WWE launched its first WWE Draft in 2002 to deal with its bloated roster following its acquisition of WCW. The Draft was a storyline to deal with Ric Flair and Vince McMahon disagreeing on how to run Raw and SmackDown.
A first-of-its-kind, superstars would be selected by McMahon and Flair to exclusively appear on their respective SmackDown and Raw brands. Minus a few years off, the Draft has been an annual feature ever since. It’s helped a few superstars redefine their careers.
Here, we take a look at superstars who have benefitted from the WWE Draft.
WWE Draft Biggest Winners
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has achieved a lot. Arguably the most well-known wrestler of all time. Highest-paid movie star. Business owner and soon-to-be billionaire. Stars in his own NBC sitcom Young Rock.
He also has the honor of being the first person to ever be drafted. McMahon selected him for SmackDown in the 2002 Draft. Does Rock care? Probably doesn’t even remember. Let’s get on the superstars who have benefitted from the WWE Draft.
Nobody has benefitted more from the WWE Draft than John “Bradshaw” Layfield. In fact, without the Draft JBL may never have existed.
The 2002 Draft resulted in The Dudley Boyz and the APA, Faarooq and Bradshaw, both being split up. Bradshaw stepped out of the shadows of his tag team colleagues.
Bradshaw had been with WWE for 18 years at this point so nobody would have predicted what happened next.
Birth of the JBL Character
Bradshaw tweaked his character to reflect his Texan roots, donning a hat and carrying a bull rope to the ring. His first solo feud was alongside Stone Cold Steve Austin against the NWO. This showed Bradshaw could hang at the main event level.
He then went on to win the Hardcore Championship 17 times which helped him feature every week on Raw. Bradshaw had a brief injury before moving to SmackDown to reform the APA.
But he’d shown that his skills were as a single competitor. He soon turned on Faarooq and launched his rich Texan heel gimmick JBL.
WWE Championship Run
JBL was an instant hit and he quickly captured the WWE Championship. He feuded with Eddie Guerrero, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, and The Big Show and always came out on top during his 280-day reign. He finally dropped the championship to John Cena.
Without the WWE Draft ‘forcing’ Bradshaw to leave his APA tag team career behind this iconic WWE Championship run would never have happened.
Few cared when Heath Slater didn’t get drafted in 2016. But Slater’s promos and quest to win a contract got over so much with the WWE Universe that fans chanted “we want Slater” when they were supposed to be watching Roman Reigns.
Slater eventually won a contract and the SmackDown Tag Team Championship with Rhyno. Slater and Rhyno have continued to find success as a team outside of WWE. They have held the IMPACT Tag Team Championship and are currently the XICW champs. Not only did the Draft extend Slater’s WWE run but it gave him one of the hottest acts on the independent circuit.
After her loss in the triple threat WWE Women’s Championship match against Charlotte and Sasha Banks at WrestleMania 32, Becky Lynch had quite the hangover.
She only appeared three times on Raw between WrestleMania and the 2016 Draft in July. Two of those matches were losses to Dana Brooke and Emma. It’s safe to say Lynch was in danger of falling into the shadows.
Then she was the number one draft pick for SmackDown. Lynch won a six-pack challenge to become the inaugural SmackDown Women’s Champion at Backlash. Out of the shadow of Charlotte, Banks, Paige and The Bellas who were still on Raw, Lynch could finally thrive. She’s remained at the top of the women’s roster ever since.
The Man & The Brand Split
Her character tweak to become the Man in 2018 helped her become the hottest thing in professional wrestling. A far cry from the obscurity she was in on Raw before the 2016 Draft.
Lynch’s nose was broken during an invasion angle she led against the Raw brand. It led to the cancellation of her Survivor Series Raw vs. SmackDown Women’s championship match against Ronda Rousey. This in turn helped build months of hype for Lynch being able to get her hands on the Raw champion. Lynch went on to win the Royal Rumble to allow her to choose Rousey as her WrestleMania 35 opponent. It is perhaps the best example of the WWE brand split being used to build anticipation and interest in a match since its inception.
In April 2009, Miz was a tag team wrestler on WWE’s C-show, the rebooted ECW. Then, he was drafted to Raw. Miz bid his tag partner John Morrison goodbye with a neck breaker and never looked back.
He immediately entered a program with John Cena.
Over the next few months, he switched his terrible shorts for trunks, started performing his Skull Crushing Finale finisher, and debuted his “I’m the Miz and I’m awesome” catchphrase.
Five months after the Draft and Miz had captured US Championship. The following summer, Miz won the Money In The Bank contract at the inaugural PPV of that name.
He cashed in before the end of 2010 to win the WWE Championship. He’s headlined WrestleMania, won eight Intercontinental championships, and multiple tag team championships. He’s a genuine celebrity with his appearance on Dancing With The Stars and his reality show Miz & Mrs. It all started with his draft to Raw.
WWE has used its Draft many times to remind us how great it thinks Cena is. In 2005 he made history by being the first superstar to be allowed to bring his WWE Championship with him when he was Raw’s number one draft pick. In 2011, he was drafted from Raw to SmackDown and then back again all in one night as WWE tried to have Cena on screen as much as possible.
WWE making highly-viewed shows such as the Draft all about Cena was much to his benefit in becoming a household name and one of the greatest of all time.
Bálor was drafted from NXT to Raw in 2016 with all the pomp and circumstance of a prize college footballer being called up to the NFL. It’s the only time WWE has treated someone this way and was an early indication to take Bálor seriously.
A month after the Draft and Bálor was the WWE Universal Champion. A shoulder injury forced him to relinquish the gold. But Balor’s WWE career will always have benefited from his initial Draft.
If the 2009 Draft hadn’t caused Jesse & Festus to split up then Luke Gallows might have never become Luke Gallows.
His WWE career could have gone: Imposter Kane, Festus, Released.
Enough said really.
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