You already know this, but this year’s WWE Draft was not perfect.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful. It accomplished exactly what the company needed, which was to set two evenly stacked rosters and re-affirm a (semi) strict brand split. Not only that, but it came at the time of the year when it most appropriate for a shake-up.
Overall the two night event had its fun moments and the allure of the draft process was enough to pull in a big audience and keep them invested. At the same time, there were moments of frustration and confusion that hindered the experience for those watching at home — at least that’s the vibe you get reading Twitter.
As always, take those reactions with a grain of salt.
To be fair to social media, we offered up a fair share of criticisms ourselves this week on the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast.
It’s easy to complain. It’s something else entirely to offer solutions. Which is what we’re doing today.
The WWE Draft could truly be something spectacular. The company was on the cusp of having a great event this year. With the right tweaks and a little bit more attention in certain areas, the 2024 WWE Draft could be the start of a new pillar event for WWE.
They should look to one of their biggest competitors from last week and take some cues from the NFL in order to elevate their own draft to the next level.
First, let’s start with something obvious.
A CLEARER PRESENTATION OF THE RULES
This goes far beyond certain mock drafts that were completely thrown off by the sudden removal of Brock Lesnar from the draft board Monday Night.
It would be nice to know exactly what’s going on prior to the event getting underway. The pool of eligible Superstars for Friday and Monday night were not released until very late on Thursday.
We didn’t even know who had the first overall pick or how many selections would be made in each round until several minutes into SmackDown last Friday. The audience knows what to expect from the NFL or NBA Draft, but the rules for WWE’s event change from year-to-year.
Leaving that many questions unanswered until the last possible second gives the impression that WWE was rushing to throw the draft together this year or that the creative team was indecisive on how the whole process was going to play out.
Many of the complaints that came across everyone’s social media timelines stemmed from a lack of understanding of what was going at the time and what the draft results would mean moving forward.
Some of these question marks still exist a week later. Examples:
- Why were some factions split up and others eligible to be taken with one pick? Rhea Ripley being separated from Judgment Day makes sense if there was some kind of a Champions-only rule in play, but that wasn’t the case with Roman and Solo being a package deal. Raw had to spend two draft picks to keep all of Judgment Day.
- Are Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn still allowed to float between brands because they are the Undisputed Tag Team Champions? And if so, why were they eligible to be drafted in the first place? It’s natural to assume that Raw is their permanent home and that’s where they will stay once they drop the belts, but there still has not been an official confirmation on the matter.
- Same question is in play for Liv Morgan and Raquel Rodriguez regarding their Women’s Tag Team Championships.
- Speaking of Tag Team Championships, are the NXT Women’s Tag Team Titles going to SmackDown with Alba Fyre & Isla Dawn?
- Why was Brock Lesnar able to negotiate a free agent contract while other high profile veterans — like Edge and Trish Stratus — were not?
- Why was free agency not established as a possible outcome prior to the draft?
It is possible WWE doesn’t want to set definitive rules in some of these cases because they want to be able to keep their options open. Let’s be honest. There are times that WWE is basically a combat sport version of Whose Line is it Anyway?. The rules are made up and (sometimes) nothing matters.
Establishing a clear set of the rules though, and well in advance, would go a long way toward clearing up much of the confusion and allow the audience to enjoy the festivities a bit more.
And yes... it would allow for more accurate mock drafts. And more time to put them together to be honest. That’s a major part of why the NFL Draft is so successful: the build up to the event and speculation of how it’s going to play out.
WWE’S VERSION OF THE ROGER GOODELL HUG MOMENT
Pacing is a big issue with the WWE Draft. I understand the company has over 60 selections that they have to get through in a relatively short amount of time, but the entire process feels rushed.
The opening round starts and its immediately boom, boom, boom, boom. Here’s four names and now back to the show. There’s no time to savor or celebrate the moment.
Being the number one overall draft pick should be presented as a huge deal. Because it is. It’s the seal of approval to that Superstar that you are the top person in the entire company. The biggest draw. The biggest star at that point in time.
