WWE Superstar Shake-up: Trades That Must Happen on Raw and SmackDown
This chaotic week in WWE has yet to slow down, as it was announced on Monday night's episode of Raw that the Superstar Shake-up will be returning next week.
Last year, this concept was treated as a follow-up to the original WWE draft, wherein the rosters were shuffled a bit to fill in the gaps of what was missing on Raw or SmackDown and make room for some different pairings.
Since WrestleMania is treated like the unofficial end of the wrestling season for WWE content, it makes perfect sense to have the Shake-up take place around this time to freshen up the storyline potential and match options going forward.
In particular, this is happening now because the Greatest Royal Rumble and Backlash events on April 27 and May 6, respectively, are the start of a new initiative to have both brands represented on all pay-per-views going forward.
There are so many questions to be asked and potentially endless trades that could happen, which renders this difficult to predict, but one glance at the rosters does open up discussion for some things that must take place.
Here's a look at what might be in store and how WWE may be looking to adjust Raw and SmackDown during the 2018 Superstar Shake-up.
Questions to Address First
Before even diving into the potential moves, a few questions need to be brought up that could have major implications for how this will go down.
First off, since the SmackDown Live and 205 Live episodes following WrestleMania have yet to air, we aren't privy to the information of who could be called up from NXT or brought in from elsewhere in similar fashion to what happened Monday.
Raw saw the addition of Ember Moon, No Way Jose, Bobby Lashley and The Authors of Pain to the roster, which means the red brand is overloaded and SmackDown could be seeing some new names, too.
It wasn't fully clarified whether these Superstars are ineligible to be drafted over to SmackDown, either.
An argument can be made that they're now on the brand just the same as anybody else, so there's no reason they shouldn't be able to move, but logically we can assume that isn't going to happen and the kayfabe rationality might be Raw general manager Kurt Angle won't want to give them up.
Another question to ask is whether Brock Lesnar is staying around long enough to make roughly the same amount of appearances as he did this past year, or if he's only signed on to last until the Greatest Royal Rumble and will leave after that.
Also, will the co-branded Backlash event allow for crossover between brands as happened after the previous Superstar Shake-up, where Bray Wyatt was facing Randy Orton despite not being on the same show?
Without knowing this information, we're in the dark about how flexible this is and what other variables to take into account when factoring in potential trades.
Superstars Who Are Likely Exempt from Trades
Another thing to address ahead of the moves is to call attention to the men and women who are either definitely exempt from being traded or fall into the category of being so extremely unlikely to switch brands that we can rule out the idea of them leaving.
We've seen champions change between programs in the past, but every time that has happened, there has been some maneuverability behind it, such as trading the intercontinental and United States titles.
That isn't applicable to something like the SmackDown Tag Team Championship, as it is clearly tied to a specific brand and would make zero sense whatsoever to have on Raw.
Right now, Nia Jax holds the Raw Women's Championship, Charlotte Flair holds the SmackDown Women's Championship, The Bludgeon Brothers are SmackDown's tag team champions and there isn't a team holding the tag titles on Raw.
Barring some kind of situation where a new champion is crowned, it's a good bet Jax, Flair, and Harper and Rowan are safe on their brands as they stand.
John Cena and The Undertaker have no brand status and will probably remain free agents, so they're off the table to move unless that freedom is removed and they are forced to pick a side.
Jason Jordan is intrinsically tied to Kurt Angle, and it would be detrimental to his character to move him to SmackDown when he returns from his injuries.
Knowing how WWE has treated Lesnar, if he's sticking around, he's staying on Raw with the Universal Championship—a title with a red strap, mind you—which also means AJ Styles is most likely sticking to SmackDown.
Granted, WWE could have the two world champions switch and commission a redesign of the Universal Championship to have a blue strap, take the title off Lesnar at the Greatest Royal Rumble, put it on Reigns and have him on SmackDown, but those are huge moves that seem unlikely.
It's also doubtful Ronda Rousey will be leaving Raw, considering her megastar status.
For the most part, everybody else is fair game, even if there does seem to be other people who aren't going to be moving anywhere. Anything can happen, and outside of these names, there's always room for surprises.
Sanity Moves to SmackDown
The Authors of Pain needed to come up to the main roster and so does the Sanity stable, as there's nothing left for it to do as a unit in NXT after having already won the tag team titles there.
