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The Annual WWE Reset Button:
What's On Draft?
April 13, 2009

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OOWrestling.com


Since instituting the "Brand Extension" in 2002, WWE has tried to spruce things up most years by holding some kind of "draft" in the spring to shuffle talent. Some times they made a bigger deal of it than others; some years they either skipped it or turned it into such an afterthought that it was barely a blip on any fan's radar. But it's slowly starting to build into something that has the stink of "annual tradition" on it.

This year's edition is certainly being given a pretty grand treatment: a special three-hour time slot on USA Network (note to others with DVR settings like me: CHECK SAID SETTINGS TO MAKE SURE THE THING CATCHES THE CHANGE AND REMEMBERS TO RECORD!; mine didn't "recognize" RAW if it wasn't starting at 9pm), special promos that started running weeks ago even as WWE was still trying to figure out some way to properly promote the piddling WrestleMania show, and perhaps the most pressing need ever (as long as the draft has been around, anyway) for WWE to make use of this plot contrivance to make vitally important upgrades to the onscreen product.
The format for tonight's show will be similar to last year's draft, where interbrand matches will take place, and whichever brand wins that match wins the "draft pick" (actually, a randomly selected wrestler -- or wrestlers, as certain special or multi-way matches can be used to assign multiple picks at once). Tonight, WWE has promised there will be 12 "draft picks" assigned as the result of these in-ring confrontations; most are sure to be your bigger (or at least, recognizable) stars.
There will also be a website-only "supplemental draft" tomorrow on WWE.com to distribute any other "picks" not deemed important enough to be shown on television. Or, if last year was any indication, the picks assigned in the supplemental draft are probably just getting their last moment of semi-spotlight before getting released. I think last year, WWE actually took the time to re-assign either 5 or 6 performers using the draft, only to cut them less than 2 weeks later. Odd. And you know that this year, there will be more "sping cleaning" given the state of both the economy and WWE's financial affairs (including the return of two tapings every week to accomodate the new "WWE Superstars" show every week on WGN; the past six months, WWE had been running 3 tapings every two weeks -- with one as a double-stacked SmackDown taping, which is why that show has sucked lately -- at a cost savings of between $1.2-1.5 million per month).
But I digress. We've set the stage, we've explained the basic set up of tonight's draft... but now, let's get into the nitty gritty of it. Let's talk specifics and let's analyze just what WWE neds to do with the draft by breaking the discussion down into three Actionable Talking Points. Here goes:
In the past, I think the draft has been kind of a fun "fantasy" time of year for fans, just because it was mostly there as a chance to think of interesting new match-ups and simple stuff like that. But this year's draft has significance far beyond "fantasy booking" the on-screen product.
This year's draft has to be looked at as a driving force behind business trends, and as a potential "turning point" in how WWE approaches all core functions of the business backstage in in the boardrooms.
There are two key elements in play this year that make me feel like this is of paramount importance.
One, to sum up in a single word: ratings. To expand that, it includes buyrates, attendance, merchandise, revenues of all kinds, and is no doubt at least partially tied into the state of the economy. But not entirely: because RATINGS are economy-proof. TV is free; some shows/events are even enjoying ratings rebounds as people seek refuge from the shittiness of the real world by watching TV. But not WWE: along with all their other revenues drying up, ratings are down, too. And lower ratings means a smaller pool of potential fans you can ask to pay for PPVs/event tickets/merch. Doesn't effect WWE's bottom line (they have existing licensing deals for their TV shows that pay them indepently of ratings) but still VERY bad mojo.
I mentioned this briefly (I think in the WM Recap), but the basic arc here has RAW banging out a 4.1 rating (about the high end of what WWE's been capable of the past 18 months) the night after the shocking and intriguing No Way Out PPV, then immediately began dipping as WWE fumbled the "intrigue" and replaced it with crap. Things got all the way down to a 3.4 (which represents the very low end of where WWE has scored the past 18 months), meaning WWE had gone from their "best case scenario" (attracting all fringe fans for the 4.1) to scraping bottom in the course of one month. Worse: it was the month leading into WrestleMania 25, when there should be enhanced interest and ratings momentum. The week before WM25, things "rebounded" to a 3.6. Not statistically significant. Last Monday for the post-WM RAW? A 3.9, which is a healthy rating and means people were back (even with a -- crappy and one-sided -- NCAA Championship game on) to see what happened at WM.
