Since it’s inception in 1993, Monday Night Raw has been the WWE’s flagship and number one rated television show, and last year WWE signed their biggest ever multi-million dollar television deal with the Fox television network in the US.
But the Fox deal didn’t involve WWE’s #1 show, instead, the deal was signed for SmackDown to air on its channel on Friday nights.
We are now in a situation where for the first time in a long while, SmackDown will no doubt pull in the higher US television ratings due to Fox reaching more homes than Raw’s broadcaster: USA network.
To give SmackDown some much-needed star power to keep their new Fox executives happy and to breath fresh air into both rosters, WWE held their two-part draft this past week on SmackDown and last night on Raw.
The “wild card” rule has been removed so all superstars will be exclusive to their brand (apart from the WWE Women’s tag team champions). And Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff have been brought in as Executive Directors for Raw and SmackDown with their individual creative teams.
As much as SmackDown needed star power, Raw needed fresh faces. And as much as Raw needed new guys, a lot of wrestlers themselves needed a new home to freshen up their characters and storylines. A lot of WWE’s recent booking has become stale, there is little or no continuity from show to show, and there is a notable disconnect between the characters and their desired audience.
So I have picked 5 top Raw picks that needed this draft more than others, and 5 Raw draft picks that WWE can use to excite us once again.
5. The Street Profits
On July 1st, Paul Heyman’s first show as Executive Producer, the Street Profits debuted as backstage correspondents and have been filling that role ever since. It was clear that Heyman wanted them as part of his “team” so it was no big surprise that they were drafted to Raw.
A big positive coming out of them becoming officially affiliated with Raw is that they are now going to be competing in the ring, something they have only done in NXT since their Raw debut in July. And as this draft did not include any main roster call ups from NXT, when they do make their in-ring debut (more than likely against The O.C next week), it will give them the uniqueness of a debut main roster match that we won’t see with anyone else.
The Raw tag team title division is looking a bit bare after the draft. Only the new champions The Viking Raiders, and Anderson and Gallows from The O.C remain as the other drafted tag teams. However, Heyman has a history of pairing together successful tag teams in the past: Edge & Mysterio, Angle & Benoit, so with the likes of Akira Tozawa, Cedric Alexander, Buddy Murphy, Shelton Benjamin and Humberto Carrillo there is certainly potential for some mouth-watering combinations and opponents.
But for the immediate future- if we ever needed a fresh team to break up The O.C vs The Viking Raider’s seemingly unending series of matches- it was now, so thank goodness The Street Profits are here.
4. Aleister Black
Up until last week’s Raw, Aleister Black has only had six televised matches since WrestleMania 35. Three as part of a tag team with Ricochet and three singles matches against Cesaro, Sami Zayn and Shelton Benjamin.
After breaking off from Ricochet post WM35, for a while Aleister Black was sitting in a dark room each week talking to the camera and asking for a fight. This, eventually, led to good matches with Cesaro and then Sami Zayn but with the latter being pulled from Summerslam due to timing issues, the wind was definitely out of the former NXT champion’s sails and nothing seemed to be working for him.
Enter Paul Heyman.
Black seems like the sort of wrestler Heyman would love to have under his control. The satanic, softly spoken, underworld style character has great potential but we have not fully delved into it yet. And combined with a great in-ring style and a fantastic look, Black seems to have all the pieces to complete the puzzle- he just has to put them all in place. But in WWE that task, unfortunately, comes down to the creative team.
He has not had the best time on SmackDown but a re-invigorated Black with the creative genius of Paul Heyman behind him and the array of great workers now on the Raw brand to work with, Aleister Black’s future will be a lot brighter from now on.
3. Asuka and Kairi Sane
The WWE tag team Champions were drafted to Raw in night two of the draft. They initially will be able to compete on both Raw and SmackDown due to them holding the tag titles, but once they lose them they will become the sole property of Monday Night Raw.
Asuka and Kairi Sane are two of the best (if not the best) female workers on the main roster just now. But their booking and creative direction have not matched their in-ring talents. They have been sporadically used in the tag team division and have only recently won the titles after turning heel on Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross.