Think back to the 2019 Draft. Becky Lynch becoming the first woman to be selected (Kelly Kelly was randomly drafted first in 2010) number one overall was another moment where The Man shattered a glass ceiling and it should have been highlighted more. But not 10 seconds after Stephanie McMahon announced that Becky Lynch had been drafted to Raw, she moved on to announcing SmackDown’s selection of Roman Reigns.
Speaking of the Tribal Chief... limited schedule aside, this year’s WWE Draft was a tailor-made moment for him. When he was announced as the top selection for SmackDown, he should have come out on stage, shook Triple H’s hand, paused for one of the Game’s patented finger point photos and told the crowd to acknowledge him.
There’s not enough time to do that with every pick, but more of a focus should be given to the top 10 selections. Each brand should be allotted a certain amount of time to make their pick and then each Superstar(s) should be awarded a little time in the spotlight.
We need WWE’s version of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell getting bear hugged by every top college athlete. A hug and a finger point photo could really add to the aesthetics of the entire draft presentation.
Once the first 10 picks have been made, then yes, the process would obviously need to be sped up due to time restraints. More supplemental draft selections could be made after the show was over as well.
This video of the phone call from Cowboys assistant director of college scouting Chris Vaughn to his son - Kansas State RB Deuce Vaughn - when the team picked him today is so awesome.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 30, 2023
The pride and emotion Chris shows is everything.
( : @dallascowboys) pic.twitter.com/kBbtExtUjH
The Raw and SmackDown war rooms did exist to a certain extent this year. We saw the doors to each room. We saw special guest presenters walk out of those rooms with draft cards in hand. We never saw the inside of those rooms and we really should have.
It would also help if we had any idea who was actually making the selections for Raw and SmackDown. It makes you long for the days of dueling GM’s because whether it’s Triple H, Adam Pearce or any other authority figure today, they all work on both brands. There’s no sense of real competition.
If FOX and USA representatives are the men and women behind the curtain, then peel it back for the audience.
This is not a unique suggestion. More an endorsement of what former World Heavyweight Champion Mark Henry said on a recent episode of Sirius XM’s Busted Open:
“[The draft] lacked one thing: the war room — executives with the network. You gotta have a Fox representative. You gotta have a USA representative talking to a Michael Hayes or talking to a Triple H, Paul Heyman, Vince McMahon, anybody. Please! Have them interacting, then when the pick comes in, they should be like, ‘Yeah we got our guy!’ I think that would reel us in more.”
Henry is spot on here. Nothing further to add from a pageantry standpoint but let’s dive further into the storyline possibilities. Some of the best drama from the NFL Draft last weekend came out of the footage captured inside each team’s headquarters.
Check out that Twitter video a few paragraphs above. When the Dallas Cowboys were on the clock last Saturday in the sixth round, team owner Jerry Jones looked at scout Chris Vaughn and asked him to write the name of their next draft selection on the card to submit it to the league. The name he wanted him to write down was Deuce Vaughn - RB out of Kansas State - Chris’ son.
Vaughn was so overcome with emotion that he burst into tears in his chair while a room full of his fellow scouts, coaches, and executives broke out in applause. Chris then got to call his son and ask him if he wouldn’t mind coming to work with his Dad the following week. An absolutely incredible scene.
That’s what makes the NFL king. The league thrives off of compelling storylines and the fans just eat it up.
WWE capturing the moments that each NXT Superstar found out they were getting drafted to Raw or SmackDown while their peers celebrated was a great touch. Very similar to a top college prospect getting swarmed by his family and friends when their name gets called. WWE could lean into this more.
In addition to filming each Superstar’s reaction from afar, sometimes out of focus because the camera person had no clue who they were supposed to film and zoomed in too quickly once they figured it out, capture the moment that Shawn Michaels or Triple H told them that their dreams of making the main roster were coming true. Get in close and show the audience that raw emotion.
This is also the WWE after all. Imagine that Brock Lesnar was draft eligible and he was selected to the wrong show in his eyes. Have the Beast storm the war room, trash the place, maybe F5 a “FOX executive” and demand a trade. Speaking of which.
