The WWE Superstar Shake-up took place this week on Raw and Smackdown. The talent shuffle is WWE’s way of changing the rosters of their two main shows by moving some Smackdown talent to Raw and Raw talent to Smackdown. Several NXT wrestlers were also called up to the main roster, while a few wrestlers returned from injuries.
There were no moves that surprised me that much, but I expected some of the bigger names to move. Instead, most of them stayed where they are. Names like Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman, Finn Balor, Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks are still on Raw while AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Shinsuke Nakamura, Charlotte Flair, The Usos and The New Day are still on Smackdown. In my predictions article, I thought Balor and Bryan might move. It didn’t happen and that’s okay, but I expected a bit more from it.
The biggest names who ended up moving were The Miz, Jeff Hardy, Asuka and Samoa Joe going from Raw to Smackdown, while Raw got Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Jinder Mahal and Bobby Roode among others.
Before I begin, I just wanted to mention that Bruno Sammartino passed away, which was announced on Wednesday morning. He was one of the biggest names in wrestling history and the biggest star in wrestling when he was on top. Bruno held the WWE Championship (then known as WWWF) for nearly eight years at one point. He was the man before a lot of us were watching.
In my case, he retired in 1980 as a full-timer in the same year I was born. If you have older relatives who watched wrestling, he was probably one of their favorite wrestlers ever. I know that was the case for my dad and uncles. Bruno was inducted in WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2013 in New York City at Madison Square Garden, which he sold out as a main event talent more than any wrestler ever. He was 82. Rest in peace, Bruno.
There will be plenty of tributes for Bruno on WWE television next week, that’s for sure.
What I’m going to do is list the names of those that were moved, what their roles might be on their new shows, who might be a sleeper pick in terms of a wrestler who could break out as a star and just some other thoughts. I don’t really believe in listing “winners” or “losers” in this type of thing, but I’ll offer some final takes on what show I think did better.
The New Additions for Monday Night Raw
The one thing that stood out with the names moving to Raw is that they added a lot of heels. That led to some big heels moving away from Raw too.
Kevin Owens – KO was fired by Smackdown a few weeks ago, along with Sami Zayn, and signed by Raw as a free agent, but we’ll count him in the Shake-up as a big name. He is one of the top heels in the company, just like the Miz, and for the second year in a row, they swapped places. Owens wrestled guys like Reigns and Rollins a lot a few years ago, so I hope they can find a way to keep him fresh. He should be featured a lot on Raw in terms of getting as much promo time as anybody on the show and wrestling in main event matches a lot.
Sami Zayn – As the best friend of Owens, his heel turn in the last six months was huge for his career because he went from barely being used to becoming a main event-level bad guy. I think Zayn is one of the best in-ring performers in WWE. I’m not sure if he’ll be a heel long-term because he comes across as a natural babyface, but he’s effective in any role. It would be nice to see Zayn break through to that main event-level on Raw as well, although I don’t know if management likes him enough to make him the Universal Champion.
Jinder Mahal (with Sunil Singh) – He went to Raw as the US Champion and lost it to Jeff Hardy, who was moved to Smackdown. I’m not a huge fan of Jinder, but they are going to utilize him as a mid-card heel who knows how to get heat from the crowd. I think a lot of fans are bored by him, as am I. His title match loss to Hardy was actually a pretty good match, though, so he has improved. Sunil will continue to support Mahal while his brother Samir Singh should be back soon following knee surgery.
Baron Corbin – Corbin is the heel WWE’s creative team sees as a future main eventer who can feud with the likes of Reigns, Strowman, Rollins and Balor. I thought he would break through on Smackdown last year as a WWE Champion. Instead, he couldn’t get over the hump. It might happen for him on Raw. In some ways, he is boring, but has the look that WWE loves and he’s a taller guy that they will push to the top.
Dolph Ziggler – Ziggler was a face on Smackdown until last year’s heel turn. I thought he did better as a face, but he does show arrogance as a heel. It’s hard to believe that WWE is going to push him harder than some of the other heels they have. I expect him to be in the mid-card for most of the rest of his career. I could also see him turning face later in the year to balance things out a bit. Ziggler also didn’t come alone to Smackdown.
Drew McIntyre – This is the guy who interests me the most in terms of the new talent on Raw because of how awesome he was in NXT. McIntyre was released by WWE in 2014, came back to NXT last year and when that happened, I thought he should be on the main roster. After surgery on his arm late last year, he’s looking as good as ever. McIntyre is a future main eventer who hopefully can put the joke 3MB group (reunited on Raw with McIntyre, Mahal and Heath Slater) behind him.
