Since Raw and SmackDown split their rosters in the middle of last year things have been overwhelmingly positive from my point of view. Many stars managed shine brightly after being given extra exposure on TV and natural fears of watering down the entire roster were wavered by WWE’s brilliant slow build to many WrestleMania feuds including, Wyatt v Orton, Jericho v Owens, Rollins v HHH.
Admittedly, Raw has struggled to produce 3 hours of good television most weeks but SmackDown Live in particular has become a cesspool of joy and wonder; with interesting angles, top-class matches and by going they have ditched the god awful piped crowd noises, making for much more enjoyable viewing.
People will moan about Roman and the booking of champions forever and a day but with every negative there are more positives and I am here to run down my selections for biggest winners and losers since WWE did away with their ‘Super Show’ and divided the wrestler into two.
Winner – The Miz and Maryse
Hands up, who thought The Miz would be one of the most entertaining and must-see wrestlers of the last calendar year? Nobody? Yea, seems about right. What a turnaround year this guy has had, since being drafted to SmackDown alongside his lovely wife, the twosome have been on a tear.
Moving to the blue brand as Intercontinental Champion set him in good stead anyway but ever since THAT promo on Talking Smack with Daniel Bryan, he’s been on another level entirely. His intensity, his promos, his matches (see @ No Mercy versus Dolph Ziggler) have all been better than ever before and having recently shifted back to Raw, he’s sure to gain another fresh burst of life.
Everyone is talking highly of the Miz now and he’s worked him damn ass off to be in the discussion as one of the best in the company at the moment, so massive props to him. I wish his Intercontinental Championship tour had never stopped but all good things must unfortunately come to an end; hopefully he continues to show his absolute best side this year, and with Maryse by his side, I see absolutely no reason why that shouldn’t happen.
Loser – Kalisto
Imagine being 5 foot, 6 inches tall, weighing in at 170 pounds. Now imagine a Cruiserweight division is re-birthed on Monday night Raw. Now imagine being drafted away from that and onto the Tuesday night show whereby you will not really achieve anything of note and have to watch you fellow shorter professionals, such as Neville, smash it out of the park under the umbrella of the purple-roped division.
Kalisto was actually cooking on gas before the draft hit, he was a former US Champion and had a couple of very respectable matches with Ryback (5 star Classics according to the Big Guy himself) but since turning to the blue brand he’s all smoke and no fire, with loss after loss after loss building on his resume. Safe to say, he did not do really good Lucha things as he promised…
Honestly, I don’t think Kalitso is a bad wrestler per say; is he the next big Mexican star WWE is looking for? No, he’s a little botchy and Cien Almas is clearly a better luchador, but he can have really fun matches – such as his chairs match @ TLC versus Baron Corbin – and is capable of amazing athletic feats. Hopefully now he’s back on Raw he can kill it with the other Cruiserweights and input some extra diversity to the rather thin roster too. In fact, I would be surprised if he was the champion soon.
Winner – Alexa Bliss/Naomi
I must admit, when I first saw how the female wrestlers had been split across Raw and SmackDown, I feared for the state of the blue brand’s performance. With Becky Lynch the only true main event level star moved over initially, the star power didn’t really feel apparent; but then stepped up the other women, especially these 2, as they both epitomised perfect heel and face champions at the top of the division.
Bliss was the first breakout top woman as she tussled with Becky Lynch in a programme which, despite leaving a little to be desired in the ring, truly delivered on weekly television with bitter scathing promos from the pair. Alexa managed to de-throne Lynch and carried herself as a brilliant champion, vastly improving from her NXT days, becoming a wrestler who we just love to hate.
The championship baton was then taken by Naomi as she twice knocked off Bliss, at both Elimination Chamber and in her home state, at WrestleMania. Slapping the title on Naomi instantly rocketed her from lower-midcard to main eventer, and thankfully the fans have got behind her and she’s really, really over now; her ‘Feel the Glow’ persona is turning heads and making people take notice, which is a complete 180 from her Funkasaurus days.
Both look set for a solid 2017 too, Naomi has the belt and can hopefully put in a good stint against Charlotte, whilst Alexa has just moved to Raw where she got a bigger pop than a can of Pepsi and perhaps has a henchwoman in the form of Nia Jax. Overall, a very interesting scenario for both, onwards and upwards for them.
