WWE are once again looking to shake things up over the next week with the annual Draft set to begin on this Friday’s episode of SmackDown.
Between drafts, superstar shake ups, wild card rules and random invasion angles, it often feels like the brand split doesn’t actually mean all that much, which also makes November’s regular ‘Brand Supremacy’ angle mean even less heading into Survivor Series, when many of the superstars are switching red for blue and vice versa almost every month.
However, with AEW turning up the heat over the summer with the arrivals of CM Punk, Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole and having more momentum than ever, the onus really is on Vinnie Mac and co to hit a few home runs to combat their competition from Jacksonville, even if they will never acknowledge them as such.
Which is why the draft is the perfect place to start.
But this cannot merely be swapping a few superstars around just to freshen up each brand just for the sake of it. WWE need to usher in a new era good and proper. Wholesale changes and major decisions need to be made.
So, being very internet wrestling fan, I have taken it upon myself to don my fantasy booker hat to try fantasy booking the WWE draft and beyond over the next few months.
So, first things first…
It’s no secret that there are FAR TOO MANY titles in WWE. Each brand does not need its own World Champions or tag champions or mid card champions. The dilution of championships is why every title has lost its lustre over the years. The belts no longer feel special when there’s so many of them.
The main roster currently has 10 championships, which means, even with five hours of television to fill a week, there isn’t ample time to build enough meaningful rivalries for all of them or have deep enough divisions to keep things fresh and interesting. Instead, endless rematches are trotted out, the most recent case in point being the never-ending series of matches between Shinsuke Nakamura and Apollo Crews over the Intercontinental Title.
With Survivor Series on the horizon, rather than no stakes ‘brand supremacy’ being the selling point of the show, have a series of title unification bouts, condensing the 10 belts down to six (the 24/7 gimmick as comic relief is fine as it gives us a reason to have R Truth on TV and that’s never a bad thing).
As Survivor Series is one of the traditional ‘Big Four’ and is also in Brooklyn, in WWE’s backyard of New York, it feels a fitting enough setting for such a grand card. It also gives the ‘E a solid seven weeks to build what would be their biggest matches of the year and, by sticking to the brand split, they ensure opponents are kept apart until the big show, which further heightens the anticipation of the bouts themselves when they finally do happen.
Unification bouts also offer the ‘E a chance to cement new stars. Big E, for example, having finally been given his chance as a solo force now finds himself as WWE Champion, but he’s sharing the limelight with Universal Champion Roman Reigns, who was booked as the dominant champ when the pair made up two thirds of a recent triple threat Raw main event with Bobby Lashley.
Big E’s title victory coming courtesy of a cash-in over an exhausted, injured Lashley wasn’t exactly the ‘moment’ it should have been either, even if it was incredibly well received by fans and fellow wrestlers alike. It didn’t have the build or the substance of Kofimania, which ran and ran for months before climaxing at WrestleMania 35 in a shower of glory. E deserves his big moment, and it should come at Survivor Series with him ending the night holding two titles aloft.
On the Roman Reigns side of that coin, it provides E not only with the perfect opponent to solidify himself as the top dog, it also gives Roman’s heel character a whole new dimension. Having run rampant over the SmackDown roster for over a year, successfully defending his title against anyone who steps in his path, when it finally comes time to put the icing on the cake of his Universal reign by unifying his strap with the WWE Title, for him to come up short would be the ultimate embarrassment. An utter humiliation for a man who has become obsessed with dominance and victory.
