WrestleMania season has come and gone, and I’ll admit to you, wrestling community, that the malaise and trepidation I felt from the beginning mostly came to its unfortunate fruition and conclusion. Important things happened, folks came and went, but for me it lacked meaning and perspective. It’s almost like someone dialed up an exhibit in a history museum, pressed play, and stood back while the curator discussed the ins and outs of what WrestleMania season means.
Part of this, naturally, is not the fault of World Wrestling Entertainment proper. In this technological age, anyone with access to the internet can find out for themselves that the Hardy Boyz booked a Travelocity reservation before they (surprise!) crash WM. In the old days that wrestling traditionalists cream their collective britches over, promoters could always keep a secret and yank the curtain back on the spectators in order to preserve the surprise that they so adored. My perspective? Much ado about nothing. Fans are free to chase or ignore spoilers as they so choose, just like any other form of entertainment. And if, like me, you endure spoilers as part of your job description, you unfortunately as a side effect get to bitch about predictability a little bit less. Fret not, my friends: there’s plenty of real estate left on the McMahonoply game board to occupy your irritation.
The bulk of the issue, however, does indeed lie with WWE and their stubborn (or steadfast, I suppose, depending on your POV) resolve to push forward no matter the cost to their desired result. This later age of wrestling has reminded me of one of those “open-world” roleplaying games that has captured the national zeitgeist. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Skyrim.) You know the one, where you have buckets of choice that dissolve into one teeny tiny raindrop of what must be. It’s the ultimate illusion, when you think about it: giving your viewing public the perception of free will when the reality is what they say goes. This is not to say it can’t be done well, but it’s risky business. The WWE knows full well what they do and don’t want you to react to, and when you change the game they change the rules. It’s easy to do when you’re writing the playbook. It’s not entirely a gripe, by the by. I’m fully in favor of running your promotion as you see fit, and Machiavellian machinations behind the scenes leading to solid and fluent transitions on screen are to be respected and applauded. Unfortunately, though, transparent and vainglorious bulldozing of what WWE considers necessary has the opposite of its intended reaction. For a business built on illusion, obviousness is the ultimate suicide note.
Nowhere has this been more apparent than the areas of the business where random choice would seem to play a role. From the drawing of the Royal Rumble slots to the “drafting” of your favorite WWE superstars, the more random WWE hypes their outcomes to be the more evident they actually are. Most of us are fully aware we are immersing ourselves in a story, crafted by creative writers. We don’t need to be hit over the head by the notion that all of this is totally random. In short, it smacks of the “SUNDAY, SUNDAY” monster truck crass bravado that has tailed behind pro wrestling over the years like an unwanted tick. We get that you want us to think you totally made this up five minutes ago. And don’t worry, incidentally: it looks it.
The internet was full of discussion about what had or hadn’t been decided in the “Superstar Shakeup” all the way up to its execution the last couple of nights, but the hard truth is that it’s a lot of folks wishing and hoping against what clearly is and will be. There can be no doubt that some folks were tossed to the other brand for kicks, can there? This is a company that has used romantic entanglements and real-life bullying to their humorous advantage while debating the merits of brand extension. Got a new girlfriend? How about you cross brand lines to take her to Ruby Tuesday? You’re a legendary broadcaster with a physical disability who is near-universally acknowledged as the best in the biz? Enjoy working with JBL. Billionaires appear to be a strange bunch. Donald Trump, Bill Gates, the British guy who wants to go to the moon in a hot air balloon, and Vince. If you or I had their cash, maybe we’d delight ourselves by making people jump through hoops for our affirmation and enjoyment as well. Think of it like a real-life Ted DiBiase, before Jesus.
