The WWE brands have been split, the draft is over and now it is time to look at the biggest winners and losers from the inaugural SmackDown Live. The crowd was electric from start to finish with the anticipation behind the draft at absolute fever pitch. So category by category, let’s break down the draft.
First Round (Picks 1-5)
The first two picks in the draft were obvious enough for anyone paying the slightest bit of attention. It was always going to be Rollins at one and Ambrose at two, from there the field opened up. The surprise of Charlotte being picked at three gave the Women’s Division some credibility, but overall it was a predictably poor night for female wrestling (more on that later). AJ Styles being taken at pick four is a massive endorsement of what the company currently thinks of the Phenomenal One and him being taken ahead of Cena also gives him some material to work with in the coming weeks. The biggest moment of the first round was pick five when Finn Balor was drafted from NXT to RAW. This is doubly-impressive as it makes Finn feel like the hottest commodity going into next week and also gives them the potential of using him as a Crusierweight if need be. Overall, the first round of the draft got the show off to a hot start and set the pace for the unpredictability to come.
Second Round (Picks 6-10)
The second round was filled with established names and predictable faces that needed to fill up the core of the brands. Roman Reigns going at pick six to Raw is perfect as it stacks the odds right against Ambrose and SmackDown, playing into their underdog mentality. Cena slipping all the way to seven is one of the biggest surprises of the draft, but moving the face of the company to SmackDown is a fantastic move and allows his feud with AJ to continue through to SummerSlam. Lesnar and Orton were the next two picks and splitting them up seems strange and probably means we won’t be seeing much of Brock before SummerSlam. Orton is the superior pick as Lesnar will appear three times per year, while Orton will be an important cog for SmackDown indefinitely. It didn’t matter where the New Day was drafted; all that mattered was that they were kept together and thankfully Raw saw to that.
Third Round (Picks 11-15)
Raw kicked the third round off with a bang, taking Sami Zayn way higher than anyone would’ve expected and making him look like a big star in the process. The fact that he was taken so far before Owens is also a little jab for their rivalry. Zayn would’ve been perfect for SmackDown, but clearly they have big plans for him on Raw. SmackDown hit back by taking Bray Wyatt which is interesting as you’d think his antics suited the entertainment-focused Raw rather than SmackDown. In fact, you’d almost want Zayn and Bray flipped in an ideal world. The next two members of the women’s division, Sasha Banks (to Raw) and Becky Lynch (to SmackDown), came next to each respective brand. Banks and Charlotte on Raw is incredibly strange as leaves Becky to basically carry the weight of SmackDown by herself. The women’s division has been stretched well beyond its means. Jericho as the final pick makes sense kayfabe-wise, but in the scheme of things, isn’t a great pick since he probably won’t be around consistently beyond this year.
Fourth Round (Picks 16-20)
The fourth round was full of underrated picks and started with the two single’s champions of Rusev and The Miz. It’s a safe bet these two will be retaining at Battleground which means their respective titles will be remaining with Raw and SmackDown. This was the logical move to make for both brands and there’s not really much more to analyse beyond that. Kevin Owens at pick 18 is the crime of the draft. How Owens fell so far is mind boggling, but excellent for Raw considering they picked him up well below his value. SmackDown returned serve with Baron Corbin who is a great long term pick, but all the points went to Raw this round as they finished with Enzo and Cass (together), showing that to this stage, they were in full control of this draft. The depth was almost alarmingly in Raw’s favor at this point.
Fifth Round (Picks 21-25)
Raw started off by taking Gallows and Anderson, splitting them up from AJ Styles which isn’t necessarily a bad move. It gives them a chance to be their own team and possibly sets something up with Balor. SmackDown then picked up the next big NXT pick with Chad Gable and Jason Jordan which received a massive reaction from the crowd. Raw then took The Big Show… yep. Ziggler was a fantastic pick for SmackDown and hopefully he gets a chance to shine with the extra spotlight he should get on the brand. Nia Jax was the shocker, as half way through Stephanie’s announcement, the crowd were getting ready for Bayley before being knocked off their feet by Jax. They’ve had to decimate the NXT Women’s Division to make this women’s split remotely possible, but one has to wonder if Jax was called up too quickly.
