OO FEATURE COLUMN     ---/---     Posted on: July 21, 2016

Roster Evaluation, Ratings, Wellness News, and More

by RICK SCAIA  -/- [email protected]  -/-  @OOWrestling

Having had two nights to sleep on it, I think WWE did an alright job splitting up their roster. I know my immediate knee jerk reaction was that RAW "won" the draft, but upon reflection, it is fair if they have a few more warm bodies to fill up the extra hour of TV time, and by virtue of drafting both the tag and women's champs, they wound up having the better/deeper "specialty rosters," too.
But that latter issue won't be a problem, so long as they don't go and do something stupid like try to create a SD only Women's Title and SD only Tag Title. SD doesn't have that depth, but they have plenty to keep a brand-hopping champion busy.
And once you really look at it, SD's top 8 or 10 guys stack up pretty well against RAW's, especially when you consider that Brock Lesnar's only good for about 20 weeks per year (and no matches outside of PPVs), and Chris Jericho has already said that once he takes off towards the end of the year, he has all of 2017 set aside for Fozzy. RAW has a chance to do some special things, simply because it's hard to put on too many bad matches when you have Rollins, Owens, Zayn, and Balor on the same show...  but the looming monolith that is Roman Reigns, and WWE's decision to keep guys like Big Show and Mark Henry on RAW means there's always that threat to Cesaro/Rusev/Sheamus/etc. being properly utilized as the midcard stars.
But we'll see. I just know that things seem way more wide open on SD, and they also still have the horses to make it a close race. RAW is stacked, but you can kinda see how everything lays out, with Rollins/Reigns (probably with Steph/HHH getting involved) being the dominant story for the rest of the year.... SD is less stacked, but I can see multiple different paths to victory for them, with their deep mix of fresh and established, which is not without its charms.
Before I get too far up my own ass, preaching about how the two rosters shape up, maybe I should just -- you know?? -- show you the rosters, so we're all starting from the same source material. Here's how things look, with each brand's roster split into singles/women/tag teams:

RAW SmackDown
Seth Rollins
Roman Reigns
Brock Lesnar
Chris Jericho
Sami Zayn *
Kevin Owens
Finn Balor *
Rusev (c)
Neville *
Sin Cara *
Big Show
Mark Henry
Darren Young
Titus O'Neil
Braun Strowman
Bo Dallas
Curtis Axel
Jack Swagger
Dean Ambrose (C)
John Cena
AJ Styles
Bray Wyatt
Randy Orton
Miz (c)
Dolph Ziggler
Alberto del Rio
Erick Rowan
Apollo Crews
Baron Corbin
Zack Ryder
Mojo Rawley
Charlotte (c)
Sasha Banks
Nia Jax
Summer Rae
Alicia Fox
Dana Brooke
Becky Lynch
Alexa Bliss
Eva Marie
The New Day (c)
Gallows & Anderson
Enzo & Cass
The Dudleys
Golden Truth
The Shining Stars
The Usos
American Alpha
The Vaudevillains
The Ascension