Pairing him with Ziggler is a way to get both guys some cheap heat with double-team attacks. It may seem a bit repetitive with Owens and Zayn doing the same sort of thing, but I’m fine with it. I like McIntyre’s potential as a future main eventer as much as anybody that moved on either roster. I hope he can break through.
Those six names above are all heels right now, and potential opponents for top Raw faces like Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor.
Bobby Roode – The former US Champion was given a big intro on Raw as a surprise tag team partner in the main event. I thought it might be AJ Styles or Randy Orton and was a bit underwhelmed by Roode being in that spot. I’ve always liked Roode more as a heel going back to his TNA/Impact days, as well as his enjoyable run in NXT. For now he’s a face, but if they turned him heel later in the year or next year, that would probably be the best thing for him.
Chad Gable – Gable’s another guy who was a heel on the Smackdown brand, but I don’t know if he’s going to be a heel on Raw because I can see him being used as an underdog babyface. Gable is an incredible in-ring performer who is shorter, so it’s easier to book him as a good guy. I would call him the sleeper of the Shake-Up because some people may not think of him as a big deal. But if he gets a chance, he’ll do great things. There’s also an obvious storyline with Jason Jordan, who may become a heel when he returns from his neck injury. If that’s the case, then I can see these two feuding.
Natalya – The former Smackdown Women’s Champion is the biggest woman’s name that moved from Smackdown. I thought Becky Lynch or Naomi would be moved, but that didn’t happen. Natalya was immediately put into a story with Ronda Rousey in a backstage segment where it was established that they are friends who have trained together. Later, Rousey saved Natalya from a double-team attack from Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. I can see a situation where Natalya and Rousey team up and Natalya ends up turning on her, leading to a match. Natalya has been a heel for over a year. She does it well, so putting her against Rousey in a feud this summer makes a lot of sense to me.
The Riott Squad (Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan) – This trio of women were only on Smackdown for about six months. They attacked people from behind, wrestled a lot of tags and had a brief feud with Charlotte Flair. They will add depth to the women’s division of Raw. Riott is the standout performer of the three women.
Zack Ryder – Ryder has been in WWE for over a decade now. The fans genuinely like him, yet WWE refuses to utilize him the right way. It’s going to be tough for him to make a big impact on Raw. Finding a new tag team partner might be the best thing for him.
Mojo Rawley – The Ryder and Rawley team were broken up. What was the reason? Neither man has done anything of significance since then. Rawley was annoying as a face, but at least he could get reactions. Rawley hasn’t done much as a heel. There’s untapped potential there for sure. I just don’t know if he’ll be given a chance.
Breezango (Tyler Breeze and Fandango) – The duo has mostly been a comedy tag team on Smackdown. They were not featured in the ring that much in the past year. If they are ever given a serious push, I think they can become popular and potential tag team champions. There is an opportunity for them to do well because some of the other teams were moved to Smackdown.
The Ascension (Konnor and Viktor) – I think they are lower on the tag team totem pole than Breezango are. They were used even less than Breezango. I don’t think they’re a bad team necessarily, but unless they are booked as a more serious threat, it’s going to be tough for the fans to believe in them.
Mike Kanellis – The new father whose real name is Mike Bennett is waiting for wife Maria Kanellis-Bennett to return to TV after she gave birth to their baby daughter a few weeks ago. When she gets back, Mike might get a mid-card push. Until then, I don’t see it happening.
The Raw roster also gained NXT stars Ember Moon, No Way Jose and the Authors of Pain tag team last week, so they have a lot of new talent in the mix.
The New Additions to Smackdown Live
The Miz – I think it’s fair to call The Miz the biggest star that moved to Smackdown. The Miz is a former WWE Champion who has held the Intercontinental Title eight times. I really think this might be the year where he will get the WWE Championship back for the first time in seven years. The obvious feud for him is with Daniel Bryan after their bickering and issues in 2016/2017 when Miz was a top heel on Smackdown. That’s a feud I can see carrying Smackdown throughout the summer. I’m looking forward to it a lot.
Jeff Hardy – The new US Champion is the biggest babyface male wrestler that moved over from Raw. It looks like WWE wanted to keep him separate from his “Woken” brother Matt Hardy, so fans of “Brother Nero” can wait until next year perhaps. I think Jeff fits in well as one of the top faces, along with AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. None of them are big guys necessarily, but they are loved by the fans. There are plenty of fresh opponents for him on Smackdown since he was gone from WWE for nearly a decade, then wrestled mostly in tags before he got hurt. I’m excited about Jeff on Smackdown. He was the man on Smackdown in 2008/09, so here’s hoping he can get back to that level.
