Alright, here we go. I had planned to write a bit about the Superstar Shake-Up last week, but procrastination got the best of me and here we are. Funnily enough, my laziness seems to have paid off in this particular endeavour, as WWE made a ton of late changes. So, what I'm going to do here is draw upon my teaching background, and I'm going to give each new member of the Raw and Smackdown roster a grade, based on the A to F grading system. This is based on two main variables- the talent of the wrestler/s in question, and also how valuable they are likely to be to their new brand.
For those who aren't quite up to speed on what the WWE Superstar Shake-Up is- WWE have been doing this since the original Raw/Smackdown brand extension in 2002, although it was previously known as a Draft, or Draft Lottery. A number of Raw Superstars are sent to Smackdown, a number of Smackdown Superstars are sent to Raw. This gives both shows the opportunity to freshen up the scene, opening the doors for new match-ups, new rivalries and even a new career path- a couple of years ago, Jinder Mahal hopped from Raw to Smackdown, and went from jobber to WWE Champion in a couple of months. Of course, it's not always sunshine and rainbows for the Superstars that swap shows- last year, Jinder Mahal went from Smackdown to Raw, where he immediately went from being US Champion... back to being a jobber.
Since 2017, the Draft had the re-branding to the Superstar Shake-Up, but the concept remains essentially the same. Vince McMahon came out on the Raw After Wrestlemania 33- the one where they cursed Roman Reigns for 15 minutes straight on live TV, I was there and it was magical. Anyway, Vince said, "we need to shake things up again!", but there was no further details as to what that involved. Originally, the owners, or GMs, made actual picks from each other's shows, in later years, Raw wrestlers battled Smackdown wrestlers in order to gain their show draft picks, and with the lottery concept, the computer made random roster selections that was displayed on the TItantron. But the Superstar Shake-Up has never really being explained. Is it picks by GMs (or now the McMahon Family)? Is it random selections by a computer? Are there trades, one wrestler for another? The lack of clarity is honestly lazy creative, and that was extended this year by late changes. The Shake-Up was originally set for Raw and Smackdown last week, but per Tom Phillips on Smackdown a couple of hours ago, "the Superstar Shake-Up is still in effect." Why? How? Who knows. We don't even know for sure if they've completely finished making changes. But, we do have a lot of roster changes to examine, so let's get to it.
AJ is the biggest name Raw acquired during the Superstar Shake-Up. After spending the past 3 years on Smackdown Live, and making it "The House That AJ Styles Built", Styles looks to expand his real estate portfolio (Credit to Corey Graves for that excellent line). On the first night of the Superstar Shake-Up, AJ teamed with Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns, gaining the pinfall for his team in a match against McIntyre, Corbin, and Lashley.
This week, with the Shake-Up still on-going for some reason, Styles opened Raw competing in a Triple Threat against fellow new arrivals to Raw, Samoa Joe and Rey Mysterio. He won that match, setting him up for a No. 1 Contender's match later in the night against Baron Corbin. He defeated Corbin, which sets the Phenomenal One up for a Universal Championship match against Seth Rollins at the Money In The Bank PPV.
Grade: A+. Styles was the most obvious choice to me for a change of scenery. He's been on Smackdown Live since the blue brand went live, and had done everything there was to do there. Two weeks on Raw, two main event matches- and pulling double duty this week- there's no doubt that AJ Styles is instantly an integral part of the Raw main event scene.
As the reigning United States Champion, Joe should be a significant acquisition for Raw. Unfortunately, he seems to be a victim of WWE's lack of organisation, given that he was moved over to Raw this week, when the Shake-Up was meant to be over, without explanation. It seems like someone realised, "oh shit, we have two secondary champions on Smackdown, we gotta move Joe!" So moving Joe over with little fanfare, having him take the fall in his return match to Raw- AJ could have pinned Rey in that triple threat match- and just the way Joe has been treated as US Champion doesn't fill me with hope. That said, even with miles on the clock, a long hard-hitting career and being on the older side now... Samoa Joe is still an exceptional talent that could contribute a lot to Raw if given the chance.
Grade: B+. As a talent, Joe is a definite A player. However, my hopes aren't high that WWE will utilise him to the fullest. He does have a feud with Rey Mysterio ongoing that could spark both men's career trajectories, so we will soon see what the future holds for Joe on Raw.
Mysterio is a living legend, and has performed extremely well since returning to WWE full-time last October. I confess that I was strongly against Rey's return when I first heard about it. Mysterio is one of my all time favourite wrestlers, but in the 2010s in WWE, it seems that Rey spent the majority of the time on the injured list. But his body has held up well, he's in the shape of his life, and in his 40s, is moving like he did in his 20s, especially those incredible matches with Andrade on Smackdown. Unfortunately, the injury bug did bite him slightly, and at the worst possible time- a minor ankle injury was the reason he lost to Samoa Joe in one minute at Wrestlemania. However, he performed seemingly at 100% this week in the Triple Threat, and the fact that he actually got moved to Raw last week indicates that WWE consciously put him there, and will hopefully feature him well.
