The week after WrestleMania is the unofficial kickoff to each “season” of WWE. It’s like the NFL would be if the new campaign started with Monday Night Football the day after the Super Bowl.
This year, the Raw after WrestleMania (and now the Smackdown Live after WrestleMania) showed a little bit of WWE’s plan leading into WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans. We had big debuts (Tye Dillinger, Shinsuke Nakamura, The Revival), a big return (Finn Balor) and a promise from Mr. McMahon. WWE would truly invest in a new direction by implementing a Superstar Shakeup the following week.
Well, the Shakeup has shaken out, and we now know (for the most part) which performers are switching brands. For each show, I’ve compiled a list of who has arrived, then classified each superstar into one of three categories based on how much impact I believe each will have in their new surroundings.
Moving From Smackdown to Raw
Bray Wyatt – It seems like it was only a few days ago that The Eater of Worlds was the WWE Champion over on Smackdown. Of all the moves to Monday, this one was the most surprising to me. (I assumed WWE would unwisely pull the trigger on moving AJ Styles to Raw. I was pleasantly surprised.) Assuming the WWE books him properly, Wyatt can become one of the top stars in the company. The signs are good, as Wyatt’s first appearance was on the ‘Tron, where he issued one of his creepy challenges to Finn Balor. Assuming Wyatt loses his rematch with Randy Orton in a House of Horrors match at Payback, he’ll be free to engage with The Demon King. (If Balor recovers from a concussion suffered during his return on Raw in the next few weeks.) I predict that Bray will wear Universal Championship gold before the new year dawns.
The Miz (w. Maryse) – Warning to all the Miz haters still out there – The A-Lister is about to become one of the most important acts on Raw. Anyone with eyes can attest to the fact that Miz was one of the two or three most effective superstars on Smackdown Live since the brand split. While he still won’t rival AJ Styles between the ropes, Miz has become a solid to very good hand in the ring. Where he truly shines is on the mic as a heel. He reminds me of the best of the old-school heels like Bobby Heenan and Rick Rude. He’s the guy that you just hate. Miz will eventually contend for top gold, and will also help to elevate the Intercontinental Championship to relevance again, as he did last year.
Alexa Bliss – I admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Bliss’ Harley Quinn wannabe act when she first arrived on the main roster. She always had good mic skills as a heel, but her in-ring work didn’t do much for me. However, she’s improved drastically in a short period of time, and is currently one of the top heels in the company. Bliss’ arrival will breathe new life into the Raw Women’s Division, which, while full of spectacular workers, was becoming a bit stale lately.
Too Soon To Tell
Dean Ambrose (Intercontinental Champion) – Ambrose could rise to the top of the card, as he did just after the brand split, or he could get lost in the midcard, as he seemed to do recently on Tuesday nights. Ambrose has the personality and in-ring ability to remind fans of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Rowdy Roddy Piper. The problem is that WWE has watered him down to the point where he’s become Hardcore Holly with less mental stability. His quirky demeanor and stiff style work best when there’s an edge of danger to him. On SmackDown, he often came off as more of a comedy act.
Mickie James – Mickie is in the same boat as Ambrose. If WWE portrays her as it did during her glory days – an unstable, unpredictable force with a ton of in-ring talent – she can be a major player in the Women’s Division. Unfortunately, it seems like she was brought back on board to put younger, less-established stars over. That’s a valuable role, but her effectiveness as a stepping stone will wane if she doesn’t win some important matches.
Kalisto – If WWE truly wants to create its next Lucha star (a la Rey Mysterio), they need to put Kalisto into the Cruiserweight Division and let him feud with Neville. If he’s simply placed in the mid-card, he’ll disappear much as he did on SmackDown.
Elias Samson – I know that a big portion of the NXT Universe is absolutely pissed that Samson was called up to the main roster before some other stars they deemed more worthy. The truth is that, properly booked, Samson has Miz-like potential to draw heel heat. There’s something inherently unlikable about him.