Since Akam and Rezar are on Raw, it only makes sense for SmackDown to get Sanity to help balance out the equation, as the two teams have to stay separated from each other.
This one move injects Nikki Cross into the women's division while also calling up a powerhouse in Killian Dain and a talker in Eric Young, as well as the latter's midcard tag team partner, Alexander Wolfe.
If they're heels, they can feud with The New Day in what could easily be the weirdest program between two teams in a long time, judging by their clash of styles.
On the contrary, if they're babyfaces, they can be paired up with the destructive Bludgeon Brothers to see which group can cause the most carnage.
It might seem like Dain still has some leftover business with the North American Championship, but there are plenty of people in NXT to keep that title hunt busy, and with The Beast of Belfast out of the way, Lars Sullivan can look even more intimidating as the brand's monster all by himself.
Andrade 'Cien' Almas Moves to SmackDown
Similar to Sanity, there's nothing left for Andrade "Cien" Almas to do in NXT now that he's dropped the NXT Championship to Aleister Black.
WWE could hold off a bit on this move and wait until after he has a rematch with Black. But that didn't seem to stop the company from bringing Ember Moon onto the Raw roster, so the idea needs to be entertained.
SmackDown is the brand that puts more of an emphasis on in-ring action and less on spectacle, so it's the perfect place for Almas to thrive.
With Zelina Vega by his side, he can instantly become someone in the running for the United States or Intercontinental Championship, depending on which midcard belt is on the brand at the time.
He would get lost in the shuffle on Raw, unless there are plans to move a good number of names, such as The Miz and Elias, and keep both Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens off the red brand, but that seems to be too much to ask for just to get Almas on Monday nights.
For that matter, since Drew McIntyre stated during the pre-show of TakeOver: New Orleans he was coming for Almas, he should skip a return to NXT and follow suit to SmackDown to continue their feud and to add another babyface to the midcard of that brand.
El Idolo should be making SmackDown Live his home soon, with McIntyre hot on his trail.
Big Cass Moves to SmackDown
You're probably sensing a theme here, but that's just how dire the situation is with Raw being overloaded and SmackDown needing more people.
It will be further elaborated on in another section, but the midcard of Raw is nowhere for someone to flourish, and someone like Big Cass—despite his height—has no upward mobility if he stays there.
When he makes his return from his injury, he must go to SmackDown in order to have enough room to grow.
SmackDown isn't just the land of opportunity with new people such as Almas, it's also the place where someone from Raw can get a fresh start and be repackaged and retooled.
Without moving to SmackDown, Jinder Mahal wouldn't have had a world-title reign and be the current United States champion, that's for sure.
If Cass stays on Raw—particularly if people such as Bobby Lashley, Big Show, Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe are still there—he'll have no time to change his character and find himself in a post-Enzo Amore universe.
Instead, he'll just be the jobber giant who loses to make those other big guys look even bigger.
The Massive Midcard and Main Event Shuffling Act
As it stands, the midcard and main event scene on Raw is stuffed with no room for people to grow, while SmackDown has people who have been feuding for months and need to get away from each other.
There is no way Raw can sustain its roster with Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Jeff Hardy, Dean Ambrose, Bobby Lashley, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Jason Jordan, No Way Jose and potentially Big Cass (if he doesn't move) all fighting for the same two titles as babyfaces.
Even if a few of those names turned heel, the show would still have too many of the same matches we've seen before, which is the same problem with the current lineup on SmackDown.
This is all ignoring Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, too, who are up in the air as far as brand designation is concerned right now. If they do find themselves on the same show, though, there have been way too many matches between the two to justify keeping them as a unit.
Baron Corbin is an ideal option for going over to Raw for a change of pace, but somebody like the aforementioned Big Cass or maybe Dean Ambrose would need to balance him out.
It's unlikely Strowman will get the attention he deserves with Reigns and Lashley on Raw, so a move to SmackDown could help him finally become world champion.
Rollins, Balor and Hardy all seem to fulfill the same upper-midcard babyface role, so unless a turn for the Irishman is in the works, one of them has to go over to SmackDown.
Given the circumstances of the other Hardy brother being on Raw and The Architect only recently premiering that Monday Night Rollins shirt design, it seems Balor would be the best fit for moving.
Where he goes, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows should follow, setting up a void on Raw that needs to be filled.
