wrestling / Columns

The 8 Ball: The Top 8 WWE Draft Picks

July 15, 2016 | Posted by Samuel Hayward
Dean Ambrose

We are less than a week away from July 19, when WWE Smackdown will be going live every Tuesday with its own roster as the Brand Extension arrives through the first WWE Draft in 5 years. We can safely assume that this draft will be like the original draft from 2002. With a general manger for each show, supervised by Shane and Stephanie McMahon respectively, both sides will take turns selecting a superstar to join their roster. With the current WWE climate about to revert again to Raw vs. Smackdown, every superstar will get the chance to prove themselves as valuable assets to both brands. The question remains, however, who will be picked first? And which superstars will be the best choices to make for both shows?

Before I start my list of what I believe are the top 8 draft picks at this point in time, I want to preface that Roman Reigns will not be included in this list, as his suspension prevents him from being able to appear during the draft. Whilst WWE may make the decision to have either show draft him anyway, I don’t believe that that would be the best course of action. Personally I don’t believe he should even be allowed to remain in the main event for Battleground, as it could be seen as rewarding someone in spite of screwing up as majorly as Reigns has. Selecting him as a draft pick would devalue the rest of the roster who have made no offences and aren’t presently considered a liability. At this point in time, he isn’t in my top 8 because through a combination of his devaluing suspension and his failure as the top face of the company, he isn’t good enough to be in the top 8.

I also want to clarify that I’m not going to be selecting Brock Lesnar in this draft either. This is primarily because I believe that a part time wrestler isn’t a valuable enough asset to be considered a top draft pick. Sure, whenever he is advertised to appear he will bring in higher ratings, but those appearances are very limited and a more valuable asset to either company is the one who keeps the show floating during the time that guys like Lesnar aren’t around. This also means that guys like The Undertaker are not going to be picked either. This is strictly full time members of the roster.

Now that that’s all been cleared up, let’s see who the top 8 draft picks are!

Number 8 – Rusev: After the League of Nations fiasco almost killed his career entirely, WWE have seen fit to reboot the Bulgarian Brute’s run with the United States Championship. Up to this point Rusev has been re-established as a dominant heel once again, laying waste to his opponents from The Lucha Dragons to Titus O’Neil, with Zack Ryder showing no promise of scoring an upset.

Rusev’s run as champion has the potential to skyrocket him into a huge program at the head of the card if done correctly, similarly to how it first gained enough momentum to incorporate a feud with John Cena at WrestleMania. If done right, Rusev can become the monster that he always should have by controlling the second spot at the top of the ladder for one of the shows.

Number 7 – The New Day: There is a reason that The New Day will be breaking the record for longest WWE Tag Team Championship reign. This team has won over the fans with the power of positivity through comedy and sheer charisma in all of their matches and interviews. Three men that were previously floundering with no real direction, this team’s chemistry has been of those things that just clicked, developing first as a fantastic new heel team to rejuvenate a lulling tag division, and now becoming the leaders to move said division into another era of WWE programming.

With current speculation being that the tag champions will appear on both brands with the belt, we’ll be seeing a lot more of this trio each week. They can’t be champions forever, however, with new teams like The Club and Enzo & Cass on the rise and gaining momentum. At some point the belts will be gone and they will need a brand to call their home.

Whichever side gets them is guaranteed to profit from their being around, with the Unicorns currently selling more merchandise than even John ‘fruity pebbles’ Cena. This team needs to stay together at all costs after the Draft, as no member of the group will benefit from a singles run at this point in their career. Their stock can only continue to rise as a unit and will also benefit whichever side gets a hold of them.

Number 6 – Finn Balor: The surprise element in this draft is the opportunity to call up wrestlers from NXT to the main roster. Whilst there are many that could be considered ready to make such an ascension (Bayley, Samoa Joe, American Alpha), the one that stands above the rest is Finn Balor. Balor has cemented himself through his performances as a standout performer in the ring with a tremendous character. Having recently dropped the NXT Championship, he has constantly teased appearances on Raw and different PPVs through use of social media. The time feels right for the tease to finally become a reality.

There are several different possibilities for Balor to go once he is introduced to the roster. He could join The Club alongside his old friends in Japan, becoming a heel for the first time in the company and adding fuel to the fire in their feud with John Cena. Conversely, he could take the opposite approach, opposing them by saying this wasn’t what his Club was meant to be, possibly even starting his own Balor Club. With his Demon persona he could start an interesting program with Bray Wyatt, who tries to manipulate him into being the Demon permanently. There are several roads for Balor to walk down, and each promises intrigue and captivation.

No matter what happens to him creatively, Balor promises to deliver in his matches and will guarantee to entertain the fans, whichever Brand he entertains them on.

Number 5 – Kevin Owens: During the injury plague these past few months, a decent heel has been hard to find. Roman Reigns’ hunt for world championship gold saw him face opposition in League of Nations and Triple H. The feud with the former was so catastrophic that it took four decent heels and turned into one great big unfunny joke. Moving forward to the latter, Triple H is a part time wrestler who is spending more and more time out of the ring as he transitions permanently into a management role within the company.

While the main event for the past few months has been choking on poor writing and bad characters, the mid-card was led by arguably the best heel in the company right now; Kevin Owens. Earning the name of prizefighter, he proved that his losses to Cena in his introductory feud to the company have not shaken him. Continuing to put on a long series of fantastic matches, he has demonstrated a natural talent for garnering heat from the WWE Universe. Someone that people love to hate, his feud with Dean Ambrose helped to elevate the Intercontinental Championship as they developed a strong chemistry in their performances.

His current feud with long-time friend Sami Zayn is the most exciting thing about the next PPV, as it promises to deliver a spectacular performance and still has plenty of room to develop even further. Whichever brand receives these two stars will certainly benefit, but mostly for receiving Owens, who could gain the opportunity from a smaller roster to establish himself as the top heel in the company and transition himself into main event status in the near future.

Number 4 – Sasha Banks: The Boss has proven to be the absolute must see performer in the women’s division today. Adored by the fans and respected for her in-ring work, it’s a near guarantee that she will become the women’s champion in the future. With the women’s division in question, with people wondering if two championship belts will be introduced to either brand or if one champion will defend on both shows, it is clear at least that there will be female representation on both Raw and Smackdown. With the women’s division relatively small as it is, and further reduced due to several injuries, the return of Banks from her concussion is a welcome sight.

This is someone who will be able to lead her group of women to a stronger position within their show’s roster. After the failure of the Diva’s Revolution, there needs to be a strong locker room leader to be the one people can depend to put on a good show every single week. Banks is someone who can do that. Her connection with the fans and her strong in-ring skills make her a quintessential piece to either side’s puzzle.

With the rumor of several NXT women being called up in the future to help bolster the numbers, Banks is someone that can help make them grow more accustomed to a main roster feel, having been someone that was called up recently herself. She can do this with Bayley in particular, their incredible series of matches on the NXT TakeOver shows speaking for itself on how well they work together.

Number 3 – Seth Rollins: There’s not really much that can be said about why Rollins would be such a good choice as a draft pick. Everything he’s done in his career kind of speaks for itself. Having earned the respect of the fans by working hard as world champion, despite being hamstrung by terrible writing, and working even hard to recover from his tragic injury, Rollins is someone that most assuredly belongs in the main event scene. A proven and worthy headline act, the company showed their faith in him by having him beat Roman Reigns clean at Money in the Bank. Even if this was supposedly a way to punish Reigns for his suspension as rumors would indicate, it’s something nobody expected to happen and really helped everybody take Rollins seriously as the next face of the company.

Whilst it’s likely he will stay with Stephanie McMahon and Triple H as their poster boy, he would do well with either side. He could remain the prodigy of The Authority or turn face and go against them. He could be the heel on the other side fighting against Shane O’Mac, or turn face and join him. Whatever the future holds for Rollins, he will continue to represent his brand in world title contention, and possible even represent them as champion himself should he succeed in hoisting the belt over his shoulder.

Number 2 – Dean Ambrose: The Roman Reigns experiment failed. Rejected by the fans over and over again, the company still would not give up on him, pushing him as the world champion over everyone else that people wanted to see there, that the WWE Universe felt deserved to be there. It seemed we as fans would never escape the Roman Empire, until he made the biggest mistake of his career and rightly was suspended for violating the Wellness Policy. Now WWE Creative were forced to push a new good guy to become the face of the company. Enter Dean Ambrose.

Ambrose has proven time and time again that he is not the weakest link in the Shield. Running with whatever Creative pushed in front of him as he fell to the wayside of the main even scene, his charisma, ability and wild character have allowed him to endure various placeholder feuds and succeed where others would not. Having now successfully held every singles championship the company has to other, his accolades demonstrate that his hard work will be rewarded as time goes on.

When the brand split finishes the world champ will need somewhere to go, and wherever he’ll go he’ll likely have the responsibility to act as the face of that show, carrying the main event feud each week with whomever he’s feuding with.

Number 1 – John Cena: Now, before you all grab your pitchforks and torches, I should clarify that I don’t think John Cena should be the first draft pick on the show. Hell, I don’t think he should be the second draft pick on the show. I think after all of Cena’s accomplishments in the company, his plethora of world title reigns, his reputation as the face of the WWE for the past decade and his veteran status entering into the beginning of the twilight of his career, every single person that gets drafted before him gets their stock elevated that extra notch higher.

Cena is undoubtedly the most decorated superstar currently on the roster, so to be picked before him would be huge for a lot of superstars. It would be the WWE’s way of acknowledging that men like Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins really are the future of the company if they get picked before the golden boy.

Add to that the expectancy of Cena eventually taking back the US Championship from Rusev once again to resurrect the US Open Challenge. This weekly ceremony in Raw’s programming was a welcome moment to really showcase the younger talent of the roster by having them come close against Big Match John. Sure, he might not lose often, but feuding with him or just even being in the same match as him elevates you as a serious contender. Just look at all of the people that have rallied behind Kevin Owens after his feud with him. Look at Cesaro, whose match with Cena was declared the best Open Challenge match there was. Cesaro has become an internet darling, with the fans forcing the company to acknowledge him and build him up for an Intercontinental Championship reign in the future.

With so many veterans on their way out, Cena is a familiar face to keep long-time fans interested in a revitalized Raw or Smackdown. He can feud with all the new young wrestlers coming in from NXT and make them superstars in moments. Cena is assuredly the best draft pick either show can have, and the remarkable thing is that the lower down the draft he is, the better he’ll make everyone else.

So what do you think? If you were running Raw, who would you draft to your side? And who would you leave off your show to be picked by Smackdown? Let us know in the comments who would appear on your 8-ball.