The 10 Picks That Must Happen at 2019 WWE Draft to Keep Booking Fresh
The landscapes of Raw and SmackDown are about to look a whole lot different starting Friday when the 2019 WWE draft kicks off.
The Wild Card Rule has long overstayed its welcome and the only way to truly refresh the rosters is to bring back the draft, which will conclude on Monday.
There are a number of competitors from both brands who would benefit from switching shows after not doing much of note for the past few months.
After the draft, though, it is imperative WWE does not allow the two rosters to mingle in any form (including at most pay-per-views) so fans can take the brand split seriously again. Otherwise, none of these moves will matter and some Superstars will go back to being overlooked in favor of the more notable names.
With the WWE draft almost upon us, let's look at the 10 picks that must happen to keep the booking exciting on both Raw and SmackDown heading into the final stretch of 2019.
Aleister Black to Raw
It's almost criminal how underutilized Aleister Black has been since moving to SmackDown Live in the 2019 Superstar Shake-Up.
The Dutch Destroyer arrived on the main roster in February in a somewhat abrupt move considering he was involved in NXT's Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic at the time. But he wasted no time in adapting to his new environment and impressing fans with what he could do.
While his tag team partner, Ricochet, went on to win the United States Championship on Raw, Black was booked to sit in the back for several months and beg for a fight in a series of confusing vignettes. He finally wrestled his first official match as a member of the blue brand at Extreme Rules on July 14 and defeated Cesaro, but he was used sparingly after that.
The former NXT champion resurfaced on Monday's Raw in a successful effort against The Singh Brothers. It seemed a strange move given he hadn't appeared on programming in over a month prior to that point, but perhaps it was done to test the waters for him moving to Raw full-time in the draft.
Hopefully, he will be given a chance to shine with the red brand. If Paul Heyman is as high on Black as has been rumored, it would make sense for him to link up with the Raw executive director.
Brock Lesnar to SmackDown
As it stands, the WWE Championship is property of Raw as titleholder Brock Lesnar is with the red brand. Obviously, that has to change in the draft.
Although WWE would occasionally swap the top titles on Raw and SmackDown via the draft years ago, it's difficult to do that with the Universal Championship considering it's a red-leathered belt. Therefore, it should stay right where it is on Raw with Seth Rollins, while Lesnar keeps the WWE title on SmackDown by moving to the blue brand.
The Beast Incarnate called SmackDown home for the better part of his original run in WWE from 2002 to 2004. He held the prestigious prize three times during that period and solidified himself as a star in feuds with The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Big Show and Eddie Guerrero.
Lesnar has appeared on SmackDown only a handful of times since returning to the company in 2012, but it was made apparent last Friday, when he squashed Kofi Kingston within seconds to capture the WWE title, that he would be the face of of the blue brand following its move to Fox.
A move to SmackDown will not only reinvigorate The Beast's stale character, but it will also give him a fresh batch of opponents to work with. It will also lend some credibility and legitimacy to the brand.
Granted, Lesnar can't, and shouldn't, be champion forever, but once he loses the belt, he can be SmackDown's most important part-timer, similar to how The Undertaker was for many years during the previous brand extension.
Randy Orton to Raw
Believe it or not, Randy Orton is one of the few Superstars to have not switched shows at all since the last WWE draft in July 2016. He has bled blue for the past three years, and he has done everything there is to do on SmackDown in that time.
He's worked as as a face and a heel, won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 33, held the SmackDown Tag Team Championship for a brief period with The Wyatt Family, and captured his first-ever United States Championship in early 2018. In other words, he's long overdue a change of scenery.
The Viper fell short of regaining the WWE title in a rivalry Kofi Kingston, so now seems the ideal time to make the move to Monday nights. He's perfectly cast as a heel and can collide with the likes of Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman and Ricochet on Raw.
If he stays on SmackDown, there isn't anything for him to strive for. He's already been beaten by a majority of the blue brand's babyfaces and won't be fighting Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship, so he might as well return to Raw where he can continue to flourish in his current role as an upper-midcard player.
Besides, he's had good thing going with King Corbin lately, so there's no need to split them up so soon.
