2021 Draft Takes Effect on SmackDown

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WWE’s latest draft sent some of Friday Night SmackDown’s biggest stars-Seth Rollins, Edge, Bianca Belair, Becky Lynch-to Monday Night Raw. However, in return the “blue brand” received some WWE universe fan favorites and NXT talent making their main roster debut. Both newly  minted and familiar WWE superstars mixed it up on the October 22 SmackDown broadcast out of the Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas.

Hit Row: Initial reports heading into the 2021 draft indicated that NXT stars would not be a major factor. That made the Hit Row faction from NXT’s draft to SmackDown such a surprise, coming as it did when they were in the thick of a feud with Legado Del Fantasma and leader Isaiah “Swerve” Scott was reigning North American Champion over at the developmental brand. In their main roster debut, Hit Row dealt swiftly with some enhancement talent, showing their resident big man, Top Dolla, off to advantage especially. Given that they did fight enhancement talent, however, there is no hint of what role they will play on SmackDown, and who their allies and adversaries will be as they settle in.

Drew McIntyre: Drew McIntyre had unfinished business with Friday Night SmackDown. It was the brand he debuted on fresh out of Florida Championship Wrestling in his early 20s, when his future with WWE was so bright his moniker was literally “the Chosen One.” He quickly secured the Intercontinental Championship…then his push floundered and he found himself floating between brands as part of the comedy act 3MB. After rebuilding himself on the global independent wrestling scene and in NXT, McIntyre returned to WWE’s main roster, but on Monday Night Raw. His WWE championship run there spanned the length of the “pandemic era”, where he sold both his prowess as a bout machine and his knockaround journey back to the WWE with equally realistic aplomb. McIntyre’s open challenge to the SmackDown roster was answered by Sami Zayn, who pointed out that he was the longest-tenured member of the roster. Sami Zayn’s character has slid into parody as of late, so mired in paranoid delusions that the plot has been lost. However, his bout with McIntyre was able to do what the legendary Raw match between Sean Waltman and McIntyre’s childhood hero Bret Hart did for Waltman’s 1-2-
3 Kid
persona: cast an unlikely challenger as a true threat.

Rather than the off-the-wall and out-to-lunch version of Zayn SmackDown audiences have seen for over a year, Zayn was stressed as a veteran of the blue brand, and referred to several times by commentators Pat McAfee and Michael Cole by his moniker “the Master Strategist”. The contrast was clear between McIntyre’s girth and power and Zayn’s wiliness. The latter seemed to be winning, with McIntyre down and Zayn raining fists on his head, declaring, “This is my show!”, until an explosion of force from McIntyre. After several belly-to-belly throws and clotheslines, Zayn’s tide was on the ebb. His final tactic was psychological warfare, mocking McIntyre’s ‘Claymore countdown’ as he set up his own ‘Helluva kick.’ McIntyre exploded into his Claymore kick finisher, dropping Sami Zayn and scoring a pinfall victory, perhaps establishing that this SmackDown iteration of him would be slightly more unpredictable. For two men whose personas have recently veered into caricature, the match was refreshingly straightforward and credible.

Charlotte Flair: Fox has reportedly sought Flair for WWE’s Friday night show for some time, and now they’ve got her. “The Queen” has been on an upswing, lately, in more command of the icy, regal persona which sometimes seems to threaten to overwhelm the woman, Ashley Fliehr, who wields both it and the complex Flair family pro wrestling legacy. Since silencing chants of “We want Becky” from the Money in the Bank crowd with an impressive match with Rhea Ripley, and throwing shade at Alexa Bliss with a diss that alluded to Bray Wyatt, Flair is visibly more confident. However, her tension and vulnerability when sharing the ring with longtime rival and friend Becky Lynch was palpable. A little goes a long way, with those two, and their every gesture as they begrudgingly handed over their respective SmackDown and Raw women’s titles could birth weeks worth of storyline. However, Sasha Banks made herself a part of the conversation, as well, foreshadowing that she will be Charlotte’s bete noir on the blue brand. A match between two of the three women for November’s Survivor Series was also teased, making Banks’s, Lynch’s, and Flair’s storyline the first of the night to allude to the road to one of WWE’s most iconic pay-per-views.

In introducing its new draftees, SmackDown continued to deliver its consistently effective house blend of strong matches and intriguing characters, as the action rolled swiftly from Crown Jewel fallout to Survivor Series build-up.