Well, that was a wasted opportunity.
Wrestling fans get a bad rap for being overly negative. But honest to God, everyone: We don’t enjoy being like that. We want to cheer for the WWE. We want to be positive about the storylines we see on television every Monday (and now, live every Tuesday!). It’s why we continue to tune in—precisely because we see the untapped potential. But every time the WWE seems on the verge of realizing that potential, they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And yesterday evening’s 2016 Draft, which aired live on Smackdown, illustrates that tendency.
WWE is at a key juncture. They’ve spent the past two years raiding the indie promotions of key talent, and nurturing homegrown talent in their developmental promotion, NXT. There’s never been this volume of worthy wrestlers from such a diversity of backgrounds in the same company at the exact same time. But at the same time, WWE also has to account for their aging veterans, the old war horses who have been employed for close to a decade or more. They’re past their prime, true, but they still retain the love and nostalgic appreciation of the casual fan. People like and feel comfortable with what they know and what is familiar.
The last time WWE botched this transition in the early '90s, it almost put them out of business.
The easier business move, in the short term, would be to push the veterans to the top of the card, and ride that train until the wheels fall off. But riding down that path for too long leads to nowhere. Should older talent retire or get injured, there would be no one left with the charisma, experience, and know-how to carry the WWE.
At some point, sooner rather than later, the veterans definitively need to pass on the torch. It may be difficult. It may lead to a bumpy downturn in business as everyone adjusts to his or her new roles. But it’s better than the dumpster fire that would result from maintaining the status quo. The last time WWE botched this transition in the early '90s, it almost put them out of business.
The Draft seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a clean, firm break from the past. Place the new stars in the brightest spotlight possible. Respect the veterans, but place them in the lower, more supportive role of getting young talent over. It seemed like WWE—after dragging its feet for years and now adopting the “New Era” slogan—was finally going to follow through and commit wholeheartedly.
That didn’t happen. Let’s take a look at the first six draft rounds, one-by-one, and make some observations. Remember: If we follow WWE’s storyline logic, this is the order of priority that Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon place on the WWE talent: