It hasn’t even been a year since the WWE decided to split its superstar roster between Raw and Smackdown. But with Wrestlemania 33 in the rearview and a slew of fresh talent stepping in, this week did feel like the perfect time to shake things up.
In typical WWE fashion, there was a bit of a logic dump in exactly how this all worked. But then again, if it all works, it doesn’t really matter (like so many WWE storylines). So now that the Superstar Shakeup is complete, let’s ask the tough questions to figure out where WWE stands after the Superstar Shake-Up.
Which show won the shakeup?
First of all, let’s acknowledge that this question is faulty to begin with. Any pro wrestling show is only as good as the performances that its wrestlers put on. In years past when the WWE roster was split, the prevailing opinion was that Raw usually had the bigger stars, but Smackdown would often end up as a better show.
Depending on who you ask, that’s because Vince McMahon didn’t micromanage Smackdown or perhaps it was because audiences preferred the wrestling-driven style of Smackdown to the theatrical focus of Raw. Whatever the reason, the takeaway is that it doesn’t matter which show has which wrestlers, it’s what each of them do with their performers.
The prevailing opinion on Monday night, after we knew which Smackdown wrestlers had swapped shows, was that Raw had taken most of Tuesday’s top talent and left the cupboard bare. Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Bray Wyatt, and Alexa Bliss led the charge to the flagship show and brought with them a lot of starpower. Meanwhile, most of Raw‘s biggest names, including Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Seth Rollins, and Finn Balor stayed put as well. Pound for pound, it’s probably true that they’re going to have an easier draw in mainstream coverage.
That said, Smackdown is once again turning into the “wrestling fan’s show.” Not only did AJ Styles stay put as the new face who runs the place, but he’s now joined by fan favorites Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Rusev, and The New Day, just to name a few. Couple that with WWE champion Randy Orton and the arrival of Shinsuke Nakamura and Charlotte Flair, and Smackdown has just as much storyline potential as Raw.
There’s certainly some questions decisions and what-could-have-beens in there as well, but you can’t solve every problem at once in pro wrestling. Ultimately, the fans are the winners cause they get a chance at a whole slew of new matchups and storylines.
What’s the deal with the championship titles?
WWE has booked themselves into a curious situation when it comes to singles titles. On Raw, the Universal Championship sits around the waist of part-timer Brock Lesnar. While that’s a situation that will likely get stale the longer it’s off-screen, it does do the secondary title a great service by upping it’s value. Up until this week, that would have been the U.S. Title. But with Kevin Owens off to Smackdown and Dean Ambrose arriving on Raw, that means the Intercontinental Title is the one which Raw superstars are going to be fighting over with renewed vigor.
Over on Smackdown, the situation is similar but for different reasons. Randy Orton might be an accomplished pro wrestler and physical specimen, but he’s a charisma black hole. As WWE Champion, he not only doesn’t elevate the interest in the belt, he depletes it. It also doesn’t help that his ongoing feud with Bray Wyatt doesn’t make a lot of sense now that Bray is on Raw. They’re not going to put both top championships on one show, so either Orton is a lock to win that match or something strange needs to happen before their House of Horrors match at Payback on April 30.
Making matters more confusing, Kevin Owens might have brought the U.S. Title to Smackdown, but the way it was described, it’s still possible he could head back to Raw (in theory). Owens will face Chris Jericho for the belt at Payback and the winner of that match will be the one to transfer to Smackdown. The loser, presumably, stays on Raw, even though Owens has already switched shows.
Given what most fans know about Jericho’s upcoming time off from the company, no one expects him to win that match, but it just feels like a strange logical loophole that didn’t need to be inserted into the storyline.
Which WWE wrestlers who stayed put on their respective shows were the big winners?