All of this leads into the fact that coming out of WrestleMania season, Vince and friends desperately need a reason for you to continue to watch their weekly programming. As he hinted at recently on a conference call, this exploratory drill through the crust of Earth’s nostalgia only works until you hit the magma and are forced to start anew. Once all the names of the past are working for you again, what the hell else is there? I’ll never complain about seeing Kurt Angle on my television set in any capacity, but rewinding the time machine serves only a temporary glimmer of joy before you’re confronted with the dire reality of your situation. Hop in the DeLorean all you wish, but Doc Brown can’t help you when you realize that some of these guys don’t have more than a match or two left in them. And some of them, saints be praised, just weren’t that good the first time around. I’m happy for Goldberg that he got to show off for Goldberg Junior and cut a few serviceable promos, but is that really what we should build the most important belt in the company around? Perhaps it is. Entertainment is on the end of the handle for now, but the era of WEW draws closer.
So, as with the much-ballyhooed draft, WWE seeks your eyeballs for their shake-up, occurring the last couple of nights on USA. What are the rules? Well, we really don’t know. Presumably Kurt Angle, Daniel Bryan, Shane McMahon, and Stephanie’s mummified bodice (courtesy of her walk-on during the Rollins/HHH match at WM) hole up in a Starbucks somewhere and pass papers around with their best offers. Vince didn’t have much luck coming up with new rules during the XFL saga, so it’s much easier to just make them up as you go. Don’t worry, though, dear viewers: these are super important and reality-changing adjustments that will completely redirect the history of the company! What’s that you say? You watched all seventeen hours of it and your universe didn’t go all Black Hole Sun video on you? Even though ANNOUNCERS changed BRANDS? You, my friend, are a tough sell.
I admit that swapping a few wrestlers to the opposite brand to keep things fresh is of course a good idea. Doing it after you just debuted a bunch of people on those shows makes a little less sense, but hey, who’s counting? If by chance you missed some of this nonsense, I’ve included a handy primer for you below. Each individual switching brands will have an intro on what they’ve been up to prior to the switch, their value to the brand they are departing, and whether their new home is a plus or minus for them in the long term. If you found the results of this incredibly jaw-dropping and bedazzling roster redistribution a tad underwhelming, don’t worry: there’s always next year. Or next week.
The Move: Apollo Crews goes from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: It’s sort of fitting that Crews didn’t actually show up Monday night, but rather was included in a series of “hey, we got this guy too” slides that Raw showed in between commercials. Apollo is the textbook case of where NXT actually hurts the WWE despite its rampant popularity, as someone who was totally over with the crowd and doing a damn fine job gets the nod and is reduced to filler. Crews got a couple of higher-profile matches (and a title shot or two) with the blue brand, but generally was the happy-go-lucky nice guy who existed to put over the heel we wanted to detest. In so doing, any trace of his once white-hot fan support evaporated.
Good Move?: Sure. It couldn’t really get worse, so it’s a good move in the same way that you no longer having motion sickness because you are back on dry land is. Crews gets a stay of execution as he faces new opponents and challenges, but he really needs to be cornering a creative person or two into a corner and beating the holy hell out of them until they either exile him a la Alberto or give him some of the personality he so desperately lacks. Crews comes off like a throwback to a time when muscular dudes could show up and get booked into title programs just because of their deltoids. Time to acquire some depth.
The Move: Byron Saxton goes from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: Saxton’s purpose on Monday nights seemed to be to endure a constant barrage of (valid) criticism from Corey Graves. One of the disconnects of the current wrestling product is their reliance on face/heel announcers. As the majority of the fans now support whoever they choose, cardboard talking heads like Saxton serve even less purpose than usual. He’s excited about Bayley’s ring entrance and giddy like a schoolgirl? Gotcha. Unless your desire is to prevent any sane human from ever liking anything that comes out of his mouth, I’m puzzled as to why this is a stratagem. One big demerit on this one is Byron no longer gets to interview the squash opposition of Braun Strowman. That said, if Strowman is now just going to charge out and obliterate Roman Reigns at any and all opportunity, I’m good with it. Can’t you picture Braun doing that odd Mantaur grunt and saying “I still ain’t done with yew yet, boy!” and toppling over Roman’s IV at WWE general? Fine, it’s just me then.
Good Move?: More like irrelevant. Saxton will continue to chime in with his pointless meanderings and hero worship on Smackdown. He is the announcer equivalent of WWE Hall of Famer “Ravishing” Rick Rude, though: two shows on back-to-back nights! I’m sure nobody will miss Mauro.