The Usos and Naomi Move to Raw
If Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows go over to SmackDown with Finn Balor, The Usos need to get out of dodge and help the tag team division on Raw.
As it stands, Jimmy and Jey have already had so many matches with The New Day that it would be a good idea to separate them anyway and open them up for some new feuds against The Bar, The Revival and The Authors of Pain.
If The Usos were to make the jump to Raw, it's reasonable to expect Naomi to do the same, as they've been a package deal for a while, particularly after she and Jimmy tied the knot on Total Divas.
While it isn't uncalled for to split couples up, WWE's creative team must be aware of how taxing it can be on a relationship to ask two significant others to work different traveling schedules.
This has to be something factored into trade ideas because unless there's a conflicting interest that would demand otherwise, it seems unnecessarily cruel to do.
In the past, The Bella Twins have been on SmackDown with John Cena and Daniel Bryan, Lana and Rusev have stayed together, and even Renee Young and Dean Ambrose have shuffled around to allow for their schedules to overlap more often.
It would be wise to keep Naomi and Jimmy together not just for personal reasons but also for filming purposes on Total Divas, so that is a trio which should be an even tighter unit than The New Day or The Undisputed Era.
That in itself means there's also a missing element on the women's division of SmackDown, with Naomi gone and a need for someone from Raw or NXT to go over to take the Women's Battle Royal winner's place.
Asuka Moves to SmackDown
Even though she's no longer undefeated, Asuka still has the clout and credibility where she can't be pushed into obscurity because of having too much competition on Raw.
In a scenario where Naomi goes to Raw and it still has Nia Jax, Ronda Rousey, Bayley, Sasha Banks and Ember Moon, there's an overload of babyfaces and Asuka must head over to SmackDown.
Even if it's just Jax and Rousey on Raw, what is there for Asuka to do without getting in one of their ways?
On SmackDown, a Naomi switch would mean the only babyfaces in the women's division would be Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, save for the possible returns of The Bella Twins and the idea Nikki Cross might not be a heel.
Given the circumstances, Cross works better as a heel, The Bella Twins can't be relied upon for constant appearances and Asuka could even turn heel herself down the line to continue her feud with Flair—if Charlotte doesn't turn instead.
What to Do with Absolution and The Riott Squad?
After all these months, there's still yet to be a rational explanation for why The Riott Squad is together, what its purpose is, how its personalities matter or how it's supposed to be distinguished from Absolution after coming off like weak carbon copies.
By now, we've seen Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan fight Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Natalya, Carmella and everybody else so many times that it would be exhausting to see them continue on SmackDown as they are.
Luckily, there are several ways to correct this during the Superstar Shake-up.
One option would be to have them switch places with Absolution, bringing Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville to SmackDown in place of Riott, Logan and Morgan.
This would be beneficial, as it also keeps Deville away from Rousey to give each brand it's MMA-style fighter in the women's division.
Alternatively, The Riott Squad can just split up, and it's doubtful anybody would be heartbroken.
If that were to happen, at least one of the three members has to go to Raw and someone needs to move over to take her place—Alicia Fox being a possible candidate.
It also wouldn't hurt to have The Riott Squad break up in order to bring The Iconic Duo to SmackDown in their place, as Billie Kay and Peyton Royce are well past the point of needing to come up from NXT to the main roster.
The General Manager Situation
Last but certainly not least, the Superstar Shake-up could be the best time to address one of the major problems of storytelling logic and future booking going on at the moment, which is the employment of Kurt Angle and Daniel Bryan as general managers.
Realistically, after their match at WrestleMania and the way things have gone down, there should be no reason why Triple H and Stephanie McMahon keep Angle on board as an authoritarian on Raw.
Firing him from that spot could even be the rationalization for how Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn get their jobs, as they could suck up to The Authority, who have the ability to sign them to new contracts.
Likewise, Bryan can't be an active wrestler and also run the show, as that's a conflict of interest.
He needs to be replaced, and with Shane McMahon saying he would take an indefinite leave of absence as the commissioner, some big changes in SmackDown's leadership are on the horizon.
To give the right momentum to the new general manager, they should get the position next week on the Superstar Shake-up and claim they are the person who deliberated to make the trades that will follow.
Then, both rosters will be freshened up a bit, and we only have to cross our fingers no injuries get in the way of all the potential amazing stories we could be seeing up until WrestleMania 35.