clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

WWE SmackDown preview (Apr. 28, 2023): A hard brand split doesn’t make sense

SmackDown airs tonight (Apr. 28) with a live show from American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas. This is the fourth SmackDown episode during the five week build towards Backlash, which takes place on May 6 in Puerto Rico.

A hard brand split doesn’t make sense

It’s time to shake things up again! The WWE Draft begins tonight, and it looks like WWE is following a very similar format to their other recent drafts. The roster has been separated into two draft pools. The wrestlers who are eligible to be drafted tonight include:

  • Becky Lynch
  • Bianca Belair
  • Bobby Lashley
  • Candice LeRae
  • Chelsea Green & Sonya Deville
  • Cody Rhodes
  • Damage CTRL (Bayley, IYO SKY & Dakota Kai)
  • Dexter Lumis
  • Dolph Ziggler
  • Drew McIntyre
  • Edge
  • Hit Row (Top Dolla & Ashante “Thee” Adonis w/ B-Fab)
  • Imperium (GUNTHER, Ludwig Kaiser & Giovanni Vinci)
  • Lacey Evans
  • Matt Riddle
  • Maximum Male Models (ma.cé, mån.sôör & Maxxine Dupri)
  • Mustafa Ali
  • Natalya
  • Omos (w/ MVP)
  • Shinsuke Nakamura
  • The Bloodline (Roman Reigns and Solo Sikoa)
  • The Miz
  • The O.C. (AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson & Michin)
  • The Street Profits
  • Viking Raiders (Erik & Ivar w/ Valhalla)
  • Select NXT Superstars

The heavy hitters who you can expect to be drafted early include Cody Rhodes, Bianca Belair, Becky Lynch, Roman Reigns, Solo Sikoa, Edge, Bobby Lashley, and GUNTHER.

Triple H has said that this year’s draft will change the game. WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns will almost certainly be drafted first, and he will no longer cross over between both Raw and SmackDown. Instead, a new World Heavyweight Championship has been created for the brand that doesn’t draft the Tribal Chief.

The implication here is that WWE intends to go with a hard brand split in the aftermath of the draft. And if that’s true, then WWE is potentially making a huge mistake by moving away from its current model of a soft split. The big problem with doing a hard brand split is that Raw is three hours long and has really benefited from the flexibility that comes with allowing various SmackDown stars to show up and wrestle each week. This is reflected in the ratings; WWE has been a hot product going back to Triple H’s creative takeover last summer.

WWE is taking an unnecessary risk by trying to change the current landscape where there are pretty much no hard rules about which wrestlers can show up on Raw or SmackDown. How many weeks have there been where both Raw and SmackDown television have been carried by Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and The Bloodline? Unless WWE is about to make special rules for some of the upper card stars, this might no longer be possible going forward, and it only makes the product worse (especially if the idea is to go back to brand-exclusive PPV events).

The good news is that WWE can always change the rules on a whim when something isn’t working. They can try to enforce a strict brand split in the short-term, but it always ends the same way. WWE creative realizes they need some stars to cross over between brands, they come up with some wacky Brand Invitation rules to explain these exceptions, and eventually the brand split is de-emphasized and the rosters slowly merge.

WWE can skip all that nonsense this time if they just don’t try to go with a hard brand split coming out of this year’s draft. The current model is working well, so just stick with what works.

The rest of the title scene

WWE Tag Team Champions Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn defend their belts tonight in a WrestleMania rematch against Jimmy and Jey Uso. The Usos have dedicated this match to Roman Reigns, so what will the consequences be if they disrespect the Tribal Chief by losing again?

Zelina Vega will proudly represent Puerto Rico when she challenges Rhea Ripley for the SmackDown women’s championship at Backlash. Vega doesn’t have many wins under her belt of late, so she gets a chance to change that tonight with a tune up match against Sonya Deville.

Will WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions Liv Morgan and Raquel Rodriguez still be allowed to float between both Raw and SmackDown as long as they hold the belts? They are not eligible to be drafted tonight, but it’s a question that WWE should clarify soon.

Intercontinental Champion GUNTHER retained the gold last week with a victory against Xavier Woods. Imperium’s leader is coming up on one year as champion and will be drafted tonight. Is it time to move over to Raw to continue his run towards the record books?

Other stuff to keep an eye on

- Braun Strowman and Ricochet took care of business against the Viking Raiders last week, but Strowman may have suffered a concussion in the process. Perhaps WWE will give us an update on his status tonight.

- Shinsuke Nakamura recently returned to WWE and has quickly drawn the attention of Karrion Kross and Scarlett. Will the winner of this feud be fast-tracked to a title match against either Roman Reigns or the new World Heavyweight Champion? Nakamura will be drafted tonight, but Kross will have to wait until next week.

- The Street Profits are eligible to be drafted tonight. Will WWE decide to break up the team by drafting Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins to separate brands?

- Omos suddenly finds himself booked in a PPV match against Seth Rollins, so he’ll probably be quick to come off the draft board tonight once the obvious top stars and champions are all selected.

- Dominik Mysterio, The Judgment Day, Rey Mysterio, and the LWO are all going to be drafted next week. Does that mean that little shithead Dom won’t be around tonight to piss everyone off?

- Is Cody Rhodes going to come out and give a big dramatic speech after he is drafted tonight?

- Drew McIntyre is off WWE TV right now but is still included in tonight’s draft pool.

- Some of the wrestlers who are eligible to be drafted tonight will probably be ignored on the TV broadcast and saved for supplemental draft rounds after the show is over. The lower card wrestlers who are at risk of falling into this group include Dexter Lumis, Mustafa Ali, Hit Row, Candice LeRae, and maybe even Lacey Evans, The O.C., or Dolph Ziggler.

- Is Bron Breakker one of the select NXT stars who will be drafted? It sounds like there’s a good chance that his name will be called tonight.

What will you be looking for on SmackDown?

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