clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

‘One trade per year’: A way to fix the Raw and SmackDown rosters post-Draft

This post was submitted by Chase Thomas of the Cut to the Chase podcast.

It’s been almost a month since the WWE Draft, and the reinstituted brand split is starting to feel normal once again. Outside of some RKOs being hit out of nowhere, the WWE has, for the most part, shown a willingness to make Raw and SmackDown ostensibly be on the same level.

Missing titles aside, SmackDown has the look and feel of a show that matters just as much as the program that comes on the night before. Once a women’s championship and tag team titles are in place, the show should feel very close to completion. Even without them, you can see that the powers that be are trying.

Still, even without those missing titles, there seems to be something else missing on SmackDown and it is easily fixable– depth in the heel division.

One of the most appealing aspects of SmackDown has nothing to do with its in-ring product – it’s the management. Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon are a breath of fresh air for fans who have grown tired of heel authority figures. The positivity and up-beat nature of the program is infectious, even if JBL is doing everything in his power to prevent those warm, optimistic feelings.

With this change-of-pace situation, SmackDown now has the opportunity to build up a top heel who is constantly at odds with Bryan and Shane. Generally, wrestling fans get behind anti-authority figures who win a lot of matches. There are exceptions, though, when this strategy can go awry. If nobody believes those authority figures actually dislike you, they’ll turn on you.

The WWE learned this lesson once again in their attempt to turn Roman Reigns into a top star. Reigns has always had the look that fans believe Vince McMahon likes, so the plan was doomed from the start. If WWE isn’t careful, WWE World Champion Dean Ambrose could fall into the same boat.

JBL likes to emote just how much of a lunatic Ambrose is, but if he’s constantly buddy-buddy with SmackDown management it’s fair to wonder if fans will start to turn on him. One of the ways to prevent this from happening – aside from keeping Ambrose away from Bryan and Shane – is to throw a top-level heel at Bryan and Shane on a week-to-week basis.

As of right now, that character doesn’t exist on SmackDown . You could talk yourself into Bray Wyatt being that guy, but it’s hard to say until we’ve seen what a babyface run looks like for him.

A.J. Styles is another option, but he’s older and not someone you build a wrestling program around at this point in his career. SmackDown really only has a handful of heels that would be somewhat believable in this role, but they wouldn’t feel right.

Kevin Owens was born for this role; Kevin Owens is also not on SmackDown . Owens is coming off one of the best feuds in recent years with Sami Zayn, in which both guys came off looking better than before. After memorable match after memorable match, it seemed obvious that Owens and Zayn were done and they’d be drafted to different shows.

That didn’t happen.

Both were drafted to Raw in one of the more head-scratching decisions by management. Keeping Zayn on Raw – a show that needs all the babyface help it can get – made sense. Owens, however, would have benefited more from a move to SmackDown where he’d immediately become one of the show’s most-important performers.

Owens has been fine on Raw since the draft -- his schtick with Chris Jericho is not terrible and it certainly makes Enzo and Cass seem more important -- but he’d be better served appearing on a program with John Cena, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Apollo Crews and Kalisto where he can be the brand’s top heel.

And there is a way to fix all of this.

In 2010 – a time when computers were running wrestling programs and Michael Cole was ravaging your eardrums – Edge was traded to SmackDown. Owens and Edge may not have remotely the same look, but their value to the company in their primes is similar.

Both naturally excel in the heel role, but you could always see a strong babyface run being possible if their booked the right way, too. It never felt forced for Edge once he owned the “Rated R Superstar” gimmick, and the same has been true for Owens from the moment he turned on Sami Zayn - similar to Edge’s feud with Matt Hardy. It’s almost like they enjoy being hated.

SmackDown needs that guy, and because wrestling is wrestling – where everything is made up and title reigns don’t matter – the powers that be can change the rules whenever they want however they want. Vince McMahon could make an announcement next week that he’s instituting a “One trade per year” rule, and that would be fine.

Sports fans love following news and rumors, and adding even one trade a year would send an insane number of fans to various dirtsheets to find out who is reportedly getting moved.

If this were to happen, Owens would be the logical choice to be moved to SmackDown . The tricky part, though, is who SmackDown would have to surrender to snag an elite talent like Owens, and it’s not like SmackDown has a lot of wiggle room here considering the brand is so top-heavy that the middle class has almost disappeared entirely.

But Bryan and Shane need help, and they could afford to move one of their top babyfaces to add more balance to a roster that resembles the Philadelphia 76ers more than they would probably like to admit.

With that said, Orton is the best option. It’s not entirely clear as to whether or not he’ll be a full-time performer going forward, so parting ways with him shouldn’t sting as much as it ostensibly should. Putting Orton and Cena on the same brand never made much sense to begin with – like keeping Owens and Zayn on the same show, for instance – but that’s where the cards fell.

Owens is the better long-term investment, and Raw could use someone like Orton to work with the show’s younger talent. He wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle like Owens could, even though he maintains a prominent position on the card right now. Still, Orton is a big-name attraction, and Owens isn’t quite there yet. Bryan and Shane could take advantage of Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley in this sense.

Bryan and Shane could ask for future picks in next year’s draft – a system that is designed to keep Raw in the driver’s seat – or they could do something more interesting – request Bubba Ray Dudley and Titus O’Neil, too. The Dudley Boyz look like they’re headed for yet another split and O’Neil is being subjugated to matches with his old friend Darren Young to crickets.

From Stephanie and Foley’s perspective, this shouldn’t be a problem. Adding two more mid-card heels to SmackDown is an added bonus while still filling a major need.

If there was ever a time to give Bubba Ray a chance to pull off a Bully Ray-like character in the WWE, the time is now. With Titus, there isn’t as much upside, but with a few tweaks to his character and in-ring gear and mic work and in-ring work…OK the Titus O’Neil Experiment is probably never going to pan out.

None of that really matters, though, because what SmackDown needs more than anything is more bodies and heels with upside. This trade gives them that and Raw more star power and less dead weight.

If SmackDown is going to flourish, it’s going to need more balance. Kevin Owens would immediately bring that. Bubba Ray and Titus could get there. Having Ambrose, Cena, Orton, Ziggler and Wyatt is a great start, but Bryan and Shane have to continue to fine tune this roster and with a “One Trade Per Year” rule they can do just that.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats