SmackDown made out like a bandit in the Superstar Shake-Up. What was Angle thinking?
Another WrestleMania has come and gone, and this year’s edition of “Papa Haitch Shares his Toys” has seen the debuts of the Authors of Pain, The Iconic Duo (I refuse to call them the IIconics), Ember Moon and…No Way Jose…okay, so clearly some of these decisions were better than others — and WWE has decided to extend that theme another week by hosting the most lopsided (talent-wise) Superstar Shake-up to date. In all, there were 25 acts being swapped between brands or making their main roster debut as a part of the shakeup. They can’t all be winners, though, so let’s rank ’em! Let’s rank the Superstar Shake-Up from worst to best!
Methodology: Much like last year, and unlike our Kayfabe look at these moves, we put the list together by asking a few questions. “How does this move affect the Superstar? How does the move affect the show?” and “What can we look forward to from this change?” We’ll be grouping all “package acts” together, whether that be tag teams or post apocalyptic anarchist stables; and while we won’t be counting people who debuted last week (sorry, Peyton and Billie! You ladies would have ranked fifth on this list, but first in my heart), we will be considering NXT call ups. So given these arbitrary metrics, let’s start with the worst move of them all:
25. Natalya Neidhart to Raw
I mean, duh. Natty is the absolute dirt worst. This swap evidently also brought about a face turn that no one asked for, and a seeming partnership with the “way better than anyone expected” Ronda Rousey, which is a terrible idea. I know these two are supposed to be real life friends, but neither belongs anywhere near a live microphone. Look for Natty to be the albatross around the neck of Raw‘s favorite female MMA-inspired superstar (Sonya’s on SmackDown now) leading into an inevitably underwhelming feud.
24. Mike Kanellis to Raw
So I never would have thought Paige was a crafty business woman, but she managed to unload the lowest man on the WWE totem pole without taking on too much trash in the process. I would say Curt Hawkins is in worse standing, but at least he gets on TV. Kanellis has got potential — especially if his wife Maria returns with him — but the guy has been a laughing stock since signing with WWE. Either Angle still thinks he’s in TNA, or he got fleeced by a 25 year old Hot Topic Manager. Kurt really screwed the pooch this year.
23. R-Truth to SmackDown
I thought it was just a joke on SmackDown, but according to WWE’s Twitter account, R-Truth is indeed now a part of the SmackDown roster. I know he’s been out with an injury for a while, but like…what was Truth doing before he hurt himself? Anyone? No? Exactly. Dude’s a one note joke and I don’t think there’s ever going to be a time where he is once again taken seriously as a performer. On the plus side, now Sin Cara has someone to sit with in catering while everyone else is out…you know…wrestling.
22. Zack Ryder to Raw
Is there a sadder story in the WWE than the career of Zack Ryder? The man made himself the most organically popular star in the company by being the first performer to really embrace social media, and the company makes it their effort to thoroughly assassinate his character to the point that he’s impossible to take seriously. Even his Mania Moment™ IC title win was undone the next night, and now that his blood rivalry with former tag partner, Mojo Rawley, has reached the “ruining Zack’s life is all I can do” stage, don’t expect Ryder to be making any real moves up the card now that he’s back on the A-show. Which reminds me…
21. Mojo Rawley to Raw
What’s sadder, the shlub who loses every opportunity or the one whose only successes are against him? After turning heel on Ryder, Mojo actually made a couple of subtle character changes that should have made him a more compelling character. Unfortunately, WWE never made an effort to do anything with him, and now seems entirely comfortable with him coasting off his distinction as the most underwhelming winner of the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Look for Rawley to serve as the bottom rung heel for midcard babyfaces like Bobby Roode and Matt Hardy to run through.
20. The Ascension to Raw
I mean, I don’t expect anything good for Konnor and Viktor on the red brand, and they’ll continue to be a bottom rung face tandem on a brand that already had Slater and Rhyno. They make it this high, however, because of their connection to Breezango (more on them later) and their importance to the Fashion Files. Now that both of these teams are on the 3-hour show, hopefully, the WWE will let their specific brand of comedy return to the USA network, rather than the WWE YouTube Channel.
19. Absolution to SmackDown
I hate to say it, but Paige’s career wasn’t the only one likely destroyed by her early retirement. Once the pasty British grappler receded into a manager’s role, Sonya Deville and (especially) Mandy Rose have sort of been left exposed. Both are a bit too green to be taken seriously, but while Deville shows some promise as a striker, Rose is only slightly better in the ring than Lana and not progressing at the pace that Vince and Co. likely thought she would. Still, they should get some more time to shine on the blue brand now that their palette swap counterparts in the Riott Squad had moved to Monday nights, and Sonya being separated from Rousey will help her MMA gimmick stand out a bit more.
18. Dolph Ziggler to Raw
Dolph’s star has faded considerably since his electric Money in the Bank cash in on Alberto Del Rio, and he’s been more insufferable than exciting of late, but there is cause for hope when it comes to the Showoff. While he seems to be sticking to his awful “non entrance” entrance (complete with a record scratch that makes no sense) and cutting the same promo about he “steals the show every night,” his newfound partnership with Drew McIntyre is pretty intriguing. Their combination Zig Zag/Claymore finisher looks cool (even if it logistically doesn’t make a ton of sense), so maybe they’ll make an impact on what has suddenly become a pretty weak tag division on Raw. Or maybe Mac will realize he hitched his train to a loser and strike out on his own after hitting a high knee on Ziggly Puff here. I’m fine either way.
17. The Riott Squad to Raw
Much like Absolution, the Riotters are a bit too green to be where the WWE clearly wants them to be. Yeah Ruby is pretty good on the mic and in the ring, but both Logan and Morgan could have benefitted from some more time in the incubator that was NXT. Still, unlike Dolph, they debuted by beating up two Superstars that people care about, so that’s got to give them a bit of a leg up on the show off. Look for the Squad to prop up Ruby whenever she vies for the Raw women’s Championship. There’s a chance Riott may win it too, though it’s far more likely that all three ladies will be crushed by Nia Jax.
16. Breezango to Raw
Not to shatter the illusion of my fellow smarks, but Breezango is not a very good team. Yeah Tyler Breeze is a pretty good performer in the Lance Storm fashion (i.e. good, but not good enough to break out of the midcard), but the real value of this team is as a comedy act. Now that they’re on the 3-hour show alongside their sidekicks in the Ascension, I would love to see the Fashion Files return to actual live TV instead of being a .com exclusive. As for what to expect from the Fashion PoPo over the next year? I imagine we’ll see them ragdoll for the Authors of Pain more than we’ll see Breeze and Dango with their hands raised in victory. Side note: Besides the AOP, are there only joke tag teams on Raw now? (Sorry, smarks. The Revival, though I love them, are most assuredly a joke at this point.)
15. Gallows and Anderson to SmackDown
How are you going to send the Balor Club to SmackDown and not send Finn Balor? Do Gallows and Anderson hook back up with AJ? Do they strike out and try to forge their own identity? I mean, the dream is that Nakamura forms an American version of his Japanese stable Chaos forcing Styles to bring the Good Brothers along for backup, but short of Vince pairing Nak with the 205 team of Hideo Itami and Akira Tozawa, I don’t see that happening. Gallanderson will likely remain a lower-tier midcard tweener act, picking up wins here and there, but mostly jobbing to the New Day, Usos and Bludgeon Brothers.
14. Big Cass to SmackDown
This one’s a little tough to call, because Cass as a solo act is a bit of an unproven commodity. Last year’s heel turn on Enzo Amore didn’t really do much for him as a character, and at this point, I feel like the selling point of “he’s pretty tall” isn’t enough to carry him to a midcard title. It looks like the plan was to have him be the first real feud for the returning Daniel Bryan, but with the Miz coming to SmackDown, I can’t see Cass keeping this quality of company in the future. He’ll be a decent midcard heel, but will have to develop a new way to stand out or else he’ll be Mojo Rawley all over again.
