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What we learned from WWE’s 2016 brand split draft

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The rosters for RAW and SmackDown are set, and change has come to the landscape of WWE. What does it all mean, though?

wwe draft SD WWE.com

WWE is still one company, but it’s a company with multiple, competing brands. With no WCW around to push WWE as an equal like in the 1990s, the way to shake things up and motivate the rosters and creative is to pit them against each other. That’s how we ended up with a brand split and Tuesday night’s draft, where RAW and SmackDown became rival shows, airing live on Mondays and Tuesdays, respectively, with their own rosters, creative teams, and stories.

What we ended up with is two very different looking rosters that appear to be reaching for different goals -- that’s good, in that it will help build a preference for one show or the other and foster some of that sought-after competition between brands. There are also a few questions raised by the shapes of these rosters, though, that make you wonder if these are anywhere near complete, or if this was just the first of many steps towards building a true brand split with two shows that can successfully thrive on their own.

Here’s what we learned -- and are still hoping to learn -- from Tuesday’s three-hour draft and the rosters it created.

RAW was built for this generation of stars

The RAW roster is stacked, but mostly with the wrestlers who have spent the last year or so making a name for themselves in WWE. It has most of the future of the company that also happens to be the present of the company: RAW has Seth Rollins, two-time WWE Champion and (storyline) founder of The Shield, the most popular and successful stable the company has developed in years. RAW has both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, whose feud, to the delight of fans, will last forever and without interruption. The current tag team champions and super popular stable The New Day can only be found on Monday nights. United States Champion -- and potential future WWE champ -- Rusev is there, as is the incredibly popular Enzo and Cass, wrestler you love to hate, Chris Jericho, and the company’s most special of their special attractions, Brock Lesnar.

Brock Lesnar faces Undertaker at WrestleMania 30 WWE.com

Charlotte is the face of the Women’s Division and the current Women’s Champion, and she’s on RAW and will surely come to blows with Sasha Banks, whose popularity is through the proverbial roof. Finn Balor is here -- finally promoted from NXT -- and just might end up in charge of The Club, the stable he formed in Japan when it was then known as the Bullet Club, now that AJ Styles is separated from his bros. Cesaro, Paige, and Roman Reigns -- who isn’t universally popular with fans but does elicit very loud opinions from everyone just the same -- will all wrestle on Mondays, too.

This are a ton of wrestlers who are already established, and not just in the minds of hardcore fans. Entire arenas get very, very loud when Zayn and Owens go at it. It took almost no time at all for Enzo and Cass to become one of the most popular acts in WWE programming after arriving on the main roster from NXT. Rollins and Reigns have been main eventers for a couple of years now, Lesnar is Lesnar, Charlotte and Sasha are two of the key players in WWE’s attempts to apologize weekly for their past attempts at presenting women’s wrestling ... the list goes on and on.

SmackDown is a mix of old and new

Whereas RAW is overflowing with the wrestlers people want to see right now, SmackDown seemed to be built as a stepping stone between NXT’s developmental show and an eventual spot on the RAW roster. That might make it a more difficult show for casuals to latch onto, but if, say, you fell in love with Tyler Breeze while he was at NXT, and you now want to see him wrestle and thrive for the second-largest wrestling audience in the world, you can. Breeze isn’t alone in this regard: Apollo Crews, Kalisto, and Baron Corbin are all here, too, and Becky Lynch seems to have been given the task of anchoring the Women’s Division for the Tuesday brand -- more on that later.

Becky Lynch applies the DisarmHer to Charlotte at WrestleMania WWE.com

These are all wrestlers that fans wish got more time to shine and show off what they are capable of, and now they have the opportunity to do so. Breeze will get space to prove he’s more than just a comedic act, and that he’s actually an incredible character who should be taken seriously by opponents and fans, too. Kalisto is officially a singles wrestler, and that means we might start to see WWE unleash him as the spiritual successor to Rey Mysterio that everyone believes he can be. Baron Corbin has a future as a frighteningly strong heel at a main event level. Now, he’ll get his opportunity to terrorize a roster every week instead of just when WWE needs to get Dolph Ziggler some screen time.

Speaking of Ziggler, SmackDown also seems to be a place where the old can be made new again. John Cena and AJ Styles are both 39 years old, but they’ve also both revitalized their careers in very different ways the last couple of years. And by doing so, they've made themselves fresh with plenty left to give audiences. Their experience, and that of other veterans on the roster, will be invaluable to the likes of Breeze, Kalisto, Corbin, and the rest as they try to become stars of their own generation. Wrestlers like Bray Wyatt and Dolph Ziggler aren’t old, but they have been around for a bit and both have been misused creatively: maybe SmackDown is the fresh start they need to become the on-screen talents everyone has believed they should be.

