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WWE Draft Week In Review: Raw, Smackdown and Battleground

This past week was, from an on-screen product perspective, the most important non-Wrestlemania week WWE has had in many years. Monday and Tuesday provided back-to-back nights of live programming in Raw and Smackdown, with the latter featuring a draft that split the company’s roster between the two shows. Five days later, the results of the draft heavily impacted the Battleground pay-per-view event.

While the draft itself took place on Tuesday’s Smackdown, the event really kicked off on Monday’s Raw when Stephanie and Shane McMahon introducing the general managers for their respective brands: Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan. While it will be nice to see these retired charismatic superstars on TV each week, I just can’t get excited about even more authority figures on WWE programming. Hopefully their roles are kept minimal. The actual roster split occurred on Tuesday’s show, and went about as expected. WWE Champion Dean Ambrose was the first pick to Smackdown, while his archenemy Seth Rollins was the overall top pick for Raw. The full order of picks was as follows:

Round No. 1

1. Seth Rollins – Raw

2. WWE Champion Dean Ambrose – SmackDown Live

3. WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte – Raw

4. AJ Styles – SmackDown Live

5. Finn Bálor – Raw from NXT

Round No. 2

6. Roman Reigns – Raw

7. John Cena – SmackDown Live

8. Brock Lesnar – Raw

9. Randy Orton – SmackDown Live

10. WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day – Raw

Round No. 3

11. Sami Zayn – Raw

12. Bray Wyatt – SmackDown Live

13. Sasha Banks – Raw

14. Becky Lynch – SmackDown Live

15. Chris Jericho – Raw

Round No. 4

16. United States Champion Rusev (with Lana) – Raw

17. Intercontinental Champion The Miz (with Maryse) – SmackDown Live

18. Kevin Owens – Raw

19. Baron Corbin – SmackDown Live

20. Enzo & Big Cass – Raw

Round No. 5

21. Gallows and Anderson – Raw

22. American Alpha – SmackDown Live from NXT

23. Big Show – Raw

24. Dolph Ziggler – SmackDown Live

25. Nia Jax – Raw from NXT

Round No. 6

26. Neville – Raw

27. Natalya – SmackDown Live

28. Cesaro – Raw

29. Alberto Del Rio – SmackDown Live

30. Sheamus – Raw

Round No. 7

31. Golden Truth – Raw

32. The Usos – SmackDown Live

33. Titus O’Neil – Raw

34. Demon Kane – SmackDown Live

35. Paige – Raw

Round No. 8

36. Darren Young (with Bob Backlund) – Raw

37. Kalisto – SmackDown Live

38. Sin Cara – Raw

39. Naomi – SmackDown Live

40. Jack Swagger – Raw

41. The Ascension – SmackDown Live

Round No. 9

42. The Dudley Boyz – Raw

43. Zack Ryder – SmackDown Live

44. Summer Rae – Raw

45. Apollo Crews – SmackDown Live

46. Mark Henry – Raw

47. Alexa Bliss – SmackDown Live from NXT

Round No. 10

48. Braun Strowman – Raw

49. Breezango – SmackDown Live

50. Bo Dallas – Raw

51. Eva Marie – SmackDown Live

52. Shining Stars – Raw

53. The Vaudevillains – SmackDown Live

Round No. 11

54. Alicia Fox – Raw

55. Erick Rowan – SmackDown Live

56. Dana Brooke – Raw

57. Mojo Rawley – SmackDown Live from NXT

58. Curtis Axel – Raw

59. Carmella – SmackDown Live from NXT

At first glance, the two shows are split relatively equally in their respective main event scenes, with Rollins and Roman Reigns anchoring Monday nights, and Ambrose, John Cena and AJ Styles heading up Smackdown. The mid and undercards are definitely stronger for Raw, though that’s understandable considering the program runs an hour longer than it’s Tuesday counterpart.

The two No. 1 picks wrestled for the championship on both shows, with the Raw match ending in a draw while the Smackdown match ending with a clean victory for Ambrose. These matches set the stage for the Battleground main event, as Ambrose, a returning from suspension Reigns, and Rollins locked up in a triple-threat match to decide which former Shield member (and in turn which brand) would feature the championship for now. The three performers didn’t disappoint, delivering a really good match-up in the main event slot. Ambrose pinning Reigns was an interesting ending, and did several things. First off, it gives Ambrose pinfall victories over Rollins and Reigns in a five-day stretch, solidifying him as a champion in the eyes of the audience. Secondly, it immediately makes the new live Smackdown must-see TV. I’m curious to see if WWE adds a new Heavyweight Championship to Raw, or simply lets the title float between shows for now.

Beyond its main event, Battleground was one of the best pay-per-view shows WWE has put on this year. The unquestioned match of the night was a victory for Sami Zayn over Kevin Steen. While these two have feuded for years in various promotions, they continuously add new wrinkles to their matches that elevate them to the height of professional wrestling as performance art. Giving Zayn the victory is a smart booking decision as it sets him up to be an upper-midcard, baby face on Raw. The other big moments of the night included the debut of NXT star Bayley as Sasha Banks’ mystery tag team partner. The “hugster” got a massive pop from the live crowd and showed that she will be tremendously over the main roster audience. The night also included Randy Orton’s return in an interview segment with Chris Jericho, notable for a reference made by Orton to Brock Lesnar’s UFC drug suspension as he hyped their Sumerslam bout. The rest of the show didn’t live up to the aforementioned matches, there was nothing that was bad either.   

Considering the huge ramifications the week had, WWE delivered as well as could be expected. The key now will be the follow-up of how the company elevates newly drafted talent to Summerslam and beyond.

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