13. Chad Gable to Raw
It’s sort of fitting that Gable is smack dab in the middle of this list because he’s got the potential to go either way. The dude is great in the ring, and was really coming into his own as the Kurt Angle-style “cocky heel who may not be quite as good as he thinks” character, which is a role I imagine he’ll stay in for a while. Eventually I think they’ll put him back with Jason Jordan, hopefully as a heel American Alpha, but his barnburner with AJ Styles proves that dude’s got the potential to be a breakout babyface. Of course, because I said that, he’ll probably be used as a lower tier shlub lucky to get a win on Main Event.
12. Baron Corbin to Raw
Sweet Barry C isn’t a bad addition to Raw, and he should benefit greatly from the departure of Samoa Joe. That being said, they need to do something more with Corbin. He and Jinder are the de facto top heels on the brand (especially if the rumors of Brock Lesnar’s impending departure are true), which should suggest a positive swing for the Lone Wolf. That being said, this is WWE and they’ve definitely gotten cold feet on his push in the past. Hopefully the Lone Wolf leans into his character and finds a better way to connect with the crowd because his recent heel work has left a bit to be desired from both a promo and in-ring standing. Speaking of someone who needs a change…
11. Bobby Roode to Raw
Look, I know his theme song is great, but for the love of god, let this dude be a heel. Face Bobby has been a real letdown: a bland smiling good guy who has really nothing to offer the crowd. As a heel — especially on a brand that lost its two biggest full-time antagonists — Roode could instantly be in title contention for the IC or even the Universal title. As a face, though, he’s stuck behind more popular acts like Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Bobby Lashley and Braun Strowman. Since ¾ of those guys sell crazy amounts of merch, and Lashley is a returning pet project, it only makes sense to let Bobby be the Roode of old as an entitled d-bag.
10. Jinder Mahal to Raw
As mentioned in the last two listings, post-shakeup Raw is severely lacking in heels, and the Modern Day Maharaja is now in a position to climb atop the red brand. Sure, having him drop his newly won U.S. Title on his first night and impending feud with No Way Jose are jobber moves at best, but the former seems like a necessary evil to keep an undercard belt on both brands…of course they could have given the belt to Rusev like everyone wanted and this wouldn’t have been an issue, but let’s not dwell on the past. Jinder will likely stay near the top of the card, putting guys like Roman and Braun over, but stepping over midcarders like Matt Hardy and Jason Jordan. Of course, he’s also back on the same brand as Drew McIntyre and Heath Slater again, so….
9. Jeff Hardy to SmackDown
Honestly, I was hoping for Rollins or Balor (or both) to make the leap to the blue brand, but Hardy as the bronze medal of those options is a fine enough choice to rule SmackDown’s midcard. It doesn’t help SmackDown‘s impression as a TNA retread to have him on the show, and he’ll likely remain beneath guys like Styles and Bryan, but Hardy will likely see some success on Tuesday nights. Look forward to him being the fifth man in multi-man #1 contenders matches for the WWE Championship — one of which he may even win! Though I don’t see him taking home the title any time this year.
8. Andrade “Cien” Almas to SmackDown
No male NXT call up makes me happier than the SmackDown nod toward the former La Sombra, Andrade “Cien” Almas. I was pretty convinced he would be shunted off to (the admittedly vastly improved) 205 Live with little fanfare, so it’s great to see El Idolo land on one of the major brands. With his associate Zelina Vega along for the ride, Almas will be one of the top heels of the midcard and may be wearing that US Title before the year is out. I don’t think he’ll be an earnest competitor for the WWE Title, but any chance to see Almas go up against AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura or Daniel Bryan is one that WWE should jump on.
7. Drew McIntyre to Raw
From the former NXT Champion to the man he dethroned for the belt, it’s great to see Drew McIntyre back on WWE TV being booked like a big deal. I mean, as big of a deal someone beating up Titus Worldwide can be. Drew’s a guy with a ton of untapped potential, and he’s a much better performer now than he was during his last run with the company. His look, voice and demeanor all scream “top tier heel” and I could see him being in the Universal Title mix once the belt is on Roman or Seth. That being said, I can’t put him too much higher because it seems like Mac will be tethered to Dolph Ziggler for a while, which is a bit like wearing cement shoes and trying to swim with sharks.