On the RAW side, the handful of guys designated with a * means those are potential cruiserweights. I actually doubt WWE would go out of their way to make fans view Zayn (or even Balor) as cruisers, but, technically, they could make weight. I expect a lot of work done in free agency to give Neville and Sin Cara another half-dozen or more playmates.
Notably, there are a handful of talents under contract who did not get assigned to a specific brand. The Rock and the Undertaker are two special attractions who, rightfully, transcend brand assignment. Ryback is currently sitting out a contract dispute, and while the landscape has changed in his favor (WWE does need more useful pieces to populate two rosters), he seems a longshot to smooth things over with WWE (same applies to Cody Rhodes, who picked the wrong time to make a principled stand, if you ask me, given the chance for ample makeovers and reboots with the brand split). Luke Harper, Tyson Kidd, Nikki Bella, Emma, and Tamina were all left undrafted, too, as they are presenting out of action with injuries (Kidd's are career-threatening, but the others should all be back in action by the end of the year).
And of course, there is the unique case of Heath Slater, who was the only draft-eligible name on WWE's pre-draft list who did not get picked. And it's already clear that they'll be making something of a storyline out of it, with talking about all Slater's indy options, all while Slater himself has taken on the persona of WWE's #1 Free Agent, thinking that RAW and SD will still, eventually, come beating down his door. I dunno, but there are worse ideas than Slater being reborn as the One Man Brand!
We still don't know what WWE's plans are with regards to the tag and women's titles. I'm hoping they decide to stick with one champion in each division, with brand-hopping priveliges. If nothing else, I think it would be fun to inform Charlotte that she's required to work SD, but that she's not allowed to take Dana with her when she goes there. All of a sudden, that understaffed SD roster of women is a real threat to the Women's Title, perhaps even favorites over RAW's roster of challengers. But yeah, even setting that aside, in terms of credibility, the SD Women's Division is really just Becky/Nattie/Naomi, and the tag division is really just the Usos and Alpha... and in neither case does that justify a second title. Not even the fact that both Bliss and Carmella shouldn't take too long to develop, and that Ryder/Mojo could start tagging again, are enough to justify more belts.
But I think in terms of the meat and potatoes, SD's roster of main event and mid-card singles stacks up pretty fairly with RAW's. Remove part-time Lesnar and departing-eventually Jericho from the equation, and Rollins/Reigns/Owens/Zayn/Balor/Rusev/Cesaro is really only a marginal winner over Ambrose/Cena/Styles/Bray/Orton/Miz/Ziggler... I think SD's a bit more wide open and unpredictable, too. You just know how Rollins and Reigns are going to dominate the TV screen, and inevitably, Triple H is gonna get involved in there, too, and no matter how awesome Owens/Zayn/Balor are, they're stuck as second class citizens for a goodly while. But on SD, who knows what direction you go? Ambrose/Styles would be fresh, but Cena and Orton have all kinds of street cred.... to say nothing of this being a chance to give Bray Wyatt something exciting to do, with room to breathe away from his "family."
All that, plus free agent signings yet to come, so I feel pretty good about both brands' chances of putting on solid TV going forward.
Some other newsbites for today:

  • After the draft, WWE also announced new broadcast teams for each brand.  It's a fairly significant shake-up, with Jerry Lawler finally getting "promoted" out of weekly TV duty... there's no doubting Lawler's legendary contributions to pro wrestling, but in all honesty, the situation has gotten to the point where his greatest contribution is scaling back his contributions. He'll still be a part of the expert PPV preshow panels and stuff, but with this Draft intended to get pro wrestling back in tune with the fanbase, the guy in his 70s with a taste for Ed Hardy t-shirts may not be the best choice to be one of the defining voices of your company...