My first opinion was that Kairi Sane might struggle as a heel. For me, she is such a good babyface that a heel persona just would not suit her. But if her creativity and charisma are half as good as her in-ring skills, she should be able to adapt and shine as a heel. Asuka, on the other hand, should be fine from the get-go as she has flirted with the arrogant, undefeated heel character in the past. She now also has the dreaded green mist to finish off her opponents too.
Unlike the tag team division, the women’s division on Raw is stacked with talent. Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Nikki Cross, Natalya and Liv Morgan make up the remaining roster so there is a plethora of talent that Asuka and Sane could combine with to freshen them up. Lynch has unfinished business with Asuka from Royal Rumble this year, and Asuka will no doubt still want revenge from Flair after their WrestleMania 34 match. Sane on the other hand can mix it up with a whole host of fresh new talent, something that can only be good for the pirate princess.
2. Randy Orton
The apex predator has found a new home after being on SmackDown since the last draft in 2016.
Now a veteran of the WWE locker room, Orton has been consistently been dishing out high calibre matches and promos over the last couple of years. He seems to be more relaxed, more expressive and is enjoying himself when he is in front of the crowd. His slow, but solid and methodical pace usually means his matches don’t blow people away or give him the “match of the night” feel, but his ability to hit the RKO out of nowhere keeps everyone on the edge of their seat, knowing it could strike at any minute.
But even for the more tenured superstars, a fresh change is always good. And as Raw has inherited a younger roster filled with highly athletic performers, Orton can be there to lend his experience and guide them through- and then pluck them out the air with an RKO of course.
It seems no matter where they are in the world, or if Orton is liked or disliked at the time when his music hits he always gets a great initial reaction from the live crowd. This backs up the fact that he is slowly but surely reaching the John Cena or Triple H level of stardom. He has been kept consistently strong over the years and is seen as one of the biggest stars in the company.
The fresh move to Raw can only benefit the other main eventers around him. Enough time has passed that another Rollins vs Orton feud wouldn’t be seen as repetitive. And other feuds with the likes of Drew McIntyre, Aleister Black and Ricochet all could have potential to benefit them the same way Roman Reigns benefited from a long feud with Orton in 2014.
1. Kevin Owens
Like a lot of us watching, Kevin Owens must have punched the air when he learned that he would be switching to Raw. Owens drastically needs something fresh after feuding with Shane McMahon for the best part of two years now. Owens has been fired, re-hired, a babyface and a heel on SmackDown and it seems like the shift has come at the right time for him. He did not have a match at this year’s WrestleMania, quickly turned heel and slotted in as a back-up opponent for Kofi Kingston when Daniel Bryan was injured but turned face again to re-ignite the feud with Shane.
He is lucky that the poor babyface booking against Shane McMahon did not dent his character and progress too much. Instead of standing up to Shane in various segments, Owens instead begged and pleaded and each week seemed to get outsmarted by the dastardly authority figure. If they wanted Owens to be seen as the new Stone Cold Steve Austin, they should have had him stand up to Shane more, and get his own back each time Shane turned the odds against him.
But with a fresh start and seemingly no authority figure in his way, Owens not has the chance to flourish and clash with the likes of Randy Orton, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, Andrade and Ricochet and show why he still is one of the best performers in WWE. A Universal title run should not be out of his grasp either. With Seth Rollins being booed more and more by the crowd, who better than to pop the crowd with a huge title win than the same person who got rid of Shane McMahon.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, Owens is one of the top pushed babyfaces who is actually being cheered so maybe with the right direction on the red brand he can ignite Monday Nights again and inject some attitude back into the show.
So much has been made of the poor WWE storytelling recently that it is no guarantee that any of the listed superstars above will thrive or benefit from being drafted to Raw. Or if history tells us anything- it’s no guarantee these 5 picks will STAY on Raw for the foreseeable future. Only time will truly tell if my crystal ball is of any use and the changes of scenery and potential new feuds will greatly benefit any of the above.
What we can agree on is that the potential is there for the Street Profits, Aleister Black, Kairi Sane, Asuka, Randy Orton and Kevin Owens to thrive in their new surroundings. Hopefully, they get the right feuds and the right stories to capture our imaginations again.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @oli_iai. Thanks for reading!