The WWE Superstar Shake-up takes place this week starting with Raw tonight in Hartford and Smackdown tomorrow in Providence. The way it worked last year was on the Raw broadcast, they had Smackdown stars appear on Raw and then on Smackdown, Raw stars showed up as the new talent on the brand. What WWE doesn’t tell us is if these people are traded or if they are just selected by the General Managers. Frankly, I don’t think WWE has any desire to try to explain what the Superstar Shake-up actually is, so they just have people randomly show up on the shows.
I wrote some predictions for this year’s Superstar Shake-up in a column for The Comeback and I’ll tease you with some names here: Daniel Bryan, Finn Balor and Becky Lynch. You’ll have to read the column for more of my thoughts. Sorry for having to do it that way, but my content for The Comeback is exclusive. It’s a great site that you should check out.
What I’m going to do today is look back at last year’s Superstar Shake-up, offer up some thoughts on what all of the talents did on their new show in the last year and try to pick a winner between the two shows in terms of who got the better of the 2017 Superstar Shake-up. I’m going to leave off Byron Saxton being moved from Raw to Smackdown because…as Corey Graves likes to say, “shut up Saxton.” That’s why. Let’s get to it.
From Raw to Smackdown
Charlotte Flair – The move to Smackdown was mainly done to turn Charlotte into a face, which is what WWE did shortly after she got there. Last November, she beat a familiar rival in Natalya for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. I thought Charlotte was awkward as a face at times because she’s more natural as a heel that is also bigger than nearly every opponent she has, but the crowd likes her and respects her a lot. Keeping her as a face is fine for now.
I think the depth of the Smackdown women’s division is pretty good with Charlotte clearly positioned as the leader of the group whether she is holding the title or not (she just lost it to Carmella last week). I guess it’s possible that WWE may put her back on Raw, but I would keep her away from Ronda Rousey until next year’s potential WrestleMania match. I guess we’ll find out tonight.
Kevin Owens – When Owens was on Raw in the first year of the draft, he was the main heel and he continued in that role on Smackdown. Jinder Mahal held the WWE Title while Owens did not, but if you watched Smackdown regularly, Owens was featured in more main event segments than any other heel on Smackdown and he headlined multiple PPV events. The feud with Shane McMahon (and eventually Daniel Bryan) was the biggest story on Smackdown in the last six months. Owens evolved in the last year as more of a pure heel instead of the comedic heel stuff he was doing on Raw. I think WWE needs more pure heels.
I really enjoyed his pairing with Sami Zayn as the best friend jerks. Owens also wrestled AJ Styles a lot in a US Title feud and later in a WWE Title feud. It was a good year for Owens on Smackdown.
Sami Zayn – I think Zayn had the best turn of any talent on Raw or Smackdown in 2017. The build to his Hell in a Cell turn was good with Owens mocking him repeatedly, Shane McMahon dismissing him and Zayn feeling like he had to do something to stand out. I didn’t think Zayn was the type of guy that work out well as a heel, but he was a lot more entertaining in this role. It also led to Zayn having a bigger role, which I loved.
From the time he turned in October until WrestleMania, he was a part of Smackdown’s main event scene nearly every week and that’s something I love to see. Zayn has yet to win a title on the main roster, but he’s certainly in a much better place this year than he was last year.
The New Day (Xavier Woods, Big E & Kofi Kingston) – Their feud with The Usos in 2017 was one of the best rivalries on either show last year. The only complaint about that is those teams wrestled so many times that it became too repetitive. My favorite match of theirs was the Hell in a Cell 2017 match. One of the noticeable differences on Smackdown compared to Raw is they got less time for promos since the show is one hour shorter.
I’ve enjoyed the New Day act and I’m happy their run has lasted nearly four years. I don’t know when the end is coming, but I hope they can remain a group for at least a few more years. The New Day were two-time Smackdown Tag Team Champions in the past year.
Jinder Mahal – Most of us thought this was just a move to add to Smackdown’s depth. Instead, WWE saw something in Jinder due to his improved physique and decided to give him a massive push all the way to winning the WWE Title at last year’s Backlash event. I didn’t enjoy his WWE Title reign that much because the matches were bad and I thought the push was rushed. However, he did improve as a performer.
The brand split is supposed to give new opportunities to new people. With this year’s set to take place, a lot of fans are probably wondering if there’s going to be another Jinder Mahal-like push out of nowhere this year? I doubt it, but you never know.
Rusev – When Rusev moved to Smackdown, he was dealing with an injury and the rumors were that he was going to feud with Randy Orton for the WWE Title. That changed when WWE decided to put Jinder Mahal in that spot and even put the WWE Title on Mahal. When Rusev got healthy, he put over John Cena and was not really booked that well on Smackdown. After that, Rusev put over Randy Orton repeatedly.
