The WWE Draft always makes the company’s on-screen product a bit hectic. Most talent don’t know in advance if they’re switching brands, and there always seems to be an even bigger “making it up as they go along” feel than normal to how Raw and SmackDown’s rosters are constructed.
Every edition of the Draft prior to the just completed 2023 one was definitely conducted with Vince McMahon leading WWE’s creative efforts. This year’s version occurs with Paul “Triple H” Levesque officially in charge of creative after McMahon’s brief scandal-induced retirement/resignation last year. But there’s widespread acknowledgement Vince has been involved since at least WrestleMania. Reports of how involved McMahon is varies depending on the source and the week.
We say all that to ask if any perceived tumult during the course of the 2023 Draft should be attributed to Vince, or if its just inherent in WWE’s process?
On the latest episode of Wrestling Observer Radio, Dave Meltzer cited confusion over whether Bianca Belair (the Raw Women’s champ who’d just been drafter to Friday nights) or Rhea Ripley should be referred to as the blue brand’s Women’s champion on April 28’s Draft episode of SmackDown as evidence of “chaos” backstage recently:
“What was interesting is Bianca, in her interview talked about how she’s now the SmackDown Women’s champion, and then the rest of the show, they kept talking about how Rhea Ripley is the SmackDown Women’s champion. So it’s very clear that... people are being told different things that change all the time. It’s not like complete chaos, but there’s a lot of chaos right now.”
With Ripley now headed to Monday nights, Meltzer’s co-host Bryan Alvarez wondered if WWE would have the two wrestlers exchange belts like Becky Lynch & Charlotte Flair (sort of) did in under the same circumstances after the 2021 Draft. Alvarez also echoed a lot of fans’ complaints about that scenario, calling the belt swap “hokey”.
Meltzer attributed that hokeyness to McMahon’s tastes, implying that Vince is still the biggest influence on WWE creative even if his son-in-law’s title says different.
“With Vince McMahon, it has to be. There’s no other way with Vince McMahon. Does wrestling have to be [hokey]? No. Will wrestling under Vince McMahon have to be? Yes. WWE is written for Vince McMahon, it’s going to be hokey. It’s just how it is.”
While I’m not sure the Women’s title confusion is a smoking gun, this year’s Draft generally played out like past ones. Was that a result of Vince McMahon’s return? Evidence of a creative power struggle? Or just the nature of the beast when trying to juggle story demands and talent preferences while coming up with rosters that will keep network partners happy?
Let us know what you think, Cagesiders.