It’s been all over the commentary, it’s been all over the Network, it’s been taunted by the IWC, it’s been mocked by certain reviewers etc., but it’s here, it’s official. WWE has been dangling it in front of us for the past few months, initially subtly, as if to test the sincerity of the fans in re-stoking this fire of creativity, and we were dead serious. We all collectively responded with a resounding “YES! YES! YES!”, we wanted split brands, we wanted a revival of that Ruthless Aggression era competition between Smackdown and Raw, the underdog brand pushing the boundaries in order to stand out and be noticed once and for all. We were given that last night with the first WWE Draft in 5 years and the first live Smackdown run in history.
Hopes were unforgivingly high from fans all over the world. Fingers were crossed hoping that Smackdown would receive enough stars to float it from secondary companion show to an honest competitor against the company’s flagship product. The kick off was stellar, Stephanie and Shane McMahon throwing terrible, cringeworthy insults and barbs at one another, as we’ve come to expect; Shane always painted to come off as the effortless cool “Dad” character these days, Stephanie portrayed as an overbearing, try-hard heartless nag. This went on appropriately for too long, especially after Stephanie dropped the timeless classic, “ladyballs”, referring to her superior strength and toughness in the commissioner position.
The real fireworks came when the sound of brakes shredding, glass smashing, and 3 rip roaring chords screamed through the arena, the TitanTron filled with a huge yellow smiling face and red plaid as Mick Foley appeared on stage, beard full like a homeless vagrant; beaming like the Spirit of Father Christmas as he has become synonymous with over the last few years. The crowd cheered ecstatically, experience a first in awhile for WWE programming… genuine surprise. If there’s anything the WWE should be lambasted for, it’s the dreadful predictability of the last few years (possibly decade if you want to be entirely honest). Every time a new star would arise that the fans rallied behind, after an embarrassingly short lived seat atop the throne, they’d be torn down and relegated to IWC worship rather than company support, despite crowds exploding in joy at the mention of their names. Mick Foley’s presence washed away any malcontent I felt toward the WWE, my heart opened wide, accepting whatever was to be offered with grace. After the crowd had tired its self out with maniacal chants for the acclaimed Hardcore Legend and Hall of Famer, Shane stood smirking smugly, a knowing cunning to his tone of voice as he dragged out the introduction of the modern wrestling Christ… Daniel Bryan. Looking much more missionary than chosen one, he strode briskly down the ramp to waves of orchestral metal and screams of “YES!”, his face blushed red with joy and what I perceived to be a sense of longing.
My heart was glowing with anticipation and excitement for was to be beheld, it started… so… good. After a short bit of banter, they got right to business with the draft, the first pick overall being Seth Rollins being drafted to Raw. This set the tone for the night, the biggest new stars with the most pull and fan support going to the flagship brand… the course of the New Era being laid out right before our eyes. The next choice was Dean Ambrose for Smackdown; the current reigning WWE Champion, and a great one in my opinion if I may add. His cool demeanor and devil may care attitude gives a fighting edge to the belt, rather than the squeaky clean flattop, Hustle. Loyalty. Respect. of elder statesman John Cena. I perceive this to be the road for Smackdown; large tried and true names given to the brand to try and elevate it to a position of equality to Monday Night Raw. Raw retorted by choosing Women’s Champion Charlotte, a theme that should have been followed by Raw drafting all the women in order to keep the women’s division complete, as the women’s main roster division is criminally thin, splitting them across brands heightens this unfortunate reality. Next, Smackdown chose the newly acquired and already main eventer, The Phenomenal AJ Styles, a wonderful choice for the brand, as he will bring top notch competition to Smackdown, practicing his favorite hobby on air, in which he will #BeatUpJohnCena. Raw, seemingly unfazed by this huge loss, shocked the world by bringing Finn Balor up to the main roster as one of their Top 3 choices. This is what he, along with nearly all the NXT roster, deserves. Many NXT stars would find themselves drafted to the main roster… even Mojo Rawley.
That ended Round 1 picks, my excitement and joy waning slightly. Round 2 began with Raw clutching Roman Reigns, instilling my fear that his entire suspension angle has been designed as a way to give him heat as he returns to the main roster. With the brand being shared by Reigns and Rollins, my smile faded, now visioning a future of drawn out main events of Rollins being continually Superman punched into oblivion, Roman kicking out of every pin attempt for hours on end, fans crying rivers of blood from their eyes.
