In July 2016, WWE split its roster for the first time in five years. Half of its wrestlers became exclusive to Monday Night Raw, while the other half were signed to compete on Tuesday nights as part of Smackdown Live. This week, we are going to deal with the ramifications of a selection of changes as a result of the ‘Superstar Shake-up’, which took place last week and saw various stars move from brand to brand, creating new matches and intriguing potential storylines.
Many have griped and moaned this week that Raw has received many of the best acquisitions and that the Superstar Shake-up was designed only to benefit the company’s red brand. However, I think this was actually a solidly balanced move that leaves both shows in intriguing places going into the summer.
Here are ten reasons to be positive about WWE in the wake of the Superstar Shake-up.
AJ Styles remains the anchor of Smackdown Live
For all of Kevin Owens’ bluster and bravado when he arrived on the blue brand last week, Smackdown Live has been the AJ Styles Show since the split last year. Styles held the title for more than four months at the tail end of 2016 and had tremendous matches with the likes of John Cena and Dean Ambrose. He battled with Smackdown commissioner Shane McMahon in a thrilling clash at WrestleMania and has been the core of the show throughout his time on Tuesday nights.
With that in mind, he seemed like an obvious pick to head to the bright lights of Raw, but that was not the case. Styles is remaining on Smackdown and looks to be surging into a babyface turn by way of a mouth-watering feud with Kevin Owens over the United States Championship. I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s back in the main event again.
Raw women’s division gets ‘Blissed off’
Despite its advantage over Smackdown in terms of star power, the Raw women’s division hasn’t quite had the same feel of depth as its blue counterpart. The roster has been unable to escape from the enormity of the Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks rivalry and the addition of Bayley provided only brief respite. That all changed on Monday night, when the show pulled off the double acquisition of Mickie James and two-time Smackdown Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss. Suddenly, things are interesting again.
Bliss made the transition to the main roster as smoothly as any competitor in recent memory. Her excellent mic work and genuinely nasty heel persona helped her to get over quickly and ascend to the top of the Smackdown women’s division, where she has stayed ever since. Her arrival on Raw looks set to give that division a real shot in the arm and the fact that she’s arriving as part of an ongoing story with Mickie James should establish her pretty quickly as a force to be reckoned with over on Team Red.
Bray vs. Balor the stuff of beautiful nightmares
With the exception of the sporadically present Undertaker, Bray Wyatt has reigned for several years as the only character on WWE TV with a supernatural bent. That began to change last year when Finn Balor arrived on the main roster just before SummerSlam and, with his Demon King gimmick in tow, became the first Universal Champion. Now, having returned from shoulder surgery, Balor is back and, last week, Bray Wyatt arrived on Raw and challenged Balor – appearing on a video screen after his match with Jinder Mahal.
A potential feud between Wyatt and Balor is the stuff of dream booking and, if done correctly, it could yield great matches as perhaps the best decision of the Superstar Shake-up. The two men work very different styles, which should create a series of compelling in-ring clashes. If the company can closely control the amount of supernatural material in the feud, ensuring it enhances the in-ring action rather than dominating it, then this could be the best rivalry of the year. The Eater of Worlds versus The Demon King – I’m sold.
Owens and Zayn to fight forever
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are a match made in heaven when it comes to in-ring chemistry. They are incapable of having a bad match with each other and, when they share the ring, magic happens, whether it’s their five-star war at Battleground last year or their series of brutal spots in a ladder match at WrestleMania 32. The Superstar Shake-up could easily have split them apart, but both made the move to Smackdown Live, ensuring that their rivalry can continue.
Owens and Zayn is a reliable combination that WWE can return to whenever they need a reliable crowd-pleaser of a battle. The two men have phenomenal chemistry between the ropes and they have enough personal animosity that the story tells itself. While there’s a delicate balance to be struck between returning to the feud and over-playing it, Smackdown has an incendiary resource at its disposal that gives two of WWE’s best performers the chance to square off over and over again.
Charlotte treated like a true star
Charlotte Flair is undoubtedly the biggest female star in WWE right now and has been the main anchor of the Raw women’s division throughout her time on the main roster. When she arrived on Smackdown Live last week, she did it in the midst of pageantry, prestige and an entrance fit for a queen. She got a special introduction by Shane McMahon while the entire women’s division stood in the centre of the ring watching. It’s fair to say that Charlotte’s arrival is going to put the cat among the pigeons on Smackdown and she will immediately be a formidable opponent for current champion Naomi.
