The Superstar Shakeup 2017: A Closer Look

By Big Red Machine
From April 16, 2017

This week WWE presented the first "Superstar Shakeup" since last July's brand split. A total of twenty-six talents switched places: Eighteen male wrestlers (including two champions and a number one contender, as well as three tag teams), four female wrestlers, two valets, and two announcers now all have new television homes, and, WWE being WWE, I'm sure they will not hesitate to mention this big "shakeup" constantly over the course of the next few months... but let's look at what actually happened on last week's WWE TV to determine whether or now this Superstar Shakeup will be the success that WWE will undoubtedly insist that it is at every opportunity.

I'd like to start with the presentation of the Superstar Shakeup... and quite frankly, I thought the presentation of this whole thing was a big mess. To put it simply, I did not understand what was happening, because WWE never explained it to me. I understand the concept of wrestlers switching shows, but in the past we've always been presenting with a mechanism that shows us how it happens. The closest thing to an explanation we got was a article telling us that the GMs would have "an opportunity to make trades, deals and other moves that they feel fit." I'm not sure that "other moves" could mean other than call-ups or releasing someone from their contract, neither of which we saw- or even had hinted at on either show (yes, The Drifter showed up on Raw, but the announcers acted like they had no idea why he was there, as opposed to everyone else who they said "XYZ has come to Raw/Smackdown in the Superstar Shakeup!" or in the case of last week's call-ups, they said "XYZ from NXT is now part of Raw/Smackdown!"). While certain segments- particularly Kurt Angle's segments with Sami Zayn and Seth Rollins on Raw- made it seem like Kurt and Bryan were indeed making trades with each other, the rest of the presentation didn't add up to that. If Ambrose, Bliss, Miz Bray, Mickie etc. came to Raw as part of various trades, then said trades would have had to occur BEFORE Raw started, which would mean that people who would later turn up on Smackdown like Owens, Zayn, Charlotte, New Day, Shining Stars etc. would have already been members of the Smackdown roster when Raw started and thus wouldn't have been allowed to appear Raw, but did so anyway. Furthermore, they never once used to words "trade," "swap," "exchange" or any other similar term to describe what had happened, and we were never told exactly who was sent over in return for who. Even in a case where it seemed like a simple and clear one-for-one swap was made like Otunga for Saxton, they never described it as a trade. This felt a lot more like the usual draft lottery... except that they also went out of their way to not use the term "draft" and we never saw any of the picks take place like we usually would.

This probably seems like a giant nit-pick, but I actually think it exposes a very important point. The way WWE presented this made it clear that they wanted to be as free as possible. They didn't want to have to follow any rules, so they didn't set any. They couldn't even keep to a standard set of rules for what happens when a title switches brands. With the WWE World Heavyweight Title everything was played off as normal. Randy and Bray are still going to have their House of Horrors match (though apparently at the Raw PPV, which confused the hell out of me because I thought that also meant that Randy was now on Raw) with the winner becoming the champion and taking the belt with him to his show, just like you would expect. This seems to be the case with the IC Title as well. Dean was drafted to Raw and Dean is the IC Champion, therefore the IC Title is now on Raw. With the US Championship, however it was announced that when Owens faces Jericho at the PPV, whoever wins will come to Smackdown with the belt, meaning that if Raw's Jericho wins the belt, he will follow the belt to Smackdown rather than the belt following him to Raw... which makes it feel like it is more the US Title itself that got drafted to Smackdown rather than US Champion Kevin Owens, but Owens will remain on Smackdown anyway.

This all, in turn, implies to me that there was a major lack of planning for this, and this is the sort of thing that NEEDS to be planned out or else people risk getting lost in the shuffle, and if wrestlers who were presented as big deal draft pick (say Zayn or Ambrose or Bray or Bliss or Mickie) get lost in the shuffle, it damages WWE's ability to get us excited the next time they push someone as a major draft pick.

This major lack of planning also seems to show through in terms of WHO was chosen to switch brands. In particular, the moves of Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, and The New Day seem to have either last minute decisions (by which I mean decisions made after the end of the previous week's Smackdown) or seem to have had very little thought put into them, and thus are missing glaring flaws in the move. With Dean he quite simply should not have lost to Baron Corbin in a non-title match the previous week on Smackdown if he was going to be sent to Raw with the belt, as poor Corbin has now earned a title shot but won't ever be able to get it. Owens' move also fits into this category, although with them losing both Bray and Miz and AJ Styles having turned babyface, they were sorely in need of a top heel, and that is a role in which Kevin Owens excels.

