The WWE Brand Split, absent since 2011 after the inception of “Raw Supershow” is set to return this July after WWE’s recent news.
The WWE brand split has been handled in a number of ways, with the most interesting way being the original brand extension in 2002.
The story saw Ric Flair finding himself with a 50% control of the company after both Shane and Stephanie McMahon sold their shares to launch the WCW/ECW Invasion. Despite returning his shares to Vince in order to face The Undertaker at Wrestlemania X8, the WWF Board of Directors reviewed the status of the company and deemed that the company would be split into two brands, Raw and Smackdown. Both Flair and Vince were given control of a brand, Raw and Smackdown respectfully, as well as 30 draft picks each (10 broadcast on television as picks and the rest on WWE.com in a lottery).
Later this format would change to solely a lottery format, where superstar’s fates were decided by choosing a name from a tombola. This would change once again to a format that awarded a lottery draft pick to the brand whose superstar won a match (promoting cross-brand competition). The original style, provides a lot more substance as it gives an opportunity for superstars to interact with their new boss, because they were chosen specifically, whereas the lottery style leaves it to a ‘random’ chance.
I hope that if they are going to reuse any of these previous formats, that they use the original concept. They could easily announce well over 10 picks each and have plenty of room for matches and reactions to the picks. The idea of winning a match for your brand in order to draft a more powerful superstar to your brand always seemed nonsensical to me, as you would want to be the biggest fish in that pond. If the picks were streamlined at regular interval with a mixture of superstars joining their new boss on stage, or reacting backstage in either a positive, negative or indifferent manner is fascinating as the way the characters react to the situations surrounding them are sometimes the best, most interesting things in WWE.
On March 25th 2002, by the end of Raw’s broadcast we had the start of the first brand split and boy was it interesting. Triple H, Chris Jericho and Stephanie McMahon were all exempt from the draft due to the Triple Threat WWE Championship match later that night, and Stone Cold Steve Austin was declared a free agent due to a ‘contractual clause’, and was allowed to sign with either brand.
Vince McMahon won a coin toss allowing him the first draft pick, which he utilised by choosing the reason for Smackdown’s existence: The Rock. Of course, The Rock made his way through the curtain and Vince interrupted before he could speak, exclaiming that Smackdown would have a new set of rules, including banning The Rock from laying a finger on Vince, as well as disallowing any of The Rock’s signature catchphrases. McMahon tried to leave but was stopped by The Rock and berated as a result.
Shortly after, Ric Flair would make his first draft pick, choosing none other than the man that beat him just over a week prior, The Undertaker. Backstage, The Undertaker was livid at the choice, approaching Vince to complain, interrupting an upset at not being chosen first Kurt Angle in the process. Backstage, Vince would make his 2nd choice after Kurt continued to badger him. Ric would take to the stage immediately to announce his 2nd pick, drafting the poison that was injected into the WWE by Vince, the nWo as a collective unit (Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and X-Pac). Instantly, as advised by Kurt Angle, Vince would put the ball back into Flair’s court by choosing a returning Chris Benoit. Already we can see what would become of Raw and Smackdown over the next first years revealing itself.
Kane would be Flair’s next pick, followed by a huge choice in Hulk Hogan for Vince and Smackdown. RVD would be Raw-bound, which annoyed Vince as he wanted the Intercontinental Championship. Kurt then garnered himself a title shot, claiming he could win it tonight for Vince and bring it to Smackdown. With championships in mind, Vince would then poach the Tag Team Champions Billy & Chuck. Backstage we would see a confrontation between Flair and McMahon where Flair would steal Booker T, claiming him to be one of Vince’s projects. In turn, Vince would then choose Edge seeing as Edge had just got a huge win over Booker T at Wrestlemania X8. Speaking of huge, Flair then chose Big Show as his next pick. Not to be outdone in size this time, McMahon would choose Rikishi, reinforcing that he is always trying to one-up Flair in any way possible in the picks, rounding their picks to seven a piece.