But tellingly: still fewer people than showed up to see what was gonna happen next after No Way Out, a measly off-month throw-away PPV. So the Road to WM was ratings death, and the "bounce" from the post-WM edition of RAW was less than for the post No Way Out edition... to me, that spells Need For Change, pronto, if you want to hang onto your fans, instead of serving up craptacular TV that sort of keeps them at arms' length.
The second element in play: the precarious state of SmackDown on the MyNetworkTV network. The short version is: HAHAHAHAHA, in your faces, all you suckers who kept mailing me last summer when I was crapping on MNTV as "half a network, at best" but you had your "affiliate listings" and "market penetration percentages" to show me they were EVEN STRONGER than The CW. Cuz now, MNTV has announced that by fall, they will be airing exclusively reruns and ZERO fresh material in prime time EXCEPT for Friday Night SmackDown. This is a cost-cutting move, as reruns of "CSI" are cheaper and will generate the same shitty ratings as everything MNTV tried to do this year in their "breakthrough" year. The contract with WWE is in place for multi-years, though, so they have to honor that, even if they're going reruns the other 6 nights of the week.
As if that doesn't speak poorly enough about the network's financial state and prospects to survive, they have also re-done all contracts with their local affiliates. Previously commited to 3-year deals, your local affiliate is now only on a one-year contract that expires this August, and can walk away from MNTV if they think they can get more profitable programming elsewhere without paying MNTV for their "services." It's unclear how many affiliates will take this walk-away option (the shitty economy handcuffs them just as it does MNTV, so the hope is that a lot of the affiliates will just try to ride this out WITH MNTV rather than going it alone), but it's very possible that MNTV's purported "95% market penetration" (which I revealed as pure bullshit unless you were counting digital subchannels and secondary affiliations) could be halved or worse by September (and still with alot of that "penetration" coming via subchannels and secondary means that don't really count unless fans are willing to pay for extra services/equipment or go looking for the network).
SmackDown as a standalone brand is VERY much in trouble, is what I'm saying, and the harsh reality is that THE DRAFT CANNOT SAVE THEM. Last year, they used the draft to stock SD! as an ALMOST equal-to-RAW show, and it turns out the crappiness of MNTV will render that act moot in less than one year. This year, they have to make the moves they do with the realization that SD! is a b-show that needs star power enough to run house shows, but not so much that they need to be seen "equal" to RAW. It just doesn't make any sense to maintain that facade when a best case scenario would be SD! maintaining its current audience level (which is basically half of RAW's).
[NOTE: because of WWE's ass-hatted contract with NBC/Universal, their only option for SD! should MNTV implode will be WGN America, which is why they're doing this Thursday Superstars show. To keep the negotiations open and do a test run for wrestling on WGN in case WWE's legal team needs to do some fancy manuevering to get SD! away from MNTV and to somewhere moderately healthier. But because NBC/Universal holds ALL rights to WWE shows airing domesitcally on cable TV, WWE can't shop around to the Turner networks or the MTV/Viacom network or anything like that; they can't even give NBC/U the "right of first refusal" and if NBC/U turns down their show, take it to another cable netowrk. If NBC/U doesn't want it, WWE can't legally show it anywhere else on cable in the US. And network TV -- not even NBC, who already have WWE specials and actually gave Jay Leno a primetime show -- wants no part of WWE. Crappy deal for WWE, leaving them with "superstation" -- NOT "cable network" -- WGN as pretty much the lone option that isn't turning SD! into a webcast.]
So again: with SD in a bit of trouble, and with their weekly ratings fluctuating within a very small window (from 1.9 to 2.1) so far in 2009, we should brace for them getting "gutted? in this draft. And we shouldn't bitch about it; it's just something that makes perfect sense as long as WWE's wanting to bolster a brand with much higher (and MUCH more variable) ratings... RAW's window is basically from 3.4 to 4.1, leaving a lot of "fringe" fans out there for WWE to attract on a weekly basis if they can work out the kinks and stabilize the RAW roster/product.
Oh, you want me to mention ECW, too? Well, it can just keep on keeping on. It is now pretty much exactly TNA's equal in the ratings, and WWE should keep on using it the same way: a place for their younger stars to debut and try to build some buzz, while the most sure-handed vets (Finlay being the lord and master of this group) make sure they get a nice indoctrination and steep learning curve. To this end: you only pluck FROM ECW when a guy is 100% ready to advance to the next level (they plucked Kofi early last year, but it worked out, I guess) and you only give TO ECW when there's a vet spinning his wheels and wasting his time elsewhere. I don't think this formula clashes at all with the mission of shuffling the RAW/SD rosters, and thus: ECW is (as it usually is) an afterthought in the Draft Process.