Low (or No) Impact
Apollo Crews – I love Apollo Crews…in the ring. Once the mic goes on, I get bored with him. I’m not alone in that. Crews has the technical skills to be a perennial main-event talent. Unfortunately, he has the personality of toast at this point. Personally, I’d have sent Apollo back to NXT to work on character development. Raw writers aren’t known for their patience. Unless Crews grows a personality very quickly, he’ll become the next Jack Swagger.
Heath Slater and Rhyno – Well, the Shining Stars went to SmackDown, and somebody has to be tag team cannon fodder. Welcome to Monday night, fellas.
Curt Hawkins – There will come a time over then next year when you’ll ask yourself, “Is Curt Hawkins still on the main roster?” Then, he won’t be.
David Otunga – This might expose Otunga as the worst announcer in WWE. He was bad on the two-hour SmackDown. He’ll be 1/3 worse on the longer Raw.
Moving From Raw to SmackDown
Kevin Owens (US Champion) – While this isn’t set in stone (Owens’ move depends on the outcome of his US Title match with Chris Jericho at Payback – the winner takes the belt to SmackDown, the loser stays on Raw), it seems evident that KO will retain his title and turn Tuesdays into the new Kevin Owens Show. Owens makes up for the loss of Wyatt, and he’ll be the king of Tuesday nights before too long.
Charlotte Flair – This is essentially a trade for Bliss. It’s a good move for both shows. Charlotte brings instant credibility to the SmackDown women’s division, and can help elevate some of the younger stars on the blue brand. As long as WWE doesn’t lock her into a never-ending feud with Becky Lynch, this should improve the quality of the women’s matches up and down the SmackDown roster.
New Day – Less than a year ago, the New Day was one of the hottest acts in WWE. Since dropping the Raw tag team belts, the Power of Positivity has been relegated to sideshow status. A fresh start will make for a fresher version of New Day. They’ll add life to a stagnant tag division, and also make up for some of the lost merchandise sales that WWE will experience with John Cena on hiatus.
Byron Saxton – This is not a misprint. Saxton has two things going for him. He’s generally likable, which makes him a good foil for the (now super-villain) JBL. Also, he’s not David Otunga. It’s a win-win.
Too Soon To Tell
Sami Zayn – I really wanted to put Zayn in the top category, but just couldn’t do it yet. My hope is that the SmackDown writers will succeed where Raw’s scribes failed. Zayn is one of the best ring workers on the planet. Now, they just need to give him some sort of role to play outside of the ring (other than obnoxious insecure guy) so that he can rise to the top of the card. There could be a great storyline with Zayn idolizing Daniel Bryan as an indie guy who rose to the top of the industry. Or, he could become Dolph Ziggler.
Rusev (w. Lana) – It feels like Rusev is in the same situation as Zayn. There’s no legitimate reason that the Bulgarian Brute isn’t a main-eventer. Once he returns from injury, WWE needs to book him like they did headed into WrestleMania 31. (Who can forget Rusev coming to the ring in a tank?) If they do, he’ll join Zayn in moving up to the high impact category.
Tamina Snuka – Booked right, Tamina can become the SmackDown version of Nia Jax. Booked wrong, and she can become the SmackDown verison of, well, Tamina Snuka.
Low (or No) Impact
Sin Cara – If he has a spot on the roster, it should be on 205 Live. Since that’s not the case, I can only assume that WWE decided to move its most notorious locker room brawler over to Tuesday nights to beat the hell out of JBL.
The Shining Stars – Apparently, WWE thought that The Ascension needed someone to talk to in the locker room now that the Vaudevillains have broken up.
Jinder Mahal – It seems that the WWE writers have a high degree of interest in Mahal since his return to the roster. You have to admire his work ethic. He looks like he’s carved out of stone. Too bad the fans don’t care even a little bit.
At first glance, it looks like Raw is the runaway winner in this exchange. However, given the relative quality of the two shows since the brand split, don’t give up on Smackdown just yet. The blue brand has consistently been the better of the two shows, due mostly to better writing and better wrestling. Since the writers didn’t change shows, that trend is likely to continue. Look for guys like Zayn and Rusev to rise to the top of the card and keep Tuesday nights exciting.