Asuka – The formerly undefeated Asuka joins Smackdown as a face who is already working as an ally with Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch after she saved them from a three-on-two attack. It will be interesting to see if WWE is willing to turn Asuka heel because it might make a future rematch with Charlotte more interesting. Asuka will bring a lot of credibility to the Smackdown women’s division.
Samoa Joe – Joe is one of my favorite heels in WWE because he’s got that old school vibe to him as a straight talker who doesn’t make jokes or smartass comments. He’s a no-nonsense, all-business type of heel with a lot of credibility as a guy that can kick people’s ass. In his opening promo, he talked about the likes of Randy Orton, AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan, who are the three biggest faces on Smackdown right now. Those would be all awesome feuds for Joe. I think he might get matched up with Randy Orton first of the three. It would be fresh for sure. Joe has history with Styles going back to TNA and Ring of Honor, while also wrestling Bryan a lot in ROH as well.
Big Cass – A lot of fans thought that Cass would come back at the battle royal at WrestleMania and win it after being on the shelf for over eight months, due to major knee surgery for his torn ACL. Instead, WWE waited a few weeks and brought him back on Smackdown as he destroyed Daniel Bryan with a boot to the face in the main event of the show. That shows WWE has high hopes for the near seven-footer, who they believe can be a main event heel. Feuding with Bryan will help him because Bryan’s a tremendous all-around performer. We all know WWE loves big-man wrestlers, so Cass fits the bill as a guy that they will want to push hard.
Sheamus & Cesaro – The former four-time Raw Tag Team Champions have really gelled as a team on Raw. They also feuded with just about everybody there is, so moving them to Smackdown made a lot of sense because they can work with teams like The Usos and The New Day. There’s also a chance that the team could split up and they can both work as singles wrestlers, which they have done a lot in the past. I think a lot of us want to see Cesaro get a massive singles push one day, while Sheamus has already had a lot of success in singles as a former World Champion.
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson – Another Raw tag team headed to Smackdown to provide depth to a division that needs it. They can work well either as faces or heels. They might join up with their former Bullet Club leader AJ Styles, who they formed a brief WWE faction with called The Club. Like with Sheamus and Cesaro, there are fresh tag team matchups for them on Smackdown.
Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville – The duo that was part of Raw’s “Absolution” group are now a part of Smackdown, which is run by the general manager Paige, who formed the group. I can see them staying in the heel role while Paige is a face, so that should lead to some conflict between them. I hope they are not lost in the shuffle because I like both as future women’s champions. Mandy particularly stands out due to her looks, but she can stand out in the ring too.
R-Truth – He is a veteran in his early 40s who can provide depth to the roster. His role will likely be to put over the younger guys like he has done on Raw for years when he was able to stay healthy.
Andrade “Cien” Almas with Zelina Vega – The former NXT Champion has been outstanding in NXT for the last year. His match with Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover Philadelphia back in January was a five-star match in my humble opinion. Vega adds a lot to Almas’ act because she’s a good talker who knows how to get heat by attacking whoever Almas is in the ring with. Almas is also a good Latin villain, which is a role that WWE likes similar to Alberto Del Rio earlier in the decade. I think Almas will have a very good run on the main roster.
Sanity (Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe & Killian Dain) – The three-man group got the call up from NXT without their fourth member, Nikki Cross. I can only assume that was done because there are plans to push Cross in NXT. Plus, both women’s main rosters are deep enough now. I’m most excited about Young as a 20-year veteran who is finally on WWE’s main roster. Wolfe is a good worker and Dain is an athletic big man. They have a unique look that will make them stand out. I can see them having a 3-on-3 feud with New Day very soon.
If you add it all up including the NXT call-ups, Raw got 20 new names and Smackdown got 17 new names. Raw is three hours and Smackdown is two hours, so I think it’s fine that Raw got a few more people.
I feel like Smackdown has the better roster. There’s more balance with a mix of fresh faces and heels who can have some incredible feuds down the line. If you look at the big names on Smackdown with AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton and Jeff Hardy as the top faces against The Miz, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Big Cass and Andrade Almas as the heels, it’s a great group of talent. Plus, the tag team division is deeper than what Raw has. The women’s roster seems better on Smackdown too. That’s not to say that Raw’s roster is bad because I like a lot of talent there. It just feels like the makeover that Smackdown received will make their shows better while Raw might have a stagnant feel to it with Roman Reigns still on top.
The next two major WWE events are the Greatest Royal Rumble event from Saudi Arabia on April 27 and then Backlash takes place on May 6. Both events are on WWE Network.