Grade: B. At Mysterio's age, I don't expect him to be a main event star anymore, healthy or not. But he'll make great contributions to the upper midcard/US Title scene, and should do a great job working with the younger superstars.
Miz was the first Superstar to swap brands, attacking Shane McMahon in the opening segment of last week's Raw. Look, Miz swapping shows is becoming like Big Show's heel turns- it's basically a meme at this point. Miz is a tremendous utility player, he can be used anywhere... so that's exactly what WWE does. He's probably not going to main event shows, and I can't see the Shane feud continuing- I think WWE just wanted to use the recent feud as a big "moment' to re-introduce the A Lister. I have a feeling he'll settle back into the US Title scene, albeit as a face. Miz has done an admirable job showing fire as a babyface recently.
Grade: B. Miz is good anywhere. It doesn't matter where you put him- which is both a good and bad thing. He's not a game changer, he's familiar... but he's reliable.
After appearing on Raw, Smackdown AND NXT in recent weeks and months, it was announced last week that The One And Only was making the red brand his home. Of all the NXT call-ups this year, Ricochet has garnered the biggest reaction from crowds, thanks mostly to his jaw-dropping offence. He's probably the most athletic Superstar in all of WWE, which means he's always going to get a certain amount of spotlight no matter what. It remains to be seen how Ricochet will do locked into an actual feud- Ricochet's detractors will note that he's not the greatest on the mic, but I think that criticism is overblown- I've seen him grow in confidence just through his time in NXT. I see great things in this man's future. I don't think it'll be immediate, but I do think he is a key part of the future of Raw and WWE as a whole.
Grade: A. In his tag team with Aleister Black, Ricochet impressed a lot of people- but it only scratched the surface of what he can do. He's on a roster filled with guys he could have "dream matches" with- Samoa Joe, Rey Mysterio, Cedric Alexander, Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Cesaro... just take my damn money already!
It's been rumoured for a while that WWE had a big push in mind for Lacey Evans, and that started to come to fruition almost immediately after Wrestlemania, when the Sassy Southern Belle targeted the Raw and Smackdown Women's Champion, Becky Lynch.
Lacey is blonde, beautiful, powerful... and is a former Marine. I have no doubts that Vince McMahon has a Lacey Evans poster up in his bedroom that he looks at before he gets his 4 hours of sleep a night. So Evans is all set for a Raw Women's Championship match at Money In The Bank, so it's clear she's an important part of the roster. The jury is still out on her as a talent- she has a lot of confidence and understands her character very well, but on the wrestling side, she's been part of the Royal Rumble match and had a match with Natalya last week that was decent- but Nattie can get a decent match out of anyone basically. It's a very small sample size to judge. Even in NXT, she didn't have many long matches.
Grade: B+. She has the spotlight, now what she does with it will determine her place in the Raw hierarchy going forward.
Much like AJ Styles in the singles ranks, Jimmy and Jey have been staples of Smackdown Live's tag division since the brand split. Since last appearing on Raw, The Usos revamped their characters, from the happy-go-lucky face painted Samoan dancers, to a couple of street-wise thugs that wrestle and talk like no one else. They had a legendary feud with The New Day. I don't know if many WWE fans out there only watch Raw and not Smackdown, but if any of those people are out there, they're going to get a real culture shock when they see what the Brothers Uce are all about these days.
Grade: A. An awesome, fresh addition to Raw. Provided both guys stay out of those real life legal troubles, they're going to be welcoming every team on the red brand to the Uso Penitentiary,
The team formerly known as War Raiders in NXT (and War Machine in NJPW) are an excellent tag team. Just recently on NXT Takeover: New York. they damn near stole the show on what was a loaded card with multiple classic matches.
Since joining the main roster, however, all the focus has been on the awful creative decisions surrounding this excellent team, more specifically, their names! They turned up last week, NXT history be damned, billed as Ivar and Erik, The Viking Experience. The individual names are bearable, considering that Hanson and Rowe are names made outside of the WWE bubble (but then again, so are AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Ricochet. WWE play weird games with the whole name thing). But The Viking Experience?!? It was mocked endlessly for a week on social media, likened to an amusement park ride and even a male strip show. So this week, we get the Viking Raiders. Not terrible. But I'm going to miss the "war" chant.
Grade: B+. Once everyone gets over this name business, they'll see that Hanson and Rowe- sorry, Ivar and Erik, are an excellent tag team between the ropes. I mean, what's in a name, anyway? A guy named Dolph Ziggler became World Heavyweight Champion.
