SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
If I have to hear WWE Draft guru, Michael Cole proclaim “now, that’s a great draft pick” one more time, I may have to hurl my computer out the window like frisbee onto the rainy, cold streets of Chicago.
Too blunt? Too straightforward? No? How about this instead – I despise the WWE Draft. Give me the dentist, the finger prick at the doctor office, and hell, even a cup of coffee with mayo instead of forcing me to sit through WWE’s pointless roll call of talent. Tonight, on WWE Raw we’ll be treated to another night of picks, aimless hype, and meandering analysis of WWE stars that we’ve seen for years and years, but Friday’s edition of WWE Smackdown did plenty to fan the flames of my annual loathing of the WWE product.
WWE simply cannot figure out how to do the draft in an entertaining and meaningful way. That’s probably what makes me most angry about this draft madness. On Friday night, Triple H kicked things off and just started reading names that were drafted to Smackdown and Raw. Roman Reigns and Solo Sikoa went Smackdown, Cody Rhodes to Raw, and the first round continued from there, wrapping up in about 11 seconds. Absolutely zero context to the event whatsoever.
Who is making the picks? Why are teams and factions drafted together? How will the roster splits themselves be executed? What happens to the brand specific champions getting flipped to a different brand? The titles go with? I could probably list 15 more contextual pieces that I’d like WWE to put together ahead of these drafts, but why should I? If they don’t care enough, we certainly shouldn’t.
Context is what makes drafts fun to watch. When the NFL commands the attention of football starved fanatics at the end of April for the NFL Draft, those fanatics understand what they’ll be watching. The rules, the drama, everything. Context is the only thing that can make reading names entertaining and WWE doesn’t care one iota about fulfilling that necessary component.
For God sake we need rules. WWE, you are a professional wrestling company. You put on predetermined fights as a $9 billion business practice, so predetermine your draft rules. Pick some and stick to them. In the lead up to the draft, the drama cultivated by the Michael Cole’s and Corey Graves’s of the world on commentary centered around the fact that teams may break up because of the draft. Factions may dissipate away into the ether because of the shockwaves created by the draft. Fast forward to Friday and the literal first “pick” was actually two picks in Reigns and Sikoa. The company couldn’t even make it ONE PICK before breaking its own rules.
Ok, so context is important, but non-existent. The WWE Draft is boring, too. That’s probably what makes me second-most angry. Can this thing be more fun? I mean, WWE Smackdown and Raw are television shows after all. On Friday night, we got name reading. That’s it. The names were read by former talents, many of whom the current fanbase may not know, but we didn’t get many appearances by the drafted talent. Bobby Lashley was a Raw talent drafted to Smackdown. It would have been cool to see him appear on Smackdown. Same thing with Bianca Belair. I know, we got a surprise appearance from A.J. Styles, but we need more. The NXT draft room was the most interesting part of the draft on Friday night. How about moving that into a live setting and having the called-up talent walk out live on the show like the top college prospects do when they get their name called by an NFL team. Something! Anything!
Here, I’ll lend a quick hand. WWE, you have my NXT draft room idea, so that’s one thing you can use. How about this? Have a draft analysis show? Drop it on Peacock and discuss the ramifications and storyline paths for different talent depending on where they get drafted. Yes, this would take planning and yes, it would take strict adherence to the rules, but it would generate conversation. A show like that could drive social media interaction and engagement regarding the draft and establish discourse about the event. Or, maybe run some mock draft shows? Toss out some roster scenarios and analyze those with the fans. Again, it would take planning to accomplish a show like this successfully, but it would be worth it to put meaning behind the draft itself and some intrigue ahead of it to drive interest.
Really, though, we need the elephant in the room addressed by WWE before anything else can happen to make their “draft” more exciting to take in. It has to matter. In the end, rules, context, the NXT draft room, special appearances, analysis shows, and mocks don’t mean anything if it doesn’t matter. The Raw and Smackdown brands need to stay split. In a perfect world, they’d actually be different brands with different tones and looks to really differentiate itself from the other while showcasing talent in exclusively unique ways. That’s why WWE main roster talent appearing in NXT creates a buzz. That talent looks and is presented different on that show. Imagine that on a bigger and better level.
At the very least, though, these talents can’t have crossover once they are drafted. If WWE can maintain integrity in that area, future drafts will matter more because the moves made with them will impact the viewership experience for the audience. From a business perspective, the draft and the brand split allow WWE to build two shows that the audience has to watch to fully get a weekly dose of the talent roster. When WWE cheats to jolt a rating on a random whim, it hurts their long-term ability to present shows that have to be watched collectively in a week.
This really isn’t rocket science. Be better, WWE. Do better. Or, in an answer to my yearly pleas to a higher power, just dump the entire darned draft idea all together.
*Exhale*. Deep breathes, Zack. Deep breathes. It’ll all be over soon.