The Move: The Miz & Maryse go from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: I personally felt like Miz and Maryse oddly accomplished the very objective they set to defeat with their feud with John Cena and Nikki Bella on the blue brand. In consistently highlighting the ridiculousness of both Total Divas and the Cena paradigm, they made themselves obsequious and ultimately were cast aside in typical comic book fashion by the heroic crusader en route to a ham-handed marriage proposal at WrestleMania that delighted entertainment reporters across the globe and made all of the actual wrestling less relevant than dowsing. Not quite lost in all of that was the solid comedic promo work that the duo accomplished in the interim, and that’s what made their appearance Monday all the better. No heel act in WWE is working better than Miz right now (save perhaps the aforementioned Strowman), and the side benefit of M&M’s routine is that it’s as hilarious as it is effective. Getting him away from that awkward situation with Daniel Bryan is a good move, too, as I’m not sure what the end result of that was supposed to be. Out of sight, out of mind.
Good Move?: Without question. Miz’s act always wears thin after a bit, but he came off like a star in the draft expansion and really drove some of what made Smackdown superior over the last few months. I’m docking a couple of points for immediately placing him in a program with the also-switching Dean Ambrose, as that ship has sailed so often as to risk engine trouble, but Miz’s promo work has always been strong and Raw’s extra hour affords him the ability to get his points across in long form without risking microphone shortage. Of course you can start the countdown timer on Miz’s dissatisfaction with Raw’s powers-that-be (his whole character is essentially that, after all), but it should be some fun getting there. As a sidenote, I guess all that backstage wrangling of Bryan to keep Miz and his contract on Smackdown was for naught? Sorry for remembering.
The Move: Kevin Owens goes from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: As expected, Owens and Chris Jericho had a fantastic match at WM, and Owens captured the United States Title in a desperate attempt to make you remember he never really got a rematch against Universal champion Goldberg. And I guess now he’s not aligned with Raw’s Triple H, since he dealt him to the competition? Well, whatever. I have no idea whether KO knew he was headed to Smackdown on Monday night, but if so, brava to him for managing to convey during a backstage segment that the US Title was way more important than Ambrose’s Intercontinental Belt since the two were swapping brands. Owens was pinned clean by Ambrose in Monday’s main event, which served perhaps as a taste of things to come. Make no mistake, though, Owens has been fantastic both on the microphone and in the ring during his Raw run, and you could do a lot worse than a former Universal champion and a current titleholder.
Good Move?: It remains to be seen. Owens will see immediate competition for his United States Title, as he’s supposed to go against former friend Jericho in a Payback rematch before doing battle with the face-again AJ Styles for his championship on his new brand. While that road may seem pretty easy to predict, Owens should be an uptick in competition over the coming months and pretty much immediately hops into the head heel role on the blue brand, which he deserves given his work in 2016 and early 2017. The very idea of a program with Styles makes me happy, let alone what a long-term feud between the two will become over the long haul. Ultimately, though, it’s an opportunity to right the wrong of shedding him of the title to reward another part-time star. His bluster and bravado will be a welcome fit for a brand that’s generally portrayed as second best even though its output is far from it.
The Move: Dean Ambrose goes from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: Ambrose’s booking was a bit of a surprise at WM, as he was widely expected (including by yours truly) to drop the strap to the up-and-coming Baron Corbin. It’s very clear why they decided to hold off on that, as Ambrose and his I-C belt now move over to Monday nights. Ambrose made the journey in style, interacting with The Miz at the top of the show and winning the main event to close things out, so it’s more than obvious that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in his new home. Considering the malaise he’s been drowning in since his white-hot start at the draft, I’m not about to complain.
Good Move?: Unequivocally yes. In addition to what I said above, Ambrose desperately needs a change of scenery. Moving him to Raw prevents having to swing him over to the heel side of the ledger, and that’s a good thing because fans want to cheer for him. Ambrose occupies a fun little niche for WWE, the off-the-wall warrior who is at home with any type of match. Also, I’d be remiss not to point out that with neither Roman Reigns nor Seth Rollins relocating, the stars have aligned for the Shield reunion to proceed post haste. WWE is holding out on this one as it’s one of the few cards remaining up its ever-shrinking sleeve, but make no mistake: this is clearly one of the biggest reasons the move was made.