On Raw, Charlotte had played out pretty much every possible match combination, so the time was right to move her. With the loss of Alexa Bliss, Smackdown needs a top heel to bolster the babyfaces on the roster and Charlotte has the star power to elevate anyone with whom she works. She certainly got an arrival befitting of a star and there’s every indication that she’s going to dominate the Smackdown women’s division.
A new lease of life for Dean Ambrose
Since he lost the WWE Championship to AJ Styles soon after the brand split, Dean Ambrose has struggled to find his footing as a major part of the Smackdown roster. He won the Intercontinental Championship a while back, but he has since been absent from the show frequently and was involved in an underwhelming WrestleMania feud with Baron Corbin. However, he made an appearance in the opening segment of Raw to confront Miz at the beginning of the Superstar Shake-up and then main evented the show against Kevin Owens in a champion vs. champion battle.
This is a fantastic opportunity for Ambrose to once again show the babyface appeal that helped to get him over. He works best when he has a genuinely hateable heel to work with. It’s sad that WWE is so committed to avoiding the Roman Reigns heel turn because Ambrose would be the perfect opponent for a villainous Reigns. Either way, the shift to a new brand creates a selection of fresh challengers for his Intercontinental Championship, which could give him the refresh he needs.
It’s a New Day on Smackdown Live
In more than a year as the Tag Team Champions on Raw, New Day took on, and indeed beat, every tag team on the red brand’s roster. They have hovered around in the doldrums since losing the belts to Sheamus and Cesaro and they didn’t even get a match at WrestleMania this year. After taking two losses to debuting duo The Revival, the team are now set to debut on Smackdown Live imminently, where there will be a whole new series of opponents for them.
Outside of American Alpha, the Smackdown tag division has been rather lacking in star power since the ascendancy of Heath Slater and Rhyno in the early days of the brand split. The arrival of New Day could give the division a new selection of A-listers to challenge current heel champions The Usos. There’s also plenty of promise for a babyface vs. babyface clash between New Day and American Alpha that could steal any show on which it appears. They are also one of the most over acts in the entire company and can be relied upon to cut a rock solid promo every week. They will be an asset to the blue show.
Rusev has room to be a brutish star
Cast your mind back to WrestleMania 31. That was the pinnacle of Rusev’s unstoppable rise to the top of WWE as he rode into the arena on a tank, before squaring off with John Cena. Rusev lost that match, as so many heels have done before him, and has since taken a quite spectacular tumble down the card. He has recently spent a fair amount of time jobbing out to Big Show and teaming with Jinder Mahal, which didn’t exactly do wonders for his reputation. The monster has had his teeth blunted and he’s now a jobber to the stars.
In the Superstar Shake-up, though, it was announced that Rusev is joining the Smackdown Live roster. This provides plenty of opportunity for a soft reboot of the Rusev character, allowing him to pick up his fair share of victories en route to being up in the championship picture again. The prospect of a battle between Rusev and a newly babyface AJ Styles is a thrilling one and he could have a stellar feud with Sami Zayn as well. Booked right, Rusev is a really valuable asset.
Kalisto to fly with the cruiserweights
Kalisto should have won the Cruiserweight Championship back in November at Survivor Series, bringing the entire cruiserweight division across to Smackdown Live. Now, however, he is crossing the floor to Raw, where he will be able to bring his thrilling high-flying style and unique energy to the rest of the cruiserweight division. Kalisto and Neville is a feud that has major big match potential and his main roster credibility will do wonders for boosting the profile of the cruiserweights.
The move is an absolute no-brainer. Kalisto has never been booked in a way befitting of his abilities, so a union with his fellow cruiserweights is the logical step. The Superstar Shake-up should be all about moving people into a slot that suits them better and Kalisto’s shift to Raw is a perfect example of that.
A new chance for Apollo Crews
Apollo Crews is one of the saddest stories in WWE today. He was signed to NXT off the back of an indy career that marked him out as one of the world’s most engaging talents, with all of the natural ability in the world. His time on the developmental show was unremarkable, but he still got to showcase some of his phenomenal skills. He was hotshotted on to the main roster very quickly and, after a promising start, he faded from view following a poor feud with Dolph Ziggler.
Crews has now moved from Smackdown to Raw, which gives him a similar opportunity to Rusev in that he can refresh his character. The smiling, generic good guy act was not working for Crews, so he may need to turn heel or at least show something of a different gimmick in order to stand out from the crowd. A more defined character will give Crews a chance to showcase his impressive in-ring arsenal on the big stage and, that way, he will at least have the chance to meet his potential.
What did you think of the Superstar Shake-up? Which of the two brands do you think has the best roster? Let me know in the comments section and check out more of our wrestling content.