WWE made huge changes to its weekly programming over the summer by brining back the WWE Draft and splitting the roster across Raw and SmackDown, and while many stars have taken advantage of the new format and increased opportunities, a few wrestlers have struggled to make an impact. With Raw’s best set to face off against SmackDown’s top talents at Survivor Series in a few weeks, here’s a look at who has benefited most from the brand extension – and who has been left behind. (Note: stars who have been consistently great before and after the draft, like AJ Styles or Chris Jericho, have been excluded.)
STARS WHO HAVE THRIVED: Sasha Banks and Charlotte
WWE has made it clear that Charlotte and Banks are two of the top stars in the company and are now on equal footing with any of the top male stars. The duo have delivered two of the best Raw matches of the year – Banks won the title in both of them, on the first week of the “New Era” after the draft and again after SummerSlam – and they’ve made history by main eventing both Raw and Hell in a Cell.
Heath Slater and Rhyno
The popular opinion immediately after the WWE Draft was that Raw had the far superior roster, but the biggest triumph of SmackDown has been the show’s ability to make legitimate stars over the midcarders you likely used to overlook. Heath Slater is probably the best example, as his storyline of going undrafted, to making surprise appearances looking for a job on either show, to winning the tag team titles, has been one of the most entertaining of the year. Rhyno, meanwhile, was only making sporadic appearances on NXT a year ago and is now a popular and entertaining champion more than a decade after his first run with WWE. If you would have predicted that Heath Slater and Rhyno would be major players in the WWE even just a few months ago you’d be laughed at mercilessly – yet here we are.
Ellsworth’s stint in the WWE started as a “local competitor” being fed to Braun Strowman, but he’s since landed a recurring role on SmackDown and even got a title shot against AJ Styles and has his own signature t-shirt. It’s astounding.
While Raw has made Charlotte and Banks the clear top attractions of the women’s division, SmackDown has done a great job of creating multiple compelling women’s feuds that allow the entire division to shine. Carmella received almost no crowd reaction in her first post-Draft SmackDown appearance, but you can see her getting more comfortable on the roster week after week, and WWE’s decision to have her feud with a veteran and former champion in Nikki Bella has made Carmella look like a legitimate contender.
Bliss would probably be stuck in the Dana Brooke-zone if she were on the Raw roster, but on SmackDown she’s in the middle of a title feud and her promo work is some of the best on the show.
Naomi’s always been a solid wrestler, but her new look and entrance has made her a highlight of each SmackDown.
It was hard to get excited about the “play hard in the paint” Usos in mid 2016, but the turn to the heelish “Urban Usos,” as Mauro Ranallo sometimes refers to them, have reinvigorated the WWE veterans.
If you’re sensing a theme here, it’s that SmackDown has been consistently great the past few months. If you only watch one weekly WWE show, it should be SmackDown.
It remains to be seen what the ceiling is for Braun Strowman (will WWE actually give him a title on a loaded roster?), but he’s an absolute monster who deserved to break free of the Wyatt family and he’s far more interesting as a singles wrestler hellbent on destroying the rest of the roster.
Wyatt had been floundering for so long (despite his win at No Mercy, his PPV record is still abysmal), but his program with Randy Orton has gone a long way toward rebuilding the mystique around Bray Wyatt, and Orton joining the family has the potential to be great.
FLOPS: Sami Zayn
This isn’t really Sami Zayn’s fault, but just look at what he’s done over the past few months. Zayn won his long-running feud with Kevin Owens at Battleground, but since then Owens has become the Universal Champion, while Zayn’s had a pre-show match at SummerSlam, lost to Chris Jericho at Clash of Champions, had a few meaningless Raw matches against the likes of Titus O’Neil and Curtis Axel, and picked a fight with Braun Strowman. There are only so many spots in the main event, of course, but it almost feels like Zayn’s been demoted.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson
While their Club-mate AJ Styles continued his rise to the top of the WWE, Gallows and Anderson have been squarely stuck as the third or fourth best tag team on Raw (depending on the outcome of their weekly match with Enzo and Cass). They’ve recently been jumped in the ranking by Cesaro and Sheamus, who seem poised to eventually take the titles off The New Day and become the sort of force The Club was originally billed as.
Remember when Bob Backlund was going to make Darren Young great again? Better luck next election cycle.
Baron Corbin and The Vaudevillains
We praised SmackDown earlier for finding ways to get fans to care about overlooked talents, but WWE is still searching for ways to make these three seem important.