On July 19th, 2016 WWE embarked on their 10th draft since the first ever brand extension back in 2002. It was the first since 2011 and in WWE’s words, promised to ‘usher in a new era’ in WWE. It has been almost a year since the 2016 draft and as it ultimately created two separate shows, rather than SmackDown just showing repeats of Raw matches which is what it did in the past, the draft meant that more superstars where needed to fill an entirely new and separate show.
This clearly meant that there would be more opportunities for the wrestlers to have TV time and try and earn themselves a push. However, not everyone has benefited from the brand split. With guys like Erick Rowan, Kalisto, Luke Harper and even recent NXT call-up Tye Dillinger still struggling for TV time.
Thankfully though, overall the brand split has created more starts than it has kept off TV. In the past year, we have seen SmackDown become a show many people favour more than Raw. It has also helped create or give more time to superstars WWE wouldn’t have given a second look at before the brand split. With SmackDown also raiding the ‘flagship show’ Raw of some of its talent to fill a brand new two hour show, that has also meant Raw has had to push and give opportunities to guys it would never have over a year ago.
With this in mind, here are five WWE superstars the brand split has helped the most.
Jinder Mahal returned to WWE TV on August 1st, 2016 as a part of the Raw brand. This meant, of course, he missed the original draft in July. Once Jinder returned he spent most of his time on Raw ‘Jobbing’ to everyone or in a ‘we are not American so that means we are heels’ tag team/alliance with Rusev. So, you could argue that the brand split did not help Jinder in any way as the week after he returned and beat Heath Slater; he was jobbing out the next week on Raw and continued to do so for the foreseeable future.
But in April 2017, Vince McMahon announced there would be a ‘Superstar shake-up’ on the April 10th and 11th editions of Raw and SmackDown Live. This was essentially a smaller scaled draft which saw Jinder move from Raw to SmackDown Live. Many people believed Jinder would continue to be a jobber on SmackDown. This certainly looked to be the case as in his debut match for SmackDown Live he lost to Mojo Rawley.
However, the next week, completely out of the blue, Jinder won a Six-pack challenge for the right to challenge for the WWE title. This shocked the wrestling world and many believed Jinder stood no chance of winning the title. But in the weeks leading up to Jinder’s title shot he would pick up wins over Sami Zayn, a man he had jobbed to only weeks before on Raw and over AJ Styles. Then at Backlash Jinder shocked the world and pinned Randy Orton for the WWE Championship.
Since winning the title Mahal has been presented as a top heel. He has his little entourage the Sing brothers who help him cheat to win; he is presented as a star through his entrances and Championship celebrations and has not been pinned on TV since winning the title. This is rare in WWE today with their 50/50 booking habit.
Granted, we all know the main reason Jinder is getting this push is because WWE wants’ to expand into India. However, that does not retract from the fact that the brand split has helped Jinder. Because we all know if there had been no brand split there would be only one world title. So, if there was only one world title there would be no chance Jinder would be holding it even if Vince wanted to get into India. Therefore, the brand split has helped Jinder because it meant he could be moved to SmackDown, which WWE still see as the B show and then given a world title to help push into India while keeping the main title on Brock Lesnar.
Baron Corbin was the 19th pick in the 2016 draft when he was made a member of SmackDown Live. Before the brand split Corbin was struggling on the main roster. Yes, he had won the Andre the Giant battle royal. But as we all know that means very little and apart from that, he had done very little since arriving from NXT.
However, the brand split has done Baron the world of good. As he is on SmackDown Live he can appear on Talking Smack. This allows Baron to do what he does best. His promos on Talking Smack are always great. They are less scripted than those on TV and really allow Baron to build his character. This shows the brand split has helped Baron because if there was no brand split there would be no talking Smack meaning nowhere for Baron to show off his promos.
Furthermore, the brand split means each roster has less talent to use. Meaning that they have to use and push lower card guys. Corbin has certainly benefited from this. Since the draft, Corbin has maintained an upper-mid card spot. He has even been allowed to main event two PPVs, Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank. He also won this year’s Money in the Bank.
This further shows Corbin has benefited from the brand split because if WWE still had everyone on one show it is doubtful Baron would have been a part of the Elimination Chamber or even won Money in the Bank. But thanks to the brand split creating two separate rosters, Baron is now in line to be a top heel on SmackDown.
Alexa Bliss is most certainly the biggest female success story of the brand split. Prior to the 2016 draft, Bliss had been wrestling in NXT. While in NXT she never really rose to the top and failed to capture the NXT Women’s Championship in her time there. She was also the 47th draft pick which shows she was not seen as a huge star by WWE.
Bliss was then drafted to SmackDown Live where she would go on to become the top heel and biggest women’s star on SmackDown. Her stand out feud was against Becky Lynch. Bliss and Lynch would go on to make history while on SmackDown competing in a Tables match at TLC which Bliss won to earn her first Women’s Championship. They would then also go on to compete inside a steel cage. Both of these matches were a first for women in WWE.
After establishing herself as the top female heel on SmackDown and winning the title two times, Bliss would be moved to Raw in the Superstar shake-up. Since moving to Raw Bliss has continued her dominance. Just 20 days after moving to Raw Bliss beat Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship making her the first woman in history to hold both Raw and SmackDown’s Women’s Championships.
The reason Bliss was able to do all of this was because of the brand split. As mentioned earlier, the brand split created two separate shows/rosters meaning WWE needed more talent. This lead to them raiding NXT for wrestlers to make up each brand. This allowed Bliss to be given a chance to prove herself on SmackDown which ultimately lead to her becoming a three-time Women’s Champion and the top heel on whichever brand she is on. You could even argue that because Bliss was picked so low in the draft originally that WWE only moved her up to make up the numbers on SmackDown, meaning that if the brand split had not happened Bliss may well still have been on NXT as she wouldn’t have been given the chance to prove how good she is on SmackDown.
Over the past year, the brand split has allowed Miz to turn into one of the best true heels in WWE. Granted the Miz was already IC champion before the brand split and was evolved in some great title defences prior to moving to SmackDown Live. Most notably at Extreme Rules 2016 when he defeated Cesaro, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.
But despite the decent pre-brand split IC title run, it was not until he moved to SmackDown that Miz really hit his stride. Similarly to Baron Corbin the brand split helped elevate Miz through the creation of Talking Smack. Miz used this new platform that came about because of the brand split to make himself the biggest heel in WWE. He did this by verbally attacking general manager and beloved babyface Daniel Bryan. Bryan and Miz was one of the hottest feuds for some time despite them never being able to fight. Miz even began to use Daniel Bryan’s ‘yes kicks’ and other elements of Bryan’s move set. This ultimately made everyone despise Miz which he used in his three recent runs as IC champ. The combination of feuding with Daniel Bryan, his great promos and having Maryse with him has made Miz into a top star who if he had not of moved to Raw may have had a run with the WWE Championship. This shows the brand split helped the Miz because if SmackDown had not become its own show Talking Smack would not have been there for Miz to cut his great promos. Daniel Bryan would also not have been SmackDown GM meaning there would have been no feud between them which was the main thing that really got Miz over as a true heel.
AJ Styles in many people’s eyes is the best wrestler in WWE today. Despite this though he is not a typical WWE star due to his height and physique. Because of this, it could be argued that if WWE had not created the two shows in the 2016 brand split it is unlikely we would have seen AJ as WWE Champion.
However, thanks to the brand split AJ Styles was given a chance to show WWE what he can do. At Summer Slam 2016 Styles beat John Cena. This gave AJ huge momentum and allowed him to develop his character be calling himself ‘the face that runs the place’. Clearly taking a dig at John Cena. AJ would then go on to be the top heel on SmackDown and win the world title from Dean Ambrose. He did lose the title at the Royal Rumble this year in a match of the year candidate. But because Styles had shown how good he is in the months beforehand he was being cheered by much of the audience. Styles eventually turned face after beating Shane McMahon at this year’s WrestleMania. Styles is arguably now the top face on SmackDown just ahead of Randy Orton.
This shows the brand split has helped AJ become one of the top guys in WWE. Because being on SmackDown give him the chance to become a world champion and prove he can be the top guy. An opportunity he probably would not have been given if he remained on the same show as Roman, Brock, Seth Rollins, etc.