, as they say. Did we really need to see JTG, Tyler Reks and Chris Masters moved? They’re going to keep losing no matter what show they’re on.

Some people should benefit from their new surroundings. Daniel Bryan is the most likely candidate. He’s the best technical wrestler on the WWE roster, can work with opponents of any size and skill level (useful on a show where Heath Slater is known to lurk), and managed to form a bond with mainstream fans despite Vince McMahon’s best efforts. With more time allocated to in-ring action on the blue brand it’s a move that suits Bryan very well. And with so few main event names on the show I think there’s a good chance he could move up the card very quickly.

Jack Swagger, Kofi Kingston and Drew McIntyre could all potentially take key positions on Monday nights. Swagger has gained TV time lately as Michael Cole’s trainer/henchman. Turning on Cole could make him a huge babyface overnight. That was hinted at a few weeks ago and I’d like to see it happen. The alternative is that Swagger continues playing second fiddle to a commentator, which would be detrimental to his career. The story’s served its purpose, time to move on.

Kofi is already a face, and with those thin on the ground on RAW he’s in a good position to stay relevant. McIntyre may currently be a heel, but he got treated like a babyface at the London SmackDown taping last week and played the role well. Based on that outing I think a turn could work in his favour. He’s been a heel for years and this would let him do something new. Maybe they could resurrect the Drew and Kelly Kelly storyline as a way of turning him. It may not be that interesting, but it would make fans more likely to cheer when he comes to the ring and would give Kelly something to do.

For a while it looked as though the women’s division was going to be seriously beefed up and become a major part of SmackDown. But just after Natalya had been moved onto the show Beth Phoenix was moved off. They swapped one talented female worker for another. It’s frustrating that WWE insists on trying to promote two women’s divisions when they only have enough workers for one, and don’t even book that properly.

Behind with Daniel Bryan I think Sheamus could benefit the most from being on SmackDown. I would have enjoyed him in a feud with Kofi Kingston or Drew McIntyre, or even a babyface Jack Swagger, but I think he’s better off on SmackDown. His in-ring ability and mic skills should ensure he’s always near the top of the card. Already I’m looking forward to a segment between him and Christian. Both men can use comedy very well in their promos and that’s a feud I think loads of people would enjoy.

How about everyone else? Nobody really stands out as someone I think will make a huge impact. Alex Riley could surprise me, but I have a feeling he’s going to get saddled with a rotten gimmick and plummet down the card. I hope I’m wrong because he’s got potential and WWE needs everyone to succeed right now. Ted DiBiase will hopefully be given the chance to get his career back on track and start wrestling some longer matches. He needs to move away from his current gimmick though: it’s too similar to his father’s (by design) and he doesn’t have the flare to pull it off. The only outside chance for success I can see on RAW is Curt Hawkins, and that would be reliant on a reunion with Zack Ryder. It’s not impossible, but because of the company’s dislike of tag teams it’s not terribly likely.

The biggest question is: who will become the new face of SmackDown. Initially it’s going to be Randy Orton, but I think over time Christian could move into the role, particularly if he gets the title at Extreme Rules. I also think Sheamus has a chance of doing it if he turns face in the next six months. As I mentioned his use of comedy in promos is good, he’s a solid worker and he’s got a great range of facial expressions. Don’t be surprised if he surpasses Christian and becomes ‘The Man’ on SmackDown. You heard it here first!

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