Things were not going well for him and then the “Rusev Day” gimmick started with his buddy Aiden English, which caught on with the crowd. If WWE paid attention, they would have turned Rusev face earlier in the year and given him a significant push. Instead, he is still in the midcard being booked as a heel that the fans cheer for. Listen to your fans, WWE. It’s not that difficult. Anyway, I’m a big Rusev supporter and hope there are better things ahead for him.
Lana – I admire her for wanting to wrestle and putting in the work to be a wrestler, but I don’t know if she’s ever going to break through in the women’s division considering how many talented women are on the main roster and some of the women in NXT too. The alliance with Tamina didn’t really go anywhere in part because Tamina got injured. Even if she stayed healthy, I doubt there would be a massive push.
I like Lana and I’m rooting for her to succeed. I just don’t know if she can do it on her own or if she should go back to being paired with her husband Rusev as a regular thing. It might be the best thing for both.
Tamina – When WWE did the Shake-up last year they included Tamina even though she was not healthy when they did the draft in July 2016 and was not on either show. She is currently out of action with another injury. At 40 years of age with several injuries in the past few years, I can’t see her getting a significant push any time soon.
The Shining Stars/Colons (Primo & Epico) – They are role players that are there to put over the other teams. Whatever you call them, they are just guys to add depth to the tag team division and put over the other teams. Primo suffered a major injury last June, so they have not been in the spotlight at all.
Sin Cara – Sin Cara is another veteran role player. He can have a good match when he’s given a chance, but he is not a major factor at all. I think he should go back to teaming with Kalisto as the Lucha Dragons. They were a good team that the fans liked. WWE needs tag team depth and it’s better than having neither guy appear regularly on television when they are good wrestlers.
From Smackdown to Raw
The Miz & Maryse – The Miz is the best talker in WWE among active wrestlers and arguably the best pure heel as well. He has been featured on Raw a lot since he got there a year while feuding with their top guys like Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor and even Braun Strowman a bit. For the last few years, he has either been holding the Intercontinental Title or feuding with whoever was holding it. I think it’s fair to say the last 12 months was one of the best years of his career. I’d love to see him elevated to the Universal Title level or WWE Title level if he moves to Smackdown. Wherever he goes, I hope a feud with Daniel Bryan happens this year.
Maryse is on the sidelines for now since she just gave birth to the couple’s first daughter a few weeks ago. I’m not sure if she’ll be back on television in six months or so, but I think she adds to the act. I can see her wanting to stay home, though.
Alexa Bliss – The woman that they call “The Goddess of WWE” had a good run on Smackdown as their Women’s Champion and then she moved to Raw where she had a dominant reign as Women’s Champion. I should point out that it was dominant only in the number of days where she held the title (335 days with a brief 8-day reign for Sasha Banks in there) and not in terms of title defense because there was stretch from October to February with no title defenses. I think as a talker she’s very good and knows her character well. When it comes to her matches, sometimes they bore me, but sometimes she surprises me. She’s a hard worker that will continue to improve in the ring.
I think Bliss will stay on Raw since it’s the longer show and will give her more chances to do promos. It wouldn’t surprise me if WWE turned her face just due to her likability factor as a heel cool that the fans could easily support if she was presented in another way.
Dean Ambrose – Ambrose was the Intercontinental Champion when the Superstar Shake-up occurred last year. When he moved on from that, they did the slow build to him reuniting with Seth Rollins to become Tag Team Champions and then they did The Shield reunion with Roman Reigns. It seemed to be curse, though, because of Reigns getting hurt followed by Ambrose suffering an injury. Looking back on the last 12 months, it wasn’t the best time in Ambrose’s career, but at 32 years old he’s got many great years ahead of him.
Ambrose was the most durable wrestler in WWE in his first five years on the main roster with no injuries to speak of. However, in the wrestling business, everybody gets hurt eventually. Ambrose had surgery for his torn triceps in December. He is expected to be out of action for a few more months. I’d love to see heel Ambrose. There’s so much untapped potential there.
Bray Wyatt – It was a rough year for Wyatt due to the personal of his divorce with his wife due in part to him dating Raw announcer Jojo Offerman. In terms of feuds, Wyatt had a long rivalry with Finn Balor where it was supposed to lead to Wyatt dressing as Sister Abigail in a match, but then he was seriously ill for about one month and the angle was completely dropped. That lead to the Matt Hardy feud, which was slow paced, but could end up turning out okay.
