I was fortunate enough to score some snazzy seats on the floor of the DCU Center in Worcester, MA for the inaugural edition of SmackDown Live on the USA network. Wrestling fans watched on with their fingers crossed in hopes that WWE had learned from the mistakes of the previous brand split. Unfortunately, the draft went as expected with Raw making out like a bandit while SmackDown…Not so much.
The key ingredient in making the brand split successful this time around is ensuring that SmackDown is presented to be just as an important of a show as Raw. Historically, WWE has failed in this endeavor more times than not.
Raw, anchored by Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley got the first overall pick and received three picks per round since they are a three hour show. This made sense considering the show is three hours, but it also made Raw feel like the more important show right off the bat.
SmackDown, helmed by Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan received two picks per round to match the length of their television show. Six picks between the two brands were also allowed to be drafted from NXT.
Raw’s first three draft picks were Seth Rollins, Charlotte, and NXT’s Finn Balor while SmackDown came back with Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles as their initial selections. Raw came out swinging in the second round as they drafted Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, and The New Day while SmackDown went with the top level star power of John Cena and Randy Orton.
With Reigns and Lesnar having their names tarnished due to their respective drug test failures, Reigns was booed out of the building while Lesnar received a king’s welcome. Is there a double standard here?
As the draft went on, Raw got stronger and stronger with each draft pick while SmackDown appeared to be spinning its wheels. The lopsided nature of it all got ridiculous to the point where you felt as if WWE was telling their fans “DON’T BOTHER WATCHING SMACKDOWN.”
There was a sense of disappointment in the air as fans left the arena. All of the hype leading up to the draft promised we would have two must see wrestling shows at the end of the evening. Instead, Raw was made the priority, again, and they didn’t even try to hide it this time.
NXT was expected to be a difference maker with the brand split. Finn Balor going to Raw and American Alpha (Jason Jordan & Chad Gable) being sent to SmackDown was pretty cool. Then Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Mojo Rawley, and Carmella happened.
Nothing against the aforementioned names, but it’s hard to suspend disbelief when names such as NXT champion Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Bayley, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode and others were passed over. Still, more women are needed on the main roster and Rawley has put his time in at NXT.
As for the show itself, the matches weren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination and told the stories they needed to tell, however, except for Chris Jericho vs. Cesaro, the actual wrestling left a lot to be desired. In the end, the matches really didn’t matter because it was all about the draft.
Bray Wyatt’s entrance to the ring is one of the more practical and enigmatic spectacles seen in pro wrestling. The audience, whom Wyatt refers to as his fireflies, take out their cell phones and light up the darkened arena. It’s something I’ve always kind of wanted to take part in…mission accomplished.
I was sitting next to a youngster who was all decked out in Cena swag. With a perplexed look on his face, he asked his mother what the audience was chanting as they voiced their disapproval for Cena. “They’re saying Cena sucks” his mother replied with a cautious whisper, which produced a sadness in his eyes.
I could hear the tears in his voice as he asked “Why don’t they like him?” His mother pulled him in for a hug; shielding him from all the negativity being voiced towards her son’s hero. It was heartbreaking to watch, but really put into perspective how valuable John Cena is to WWE.
Souvenirs are always a fun thing to bring home. While I don’t collect much wrestling merchandise these days, AJ Styles is one of my favorite wrestlers to watch. I decided to pick up a pair of his trademark gloves…too bad they were all sold out by the time I got to the counter.
In fact, all of the merchandise stands were sold out of those gloves and his t-shirt and hat weren’t far behind either. I ended up getting the Styles “P1” hat, but man, t-shirts are now $35.00 apiece. They used to be $20.00 back in my day.
I know, I sound old.
Overall, SmackDown Live was a fun time for reasons mostly besides the show itself. Good friends along with some cool moments made it all worth it as the “new era” of WWE begins.
Thanks for the tickets, Jules!