    So now, Michael Cole quarterbacks a RAW crew that also features Byron Saxton and Corey Graves (from the PPV Panel and NXT). My understanding is that WWE really wants Saxton to emerge as the eventual lead play-by-play guy for the company, so keeping him paired with Michael Cole makes sense. I'm OK with Graves, who takes great care in cultivating a persona of ultimate douchiness, but who also can break down the technical side if he has to. But I guess what I'm saying is: if Saxton thinks he's gonna have it any easier with JBL gone: think again.
    That leaves Mauro Ranallo to head up SmackDown, where JBL steps in as his main foil, and David Otunga will be, ummmm, also present. WWE's jsut trying to figure what, if anything, to do with Otunga, whose commentary work is a masterpiece of letting the others guys do all the talking. Mauro and JBL should be a really good pairing if SD really is gonna go for more of a real sports/fighting feel.
    As it stands, I think both Renee Young and Tom Phillips are the only two broadcasters who will regularly appear on both brands. Renee is obviously WWE's lead backstage interviewer, and Phillips will be the PbP guy on both of WWE's throwaway shows, Superstars (now exclusively with RAW talent) and Main Event (now exclusively SD). There will be mixing and matching, by necessity, but I gather they're going to try to keep the split as airtight as possible.
  • In its first week going out live on Tuesday, SmackDown nailed down 3.17 million viewers, to RAW's 3.13 million.... and I know you've probably been to a website or two that has declared that SmackDown's First Victory Over RAW Since 2004, or something like that.
    And maybe it is, but I wouldn't go making a big fat hair deal out of the (alleged) difference of 40,000 viewers. Because, as OO has said time and time again, that's not how statitistical sampling works, and it's not my fault if I'm the only wrestling website that still remembers freshman-level college math. No matter how hard they might try, Nielsen has no idea if RAW or SD had more viewers this week, because 40,000 is WAY to small a number to beat the built-in margin of error.. Remember: whether its the "rating" or "viewers," anything past the first decimal point is meaningless, people!
    That said, there IS a huge story here, and it's that SD actually converted all RAW viewers into SD viewers, which is all WWE is really hoping for.  It really has been since 2004 that wrestling fans seemed to give SD the same treatment as they gave to RAW: ratings would fluctuate from week to week, based on how good the shows were, but basically, RAW and SD were in the same neighborhood, viewership-wise. And then in 2005 and up until the present day, things really diverged, and SD became a clear-cut "B-show" (without getting into a whole big thing, 2005 is when WWE moved RAW back to USA Network, but Viacom still had rights to SD and moved SD to Fridays, and Vince petulantly decided to put all the good stuff on RAW).
    For the past year, since SD moved to USA, and created the ratings environment we currently live in, SD bounced around between 2/3rds and 3/4ths or RAW's audience, usually a difference of between 800,000 and 1.2 million viewers. Getting that down to a statistical dead-heat -- and, of course, KEEPING IT THERE going forward -- would be a remarkable accomplishment.
    I'll try to help keep all this in perspective, as we'll keep tabs on Nielsen's ratings along with our own grades for each show, in Battle of the Brands, which I'm reviving. OO will make sure you don't lose your mind because SD "won" by 40,000 this week, only to decide the Brand Split is a lost cause if RAW wins by 30,000 next week. THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS!
  • If I wind up falling into a pattern of doing one big, multi-topic column per week, I'm thinking Thursday might be it, because it'll give me a quick spot to make sure to keep you up to speed on WWE's Wednesday night offerings, without actually doing full recaps of both shows.
    And trust me, it'd just be far easier if you subscribed to the WWE Network and watched them yourself, but some of you smarkypants bastards are cheap.

