Draft: What is it Good For?
As quickly and desperately as WWE threw together the 2011 draft, I couldn’t find much wrong with it. The blue-and-white received a top babyface in Randy Orton, filling the void left by Edge; both shows swapped a few top draws and several mid-carders, giving Superstars and fans plenty of fresh feud possibilities; and several substantial character changes occurred, most notably for Mark Henry, who may not be capable of much in the ring but can still do everything a monster heel needs to do: scowl and hit hard.
But that was only one night. What does the draft mean these days? A red or blue t-shirt, crossing over to the opposite show every other week, and shared storylines, minimizing the uniqueness of both brands. Call me an old-timer, but I miss the old days of the brand extension. The days when Superstars stuck to their shows and became a part of a distinctive broadcast that couldn’t be replicated, when belts belonged to one show and one show only, and were actually used for more than just shiny props; and when one show invading the other was special and shocking instead of commonplace and meaningless.
When you allow Superstars and stories on one show to bleed over into the other, you cut down on the TV time for other Superstars and stories. Need an example? Look at WrestleMania 27. On SmackDown, the whole month of March was nothing but flashbacks to what happened on Raw. Now, WrestleMania season should be an exception. Who can forget seeing SmackDown’s Kurt Angle charge through a shocked Monday Night Raw crowd to attack Shawn Michaels during the build-up to WrestleMania 21? But these days, almost every episode of Raw and SmackDown features talent from the opposite show. These frequent cameos significantly reduce the "ooh" and "aah" factor of WWE promoting a special Raw-and-SmackDown joint event. What’s so special about something that happens every week in some capacity?
WWE has more than enough talent to keep Superstars on one brand or the other. In fact, WWE arguably has the best talent in the wrestling world. Trouble is, they don’t always utilize that talent, or their belts, properly. Wade Barrett defeated Kofi Kingston for the IC belt just before WrestleMania, but did he defend it on the grandest stage of them all? Nope. Instead, both men were tossed into an eight-man tag match that didn’t last long enough for me to use the bathroom, instead of a one-on-one match for the title.
If the belts mean something, so will the Superstars that hold them. Unfortunately, the opposite is true: if the belts mean nothing, neither do their holders. Shortly after the inaugural draft in 2002, both Raw and SmackDown featured belts that belonged to that show and that show alone. By keeping specific belts–and Superstars–on one show or the other, WWE was able to build unique divisions around those belts and competitors, resulting in match-ups that could only be seen on one show or the other.
The only belts that carry any weight today are the WWE and World titles. Those belts should be significant; trouble is, you can only have a handful or so of Superstars involved with those belts at any given time. Where does that leave the rest of the roster? Let’s focus on the tag team division, easily the most lackluster division in WWE at present. During this week’s draft show, Josh Matthews excitedly pointed out that tag teams could be split down the middle if one member or the other was forced to leave his show. Good point, Josh, but the only tag teams of any consequence right now are Kane and Big Show, and Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater. Sure, the Usos could have been split down the center, but who would have cared? Maybe if the WWE focused on other tag teams, the audience might actually get invested in the possibility of them splitting up.
All sorts of tantalizing tag team combinations exist on both rosters. The monstrous Mark Henry recently turned heel and moved to Friday nights. Ezekiel Jackson, another monster heel, also calls SmackDown home. Why not put these two heavy-hitters together and give Big Show and Kane a real challenge? For a technical treat, turn Jack Swagger face–it’s bound to happen eventually–and pair him with Daniel Bryan. It’s a shame Mysterio was drafted to Raw; he and Sin Cara would have wowed crowds as a tag team.
But I’ve got a better idea for the man formerly known as Mistico: the cruiserweight division. The cruiserweights played a big part in putting WCW on the map, and were a staple of SmackDown for several years. Vince has a penchant for pushing big men, but don’t excitement value that cruiserweights can add to any show. To borrow a line from Chair Shot Reality’s Josh Isenberg: Please, Vince; dust off the cruiserweight belt (and Chavo Guerrero) and put the spotlight back on SmackDown’s high-flying sensations.
I admit, as a wrestling purist, I’ve favored SmackDown since the 2002 draft, but by no means am I ignoring Raw. Right now, SmackDown is the ship sailing without direction. Raw has always been a show about characters, and it’s got those in spades, along with a healthy dose of strong wrestling talent. Allow Raw to continue playing to those strengths, and look to the good ol’ days of eight to nine years ago for a SmackDown identity that worked then and could still work today.
I was drawn to wrestling because of the uniqueness of the characters and their styles. In wresting, a lack of character, of some attribute that sets you apart from the pack, inevitably means drowning in a sea of dark matches before getting future-endeavored. Just as wrestlers need unique gimmicks, I believe their broadcasts do as well. Ask any twin siblings and they’ll tell you that they hate to be thought of as interchangeable parts. Raw, SmackDown, and their belts and Superstars shouldn’t be any different.
David L. Craddock is a freelance writer–and a proud member of TEAM BRING IT–who resides in California. Follow his work at www.DavidLCraddock.com.