Not surprisingly, the draft program, which, not coincidentally, coincided with the first edition “Smackdown Live!” on Tuesday nights, was entertaining. WWE always does a terrific job with these shows. The emphasis was on the draft rather than wrestling, with the notable exception of the main event between Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, but the entertainment value was high.
The following are some draft observations from the Greek God of Wrestling.
- The reactions from the RAW management team of Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley and the Smackdown management team of Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan, added to the drama. There were expressions of surprise and, on occasion, regret, making it seem as if the other side drafted someone they were about to pick. This made it feel like a real draft.
- The run on tag teams was a nice touch. This often happens during drafts, with one pick triggering a run on players at that position. After Enzo and Big Cass were selected 20th overall (tag teams counted as one pick), Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson and the NXT team of American Alpha (Chad Gable and Jason Jordan) were the next two picks.
- Achilles Heel also liked the strategic picks. After RAW, which already had WWE Women’s champion Charlotte, selected Sasha Banks at No. 13, Smackdown countered at No. 14 with Becky Lynch. When RAW selected United States champion Rusev at No. 16, Smackdown countered with Intercontinental champion The Miz at No. 17, making sure RAW doesn’t have both the U.S. and Intercontinental titles.
- The reactions of Kevin Owens and Cesaro at sliding down the draft board were a nice touch. Owens, undrafted at the time, berated both management teams when he came down the ramp for his match. He eventually was selected 18th by RAW. Cesaro, who slipped all the way to 28th, said he should have been drafted higher and expressed displeasure at going to RAW instead of Smackdown. Perhaps a trade could be in the works down the road?
- The star power seems relatively balanced, with RAW securing Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar and The New Day, and Smackdown drafting John Cena, Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose and A.J. Styles.
- Health Slater not getting drafted provides a good storyline. Rather than being a punishment or humiliation at being the only eligible wrestler not drafted, the decision to leave Slater undrafted sets up a storyline in which he’s a free agent. Instead of being a hot free agent, as “Macho Man” Randy Savage was when he came to the WWF and triggered a bidding war among managers, my instinct is that Slater will lose repeatedly as he tries to prove his worth to both RAW and Smackdown management teams.
- The Greek God of Wrestling has concerns that there isn’t enough quality depth in the women’s division for two shows. There are seven women (not counting Lana) on RAW and six (not counting Maryse) on Smackdown. That may lead to repetitive matchups. It also could lead to the burial of the underutilized Paige, who appears to be positioned to put over Nia Jax, Charlotte and possibly Dana Brooke on RAW. Even a rumored return by Nikki Bella may not make enough of a difference in the quality depth of each show.
- Achilles Heel also isn’t comfortable with the new broadcast teams. The RAW team of Michael Cole, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton will have to keep fans interested for three hours. Graves and Saxton will have to step up their games. JBL was moved to Smackdown, with the excellent Mauro Ranallo and David Otunga, who replaces Jerry “The King” Lawler.
- Other than Finn Balor, selected fifth overall, the only other individual male wrestler selected from NXT was Mojo Rawley. Granted, he wasn’t selected until 57th overall, but Rawley is the only other one selected? Really?
- Even though RAW received three picks for every two made by Smackdown – because RAW has an extra hour – once the draft moved to WWE Network after Smackdown went off the air, the two brands received the same amount of picks, alternating back and forth.
- The Cruiserweight Classic is obviously a success. There will be a cruiserweight division on RAW.
There are still some unanswered questions. Will the brands have separate pay-per-views or will both RAW and Smackdown have matches on the same pay-per-view, as you would expect would be the case at WrestleMania, Summer Slam, the Royal Rumble and Survivor Series?
Another question revolves around the championships. For example, if RAW’s Darren Young defeats The Miz on Sunday at Battleground or Smackdown’s Zack Ryder defeats Rusev, will the Intercontinental and United States titles switch brands? In terms of the tag team and women’s titles, which both are currently on RAW, would Smackdown wrestlers battle to become the No. 1 contender and then face the champion at a pay-per-view? This could make wins and losses – as well as the titles – seem more meaningful.
Will matches such as Randy Orton vs. Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam be promoted as RAW (Lesnar) vs. Smackdown (Orton) or will the feud stand on its own?
The draft has succeeded thus far in creating interest. But there are many questions that still need to be answered.
BASK IN MY GLORY: Even though the rules of the draft, such as tag teams counting as one pick and RAW getting three picks for every two for Smackdown, before I did the mock draft for last week’s Heel Turns, the Greek God of Wrestling was incredibly accurate in predicting which show would draft which wrestlers.
The first eight picks of WWE’s draft went to the shows which I predicted. It wasn’t until Randy Orton went to Smackdown with the ninth pick that Achilles Heel got one wrong. That’s much better than so-called draft guru Gordon Glantz has done with the NFL Draft or NHL Draft.
TITLE CONTROVERSY: Achilles Heel just noticed the change within the week before the draft, but WWE started referring to the title held by Dean Ambrose as the WWE Championship instead of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. That indicates that there likely will be two top titles, one on Smackdown and one on RAW. Furthering that belief was the disputed “double-pin” finish to the main event match between Ambrose and Seth Rollins at the end of RAW.