The Move: Sami Zayn goes from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: Typical WWE chicanery as the move was teased forever. Zayn threatened to go to the “competition” frequently during the Mick Foley era, and was further pushed to the boundary by the evil Stephanie McMahon as punishment for his affection for Mr. Socko’s transport. Zayn had another backstage segment with new GM Kurt Angle on Raw, furthering the notion that Angle is bored by/doesn’t like Sami, but he did pick up a solid victory over the debuting Miz later on and has largely been booked solidly after some early stumbles. His promo work has improved, and there are few more over with the crowd, but he still hasn’t found footing outside of his heated rivalry with Kevin Owens.
Good Move?: Of course, and one that WWE should have done ages ago. This should be the poster child for today’s WWE, where the bureaucracy doesn’t dare give into the court of public opinion until it eventually does after you’ve long since stopped asking. Zayn’s charisma and offense are tailor made for Tuesdays, and his presence on a roster that boasts Nakamura and AJ Styles makes the mind reel. It didn’t take long for him to elevate Smackdown, as he and Styles (and, to a lesser extent, Corbin) had a hellaciously solid main event to close out Smackdown this week. He deserves a run with a title, and he’ll get it here. I also sort of perversely love that no matter what, he and Owens end up together. It’s worth it just for KO’s reactions alone.
The Move: Curt Hawkins goes from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: Remember when the brand split was first discussed, and all these names were thrown out there as possibly coming back? Good times. Remember when you found out who was really coming back were an injured Shelton Benjamin, Curt Hawkins, Jinder Mahal and the Headbangers? Not so good. The best thing about Hawkins was his Emma-like intro of repurposed Chuck Norris B-roll while we vainly waited for him to show up. When he finally did, we wished he hadn’t. Oh, and he showed up on Raw just to get dropped by the punch of Smackdown’s Big Show? Yeah, wrestling.
Good Move?: Not really. Hawkins was a cameo role already, and while I like the idea of them playing his new debut for laughs, it undercuts the idea that this is important and underlines the prevailing opinion that Smackdown, not Raw, provides opportunity to get people to the next level. Plus, Hawkins never really got his interaction with former tag team partner Zack Ryder. While that’s nobody’s fault as Ryder is on the mend, it’s one of the few buzzworthy possibilities that Hawkins has left. Future endeavors will be the opponent he next loses to.
The Move: The Shining Stars go from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: Trying to sell you some time shares. I never thought I’d miss Carlito, but at least his gimmick was oddly endearing. While this current incarnation is clearly a step above the pink Zorro costumes that Tito Santana should have sued for intellectual property over, the whole idea of them hassling everyone in the locker room over the Glenngarry leads smacks of ’80s/early ’90s lameness. If this is WWE’s answer to overhauling Smackdown’s languishing tag team division, they might be the ones interested in buying that land in Florida.
Good Move?: Doubtful. A better one would be to split the team and put at least one of them in the Cruiserweight division, but I’m not sure even that would help at this stage. I did like their street clothes beatdown of American Alpha as it felt different and less childish, but even that’s halfhearted at this point in time. American Alpha has already been defanged enough as to require extensive gum surgery. One more embarrassment from another brand’s leftovers hardly seems like a big deal. But, hey, about those timeshares…
The Move: Bray Wyatt goes from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: Well, here’s a puzzler for you. Wyatt came up short in his bid to retain his newly-won World Title at WrestleMania, losing to Randy Orton in a critically panned match that most certainly deserved it. Wyatt, of course, reserved the right to challenge the new champion, a match that will apparently be taking place in a house of horrors. One would assume that said match would be a Smackdown event, but it’s taking place on Raw as Wyatt revealed Mondays will be his new home in a vignette. Wyatt’s powers of transmutation and technology persisted Tuesday, as he appeared long enough to distract Orton for an Erick Rowan beatdown, but the long game here is unclear. The short game, perhaps, less so: it’s a hell of a way to keep Wyatt busy while letting Orton retain. No chance both big belts are represented on the same show.
