Next week, WWE will embark on a new era in its company’s history. Well, kind of. Thursday will mark the WWE’s second attempt at a brand split/extension in the form of Raw and SmackDown become separate entities under the WWE umbrella. The first attempt (2002) was met with initial success, in particular the SmackDown brand which became a workrate brand under the tutelage of former ECW booker and current Brock Lesnar mouthpiece Paul Heyman. For a while, the brands felt, looked and acted different. WWE even got extra cute adding Heyman’s former company ECW to the mix, giving WWE three brands under one roof. Of course, the entire thing unraveled quickly after as roster movement became a constant and the shows continually inched closer to sameness. Before long, the rosters were predominantly mixed and the only difference between the two brands was availability, live or. taped and, most poignant, one was blue and the other was red.
Now, WWE looks to recreate the magic from the first few months of the initial brand split in an effort to bring prominence back to SmackDown and provide the USA Network with two-hours of first-run, live wrestling. The big question on most fans’ minds is who is going where? How is the roster going to be split up? The 2002 roster was loaded with talent, many of which imported from World Championship Wrestling and ECW after their closures—the 2016 roster, not as much. While arguably the most talented roster in WWE history, depth could be a serious issue.
Fans, podcasts and websites alike have spent much of the last month predicted, drafting or forecasting which brand wrestlers will end up on after the draft. SportsBettingDime recently put odds on a number talents and their potential landing spots. SmackDown, per SBD, is likely to receive AJ Styles (17/3), Kevin Owens (9/1), WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day (9/1), Sami Zayn (10/1) and John Cena (11/1). Not a bad crop at all. I do hope, though I enjoy their feuds tremendously, that Zayn and Owens are separated for now. As much as I love the “fight forever” nature of their feud, it’d do both well to go in opposite directions for a bit and reconnect down the line. Cena heading up the SmackDown brand as it’s star would be a great boon for SmackDown and the USA Network’s new live show while Styles would give the SmackDown brand it’s bonafied in-ring superstar.
SBD’s top five wrestlers most likely on RAW are Seth Rollins (3/1), Dean Ambrose (3/1), Roman Reigns (9/1), Charlotte (10/1) and The Miz (12/1). My initial thoughts in looking at those odds are, wow, RAW is going to have a LOT of champions if this is the case. That’s why I call into question a few of these picks. It seems far too lopsided for the WWE World, WWE Women’s and WWE Intercontinental Champion to all reside on RAW following the draft. Look for at least one of those names: be it Ambrose, Charlotte or The Miz to make the move to SmackDown.
One of the more interesting aspects of next week’s draft is where NXT and their talents will fit in. Are NXT talents eligible? Can they just be picked whenever? Would someone like Shane McMahon (officially the “COO” of SmackDown after Monday) target NXT talents given his propensity for “New Era” roster members?
SBD has Finn Balor as the first NXT member off the board at 7/13 odds. Behind him, Japanese sensations Shinsuke Nakamura (3/1) and Asuka (30/1). Women’s star Bayley is surprisingly low at 35/1 while Samoa Joe, current NXT Champion, comes in at 40/1. Balor makes all the sense in the world to be drafted and make an immediate impact on WWE’s main roster but… as we know, there’s been a hesitancy in bringing him up due to NXT’s touring obligations. Balor, along with Joe and Bayley make up the core of NXT’s road drawing power. Can the brand, though still advertised as developmental, survive in a post-Finn Balor world?
Last but not least, SBD put odds on where Brock Lesnar may end up. An oddity in the sense that he doesn’t really feel like a member of the main WWE roster, SBD has Lensar at 2/1 odds to float between both brands. I like it. Lesnar as a mercenary, not aligned with anything but the greater WWE umbrella would be a cool story and allow him to make the absolute most of his limited dates and matches.
Be sure to continue checking Voices of Wrestling for extensive coverage of next week’s WWE draft!