Did you join the Hooked on Wrestling team for one of our EIGHT awesome WrsetleMania shows? If so, or if you watched it at home (we won’t judge) or actually saw it in person in Orlando (we won’t get too jealous), you would’ve witnessed the annual pinnacle of sports entertainment. Whilst WrestleMania is the culmination of 12 months of anticipation and booking, the real challenge comes when the dust settles and WWE must use its ‘Mania momentum to go again.
To help keep things rolling, a ‘Superstar Shake-Up’ was announced on the RAW after ‘Mania (sorry, that’s #RawAfterMania), with performers from RAW and SmackDown Live switching shows and freshening up the look of both rosters. Whilst only time will tell just how successful the shake-up is, the early signs are positive for viewers, performers and even those yet to appear on the ‘main’ roster. Let’s take a look at four ways the Superstar Shake-Up has already changed WWE for the better.
1) SmackDown Live gets another boost
WWE has been trying for quite some time now to make the SmackDown show a legitimate flagship show once again, rather than the B-show behind RAW. The damage done to SmackDown during the late 2000s and early 2010s looked for a while to be irreparable, but lots of good work has gone into changing the mind-set surrounding the show. Permanently taking it live and adding the likes of Shane McMahon, AJ Styles and the actual WWE title was all in the aim of aligning it with RAW – and the Superstar Shake-Up was certainly designed with the same goal in mind.
SmackDown was at its best in the past when it offered something a little different to what RAW had to offer, but shared the same all-in, fast-paced, over-the-top presentation that we saw on Monday nights. While RAW had the big names and jacked-up monsters in the early 2000s, SmackDown shone the spotlight on outstanding in-ring performers to create a product that appealed more to different sub-sections of the WWE demographic. There have been glimpses of that same dynamic since last year’s Draft and I fully expect this to step up a notch following the Shake-Up.
While today’s RAW is still stacked with talent, SD Live now boasts Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura, Charlotte and many more top-level performers. Even Byron Saxton is an upgrade on David Otunga. A lot of those names pull in numbers (not Saxton), so moving them to SmackDown shows more serious intent from WWE to create two genuinely entertaining shows, which can only be a good thing for viewers.
2) Breathing room for NXT
The second NXT after WrestleMania was a big show for the brand. After the usual post-PPV NXT recorded before the main card on Saturday, the exceptional yellow-heavy show came complete with a new opening sequence, new music , new in-ring talent and plenty of mentions of “The New Era”. The success NXT has experienced over the last three years has not gone unnoticed and it’s clear to see that WWE hierarchy has more plans for the show.
The one aspect that hinders NXT is its bi-annual farming of talent, sent upwards to RAW and SmackDown Live. That’s by no means a complaint or a call for the show to no longer be a ‘developmental’ proving ground the red and blue brands. This was always going to be the case and it’s accepted by the loyal fanbase who, despite regularly picking up the exact moment they’re seeing a performer for the final time on NXT , are very understanding of seeing their favourite stars leave their favourite show.
But, with NXT still on the rise, the show could do some consistency over the next six months, keeping hold of its top stars, whilst infrequently adding to it with Performance Centre rookies and the odd global sensation. Of course, the actual shake-up did include plenty of the NXT roster (Tye Dillinger, The Revival, Shinsuke Nakamura, etc.), but the new look of RAW and SDLive should mean a big-name call-up shouldn’t be in order for a while to come. That means the likes of Bobby Roode, DIY, Asuka, Ember Moon and others can continue to carry NXT into the next chapter of its, ahem, ‘Evolution’.
3) Surprises and shocks are what we adore right now
Of course, one of the reasons those NXT call-ups to the big stage are enjoyed so much is the shock value they carry – and in WWE right now, surprises carry a greater value than they ever have.
Some of the most memorable moments on WWE programming in recent years have not been matches. They’ve not been scathing promos or iconic images, either. All they’ve been is the entrance music of someone we had absolutely no idea was in the building that night. The reaction when Shane McMahon returned in February 2016 was one of the best reactions I’ve seen from a modern day WWE crowd. The Royal Rumble match is now as much about shock competitors than it is about the eventual winner. Then of course, at this year’s WrestleMania, the stand-out moment of an exceptional show was two old boys who were relevant in the ‘90s turning up for a tag match…
Of course, I’m being sarcastic. Anyone in London’s Walkabout Temple for the HoW ‘Mania party knows how I popped like a child finding a puppy under the Christmas tree when Matt and Jeff Hardy walked out at the Citrus Bowl.
That was a shining example of how much the current WWE audience enjoys the unexpected. While telling us a week in advance to tune into RAW next Monday for a big title match is a tried-and-tested strategy to draw in viewers, how exciting was it to be tuning into RAW and SmackDown Live having almost no idea who we were going to see? That unknown element isn’t something that can’t be replicated too often, but doing it so soon after WrestleMania, to keep that momentum going, was a smart way of tapping into a key interest of WWE fans.
Speaking of momentum…
4) Top stars won’t see their momentum tail off
As it so often does, WrestleMania appeared to signal the end of a number of rivalries between talent.
The women’s division of both flagship shows looked like all options had been exhausted after the big show. AJ Styles had basically seen off every SmackDown Live babyface. Sami Zayn had faced off against every big guy this side of King Kong Bundy. Anderson and Gallows’ elongated run to the RAW Tag Team Titles meant they had very much finished business against every other team on the show. The natural cycle of WWE that Vince McMahon referenced on the RAW after ‘Mania had reached its natural conclusion. So, as with most of the great promo segments in recent years, McMahon claiming that a shake-up was needed was a piece of entertainment, doused in reality.
All the aforementioned stars have so much to give, but regurgitating old rivalries and facing off against the same opponent every night doesn’t do much for your reputation – unless you’re Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Moving things around gives those stars a chance to add more strings to their bow, thriving in matches that have more interest on allure due to them being fresh.
Charlotte has the chance to solidify her spot as the queen of WWE by squaring off against new opponents with different styles. Charlotte vs Naomi, in particular, has the potential to be a show-stealer. Arguably the most improved performer over the past two years, Alexa Bliss can put her superb heel character to the test against long-standing babyfaces in Bayley and Sasha Banks. Even those who haven’t switched shows will reap the benefits; Randy Orton, for example, looks set to stay at the top of the SmackDown Live roster alongside guys he’s rarely (if ever) faced, including Zayn and Nakamura. Too many talents get lost in long-standing rivalries. Shaking things up gives the roster every chance (and no excuse not) to further establish themselves.
Are you a fan of the changes made in the Superstar Shake-Up? Who do you think will benefit most? Let us know your thoughts.
Chris - @OTPChris