October 4’s Monday Night Raw continued the 2021 draft, which began on October 1’s Friday Night SmackDown. SmackDown’s draft featured some smart choices, such as retaining Roman Reigns, Jimmy, and Jey Uso, who’ve been such a boon for the brand throughout latter 2020 and 2021 so far, but also some surprises like drafting NXT stable Hit Row.
Raw’s choices, however, seem to hint at a stab at redemption for the troubled brand. 2020 saw World Wrestling Entertainment’s flagship television product posting some of the lowest ratings in its existence, whilst 2021 saw the rapid ascendence of All Elite Wrestling as a true competitor for the hearts, minds, and remote controls of pro wrestling fans. Outpacing Chris Jericho’s prognostications that it would take four to six more months for AEW’s flagship show Dynamite to outstrip Raw in ratings, Dynamite beat Raw in the ratings race for two consecutive weeks in September 2021.
With the drafting of Becky Lynch, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, the Street Profits, and Bianca Belair back to Raw from SmackDown, it seems Raw is trying to recapture some of its pre-and early Pandemic momentum. Its slump began during the crowdless era, especially during its ThunderDome at Amway Center broadcasts, which were hampered by long scripted segments, such as those from Alexa Bliss’s funhouse. Much of the 2019, early 2020 lineup are back on Raw.
Becky Lynch’s feud with Bianca Belair has carried over from SmackDown. As the October 4 broadcast wound down, Belair was working an athletically robust and energetically paced match with Charlotte Flair, with Lynch on commentary. Lynch eventually interrupted the contest, and was herself then attacked by Sasha Banks, killing two birds with one stone by alluding to the upcoming triple threat for the SmackDown women’s championship between Banks, Belair, and Lynch at Crown Jewel.
The Street Profits and The New Day were holding the Raw and SmackDown tag team championships, respectively, when both teams were drafted to opposite brands in 2020. They respectfully traded championships. However, doubling down on Raw’s recent reliance on tag team wrestling, the two teams now seem headed for a respectful comic feud which will most likely result in some credible and engaging matches.
Rollins and Edge will both be bound for Raw when the draft’s changes take effect after Crown Jewel. It’s a safe bet that, like Belair and Lynch, their SmackDown feud won’t lose much momentum in relocating to Raw.
Balor and Owens, however, are coming back to Raw with no clear path ahead of them. Their last adversaries on the brand, Aleister (now Malakai) Black for Owens and Bray Wyatt for Balor, have both parted ways with WWE. Owens has had precious little to do on SmackDown for some time, despite an exhilarating program with Roman Reigns in late 2020 and early 2021 which culminated in their very entertaining Royal Rumble match, that saw them making use of the ThunderDome’s various equipment as weapons against each other. The best use of his talents Raw creative could find for October 4’s Nashville, Tennessee broadcast was to deliver a single stunner to Akira Tozawa. As for Balor, the strange ending to his Extreme Rules match with Reigns was never addressed on SmackDown, and the video package announcing his arrival to Raw seemed to suggest that he has reverted to his “Prince” persona as his primary character rather than the “Demon”.
Despite these imperfections, these draft picks that have made an impact on Raw in the recent past stand a good chance of helping the brand hit the reset button as it tries to re-establish itself as the premier destination for exciting pro wrestling content on TV.