Bray's move, aside from the obvious issue that he is now a Raw guy and yet also the #1 contender to Smackdown's top title, seems like it can't help but have adverse effects on the newly-returned Erick Rowan- who was shown to be completely useless without Bray the last time they decided to break the Wyatt Family up for no reason. It also puts WWE in a tough position with regards to Braun Strowman. Some sort of interaction between the two almost seems necessary, and it seems to be that, based on Bray's character, such an interaction can only have two possible outcomes: 1) Braun returns to being subservient to Bray, which will obviously hurt Braun, who has been positioned as Smackdown's top full-time heel, or 2) Braun rejects Bray, which would essentially turn Braun babyface, which is not only obviously not the kind of thing that you should be doing to someone who you want to be your top heel, but also really clogs up the gears on the Raw male babyface side, which already has Rollins, Reigns, Ambrose, and Jericho (for as long as he stays around), and would now gain a fifth top guy as well, leaving Bray as the only full-time top-level heel now that Owens and Rusev have both been sent to Smackdown. And this is on a show where the babyface side is already MUCH more over than the heel side in both the women's and tag team divisions... and that's with the tag division just having lost the New Day.

Speaking of New Day, their move is also very odd for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is that watching what they've been doing since WrestleMania and it seems clear that they should be about to engage in a blood feud with the newly-called up Revival, who broke Kofi Kingston's ankle for absolutely no reason, after they had already defeated New Day in a contest where New Day were perfectly sportsmanlike. Additionally, while New Day were completely stale as champions on Raw, they never really had much of a feud with Enzo & Cass, and have also never worked with the triumphantly-returning Hardy Boyz, so between those two teams and The Revival, they had a surprising amount of fresh match-ups left on Raw... and that was before the Superstar Shakeup brought them Heath Slater & Rhyno to work with as well. But instead they are headed to Smackdown, which only has one heel tag team that has ever in any way looked like a threat to anyone, so once they feud with The Usos, what is there to do (I think it's pretty clear at this point that WWE isn't going to turn them heel)?

The other issue I had with the choices WWE made about who to move around the Superstar Shakeup is, troublingly, a bit of a repeat of a mistake I thought they made during last year's draft, which is that it doesn't really feel like much has actually changed. Yes, I know that it has only been one week, but I think the choices that WWE made with how they presented the new draftees in their debuts on their new shows are definitely pointing us in the direction of repeating this same mistake. My exact phrasing last time was it "feels less like they divided up the roster and more like they divided up the feuds," and that kind of feels like the case here as well. Jinder moves to Smackdown? Well he's already been feuding with Smackdown's Mojo Rawley since WrestleMania, so this doesn't feel like much of a shake-up. Owens & Zayn both get drafted to the same brand and now they're put together on their very first night. Same with Miz and Ambrose, a feud which was still going strong at the beginning of this year. Alexa Bliss! comes over to Raw, and Mickie James comes right with her. While I am happy that this mean that that feud will not be dropped like it seems like Ambrose vs. Corbin will be (hell, I'd like to see that feud actually feel like it's STARTING), it certainly doesn't feel like a shake-up. We'll be getting the same feud, but on a different night of the week. Meanwhile, the Raw Women's Title feud going forward seems to be Bayley vs. Nia and/or Sasha... and, again, there is no reason that at least the Bayley vs. Sasha part of that shouldn't continue, as they have been building to it for months, it (along with the various other feuds still continuing like Roman vs. Strowman, Aries vs. Neville, and the aforementioned suddenly inter-brand title feuds) contributes to there being a feeling of stagnation where there should be a feeling of newness. Between the NXT call-ups last week and the Superstar Shakeup this week, there are a lot of new bodies in different places, but it really doesn't feel like anything new has happened.

Well... aside from American Alpha being jumped by the Shining Stars.

I'll be back later in the week with stock up/stock down predictions for the wrestlers affected by the Superstar Shakeup.

Read the Follow Up: Stock Up or Stock Down?

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