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Flashback – A Historical Perspective Of The WWE Draft

Originally published April 25, 2011 – The WWE Draft has become a big event for WWE and pro wrestling fans. Pre-draft predictions generally start months before the big day, although this year fans only have a week to speculate. However, in the nine year history of drafts, rarely is the WWE Draft a game changer.

The draft format has changed several times over the years since its inaugural 2002 WWE Draft. The first draft was conducted under traditional sports draft rules where owners of each brand drafted their favorite superstar to WWE RAW or SmackDown. The format has become more random since 2002 where wrestlers are randomly drafted via a digital interface today.

Most fans miss the format of the first World Wrestling Entertainment Draft. It isn’t nearly as exciting to watch a digital cube or robot draft a random WWE superstar that could be anyone from Triple H to Hornswoggle. Unfortunately egos got in the way and some WWE superstars were offended with their original draft positioning. Petty as it is, in order to keep everything somewhat equal Vince McMahon compromised to a random system. Whether a WWE superstar gets drafted first or tenth has no bearings on their overall status with the company due to the new formats.

In recent years, the drafts have included everyone in the WWE. That means that anyone from ring announcers to commentators can be drafted as well as the usual array of pro wrestlers. 2010 was the first time in several years that the WWE Draft only applied to two brands with the extinction of ECW. The original draft was the result of an angle in 2002 in which Ric Flair “lost” control of the company to Vince McMahon.

The first draft saw Ric Flair and Vince McMahon draft wrestlers from the entire talent pool to WWE RAW and WWE SmackDown respectively. It should be no surprise to anyone that The Rock was the overall first pick in the draft, with Perry Saturn being selected at 50 with the final pick. Again, several wrestlers were upset and insulted and angered at “where they were drafted.”

The 2004 WWE Draft saw the random system introduced to the WWE universe. Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff drafted “random” wrestlers who were selected from a machine ala: the NBA lottery system. The new system was designed to appease the wrestlers who were upset at being drafted later in the lottery. The new system took a ton of steam off of the momentum from the last draft when Rene Dupree’s name was randomly picked with the first pick. How is that for a trivia question?

The WWE shook things up again with a new system for the 2005 draft. Unlike previous years, the WWE extended this draft for an entire month as opposed to one night. The idea was to give the draft more meat with potential trades following the picks throughout the month. The lottery concept of the draft was dropped and the draft went back to the original concept.

Unlike the 2004 draft, the 2005 draft started off with the same kind of a bang that the first draft had. SmackDown champion, John Cena was drafted to RAW with the first pick in the draft. For several weeks, RAW had both WWE champions with Batista and Cena. This may have been the most important move in draft history. No other move in draft history had as much impact then or since on a particular wrestler as this one. Randy Orton moved to SmackDown to continue his feud with The Undertaker. RAWs champion Batista was drafted to SmackDown with the last pick in the draft, thus the champions changed brands and brought their belts with them.

The 2006 draft was scaled back quite a bit from past drafts. In two years the WWE went from a draft that lasted a month to a draft that consisted of two picks. Additionally, the only brand drafting would be ECW. Paul Heyman was allowed to pick one wrestler from RAW and one from SmackDown. Heyman took Rob Van Dam and Kurt Angle respectively. This was also the start of the end for Kurt Angle who was upset about being drafted to ECW.

The 2007 WWE Draft once again shook things up. Superstars would compete in inter-brand matches for draft picks. If a wrestler from RAW beat someone from SmackDown, Raw got the pick. The picks were randomly selected lottery style like in past drafts. Once again, this took a lot of steam off of the draft. Overall the draft was fairly anti-climactic with the Great Khali and Boogeyman going with the top two spots. Bobby Lashley was promoted to RAW while Ric Flair moved to SmackDown. Ken Anderson was drafted to RAW with the 10th pick in a move that was expected to pay John Cena-like dividends. Unfortunately an injury to Mr. Kennedy  prevented the move from having any impact.

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The 2007 WWE Draft will also be remembered for one of the more infamous angles in WWE history. At the conclusion of the draft, Vince McMahon stepped inside his limousine which then blew up to start some kind of a wacky angle. The angle was dropped without explanation two weeks later following the Chris Benoit tragedy.

For the first time in WWE Draft history, the 2008 WWE Draft saw the same system repeated for a second year. Once again WWE inter-brand matches were used to determine draft order for ECW, RAW, and WWE SmackDown. Also like 2007, a supplemental draft took place later on WWE.com.

The 2008 WWE draft was arguably the most exciting draft of all with most of the big names moving around.  Rey Mysterio went as the overall number one WWE Draft pick from SmackDown to RAW. Jeff Hardy was drafted from RAW to SmackDown with the second overall pick in the draft. CM Punk wound up on RAW which would result in a big push and a championship run. Randy Orton moved back to RAW. SmackDown’s champion Batista was moved back to RAW for the first time since 2005, although he would lose the belt shortly thereafter. At #11, RAW’s champion Triple H was drafted to SmackDown and take the belt with him. This was a move that was incorrectly predicted annually (although he was technically drafted once but traded right back for six picks), so the move was a biggie.

Arguably the biggest move of the night came with the drafting of the RAW and SmackDown lead announcers. Jim Ross was drafted to SmackDown, while Michael Cole was drafted to WWE RAW. This move split up the J.R. and Jerry Lawler RAW team for the first time since Lawler left the WWE several years prior. SmackDown has gone through numerous announcer changes since then, while RAW has remained relatively the same up until the recent return of Ross to the brand.

The 2008 was also noteworthy for an angle involving Vince McMahon. The RAW set “collapsed” on Vince sending Vince out on a stretcher. In reality, it was a way out of McMahon’s “Million Dollar Mania” contest which had run its course over the previous weeks and a band aid to slumping RAW ratings.

The 2009 WWE draft was nowhere nearly as exciting as the previous draft. Here is how I recapped the 2009 WWE Draft on the website. “Unfortunately this year’s draft did not have the same kind of impact as last year’s event. Nonetheless there were some predictable moves, some not-so predictable moves, and some second chances for stars who have been hitting the proverbial glass ceiling.”

Triple H was once again the big story. Triple H was officially drafted back to WWE RAW. The move was nowhere near as climactic as the 2008 switch. Triple H had been appearing on WWE RAW practically every week for a few months prior to the draft to feud with Randy Orton. The only thing shocking about the move was the reminder that Triple H was actually a SmackDown wrestler.

The 2009 draft move with the biggest impact saw Chris Jericho drafted to WWE SmackDown. Jericho had been red hot months earlier from his feud with Shawn Michaels, but seemed to fizzle a bit following WrestleMania. CM Punk was drafted to SmackDown which was somewhat of a game changer. The move rejuvenated Punk’s WWE career with a renewed push and a championship run on the brand.

The 2010 WWE Draft turned out to be a big waste of time. The WWE wound up stacking RAW by swapping Chris Jericho and Edge to the brand in exchange for Kofi Kingston, The Big Show, and Kelly Kelly. As riveting as that sounds, Edge wound up back on SmackDown months later and Jericho wound up leaving the company altogether.

So there you have it WWE fans. You truly never know what you will get from the WWE Draft. I will have a full preview on Monday and a recap with analysis on Tuesday.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric's work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University's Fox School of Business.

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