Smackdown looked stumbled and confused as Shane fumbled for the words to finally draft John Cena. This gave me hope as WWE must seriously hope to revive the fire and status of Smackdown if they give their cherished warrior to the underling brand. Raw nearly laughed in disgust as they casually drafted Brock Lesnar, the part time beast. Now, the pop from the fans and Draft Center alike, was huge. But this is worrying as Raw is a 3 hour LIVE show and Smackdown is a 2 hour, newly live show, how can they even afford to give a roster spot to part timer like Brock Lesnar on a show with a full hour longer of air time, they essentially wasted a spot on him. He won’t be on air, hardly ever, unless he’s pumping a PPV, and even then that’s rare. Also, he’s knee deep in a scandal with the USADA currently, testing positive for PEDs in 2 separate tests. Daniel Bryan took somewhat control of the microphone, drawing a smirk of fledgling confidence to draft Randy Orton. Smackdown, now in possession of the WWE’s version of the Odd Couple, I sat at home pleased with the idea that, at the very least Cena and Orton won’t be in the title picture anytime soon. With a huge swing in their favor, Stephanie asked Mick for a drum roll “mouth and teeth way” she specified, to jubilantly draft all members of The New Day. Ending Round 2 with a HUGE victory on their side, Raw still framed as the ultimate, but not frustratingly so, it’s refreshing to see the new guys get such a prominent stage as Raw.
Raw kicked off round 3 with a huge pick for Sami Zayn, the world’s most physically fit Seth Rogan impersonator. Smackdown shrugged and chose the lone Bray Wyatt, although Raw had only minutes before chosen the entire New Day, further stripping Bray Wyatt of his voodoo wielding swamp priest gimmick. Now he won’t even have a cult to lead? He’s losing strength and mystery every time he’s on screen. Raw claimed the next queen of the WWE’s women’s division by drafting The Boss, Sasha Banks, the Worcester, Massachusetts crowd exploding, as she hails from Boston. Smackdown responded by splitting the women’s division by drafting Becky Lynch, which shot my high hopes for the Women’s Championship. Raw took Jericho then Rusev and Lana, Smackdown took Miz and Maryse, Raw took Kevin Owens, foreshadowing a bright future for more fantastic unforgettable bouts between Owens and Zayn, Owens being drafted after Zayn also led to a fantastic promo on his skills and value on the brand, then a fantastic confrontation with Enzo and Cass, Raw’s choice after Owens. Enzo and Cass both being drafted together to Raw, their promo on Draft Center later recalling the genius spark of their wonderful playful share and wordplay of their NXT days.
Round 5 and 6 went as such:
21. Gallows and Anderson – Raw
22. American Alpha – SmackDown Live from NXT
23. Big Show – Raw
24. Dolph Ziggler – SmackDown Live
25. Nia Jax – Raw from NXT
26. Neville – Raw
27. Natalya – SmackDown Live
28. Cesaro – Raw
29. Alberto Del Rio – SmackDown Live
30. Sheamus – Raw
Gallows and Anderson being drafted to Raw in somewhat of a shock, also much later in the broadcast, helping some to ignore the connection of Finn Balor and the Club being matchmade for perfection.
Cesaro being drafted so late was CRIMINAL. He is possibly the most over midcarder currently as well as one of the top 5 most gifted performers in the entire company currently. Later in the Draft Center his interview showed a clear disappointment with the company and his future, his stats being ridiculously off, claiming 280 lbs and a WWE debut of 1999 and an achievement list claiming 9 time Tag Team Champion.
Matches: 1. John Cena vs Luke Gallows: this was a very well paced match with Luke dominating the first 50-60% of the match expertly, thwarting Cena’s attempts at an Attitude Adjustment and STF. Cena looked helpless to Gallows’ onslaught until Enzo and Cass, who had accompanied big match John to the ring, stepped onto the apron in support of their fellow teammate, Styles and Anderson replied by doing the same, meeting in the ring, rushing Enzo and Cass who merely tossed them over the top rope to the floor below, smartly avoiding a DQ finish, instead opting for Cena to cleanly defeat Gallows by way of a single AA.Yay. 3 out of 5, an well paced, aggressive, hard hitting match with good acceleration, biased ending undermining the potential. This builds pretty damn well to Battleground, though.
2. Darren Young & Zack Ryder w/ Bob Backlund vs Rusev w/ Lana & Miz w/ Maryse – The match began with a heavy sequence from Young and Rusev, Rusev the mountain of a man charging Ryder off of the apron, turning to catch a forearm from Young before driving Young to the corner with ease, giving many shoulder strikes to the midsection. Rusev tags in Miz, taking a slam from Young in an effort to tag in Ryder, he’s successful and Ryder leaps into the ring, kicking off a frenetic pace with The Miz. After a good hearty pace of shoulder tackles, crushing forearms and punches, Young is faced against The Miz alone in the ring, Backlund motions to Young, Young beams at the crowd signaling what was to come next… the famed Crossface Chickenwing. He taps Miz out with ease, a great ending to a good match, the build of Young is going pretty well, especially in reference to the pretty lame repeating vignettes we were faced with every week between Young and Backlund. 3.5 out of 5, good clean positive ending to a well paced match that managed to make everyone look strong, besides the Miz.
