The pro wrestling landscape has continued to make drastic shifts during the month of October, with the successful debuts of AEW Dynamite on TNT and Friday Night Smackdown on FOX bringing diehards and lapsed fans alike to the table.
Cain Velasquez made his WWE debut, Tyson Fury jumped over from the world of boxing for a Braun Strowman bout, and Chris Jericho dropped a four-letter word on primetime television.
It almost makes you forget about the finish to Sunday's Hell in a Cell PPV. Almost.
The crazy schedule continues Friday, with the start of the WWE Draft on Smackdown. Another reboot of the roster in a long succession of them, the draft will break the massive roster into two units, and is the official end of the confusing "Wild Card Rule" pushed onto Raw and Smackdown over the summer.
Is this a ratings hook for week two of the FOX show, even with a "Superstar Shakeup" and the Wild Card Rule mixing up the rosters for the past six months?
Well, I'm writing about it, so I guess so.
The storyline here, which I'm surprised WWE gets away with, is that the "executives" of USA Network (home of Raw) and FOX are going to battle, trying to pry the best talent onto their respective brand. Whether the newly-hired "executive directors", Paul Heyman for Raw and Eric Bischoff for Smackdown, make their presence felt remains to be seen.
For now, though, I'm going to take control of both rosters, under the premise the networks have set. According to various rumors, FOX wants a more sports-like atmosphere for Smackdown, trying to promote it alongside Thursday and Sunday NFL games, as well as College Football on Saturdays. USA doesn't mind going into a more character-driven direction, so I'll keep that in mind as well.
The champions look to be set; with Brock Lesnar, Charlotte Flair and The Revival earmarked for the blue brand, while Seth Rollins, Becky Lynch and the team of RooDolph (Robert Roode and Dolph Ziggler) stay on Raw.
I'll explain the top 20 picks as it goes along; then run through the rest of the roster. The first pick goes to the show with the larger audience.
1. Smackdown- Roman Reigns
The man with the Superman Punch and the Superstar Cousin earns the top pick here. Reigns has been involved heavily in advertisements splashed over NFL and college games, and is still the company's biggest full-time act. His comeback from Lukemia this past year is one of the bravest sports stories in recent memory, and he has looked as good as ever in 2019.
Unfortunately, WWE seems content to give him a background role, at a time where he really should be front and center. He's transitioned into someone most of the audience enjoys, and rarely does he put on even an average in-ring performance. Give him the top face role on Smackdown, even if it does mean an inevitable 5th match with Lesnar.
2. Raw- Bray Wyatt
Nothing can illustrate the difference between Raw and Smackdown going forward quite like the top guys on the brand. Smackdown will have Lesnar, the former UFC Heavyweight Champ, while Raw will go with the Mr. Rogers/horror villain hybrid. Despite the blasphemous finish of Sunday's PPV, Wyatt remains an intriguing character, one that can be put against any face on the brand.
Three questions remain before I'm fully convinced Wyatt is a top guy. One, and probably most important; when push comes to shove, will they give him big wins? When they couldn't even give the man the strap at his peak of fan interest, I remain skeptical. Two, will they make the necessary tweaks to the presentation, such as the removal of the terrible red lighting and screeching sound effects? Again, knowing WWE, I highly doubt it. Finally, can they avoid Wyatt becoming an outright good guy in his own right? He was basically there in 2016 before an untimely injury, and The Fiend character is very much a fan-favorite. I don't think I've heard any boos for the guy yet.
An amazing comeback from where he was, Wyatt needs a little more boost behind him from creative to be worthy of the #2 pick. He can't do it all himself.
3. Smackdown- Kevin Owens
A focal point of the show since his return in February, Owens was again featured on the FOX debut, being the man responsible in storyline for removing Shane McMahon from television.
Owens has found his niche as a babyface mix of CM Punk's snark and Steve Austin's rowdiness, with his own French-Canadian flavor thrown in. While he won't take the top spot on the show from Reigns, KO can easily be the second-in-command; a five-tool performer that can be thrown into any feud, segment or match and make it work. Expect a program with him and Lesnar come Royal Rumble season.
4. Raw- Braun Strowman
Much like Owens, an institution on his brand. Strowman closed the show with a pull-apart brawl opposite Fury, and that should be one of Raw's top angles for the next few weeks. If he moved to Smackdown, his only options for top feuds are Reigns and Lesnar, which have both been done to death.
5. Smackdown- Sasha Banks
Nowhere to go on Raw after losing to Becky Lynch, I think a rejuvenated Banks on Smackdown could catch eyes. FOX wants mainstream attention? They could always break the emergency glass and bring in Banks' cousin Snoop Dogg for a cameo. Banks herself, as a vicious heel, could be a headline-maker as well, if given the chance to flesh out her character. Michael Cole saying "It's Boss time!" and Banks repeating her nicknames ad nauseam does not a character make. A few slight changes, and Banks could challenge Flair for top women's star of the brand.