Rollins and Ambrose deserve credit for putting together two very good – and very different – matches on back-to-back nights. That’s more difficult than it may seem. It also was a smart move by WWE to feature the top two picks in the draft in the main events on consecutive nights.
REIGNS RETURNS: Roman Reigns will join Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins in the main event of Sunday’s Battleground. Reigns, coming off a 30-day suspension for a first violation of WWE’s performance-enhancing drug policy, returned Friday night at a house show in Newark, Del., following a match between Ambrose and Rollins (video here).
BATTLEGROUND BATTLES: The Greek God of Wrestling predicted success for the members of The Shield from the beginning. He also thought they would succeed individually following their breakup. Well, all three of them are in the main event at Battleground, with Dean Ambrose defending the WWE Championship against Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns in a triple threat match.
This could go in several directions. With Reigns and Rollins both on RAW, it may make sense for one of them to cost the other the title, allowing Ambrose to escape with the championship. It could also make sense to have Rollins cost Reigns the title while winning it himself, creating a rivalry for the title on RAW. Achilles Heel predicts an Ambrose victory, with Stephanie McMahon declaring Rollins the rightful champion because of the disputed finish during the Ambrose-Rollins match on RAW.
The brand split could have an influence throughout Battleground. Will WWE highlight the brand split by having Zack Ryder upset Rusev for the United States Championship and Darren Young defeating The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship, thereby switching the titles between RAW and Smackdown? It seemed time for the Wyatt Family to gain a victory over The New Day, but, with New Day staying intact on RAW while Bray Wyatt and Erick Rowan go to Smackdown, leaving Braun Strowman on RAW, does that make a New Day victory in Sunday’s six-man match more likely?
I have no idea how the brand split could affect the six-man match pitting John Cena, Enzo Amore and Big Cass against A.J. Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Cena and Styles are going to Smackdown while the other four go to RAW. The match between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens was supposed to be the end of their rivalry, but they’ve both been drafted to RAW, so their feud could continue.
With all of the announced participants going to RAW, could Sasha Banks’ mystery partner against Charlotte and Dana Brooke be Nia Jax? Could it be Nikki Bella? Becky and Natalya, the top two women on Smackdown, square off in their budding rivalry, which makes more sense after the brand split.
Randy Orton makes his return at Battleground as a guest on Chris Jericho’s “Highlight Reel.” It will be interesting to hear what Orton, who has been out of action since last fall due to a shoulder injury, will say about Brock Lesnar. The Usos and Breezango (Tyler Breeze, Fandango) will begin the action with a Smackdown tag team during the Battleground kickoff show.
LESNAR DILEMMA: WWE is in a bit of a predicament with Brock Lesnar due to his positive tests for a performance-enhancing drug. The problem is that Lesnar apparently hasn’t failed a WWE drug test, but failed two, one on June 28 and one on July 9, the night he defeated Mark Hunt at UFC 200.
Judging by WWE’s statement in the wake of Lesnar’s first positive drug test, my educated guess is that WWE will point out that Lesnar hadn’t competed for WWE since just after WrestleMania 32. He passed at least three drug tests while training for UFC 200 before the failed test on June 28, so WWE can claim he was drug-free when he started training, implying that he didn’t start to use performance-enhancing drugs until some point during his UFC training.
From a wrestling perspective, it will be interesting if WWE uses the drug tests in storylines building up to SummerSlam. The danger of having Randy Orton accuse Lesnar of being a being juiced up is that Orton has been suspended in the past by WWE for violating its drug policy.
NEW RECORD FOR NEW DAY: Congratulations to Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods, the members of New Day, for breaking the record for holding the WWE Tag Team Championship’s longest title reign. The previous record of 333 days was held by Brian Kendrick and Paul London.
REIGNS RETURNS: Brian Kendrick, who held the record for most consecutive days as WWE tag team champion, will be featured in this coming Wednesday’s edition of the Cruiserweight Classic on WWE Network. Kendrick takes on Raul Mendoza in a first-round match. The winner will face the winner of the bout between Anthony Bennett and Tony Nese, which also will be part of Wednesday’s program.
For those who haven’t seen British sensation Zack Sabre Jr., you should be in for a treat Wednesday when he faces Tyson Dux. The winner will face the winner of Wednesday’s bout between Drew Gulak and Harv Sihra. Followers of the independent wrestling scene are likely salivating over the possibility of a second-round matchup between Gulak and Sabre.
This past week’s Cruiserweight Classic show once again featured fun and competitive matches. Lince Dorado and Mustafa Ali performed some insane moves, including a reverse hurricanrana into a sort of spike piledriver by Dorado, in the show’s best match (won by Dorado). Tajiri made a successful return with victory over Damian Slater, who looked good in defeat. Tajiri will face Gran Metalik in the second round. In other matches, T.J. Perkins beat Da Mack by submission in a fun match, and Akira Tozawa defeated Ken Johnson.
WWE DOMINATES: The Greek God of Wrestling realizes this has been an all-WWE column, but, as they say in the news business – or at least they used to say – I comment on the news; I don’t make it. With the draft, Battleground, Roman Reigns’ return and Lesnar’s drug tests, WWE has dominated this news cycle.
Besides, nobody should be complaining after benefiting from all of the wisdom Achilles Heel shares with you each and every week. You should all be very grateful that the best wrestling columnist in the world appears right here on PhillyPhanatics.com.