The Five Best Moves Of The 2016 WWE Brand Extension Draft

If you were watching SmackDown on Tuesday night and following along via any means of social media, the WWE Draft created an absolute cacophony of news and opinions. Wrestling fans are nothing if not passionately opinionated, and there were mumbles and grumbles to be had in great amounts. From complaining about the lack of Bayley to grousing about how lopsided the Raw picks seemed in the early going, everything just moved so fast that it was often overwhelming.

But now that we’ve had some time to ruminate on things a bit, the WWE Draft sure has a lot of things that can either give fans some cautious optimism, or are at the very least intriguing. Let’s break down the very best moves of the draft — your opinion, of course, can and likely will vary — and talk about why they look great on paper. At least until Monday night, when everything becomes the worst again.*

*Source: the internet.

SmackDown drafting John Cena

The primary directive of the entire 2016 brand extension, from WWE’s point of view, is to make people take SmackDown seriously as a television show and as a brand. To that end, they have to stop treating SmackDown as “Raw Jr.,” effective immediately. The main way to do that is to put legitimate main event performers on that show and that show only. John Cena is the legitimate main event performer, regardless of whether you want to admit it.

To be honest with you, I felt that drafting Cena to SmackDown was the No. 1 “must” for WWE in the draft and I was scared they wouldn’t be able to commit to it when it came time to pull the trigger. They did, and I believe that’s an easy win. Sure, there is the easy joke to make that for all Shane and Bryan’s preening that their brand would be different, they still drafted Cena and Randy Orton. But that’s a necessary evil. The original “Smackdown Six” still had Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio, after all.

SmackDown can still be the indie workrate darling of the two brands, if that’s where they want to go with it. You can have that AND have John Cena. We haven’t already forgotten Cena going on his PWG Memorial United States Open Challenge, have we? His feud with AJ Styles will continue and he’ll hopefully move on to mixing it up with more people who could use his expertise. But having him on the blue brand is an important step to legitimacy for the show. It was vital, in fact.

Raw selecting Finn Bálor as the No. 5 overall pick

If WWE was looking to make a statement about their “New Era,” it’s hard to make a louder or stronger statement than Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley saying they have an eye on the future and selecting Finn Bálor as the final pick in the first round of the draft. Rollins, Ambrose, Charlotte, Styles, Bálor. That’s your top five, must-have main event players, as far as kayfabe goes in 2016. That’s huge. That’s enormous.

Cena didn’t go until the seventh pick. Orton was ninth. Big Show was 23rd. The times aren’t changing, they’ve changed. Bálor’s top-five selection, following months on end of speculation about his call-up, is a statement. We can all wring our hands about how WWE will drop the ball on him, but all of the authority figures involved and the announcers put over Finn as a legitimate big deal. They didn’t put him over as a cruiserweight, or as a nobody. They said this is the guy, he’s the future, he’s great. And he’s worth spending the fifth most valuable pick on.

And he’s also winding up on the same show as an AJ Styles-less Club. Hmmm. HMMMMMM. NO WAY WE’RE GOING TO SPECULATE ENDLESSLY ABOUT THIS ONE, NO SIR.

Enzo and Cass staying together on Raw

One of the strangest, most surreal things in recent pro wrestling memory took place on Monday night’s episode of Raw, when John by god Cena got a legitimate rub by standing in the same ring as Enzo Amore and Big Cass while they held an entire arena in the palm of their certified, bona fide hands. I don’t think there’s any question ‘Zo and Cass are the hottest act in the entire company at this moment. Raw needs them more than they need ANYTHING OR ANYONE.

I honestly don’t believe there was any danger of them actually being split up in the draft, but they are a perfect act for Raw and for WWE right now. No need to mess with what is working in spades right now. We can lament them in six months when they’re hawing a poop-themed fake cereal, but for now let’s just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The only negative thing about E&C from the draft: between Monday and Tuesday night, Enzo got a haircut, which resulted in him looking about four percent more like a human being. Never let that happen again, Enzo. I expect all that hair back by Battleground. You’re at least one-sixteenth Mogwai, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Just eat after midnight or something.

Nia Jax getting called up

Nia has had lengthy feuds with both Bayley and Asuka, the polar opposite final bosses of NXT. There’s literally nothing left for her to do or accomplish in NXT if she’s not going to win the women’s title. She also appears a tiny bit terrified of laying into the tiny, inexperienced women of the yellow brand. She looks completely unlike anyone else in the company and can be a serious force to be reckoned with. It’s high time she moves on up to the main roster.

Any shortcomings that Nia still has (of which there are very few) will be better served being on the road full-time with veteran woman performers who can work with her and coach her in front of WWE main roster audiences. She’s put in the time in the Performance Center and run the NXT gauntlet. She has a unique and marketable look and immense value.

I actually think all three of the NXT women’s call-ups are great, especially with the small women’s roster getting split between two shows. Grouse about Bayley not being called up all you want, but the timing isn’t completely right for her right now. Nia, Carmella and Alexa Bliss were treading water in NXT and now they can be in the mix and learn how to get to the next level on the main roster. I’m completely on board with whatever user version of the Divas/Women’s Revolution we’re on now.

Heath Slater not getting drafted

Now, hear me out here. The stuff with the Social Outcasts on the WWE Network post-show was pure gold. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel got drafted individually to Raw, but poor Mr. Irrelevant, Heath Slater, not only didn’t get drafted (and was Mr. Irrelevant to the extent that the WWE Draft only consisted of 59 slots instead of the advertised 60), he got the lights turned out on him.

Slater has a singular ability to be at his best when he’s getting relentlessly sh*t on. He turned the One Man Band stupidity into the beloved Three Man Band stable. He turned his not being on television for months on end into a movement that birthed the Social Outcasts. Now he’s spinning his unwanted, unloved status in the draft into him being the hottest free agent in pro wrestling.

This is gold and I don’t care what rooftop I have to shout that from. Heath Slater is going to be alright. And either the Social Outcasts will rise again or all three members will end up being stronger and more successful and determined as individuals.

And if this ends up with “free agent” Heath Slater going on a whirlwind tour of EVOLVE, CHIKARA, New Japan, et al, it will officially be the greatest wrestling angle of our age.