Interestingly, Ric Flair would start his 8th pick by saying he was going to draft the most dominant team in history starting with Bubba Ray Dudley, prompting Vince to choose D-Von out of spite. Next, interrupting a scheduled Rikishi vs. William Regal match was Brock Lesnar (who debut just a week prior) which saw Vince announce him as his next draft pick. However, it was Flair’s turn, who refused Vince’s offer of two picks to take Brock from under Vince’s nose. Vince then chose Mark Henry in reply. In an attempt to disrupt any McMahon-superstar loyalties, Flair then chose European Champion, William Regal, so Vince took Maven to capture the Hardcore Championship for Smackdown with his final pick. Out of nowhere, Flair then announced his final pick as Lita.
Following the broadcast each show received their remaining superstars via a lottery.
Bradshaw, Steven Richards, Matt Hardy, Raven, Jeff Hardy, Mr. Perfect, Spike Dudley, D-Lo Brown, Shawn Stasiak, Terri, Jacqueline, Goldust, Trish Stratus, Justin Credible, Big Bossman, Timmy Dreamer, Crash Holly, Mighty Molly
Billy Kidman, Tajiri (with the Cruiserweight Championship), Chris Jericho, Ivory, Albert, The Hurricane, Al Snow, Lance Storm, Diamond Dallas Page, Torrie Wilson, Scotty 2 Hotty, Stacy Keibler, Christian, Test, Faarooq, Tazz, Hardcore Holly, Val Venis, Perry Saturn
Triple H and Jazz would be cross-promotional as the WWE and Women’s Champions, respectfully.
The draft changed the landscape of the WWE dramatically, and with the current WWE Roster, the resulting brands will be very interesting. Here’s how I would see the 2016 draft go down if it were in the style of the 2002 draft.
With Stephanie and Shane McMahon currently co-running Raw, I’m expecting Shane to get control of Smackdown, in an attempt to remove the ideas of an A-show and B-show. With Smackdown also moving to Tuesdays and being broadcast live every week, this situation is even more different than the original brand split as it will be an even bigger deal to have the two shows on a level playing field. Which leads us to the first two draft picks:
#1. Stephanie McMahon drafts Roman Reigns (WWE World Heavyweight Champion) to Raw.
#1. Shane McMahon drafts John Cena to Smackdown.
Smackdown will need the star power, whilst Roman will continue to be the new ‘face’ of the WWE. Both brands need a strong lead, and even in the ‘new era’ of the WWE, I still see John Cena as being the number one pick for Smackdown.
#2. Stephanie McMahon drafts Seth Rollins to Raw.
#2. Shane McMahon drafts AJ Styles to Smackdown.
Moving onto new faces/new era, these are the two superstars I see being picked up next. I think that Raw will go for a strong heel in Seth, whereas Smackdown will continue with a big name from the new pool of talent.
#3. Stephanie McMahon drafts Charlotte (WWE Women’s Champion) to Raw.
#3. Shane McMahon drafts Rusev (WWE United States Champion) to Smackdown.
I think Stephanie will grab the Women’s Champion next to push the importance of the division. However, I do expect the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, WWE Women’s Champion and WWE Tag Team Champions to appear on both brands for the start of the split. It would make sense for Shane to grab Rusev to gain a heel in this case, as well as make the US Championship exclusive to Smackdown.
#4. Stephanie McMahon drafts Dean Ambrose to Raw.
#4. Shane McMahon drafts The New Day (WWE Tag Team Champions) to Smackdown.
Stephanie drafts Dean Ambrose, securing all members of The Shield, whilst Shane continues his fan-favourite roll and gets The New Day (who would defend on both shows too). I’m assuming that tag teams will be drafted together (unless they intentionally break a team up like in 2002), if this is not the case then I would not be surprised if New Day were split in a ‘shock’ poaching move in between picks. I will continue as teams being one unit for this, though.
#5. Stephanie McMahon drafts The Club (Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson) to Raw.
#5. Shane McMahon drafts Kevin Owens to Smackdown.
#6. Stephanie McMahon drafts The Miz (WWE Intercontinental Champion) to Raw.
#6. Shane McMahon drafts Sami Zayn to Smackdown.
Responding to Shane gaining 3 members, Stephanie goes out of her way to choose a tag team, whilst Shane drafts Owens to have another heel. Stephanie then chooses The Miz to gain the Intercontinental Championship for Raw, allowing Shane to pick Zayn to make Zayn/Owens a huge Smackdown focus.
#7. Stephanie McMahon drafts The Usos to Raw.
