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Cageside Seats’ 2021 WWE Draft Guide

Despite the name and some of the trappings, the WWE Draft isn’t the kind of draft sports fans are used to.

Even when Raw and SmackDown are led by rival authority figures, the company’s never bothered to delve into things like roster-building philosophy or draft strategy. Selections are announced, talent react, the show goes on. There aren’t winners or losers in a storyline sense - unless you count Survivor Series, but there’s no reward for the winning side there, so...

What the Draft (or sometimes the “Superstar Shake-up”) is is a way for WWE to freshen up the week-in, week-out rivalries & angles on their two biggest television shows in order to keep interest up among the fanbase, in turn generating ratings that please their business partners. That’s still a fun way to think about the shows, and fantasy book their cards. And it’s popular with fans because (a) we want to see what Vince McMahon & his team come up with, and (b) we like to judge what they do against what we would have done if we had the pencil.

That’s all why we here at cSs didn’t see much value in doing a full “mock draft”, or any of the kinds of features you might see on an NFL site before their annual draft. But we do have ideas of what we think WWE should do when they move people around on the Oct. 1 SmackDown and the Oct. 4 Raw.

So here are those, broken down into three categories.

What Raw Needs

Geno Mrosko: A serious influx of top level talent, if they go the traditional route. AJ Styles and Randy Orton represent that, but WWE spent much of the past year not treating them that way and instead booking them in tag teams. Entertaining as that has been, the Drew McIntyre/Bobby Lashley main event show hasn’t been the strongest, especially in comparison to what SmackDown has in Roman Reigns. He isn’t moving over, I don’t think, so I’ve got an idea for what they can do here in lieu of actually going the traditional route.

It’s time to let the women take over.

Absolutely load up the women’s roster and start devoting way more time on the show to women’s stories, including Charlotte Flair leading the way as the Raw women’s champion, which would be treated with the same reverence as the WWE title. There’s really nothing to lose in doing this. Big E and the rest of The New Day can anchor the men’s side, supplemented by many of the names already occupying the space.

We’ve never really seen what it would look like if WWE really firmly committed to giving more time to the women than the men on a consistent basis. They have the talent roster to do it, and a three hour program to fill.

Why not?

Sean Rueter: Here in a second, Cain will correctly point out that FOX won’t want to part ways with Roman Reigns. WWE should try anyway. One of the things that’s made the blue brand so enjoyable during the reign of the Tribal Chief is how his story makes the show feel like a cohesive whole, a satisfying story within the larger, never-ending sports entertainment tale. When he made a Monday night visit to USA Network a few weeks back, he brought that with him. That kind of structure week-to-week would make the three hour red brand a whole lot more enjoyable on a consistent basis.

Have Vince McMahon, Bruce Prichard, et al accomplished the same thing on Raw without Roman? Yes. Could they build the show the same way around a different Superstar? Sure. But I don’t trust them to stick to that plan unless someone with stroke makes them. The only people with that kind of power right now are The Head of the Table and The Beast Incarnate, and Brock Lesnar isn’t showing up every week. Give us Monday Night Reigns.

Kyle Decker: There was word that USA was none-too-pleased when Fox got both Brock Lesnar and Becky Lynch. It’s tough to have to serve two masters and WWE needs to make sure that USA has some star power after the draft. If they move Drew McIntyre, Randy Orton, or Bobby Lashley over to SmackDown, who can Raw get in return that gives them someone of equal main event value. And right now, I don’t honestly know the answer on the men’s side. Kevin Owens or Sami Zayn maybe but that doesn’t feel equal if Raw gives up a recent, well-booked, WWE champion. It’ll be easier on the women’s side to send Bianca Belair or Sasha Banks to Mondays.

Claire Elizabeth: Can we somehow trade an hour to Literally Anywhere Else? No? We’re just here to talk about the roster? Dang. Anyway, it’s hard to imagine any shuffling of established stars is really going to assist Raw in any significant way, but what I’d really like is for somebody fresh to come over to Raw and make a big splash out the gates and just get made as a main eventer, y’know? Looking over the roster a couple names jump out at me but none more than Montez Ford— his recent SmackDown main event against Roman Reigns shows he’s got it, so bring him on over and let him start racking up wins in the lower card!

Cain A. Knight: FOX isn’t giving up Roman Reigns, so Raw needs to aim for the next biggest star in WWE - Becky Lynch. I assume Lynch and Seth Rollins are a combo item, so they might as well bring him along to compete for the WWE championship. Beyond that, Raw needs reliable wrestlers who can fill out that three hour run time with entertaining long matches. Some wrestlers who fit that mold include Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, etc. Raw could also use some of the women who don’t get much time to wrestle on SmackDown, such as Liv Morgan, Toni Storm, Shotzi, and Nox. If Raw swings and misses on all of the above, they can still win the draft by bringing over the trio of Shinsuke Nakamura, Rick Boogs, and Pat McAfee.

