Report Card: Night 1 of the WWE Superstar Shakeup
The consensus, from what I’m reading, is that WWE fell short of the big splash it was hoping for by not moving names like A.J. Styles, Daniel Bryan and Shinsuke Nakamura from Smackdown to Raw, the higher-rated of the two weekly shows, instead opting for less aggressive moves with Jinder Mahal, Bobby Roode, Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn and Baron Corbin, plus the callup of Drew McIntyre from NXT.
Where the critics miss the mark is not taking into account that Raw and Smackdown aren’t just TV shows. The brands are also touring companies staging house shows in between the weekly TV shows and monthly WWE Network events, and as such, they need main-eventers to draw in the ticket-buyers.
Even though Roman Reigns famously hasn’t been given the ball in the form of the Universal Championship to run with at the head of the card on Raw, for example, he’s still the guy for the Raw house-show touring company, given that Brock Lesnar works only select house shows, a few WWE Network events and the occasional Monday night.
So, let’s say you move A.J. Styles, who has been the guy on the Smackdown brand house shows for the past year, over to Raw: who headlines for you? Not Nakamura, because those two are scripted into a feud that will play out for the foreseeable future, so moving Styles means also moving Nakamura.
What do you do with those two gone? You don’t entrust your brand to Daniel Bryan, who just recently returned to in-ring action after a nearly three-year hiatus, and who, you never know, might not be long for the business, given his injury history. In any event, Bryan can’t be expected to carry a house-show touring company, so he’s not your guy.
I like the move of The Miz over to Smackdown to match up with Bryan to rekindle the Talking Smack verbal feud that the two had engaged in last year. Miz-Bryan and Styles-Nakamura give you two options at the top of the card for Smackdown both on TV and at house shows for the next several months.
Back over to Raw, then, you still have Reigns and Lesnar facing off, next at the Greatest Royal Rumble event later this month, so it very well could be that Reigns finally wins the belt and can then headline house shows as the Universal champ.
Even if that doesn’t end up being the case, he’s still the big dog, and now he has a few more options in terms of dance partners that will feel fresh as the next year plays out.
It seems that the first feud of the spring for Reigns will be Samoa Joe, who had been getting a nice push last summer before going on the shelf with an injury. Corbin is the next most intriguing future opponent to me.
I like McIntyre and Roode being top of the midcard babyfaces, sort of gatekeepers for Reigns, and you can never go wrong having Owens and Zayn anywhere on your show.
Me, I give the first night of the Shakeup a solid B+ grade. Now let’s see what Smackdown gets from Raw.
Chris Graham is the author of The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, an account of the behind-the-scenes of the 2011 Awesome Wrestling Entertainment Night of Legends show.