Loser – Rusev
Rusev is such an odd commodity in WWE, he blows hot and cold with the season as some months he’s an unstoppable force and the next he’s a beatable object. The Bulgarian/Russian has all the talents to make it to the top of card; solid wrestler, easy gimmick and most of all awesome, amusing promos, the man doesn’t take himself too seriously.
I wish however, that WWE had taken Rusev a bit more seriously since the draft. Unfortunately for RuRu he ran into the Roman Reigns first, leading to him losing his precious US title and then he fell much, much further. He was paired with infinite jobber Jinder Mahal before getting absolutely pummelled by Big Show and taking a break from TV in order to address his current injury. I had such high hopes for the brute but he really wasn’t given a great platform to deliver the goods from.
SmackDown becomes home for the handsome European as he aims to rebuild his shattered status, honestly a face turn could be massively effective for him as long as they make sure he is a serious threat to opponents rather than going full Euro-Joke character a la Santino and Vladamir Kozlov before him. Just like I did with the last draft, I have huge hopes for Rusev getting to the main event scene at last.
Winner – Baron Corbin
He shook his early woes and is now right amongst the main players on Tuesday nights, now rubbing shoulders with Cena, Styles and company without looking even slightly out of place. Credit to the man himself too because he’s clearly been putting the hours in to improve his craft too; his promos are far less wooden than before and he holds his own in matches, no longer being carried or helped along by his more experienced foes. Hell, he even wrestled his first PPV main event after being out of NXT for less than a year when he took part in the Elimination Chamber this February; impressive stuff for sure!
Corbin will be the WWE or Universal Champion one day, I have little doubt about that, will it be before the next draft is carried out though? Well since he is confirmed to be staying put on SmackDown it feels he is closer than ever to getting his grasp on a top championship belt, so keep a watchful eye on the big man this annum.
Loser – The SmackDown Live Tag Team Division
Nothing sums up the SmackDown tag teams’ struggles quite like the fact that theirs was the only title not to be defended at this WrestleMania, and to be sadly honest, I doubt many people cared as the build between American Alpha and The Usos was very poor despite a good start when the teams first exchanged promos.
Things started well for the division as the undrafted Heath Slater’s surprising rise become the unlikely feel-good story of the summer. Following his crowning moment with Rhyno the roster quickly cooled off and become largely redundant on SmackDown; the Wyatts held the straps as a small part to their larger story and American Alpha had a forgettable run before dropping to the Usos but all of this has been carried out with a murmur, rather than with a bang.
What makes matters worse is the talent is there and SmackDown have built people beautifully, but the tag titles have fell by the wayside as everything else has accelerated past them. New Day joining team blue is exactly the sort of star power they required but my hopes are still resting on FaBreeze getting a title run at some point, they could really inject some fun and life into it!
Winner – Braun Strowman
I wanted to finish on a high, and there is no larger high than that which has been experienced by Braun Strowman since being drafted to Raw. I’ve always been a massive mark for this giant bastard since day one but after getting to Raw exclusively he’s rose more than anyone could have ever imagined.
After crushing a huge list of jobbers and lower card talent he became a legitimate and threatening player on Raw during his entertaining feud with Sami Zayn and his role amongst the Raw Survivor Series team. He is living proof that slowly building somebody and using enhancement talent in the correct manner can make somebody into an absolute superstar, in both the eyes of management and of the audience.
Sure he may have lost to Roman Reigns but that won’t stop this freight train of destruction, he is set to be a mainstay at the pinnace of Raw for the foreseeable future. Though it is unlikely I would really love to see them go all-in on Braun and have him trade a win back with Roman, but who knows? His segments are something very enjoyable and must-see every week, the polar opposite of his stature before the draft.
All in all, Braun is bloody brilliant.
So like I said beforehand, most things since the draft have been superb; the build from the initial draft until Mania was done extremely well and we have a whole host of very impressive men, women and tag teams across the two brands. Hopefully the rough edges are smoothed out over the course of the year and we see yet more successes as part of the most recent Superstar Shakeup, here’s to WWE delivering again!
Words - Thomas Brady
Editor - James Marston
Twitter - @ATPWrestling