Wrestleitall – Drafts in a fake sport: still engaging

There’s something about a draft. Whether it’s seeing what young talent gets signed to which team, seeing who gets to call whom their own in Fantasy sports or, in the case of WWE this week, seeing which division within the same company gets to have which talent appear on it. As a wrestling fan, I’m self aware enough to realize how little sense there is in this entire prospect. We are talking about two shows, for the same company, allegedly competing to be more successful directly at the expense of the other show. After the draft it becomes possible to have “healthy competition” like you’d see in most companies when two groups make proposals for a project to see which is best. But during the draft if Raw picks, say, Cena and Styles together, they are doing so because they value the work those two will do together and, therefore, Smackdown would be a worse show in not having them. And that’s weird and ideally not true. Ideally these picks are made to create an environment most conducive to success for both shows. It’s where they go from there that matters. But I digress.

For the initiated, as it were, these are the results, although by now you’ve probably seen them elsewhere:

For Raw:
Seth Rollins
Charlotte
Finn Balor
Roman Reigns
Brock Lesnar
The New Day
Sami Zayn
Sasha Banks
Chris Jericho
Rusev w/ Lana
Kevin Owens
Enzo and Cass
Gallows and Anderson
Big Show
Nia Jax
Neville
Cesaro
Sheamus
Golden Truth
Titus O’Neil
Paige
Darren Young w/ Bob Backlund
Sin Cara
Jack Swagger
The Dudley Boyz
Summer Rae
Mark Henry
Braun Strowman
Bo Dallas
Shining Stars
Alicia Fox
Dana Brooke
Curtis Axel

For Smackdown

Dean Ambrose
AJ Styles
John Cena
Randy Orton
Bray Wyatt
Becky Lynch
The Miz w/ Maryse
Baron Corbin
American Alpha
Dolph Ziggler
Natalya
Alberto Del Rio
The Usos
Kane
Kalisto
Naomi
The Ascension
Zack Ryder
Apollo Crews
Alexa Bliss
Breezango
Eva Marie
The Vaudevillains
Erick Rowan
Mojo Rawley
Carmella

A few things to note, since this big list of names can be intimidating. Unlike in previous drafts, there were almost no major faction/tag team breakups. There was a lot of speculation that New Day or Enzo and Cass would be split but there is a problem with that that I’m happy creative finally figured out. If they split those teams up in the draft they are as much as saying “we can’t think of an interesting way to break these guys up so let’s have an outside influence do it”. The breaking of an established tag team, with proven chemistry, can be a big event that elevates ideally both but at least one of the members of the team. As much as the draft split up worked for JBL I think that’s the exception more than the rule. The end of New Day, Enzo and Cass, or for that matter the Dudley Boyz, Golden Truth or the Vaudevillians, should be an event in and of itself that lets the fans decide who got the best of the split or at least makes the fans feel something. The draft is already interesting enough without stealing that moment from a story.

Yes, I noticed some of the Wyatts and some of the Club split up. And I think both of those serve to deliver the second message that comes with splitting a group up via draft, “we can’t think of anything else interesting to do with these guys together.” Strowman, and for the matter Rowan and Harper, have done about all they can as silent hangers on to Bray Wyatt. If they can’t succeed on their own yet then they will need to make room for people who can. And AJ Styles needs to get away from the Club. Throwing an innovative wrestler whose principal weakness is his poor acting skills together with two talents who are also vanilla on the mic does not a successful stable make. And removing AJ from the equation opens the door for Finn Balor to be the leader of the Club and I find myself very okay with that.

Balor Club
Call it the Bullet Club all you want, we all know this is the real name

Second, the draft put the current champions as premium and completely ignored the fact that three of those titles might be on different people on Monday. I know, I know, no one believes Zack Ryder or Darren Young are grabbing gold anytime soon, much less on Sunday, but by picking them 40th and 43rd we’re essentially saying that Shane, Steph, Mick and Bryan all feel the same way. And if that’s the case why have those matches at all? I like Zack Ryder and I wouldn’t pay money to watch Rusev да́вка him on Sunday, so why book that match? I’m cool with Miz embarrassing Darren Young but that’s only because we all hated those “Make Darren Young Great Again” bits. But don’t shine a light on that, guys. Have some self respect.

Let’s pause for a moment and lament that, in addition to him being in a PPV main event that he’s done nothing to promote. Roman Reigns was picked third overall with no mention of the fact that this was to better secure having the title on the brand to which he was drafted. This means that we’re to be treated to a world where Roman Reigns is still the top face on his brand. And that makes me sad. Sure it’s possible that his violation of the wellness policy was for ADD meds to stay alert on the hectic WWE champions schedule but I still don’t like him and he still broke the rules and, dammit, being in the main event of a PPV that he didn’t earn is a slap in the face for all the undercard guys that are still trying to earn a spot and worked hard all month to build a believable story.

Lamentation and pausing over, one final point, I had the intention of lining up the talent that I cared about and ranking them according to how much I would miss them if I didn’t see them weekly and then using that rank to determine which show I was going to watch. And I actually had to do that. Despite WWE in the past making Smackdown a clear B show there are almost exactly half of the people that I’m interested in seeing weekly on each show. Oh, and in case you’re curious, it looked like this:

On Raw On Smackdown
Charlotte Not Roman
The New Day Dean Ambrose
Chris Jericho John Cena
Kevin Owens Bray Wyatt
Enzo and Cass Becky Lynch

If it weren’t for Foley being on Raw and my deep and abiding love for New Day/Enzo and Cass I wouldn’t have been able to make the call. And I think that’s a good call on the WWE’s side. The WWE wants as many people watching both shows as possible, all word of competition be damned. It doesn’t pay them to convince me to stop watching Raw and watch Smackdown instead. It pays them to get me to like both shows so much that I can’t afford to miss either and I feel like they did that. And I’d like to think I’m fairly average as far as their fan base goes. I’m sure other people’s lists contain different stars but balance out about the same. And that can only mean more money for the WWE.

So now that the illusion of competition is over we can start looking at the real competition and, theoretically, it should be a real competition. What we have here is a battle for who should get a controlling interest in the company should the 70 year old Vince McMahon die on us. Which, and I’m not a doctor, will be in the next ten to 20 years considering how hard old Vinny Mac runs his body. So, in a business sense, it’s a real concern. What we’re seeing is something called “Succession Planning” and it’s not only common but essential for any publicly traded company. And make no mistake, it’s not “If Raw gets better ratings then Steph wins and she gets the company.” This is a complex issue involving time slots, historic ratings, improvements/lack of decrease in ratings and all sorts of other factors. I don’t expect we’ll be able to look back after ‘Mania this year and say definitely “this person won, if Vince dies tomorrow they’re the CEO.” Running the show involves succeeding and showing a more very forward looking approach rather than just burning talent and stories for ratings in the short term. But in ‘Mania five years from now we should have a clear answer and that’s a lot closer than we’ve been in 20 years. And I find myself very excited for that answer.