Good Move?: Not in my book. Wyatt also benefited from his move to Tuesdays, allowing him more of a stage for his exaggerated and endlessly watchable diatribes while also keeping him close to most of his “family” in Harper and Rowan. Is it me, or does it seem like Bray is constantly losing and regaining the same five family members? It’s like an endless session of The Sims. Bray captured the big belt (albeit briefly) on the blue brand, and it’s hard to imagine him booked against Brock Lesnar anytime soon for Universal gold. So WWE can dress it up as they see fit, but this is a step backward for a guy who’s already suffered a plethora of them. I won’t argue that he adds star power, but I’m concerned that the overall direction is being provided by a drunk Uber driver.
The Move: Jinder Mahal goes from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: Call it Curt Hawkins times two. Mahal is another of those names of the past that’s floated around agreeably enough since the brand split, temporarily forming truces with the likes of Rusev and others while failing to be memorable except as a squash option. That’s a bit of a shame, as Mahal actually has taken advantage of his absence from WWE to step up his game both in look and repertoire, and his comeback story has been largely ignored in favor of bigger and brighter neon glow. Mahal is also notable in that he found a way to lose on both Raw and Smackdown this week, so you likely see where this is headed.
Good Move?: A hesitant yes from me. Mahal has enough personality to keep things mildly interesting, and while he did lose to both Balor on Monday and Mojo on Tuesday, the furthering of the Gronk angle at least gave it an additional layer of intrigue to make it somewhat worthwhile. Mahal has performed more than adequately in his role thus far, and Smackdown’s rep as the land of opportunity would seemingly make it perfect for someone of his ilk. Not sure that WWE is interested in going there, but it makes for some potentially good press clippings. I would love to see journeyman hard work recognized and rewarded.
The Move: Kalisto goes from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: Kalisto was on SmackDown? Similar to Sami Zayn, this is a move we’ve wanted for a while, as it made no sense to put the high-flying Kalisto on a brand which did not feature cruiserweight action. And even though we went through fifteen iterations of nonsense to get to that point, we have at least achieved it. Kalisto is a long ways removed from his halcyon days as United States champ, so hopefully the change of scenery will serve him well.
Good Move?: Delayed, but certainly. Kalisto was out of place on Smackdown’s roster, and if any division was begging for an injection of talent, it’s the cruisers. He did a great job as champion against bigger competition, but an extended program with Neville could be just what the doctor ordered for the former Lucha Dragon. If you’re looking for a reunion of that squad, spoiler alert! This article will not end well for you.
The Move: Tamina Snuka goes from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: If you’re boiling down the transactions to just one that serves as an example of the many, here’s your jam. Shane McMahon came out to trumpet the excellent Women’s division on the blue brand, refusing to be waylaid by the simple fact that they lost their most recent former champion Alexa Bliss or fan favorite (and former champ in her own right) Mickie James, because we’ve got second generation talent, dammit! No offense to Tamina, but Charlotte’s pedigree is far larger and far more impressive. Snuka’s big angle since her debut is serving as a bodyguard for the rich and famous. Should this move translate to giving her her own spotlight to shine under, I’m all for it. It strikes me there are many other ladies who could benefit from that first on Raw’s roster, though.
Good Move?: Smacks of accounting to me. Need someone to even out the balance sheet? Send Tamina over. I’m not enthusiastic about her chances of making a splash, but I acknowledge that it’s early days. Seems like Shane and D. Bry got fleeced big time here though. She is someone desperately in need of a character makeover in order to get her to a level where anyone cares.
(Editor’s Note: Tamina was never drafted to Raw. She was injured last year when they did the draft, so it’s more like she was an acquisition. However, on WWE TV they played it off like they got her from Raw.)
