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Wrestling :: A Whole New Beginning (Part 1)
  submitted on June 18, 2005, 3:37 PM

Make The Grade

Make The Grade #7 - A Whole New Beginning

Post-Wrestlemania marks the beginning of the new ‘season’ for professional wrestling, if there is such a thing. Storylines, feuds, build and build, and the biggest and the best are showcased at Wrestlemania, the ultimate wrestling show. For the past three years, WWE has provided us with severe alterations to the makeup of their programming following Wrestlemania in order to help usher in this new season. In 2002, we saw the company split into two brands, RAW, and Smackdown, completely exclusive with the exception of one WWE Champion, and one Women’s Champion. It was a revolutionary move, something we had never seen before. It allowed more talent to showcase their abilities, but hindered our desires as certain feuds and interactions could no longer take place due to brand separation. Then, in 2003, we were treated to various roster members ‘jumping ship’ and changing shows, although it wasn’t terribly impactful or logical. 2004 came around and WWE got a better grasp on what they should be doing, and gave us a night of draft picks, drafting five RAW and five Smackdown superstars to the other show. A very successful RAW, that led to the exposure of some younger superstars (Shelton Benjamin), although unfortunately left Smackdown as the overall weaker show when it comes to talent. Now, 2005 is upon us, and WWE is trying to give their idea a tune up, in order to make it more effective. The ten draft picks are back, but this time, they will take place over the course of four weeks. The stakes are also a lot higher this time around. If the first two weeks of draft picks are any indication, WWE is going to seriously shake up the foundations of both shows, leaving the fans with a lot of new material that hasn’t been seen before. Here is a breakdown of the first four overall draft picks, and how RAW and Smackdown will be changed by them.

John CenaName: John Cena

Pick: RAW’s #1 Pick

Career Highlights: Current WWE Champion, 3-time United States Champion

What this means for RAW: If Eric Bischoff could only choose one person to take from Smackdown and put on RAW, chances are John Cena would be it. Since debuting three years ago, John Cena has shot to the top of the card, and his trials and tribulations over the past year have been well documented as he began his rise to the top. Cena originally appeared on Smackdown, and had remained on that show for his entire career. Considered to be one of the ‘edgier’ gimmicks on the roster, RAW will get a boost of energy from Cena’s youthfulness and ability to connect with the fans through his raps and other mic work. There is no denying that Cena’s popularity has gone through the roof over the past six months, and his presence on a live show like RAW will offer up even more electricity than his appearances on a taped show like Smackdown.

On the other hand, Cena is jumping ship to a show already stocked with established talent, and not a lot of room to move around in at the top of the card. With perennial main eventers like HHH and HBK, and newcomers like Batista and Edge, Cena’s presence may not be as ‘big’ as it was on Smackdown. RAW will not be Cena’s show, it will still be HHH’s show, and that may be a difficult adjustment for both Cena and the fans.

What this means for Smackdown: As big of a gain this was for RAW, it’s an even more devastating loss for Smackdown. Cena was Smackdown. Similar to when Smackdown first started, and it was dubbed as ‘The Rock’s show,’ it has come be known as Cena’s show. Losing your #1 superstar is never an easy thing, and is something Smackdown has had to deal with for the past few years. Brock Lesnar was the top talent on Smackdown last year, when he prematurely departed from WWE. Kurt Angle, another top talent, has suffered a couple of injuries the past couple of years, causing him to miss significant time. Chris Benoit jumped ship to RAW last year after winning the Royal Rumble in order to face HHH for the World Title at Wrestlemania XX. It’s been a very trying time for Smackdown as far as talent goes, and John Cena had been one of the few bright spots on the radar.

While many had speculated that this was WWE’s chance to right the ship and try and balance out the talent level, the loss of Cena shows that Smackdown is really going to have to get some significant names in order to provide an overall better product than they put on TV over the past year. Another thing Smackdown needs to pick up is a title. With Cena heading over to RAW, the WWE title left, too, leaving Smackdown without it’s premier title. If Smackdown doesn’t get back the WWE title, or draft the World Heavyweight Champion, their status as the second-rate show will be all but cemented in place.