Reigns has really discovered his rhythm as a heel, in much the same manner his cousin The Rock did between 1997-1999. A defeat against Big E at Survivor Series could provide the catalyst for an eventual face turn after months of allowing his defeat to gnaw away at him. If it’s possible, booking a match against his cousin for WrestleMania 38 in Dallas, where Roman comes out on top, is where the face turn should occur. Roman’s incessant desire to right the wrong of not becoming the undisputed champion and then subsequently not winning the Royal Rumble to earn a title shot at WrestleMania should lead to him demanding a dream match against The Rock, knowing a victory over The Great One at the Grandaddy of ’em All would be suitably historic. The following week on SmackDown, Roman can then explain how he now realises that he had become too reliant on Paul Heyman and needing help to retain his title all those months and that by beating The Rock without any assistance, he can finally move on from Heyman’s influence. After being ditched by The Big Dog, a wounded Heyman can then recruit a faction to bring his ex-client down, elevating a number of superstars in the process and allowing Reigns’ second babyface era to have the strongest possible launching pad.
In the women’s division meanwhile, it’s clear to anybody with eyes that Bianca Belair is the future of the company. With that being said, an Undisputed Title victory should be held off until WrestleMania, with Charlotte Flair being the one to be coronated at Survivor Series. While that hardly sounds like inspired or original booking, The Queen has endured far too many pointless title reigns in recent years, dropping and winning titles with glum predictability (albeit via some jaw droppingly good matches in the process) and should be primed for a lengthy run with a Unified strap. A series of successful defences until ‘Mania will set up an eventual dropping of the title to Bianca perfectly and give Belair a second straight ‘Mania moment, priming her as the company’s newest franchise player.
The newly minted selection of Undisputed titles should not be brand specific either, with whoever is in their possession being free to appear on either show, setting up challengers on both blue and red brands. This ruling will make the champions appear as the most important members of the roster, floating between shows because everyone wants a shot at them.
With Belair, another unsuccessful attempt to regain her SmackDown Women’s Title should occur in a triple threat with champion Becky Lynch and the returning Sasha Banks, ahead of Survivor Series. Victorious rematches against both Banks and Lynch should occur leading up to a second consecutive Royal Rumble victory, which of course will then lead the EST to WrestleMania and title victory number two.
THE NXT GENERATION
Mat Men podcast supremo Andrew Zarian reported recently that NXT would indeed be included in the draft, with a number of call ups expected from the formerly black and gold brand.
With a shift in direction for the newly rechristened NXT 2.0 meaning the developmental brand is now focusing more on heavyweight talents instead of those who have plied their trade in the Indies and are more cruiserweight in stature, it’s hard to know who Vince will look to promote from his son-in-law’s brand and, given his very questionable track record with integrating NXT stars into Raw and SmackDown programming, it’s also a move that sets more than a few alarm bells ringing.
So who should be cast adrift from NXT’s new era for one of their own on SmackDown or Raw? It’s perhaps the most difficult question to ask when fantasy booking the WWE draft.
The Way and, in particular, Johnny Gargano are seen as mainstays of the Orlando territory, but have probably accomplished everything they are likely to in NXT and have veered into more of an ‘entertainment’ act in recent months with the Dexter Lumis/Indi Hartwell marriage storyline, which feels more Monday night than Tuesday night. So why not move the entire faction up to Raw next week? There is, of course, the worry that Gargano, Candice LeRae, Austin Theory and Indi Hartwell will lose their way under Raw creative, especially with Gargano and LeRae needing time off soon for the birth of their son. However, the soap opera silliness of the recent storyline could be the sort of deal that translates well enough with Vince McMahon to be given a decent amount of airtime. Bring Lumis up with them to eventually break Hartwell away from the group and have Theory turn on Gargano, putting him out of commission in a few months time so Johnny Wrestling can enjoy his paternity leave and have a ready made feud to return to. Used correctly both Gargano and Theory could be great additions to a Unified IC/US Title picture, while enough mileage can be got from ‘Index’ and their odd couple act for a host of entertaining programmes up and down the card.
L.A. Knight is tailor made for the main roster and his stay in NXT has always felt temporary, so a switch to Raw seems like a logical option. His look and charisma will likely find a big fan in Vince McMahon and secure the former Eli Drake some solid booking, being positioned as a top tier star. A recent job against Bron Breakker and a likely staring at the lights against Odyssey Jones next week should be enough to see Knight bid adieu to Orlando.
