I was recently part of the planning process for AIPT’s 2020 Mock Draft (go Team Raw), and it was a huge mental task on our part. It wasn’t just a question of who we would draft, but rather who we thought the WWE officials were going to draft and how important they ranked. I may love Ricochet and would pick him for my roster second round, but are WWE officials clamoring for a man who hasn’t won a single title on the main roster and has a pretty poor win-loss record, especially recently?
Of course, we made some mistakes. Going back to Ricochet, he did get picked in the third round as we predicted, but he didn’t go to SmackDown. And despite Jay’s insistence, Raw did not end up shocking the world by stealing Bayley on Monday in the heist of the century.
But we did get the power ranking right for Drew McIntyre and Roman Reigns, because keeping your top champions just makes sense. After that point, however, the nature of WWE’s draft starts to fall apart, and that’s something to be expected from WWE management at this point.
As fans, we rag on WWE’s on-screen authority figures pretty often for their horrid natures. While William Regal has held the fort down in NXT for ages at this point, the other brands have seen reigns of terror from Stephanie McMahon, Vickie Guerrero, John Laurinaitis, and Eric Bischoff, among many others.
Since December 2018, however, “the WWE Universe has become the Authority,” and while that sounds good on paper, we aren’t actually making any of the decisions that happen on TV. There are still folks carrying some level of authority in WWE (Adam Pearce is around, and Shane McMahon is running the show on Raw Underground), but when a match is announced for the next week’s show, we don’t know who actually put it together.
That makes it hard to put blame on whoever specifically made the horrid decision to sign Retribution to WWE contracts. We also don’t know who rigged the Intercontinental Championship unification match at Clash of Champions to have AJ Styles involved instead of just Jeff Hardy and Sami Zayn (which, to me, screwed our boy Jeff). And how do the checks and balances of WWE’s head office work out when Stephanie McMahon decides that Bayley pretending to be a ref at The Horror Show at Extreme Rules means Sasha Banks has a legitimate claim to Asuka’s Raw Women’s Championship?
Those were all isolated incidents that got handled as they came, but WWE Drafts have happened every year in some form or another since 2016, and whenever they go down, everyone in WWE starts to look a little foolish. And I don’t just mean the USA Network execs celebrating a Natalya pick-up last year as if they just scored Stone Cold in his prime.
In 2016, 2019, and 2020, the rules were pretty consistent: they go through rounds of five, with Raw getting three picks a round because they’re a three hour show; tag teams count as one pick unless actively split up; and free agents can figure out their home after the show goes off the air.
Right there, we discover two problems, one of which was touched on by Friday’s show: splitting up tag teams for no reason.
If The New Day are all together as one pick, it’s the biggest steal of the show. You get three wrestlers who, as a unit, are the longest reigning tag team champions in WWE history. One of them was the WWE Champion last year, and another is a former Intercontinental Champion who just rediscovered his swing as a singles competitor. The fans have been crazy about them for six years and they’ve yet to get stale.
You’d be foolish to not draft all three of them in one go.
Taking the SmackDown Tag Team Champions is a petty move that gives Raw leverage going forward, but unless the wrestlers are being paid by the brands themselves instead of the company at large, I don’t see a single reason to leave behind the New Day member whose stock was highest at the beginning of the night (since both Kofi and Woods were injured as of late). It’s as if Raw doesn’t understand a bargain when they see one.
On the flip side, SmackDown doesn’t know a screwjob when they see it, because they’ve fallen into the same trap for the third draft in a row. Here is Problem #2.
The “Raw gets three picks for every two SmackDown gets” rule makes sense on paper, and there’s no point giving them equal roster sizes when there’s not equal time. But why does SmackDown allow Raw to dunk on them with this two-picks-in-a-row nonsense?
On Friday’s show, Raw got to grab Hurt Business (including the United States Champion) and AJ Styles without interruption between Rounds 1 and 2. Then, right after taking Miz and Morrison, Raw got to watch Kingston and Woods become the SmackDown Tag Team Champs and then immediately draft them without much time for defense on the blue brand’s side.
How come after having these exact same problems in 2016 and 2019, SmackDown never tried to switch it so that they got to fight back-and-forth for the first eight picks and just let Raw get four free picks on the back end? Maybe the SmackDown team’s priorities wouldn’t change, but at least they wouldn’t lose out because of Raw’s double-dipping.
Then again, SmackDown also drafted Otis without Tucker for seemingly no reason, so maybe neither side wants an easy, loaded roster.
WWE is all about presentation, so I understand that there’s a level of drama that comes when both brands are still picking wrestlers into the final half hour (instead of one final Raw-centric round as I have suggested). But should SmackDown care about one night of drama when getting a poor draft roster is going to ruin the next 11–12 months of TV for them?
Though SmackDown fixed one mistake on Monday by drafting then-Raw Tag Team Champions Street Profits as soon as they could, there are overall problems with this year’s draft and its pool. For example, what constitutes as a women’s tag team? Why weren’t Lana and Natalya considered a pair for Monday’s pool? Management couldn’t have known they were going to break up, and even if they could know that, two soon-to-be singles wrestlers still would have been a solid bargain pick for either brand.
Then there are questions about specific picks that got made. Why did SmackDown pick their Intercontinental Champion seventh on Monday when Raw just showed on Friday that they were willing to steal SmackDown’s champions? Why would Raw keep Angel Garza — who spent the last few months losing repeatedly to the Street Profits — instead of stealing all three Lucha House Party members, who spent that same time losing to Shinsuke and Cesaro but at least come in a trio?
Why did NOBODY want former NXT Champion and absolute stud Andrade?
But to me, the issues with WWE’s draft pool are way deeper-rooted than any of the surface-level critiques that could be levied at this year’s list of choices.
Before draft season comes around next year, there needs to be serious behind-the-scenes discussions regarding the structure of its proceedings. They need game plans. They need offense and defense. They need to speak up for the systematic injustice that creates a bias against SmackDown.
Changes like these have to be made if the folks at WWE ever hope to display any semblance of justice and reasoning on their programming.
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