This is bascially the talking point where I'm going to hammer home the point that using the draft to break up perfectly good teams/feuds/pairings is the STUPIDEST GODDAMNED THING IN THE WORLD.
I'm sorry, but that's just my mindset and aesthetic bent at all times: trying to be all "original" and "different" for the sake of being different (instead of because it's cool and interesting) grates on me very badly. I don't care if it's music or personal fashion or what: being "different" is obnoxious and makes you a candidate for a face-punching. If you have an idea and it's different, but its definiing characteristic is that IT RULES, then fine: I'll love it. But if you have an idea and it's different, and your only defense of it is "Oh, it's so ORIGINAL and I'm so creative and SPECIAL for having thought of it," you need to be sanctioned and your idea needs to never see the light of day.
This peeve of mine has been proven valid in the genre of pro wrestling so many times -- with shocking swerves and twists that "nobody saw coming" but only because they made no sense and left writers with no compelling directions to go AFTER the swerve -- it's not worth either of our times for me to rehash. Suffice to say the Draft has been a major perpetrator of these crimes against common sense and the status quo (breaking up the Dudleys? why was that again? did ANYbody think it was a good idea?), and we need to NOT go that route again this year with so much riding on the draft.
In terms of "not breaking people up," I think the one thing I'm worried about and which I think is a horrible idea is that WWE will use this as their chance to break-up Miz and Morrison, sending them on to their singles careers. Even though neither really stands close to ready to succeed on that front, and even though they are a rare case of a team that is greater than the sum of their parts. What one lacks, the other has in spades, and you put them together: it's magic... break 'em up, and instead of that synergistic magic, you'll just have two guys, each with deficiencies and each with nobody helping him to cover them up anymore.
In fact, if WWE goes through with the break-up of Miz/Morrison, it'll be because they REALLY want to push ahead with Morrison as a super-singles star (something they've wanted for 3 years, now, and which failed BADLY -- and for entirely predictable reasons -- two years ago when he got his make-over and push to the ECW Title), and they might be shocked to find that it's MIZ who connects better with fans out of the gate. Why? Because Miz's short-comings are more in terms of putting together a good, long, psychologically sound, athletically intense match, but he's got the "sizzle" to sell shorter more basic matches. Morrison has a killer move-set and abs of steel, but has all the charisma of an introverted high school sophomore who is pretty smart and comes up with funny things to say all the time but then locks up any time he's in front of a real audience. That's harder to hide and gloss over; and as even the vaunted Hardys showed us at WM25, you can have all the high flying risk-taking in-ring goodness in the world, but the fans won't give a crap if you haven't connected with them first.
Morrison can apparently play-pretend at being charismatic on WWE.com, but like I said: that's the equivalent of him hanging out with his two best loser friends in somebody's basement on Friday night playing videogames and coming up with ZINGERS. You put him on TV (the equivalent of going out and potentiall rubbing shoulders with the football team on Friday night), and he just clinches up and comes off all fakey and nervous. So c'mon: leave him with Miz (who brings enough raging "personality" to the table for the both of them), and let's wait till the time is right to do the break-up, instead of rushing it and setting Morrison back ANOTHER year or two in his development towards whatever it is his ceiling ends up being. Trust me: the FANS will tell you when it's time and they like one of Miz or Morrison appreciably more than the other and it's worth going for the break-up... and so far, we've not told you that, because we view them as a package deal (not two distinct individuals) and we LIKES IT THAT WAY.
Legacy is another little faction WWE had better not screw with. For as much of a black hole of giving-a-shit as Randy Orton is, he's currently the closest he's ever been to having kind of a character/personality of his own, and it's in part because of his access to two lackey stablemates just as mentally-enfeebled and metrosexually douchetastic as him. They need to build on this, not go blowing it up just because Ted DiBiase Jr. is starring in "The Marine 2" and needs to be a babyface by the time it hits store shelves (exclusively on DVD~!).