The Move: Rhyno & Heath Slater go from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: There was a brief moment in time where Heath and Rhyno were not only wrestling’s ultimate odd couple but also the main example of why Smackdown was groundbreaking and the better show. Pairing together these two disparate talents and giving them a genuinely emotional backstory touched everyone in a major way, and I give WWE complete credit that they managed to take something as ridiculous as Slater sitting in the draft room with the lights off and making it sing. Since dropping the titles, though, it’s back to Nowheresville for both men, to the point where this transaction barely qualified as happening. Former champions sounds mighty impressive, but wow it feels like ages.
Good Move?: As a bundle, not so much. Rhyno’s political aspirations and one-dimensional work in the ring make for brief but entertaining television, and hey, Vinnie Mac loves some politics, right? Vote Kane! He totally didn’t really have sex with a dead person! (Yes, that slogan is available!!) Slater’s challenge has always been a twofold issue: taking himself seriously enough for us to take him seriously, and getting out of the shadow of a group to prove he is capable of delivering the goods when it’s just his deal. If those restrictions are lifted, this could be a critical moment for both Slater and Raw. If not, they’ll get the Shining Stars slot.
— Charlotte Flair (@MsCharlotteWWE) April 12, 2017
The Move: Charlotte goes from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: Charlotte had an impressive run as the face of the Women’s division on Raw, but that run ended rather unceremoniously as Bayley proved her superiority several times (including at WM) and Charlotte found herself the victim of a beatdown courtesy of everyone from Nia Jax to former protégé Dana Brooke en route to a much-needed relocation. While the ending was somewhat muted, the journey should not be understated. Charlotte brings instant legitimacy and a fresh face to a division somewhat lacking in both. And who’s not already looking forward to a Charlotte/Lynch renewal of hostilities?
Good Move?: Absolutely. Charlotte did everything she could possibly do on the red brand, and was fizzling out towards the end with an obvious change in direction. Her undefeated PPV run may be a thing of the distant past, but Ric’s offspring can flat out go in the ring and has shown that over and over. With Smackdown being the home of some lesser-proven talents (and a relatively untested champ in Naomi), there are plenty of possibilities here and all of them good. Charlotte should flourish being out of the shadow of some of the other big names on the Women’s side of the ledger Mondays.
The Move: Alexa Bliss goes from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: Alexa’s journey plays a lot like the one just mentioned, as she successfully transitioned once from NXT to the big leagues of WWE and again to a champion. Bliss has been a more than solid heel, with the character being far better than the sum of its parts. Every single one of her feuds has been memorable largely because of her work on the microphone, so it’s no surprise that she was ushered into Raw on her first night with an interruption of the teased Bayley/Sasha Banks drama. Bliss did an admirable job of pissing off nearly everyone, and that makes for fantastic television. We also got a preview of a potential alliance with Nia Jax, which opens up lots of solid possibilities in its own right.
Good Move?: It’s a better one with Charlotte also switching teams. Bliss did a decent job as champion but needs some developing before really hitting her stride, so fresh feuds with Bayley and possibly Banks should accomplish that objective. I’m certainly a big fan of ending the Charlotte/Bayley drama that’s overshadowed both. While they have done a great job with it, enough’s enough and both will surely benefit from some time apart. It’s a tough call for Alexa, as she grew into her own Tuesdays, but she’s more than capable of picking up where she left off.
The Move: Sin Cara goes from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: In a move done just to keep him separated from former partner Kalisto (in my mind), the rarely-used Sin Cara sees action heading to Smackdown. Or perhaps he’s going there now that Simon Gotch has been canned.
Good Move?: Sin Cara is so far removed from relevancy at this point that I’m pretty much on the fence bordering the property of Sowhatland, but my gut says he’d be a better fit on the brand with the cruiserweights and his former Lucha Dragon partner than going it alone again. This smacks of one of those late-night “trades” WWE used to crank out on their website under the old formula. For completists and history buffs only.
The Move: Mickie James goes from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: It seems like only yesterday that Mickie was making the jump to Smackdown Live in the first place, and that’s probably because it was. Mickie, brought in as a nostalgia treat to oppose the wonderful Asuka, has suffered from tweener syndrome since debuting back on the big brand as a heel in Bliss’s feud with Becky Lynch. James is now a face again, but hasn’t really been giving anything that interesting to do. We’re still a level or two better than the doldrums suffered in the brutal “Piggie James” era (Natalya has suffered similarly and just as ridiculously), but there’s not much there there.
