SmackDown Superstar AJ Styles appeared on Raw last night (May 29). He helped open and close the show, first by congratulating Seth Rollins for beating him at Night of Champions to claim the new WWE World Heavyweight belt, then by teaming with him to take down The Judgement Day.
This comes less than a month after the company’s 17th Draft went into effect. Ostensibly designed to split WWE’s main roster talent by assigning wrestlers to either Raw or SmackDown, it’s always just a matter of time before they break their own rules so they can use people where and however they want to. Hell, a group of people of various levels of importance were designated “free agents” in the Draft — so they wrote themselves a loophole from the jump.
Still, it was jarring for some in the audience to see WWE disregard the Draft so quickly after implementing it this year. In years past, I would have been with them. But I just can’t bring myself to care any more.
Would I rather they take the concept seriously, or just do away with it all together? Sure. I still think there’s potential in the Draft and brands with dedicated rosters. But WWE either doesn’t agree, or doesn’t agree enough to do the (admittedly harder) work of creating their shows that way. And they’re not going to ditch the Draft altogether, because it provides a ratings & attention boost every time they run one.
Has WWE “broken” me? Maybe. But as with performers whose work I don’t enjoy but others do, and types of storylines that instantly generate debate among fans (at least the online ones), I’ve realized WWE’s narrative inconsistencies don’t really impact my enjoyment of the stuff I do like. And there’s lots of it, on their red & blue shows, and all over the wrestling world. Getting hot that they’re handwaving away the roster split to do a fun match with a scene of Adam Pearce acknowledging that’s exactly what they’re doing? It only detracts from my ability to appreciate the good stuff.
If dissecting and debating the kayfabe rules, and lamenting WWE’s (and other companies) inability to stick to them does make you happy? Go for it! I used to get a kick out of myself, and as long as you’re not using your upset to impinge on anyone else’s enjoyment, I can pretty easily avoid those conversations.
I’ll even join you in pouring one out for the WWE’s 2023 brand split. But then I’ll go right back to digging Styles & Rollins vs. Damian Priest & Finn Bálor, or whatever else that’s popped me recently from this weird, wonderful, often nonsensical pastime we all follow.