Chris BenoitName: Chris Benoit

Pick: Smackdown’s #1 pick

Career Highlights: World Heavyweight Champion, 3-time World Tag Team Champion, WWE Tag Team Champion, 3-time Intercontinental Championship, 3-time WCW Television Champion, WCW Tag Team Champion

What this means for Smackdown: While Smackdown lost a lot when Cena was drafted to RAW, picking up Benoit adds a lot to an area that Cena where Cena couldn’t help out a whole lot. Benoit is one of the top wrestling talents with the company, and his string of incredible matches over the past couple of years is a great asset to have on either show. A year and a half ago when Benoit was with Smackdown, we had been witness to great matches between Benoit and Angle, Guerrero, and Lesnar. Chris Benoit is one of those guys that can have good matches with anyone, and his experience makes him a great guy to put in the ring with younger talent looking to be elevated, like Carlito, Charlie Haas, Orlando Jordan, and even Matt Morgan. All of these guys are wrestlers who have the mechanics, have the look, but just don’t have the people to work with in order to make them better performers. Benoit can teach them, and make them look good while doing it.

Chris Benoit also adds credibility to the main event, and provides Smackdown with a title contender, whenever the title situation is sorted out. Another title run is now a very real possibility for Benoit whose place on Smackdown is high enough that champion is a title that would fit him well. There aren’t any tailor made feuds for Benoit at the moment, although a program with JBL appears in the works, but some solid feuds with Eddie, JBL, and whoever else comes over from RAW could do wonders for the overall programming quality of the show.

What this means for RAW: Actually, it doesn’t mean as much as it did for Smackdown. While a year ago, Benoit was the top dog on RAW, winning the title at Wrestlemania XX, beating HHH and HBK, and holding the title until Summerslam, since then his role has been more low key, keeping himself busy, but occupying the role of someone more interested in putting together good programs with up and comers than someone who is a serious threat for the title. His ring work has been quite impressive, and he’s still a dominant force for anyone to deal with, as his recent win over HHH in the Gold Rush Tournament can attest to. While Chris Benoit is a top-tiered face and a valuable asset to RAW, with Batista, Shawn Michaels, and now John Cena, there are quite enough main event faces on RAW as is, with people like Chris Jericho, Kane, and possibly even Shelton Benjamin all able to step up to the challenge as well.

Basically, from Benoit’s perspective, another title run on RAW didn’t look to be in the cards with HHH still having a stranglehold on the top spot on the show, and someone like John Cena sure to be elevated to the top in the near future as well. His impact, his presence, and his skills as a wrestler are all things that will be more visible and valuable on a show like Smackdown, desperate to improve its image, than a show like RAW, already packed with big name wrestlers.

Kurt AngleName: Kurt Angle

Pick: RAW’s #2 pick

Career Highlights: 4-time WWE Champion, WCW Champion, Intercontinental Champion, United States Champion, European Champion, WWE Tag Team Champion

What this means for Smackdown: Kurt Angle has arguably made more of an impact on Smackdown than any other wrestler on the roster since the brand extension. Kurt Angle has done it all in his 5-year career, and has easily proven himself to be one of the best wrestlers in the business, and a strong candidate as one of the best ever. His on and off feud with Chris Benoit has been fantastic, and the matches have been even better. It’s a shame that as Benoit was coming back to Smackdown, Angle was leaving to go to RAW, preventing us, for the moment, from witnessing any more additions to their string of matches. While JBL has been billed as the top heel on the show for the past year or so, holding the WWE Championship for ten months, defending against numerous opponents, Kurt Angle is the one who has been busting out all the stops, putting together incredible matches, and returning to the same Kurt Angle from 2002. His match against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania was every bit as good as was expected, which is amazing considering the hype it received from the IWC. He’s had some awesome, awesome matches with John Cena, giving Cena some of the best matches of his short career, and has been a bright spot on Smackdown when the rest of the show seemed to be in a bit of a funk.

Losing Angle is a pretty big blow for Smackdown; as over the past year or two, John Cena and Kurt Angle have been the staples of the show, and Smackdown is certainly going to be hard pressed to replace them and the impact they’ve had on the fans. If anything, Angle’s move to RAW shows the severity of the draft, and how big of an impact this will make on the makeup of both shows.