On Smackdown, the answer is obvious. AJ Styles continues to be the face of Smackdown and while some smarks might want to see The Phenomenal One become the face of the “bigger” show, it’s a sign that huge things are once again in store for him. Whether he’s chasing the U.S. Title (for which he is the No. 1 contender) or the WWE Title (which he will almost certainly hold again soon), expect Styles to be the first face on the PPV poster and the show’s top main-eventer through 2017 and into 2018.
As for Raw, we’ll go with Braun Strowman. It says something that during an episode where some of the company’s biggest stars appeared for the first time in a long time, all anyone wanted to talk about was Strowman’s star-making segment where he obliterated WWE posterboy Roman Reigns. Just when you thought he was through, Strowman came back to assault Reigns over and over, eventually lifting the ambulance Roman had been placed in and dropping it on its side.
Given the wonky fan politics surrounding Reigns, Strowman’s evil actions elicited monster cheers, cementing his status as the smarky face of the show for now. Just like that, what could have been a novelty act has the potential to make Braun the WWE’s next great big man. He wouldn’t be able to do this had he been separated from Reigns.
Which WWE wrestlers who stayed put on their respective shows were the big losers?
Gallows & Anderson continue to get the short shrift in WWE, but we’re thinking bigger. This might be something of a surprise pick but for Raw, we’re gonna go with Finn Balor.
Hear us out. First of all, Balor’s problems on the main roster are mostly not his fault. Just as he was about to become the face of the company last year, he suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of action for nine months. Now, one week after returning to Raw, he’s reportedly gone again for some time after suffering a concussion. It’s a brutal stretch of bad breaks for a guy primed to be one of the WWE’s standout performers. Coupled with the injuries, however, are other reasons to be concerned about the longterm prospects for Balor. His size is always going to come into question and his moveset already has a staleness to it (which is saying something since he’s only wrestled a handful of matches on Raw).
Fans who don’t know Balor’s history in NXT and elsewhere just know him as the guy WWE really seems to like who keeps getting injured and they don’t have much else to go on. Unless they want to turn him into a heel to give him a stronger personality, he’s stuck playing the role of cool-guy babyface, which doesn’t do him any favors. If he is gone for an extended period of time again, a fresh start on Smackdown might not be the worst thing for Finn.
Speaking of Smackdown, we’ll hand this award out to both Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. With Bray Wyatt off to Raw (unless he wins the WWE Title and comes back, we suppose?), that leaves both of them rather rudderless. WWE seemed to be priming Harper for a big push and obvious showdown with Wyatt, but that’s out the window now. At least he has some momentum to carry him into a viable singles career. Rowan didn’t work well at all the last time he was on his own and the hello-goodbye return he had with Wyatt leaves him in that same position again.
Which WWE wrestlers who swapped shows were the big winners?
For Raw, we’re giving the nod to Alexa Bliss. Despite the fact that she’s a two-time Smackdown Women’s Champion, Bliss still has the air of an up-and-comer when compared to stars such as Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Charlotte who paved the way for her in NXT and WWE. Charlotte swapped places with her, but Bliss can step directly into feuds with either Banks or Bayley (or both) and take her character to the next level.
The New Day needed a change. Either they needed to break up or they needed to find something new to do. A move to Smackdown cures what ails them. While Kofi Kingston is out with an injury, Big E and Xavier Woods will be able to re-establish themselves as wrestlers and not just entertainers.
A feud with The Usos could be hot fire for both teams and an eventual return to tag title glory without the strain of needing to hit some kind of record wouldn’t be a bad idea either. If and when they do decide to split up (or have one member pursue a singles title), there is more room on Smackdown for that to happen as well.
I'm mostly excited about being on Talking Smack so I can let the expletives fly.
— ShinigamE (@WWEBigE) April 12, 2017
Which WWE wrestlers who swapped shows were the big losers?
There actually feels like quite a few options here on Raw. Goofball Dean Ambrose is already a love-him-or-hate-him character and putting him on Raw might exacerbate the latter. But The Miz might have it even worse. First of all, The Miz did yeoman’s work on Smackdown over the last year, elevating himself to be the top heel and elevating the IC Title as he did it.
