With the brand split, WWE had a monumental chance to make things right and help Smackdown emerge as more than just a B+ show. It has long been the younger brother of Raw and fans tuning in on Tuesday night were hoping to see an inspired choice of selections by Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan that would catapult the blue brand to legitimacy again.
From the surprise exclusion of NXT's Bayley to the relatively high spot Big Show enjoyed, fans were left scratching their heads as Smackdown Live made its debut on terrestrial television globally. Considering the last ever Thursday edition of Smackdown drew 2.02m viewers, the premiere edition of Tuesday Night Smackdown enjoyed a whopping audience of 3.17m, perfectly illustrating why the brand split was so badly required to resurrect the plummeting ratings.
Most opinions on the second attempt at a brand split seemed to range from mild disquietude to outright incredulity, and we all went into the draft hoping to have our worries extinguished.
For starters, the WWE didn't make any effort to make the first ever live edition of Smackdown feel different to a regular show. Despite the addition of the respective brand podiums giving a hint of legitimacy to the stage, we have seen this setup for the best part of two months on Raw. We weren't even given live superstar reactions to being picked. Instead a name was read out, a quick highlight clip shown and that was that.
First pick was given to Seth Rollins, which is completely understandable as his star power counters Smackdown's pick of WWE Champion Dean Ambrose - a tactic which ties in to Stephanie McMahon's preference of Seth whilst keeping Ambrose a legitimate force as the second overall pick. Mick Foley then announced the third overall pick would be WWE Women's Champion Charlotte. This brings championship gold to Raw and shows the faith the company has instilled in the revamped women's division. AJ Styles and Finn Balor capped off the first round of picks, and so far the Commissioners and GMs hadn't put a foot wrong.
Before venturing forward in this article, let's take a look at the biggest current superstars who WWE completely left out of the draft:
- Ryback - Behind the scenes spat with authority figures mean The Big Guy hasn't been seen since Payback. Will we ever see Ryan Reeves in a WWE ring again. Still under contract, by the way.
- Luke Harper - The fourth member of the Wyatt Family suffered a knee ligament tear in March and is set to return in the fall. However, when he returns Harper will need a show to appear on.
- Nikki Bella - The former Divas champion underwent neck surgery earlier this year and cited a summer return as a possibility. Much like Harper, she will need a show to return on, unless of course she turns out to be Sasha Banks' mystery partner this Sunday at Battleground.
- Emma - The Aussie had a brief stint on WWE TV before rupturing disc in her knee in May. Perhaps she is going for another developmental period in NXT to fill in for the likes of Carmella, Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss - all of whom WERE picked.
- Triple H - The Game may only be a part time performer and more of an authority figure nowadays, but he held the WWE Championship just 4 months ago and has wrestled on three pay-per-views in 2016 - that's more than Brock Lesnar who was picked 6th. Are fans just supposed to pretend the 14-time world champion doesn't exist anymore?
Social media was abuzz with conversation as The Draft went live, and many voiced their discontent with some of the bizarre picks made by the authority figures. Seeing Sami Zayn picked way before Kevin Owens angered some, while the relegation of Cesaro to a lowly 28th spot bamboozled pretty much everyone watching, including the Swiss Superman himself. His interview backstage seemed quite realistic and painted the picture of a frustrated man who doesn't know what lies ahead for him in the future.
For all the positivity surrounding the state of the women's division in the past 12 months, WWE may have outdone themselves by splitting the roster down the middle, with just six women assigned to each brand. This leaves the room for storylines razor thin, and many matches will be repeated most weeks. With Raw gaining exclusivity to the entire new cruiserweight division, Smackdown should have been left with the women. The star power of Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Nia Jax would be enough to bolster the options for Smackdown's matchmaking.
In reality, it's down to the polarising figures of the blue brand to draw viewers. Ambrose, Styles, Orton and Cena will be expected to do most of the work with a talented but hollow crop of midcarders following suit.
One question which seems to have evaded the mindset of WWE; How on earth is the Brock Lesnar vs Randy Orton match at Summerslam to be hyped up with the two wrestlers appearing on separate shows? The Viper's appearance at Battleground will no doubt get the ball rolling, but what happens from thereon in is anybody's guess. With Lesnar possibly facing a suspension soon related to his doping test results for UFC 200, it may be down to a war of words between Orton and Paul Heyman to sell the fight. It could well be that we don't see The Beast until the Summerslam showdown.
Finally, it seems likely that Raw will be claiming back the WWE Championship on Sunday with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins outnumbering current holder pick Dean Ambrose in Battleground's title match. This should setup the launch of a second major championship on Tuesday's episode of Smackdown, and perhaps we'll see a tournament booked to crown a new champion at Summerslam.
Let us know your thoughts and opinions about The Draft and whether or not it went as you expected below in the comments!