6. Raw- The New Day (Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods)
Despite Kofi Kingston being on his own for much of his WWE Championship reign, I'm keeping Kingston together with his brethren. Much like Banks on Raw, there's nothing more for New Day to accomplish on Smackdown after being part of the best storyline of WWE's year. The three-hour format of Raw needs time fillers, and giving E, Woods and Kingston the mic for five minutes to rag on an opponent fits that bill.
7. Smackdown- The O.C. (AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson)
Still one of the best talents in the company, Styles has had a rough go of things on Raw, relegated to goofball mid-card heel status after an amazing three-year run on Smackdown. Let's put him back on "The house AJ Styles built" and let him regain his momentum and reputation for killer matches. If FOX wants to keep viewers, putting Styles in the ring for 15-20 minutes is a good place to start. The Gainesville, Georgia native brings quality action and a great promo ability when allowed. He is also one of the few stars on the roster that carries himself like a star. His presentation is top-notch, which is the type of package FOX wants.
As for Gallows and Anderson, they bring a veteran presence to the tag team division, and can be used to get newer squads over to a new audience. Plus, it'll be fun having The O.C. back on Fox. Queue up Phantom Planet.
8. Raw- Randy Orton
A Smackdown regular since 2016, it's time to move the third-generation Orton to the brand he conquered from 2006-2011. In the stretch run of his career, Orton should be saved for big matches, such as his proposed WrestleMania 36 showdown with The Rock. A familiar face to any fan, the St. Louis product has gained the respect of diehards that previously called him "Boreton" and "Mr. Headlock," partially due to his comedic stylings on Twitter. Raw will be where more of the long-time fans remain, so Orton will be an asset here.
9. Smackdown- Bayley
Bayley remains one of the top forces of the women's division, despite an awkward half-measure heel turn recently. Pairing her back up with Banks on the blue brand allows them to both chase Flair, while eventually getting to the one-on-one feud fans have wanted on the main roster for years.
10. Raw- Bobby Lashley
Another example of Raw's current priorities, Lashley has shed his legitimate MMA background for an affair storyline involving Rusev and Lana. Quite frankly, he looks ridiculous in the role, but it is an angle Raw wants to feature going forward.
Side note: WWE has been jerking Lashley around for the better part of two years now. From a lame feud with Sami Zayn upon his return, to bait-and-switching fans on a match with Lesnar at SummerSlam 2018, and now to return him in this storyline? There is a place for soap opera in WWE, absolutely. But Lashley is one of the best athletes on the roster, a physical wonder at 43 years old. This is not the spot for him.
11. Smackdown- Ricochet
Talk about catching eyes. Ricochet is already one of the best high-fliers in wrestling history at just 30 years of age, and is still in his prime. From his swan dive over the corner turnbuckle post, to his springboard acrobatics, the former Prince Puma demands your attention while he works. Get the Intercontinental or United States Championship on him, and let him get the best match out of anyone on the roster.
12. Raw- Rusev
The counterpart to Lashley in the affair storyline, Rusev seems like a given for Raw. Much like Lashley, he has also been in the creative runaround, with little ideas for him since his loss to John Cena at WrestleMania 31. That was almost five years ago, if you're counting.
He remains physically imposing, and still has a top-five WWE Twitter account (along with Orton, Big E, Lynch and NXT's Oney Lorcan), but he may be damaged goods at this rate. Time will tell.
13. Smackdown- Rey Mysterio and Cain Velasquez
A natural selection, given the Lesnar angle to close last week's FOX debut. Velasquez may not be ready right away with his injuries needing sorted out, but he is still a mainstream name (and a prominent one from FOX's era of UFC) for new viewers to sink their teeth into. From what I've seen, Velasquez is quite the wrestler for limited experience. If he can bust out a Frankensteiner on Brock, FOX will have a ready-made highlight moment for commercials.
Mysterio is a legend in his own right, and has been promoted by the network through his appearances in the crowd at various NFL games. He can still go, and has improved vastly on the mic this year, which will aide him as Velasquez's mouthpiece.
14. Raw- The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka and Kairi Sane)
Lynch is going to need challengers, and the angle ran on Monday hints at a future Asuka-Lynch feud. With Asuka being the last one to cleanly defeat Lynch at January's Rumble, this makes sense, and hopefully this leads to the sorely-needed rehab push of the former NXT dominator.
Sane provides good backup, and while not a natural heel, has enough in-ring skill to make it work.
15. Smackdown- Ronda Rousey
Something that will make for a good television announcement more than actual value in the ring. Rousey is gone for now, and potentially for good, focusing on beginning a family with husband Travis Browne.
That doesn't make the pick a horrible one, though. When on television, Rousey was clearly the top star in the company, even bigger than Reigns. Not only is she mainstream outside of wrestling, she became quite the competitor in her first WWE year. I thought she was the MVP of the company in 2018. Whether she comes back as a pro wrestling-hating heel or trying to make up with the fans as a face, she should come back on the show with the biggest possible audience.
16. Raw- Shinsuke Nakamura
The current Intercontinental Champion, in case you were one of the millions who likely forgot. Nakamura has done near-nothing in the past 18 months, a victim of creative not capitalizing on his early 2018 momentum. He has absolutely nosedived in standing, going from potential top face of the company to being in a hopeless pairing with Zayn. The "we have nothing for you" tandem has to split if either of them hope to succeed. This is purely a change in scenery selection.