This is an aspect of the WWE Draft that’s existed in the past, but was absent this year. Ironically, the same year that Eli Manning requested the San Diego Chargers send him elsewhere after they selected him first overall in the NFL Draft, Triple H was drafted to SmackDown and then promptly traded back to Monday Night Raw.
In real life, according to Bruce Pritchard, this was done because Vince McMahon looked at his rosters after the draft was over and decided they were unbalanced. He thought The Game was needed back on RAW and made the move. On screen, WWE played it up perfectly.
Eric Bischoff, the Raw GM at the time, was so mad that he lost Triple H to SmackDown, that he traded three Superstars to get him back.
These scenarios get lost when there’s no sense of competition between the people making the selections. Raw let its Women’s Champion get away on night one of the Draft. The Red Brand took a big risk hoping Bianca Belair would still be there with the fourth pick and got burned.
What if the USA execs orchestrated a trade? What if they let SmackDown have the next three picks in exchange for getting Belair back? Seems crazy, but so does the Houston Texans trading up to have the number two and number three picks in the NFL Draft and that actually happened.
You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts.
Or you know... you don’t have Raw pass on taking its Women’s Champion in the first place.
Imagine if Paul Heyman played the political game backstage this year and used the influence of his relationship with the Tribal Chief to force a trade. Would that not have been a better way to put Roman and Cody Rhodes on separate brands?
Rhodes went one pick behind Reigns in the draft on Friday. The move kept the American Nightmare on Raw, but in the process the Red Brand skipped out on keeping Bianca Belair.
Instead of inexplicably letting SmackDown steal the Raw Women’s Champion, go ahead and have Raw draft Belair number two overall. Then when Cody goes third, have him cut a promo later in the night about when he’s done with Brock Lesnar at Backlash he’s going to turn his attention back to Roman Reigns and finally finish his story — only for Paul Heyman to come out and say, “Sorry... there’s been a trade.” Flashing that sly smile of his.
Reigns manipulating the system to get Cody out of his hair until next WrestleMania season, assuming that’s WWE’s plan, would be incredibly on brand for the WWE Universal Champion. Manipulation and securing his seat at the head of the table is what Roman Reigns is all about.
WWE could have had Belair wind up on SmackDown as part of that trade and got the exact same result as they did last week, but with a much better story.
MAKE THE DRAFT A PREMIUM LIVE EVENT
WWE’s biggest mistake with the draft is that the company tries to make it part of a show, instead of making it the show.
It was smart for WWE to counter program round 2 of the NFL Draft. With that and the NBA Playoffs going on at the same time, they needed extra incentive for the audience to tune in and it worked. SmackDown pulled in an additional 300,000 viewers from the week prior, amid stiff competition, and the show had it’s highest 18-49 demo ranking in a month.
For the overall quality of the event however, the WWE Draft needs to become its own thing. The company should strongly consider making it the late-April, early-May Premium Live Event.
WrestleMania is supposed to be the season finale for WWE, but so often storylines that were built up in the months prior don’t end until Backlash. Hence the name of the PLE. It’s time to scrap Backlash all together and present the WWE Draft as the grand event it should be and the hard reset the company needs following ‘Mania.
It may sound like a terrible idea to some, but look at what the NFL has been able to do. Over 300,000 people went to Kansas City this year to watch all seven rounds of the NFL Draft in person.
Thousands of people traveled across the country to watch other people read off names. For several hours. Over multiple days.
Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud went first and second overall in the NFL Draft this year. Now image immediately following those selections we got to see them suit up with their teams and play each other.
In WWE that could actually happen. Which brand made the better selection? Let’s find out in the main event shall we?
SmackDown drafted Austin Theory. Good for the Blue Brand, but if his United States Championship is coming with him, he has to defend it against Raw’s Bronson Reed. The entire PLE could be presented as though it’s being booked on the fly.
It would be chaotic. It would be unpredictable. It would be highly entertaining.
Not to mention. If the company made the draft its own stand alone event, the creative team would have more time to implement several of the elements pointed out in this article.
If done correctly, the WWE Draft could become a staple event that fans look forward to every year. Not just a tool to shake things up every few months.
What do you guys think? Let us know in the comment section below. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.