WWE is re-shuffling the deck.
The company announced on Sunday — during FOX’s NFL broadcast — that there will be a draft to shake up the rosters beginning on Oct. 11, one week after SmackDown moves to the FOX network.
What’s interesting about this move is SmackDown will be the first night of the draft, with it concluding on RAW three days later on Oct. 14. There have been rumblings that WWE will treat SmackDown as the “A” show after it moves to FOX, airing in primetime every Friday night.
FOX will reach more potential households than USA Network, the home for RAW.
The press release that followed the announcement noted that the company will feature “distinct casts” on each of its shows. The release also plugged that RAW and SmackDown will have “unique storylines and dedicated writing teams.”
WWE has had a brand split in effect since 2016, when SmackDown moved to its live timeslot on USA Network. However, over the last 12 months the rules on the brand split have been relaxed, at best, and in some cases totally ignored. The “Wild Card Rule” that WWE put into effect this past spring gave the company latitude in shuffling wrestlers back and forth.
But then this summer WWE hired Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff as executive producers for RAW and SmackDown respectively. They run their own writing teams, and WWE CEO Vince McMahon has been, supposedly, less involved in the every creative process. Although depending on what reports you read, he’s also more involved than ever, at least on SmackDown.
With SmackDown moving off of USA Network, and the shows on different networks owned by different conglomerates, it makes sense for WWE to split its rosters and hold true to that roster split. Dedicated producers and writing staffs are almost necessary, with one show running live on Friday nights and one show running live on Monday nights. It allows the SmackDown crew to return home on Saturday, rather than spend the weekend on the road in order to run RAW on Monday.
WWE is also turning the page on some storylines, at least on RAW. Seth Rollins defeated Braun Strowman at Clash of Champions on Sunday to retain the Universal Championship, and he was immediately attacked by the Fiend, Bray Wyatt. Rollins and Wyatt will now face off in a Hell in a Cell match next month.
Strowman was pinned twice at Clash of Champions, also taking the fall in a tag team match where he and Rollins lost the RAW Tag Team Championship to Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler. It seems to line up that Strowman could be headed to SmackDown.
There’s also some question as to what WWE does with Kofi Kingston and the WWE Championship. Kofi’s run as champion since WrestleMania hasn’t been bad for business, but I’d argue it hasn’t been good, either. Television ratings have stagnated and live attendance isn’t doing any better than it was prior to his run. That might not be Kofi’s fault — it could just be a sign of the times in 2019 with live events — but would WWE want its championship, on its new “A” brand, to be on a bigger name than Kingston? It would make sense.
After all, Kofi is still throwing pancakes to people in the crowd during his ring entrance. Is that what WWE wants to be projected on FOX?