Sixth Round (Picks 26-30)
The returning Neville was the first pick of the sixth round and you can be certain that he’ll become the face of the Cruiserweight Division, which is a fantastic move. SmackDown took the charismatic duo of Natalya and Alberto Del Rio in this round, gaining them essentially nothing but heel depth. Raw used the last televised pick on Sheamus who goes in the same category, but the most interesting pick was Cesaro at 28. Cesaro overtakes Owens as the biggest slider of the draft. How he fell so far is quite ridiculous. He also should’ve gone to SmackDown. Maybe swapping him and Baron Corbin would’ve been a good move. You can put it down as a great value pick for Raw kayfabe wise, but Cesaro deserves better.
Seventh Round (Picks 31-35)
We now get into the rounds not shown on SmackDown and, somehow, the very first of these picks was Goldust and R-Truth to RAW, which was far, far too early for them. SmackDown hit back with The Usos which is a fantastic value pick at 32. Titus O’Neil staying on Raw is smart as he’s a guy you can get to do charity and publicity events and Kane to SmackDown that high up feels very strange and takes away from their New Era mentality. Paige was the final pick of the round and while she’s great value for Raw, she would’ve been better for SmackDown which is heavily lacking in women’s talent.
Eighth Round (Picks 36-41)
Darren Young, the man who probably would’ve gone undrafted at the start of the year, found himself kicking off round eight which is good for Raw as his fresh push should see them get some value out of him for a month or two, before he returns to obscurity. Kalisto to SmackDown was strange as he would’ve been perfect for the Cruiserweight Division, but this gives him another chance at a single’s run. His partner Sin Cara was picked next for Raw, but don’t expect him to get much spotlight here. Naomi, Jack Swagger and The Ascension finished off what was ultimately a nothing-round. Naomi, Konnor and Viktor at least get a possible opportunity at a fresh start.
Ninth Round (Picks 42-47)
SmackDown continued to make ground up on Raw this round as the flagship brand took The Dudley Boyz, Summer Rae and Mark Henry whose positions on the card probably won’t change. SmackDown meanwhile picked up three Superstars who will probably all play big parts in the future of the brand with Zack Ryder, probably in a tag team with Mojo Rawley, Apollo Crews who’ll get more opportunity and the best of all, Alexa Bliss, who is a future Women’s Champion. Bliss has everything required to be successful on the main roster and she will excel. Crews and Ryder are also strong picks this late, much stronger than Raw’s selections.
Tenth Round (Picks 48-53)
Strowman was selected first to Raw, splitting him from The Wyatt Family. Hopefully this doesn’t mean a singles push. Have him off television until Luke Harper returns and have them be a tag team of their own. They also took Bo Dallas, splitting The Social Outcasts, and The Shining Stars. Raw dominated the SmackDown Live picks, but have fallen well behind since the cameras turned off. SmackDown took Breezango, Eva Marie and The Vaudevillains and despite the fact that Eva Marie should not appear inside a wrestling ring and The Vaudevillains have been booked as bottom of the barrel jobbers for the last few months, the key draft pick here is Tyler Breeze. Breeze will not remain as a tag team wrestler forever and when he gets a chance to show his skills as a single’s wrestler, he’ll prove to be the steal of the draft.
Final Round (Picks 54-59)
The infamous final round kicked off with Alicia Fox being drafted to Raw. Fox is nothing more than depth for the women’s division, simple as that. Raw also took Dana Brooke, hilariously late in the draft, but spot on considering her actual aptitude as a professional wrestler. Raw’s final selection was Curtis Axel, probably to be used a single’s jobber. SmackDown picked up Erick Rowan, who will probably remain with Bray and Mojo Rawley as their two male competitors. Rawley mightn’t be the most exciting NXT selection imaginable but what were you expecting this late in the draft? Can you imagine if Nakamura or Joe were taken this late? It’d be a blemish on them as competitors. Rawley teaming with Ryder makes sense too. The final selection of the draft overall was Carmella, drafted to SmackDown. Carmella has a lot of talent and it’s good to see her being rewarded, but she’s probably in the Nia Jax and Dana Brooke category of being called up sooner than she should have been.
Raw absolutely dominated the televised selections, cleaning house thanks to their advantage of three picks for every two SmackDown took. They used this to great effect and put together a roster that horded most of the great talent. They also picked up the likes of Owens, Cesaro and Neville for essentially nothing and they’ll prove to be the workhorses of the brand. However, once the cameras stopped rolling, they were abysmal. This was probably done as a way of letting SmackDown get some underrated talent, but it hurt Raw massively. From pick 31 onward, they arguably had ONE good selection, and that was Paige at pick 35. They difference between the two draft periods was stark.