    NXT continues to be just about the most consistently solid wrestling show in my weekly rotation. I'll selectively watch specific matches from some places, but NXT really graduated to that next level about 2 years ago, and I'm not watching it to "scout" any more, I'm watching it because it's its own thing, and I care about the wins/losses/characters/etc. And unlike RAW and SD, it doesn't have weeks where it just feels like I wasted my time.... then again, only having to fill 1 hour per week is probably a big help in that regard.
    This week, the biggest part of that 1 hour was dedicated to a main event in which Bayley finally got ultimate revenge on Nia Jax (Bayley won round one, but Jax injured Bayley in round two).... just another dandy showing by Bayley, and as it turns out, this was NXT "using up" Jax before sending her up to the main roster.
    American Alpha dropped a decision to the Authors of Pain, but it was more that Alpha demanded that the match take place even after a vicious pre-match attack, and bravely fought the good fight, but the damage had already been done. Again, this frees Alpha up to join SD, and allows me to start mentioning -- at least once per week -- how good Jordan vs. Lesnar is gonna be, someday.
    Throw in a couple glorified squashes -- NXT Champ Samoa Joe once again put down Rhyno, as part of Rhyno's part time NXT schedule, and possible tune-up before showing up on the main roster, and also, Austin Aries beat a Tough Enough dude as he continues to get out from under his forgettable first few months as a babyface -- and it was a very fine hour of TV.
    As of last week, every Wednesday features a SECOND hour of wrestling on the Network, as the Cruiserweight Classic is underway. Unlike NXT, it is -- for ME, anyway -- very much an exercise in scouting and learning and trying to make sure I know more about wrestling than 99% of the population. The winners in individual matches hardly matters, since things are set up with such a small number of actual possible winners of the tournament... but that doesn't mean you don't still want to watch and be impressed (or underwhelmed) by the potential next generation of talent.
    And to WWE's credit, they dug deep,a nd there are a bunch of guys in this tourney I've never seen/heard of, or had only seen on such small/crappy shows that you have no idea if they are any good at all, because the only thing that is obvious is that they are WAY better than the shitty venue, shitty sized crowd, shitty ring, and shitty opponent they are working with. But how much better? Well, that's what the CWC is good for, since none of these guys suck, and you won't get bogged down by a crappy opponent or crappy production values.
    For me, the main eye-opener last night was Mustafa Ali, who lost to Lince Dorado, but put himself on the map in a big way. I haven't seen Ali outside of cellphone footage of tiny indies, but by having the match of the night with the much more proven commodity, Dorado, I have a feeling his profile is now on the rise. He wasn't even on the initial roster for the tourney, but got a last second call when another guy had visa issues.
    It was also very cool to see Tajiri back in action, advancing to the 2nd round with a win. He's slated to return to the main roster, too, as WWE reaches out to some established veterans to help pad things out and work with the younger guys. Akira Tozawa and TJ Perkins also won their matches, as you could probably have predicted just by looking at the brackets and how they lay out (credit where it's due, "Da Mack" aka "The Urban German" made his match against Perkins FAR more entertaining than it had any right to be).
    Halfway done with the first round matches, and while the CWC is all taped for now, this is all building to a LIVE broadcast on September 14, where they will hold both the semi-finals and finals on the same night. FWIW, I will refrain from mentioning spoilers in any regular columns I write, and will also try not to go out of my way to mention which of the CWC participants are under WWE contract and which are not, since they've locked up another handful in the past week, and that's more or less a spoiler, in and of itself, cuz WWE ain't sending some schmoe back to his local indie carrying WWE hardware.
    But I digress.
  • Roman Reigns suspension is officially over today. Though WWE will not divulge the details of his failed drug test, word is that Reigns got popped for Adderall, which is a tricky drug, to say the least. It's a legit treatment for ADHD, but it's also a drug that has recreational and performance enhancing uses.... and ADHD has become such an over-diagnosed thing (starting with parents who just want to put some kind of pills in their kids mouths to get them to settle down), it's a widely prescribed drug even when it is not, necessarily, called for. But if somebody comes with and knows the right things to say, they can walk out with a prescription for Adderall, kind of like getting a prescription for marijuana because of your "migranes."
    Adam Rose's Wellness Violation has also for Adderall, and he immediately went public with a valid prescription for it. Thing is, if WWE's own doctors hadn't diagnosed Rose with ADHD or any other genuine issue that would warrant the Adderall, there's that whole gray area of whether you're taking the Adderall for a real need, or just for the same "benefits" that any powerful amphetamine provides, and WWE is allowed to decide "OK, so you managed to get a prescription for this, but you still shouldn't have been taking it."
    Nobody is confirming or denying Reigns being suspended for Adderall, but I figured that, where's there's smoke, there's fire, so it might be helpful to inform the conversation about what a complicated issue this might be, with potential blame to be placed with Reigns (for seeking out a useful "supplement"), or Reigns' doctor (for misdiagnosing and/or over-prescribing without doing his own due diligence), or even WWE (for being too overbearing with parts of the Wellness Program and declaring a violation where none was necessary).
  • On a semi-related note, word is out that Brock Lesnar's failed drug tests (he failed one the night of UFC200, as well as the previous one on June 28) were for clomiphene, which is, itself, not a steroid, but rather a masking agent taken AFTER a cycle of steroids to get your blood chemistry/hormones back to normal. It's the same drug that got Jon Jones kicked off the UFC200 just days before the PPV.
    Lesnar's gonna have a hard time worming out of the basic facts of the story at this point. Short of proving two false positives as part of an appeal, he hasn't got a lot of wiggle room left. And while that's probably the end of his MMA career, it's safe to say wrestling fans won't really give a damn, as long as he can keep passing WWE's tests.
    At this point, Lesnar vs. Orton is still on for SummerSlam, though they are currently reassessing how to tell the story (a lot has to do with whether WWE is obligated to suspend Lesnar for 30 days, persuant to their own Wellness Policy, and whether they can "back date" that, or whatever).... already, there's a school of thought that the reason why the first bit of the draft was so silly, and seemed more like a Fantasy Draft where one jerk takes the three best closers in the top 5 picks, just to be difficult is because Lesnar was originally gonna be RAW's #1 pick... but once his profile took a hit, they bumped Lesnar way down, and that's why you had Charlotte and Balor in the top 5, instead. Whee?
  • That's all for me today. OO will have full coverage of Sunday's Battleground PPV. That means I'll get a preview posted here at some point late Friday or mid-day Saturday, and as soon as the PPV finishes up, I'll also post a full recap and analysis on the main page. 
    But in between, all kinds of discussion and real-time results and everything will be taking place in the OO Forums. You're welcome to join in, and if you just can't get enough of the OLD OO logos/colors, well, you gett jump in now while you can. The Forums will be updated to look like the rest of the site after this weekend!

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