WWE pulled out all of the bells and whistles for their multi-night, multi-network draft. There were cameos featuring personalities from all over the Fox and NBC Universal networks and "war rooms" for each side, and Stephanie McMahon even served as the Roger Goodell proxy, drawing ire as each pick was announced.
There were plenty of reasons why this draft, the second one held by WWE in 2019, was necessary. The first draft, in April, was executed with the caveat that a "wild-card rule" would allow for a set number of Raw stars to appear on SmackDown in a given week, or vice versa. That limit was breached on night one, and many subsequent nights, to the point where WWE gave up the rule entirely.
WWE also, understandably, wanted to keep the buzz generated by SmackDown's debut on Fox going for as long as possible, while balancing out the rosters to suit both broadcast partners as best as they could. But outside of a handful of entertaining matches, the draft as a whole was a swing and a miss.
The draft format didn't work
On paper, a hard reset where every single wrestler is dropped into a common pool and Raw and SmackDown redraft their entire rosters is a bold, fresh move that would infuse a lot of energy into both shows. But in reality, the execution and format of the draft was a mess.
Arbitrarily splitting the "player pool" into two separate groups to pull from on Friday and Monday night -- which was intentionally designed to create intrigue on both nights of the draft -- greatly reduced the drama. Becky Lynch, the only singles champion in play Friday night, was guaranteed to go first overall. The fact that every champion ended up on the brand affiliated with their title (or, in the case of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, the brand they were on initially) further reduced the drama.
As in previous years, matches were held to determine the order of draft picks, but with Raw getting three picks to every two from SmackDown, there was no other logical outcome except for Seth Rollins and Lynch (Raw's representatives) beating Roman Reigns and Charlotte Flair (SmackDown's), respectively, to set up the proper draft order of Raw-SD-Raw-SD-Raw.
Also, no matter how much the commentary team pushed how important winning these "first draft pick" matches was, what possible reason would Rollins, Reigns, Lynch or Flair care about draft positioning? Especially when they themselves could be on the move?
Finally, due to some type of internal snafu on WWE.com, the first few rounds of draft picks were picked in the exact same order they were listed in the draft pool (it has since retroactively been relisted in alphabetical order).
The unnecessary split and unification of Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross
Before the draft, it was clearly stated that tag teams would be drafted together as one pick, unless a brand specifically requested just one member of the team.
During Raw's third round of the draft Friday night, Alexa Bliss was picked by herself -- leaving tag team partner and former co-women's tag team champion Nikki Cross on her own. Then, shortly after, during the fourth and final round of the night, Raw also picked Cross. There was no explanation offered.
From a storyline perspective, with no details explained, it was a clear lapse in logic. Did Bliss go running to the room of USA Network executives and beg them to reconsider bringing on Cross, too? And why was Cross such a nuclear option that they couldn't have just taken the pair in the third round and focused on Bliss, leaving Cross to her own devices? Watching Bliss plead Cross' case would've been a massive storytelling opportunity.
Then another layer of storyline confusion was added. During the debut episode of WWE's new FS1 studio show, "WWE Backstage," Triple H appeared on air and announced Bliss and Cross had been traded, together as a team, to SmackDown.
SmackDown's haul in return? "Future considerations."
Missing rhythm and interaction
The way the two nights of the draft played out, it felt like everything, outside of the cameos from various celebrities, was executed on a whim.
There was no pace or timing to the draft picks throughout the two shows. Sometimes matches ended and led into a backstage segment or interview. Other times Stephanie McMahon would make the next wave of five picks.
Then there were the war rooms for each respective show, supposedly filled with executives from the two broadcast networks. Fox had broadcaster Rob Stone front and center, along with the Fox Sports robot mascot. The only memorable element of NBC Universal's room was one person sporting face paint.
There was no interaction between the war rooms and the broadcasts, and every cut to those rooms made it feel like everything McMahon announced was somehow a surprise to the groups that had just theoretically made their picks. It all felt pretaped, and that notion wasn't dispelled when the people in each war room were wearing the same clothes during both nights of the draft.
Ideas for future drafts
If you're not going to have champions protected, it strains disbelief not to have at least one champion get poached to the other brand. That sort of selection could've served as great inspiration to drive an actual blockbuster trade at some point later in the draft or shortly afterwards. Wouldn't each show want to reclaim one of their signature champions?
If you're not going to move any champions in the process, just take them out of the draft. Getting drafted high isn't going to help them any more than holding the belt in the first place, and others could use the theoretical rub of being an early selection.
Each war room would've been served better by having a figurehead interact with the broadcast in some way. It would've made the draft feel real and more dynamic. Why not have correspondents outside each war room, offering insights and strategy or potentially interviewing executives or recent picks? Discussing why each wrestler was drafted could add value and context to their positioning.
Each group or representative could have "called" in their picks, instead of the McMahon-announced five-pick segments.
Why not have more picks come out to the stage and put on a Raw or SmackDown hat, like the Street Profits did backstage? If you're trying to manufacture brand pride, really go for it.
Set concrete rules about crossing between shows. There's little doubt SmackDown will want Lynch, Rollins, Flair and any number of other Raw superstars on their show, but without actual rules in place, there's nothing preventing both shows from blending together and feeling too similar again.
On night one of the draft, SmackDown held onto Reigns, The Revival and Heavy Machinery, while adding Bray Wyatt, Braun Strowman, Sasha Banks, Lacey Evans and the Lucha House Party. They lost Randy Orton and Kevin Owens.
It was a good night overall for SmackDown, which added the most popular act in the WWE in "The Fiend," as well as Banks, who will do well to be separated from Lynch if she's not going to win the title or the rivalry. Strowman will likely be a centerpiece on SmackDown, and don't be surprised to see him next in line for Lesnar and the WWE championship.
Raw was mostly in a holding pattern on the first night, outside of adding Orton and Owens. Orton brings a veteran presence to a roster that got a lot younger on the second night of the draft, and fresh blood to face Orton is definitely a good thing. Owens leaving SmackDown after vanquishing Shane McMahon from the brand is a bit puzzling, but a fresh start will probably be for the best. Night two was a much bigger shakeup.
Raw bulked up its women's division on night two, and got a lot of young, explosive talent with roots on 205 Live, a show that lost a number of key members to its roster in the draft. The only significant issue that sticks out at the outset is putting Lynch and Flair, who just completed a lengthy recent rivalry, back on the same show.
SmackDown's ranks were significantly thinned in the early stages of the draft, but they added a lot of recognizable names from Raw to fill out the middle of their roster moving forward. Mysterio's move to Raw, despite being involved in the Lesnar vs. Cain Velasquez rivalry, is a confusing switch.
In addition to the trade announced on WWE Backstage, a supplemental stage of the draft and a handful of free-agent signings continued to shape the roster. Most notably, recently deposed cruiserweight champion Drew Gulak, Cesaro and Luke Harper were added to the SmackDown ranks. Harper being separated from Rowan after just a couple of weeks back at Rowan's side adds to the laundry list of confusing decisions from WWE brass over the course of Harper's career.