What Does The Draft Translate To For WWE?

The WWE draft, coinciding with the NFL draft, has come and gone. A few names were shuffled around, but very similar to years prior, this will all translate to very little difference in the grand scheme of things. In truth, the WWE draft was cannon fodder, and outside of the original concept, which didn’t get over either, it more or less always has been rather moot in the big picture of WWE. That becomes more apparent under the TKO umbrella when draft picks will be ignored when the cash dictates a different decision. Similar to almost anytime in the past, the talent will go where the angles or the company needs them to go, and when that happens, as it always does, that renders the concept of the draft pointless.

In some ways, the concept of brand exclusive talent, with several rounds to keep track of as far as what talent goes where, dilutes the presentation of the product and makes things too “inside baseball” for the general public. When the casual fan asks, “who’s the champion?” they want to know who the top guy is, not a convoluted explanation of what champion for what show. Again, the viewer from the general public isn’t invested enough to find out the rules and regulations of the draft or watch consistently enough to know what talent is on what show. They just want to know who the top guy is, or what the top talent is doing on the show.

In this case, and this isn’t a knock on Damien Priest at all, the answer is Cody Rhodes. He’s the top guy, he beat Roman Reigns, The Rock’s cousin, and his dad is Dusty Rhodes.

That’s the answer for the guy that occasionally “puts wrestling on” to see who’s on the show and what’s going on with the product. Who got drafted to Raw in the second round or Smackdown in the third round is irrelevant to the general public.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the premise of the original brand extension in 2002, as the rosters were flooded with dozens of wrestlers from WCW and ECW so creating brand exclusivity allowed for more talent to be featured across the specific hours of television the company had at the time. That being said, I always thought the concept was too convoluted and not something that would get over with the main stream audience, and it didn’t. If anything, the initial brand extension in the early-2000s exposed the fact that the organization didn’t have enough true star power, especially in the post-Attitude era industry to split the rosters. Furthermore, because pro wrestling had a natural decline after such a hot period a few years earlier, it made the task of trying to get such a concept of split rosters over with the audience more difficult. Some of those early brand exclusive pay-per-views aren’t exactly classic events.

In a pattern that was repeated throughout the years, when the brand exclusive product began to struggle, the draft was ignored and talent appeared on both shows anyway. Among the few major reasons that brand exclusive “competition” didn’t get over with the audience is because the fans knew that it was the same company so the idea that two commodities under the same umbrella are competing is silly.

While it is completely understandable that the company had to pivot to bring in more star power when needed, especially in the era of traditional pay-per-view with the $40 price tag, the lack of staying the course with the rules of the draft didn’t allow for the fans to truly invest in the concept. If the audience was going to buy into the angle at all is debatable, but after the company exposed that they were willing to bend the rules when the angles needed it, the audience knew that exclusivity was temporary at best.

Ironically, the current WWE product is probably the most suitable for the draft concept, given the level of depth the company has in terms of star power and work rate.

That being said, I will still stay the concept of a draft won’t connect with the main stream audience and will eventually be a footnote, especially after Raw moves to Netflix at the start of next year. As I wrote about when the blockbuster deal was announced earlier this year, putting the television show that was on free TV for more than thirty years behind a paywall is uncharted territory for the company. That’s not to say that it won’t work, but rather that it’s an unproven concept so it wouldn’t be surprising if there was an “all hands on deck” approach to the start of the Netflix era.

In short, the draft provided a slight ratings boost for Raw, but the brand exclusivity will eventually be a moot point when stars appear on different brands anyway.

That said, there were a few noteworthy appearances on Raw, which are amplified in importance with the current amount of injuries. Braun Strowman made his return to the company after being sidelined for several months following neck surgery last year. Strowman’s WWE career has been a mixed bag for a variety of reasons, and despite the big man look that the company often recruits for talent in the WWE system, he hasn’t reached the next level to truly being solidified as a top guy. In fact, Strowman was released from the organization in 2021 before he controlled his narrative for a year and was then re-signed to the WWE.

At 40, Strowman is probably near the latter stages of his career, but definitely still has some money years left in his pro wrestling tenure. If WWE can maximize that remains to be seen, but this return is the chance at a fresh start for him. Taking into account that Seth Rollins is on the shelf with a knee injury, and CM Punk will be out of action for several months, there’s an opportunity for Strowman to claim one of the top baby face spots on Raw. If nothing else, Strowman back into the fold on Monday creates some intriguing possibilities after Backlash in France this weekend.

Ilja Dragunov was drafted to Raw after a very successful stint as NXT champion and he’s a very unique talent that has the potential to translate that success to the Monday night show. Dragunov had an incredibly stiff match with Gunther during the pandemic, and it would make sense for them to reignite the rivalry on a bigger platform, especially because that could give Gunther a solid opponent to work with after he dropped the IC title at Wrestlemania last month.

Outside of Strowman and Dragunov being featured on Raw, the draft will be rather moot in the grand scheme of things because as mentioned, talent will eventually be used on both shows anyway so the concept of brand exclusivity becomes pointless for the product.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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