3. Bray Wyatt w/ The Wyatt Family vs Xavier Woods w/ Big E and Kofi Kingston – Finally carrying on the narrative of “The New Day will never be the same”, the match began with Bray getting deep in the mind of Woods, his eyes flared and his cheeks flushed as he stared Woods down, stopping him dead in his tracks, kneeling before Woods. It looked as if Xavier was in a trance, controlled by Bray’s voodoo powers. Just in time, Xavier snapped out of it, only to receive a barrage of right hands from Bray. Bray dominates Woods completely, only momentarily does Xavier break free and back elbow Bray to escape from his clutches, just be reversed by an STO back to the mat, Bray staring intensely into the eyes of Big E and Kofi as he literally drags Woods around the ring, Woods awakes and attempts to retaliate, Bray anticipates this and gives him a Sister Abigail, wrapping up the match with a clean pin. Smiling as 1, 2, and 3 are counted out.
4. Kane vs Kevin Owens… Kinda – As Owens walks down the ramp to the ring, he’s attacked by Zayn, ferociously. They fought outside the ring, throwing heavy right hands, they continue in the ring, Owens quickly snaps a superkick into Zayn’s jaw. In the tussle of the ground and pound, Kane interferes and chokeslams both Owens and Zayn at the same time, ending the match with no pinfall. No rating for this match, as it wasn’t a match, just a build up vignette to Battleground essentially.
5. Sasha Banks vs Dana Brooke & Charlotte – An unfortunate throwaway. Sasha and Charlotte are amazing, gifted workers, yet they work harder to cover up the shortcomings of Dana than exhibiting their own talents. 1 out of 5.
6. Cesaro vs Chris Jericho – AMAZING MATCH. 2nd best show on the entire show, taking up 18 minutes of great, fantastic competition. Cesaro entered to a huge pop from the crown and began the match with 2 vicious European Uppercuts that staggered Jericho, right off the bat. Cesaro follows up with a rolling cannonball off the ring apron into Jericho, popping back up immediately to a wave of cheers. Back in the ring, Jericho receives another stiff European Uppercut, then a flying crossbody, Jericho rolls with the force into a Sharpshooter type hold, Cesaro breaks free and sunset flips Jericho for a 2 count. After a heavy sequence with a Frankensteiner from Jericho, chest chops and a pin attempt, Cesaro attempts a springboard European Uppercut, Jericho catching him with a Codebreaker in mid-air. Jericho cleanly pins Cesaro for the finish. 4 out of 5, a great match with wonderful psychology and tenacity from Cesaro. Every week he’s more over and it’s a shame he was drafted so late in the show, he deserves much more. He deserves a higher profile on the brand.
7. Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose for the WWE Championship – Rollins attacks Ambrose before the bell rings. Rollins stomps on Ambrose chest in the corner. Rollins rips off Ambrose SmackDown shirt. Rollins whips Ambrose face first to the steel ring post. Rollins with a running forearm as the bell finally rings. Rollins connects with the Falcon Arrow for a two count. Rollins with a rolling boot to the face of Ambrose. Rollins is all over Ambrose right now. Rollins connects with a knee drop. Rollins kicks Ambrose in the back. Rollins headbutt’s Ambrose. Rollins whips Ambrose back first to the corner. Rollins connects with the back breaker for a two count. Rollins applies a side headlock. Rollins tosses Ambrose to the outside. Ambrose fires up with a series of knife edge chops. Rollins whips Ambrose back first to the barricade at ringside. Rollins charges towards Ambrose, but he’s sent flying into the time keeper’s area. Ambrose goes for a flying dive off the announce table, but Rollins ducks out of the way. Ambrose crashes on the barricade. Rollins with a flying knee to Ambrose. Rollins follows that up a side kick to the head for a two count. Rollins slaps Ambrose. Rollins with a corner forearm. Ambrose drops Rollins with a massive lariat. Ambrose connects with his lightning quick offense.Ambrose rolls Rollins up for a two count. Ambrose with a neck breaker for a two count. Ambrose goes for the flying double axe handle, but Rollins counters with the Buckle Bomb. Rollins goes for the Frog Splash, but Ambrose rolls out of the way. Ambrose with a inside cradle for a two count. Ambrose goes for the Dirty Deeds, but Rollins drives Ambrose to the corner. Rollins pokes Ambrose in the eye. Rollins goes for the Pedigree, but Ambrose counters with a back bodydrop that sends Rollins crashing to the outside. Ambrose connects with the suicide dive. Ambrose with a flying elbow drop off the top turnbuckle. Ambrose rolls Rollins back into the ring. Rollins with the superplex to Ambrose. Rollins goes for the Falcon Arrow, but Ambrose counters with Dirty Deeds to pickup the victory. 4.1 out of 5, just slightly edging out Cesaro vs Jericho, this was a PPV level match given away on free live TV. From the beginning, the crowd followed the masterful pace of the match, by the end exploding at every nearfall with surprise and excitement. This gives Ambrose a stunning image walking into Battleground, unfortunately with him going over Rollins clean on air, I fear Reigns will go clean over him at Battleground. This match even edged out Monday Night Raw, especially with a clean finish to accompany it.
Rockin and Wrestling for Life,