Stella Cheeks: Raw needs Bianca Belair. Charlotte needs some real competition and there is no one better than the EST. Plus, that gives Sasha and Becky an interesting feud on SmackDown. They haven’t gone one-on-one in a while and I want to see it. If they don’t move Bianca they should 100% call up Io Shirai. She’s wasted on NXT 2.0. In the men’s locker room? They could use the Street Profits, specifically Montez Ford. Raw needs the smoke!

Marcus Benjamin: A quicker tempo, less filler, one less hour, and more go less show. Oh, you mean in the draft? It needs challengers for its newly minted W-W-E World Heavyweight Champion. And yes, you have to say that while swiveling your hips. I have no desire to see Drew McIntyre back in this particular championship picture, and no one else on Monday night jumps out at me. Bring in Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, or Seth Rollins. Or all three if you want. E needs fresh competition that can tell compelling stories to truly make his reign worthwhile.

What SmackDown Needs

Geno Mrosko: As the guy who reviews SmackDown on this here website, I’m actually dreading any changes WWE is planning on making. Having said that, I know they’re coming, so I think the blue brand should do something like what NXT has done and infuse the show with fresh new talent to build up underneath the crown jewel of the promotion, Roman Reigns.

One of the biggest problems WWE has had over the years is making new stars, and part of the issue with that has been an unwillingness to even try. Reigns vs. Lesnar Part 79 will be great and all, I’m genuinely looking forward to it, but who is waiting in the wings after that? Are they simply going to move someone like Styles over and have him be the next challenger?

No way.

It’s time to get younger, and it’s time to give a chance to wrestlers who haven’t really had that before. Maybe that means a legitimate program for someone like Mustafa Ali again, or maybe that means Bron Breakker skips all this developmental nonsense and makes some noise.

Just give us something new!

Sean Rueter: It’s probably my nostalgia kicking in... that happens to use middle-aged types. But I miss the SmackDown Six era. Just like the Intercontinental championship will always be the workhorse belt in my mind, the blue brand will always be the workhorse show. Let’s make it that again.

When FOX got the rights to SmackDown, we heard a lot about how they wanted to present WWE like a “real” sport. This is a chance to get back to that idea. They wouldn’t need to sacrifice star power - the roster is full of talent like Asuka, Bianca Belair, Riddle or Bobby Lashley who could thrive on a show that’s more sports than entertainment. Hell, throw Gable Steveson in the mix. It doesn’t need to be two straight hours of matches, either. Just change up the booking. Fewer screwy finishes and automatic rematches. More enhancement talent for quick matches that lead into talking segments about bigger feuds. A more clearly defined system for title shots and matchmaking.

And if all this sounds a little like another pro wrestling show that’s kind of hot right now? The entertainment business is trend-based. If something’s a hit, expect to see more versions of it. Why should our corner of the pop culture universe be any different? Seeing how different creators and talents riff on and add to a concept can be just as interesting and entertaining as something that’s never been done before.

Kyle Decker: SmackDown is the Roman Reigns show so they need viable, strong opponents to keep the main event poppin’. Luckily, there are plenty of options to do that. Drew McIntyre (who had a fantastic Survivor Series match with the Tribal Chief last year), Bobby Lashley, and AJ Styles could all fit that bill. As mentioned under what Raw needs, Monday nights would need some talent to keep them balanced, but SmackDown’s primary aim in the draft should be ensuring interesting programs for the Universal champion.

Claire Elizabeth: My colleagues here rightly point out that Roman Reigns need challengers but I’d like to take a step into left field on this one. SmackDown needs Drew Gulak. Before and at the beginning of the pandemic, Drew seemed poised for a breakout push under Daniel Bryan’s tutelage, and if he can’t go join the American Dragon in the distinguished competition, the next best thing is for them to finally make the most out of one of the most talented and most versatile men on the entire roster.

Cain A. Knight: The main thing SmackDown needs is the next round of babyfaces for Roman Reigns to feast on over the next year. They’ll pluck away a few Raw names from the list of Drew McIntyre, Randy Orton, Matt Riddle, Keith Lee, and Ricochet AJ Styles, who can all main event cards with Roman. They might as well ship out the ones Reigns has already beaten, which include Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, the Mysterios, and Cesaro. SmackDown also needs championship contenders on the women’s side due to Bayley’s absence, so adding Asuka to the roster would be a huge win.