Some areas where breaking up established pairings may not be so awful:
The announce teams. It's not a huge deal either way, but there was no reason to break up JR/Lawler last year (other than Vince McMahon's irrational JR Hatred), so there's no reason not to put them back together this year. Cole, sadly, just gets on my nerves in the way he's so willing to roll over and be the vapid conduit via which Vince McMahon's words in his headset get repeated -- often randomly, at awkward times, and as virtual non sequiturs -- without any sort of extra effort to make it "fit." JR still does a lot of Vince's dirty work, but apparently has figured out a way to do it more smoothly, which makes him a better candidate for the live show.
Edge/Vickie Guerrero. I usually don't like "stories with no ending," but given the choice of WWE trying to figure out how to give us closure on the vitally important tale of Edge and Vickie's marriage and just letting the thing fizzle away and die, I choose the latter. Leave 'em on different shows, let Edge "rehab" his character by uniting with some hot piece of ass (I'm convinced that was the direction we were intending to do with the smoking tasty "wedding planner" Edge cheated with, until Edge took a longer-than-expected 3 month vacation and the wedding planner got shunted over to ECW), and let Vickie annoy the piss out of us on a different show with Chavo as her primary male companion. And then, let us never speak of this whole mess ever again.
Santino/Beth. Sort of the same deal as Edge/Vickie in the sense that I don't want WWE trying to "finish" the story. But not because it sucks... just because there are no satisfying "outs" at this point, and I'd rather not ruin one character or the other to get to tne inevitable break-up. Both are babyfaces, and pretty over ones at that. It'd be a mistake to force one into the heel role (and if they gave the heel role to Santino, a mix of WWE's internal mandate for sexual insecurity and immaturity and WWE Universe's healthy percentage of idiot wife-beater fans, they'd end up making Santino into an asshole who still got cheered while poor Beth walked away from the feud as a babyface getting booed). So: just split them apart, and avoid the whole mess. Either that, or file Glammarella under "DO NOT BREAK UP FOR ANY REASON" and have the "out" of their story being them re-uniting, happier than ever, to rid the world of that scheming Rosa Mendez.
You get the idea, though, right? No break-ups or other fancy over-done nonsense just for the sake of doing it. And if you do make a few dramatic decisions in terms of break-ups, be ready with the defenses for why and make sure that it's because the future prospects are BETTER than if you'd just maintained the status quo. That's all I'm saying here in Point #2.

No, I won't fantasy book a full 12-plus person draft. To just throw out the names would be lame, and to write up the full reasons and interconnected  justificiations for the whole thing would take three days and 24,000 words. So screw that.
Instead, just a few quick ideas that seem to make sense to me:
First, it's almost being taken as read that Rey Mysterio will be back on SmackDown after tonight. SD! once had a strong foothold in the urban and latino audiences, which has eroded substantially in the past year or two. In order to re-create that niche, there's a lot of lobbying to get Rey back on Friday nights, and frankly as long as SD is going to be more a "wrestling show" and RAW is going to depend on promos/angles to get storylines over, I don't see how it doesn't make perfect sense to stash Rey there.
Second, I think it's highly unlikely that WWE allows EITHER of Cena or HHH to "languish" on SmackDown, so in order to keep them both on RAW, we not only need to sort out the Title situation (unless they're gonna unify them, like they did the tag belts, we'll need one to a brand) but we need to build babyface depth on SD. Rey is the start of that... Kennedy coming back from injury is a golden chance for him to spread his wings, too. But I'm gonna go ahead and say the next important big move would be throwing CM Punk over to Fridays. He does, in addition to everything else, bring the Money in the Bank briefcase with him, too, which could quickly sort out said Title Issue, while giving Punk room to grow and thrive as the top dog on the b-show.
Third, I had an intense desire to send Batista to SD, just because he's so.... I dunno, so "Batista-y." He's a big star who'll pop a crowd, but he's never -- not once, not ever -- been the motivation reason why you watch a show. He's just a guy who -- once you're already tuned in -- has shown about a 70/30 likelihood of delivering the goods for you. That lack of sizzle, but with that lingering "bankability," seemed like a good fit for Friday. But then, I decided: no. We'll just use tonight to start sowing the seeds of a Batista heel turn on RAW. HHH will be done with young Randall soon enough (I hope), and Cena will be "coming home" after dabbling with Edge, and both will need interesting opponents on Mondays. Batista could fit the bill. It could start tonight with foreshadowing, and then move into another gear with Batista "protecting" HHH's title at the next PPV by winning the convoluted-rules tag match with HHH's belt ont he line (and then wanting his own title shot as a reward). Batista is also the one who "broke Cena's neck" at SummerSlam, so there's built-in juice there, too. So, either way: don't draft Batista, but start turning him so that he finally gets semi-interesting again.
