Features

One Fan’s Mixed Feelings On The WWE Draft by Ron Pasceri

This is it. After 44 weeks of writing for TJRWrestling this is the final time I will write about WWE before the landscape of the company is changed forever. That is what WWE is hyping for tomorrow night’s draft, anyway. We heard whispers of a New Era in February upon the return of Shane McMahon. We were promised a New Era if Shane was able to topple The Undertaker in Hell In A Cell at WrestleMania 32 in Dallas. Despite The Undertaker’s victory we were actually told we were given a New Era starting with Payback in May. Despite great promotional packages, new match-ups and seemingly more of a focus on the action in the ring fans seemed somewhat split on the New Era.

Over the course of the past few months ratings have been up and down and the regular criticisms levied at WWE creative haven’t wavered. In my opinion neither the storytelling, character development, booking or use of TV time have improved much, if at all. The Divas Revolution started and stalled out as well as the Women’s Evolution. Somehow in three hours they haven’t found a way to consistently give more than two women a decent story at once. But before I get too caught up in one personal gripe, WWE is about to deliver us a new promise. As we all know SmackDown! is moving to Tuesday nights and airing live for the first time. Raw and SmackDown! will forge on as separate brands with exclusive rosters and writing teams. WWE as we know it will never be the same. It’s a new day, YES IT IS!

But is it really? Can it really be a change we can believe in? I apologize for that last sentence, it’s an election year so please forgive me. Unfortunately I don’t think it will work because I don’t believe WWE is built to make it work. Don’t get me wrong, I am actually excited about the possibilities for something new, different and exciting. I am going into it hoping for the best. I have very high hopes for draft night being a lot of fun, especially with whatever coverage will be airing on the WWE Network. Where my concern comes in is everything I know about WWE’s decision making and who is really in charge. It is silly to think that solely the introduction of two live shows a week with unique rosters is enough to really warrant as a change.

I mentioned this last week when discussing TNA’s Final Deletion, but this separation is going to need some vision and creativity. It’s going to need a significant amount of outside the box thinking in order for fans to be able to invest in two totally separate live shows on consecutive nights. Even more so with an increase to two PPVs per month and select weeks where we will be expected to consume 12 hours of product over five consecutive days if you include NXT and TakeOvers. Part of the reasoning for the brand split is WWE’s inability to attract and retain casual fans, causing them to lean on fans like us more and more. But even fans like us can only take so much.

While there is a lot of promise for the fans and talent with the brand split, the biggest reason for concern is Vince McMahon. There is no reason to believe that Vince McMahon won’t still be overseeing everything WWE airs on USA Network and if he is, we will all be getting more of the same. Instead of the draft and the new SmackDown! being the big event and turning point it should be, I’m worried we will just get a two hour live Raw on Tuesday night that just happens to have a different name and is draped in blue instead of red. I listened to Eric Bischoff on the Ross Report a few days ago and his thought, based on his experience with Nitro and Thunder, was that it will take a lot of patience to make this experiment truly work.

Bischoff also said the programs should be different, but it will take time to build the new Tuesday night show and the company can’t overreact to a possible lag in the expected ratings. Has WWE ever given us reason to believe they have patience or won’t pull the plug on something too quickly? Even before it’s started the whole thing has boiled down to Vince pitting Shane and Stephanie against each other. Nothing new there. With the draft, instead of giving us any details and letting a story about draft night develop over the last eight weeks, they gave us JBL calling almost the whole roster a “top 10 pick” and posted the rules on WWE.com over the weekend. It’s a shame they are missing opportunities before they are even starting.

On top of that, while the rosters are supposed to be brand exclusive, the first two PPVs are going to be mixed between the two brands. Maybe it will help ease the transition along, but it just feels out of place and contradictory. I will say that it isn’t all bad, despite how negatively this column has come across. Battleground is actually the perfect moniker for what is supposed to ensue between the McMahon children. Also, it may add some intrigue to the show that it could be the “final time” we will see certain talent compete against each other. It will also lead to the main roster debut for six of our favorite NXT superstars.

One of my favorite things about the draft is the idea that Raw will get three picks to every two for SmackDown! based on their extra hour of programming. First, it actually makes logical sense and secondly it means SmackDown! will remain two hours for the foreseeable future. I’m curious to see how the placement of the picks plays out. We know Raw picks first, but we have no idea how they will alternate. Also, tag teams are being included as one pick unless otherwise specified which somewhat alleviates my fear of the tag division being torn apart at the seams. Perhaps the one good thing about the lack of information we’ve been given is that we will be in for a bit of surprise tomorrow night, which is always fun. OK, surprises are usually fun, not always.

So tonight is the final Raw of WWE as we currently know it. I hate to be a downer as we turn the page but sometimes that happens. Just know that I am excited for Raw tonight and even more excited for SmackDown! tomorrow. It’s been billed as the changing of the landscape of the company as we know it, which is even more extreme than the New Era. While it’s hard for many of us to believe WWE will navigate this journey properly, it is a journey we will all go on nonetheless. So join me in ringing in the final hours of WWE as we know it by embracing the excitement, the hope and the Power Of Positivity for the future that awaits us.

Check out my new podcast, Mat Madness, every Wednesday on iTunes and Podbean, as well as the video show on YouTube. It’s a fan oriented show, so if you’d ever like to take part, let me know. Thank you!