Tuesday, March 23, 2004

#71. 2004 Raw/Smackdown Draft

Last Monday, or I guess it would be two Mondays ago now, on Raw, Vince MacMahon announced that there would be a new lottery to redraw the two WWE brands, Raw and Smackdown, to freshen things up a bit. So it went last night that...five wrestlers from Raw went to Smackdown, and vice versa.

What? Just five? And these five? That's what my reaction was. I was expecting something a little more radical. It might even have been such a headscratcher if the particular wrestlers chosen hadn't been who they turned out to be.

Rene Dupree, Mark Jindrak, Triple H, Rob Van Dam, Teddy Long, and Spike Dudley make the move to Smackdown. Dupree and Jindrak are two wrestlers who are the kind of up-and-comers Smackdown has been ladened with for a year now. There's already Orlando Jordan waiting for some more action and breathing room. Dupree has exactly one thing going for him, and that's his French gimick, which without his partners in crime, Sylven Grenier and Rob Conway, makes me wonder if he's to develp something completely new now. Maybe I can deal with that. Jindrak doesn't have much going for him. Smackdown already has one former WCW 'Natural Born Thriller,' Chuck Palumbo, it's neglecting. Why take on another, especially one that I see very little future for, expect in the kind of tag team work he was doing on Raw? Sure, Smackdown has Jindrak's former NBT tag team partner Sean O'Haire, who last year began to develop a character and even had a working relationship with Roddy Piper going on. But O'Haire wrestled infrequently then, and hasn't really been seen since. They weren't much together then, so I wonder if the creative team is going to put them back together, or create something else for Jindrak to suck wind at. Spike Dudley will be another creative drain, being the kind of one-trick poney he's always been, and an unnecessary drain on the cruiserweight division, given that there's Paul London I'd rather see become better used. Is London even with WWE anymore? I mean, he was excluded from the WrestleMania open (which was thrown in favor of Chavo Guerrero inexplicably retaining, as I've whined about previously). I just dont' understand. And Teddy Long, what's he going to do on Smackdown? I have no idea, and very much doubt I'll be interested. He's not much of a dynamic presence...

Which brings me to the two useful Smackdown acquisitions. One's Rob Van Dam. I'm ambivalent about his prospects; you might have noticed that I'm not as wowed as others by his skills in the ring. But he does do a mean gorilla press. Anyhoo, which brings me to Triple H. My biggest fear is that he will soon supplant Eddie Guerrero for the WWE title, which will have made Hunter's humbling submission loss to Chris Benoit just an excuse to start another reign with another title. I don't know what's in store for him, but I'm wary. A particular reason I'll get to, but at least this opens the door to another feud with Kurt Angle, with whom Hunter had one of his better ones in the past.

Raw gained Shelton Benjamin, Nidia, Rhyno, Edge, Tajiri, and Paul Heyman. I'll say right now that it unequivocally got the better hand. Benjamin has better presence than his now ex-tag team partner in the World's Greatest Tag Team, Charlie Haas, and even got something of a push last week on Smackdown in a mini tournament. I don't see the logic in breaking the pair up at this stage in their careers, but at least they do get the chance to show their wares individually for a change (as a tag team, they'd been underused for months anyway). Maybe Benjamin can have a feud with IC champion Randy orton, or Christian (and conversely with Chris Jericho, I guess). Nidia, one of those Tough Enough winners who haven't been doing a lot of significant wrestling (actually, that'd be just about all of them, but I guess it's still early for such green performers), will finally be in contention for the women's title, which has been Raw exclusive for a year (to counter, barely, the cruiserweight title on Smackdown, though the difference has been narrowing of late). Rhyno, who has been making a career lately of jobbing to John Cena, might see his horizons broadened. Or he might suck Chris Benoit back into Dullsville, where the two suffered a year ago, mostly because they didn't know what to do with Benoit, and because Rhyno was returning from neck surgery, and they didn't know what to do with him either; hopefully that's changed. Tajiri I've always liked. I'm interested to see what becomes of him. He's being separated from the cruiserweights. Maybe that'll give Matt Hardy something meaningful to do. We'll see.

Raw's steals were Edge and Heyman. Edge is returning after more than a year gone due to neck surgery (shades of Rhyno...and Benoit...and Steve Austin...and Lita...and Scotty 2 Hotty...and Hardcore Holly...and Kurt Angle...), and could use the immediate hype showing up on a new show could deliver, although he was never around to do anything on Smackdown. I guess the point is that he won't be able to feud with Kurt Angle, with whom he had his most meaningful previously. So he has some new horizons. Paul Heyman, meanwhile, I really don't like seeing him go (did I mention I can watch Smackdown, but don't have cable so I can't watch Raw?), because I really liked him as an on-air personality. Why waste him on Raw, where all he's really going to do is butt heads with Eric Bischoff, the role Steve Austin's been filling for months now? Right now they're playing that he's quit rather than make the move. I can't be certain that it's a shoot until I see the results for next week's Raw, but it'd make sense to make a fuss over it, given his recent troubles with support on Smackdown. It's another "we'll see."

Furthermore, I don't like the uncertainty of the general manager role on Smackdown, which has been vacated with Heyman's redrafting (or whatever it is he's up to). Sure I'd love to see Austin on Thursday nights. I wouldn't complain. But what if it's Triple H's offscreen bouncing bride, Stephanie McMahon, who was the original Smackdown GM a year ago? I don't think I could put up with a lot more of her screaching...Or it could be someone else entirely, like a welcomely returning William Regal (though I wouldn't place bets on that).

I guess the point is, I'm not all that satisfied with the second brand draft. But it really hasn't had a chance to foment, so maybe some of that is in order.

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