Fourth, I honestly don't know if he's got "it" or not, but it's time to find out, and bring MVP over to RAW to shine on the Big Stage. He helps fill the mid-card babyface void left by Rey and Punk, but also turns the draft into a "US for IC Title Swap" (Rey takes the IC to SD, MVP brings the US to RAW), which is a nice bit of equivocating. MVP's yet to wow me, but he's got mic skills that might serve him better on the "entertainment show." And if not? Well, it's been a few years for MVP and if he can't make a go of this one, that in and of itself could be informative for future roster decision making.
A fifth and (for now) final idea: Brian Kendrick AND Zeke to ECW. Kendrick's super-talented, obviously, veteran enough to deserve better, but also still young enough to use ECW to re-establish himself and get "re-drafted" to the big leagues next year. His chemistry with Zeke is sweet, so file under the "Do No Break Up" rule above. Bourne is Priority #1 for ECW in the coming year, and should be given the chance to take the title from Swagger; but then after that? Even if Christian turns heel, that's only good for 3-4 months. That's where Kendrick steps in: Bourne vs. Kendrick would rule the universe, with Zeke getting a chance to mature slowly, and maybe be the babyface Diesel to Kendrick's HBK. Zeke as a "monster" ECW champ (after he upends his old mentor, Kendrick) would be an interesting chance to see if that guy's got any future on a WWE roster... and it would also provide the impetus for Jack Swagger to get back into the ECW Title picture as a bigger guy trying to take out the monsterous Zeke.  See, a nice, big, entertaining circle that keeps the ECW Title picture busy and fun for AT LEAST another year, while providing great experience for guys who might get bumped up to the major leagues in 2010. And all it takes is drafting Kendrick and Zeke over. Let's do it.
Like I said: I could go on for 12 of these (and then maybe 5-6 more "supplemental" picks), but that'd take forever for me to write, and only slightly less time for you to read. So screw it. These are my handful of cool and (just as importantly) PLAUSIBLE ideas. Feel free to drop me a line with your pre-draft thoughts, or with notes after tonight's show explaining why WWE's way does/doesn't make sense and either praising/mocking me for how many/few of my ideas got turned into reality.
I'll enjoy hearing from you kids, and I'll talk to you again soon. Till then....

SMACKDOWN RECAP: Bonding Exercises
RAW RECAP: The New Guy Blows It
PPV RECAP: WWE Night of Champions 2012
RAW RECAP: The Show Must Go On
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Boot Gets the Boot
RAW RECAP: Heyman Lands an Expansion Franchise
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Losing is the new Winning
RAW RECAP: Say My Name
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Deja Vu All Over Again
RAW RECAP: Dignity Before Gold?
PPV RECAP: SummerSlam 2012
RAW RECAP: Bigger IS Better
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Hitting with Two Strikes
RAW RECAP: Heel, or Tweener?
RAW RECAP: CM Punk is Not a Fan of Dwayne
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Returnening
RAW RECAP: Countdown to 1000
PPV RECAP: WWE Money in the Bank 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Friday Night ZackDown
RAW RECAP: Closure's a Bitch
RAW RECAP: Crazy Gets What Crazy Wants
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Five Surprising MitB Deposits
RAW RECAP: Weeeellll, It's a Big MitB
RAW RECAP: Johnny B. Gone
PPV RECAP: WWE No Way Out 2012
RAW RECAP: Crazy Go Nuts
RAW RECAP: Be a Star, My Ass
RAW RECAP: You Can't See Him
RAW RECAP: Big Johnny Still in Charge
PPV RECAP: WWE Over the Limit 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: One Gullible Fella
RAW RECAP: Anvil, or Red Herring?
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Everybody Hates Berto
RAW RECAP: Look Who's Back
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Care to go Best of Five?
RAW RECAP: An Ace Up His Sleeve
PPV RECAP: WWE Extreme Rules 2012
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Sh-Sh-Sheamus and the nOObs
RAW RECAP: Edge, the Motivational Speaker?
SMACKDOWN RECAP: AJ is Angry, Jilted
RAW RECAP: Maybe Cena DOES Suck?
RAW RECAP: Brock's a Jerk
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Back with a Bang
RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28



Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.



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