Ã¢â‚¬ÂHistory remembers only the brilliant failures and the brilliant successes.Ã¢â‚¬Â – Randolph S. Bourne
The Opening Chapter
It has been just a shade over five years now since WWE started brand expansion. Some have called it a failure and think that we should go back to one combined roster as the brand lines become more blurred by the day. Others think that it has been a successful tool in creating new stars, creating fresh rivalries and prolonging athletes’ careers. I myself am an optimist and would like to think the split or expansion has been successful in at least some ways but I really wish there would be less fraternization between brands and a harder split between them to help distinguish one from the other. But that isn’t really the point of the discussion today.
Today I want to open the vault and take a look back at the two previous draft lotteries that occurred back in 2004 and 2005. They helped freshen up both the RAW and SmackDown! rosters, created a couple new stars out of the deal and set up some new rivalries. So let’s take a look back at the players involved in both drafts: the winners, the losers and where they all are now.
Even though there are no off-seasons or season finales in wrestling, WrestleMania XX may have been the closest thing to a finale that WWE had ever seen. Post-WrestleMania XX set the stage for the Title reigns of the “vanilla midgets,Ã¢â‚¬Â the re-debut of The Undertaker and wave good-bye to stars like Lesnar, Goldberg and Austin. It also featured a one night draft lottery between the two brands to set up new storylines and stars. On the March 22 RAW, general managers Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman came out on RAW with hoppers full of their opposing roster’s names. Each side got to pick six names throughout the course of the evening with the chosen talent switching brands immediately. Everyone was eligible for pick in the draft, including refs, announcers, and in-ring talent, including champions.
By the end of the night SmackDown! had gained Rene Dupree from La Resistance, Mark Jindrak (who was currently teaming with “GarrisonÃ¢â‚¬Â Cade, Triple H, Rob Van Dam, Theodore Long and Spike Dudley. RAW gained Shelton Benjamin of the World’s Greatest Tag Team, Nidia, Rhyno, Tajiri, a freshly returned Edge and SD! GM Paul Heyman. Heyman promptly quit as soon as his name was picked. When Rhyno’s name was drawn he was granted a World Heavyweight Championship match against Chris Benoit that very night, which he promptly lost. Triple H, then leader of Evolution, was none to happy to being to SmackDown! and let everyone know that.
The next day on WWE.com it was announced that Triple H had been traded back to RAW in exchange for Booker T and Bubba Ray & D-Von Dudley. Keep in mind this was when Triple H was probably at his ego inflated best, both on and off-screen. Another website trade saw Albert and Chuck Palumbo of the FBI head to RAW in exchange for Rico and Miss Jackie.
As for how everyone turned out, Rene Dupree got an upper mid-card push against John Cena and the US Title while his La Resistance teammates on RAW won the Tag Titles later in the spring. Jindrak became the “Reflection of Perfection,Ã¢â‚¬Â the latest in a string of Narcissist knock-off. Teddy Long became his manager. Rob Van remained as an upper-mid card face, teaming with Rey Mysterio and challenging for the US Title. And Spike Dudley entered the cruiserweight division and continued his on/off relationship with his brothers. Bubba & D-Von turned heel shortly after joining SmackDown! and were managed by Heyman, who was brought back under a manager’s contract. Booker T also turned heel after joining SmackDown!, feeling he was too big of a star to be on the “b-show.Ã¢â‚¬Â Rico & Jackie turned face upon their joining the blue brand and Rico quickly won WWE Tag Team gold with Charlie Haas in an odd couple pairing.
As for the RAW picks, Shelton Benjamin instantly got a face push as an up-and-comer, garnering three victories over Triple H to cement his status as an upper mid-card player. He teamed with fellow SD! draftees Edge and Tajiri, who also turned face after the draft, as foil for Evolution throughout the summer. Nidia was a welcome addition to RAW’s women’s division. Rhyno, drafted as a heel, turned face during the summer and feuded with La Resistance over the World Tag Titles. Albert and Chuck Palumbo did very little to boost their stock on RAW and remained low card fodder.
The month of June-2005
A year later another draft lottery was held, only this one would be five picks spread out over the entire month of June, with a pick being revealed on each RAW and SmackDown! during the month. The change was done to build interest through the entire month and make each pick mean something in the grand scheme of things, as many of the previous years picks ending up being flops.