Speaking of names, did you guys know that "Naomi" backwards is, "I moan"? ...Sorry, I couldn't resist that one.
Naomi is a good, but not great talent. Her entrance and attire is good for injecting a dose of energy into the show. Her presence on Raw brings the flashiness, the fun... but not a ton of substance. The reasoning for her coming to Raw could mostly be attributed to her marriage to Jimmy Uso, but she is another Superstar that established herself as a mainstay on the blue brand, so the Raw environment could provide a fresh coat of paint to "The Glow". I'm just not sure she gets much of a look in to the main event scene with Becky, Lacey, Alexa, and a disgruntled Sasha Banks still around somewhere.
Grade: C: I can't see Naomi having a huge amount of success. She's a great athlete but not a great wrestler. She'll be good on house shows getting the kids up and dancing around.
This year, for the first time, 205 Live wrestlers were eligible for the Shake-Up. This brings cruiserweight mainstay Alexander to Monday nights.
Cedric is a tremendous wrestler. Hidden away on that great little Network show (and PPV Kick-Offs), Cedric had some of the best matches of 2018. He was signed to WWE in 2016 when the Full Sail crowd begged for it, actually chanting "Please Sign Cedric!" following a phenomenal match with Kota Ibushi. On 205 Live, he was treated as their biggest star, sometimes referred to as "the John Cena of 205". I don't think he'll get that red carpet experience on Raw- he had his return match yesterday against Cesaro and lost in six minutes clean. That said, he's still an outstanding performer that can absolutely make the most of any opportunity that comes his way on Raw.
Grade: B. He's clearly not a priority, but he can definitely provide some great matches, which means he has value on a wrestling TV show that needs 3 hours of airtime filled.
The former Derrick Bateman almost seems like he's getting punished for finding success after getting released from NXT years ago. He went to TNA/Impact and completely reinvented himself in every way. He was brought back to NXT with fanfare, worked his ass off in the North American Championship ladder match and cut some pretty great promos.
Then he joined the main roster and they made him a narcissistic mute, taking away his greatest skill. He got a win over Dean Ambrose- when Dean was jobbing to everyone since he chose not to re-sign to WWE- then had to give it back a week later. So in the Shake-Up, they made EC3 an official Raw roster member, he comes out demanding competition- and Braun Strowman kills him and slams him through the Raw stage.
Grade: D. Just get out of there, EC3. I'm not even his biggest fan, but the blatant burial is just sad to watch.
This was one of the late moves made, and it's a little perplexing to me. I thought having Sheamus and Cesaro be The Bar was the perfect use of both men. They've both been pushed in the past as singles stars, to mixed success, but The Bar is where both men just seemed to click. So Cesaro joining Raw is strange to me, even more so the last minute nature of it. Maybe WWE realised that they had left tag teams intact, when one of the talking points before the Shake-Up was that teams could be split? The only kind of logical reason I could think of- and I know logic and WWE don't always go together- is that Sheamus has had neck issues for a long time. Perhaps he informed management that he was going to step away or quietly wind down his career, leaving the Swiss Superman in limbo.
Grade: B. WWE have done everything they can with Cesaro. He's not world champion material, and he's achieved everything else. But, he's always good for quality matches, and at 38, he might just be there now to help the younger ones shine. Sort of a player-coach role like the one his former tag partner Kassius Ohno has had in NXT.
Whoops, there was another tag team split up due to Raw's acquistions in the Superstar Shake-Up- the stable of Sanity! To be fair, Sanity were VERY rarely seen on Smackdown for the last couple of years since making the jump from NXT. They did make a recent appearance, getting beat by The Miz in a 3 on 1 Handicap match. I'm sorry, Miz has improved dramatically, but if he's kicking your ass when it's 3 on 1, you're probably best going your separate ways.
Given Young's virtual missing persons act on Smackdown, I can't see him doing anything of note on Raw. Even in NXT, he was virtually just the manager to Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe. Wolfe has made the jump over to NXT UK now, so perhaps this move for EY was just a simple way to facilitate that.
Grade: D. He'll probably be jobbing to Tyler Breeze and No Way Jose on Main Event.
So that does it for the Raw side of The Shake-Up! I should be back over the next couple of days to drop Part 2, where I look at the Smackdown side. Of course, the Shake Up had some ripple effects, and the last minute changes created a little havoc- Andrade and Zelina Vega were part of Raw for a hot minute before a "Flair Up" saw them head back to Smackers. And thanks to some real life tomfoolery, Aleister Black, who was originally named for the Raw roster, also joins the blue brand, ending his team with Ricochet. Chad Gable also leaves his team with Bobby Roode behind, which led to a character alteration... Roode now has the first name "Robert" and is rocking a sweet porno 'stache. And there's the returning Bray Wyatt... fuck knows what to make of that. I'm out.
Until next time, take care,