This will sound funny from a dude writing three columns which provide “kneejerk reactions” to WWE’s 2018 Superstar Shakeup, but... we shouldn’t make kneejerk reactions to WWE’s 2018 Superstar Shakeup.
Why do I say that? Because at least in our little corner of the internet, the initial response to the two previous roster shufflings of WWE’s second brand split era have not been good predictors of future results.
Not to throw my boy Kyle Decker under the bus... but he wrote our post-2016 Draft and post-2017 Shakeup analyses, so I kind of have to. He wasn’t alone in his take, however, both from discussion around our offices and response from you, dear readers.
In 2016, the initial brand split draft, Kyle gave Raw an ‘A-’ grade and SmackDown a ‘D+’. We didn’t poll the community that year, but while many weren’t as down on Team Red’s revamped roster, these types of comments weren’t unusual:
“Smackdown isn’t the B show. It’s the D show now”
“I wanted Smackdown to be the in-ring show we were told it would be, but the best workers all ended up on Raw, and I have no desire to sit through McMahon nonsense on Monday nights.”
“I like Smackdown’s women’s division... however, that is really the only thing I like about Smackdown”
“Raw completely destroyed SmackDown”
“Raw was shown a top priority because they still have an extra hour, which is nonsense. Smackdown hardly benefited from this draft”
“They really had a chance to make Smackdown mean something. Instead, Raw is the OBVIOUS choice.”
You get the idea.
What happened? SmackDown became a fan favorite, critical darling of a show which had people worshipping at the altar of a writer whose behind-the-scenes role no one was sure of, and finishing second in The Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards for “Best Weekly TV Show” behind New Japan.
Fast forward a year to the 2017 Superstar Shakeup. Kyle awarded Team Blue a “clean sweep”, and we did poll the community - SmackDown got 75% of the votes, with 3,724 people saying Tuesday night’s show “won” the Shakeup to only 1,223 choosing the red brand.
Raw was never as trendy a pick for favorite show over the past twelve months as SmackDown was the year before, but you’d be hard pressed to find people complaining about Braun Strowman’s latest over-the-top antics and Shield reunions while Jinder Mahal was WWE Champion. Fan opinion of the blue brand has shifted so dramatically that instead of wishing Ryan Ward would take over WWE from Vince McMahon, many now want Road Dogg’s head on a platter.
The moral here?
It’s what NXT seems to teach us year after year. It’s the story, and how it serves individual characters, that matters - not a snapshot of a roster.
The point of this is not to sound holier than thou. I was likely a little more on the fence about the previous two talent realignments, because that’s my nature, but I was with Kyle and the crowd in ‘16 and ‘17. I think Shane McMahon and Paige kayfabe-won this week’s Shakeup, and am freakin’ pumped for what could be a show that rivals the “SmackDown Six” era of the first brand split in terms of men’s main event wrestling.
But people get hurt, gimmicks flop and Creative has ideas that do nothing for us. Angles we expect to hate turn out awesome.
Wrestling happens. Sports entertainment finds a way.
Meet y’all back here on Monday night?