Post-WrestleMania is usually the beginning of a new fiscal calendar in WWE, where many things start fresh. While that may not necessarily be the case as it pertains to rivalries (this year there were four WrestleMania rematches at Extreme Rules, tying the record set in 2010), it seems to be the case when it comes to fresh faces and new ideas being implemented on WWE programming.
Extreme Rules was a perfect example: subtle nuances such as a slight increase by the commentary team of calling moves and holds (and Michael Cole shedding most of his heel persona), John Cena and Brock Lesnar delivering a match style never before seen in WWE, then Cena speaking to the audience after his match where the line was intentionally blurred if it was meant to be for when the PPV cameras were turned off or not (many fans on the internet, after all, love to know what happens after a TV taping or pay-per-view event goes to black). New (in some cases old) faces on Raw or Smackdown such as Abraham Washington, Ryback, Antonio Cesaro, Darren Young / Titus ONeil, Lord Tensai, Damien Sandow and Brock Lesnar are leading a fresh movement (unrelated side note, if you haven’t seen him yet, I would go out of my way to watch this episode of FCW TV, which includes a promo from Bray Wyatt, formerly Husky Harris. He’s got a great “Cape Fear” meets Waylon Mercy mash-up character going on right now).
This is also the time of year where people start talking about the WWE draft. Who will move to Raw? Who will move to Smackdown?
To quote The Rock, “It doesn’t matter.” In fact, let’s abolish the WWE draft altogether moving forward.
It has been the case for several years already, but this year, more than any other year, the “brands” feel less like exclusive “teams” and more like a starting point for a superstar on their journey through WWE. I wonder how many recent fans to WWE even have any sort of importance placed on brand exclusivity.
Perhaps the final nail on the coffin was adding the “Supershow” component to Raw, essentially turning it into an all-encompassing WWE program. Smackdown remains typically exclusive (with a weekly Raw rewind, which usually takes up most of a segment to capitalize on what has traditionally been unique audiences consuming only Raw or Smackdown).
Moves have already happened this year outside the confines of a WWE draft. For example, Raw superstar Alberto Del Rio returned from a torn groin muscle in February and a couple weeks ago, was officially moved to the Smackdown roster. Daniel Bryan, who is technically a Smackdown superstar, will challenge CM Punk for the WWE championship at Over The Limit. Bryan is a Smackdown superstar, Punk is a Raw superstar.
Gone are the days when teams would battle for “Bragging Rights” (although that and a trophy weren't the most compelling stake for the audience watching). And even before that, when brands had their own exclusive referees and pay-per-view events, only the major PPV events saw any crossover.
While the WWE draft may still be a point of conversation if/when it does happen, I personally don’t see much of a point anymore.
What I do see a big upside in, as opposed to exclusivity, is a “tiered” system among the shows that currently exist – particularly NXT, Smackdown and Raw.
Raw always has been and will continue to be the No. 1 show on WWE programming. Looking at the names that appear only on Raw tells the tale: John Cena, Brock Lesnar, CM Punk, Triple H, Chris Jericho. When The Rock appeared in WWE, it was on Raw and pay-per-view. Raw is the No. 1 show that features the biggest names and the biggest storylines and makes the biggest push for pay-per-view events.
Smackdown, which currently and traditionally draws lower ratings then Raw, is the “land of opportunity”. Damien Sandow (formerly Idol Stevens), Abraham Washington, Darren Young, Titus O’Neil and other fresh faces to the top two brands have an opportunity to make a name for themselves. Smackdown will still showcase some major talent weekly, like Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio and Randy Orton, but even those superstars will always make their biggest splash on pay-per-view or Raw.
NXT will become the “internet darling” – today in the United States it’s only available on WWE.com. It still airs on TV in certain international markets, including in Canada on theScore Television Network – perhaps the reason this “season” of NXT has gone as long as it has is because of contractual obligations from these agreements. Hardcore fans will seek out the product online, especially with its recent reputation of showcasing stellar matches (Tyson Kidd vs. Michael McGillicutty comes to mind). Another welcome addition would be new faces from FCW and may not be ready for the next tier (Smackdown) just yet. Personally, a large part of why I watch NXT today is for the commentary. Last week when Matt Striker filled in for Josh Mathews, I laughed out loud at several things he said, less because it was intended as a joke, but more because I couldn’t believe he said it on the air.
Under this “tiered” system, the paradigm is development as opposed to exclusivity – something I much prefer. There is a lot of benefit to making NXT the first stop, Smackdown the land of opportunity and Raw (to steal a phrase from WCW) “where the big boys play.” Most importantly, this system doesn't require a draft ... not in the traditional WWE definition we are used to anyway. Instead of trades, why not a sports-style draft where shows like NXT and Smackdown get populated with new faces, complete with scouting reports and flashy video packages that educate us on why we should care about this individual?
If none of this happens and a draft as we know it happens, be sure to let me know if you actually enjoyed it or had any sort of attachment to it at all.
Arda Ocal is an on-air personality with theScore Television Network in Canada. You can find his video interviews here.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times