Next Monday should also be the time where we finally see Scarlett Bourdeaux’s long overdue arrival to partner back up with Karrion Kross. It has been a constant source of confusion as to why the pair were not brought up together in the first place and now, with a more serious emphasis being put behind Kross’ push on the red brand, after a stop-start beginning, the only logical next step is to reunite the real life couple, strapping the proverbial rocket to both of their backs.
SmackDown, meanwhile, could be boosted by the arrival of Hit Row who have constantly been coming up short in their rivalry with Legado Del Fantasma. Isaiah ‘Swerve’ Scott might currently be in possession of the North American Title on NXT, but vacating the belt and having a host of NXT’s newcomers battle it out in a tournament for the NA Gold would be a perfect way to help get some of the fresher faces over and established with the Orlando crowd, while allowing Hit Row to bring their relentlessly entertaining act to Fox on Friday nights.
But what of new arrivals to big Paul Levesque’s newly revived, multicoloured brand? Of course, there’s been the new influx of talent, spearheaded by the cruelly renamed Bron Breaker (seriously!? HE’S A SECOND GENERATION STEINER, GIVE HIM HIS SURNAME) but if you’re losing a handful of stars to Raw and SmackDown, the least you can expect is a few in return.
First of all, WALTER has nothing left to conquer in NXT UK, so bring him over to the Capitol Wrestling Center to wreck everyone as soon as humanly possible. There are titanic battles to be had with Timothy Thatcher, Pete Dunne, Kyle O’Reilly, The Artist Formerly Known As Rex Steiner, Kushida, Tommaso Ciampa and, most importantly a returning Samoa Joe. Sign us up for all of that.
Secondly, it’s high time Tyler Bate was also given his time to shine as a singles act on US soil, so have him arrive in NXT 2.0 immediately to start churning out instant classics with all the aforementioned acts. The younger half of Moustache Mountain should have been embedded on NXT for a couple of years already at this point, so there really isn’t any reason to keep him away from a permanent residency in Orlando any longer. The Birmingham based youngster has future NXT Champion written all over him and, let’s face it, should be main eventing main roster PPV’s in the not-so-distant future alongside fellow British Strong Style alumni Pete Dunne.
As for those superstars who could make the Finn Balor/Samoa Joe/Mandy Rose/Ember Moon journey back to Orlando, look no further than Akira Tozawa and Ricochet, who have been woefully under-utilised on the main roster and have nothing but certified bangers in their locker. The pair would work wonders with the slew of rookies being promoted to NXT, while also reviving their own WWE careers.
Likewise, T-Bar and Mace could do with a serious repackaging and are the right size for Vince McMahon’s new vision for NXT. The Retribution stink still lingering around them on Raw is not doing them any favours, so rid them of all of it and have them turn up as a pair of wrecking machines in Orlando for a while. Oh and while you’re at it, give Mia Yim the same treatment. She deserves so much better than being called ‘Reckoning’.
WHO’S TURNING RED AND WHO’S FEELING BLUE?
Nothing against him, but the sight of Drew McIntyre coming out to size up Big E as a potential challenger to the New Day man’s WWE Title was ever so slightly groan worthy.
The mighty Scotsman may have carried himself and the WWE Title with aplomb during his two reigns with the strap, but his litany of title matches with Lashley are still very fresh in the memory and inserting him straight back into the title picture feels incredibly unoriginal when there’s so much more for the former NXT Champion to explore. Namely, a few options on the blue side of the roster.
McIntyre heading over to Friday nights gives SmackDown a major babyface to cause a few headaches for Roman Reigns, who he has unfinished business with from last year’s Survivor Series. A heavyweight feud between the two could be serious money through the winter months and oh, hi Brock Lesnar, remember the bloke who embarrassed you at WrestleMania 36 who you’ve yet to have a rematch with? Well he’s right here waiting for you.
