In keeping with this week’s political theme, allow me to plagiarize Heath Slater: WE’RE A SMACKDOWN RECAP, BAYBAY! With the move to live Blue Brand shows on Tuesday nights, I’m going to be breaking down the two-hour chunk of underwear grappling in counterpoint to Kenny’s excellent recaps of the Red Brand. And what a time to start: with the first-ever WWE Draft! Wait…they already did this? And it ended up being terrible? Oh dear.
Well, at least we’re off to a good start: The former members of the Shield got broken up between brands, AJ Styles is somehow not going to feud with Finn Balor for leadership of The Club, and John Cena and Randy Orton can now have a Once In A Lifetime matchup for the roughly 364th time. Yes, the draft was a bit underwhelming, to say the least, with some puzzling choices and a format (three Raw picks for every two SmackDown picks) that unsurprisingly led to a stacked flagship show and a roster of cast offs on Tuesday nights.
This is how the second brand split arrives: not with a bang, but with Nia Jax getting drafted before Bayley.
1. Unfortunately (for me), Raw Has The Better Roster
As your humble SmackDown recapper, it pains me to say this about the brand that I had no loyalty to before being asked to write these recaps, but SmackDown got totally trounced on the live show by Raw. Not only did the Big Red Machine (not Kane) get Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to headline, they also scooped up the indy darling trio of Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and a very fed-up Cesaro, who cut the best promo of his career on the WWE Network post-show. On top of that bounty, the women’s division on Mondays is filled out well, with Charlotte and Sasha Banks as the stars, while Nia Jax, Dana Brooke, and the criminally underrated Summer Rae wait in the wings. SmackDown, meanwhile, went with a weird hodgepodge of 2009 stars, underused guys that may not be any good (although at least we get Big Banter Corbin and his fantastic tweets), and Becky Lynch. In fact…
2. SmackDown’s Womens Division is Becky Lynch vs. Thin Air
Why even split up the women? While Raw has all of the aforementioned stars, SmackDown went with the fantastic Becky Lynch and…Natalya? Naomi? Two NXT women that, admittedly, could be great but are nowhere near ready (Alexa Bliss and Carmella)? Combined with the fact that, as of now, there is only one women’s title, it’s looking like slim pickings on Tuesdays if you are a fan of women’s wrestling. There could be some reinforcements on the way: Bayley surely will be called up after her swan song in Brooklyn on August 20th, and she should be put on SmackDown (plus, they can’t split up Baymella). And there’s always the lingering threat of them pulling the trigger on calling up Asuka to shoot-murder every woman, man, or beast on the main roster. But as of now, SmackDown is in risk of failing the Bechdel Test on a weekly basis.
3. We Really Don’t Know Anything
Smarks on the internet may claim to know everything beforehand, but no one saw this draft coming. Aside from “Roman Reigns on Raw, John Cena on SmackDown,” every piece of rumor that was accepted as fact fell apart. We thought SmackDown would be the workhorse show, but then all of those dudes got drafted to Raw. We thought they would keep the former members of The Shield together on Raw since that rivalry is always a good one, but then the WWE Champion (spoilers) went to SmackDown. And we thought there would be more of a title spread between the two brands, but then three title holders got moved to Raw with a strong possibility of adding a 4th on Sunday, since both Reigns and Seth Rollins are on the flagship show. With all the hype around the return to a live version of SmackDown, it’s surprising that this draft tilted so far to the red side; barring a better creative team popping up on Tuesdays, this brand split did not set up both brands in the best position to mutually succeed.
4. Oh Yeah, There Were Some Matches!
On top of all of the draft shenanigans that dominated the show, there were a handful of matches that mostly didn’t affect anything in the build for Sunday’s Battleground PPV. Speed round: John Cena beat Luke Gallows so hard he sent him and Anderson to Raw. Bray Wyatt continued his weird possessing of Xavier Woods en route to beating him with a nifty snap Sister Abigail. Kane (LOL) was supposed to have a match against Kevin Owens, but Sami Gosh Darn Zayn attacked the latter, because “we’re destined to do this forever” and all that. (Also, the brawl led to Kane double choke-slamming Owens and Zayn, something I never needed to see.) Sasha Banks built to her tag match against Charlotte and Dana Brooke by…having a handicap match against Charlotte and Dana Brooke (she lost because of the Damn Numbers Game, of course). And, in the last match before the main event, Cesaro got humiliated even more than he was by his draft slot, as he lost to Chris Jericho’s underwhelming one-knee Codebreaker. Here’s hoping the brand split saves us from a night of matches that change nothing.
5. A Dead Duck Main Event Ends In Shockingly Clean Fashion
Hey, speaking of matches that change nothing, here’s the main event. In a rematch of Monday night’s weird, “we’ll call it a draw” main event, Seth Rollins challenged for Dean Ambrose’s WWE title…5 days before he challenges Ambrose for the WWE title yet again. The problem with this isn’t that we don’t want to see this match; it’s that we don’t need to see slightly different variations of it three times in one week. And so, the crowd did as crowds do when they’re bored, and started chanting “CM PUNK” and “WE WANT BAYLEY.” You could tell the two guys in the ring, who have had a blood feud for over two years, didn’t want to bust out anything too special, focusing more on brawling than any particularly cool sequences. That being said, there was one surprise, and that’s that Ambrose won cleanly, countering aRollins superplex-into-falcon-arrow into his Dirty Deeds DDT for the 1, 2, 3.
And so ended the first live SmackDown in the new era, and now we move onto a Battleground PPV that has weird brand allegiances, some matches that might not matter in a week (looking at you, New Day vs Wyatt Family), and the shadow of the soon-to-be unsuspended Roman Reigns looming over the belt. What factor will he play come Sunday? Some people say he’ll be like a wild animal being let out of his cage, while others think he’ll be rusty after his suspension. Whatever Reigns shows up, it will definitely be the start of something new.