Rey Mysterio to SmackDown
Rey Mysterio was a perfect fit for SmackDown when he returned to WWE full-time in October 2018 after over four years away. After all, most of his career highlights came on the blue brand for the first six years of his main roster run.
Following feuds with Randy Orton, Andrade and Samoa Joe, he jumped ship to Raw in April's Superstar Shake-Up. For a while, he felt out of place on the flagship show; and outside of a short-lived reign as United States champion, he hasn't accomplished much.
It wasn't until he took a break from ring at the end of the summer that he realized he still had what it took to be a top player in WWE. He scored momentum-building victories over Gran Metalik and Cesaro before becoming the No. 1 contender for the Universal Championship on the "season premiere" of Raw on September 30.
Unfortunately, ahead of his advertised match with Seth Rollins, he and his son, Dominick, were violently ambushed by Brock Lesnar. That led to Mysterio recruiting Cain Velasquez to help him avenge the attack and seek out The Beast Incarnate last week on Friday Night SmackDown.
If Mysterio is going to be associated with Velasquez for this feud with Lesnar, he has to return to the blue brand. Another world title win may be out of the question, but it's great to see him featured so prominently in an important angle toward the top of the card on Friday nights.
Dolph Ziggler to Raw
Seeing as how he's one-half of the Raw tag team champions, Dolph Ziggler joining the red brand is a formality at this point.
The Showoff has spent an ample amount of time on both brands over the course of his career. He debuted on Raw in 2008 before honing his craft on SmackDown from 2009 to 2011, when he also scored his first taste of singles gold in WWE in the form of the Intercontinental Championship.
For better or worse, Ziggler has been only a utility player for the past few years. No one thought much of his move to Mondays in the Superstar Shake-Up in April 2018, but he regained the intercontinental title two months later and clinched the Raw Tag Team Championship with Drew McIntyre in the following September.
His latest career resurgence has come alongside Robert Roode, with whom he won the Raw tag team titles from Seth Rollins and Braun Strowman at Clash of Champions on September 15.
The pairing feels more like a way for Roode to be elevated to the next level, but it's good to see Ziggler has also been given something meaningful to do in the meantime.
They will defend their titles next week on Raw against The Viking Raiders. Assuming they don't drop the straps and aren't separated in the draft on the same night, it's safe to assume Ziggler is headed to Raw to join Roode so their reign can last a little longer.
Cedric Alexander to SmackDown
Cedric Alexander will be one to watch coming out of the draft, because where he winds up will be crucial to his future success as a singles star.
After a lengthy stint on 205 Live that saw him reign as WWE cruiserweight champion for nearly six months, he made the move to the main roster in the 2018 Superstar Shake-Up by being placed on Raw.
WWE initially made a big deal of Alexander's debut before forgetting all about him. It was months before he was given another shot at superstardom, which he more than made the most of by beating Drew McIntyre on the July 15 episode of Raw.
He followed that upset victory up with impressive performances versus Sami Zayn, Cesaro and Baron Corbin and managed to make it to the quarterfinals of the King of the Ring tournament.
Through his standout showings, Alexander earned himself a shot at AJ Styles' United States Championship at Clash of Champions and on the "season premiere" of Raw. Although he narrowly fell short on both occasions, he looked strong in defeat.
His back-to-back losses to The Phenomenal One can only mean he's SmackDown-bound, as there was no other reason for WWE to cut his hot momentum short. On the blue brand, he could have a real chance of unseating Shinsuke Nakamura as intercontinental champion.
Asuka to Raw
Asuka's move to SmackDown in the 2018 Superstar Shake-Up should have been a game-changer for her, but it actually ended up having the opposite effect.
She failed to recover from her first-ever loss at WrestleMania 34 and settled into a background role on the blue brand in the months that followed.
Granted, she did win the SmackDown Women's Championship in the main event of December's Tables, Ladders and Chairs pay-per-view, but her reign was largely uneventful. She lost the title to Charlotte Flair before WrestleMania 35 and was subsequently relegated to the Women's Battle Royal on the Kickoff show.
WWE again showed signs of giving Asuka an aggressive push when they paired her with Kairi Sane and Paige immediately following The Show of Shows. They received a decent amount of television time at first but were eventually cooled off with losses to The IIconics and Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross.
