For newcomers, the WWE is about as accessible as comic books. Decades of history and conflicting stories form a nigh unscalable wall for the uninitiated. But if you're curious about pro wrestling, you'll be interested to know that on Tuesday, the WWE did what essentially equates to a reboot.
It came in the form of the WWE Draft. In a nutshell, the company runs two weekly TV shows, "Raw" and "SmackDown." For the past few years, these shows have shared a roster, but Tuesday saw each wrestler get drafted to one of the two brands, where they'll perform exclusively.
This has big implications. Firstly, "SmackDown," previously taped on Tuesdays and aired on Thursdays, will now air live on Tuesdays. This was reportedly demanded by USA Network, according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, who was unhappy with the show's sliding ratings. Secondly, there are rumours that there will now be two pay-per-view-esque events a month on the WWE Network (think Netflix for pro wrestling), one for each brand. That's a lot of wrestling!
But before we get into that, here are the top brand picks for each brand. For a full list, hit up WWE.
|Seth Rollins||Dean Ambrose|
|Roman Reigns||John Cena|
|Finn Balor||Randy Orton|
|Brock Lesnar||Bray Wyatt|
Who are they?
With the exception of Brock Lesnar (who we'll get back to in a second), the two best athletes on the roster are Seth Rollins and AJ Styles. They're known for being able to have a great match with anyone -- so it makes sense that they get put on separate brands, to spread the talent. If you want to see one of the best matches of the year, go back and watch Styles vs. Roman Reigns from Payback on the WWE Network.
Speaking of Reigns, he's a controversial figure. Because of his look and athleticism, WWE brass have been positioning him as the company's leading man for the past year. But, booing him loudly in arenas the world over, putting the company in a tough spot: Do they push on and hope he catches fire, or change tactics and turn him into a bad guy? In the meantime, Dean Ambrose, a big crowd favourite, has been made WWE champion. He's a smaller guy, but fans buy into his intense, magnetic personality.
Two of the more interesting top picks were Finn Balor and Charlotte. Balor is from NXT, WWE's developmental brand, and fans have been waiting for his main-roster arrival for months and months. Formerly a star in Japan, he'll likely debut on "Raw" next week. Charlotte being picked second for "Raw" speaks to the company's increased focus on making women's wrestling more popular -- following its recent shift to calling female talent "Women" instead of "Divas."
Then there's John Cena, who's been the company's top star since 2010. He's on his way out of wrestling, saying in a recent interview with ABC News that there's "an end in sight" to his career, so get in on The Franchise while you can. You should also know about Brock Lesnar, who you probably heard recently won a UFC fight against Mark Hunt. He's a prize-fighter, only wrestling a few times a year, but he's also an athletic freak. Each of his matches are a sight to behold.
What does this mean for the WWE?
The WWE has some big decisions to make in the coming weeks.
On Sunday, "SmackDown"'s Dean Ambrose will defend his WWE championship in a triple-threat match against both "Raw"'s Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins at Battleground, a special event airing mainly on the WWE Network. No matter who wins, one brand will be without a world title. Look for the storyline on that show to be the coronation of a new champion.
Meanwhile, the company has historically had a habit of placing all its eggs in the John Cena basket. Now that he's entering the twilight of his career, working a greatly reduced schedule, who will the WWE build the "SmackDown" brand around? AJ Styles and Ambrose are likely candidates, and their talents speak for themselves, so that's a good thing.
And then there's the behind-the-scenes aspect. The WWE makes most of its money through television rights and subscriptions to the WWE Network, according to revered wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer. The entire brand split was done in hopes of boosting "SmackDown" ratings -- how will that impact "Raw," which now effectively has half the roster it had a week ago? And is two pay-per-view events per month on the WWE Network overkill?
There are a lot of questions that need answering, but that makes this a fun time to be a pro wrestling fan and the perfect time to jump in if you're a newbie.