Does SmackDown Live have enough to hold its own?
Brandon Jackson: At this point, no. Three of SmackDown Live’s top five picks may be unavailable at some point or another. Styles has had documented back problems. Even though he has been healthy during his WWE run, the way Styles wrestles is high-risk for his body every night. Cena has been interested in working on projects outside of WWE, and any given Tuesday may not be available for the show. Orton is known to be injury-prone and could injure his shoulders at any moment. Even on a two-hour show, SmackDown Live doesn’t have enough depth to counteract losing one of these top stars for an extended period of time.
Chris Schubert: Short answer, no. If the idea of this draft was to put SmackDown Live in a position to be level with Raw, they failed. As it is currently constructed, the U.S., Women’s and Tag Team championships are all on Raw. Add in that they are going to have a world title, and the cruiserweight division, and Raw just is set up better to succeed. SmackDown Live has guys like Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles and John Cena to be draws, but if all the main titles and attractions are on Raw, SmackDown Live is destined to fail.
John Brown: Since they have more potential for growth, which includes the company’s two most decorated world champions, I would say that SmackDown Live just may hold its own. Yes, Raw got Rollins, Reigns, Sami, Owens, and Balor. However, two of their top picks were Brock Lesnar and Chris Jericho, both of which will sooner or later not be included on the program. Should one or more of the aforementioned five go down with injury (or, you know, a wellness violation), Raw is a snoozefest.
SmackDown Live is the more appealing of the two shows because they have built themselves for the future more prominently. About half of the roster was in NXT within the past year. Orton and Cena are heading toward the end of their runs, leading to a natural passing of the torch to someone. All of the above implies that if you are hungry and are wanting to break in, SmackDown Live is the show to go to.
Ronnie Rowlands: Heavens, no. They got all the rubbish tag teams and the weakest top card. Yes, they have Cena and Orton, but doesn’t that just reek of a weak conciliatory gesture to convince us that SmackDown Live isn’t the “B” show anymore? They aren’t the guys you need to keep your show new and exciting. Hell, why not add Jimmy Snuka and Bret Hart to the SmackDown Live roster while you’re at it, WWE?
Even their mid-card is weak. For every Ziggler, Wyatt and The Miz, you have Kane, Zack Ryder and Baron Corbin. It was even announced that the predicted reintroduction of the cruiserweight division, in light of the CWC, was going to take place on Raw (can you imagine Michael Cole trying to bluster his way through a fast paced wrestling match with lots of complex holds?). So, Raw gets the best talent and an exciting new division. What exactly does SmackDown Live now have to make it as unique and distinct as it was back in 2003?
Oh, and to top it all off, we can now look forward to Mauro Ranallo’s brilliance being compounded by David Otunga’s ill-informed bleating and JBL shouting “LUNATIC BALLGAME MAGGLE” for two hours a week.
Of the NXT stars drafted to the main roster, who has the most hope to thrive right off the bat?
BJ: Finn Balor. Balor will be the one with the best hope to thrive because he will get the best opportunity to thrive. He was an early draft pick and will bring those high expectations with him from NXT. He will be expected to move merchandise and sell t-shirts. He is the NXT call-up most ready for that type of pressure. The list of people he will be able to feud with on Raw is a mile long. He could be the face of the cruiserweight division if they choose to go that route. And he also has a ready-made storyline whenever they want it, getting the original founder of the Bullet Club back together with his best friends.
CS: Finn Balor would be the easy answer, but I’m not sure he will thrive right away, as the casual fans will need time to understand who he is. American Alpha, on the other hand, are destined for success early. They are outgoing and energetic guys that the crowd will love and they are easy to relate to and it’s an easy gimmick to understand. Even though the tag titles are on the other show, American Alpha are in prime position to be one of the hottest things that SmackDown Live has each and every week.
JB: Finn Balor. Although I believe SmackDown Live has the superior potential for greatness, Balor has been WWE main-event ready since he was sweeping hallways in Ireland. His unique entrance, demeanor, and in-ring skill is nothing like WWE has ever seen, and will make an immediate impact that will drive him immediately toward the head of the line. The brass ring is his to grasp.
American Alpha is not far behind. Their matches have stolen the show on nearly every NXT card they have been on. The SmackDown Live roster also affords them the chance to bring the house down with The Usos, The Ascension (assuming they are taken seriously) and Breezango. Hopefully SmackDown Live gets their own set of tag team championships. If they do, American Alpha should have a lengthy title reign in store.
RR: It’s hard to tell, because the WWE has been so hit and miss when it comes to giving NXT the necessary ‘cred’ on the main roster. I’ll go with Raw, though. They only picked two people (Finn Balor and Nia Jax), but they’re surrounded by the best players and can have more interesting feuds.
SmackDown Live adopted two women into a thin women’s division, a great tag team into a rubbish tag team division, and Mojo Rawley, who will flounder on a middling mid-card. They need to parachute a whole lot more NXT stars onto the SmackDown Live roster if we’re gonna see these guys do anything other than languish.
What’s the biggest question you have before the full split goes into effect Monday?
BJ: Is the women’s champion going to be on both shows? It would be horrible for talent like Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss to be on SmackDown Live fighting each other basically for nothing. And having two different champions in a division of 13 women would seem a little ridiculous. It would make the whole women’s division that much more important if you have women on both shows fighting to become the No. 1 contender for that championship. There could even be pay-per-views where women from both shows have a singles match to get a title shot. One champion is more than enough for both of these shows and this division.
CS: Entering the draft, I wanted to know what the championship scenes would look like, and while I got a little bit of information of how that will work, I still need more. I need to know what the tag teams and women on SmackDown Live are really fighting for? I need to see what SmackDown Live is going to do to be different and have that edge that makes it must see T.V., while Raw has all the major championships. I still need to be sold on SmackDown Live as a new, fresh brand, something I didn’t think I would have to say after last night.
JB: Why the hell are Samoa Joe, Bayley, Austin Aries, Asuka, and Shinsuke FREAKING Nakamura still in NXT? I understand the concept of wanting to keep the NXT brand worth watching; bringing the aforementioned performers to the main roster would cause NXT to dwindle in image for a bit. However, Triple H has proven himself to be able to spot and sign fresh independent talent, not to mention that Eric Young and Bobby Roode are still associated with the brand. NXT could have been quickly rebuilt. Assuming that it is WWE’s responsibility to put on the best NATIONALLY TELEVISED show possible, it is asinine that those performers were not drafted.
RR: What is the WWE going to do with its heavyweight, women’s and tag team championships? And if the answer to that is to “make new ones”, how are they going to keep SmackDown Live from becoming a repetitive yawn-fest? We can certainly expect an announcement after Battleground; for all we know, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship could fall into the hands of a Raw superstar. So, too, could the Women’s Championship.
As for the tag team title, if that falls into the hands of the stupidly-split Wyatt Family, will that then compel WWE to announce the wholly sensible and obvious policy of having top champions defending on both shows? Because that would be far smarter than rendering the outcome of The New Day vs The Wyatt Family totally predictable.