#7. Shane McMahon drafts Enzo & Cass to Smackdown.
#8. Stephanie McMahon drafts Randy Orton to Raw.
#8. Shane McMahon drafts Kalisto to Smackdown.
#9. Stephanie McMahon drafts Cesaro to Raw.
#9. Shane McMahon drafts Neville to Smackdown.
#10. Stephanie McMahon drafts Sasha Banks to Raw.
#10. Shane McMahon drafts The Wyatt Family to Smackdown.
Continuing with tag teams and gaining more superstars for the price of one pick, Stephanie will choose The Usos (to accompany Reigns), whilst Shane will pick the popular Enzo & Cass. Stephanie will then have a ‘shock’ pick in the form of a returning Randy Orton and meanwhile Shane will continue to form a cruiserweight-style division by drafting Kalisto and afterwards, a returning Neville. In the interim, Stephanie will steal Cesaro away from Shane, splitting up the four men who are being showcased on TV currently. Stephanie will then finish her picks by choosing Sasha Banks, once again pushing the women’s division. Shane will respond by drafting another group, the returning Wyatt family.
If it were following the format of 2002’s draft, the rest of the roster would be divvied out ‘randomly’, resulting in something like this:
Dolph Ziggler, Goldust, Baron Corbin, Alberto Del Rio, Kane, Paige, Natalya, Nikki Bella, Primo & Epico, Tyler Breeze, Tamina, Social Outcasts, The Dudley Boys, Emma, Mark Henry, Zack Ryder
Sheamus, Apollo Crews, Chris Jericho, Sin Cara, Big Show, Ryback, Naomi, Becky Lynch, R-Truth, The Vaudevillains, The Ascension, Dana Brooke, Darren Young, Lana, Titus O’Neil, Summer Rae
Obviously we’re missing the likes of Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker here, but only because we don’t know the whereabouts of those characters. The main idea behind these two formats is that Smackdown grabs a lot of popular faces, garnering attention for Smackdown, allowing Stephanie to solidify her main event scene. Smackdown will serve as a fun show, whilst gaining it’s heels (or potential heels) in the draft lottery that follows. Overall Raw obviously retains its core audience, and can afford to lose those new popular characters. The roster is then in a healthy state for some immediate feuds, but room to grow and create new stars.
I also foresee some shocking picks, where Shane and Stephanie draft superstars from NXT. They will most likely have to do this anyway to fill up the rosters. In this case, I think the draft needs to have an extended amount of picks and allow the two to announce drafts in a duelling way, fast-paced with some reactions intertwined, rather than the later incarnations of the draft, announcing a superstar and having them walk to the ring, faff about for 5 minutes whilst putting on a new t-shirt. The show needs to have matches showcasing the talent and need for a split, whilst also having real reactions from those chosen. It’s an option to have the draft over multiple shows, however, some category system would have to be introduced to avoid the final shows having bottom of the barrel picks. It will be interesting to see if they lead with the likes of Apollo Crews, etc, but I think the #1-10 picks mentioned make sense in terms of ‘big names’. Injured (like Tyson Kidd) and rarely used (like Alicia Fox) superstars may also be placed somewhere on the roster to make up numbers, so this list isn’t extensive.
Commentary will likely see a shakeup, and it needs it badly. Michael Cole will most likely stay with Raw, which should mean that Mauro Ranallo should head Smackdown. At this point I would lose Jerry Lawler and JBL entirely. I think Byron would end up on Smackdown, but the rest of the spots should be filled by Tom Phillips and Renee Young. Corey Graves deserved recognition here but I don’t want to leave NXT with no one. I feel like Renee should be added to Smackdown (as it’s seen as the progressive brand), but I would welcome her on Raw to accompany Michael Cole. Tom would obviously be on whatever show Renee isn’t on. It does leave us in need of another colour commentator on Raw, however, though there are plenty of wrestlers and former wrestlers who could fit the bill.
Michael Cole, Renee Young/Tom Phillips, Other Colour Commentator.
Mauro Ranallo, Renee Young/Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton.
There’s so much to discuss, which is why we at TWM are covering every possible inch of this huge change for WWE. Perhaps we will see an entirely different draft format and as long as it’s not solely a lottery format or a match-winning format, I think we’ll be in for a treat! Roll on July!
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