The fact they won the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship at Hell in a Cell on Sunday meant little considering those belts have been pointless props for months, but their apparent heel turn was interesting. Their huge victory over Becky Lynch and Flair on Monday's Raw was exactly what they needed to get back on the right track.
Even if Flair remains on SmackDown, The Kabuki Warriors can feud with Lynch on the red brand if they're drafted. When the day comes for Asuka and Sane to go their separate ways, Lynch will have two new rivals waiting to challenge her for the Raw Women's Championship, and both bouts could be amazing.
The red brand needs the charismatic duo a lot more than SmackDown does right now.
The Revival to SmackDown
Brock Lesnar isn't the only Raw wrestler holding SmackDown gold, as The Revival remain in possession of the SmackDown Tag Team Championship despite being members of Team Red's roster.
They debuted on Raw one night removed from WrestleMania 33 and made an immediate impact by beating The New Day. Injuries stalled their momentum for the remainder of 2017, but with three title reigns in the span of seven months, it's safe to say they've bounced back in a big way since then.
It's almost unbelievable they haven't already switched shows considering how frequently they've appeared on SmackDown this year. Their alliance with Randy Orton was fun while it lasted, but even if they are split from The Viper, The Revival still has unfinished with SmackDown's top tandem, The New Day.
Also on the blue brand, they can wage war with Heavy Machinery, The Hardy Boyz (if and when they return), and Luke Harper and Erick Rowan.
Raw can keep Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode at the top of their tag team scene, while The Revival hold down the fort on Friday nights.
WWE should consider either bringing up new teams from NXT/NXT UK or making new ones so The Revival can have some credible competition on SmackDown once their rivalry with New Day runs its course.
The Street Profits to Raw
Speaking of fresh faces in the tag team division, the WWE draft should be the moment when The Street Profits officially make their mark as members of the Raw roster after months of serving as narrators on the red brand.
If their weekly backstage segments on Raw are the only exposure you've had to Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford, then you have been missing out. Since 2017, they've been one of NXT's most popular acts and have slowly but surely proved themselves as championship material.
They worked their way up the tag team ranks on NXT for two years before fulfilling their destiny by becoming the new NXT Tag Team champions at TakeOver: XXV.
During their near-three month reign, they also appeared on Raw to get fans familiar with them, but they haven't had a chance to showcase their skills in the ring yet.
Raw and SmackDown's tag team divisions are desolate at the moment and could use a tandem such as Street Profits to shake things up. They lost the NXT tag team titles to Undisputed Era in late August and failed to regain the gold in their obligatory rematch last week, so they're free to be called up if WWE so chooses.
Of the two brands, Raw would be the better home for them, considering that's where the audience has gotten used to seeing them. If The Viking Raiders are unsuccessful in beating Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode for the Raw Tag Team Championship next week, Street Profits should be next in line for a shot at the straps.
Matt Riddle to SmackDown
The WWE draft should feature at least one "shock" pick from NXT, and no other up-and-comer from the developmental brand is as ready as Matt Riddle.
He debuted in NXT with plenty of buzz in August 2018, but it was unknown how he'd be able to live up to the lofty hype. However, he showed almost instantly why he is one of the best in the game today with his unique in-ring ability, above-average trash-talking skills, and unmatched charisma.
The Master of Bros shattered all expectations with wins over Kassius Ohno and barn-burners against Velveteen Dream, Roderick Strong and Killian Dain. He recently vied for Adam Cole's NXT Championship but was defeated following an exceptional effort.
With Finn Balor and Tommaso Ciampa returning to NXT that same night, it became clear there aren't any plans to push Riddle as the featured face of the brand any time soon. In fact, that loss may have been designed to write him out of storylines so he can be called up to the main roster in the draft.
Fox will want to bring as much legitimacy as possible to the blue brand, and with Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez likely to join SmackDown's ranks in the near future, Riddle would be a logical addition as another former UFC fighter.
Matches with Shinsuke Nakamura, Daniel Bryan, Andrade, Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns would be a better use of him than a lack of direction in NXT. Riddle will be successful wherever he goes, but SmackDown needs stars and he fits the bill to perfection.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.