Had he stuck around on Smackdown, he was in line for a WWE Title shot at some point. On Raw, that just doesn’t feel likely. If anything, he’s more likely to end up downgrading back into comical heel mode to make way for guys like Strowman, Reigns, Rollins, and Balor. Not to mention it separates him from Daniel Bryan, the best non-feud-feud in the industry.
Over on Smackdown, there are a few choices as well. We actually think Sami Zayn benefits from the move because he’ll probably be more likely to get in a title picture now. We also like Charlotte’s move as the new queen of their women’s division.
But if there’s one person who we have some serious concerns about, it’s Rusev. The Bulgarian Brute has been off TV for a while nursing an injury but before he left, he was basically falling off a cliff in terms of effectiveness and menace. Now it seems like Lana is getting her own gimmick so Rusev will be left to fend for himself. It’ll likely come down to how he’s booked. If he’s the monster he used to be, he can be great. If they decide to keep him going like he was, it’s gonna be a bummer.
Which WWE division came away the big winner?
If there was any division within WWE that came away in the best position, it has to be the women’s division. Just by swapping two wrestlers, both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Divisions feels re-energized and full of new possibilities. Swapping out Charlotte for Alexa Bliss gives Raw a fresh villain to root against while also letting that character grow. It also gives room for the eventual Bayley-Sasha Banks feud that has to happen without wondering how Charlotte fits into things.
On Smackdown, Charlotte immediately feels like a force the likes of which the superstars on that show haven’t had to deal with in a long time. It gives Becky Lynch a much-needed rival and turns current champion Naomi into an instant underdog again. Both shows should have no problem creating fresh stories through SummerSlam (fingers crossed).
Which WWE division came away the big loser?
The Cruiserweight Division’s continued existence on Raw remains a mind-boggler. But it was the tag team division, as usual, that got the short-shrift. Much of that is laid at the feet of the writers and bookers, who don’t seem capable of telling more than one tag team story per show at any given time. That’s a real shame, given the depth of both rosters at the moment.
Instead, it’s likely that Gallows & Anderson will continue to suffer, Enzo & Cass will just kinda be there, and Cesaro & Sheamus will keep The Revival’s spot warm for them for a couple months. On Smackdown, it’s hard to tell what will happen beyond The Usos and The New Day. Why American Alphas is being kept separate from Kurt Angle is beyond me.
Is The Shield getting back together or what?
Eventually… almost certainly. Even if it’s just for one big event. It’s Chekhov’s Dean Ambrose. If you’re going to move him to Raw where Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins already are, you have to pay it off by reuniting the legendary trio at some point. Logically, they’ll want to hold off on this until a major PPV, perhaps even Survivor Series when it makes sense to take three quality singles stars and put them in a tag match.
Besides, Reigns seems mighty busy at the moment and Rollins has his hands full with Samoa Joe. If anything, you could start rebuilding the Rollins and Ambrose friendship and use the dynamic of Reigns as the loner as a way to tease it out.
If there’s any wrestler in the WWE who is their own question, it’s this guy.
When was the last time a debuting wrestler has done so little and gotten so big a reaction? Seriously, in two appearances, Nakamura has done his entrance twice and said a grand total of 12 words and he’s got the WWE Universe falling all over itself to chant his name and sing his song. Aside from blocking a kick from Dolph Ziggler, he hasn’t even wrestled yet. That’s star-power. And given we’re talking about a Japanese guy with a limited grasp on the English language, it’s all the more impressive.
Pairing him with Dolph Ziggler for his first feud is a great move as the fans already want to boo Dolph and it sets Nakamura up for success without immediately pushing him to the moon.
(Also, can we just thank the stars that Shinsuke is in the WWE in 2017 and not 1987? Can you imagine what they would have done with a guy like that back then?)