What this means for RAW: Kurt Angle is a great asset to any show, and he’s a great addition to RAW. Kurt Angle is another wrestler that has been with Smackdown, and only Smackdown, since the brand extension, leaving a large number of feuds that either haven’t been done before, or were done so long ago they’re ready to be done again. Kurt Angle’s recent character has been that of a semi-rapist, and one would hope that doesn’t continue on RAW. Angle is a great complement to John Cena, who has feuded with a couple of times, but not to the point where it’s over done. A feud with Shelton Benjamin has to be in the cards, as those two haven’t interacted since Team Angle was around. There really isn’t much in the way of stopping Angle from becoming the #2 or #3 heel on RAW, and a future title reign is possible, although not likely.

The downside to all this is similar to the problem with John Cena. RAW simply has more talent, and while Angle could shine on Smackdown, with other top heels Edge and HHH, the spotlight isn’t all on him any longer. RAW will be a fresh start for Angle, but with Edge and HHH still on RAW as well, one would think that either one of them will be drafted, or Angle will not be having the same impact he had on Smackdown. Either way, from RAW’s perspective, a brand new fresh face that can readily make an impact and put on great matches is always an asset to have, no matter how many of them there are on the show.

Randy OrtonName:Randy Orton

Pick: Smackdown’s #2 pick

Career Highlights: World Heavyweight Champion, Intercontinental Champion

What this means for Smackdown: Randy Orton will be a great addition to Smackdown. People like Orton, Cena, Benjamin, and London are the future of the company. In five years, these guys will be the big stars that we look to. Orton has already had a brief run at the top, but is nowhere near the level that he’s capable of reaching. Orton is a natural heel, with the look and the sound of a superstar. He still hasn’t reached his potential in the ring, but has already had several very good matches. With Cena jumping to RAW, Smackdown lacked a bit in the youth category, a hole that Orton helps to fill up. Orton also appears to have a higher ceiling as far as workrate goes compared to Cena, so in that sense it’s a bigger advantage for Smackdown. This is just what Smackdown needed, a shot in the foot with someone younger and more arrogant than JBL could ever hope to be.

Orton has all the tools necessary to possibly take over the top spot, and given his attack against the Undertaker, he looks poised to pick up right where he left off at Wrestlemania, perhaps with a win this time around. There are a lot of good feuds in store for Smackdown, as aside from Benoit and Undertaker briefly, Randy really hasn’t feuded with much of the roster. The title situation is still unclear, but look for Orton to be one of the primary candidates to be champion in the near future, and a title run for Randy is certainly foreseeable over the next year.

What this means for RAW: Similar to Benoit, RAW really won’t miss Orton too much. Since winning the World Title at Summerlsam, then losing at the next PPV to HHH, Orton has really dropped off the radar. Aside from a match with Undertaker at Wrestlemania, Orton has done anything of note since dropping the title. From Wrestlemania to Summerslam, Randy Orton was perhaps the hottest thing on RAW, rising above the ranks in Evolution and winning the World Title, only to get kicked out of Evolution and drop the title to HHH after a poor face run. Originally Orton was rumored to be building up to a big match with HHH at Wrestlemania, but that was quickly dropped after Orton floundered as a face, and Batista took his spot instead.

Since just after Wrestlemania, Orton’s been out having shoulder surgery, and therefore has absolutely nothing going on for him on RAW. Aside from Batista, who is responsible for ‘taking him out,’ there are no feuds that need to be rehashed on RAW. In fact, his continued presence on RAW would really only be a conflict of interest, since Orton has turned back to being a heel, but would have a problem being a top heel, since Evolution is at the top right now, and Orton was kicked out. It’s almost to RAW’s benefit to lose Orton to Smackdown, as it saves them from having to try and sort out all the top heels without ruining storyline continuity.

Wrapping up: This year’s draft is not yet halfway over, yet it’s very clear that the impact from the draft picks will be huge; both shows will be forever changed. This wraps up the first part of my look at the results of WWE’s lottery draft, look for an analysis on the impact from the remaning draft picks in a couple weeks.


About this column: I’ve always been fascinated with the brand extension, and with the drafts, the trades, the roster jumping, etc. After having the brand extension for over three years, it’s really exciting to see someone show up on the other show, filled with a new and different purpose, and fresh new opponents and storylines waiting for them. In a time when WWE does a lot of things that don’t really interest me, this is the kind of stuff that makes me continue to watch. This is the fun stuff that I like to tune in for, where I can let my imagination run wild and wonder who’s going to go next. As always, thanks for reading.

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