Like a lot of WWE fans, I was excited by the 2016 announcement they were bringing back the Raw/SmackDown brand split. Not only would it mean television time for more wrestlers, and opportunities for a greater variety of feuds & stories, but it also meant the return of the talent draft the company used to shuffle the rosters during the first split back in the aughts.
Ideally, the draft gives the wrestling world a different way to do the fantasy booking we love to do anyway, but with building an entire show instead of just matches and angles. It’s also a good hook for members of the audience who follow non-scripted sports, providing an analog to leagues’ real drafts, and the fantasy sports versions millions of people do.
But as we get ready for the fourth draft... sorry, Superstar Shake-up... since the split returned, I find I’m just not as fired up about it this time around. A completely unscientific reading of the virtual room gives me the sense I’m not alone, either. I’m not seeing as much chatter about the 2019 edition tonight and tomorrow (April 15 - 16) on Raw and SmackDown as I’ve saw in ‘16, ‘17, and ‘18.
Which got me thinking about why that might be the case. And there are several reasons:
They’ve done away with not only the idea of a draft, but any pretense of there being kayfabe strategy behind the Shake-up.
When SmackDown moved to Tuesdays, we were excited in the Cageside offices about the prospect of General Managers Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan explaining their picks in the first draft. Bryan tried to offer some justification on the dearly departed Talking Smack, but that was it. The next two years didn’t even offer that, but at least there was still the appearance of dueling authority figures trying to outdo each other. As my main man Geno pointed out over the weekend, the vague “the McMahons rule both shows now” edict even ruins that. There aren’t many instances where I wish WWE used management in storylines, but this is a trope that pretty much requires it. Otherwise, it’s just “stuff happens”. Which brings us to...
We know for a fact WWE will disregard the brand split, and the results of the Shake-up, whenever they want or need to.
We’ll hear about the “one night a year the Superstars of Raw and SmackDown collide” again this fall while they’re hyping Survivor Series, and we mock that slogan for a reason. Sure, sometimes injuries happen or people get sick, and you have to do something like plug AJ Styles in against Finn Bálor for TLC. Or you’re worried about ticket sales, so you just declare John Cena a free agent or bring the Bellas back on Raw. But the more you do it, the less I’m going to invest in your brand split.
The rosters are full of people already not being used.
Other than a handful of big names, will being on Team Red or Team Blue really change anything for most of the talent mentioned the next two nights? Folks like SAnitY, or Apollo Crews, or Dana Brooke, or Rhyno? Should we get excited about NXT call-ups when Nikki Cross and Heavy Machinery already feel written off or typecast, just months after they were moved to the main roster? Adding NXT and 205 Live to the mix might address this, but it will be hard to dissuade fans of the notion that a move to any of those shows is “being sent down”. And it’s not like the rosters of the the black-and-gold & purple brands aren’t already overloaded, too.
The lack of possible free agents surprises.
Competition for talent is great, but it also means most of the high profile stars are already locked up. If they’re available, their every conversation with WWE, AEW, ROH, NJPW, etc. is documented on websites like this one. They’ve already gone ahead with the returns of injured or sidelined Superstars like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn & Alexa Bliss. No offense to Bray Wyatt and his coughing plastic buzzard-in-a-box, but that’s probably not gonna deliver an “AJ at the Rumble” moment.
Maybe they’ve got a revamped version in store for us this week, and all of these issues will be addressed. I’m not holding my breath, though. And I’ll be watching despite these gripes, so... I’m not really giving them any motivation to change things anyway, am I?
Enjoy and/or complain about the Shake-up with your fellow Cagesiders in the Raw live blog tonight, right here.