Oh, and SmackDown also has the current WWE Champion, Dean Ambrose. It means the three members of the former Shield are split up, but that mostly means they can all move on to something else for a time.

Splitting up the Women’s Division only enhances WWE’s problems

Making it so that only one of the two brands had women’s wrestling on it was not the solution to WWE’s problem with depth in the Women’s Division. So, they avoided doing that by splitting up their roster between RAW and SmackDown. The problem is that they still have that lack of depth, but now they have it on two shows instead of one cohesive slate of programming where it was easier to hide.

RAW’s roster has seven women on it: Women’s champ Charlotte, her protege Dana Brook, Sasha Banks, Paige, Summer Rae, Alicia Fox, and NXT call-up Nia Jax. That’s an incredible slate of talent, but it’s also the entire women’s roster for Mondays. SmackDown has an even more obvious issue, as their two-hour programming compared to RAW’s three hours means they were able to pick even fewer women. They have Becky Lynch anchoring the division, and she’s joined by veterans Natalya and Naomi, as well as rookies Alexa Bliss and Carmela -- and Eva Marie, who is as much of a work-in-progress as she is promising.

WWE.com

Both RAW and SmackDown need more women on their shows. They might very well get them, too, as NXT is still stuffed with talented women despite the call-ups of Bliss, Jax, and Carmella. Bayley, for instance, hasn’t been assigned to a roster yet -- she’ll likely come to Banks’ aid for a scheduled tag match at Sunday’s Battleground pay-per-view, and then be assigned to one of the two brands from that point forward.

After Bayley, there are also Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, Ember Moon, Liv Morgan, and current NXT Women’s Champion, Asuka. Aside from Asuka, they might all need a bit more time in NXT, but many of them should be ready for a promotion to the main roster brands by the time the lack of depth in their women’s divisions is exposed later on this year. Whether WWE pushes them out a little faster than usual to alleviate this issue is another story entirely, but there is an answer staring them in the face that could make the lack of depth a short-term problem.

The rest

Those are the big-ticket items, but we still have a few more things we learned or are wondering about.

  • Both RAW and SmackDown will feature tag team wrestling. Only one show has tag titles at this point, but the draft just happened: it’s probably safe to assume more tag titles are coming.
  • A second WWE championship is probably needed -- Dean Ambrose is the current WWE Champion, and in the past, the company would also feature a World Heavyweight Championship so that each split brand had a main prize to chase.
  • There are wrestlers who were not drafted, who can float show-to-show as needed, like The Undertaker, as well as the likes of Heath Slater, who went undrafted as a joke. In between those extremes are injured superstars like Luke Harper, Emma, Tamina, and Nikki Bella -- those are just a few of those who could find a home on one roster or another at some point later in 2016.
  • RAW announced on Monday they would be the exclusive home of the Cruiserweight Division, but they didn’t draft much in the way of cruiserweights. It’s possible that, once the Cruiserweight Classic is wrapped up and has a winner, that said winner and a few other participants could make their way straight to RAW for this division, deepening the roster further. This would also help allow SmackDown to avoid being a straight feeder system for RAW as it creates its own stars.

If you want to look at the full rosters for RAW and SmackDown, we're here to help with that, too:

RAW Roster

Men's Division
Seth Rollins Cesaro
Finn Balor Sheamus
Roman Reigns Golden Truth
Brock Lesnar Titus O'Neil
The New Day Darren Young w/Bob Backlund
Sami Zayn Sin Cara
Chris Jericho Jack Swagger
Rusev w/Lana Dudley Boyz
Kevin Owens Mark Henry
Enzo and Cass Braun Strowman
Gallows and Anderson Bo Dallas
Big Show Shining Stars
Neville Curtis Axel


Women's Division
Charlotte Summer Rae
Sasha Banks Alicia Fox
Nia Jax Dana Brooke
Paige

SmackDown Roster

Men's Division
Dean Ambrose The Usos
AJ Styles Kane
John Cena Kalisto
Randy Orton The Ascension
Bray Wyatt Zack Ryder
The Miz w/Maryse Apollo Crews
Baron Corbin Breezango
American Alpha The Vaudevillains
Dolph Ziggler Erick Rowan
Alberto Del Rio Mojo Rawley


Women's Division
Becky Lynch Alexa Bliss
Natalya Eva Marie
Naomi Carmella

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Fans tell us about their replica championship belts