6. The Bar to SmackDown
Though I don’t know how long they’ll stay together, the Bar is sure to be a great addition to SmackDown‘s tag division in the short term. Sure we’ve seen them go face to face with the New Day and the Usos in the past, but they bring an air of legitimacy to their contests and should help teams like Sanity get over in their nascence on the main roster. Still, the real boon of this pick will be when they inevitably split up and go their separate ways. Though he’s never really been my cup of tea, Sheamus is a great worker, and if they are never going to take Cesaro seriously as a solo act, being on SmackDown at least lets us see him show off against the likes of AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and Daniel Bryan.
5. SAnitY to SmackDown
I could be WAY off on this one, but I see good things in the future for SAnitY. I think Young and Wolfe may be wearing the SmackDown tag belts sometime next year, and Dain works as a monster they can throw into any multi-man match and be a credible threat to win. There is the risk that the WWE uses them as a sort of male Riott Squad, making all three men a joke in the process, but I’m choosing to be positive on this one. I look forward to the trio facing off with the Bludgeon Brothers and Usos, though I’m cautious about how they’ll actually be used on a brand that fumbled Shinsuke Nakamura and Bobby Roode’s character so badly for nearly a year. Also, where the hell is Nikki Cross? She was the most over member of this faction, why has she been missing for so long?
4. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn to Raw
It’s sort of cheating to include these two since they weren’t even technically chosen for the shakeup, but let’s be real: Sami and Kev are the best thing to happen to Raw in this whole ordeal. As mentioned in past entries on this list, Raw finds itself light on top tier heels at the moment, which allows Big Kev and Sami the opportunity to thrive as the foils to guys like Reigns, Rollins, Balor and Braun. This is especially good for Zayn, who is doing some of his best work as an obnoxious little s--t in a newsie cap. Look for both guys to hang around the top of the card, maybe even winning the tag titles at some point if WWE decides to keep them away from the big belts.
3. The Miz to SmackDown
Look. I like The Miz, and his move to SmackDown is a bigger deal than anyone that Raw picked up, but he’s in the third spot for exactly one reason: Daniel Bryan is also on SmackDown. What we have here is a confrontation that has been building for two years. For two freaking years we have been wondering if Daniel Bryan would be able to get his hands on The Miz, to give him a receipt for his verbal decimation on Talking Smack. Now that Bryan is back between the ropes and Miz is on the same brand, the countdown to Bryan/Miz is coming to a close, and fans are totally amped to see the A-Lister eat a knee to the face. Once that’s over, Miz will likely stay in the mix for the US or WWE titles as one of the top heels on the brand. The Mizanin renaissance will continue for the foreseeable future!
2. Asuka to SmackDown
This one suffers a bit from being a little too obvious. Most people assumed Asuka was walking away with the SmackDown women’s title at WrestleMania, so her headlining the blue brand’s women’s division alongside Charlotte and Becky isn’t quite the surprise it could have been. Still, Asuka should continue to be a force on Tuesday nights, and I see her picking up the title from Carmella in the not too distant future en route to the inevitable rematch with Charlotte — maybe as early as SummerSlam. Based on the current state of the SmackDown women’s roster, it would be great to see the Empress embrace a heel turn and face off with the likes of Becky Lynch, Naomi, and (obviously) Charlotte Flair. Those pairings make for much better matchups than Carmella, Lana and even my precious Iconic Duo, so I’m calling it now — heel Asuka once she’s taken the title off Carmella.
1. Samoa Joe to SmackDown
Unquestionably the biggest move of the night, Joe to SmackDown signals a new top heel on the blue brand. More than that, Joe is set to MURDER the midcard en route to top tier clashes with the likes of AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan. This dude’s in-ring acumen and prowess on the mic are sure to make him the central focus of Tuesday night; I just hope the bookers are willing to let him be the destructive force he has been in the past. Let him win big matches, let him decimate lesser opponents. If Shinsuke’s going to be your cool, cocky heel and Miz is your smarmy douchebag heel, then let Joe be the monster we know him to be. Give him the Braun Strowman treatment, only without the comedy and ridiculous feats of strength. Give the fans a reason to keep chanting “Joe is gonna kill you!”