Wyatt turned face for the first time in his career when he helped Matt Hardy win the battle royal at WrestleMania. I hope this turns out well for Wyatt. It’s worth noting there are already rumors that Wyatt may turn heel on Hardy soon.
Mickie James – My favorite woman on the roster is mostly a supporting character as a veteran with nearly 20 years of experience. I thought WWE dropped the ball when she feuded with Alexa Bliss late last year because they should have put the Raw Women’s Title on James. If they wanted to get it back on Bliss they could have done it a few months later. I also think the recent heel turn by Mickie was poorly done. It would be nice if WWE’s creative team cared about their storylines as much as the fans do.
I think Mickie has established herself as one of the best women’s wrestlers in WWE. I’m hopeful that she can get one more title run to tie Trish Stratus with 7 title reigns in WWE, which is a record for now, but I would bet on Charlotte passing both women within two years. Whether she’s heel or face or Raw or Smackdown, I think WWE knows how valuable she is. It’s great to see her back home where she belongs.
Apollo – I think teaming Apollo with Titus O’Neil was a smart move in theory because Apollo’s strength is his in-ring work while he’s lacking in personality. O’Neil has helped him get out of his shell a bit. They got a mild push as a team, but I don’t think the WWE machine ever really got behind them. Will they ever? I have my doubts. I like Apollo as a talented wrestler. It’s a matter of finding the right character for him.
Kalisto – It was nice to see WWE move him to the cruiserweight division although he was only given a mild push on there with a 13-day Cruiserweight Title reign (I barely remember it) and then he was shoved to the back of the line. Like I mentioned with Sin Cara earlier, their tag team was pretty good and ended due to WWE wanting to give Kalisto a mild push that really didn’t get him anywhere.
Heath Slater & Rhyno – They are there to put over other teams. Their run on Smackdown was a lot better since they actually won those titles, but on Raw they lost nearly every match they had in the last year. I think the fans would get behind them if they ever got another push although I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon.
Curt Hawkins – His gimmick is that he loses every match. There’s not much more to it. Maybe they can have him and Zack Ryder on the same show to see if they can find success as a team again? Why not? Better than nothing.
What Show Won the 2017 Superstar Shake-up?
I think Smackdown destroyed Raw and it’s not even that close really. Here’s a breakdown by show.
Kevin Owens vs The Miz: They’re awesome performers that are key for their shows. They cancel eachother out as main event level heels, so I’d call it even.
Charlotte Flair vs Alexa Bliss: In terms of their push they had similar runs on opposite shows. I think Charlotte is better overall, but I’d be willing to call it even.
Sami Zayn vs Dean Ambrose: At the time of the Shake-up last year, it appears like a win for Ambrose. However, I think Zayn had a better year than Ambrose in part due to Ambrose’s injury. Even if Ambrose was healthy, Zayn had a tremendous year in the ring because he was finally given a chance. Plus, Zayn’s character development was incredible.
The New Day vs Heath Slater & Rhyno: This is not even close. A huge win for Smackdown and a move that really helped Smackdown’s tag team division have a great year.
Jinder Mahal vs Bray Wyatt: This should have been a win for Wyatt, but he had a boring year. Mahal improved a lot as a performer although I think his push to the top was too much, too soon. Both guys had shitty feuds with Randy Orton last year, so they have that in common. I’ll give the slight edge to Smackdown.
Rusev vs. Apollo: I think it’s a win for Smackdown even though Rusev should be used better than he is. At least he’s put in some good matches. Apollo doesn’t have much of a role on Raw.
Lana/Tamina vs Mickie James: Raw gets a win here because Mickie’s a better and more versatile performer than the Lana/Tamina combo.
The rest of Smackdown (Sin Cara, Colons) vs. The rest of Raw (Kalisto, Curt Hawkins): Call it even here with none of them having a major role.
That’s 4 wins for Smackdown, 1 win for Raw and I called it even on 3 of them.
I think it’s easy to conclude that Smackdown got better talent that Raw in Superstar Shake-up last year. That doesn’t mean that Smackdown became a better show, though. The first year of the brand extension from July 2016 to April 2017 was a lot better for Smackdown. I still think Smackdown was better than Raw in the last year as well, but not by much. It was a tale of two shows for Smackdown because during Jinder’s main event run from April to October, it was just an average show and sometimes really bad, but things improved with AJ Styles as WWE Champion again while the likes of Owens and Zayn were in bigger roles. It was pretty even in terms of my weekly grades for the shows. Raw’s advantage at three hours is for longer and often times better matches, but the longer show can also hurt due to some lame stuff they do to fill time.
That’s all for now. I’ll be back later tonight with the live WWE Raw Deal review.
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