The first pick out of the gate on RAW was WWE Champion John Cena, meaning that now both the WWE and World Champions were on RAW. In return SmackDown! drew Chris Benoit. The next week RAW gained Kurt Angle and SmackDown! picked up a still injured Randy Orton. Week three saw Carlito go to RAW and Muhammad Hassan, and for some reason his manager Daivari, end up on SmackDown! The fourth week of June saw each brand get two picks. RAW drew a still injured Rob Van Dam and a healthy Big Show while SmackDown! got Christian and surprise, surprise, World Champion Batista.
The next day after the last draft picks were made, WWE.com announced an 11-person auxiliary trade was made that basically just transferred all the lower card heels from one side and switched them to the other. RAW gained Kenzo Suzuki & Hiroko, Mark Jindrak, Danny Basham, Rene Dupree and Chavo Guerrero in exchange for Stevie Richards, William Regal, Simon Dean, Sylvan Grenier and Candice Michelle.
Each of the 10 draft picks made an immediate impact and was introduced in various ways so as to keep it interesting. Cena was introduced on Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel. Benoit debuted as JBL’s opponent. Angle debuted at the end of the night as a hyped surprise. Orton ran-in during an Undertaker-JBL match to announce his switch. Hassan debuted in a match against Big Show while Carlito won the Intercontinental Title off of Shelton Benjamin in his debut. Carlito then got the honors of introducing RVD on his Cabana while Big Show debuted as Shelton Benjamin’s tag partner in a match against Snitsky and Chris Masters. Christian debuted as Big Show’s replacement on SmackDown! in a six person elimination match for the new SmackDown! championship. However before the match got underway it was revealed it wouldn’t be for a new Title, but rather for the number one contendership for the World Championship, as Batista had also been drafted.
So when you break down the 10 picks after the draft was all done, it was easy to see that it an even trade all around. The breakdown went Champion for Champion (Cena for Batista), upper card guy for upper card guy (RVD for Christian), mid-card heel for mid-card heel (Carlito for Hassan), former World Champ for former World Champ (Big Show for Benoit) and main event heel for main event heel (Angle for Orton). The auxiliary draft picks were all virtually negligible as Suzuki, Hiroko and Jindrak were released days later and the rest never went above their current position on the card. Candice Michelle was back on RAW two months later and Chavo Guerrero got saddled with the ridiculous Kerwin White gimmick that was sadly only halted after Eddie died. As for the rest, Basham is now released, Grenier and Dupree are both of TV, Simon Dean is now a suit, William Regal still can’t catch a break and somehow Stevie Richards still collects a paycheck.
I personally loved these draft lotteries. I thought they made for great TV and led to some good surprises and fresh feel for the brands. The new rivalries, alignment changes and gimmick changes really helped RAW and SD! from getting too stale. Of the two drafts Shelton Benjamin was probably the only one who really got a solid push from his change of scenery and really looked like he would be the next breakout star. Now three years later he is back in his old position, a tag team specialist with Charlie Haas.
And I guess technically there could be considered to have been a 2006 draft as Paul Heyman drafted RVD and Angle to join the new ECW while others like Big Show, Richards and Nunzio soon followed him, but it didn’t have the same feel or the same effect as the previous two years. Now with the combined brand pay per views and loose brand fraternization it doesn’t seem like there is much of a need for a draft this year as Bobby Lashley and Ken Kennedy show up on RAW whenever they want, Umaga spends more time on ECW than he does RAW and somehow Jeff Hardy wrestles half his matches on SmackDown! I just really wish they would decide if they were going to tighten up the cross-branding or just do away with it altogether. Otherwise I think our guys that chronicle the brand transactions are going to lose their minds try to keep up.
For this week the vault is closed…
Linked to the Pulse
SK is back with another Monday Night Wars rant. I didn’t remember either show at all until he brought up the Robin Hood show that followed Nitro and Giant-Hogan “matchÃ¢â‚¬Â that aired during commercial breaks. Now I remember why I forgot it.
David B. brings up the Lex Luger arm-breaking angle. I didn’t remember that the angle ran that long. I think David made it sound more interesting and less complicated in print than it really was to watch.
Eric talks ECW and brings up an interesting alternative route for the main event four way.