Stella Cheeks: The first wrestler that comes to mind is Bobby Lashley. His feud with Big E should be over now, especially after that banger of a cage match. Move the Hurt Business over to SmackDown and let MVP and Paul Heyman go at it, Shelton & Cedric fight the Usos and Bobby and Roman throw down for the belt. In the women’s locker room? Well, Asuka needs literally anything to do so move her to SmackDown ASAP. Franky Monet would also be an excellent addition. She shouldn’t have gone to NXT in the first place, so moving her up sooner rather than later would be the right thing to do.

Marcus Benjamin: Rather than focus on Roman Reigns’ island of relevancy like the rest of the crew, I’m going to look at SmackDown’s women division. I highly doubt Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Bianca Belair stay on the same show because Raw’s women’s division has more holes than Swiss cheese at the moment. With the assumption that WWE puts their fingers in the dam that is a very leaky Monday night, SmackDown needs contenders for whoever their champion is next Friday. Whether that’s moving someone like Shayna Baszler to Friday nights, or taking Franky Monet from NXT, that division needs credible contenders with longterm backing who can either make the champion better, or become the champ.

Who from NXT should be called up

Geno Mrosko: Hit Row has been rumored and they definitely feel like an act that would translate well right away. Io Shirai should absolutely be heading to Raw to fulfill my previously mentioned plan of focusing on the women’s division more on that brand. Bron Breakker could absolutely be a major star in the making, though I can see an argument for keeping him down in developmental to let him learn a bit more before throwing him to the wolves. I’d like to see Pete Dunne get a chance on SmackDown, in line with trying to push younger talent.

Sean Rueter: Just to freshen things up, move some of the veteran workers from all the NXT brands like Kushida, Kyle O’Reilly and Trent Seven up to serve in the midcard. Move guys that barely get screen time on Raw and SmackDown such as Chad Gable or even Jeff Hardy to NXT to serve in their place. If Tuesday nights are really developmental, keep the focus there on the younger talent, and cycle folks WWE’s decided aren’t main eventers through so the next generation can work with a variety of veteran talent.

Kyle Decker: This is tough to say given the vision of the future for NXT is still not fully revealed.

The names that stick out to me are from the women’s division. Franky Monet just lost a title match, let’s bring her up and pair her with her directionless husband - they’re a duo that’s proved to work well together in multiple promotions. Io Shirai still has a title, but it’s time for her as well. I’ve seen a lot of talk about Hit Row, but they’re a crew I think should stick around on Tuesdays. They fit the new vibe and it may make sense for some of their members to get a little more (not a ton of) seasoning before presenting them to the wider audience.

Claire Elizabeth: Before Tommaso Ciampa won the title and the Bron Breakker push became apparent, I thought the obvious direction for NXT was for Pete Dunne to beat gatekeeper/caretaker Samoa Joe for the title, but with that scuttled, I think the next best thing for Peter is for him and his pal Ridge Holland to get called up to start kicking ass and taking names. In point of fact, my first draft for the Raw question (before I realized NXT callups were a separate one) was built around Dunne as one of the top candidates for that huge fresh asskicker push.

Cain A. Knight: Io Shirai is the most obvious NXT wrestler who could be an elite level performer on the main roster. Ember Moon would also be a great addition to the women’s roster on either Raw or SmackDown. On the men’s side, they might as well make the big splash and bring up Bron Breakker. If Omos is ready for the main roster, then Breakker is qualified too, and Raw could certainly use a Steiner. If it’s comically too early for that roster move, then LA Knight certainly doesn’t need to be wasting away in developmental and could be an asset on the main roster.

Stella Cheeks: Well, I already said Io & Franky should move up and I stand by that, but in terms of the men’s division I’d have to agree that LA Knight should be on the main roster. He’s another one of those dudes that should’ve gone straight to main. I also want to see Cameron Grimes on the main roster, but mostly because I want to see him steal all of Happy Corbin’s money.

Marcus Benjamin: I’m not even going to wax poetic here: LA Knight, Franky Monet, and Io Sharai need to move on. There are a few more but those three leap out as people who just need to go. NXT 2.0 is actually back to its 1.0 incarnation. As a brand focused purely on development, someone like LA Knight has no place there. The less vets in NXT, like the three mentioned, the better the brand can truly focus on being a farm league and doing what farm leagues do best: develop talent. And serve as a place to rehab or punish pros when they mess up. I kid, I kid. Kinda.

Those are some of our idea. Think they’re good? Bad? Ridiculous? Let us know (nicely please, we’re sensitive) - and give us your own.

Then join us on Oct. 1 and 4 and we’ll find out what WWE decides to do with the 2021 Draft.

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