Good Move?: Perhaps. James is a more than solid hand, and one would think she’s primed for some solid matchups on the Raw side. But given that her debut involved playing second fiddle to Nia Jax’s fist, I wouldn’t get my hopes up. Raw also seems a bit overloaded on the face side, particularly until Sasha goes rogue, so there’s not a heck of a lot of elbow room to enjoy. Jury is out.
The Move: Rusev & Lana go from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: Nowhere, considering Rusev is still suffering the effects of injury and Lana’s not been seen without him. The Bulgarian Brute was a big factor on the Raw brand, particularly during his endless feud with Roman Reigns, but has cooled off considerably since then and was also part of the brutal League of Nations nightmare. He’s had his moments, generally playing off his real-life marriage to Lana, but romantic intrigue with Enzo Amore isn’t exactly what this monster likely had in mind. Rusev is another of those fringe heels who exists to irritatingly pop up and remind you they exist while providing the baseline your favorite face needs to climb the ladder.
Good Move?: Most definitely. Rusev was a lurker on Raw, reduced to B-lister status while the big baddies did their work. That’s unfortunate as his in-ring work has been better than you’d think and he’s put a reasonable spin on a cartoonish character. Rusev will have more of a big impact coming back in a new situation, and there’s ample opportunity to book him like the fearsome beast he excels at on the blue brand. I also am hesitantly optimistic about Lana occupying the vacated space of Maryse as the needling spouse. Smackdown has suffered a bit of the red-headed stepchild since the split, and Rusev could be a way toward potentially evening the odds in a fashion that Jack Swagger could not.
The Move: David Otunga goes from Smackdown Live to Monday Night Raw
Where They Left Off: Otunga’s employ seems to stem from Vince’s love of all things celebrity. It’s not that he does an awful job, it’s just as largely irrelevant as what he’s done inside the squared circle in his WWE career. Will a change of scenery fix that? Not likely.
Good Move?: Perhaps I’m greedy, but considering that WWE just inked Jim Ross to a bunch of coin and is suffering through Mauro Ranallo’s unfortunate situation and likely exodus, it can’t be possible that Otunga is the best they can do. This is rearranging deck chairs from IKEA on the Titanic.
The Move: The New Day go from Monday Night Raw to Smackdown Live
Where They Left Off: New Day has been just what the doctor ordered for Raw, especially at first. Their entertaining and meta segments generally proved to be a big hit, and their extended reign as champions didn’t hurt either, especially when you consider the large lack of opposition they actually had for much of that time. Lately, though, the favors have waned to some extent. It seems the perfect time for an adjustment with Kofi Kingston’s trip to the disabled list and Xavier Woods’ extracurricular activities.
Good Move?: Affirmative. TND will benefit from the more truncated two hours of Smackdown’s presentation, and hopefully their zaniness can been reined in a smidge without losing its inherent fun. The trio remains incredibly popular, particularly with the live audience, and gives The Usos an immediate and first-rate opposition. New Day can’t possibly remain in its current form forever, but it will get some added mileage thanks to the change of scenery. They also needed some breathing room from Enzo & Cass, who essentially occupy the same position without the ability.
Overall, I found the swap to be WWE’s usual much ado about something. A couple of big names were moved, but it was mainly tit for tat, and Raw seems to be stronger at first blanch. It would probably help WWE to lay down some ground rules for the next go round, but they’ve possibly learned the lessons of the past and don’t want to get mired in having to be consistent about what they’ve set forward. It’s a minor gripe in the big scheme of things when you figure it did at least accomplish the objective of making this week’s shows more of a happening. Plenty of editing needs to be performed before next time, though. The funniest part? The rapid fire NXT additions on both shows between WM and the swap are way more exciting.
Agree? Disagree? Shoot me your take on Twitter @DharmanRockwell or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org as well. Feel free to comment below also.