Televised Picks (1-30): A
WWE Network Picks (31-59): F
Biggest Win: Main-event calibre talent
Biggest Loss: Lack of depth picks
Best Value Selections: Sasha Banks (13), Kevin Owens (18), Enzo & Cass (20) and Cesaro (28)
SmackDown did the best they could with the situation they were in early on. While Raw dominated, they still collected the likes of Ambrose, Styles, Cena Orton and Wyatt who can carry the main-event scene. They didn’t quite nail the whole premise of picking the underdogs who deserve spotlight with the likes of Zayn, Cesaro, Neville and Owens all on Raw. The tables turned once the Network kicked in however as SmackDown took virtually all of the value, getting the likes of Kalisto, Crews, Ryder and Tyler Breeze for essentially nothing. It would be wrong not to mention how good picking up Cena at seven is as well.
Televised Picks (1-30): C+
WWE Network Picks (31-59): A-
Biggest Win: Excellent late drafting
Biggest Loss: Sparsity of Women’s Division
Best Value Selections: John Cena (7), American Alpha (22), Apollo Crews (45) and Alexa Bliss (47)
Who Missed Out?
Poor Heath Slater… the guy has actually gone undrafted. It’s easy to see this becoming a storyline with Slater begging both general manager’s for a job. It should be entertaining at least. As far as NXT is concerned, the glaring omission is Bayley, BUT put money on Bayley being Sasha Banks’ partner at Battleground and that being the reason for her non-selection. They’ll keep her until then as a surprise. IF that’s not the case, then it’s just plain stupid having her stay on NXT while four others well behind her are called up, five if you include Dana Brooke. The likes of Shinsuke Nakamura, Austin Aries and Samoa Joe not being drafted is fine, they still have plenty to do in NXT and there’s no rush calling them up. Many thought Tye Dillinger would get called up, but they clearly opted for Rawley as Ryder’s tag partner over another single’s competitor.
Finn Balor: Balor being taken at pick five makes him look like an absolute star in the making and he will certainly deliver on that hype.
Becky Lynch: If there’s one positive to come out of the draft for the Women’s Division, its Becky getting the opportunity to carry the blue brand. She’s more than good enough to do so and Bryan talking her up as the best female talent on the roster puts her in a great spot.
Dolph Ziggler: If anyone is poised to benefit most from the extra spotlight of SmackDown, surely it’s Dolph who should be trusted to carry the mid-card of the division.
Baron Corbin: Corbin could be a future World Heavyweight Champion if they book him right on SmackDown. Everything is lining up perfectly for him to launch a massive career.
Corey Graves and David Otunga: Graves showed in NXT that he is head and shoulders above everyone else in terms of color commentary and he has been rewarded by being called up to Raw as an announcer. David Otunga has been given the same role on SmackDown which is also a big opportunity for him.
The Women’s Division: Ouch. I predicted it would be grim, but this is bad. The roster depth is sparse at best and there’s absolutely no chance of there being more than one title now on top of that. There’s nothing really more to say, every worst case scenario from the article linked earlier has come to fruition.
The NXT Women’s Division: WHO IS LEFT? With Bayley probably coming up at Battleground or if not then, very soon, the NXT Women’s Division consists of Asuka and literally no one else who has been given any screen time. There’s talent there, but the numbers are very, very thin.
Cesaro: The Swiss Superman should have been drafted to SmackDown. The blue brand has always been associated with wrestling and having him on Raw just doesn’t fit. Especially since he was taken so late in the draft. It was not his best day.
The Draft Rules: Raw having three picks for every two SmackDown got became an issue very quickly. In the first five rounds, Raw was able to pick up Finn Balor, The New Day, Chris Jericho, Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady and Nia Jax thanks to that one rule. Who did SmackDown get in return: nobody. The rule made sense in theory, but in hindsight, should not have lasted more than three rounds.
Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler: With the new commentary teams announced, there was one thing to note. Lawler was not on either. He has finally been axed from commentary and it’s about time too. He was used for the draft show itself, but that might be the last time we see him on commentary.