Let’s face it, if we’re fantasy booking the WWE draft, we’ve got to draft AJ Styles back to where he belongs. AJ Styles will always just feel right on SmackDown. It’s ‘the house that AJ Styles built’ after all and him and Omos could be a whole heap of fun back on Friday nights, especially with their feud over RKBro’s tag titles seemingly running it’s course. It’s still too soon for the pair to be split, as Omos is benefitting far too much from the partnership to allow for a solo run at this point in his career. Alongside The Usos, Street Profits, Alpha Academy and the newly promoted Hit Row, the little and large team could do some sensational things with the SmackDown tag team division, while a cross-brand run with the newly unified straps would also be beneficial a little later down the line before their eventual split.
Venturing away from the blue brand should probably be Cesaro, who seems to have lost some momentum following his seismic WrestleMania victory over Seth Rollins. Make him a high ranking pick to establish that he’s going to be taken seriously as a top tier contender on Raw, rather than losing him in the shuffle once again. Apollo Crews, with his 345 defeats at the hands of King Nakamura (who could unify the IC and US Titles to free up Damian Priest for a World Title push in the near future), should probably be moved to pastures new as well.
Perhaps the biggest switch that should be made is Seth Rollins. With Edge returning for apparent revenge this Friday, after being stretchered away from his last match with the Drip God, it would be wonderful to see him robbed of his opportunity to exact retribution by Rollins appearing only via satellite to dodge the Rated R Superstar, before then disappearing to Raw a few days later, leaving Edge seething. This could then trigger an Edge heel turn, maybe going up against fellow Canadian Kevin Owens (who appears to be heading for the exit door if online reports about his contract are to be believed), Finn Balor and a newly drafted Drew McIntyre.
While we’re fantasy booking the WWE draft, it also feels like the time to split the Mysterios up. Sorry Rey. But Dominik being sent to Raw to fend for himself and being corrupted by former rival Rollins could be a great story to tell, leaving Rey helpless to do anything about it over on SmackDown and eventually setting up an inter promotional father vs son match at WrestleMania in Dallas.
For the women’s division, Alexa Bliss’ unsuccessful attempt to dethrone Charlotte and subsequent losing of Lily the Doll should, fingers crossed, spell the end of her supernatural silliness and see a return to her previous Goddess character. A throwback to the previous Bliss in a new environment is what’s best for her at this moment in time as there is little for her to do on Raw now she’s had her attempt at becoming champion has fallen short.
Asuka, when back from injury, would be another great addition to SD, tearing it up with old foes Becky and Sasha, while also throwing down with Bianca, Toni Storm, Naomi and maybe a newly drafted Doudrop. Liv Morgan, Carmella and Bayley heading in the opposite direction, along with Shotzi Blackheart and Tegan Nox would even things up on the Raw side, providing heavy hitters Charlotte, Rhea Ripley and newly revitalised Shayna Baszler with some fresh foes to face off against.
So that’s the official Wrestling Travel attempt at fantasy booking the WWE draft for 2021. Let’s face it, roughly none of the above will actually happen, but it’s nice to have a dream, isn’t it? Unified titles, fresh rosters, new feuds and a few twists and turns here and there would be a perfect way for the ‘E to counteract the wondrous work AEW are currently doing.
Maybe have your own go at fantasy booking the WWE draft in our replies on Twitter and Facebook and let us know what you come up with for your reimagined rosters heading into 2022.
Oh, and while we’re fantasy booking the WWE draft, let’s also fantasy book a little bit extra and ditch Money In The Bank for a returning King (and Queen) of The Ring PPV every June, with the winners of each tournament earning World Title shots at the following SummerSlam. MITB cash-ins are so played out now that they need a few years to rest. Plus, tournaments >>> one off ladder matches. Just saying.