17. Smackdown- Daniel Bryan
Recently a babyface, or at least a tweener, once again; Bryan is still as compelling as ever as a wrestler and very capable actor. There may be unfinished business with Erick Rowan on the blue side, anyways, but Bryan can certainly move onto other programs. Another Lesnar match, perhaps?
18. Raw- Aleister Black
Is Black okay? He's been cooped up in his black room for months now. I guess you don't need light, food or water when you can cut nonsensical promos.
Jokes aside, Black is fantastic, and is one of the only guys on the roster who makes a match look like a fight. His demonic angel persona is a natural foil to Wyatt, and with Black still undefeated in singles competition, that showdown seems natural.
19. Smackdown- "King" Baron Corbin
Put it this way, you can't feature somebody opposite The Rock in the most-watched segment of the show, then ship him back to Raw. Corbin has improved in the ring lately, and is a serviceable heel despite being on the generic side. As long as he isn't involved in top storylines every week, he'll be a solid add to feud with smaller guys such as Ricochet.
20. Raw- Samoa Joe
Out with a thumb injury, Joe still resides in the "untapped potential" realm almost three years into his WWE main roster tenure. Can they reignite Joe to TNA, or even NXT, levels of momentum with the fans? The 40-year-old is uber-respected within the diehard community, and can always be boosted to the main event on his reputation. If nothing else, a feud with Rollins or Strowman that produces good, heavy-hitting brawls would be good television. Even if he'll take the loss in the end, as always.
Let's run through the rest of the roster real quick. Full rosters for both brands will be at the bottom, if you'd like to compare which show you'd rather watch.
21. Smackdown- Andrade
22. Raw- The Usos
23. Smackdown- The Miz
24. Raw- Lars Sullivan
25. Smackdown- Chad Gable
26. Raw- Nia Jax
27. Smackdown- Elias
28. Raw- Rowan and Harper
29. Smackdown- Drew McIntyre
30. Raw- Ember Moon
31. Smackdown- Alexa Bliss
32. Raw- The Viking Raiders
33. Smackdown- R-Truth
34. Raw- Naomi
35. Smackdown- Natalya
36. Raw- Cesaro
37. Smackdown- Lacey Evans
38. Raw- Cedric Alexander
39. Smackdown- Sami Zayn
40. Raw- Ruby Riott
41. Smackdown- Nikki Cross
42. Raw- A.O.P.
43. Smackdown- Heavy Machinery
44. Raw- Liv Morgan
45. Smackdown- Carmella
46. Raw- Lucha House Party
47. Smackdown- Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville
48. Raw- Lana
49. Smackdown- Ali
50. Raw- The Iiconics
51. Smackdown- Dana Brooke
52. Raw- Maria Kanellis
53. Smackdown- Jinder Mahal
54. Raw- Buddy Murphy
55. Smackdown- Mojo Rawley
56. Raw- Tamina
57. Smackdown- Big Show
58. Raw- Apollo Crews
59. Smackdown- Heath Slater
60. Raw- Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder
61. Smackdown- Titus O'Neil
62. Raw- EC3
63. Smackdown- Shelton Benjamin
64. Raw- Eric Young
65. Smackdown- No Way Jose
66. Raw- The Ascension
67. Smackdown- The B-Team
68. Raw- Sarah Logan
69. Smackdown- Mickie James
70. Raw- Sheamus
71. Smackdown- The Colons
72. Raw- Mike Kanellis
Full Predicted Raw Roster:
Men: Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman, Randy Orton, Bobby Lashley, Rusev, Shinsuke Nakamura, Aleister Black, Samoa Joe, Lars Sullivan, Cesaro, Cedric Alexander, Buddy Murphy, Apollo Crews, EC3, Eric Young, Sheamus, Mike Kanellis
Women: Becky Lynch, Asuka, Kairi Sane, Nia Jax, Ember Moon, Naomi, Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, Lana, Peyton Royce, Billie Kay, Maria Kanellis, Tamina, Sarah Logan
Tag Teams: Roode/Ziggler, The New Day, The Usos, Rowan/Harper, The Viking Raiders, A.O.P., Lucha House Party, Hawkins and Ryder, The Ascension
Full Predicted Smackdown Roster:
Men: Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, Ricochet, Rey Mysterio, Cain Velasquez, Daniel Bryan, King Corbin, Andrade, The Miz, Chad Gable, Elias, Drew McIntyre, R-Truth, Sami Zayn, Ali, Jinder Mahal, Mojo Rawley, Big Show, Heath Slater, Titus O'Neil, Shelton Benjamin, No Way Jose
Women: Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Ronda Rousey, Alexa Bliss, Natalya, Lacey Evans, Nikki Cross, Carmella, Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, Dana Brooke, Mickie James
Tag Teams: The Revival, Gallows and Anderson, Heavy Machinery, The B-Team, The Colons, The Street Profits (NXT call-up)