The weeks following WrestleMania offer the opportunity to make everything feel fresh again. Between returning stars, debuts and unexpected changes of heart, the landscape is shifting -- and what better time than now to really move things around to give performers a fresh start in a new landscape.
The "Superstar Shakeup" that's set to take place over the next two nights on Monday Night Raw and SmackDown Live is sure to have popular picks, polarizing moments and a few surprises, but as curious as fans are about the yet-to-be-announced format, it shares a lot in common with drafts and roster shifts over the last 15 years in the WWE.
Ever since the fall of WCW, semi-annual drafts have kept separate brands fresh on 10 separate occasions, with two or even three separate rosters often in need of a refresher. Each draft has had its memorable moments, and on the eve of some potentially landscape-shifting changes, let's look back at some of our favorites.
In late March 2002, Vince McMahon and Ric Flair -- then tabbed as 'co-owners' of the WWE, saw the somewhat bloated roster of WWE, WCW and ECW talent split directly down the middle. With McMahon representing SmackDown and Flair at the helm for Raw, the first ever WWE brand extension draft took place on the campus of Penn State University.
Just eight days removed from WrestleMania X8, the first 20 picks of this inaugural draft were made live on WWE TV, with podiums set on opposite sides of the stage. After McMahon, appropriately enough, selected The Rock to helm the show named after his signature catchphrase, Flair shocked everyone by selecting The Undertaker, with whom he'd just battled at WrestleMania. The upset Undertaker tore up the backstage area, but it was one of a handful of shocking and memorable picks of the night.
On this night, the most shocking moment, apart from the head-scratching order that saw Brock Lesnar fall all the way to No. 16, was the separation of Dudley Boyz, with Bubba Ray selected by Raw and D-Von going to SmackDown; also of note: Lita was selected six picks ahead of Matt Hardy (and 10 ahead of Jeff Hardy). The final 37 picks of the night were revealed on WWE.com, with Perry Saturn's selection at No. 57 representing the final pick.
After two years, WWE had its first refresher in March 2004 with a draft lottery. This time, Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman were the authority figures of Raw and SmackDown, respectively, and the selections were entirely out of their hands. The randomness aspect led to a relatively low-key proceeding until the shocking selection of then-WWE champion Triple H to SmackDown with the fifth pick of the night. Raw got a returning Edge with the No. 10 pick, but in the final moments of the night everything was turned on its head as Heyman himself was selected as the 12th and final pick of the night. Rather than go to Raw and subjugate himself to Bischoff, Heyman resigned.
Triple H's shocking selection was nullified later in the week as Kurt Angle was made the new SmackDown general manager and an eight-person trade was concocted; Triple H was the centerpiece heading back to Raw, while Booker T and the Dudley Boyz made their ways to SmackDown. Still, the fact that a champion and a general manager could even be selected laid the groundwork for the chaos to come in the years that followed.
The format, still purported to be random, was spread out over the entire month of June. Both Raw and SmackDown were turned entirely upon their heads, as John Cena, then the WWE champion, was the first of 10 picks made. Angle, The Big Show and Rob Van Dam were among those Raw-bound, while SmackDown got Randy Orton, Christian and, ultimately, then-world heavyweight champion Batista, balancing things out. Batista would spend the next four years as one of the faces of SmackDown, while Cena would be the anchor of Monday Night Raw for the better part of a decade; that both men would benefit so significantly was one of the bigger coups ever executed in a WWE draft.
After two years of 'One Night Stand' events, the second of which saw Rob Van Dam defeat Cena for the WWE championship, the WWE introduction a third brand -- a revived version of ECW. Only two official picks were made -- Van Dam came over from Raw, and was awarded the ECW championship for defeating Cena, and Angle was selected from SmackDown. The time he spent on ECW covered the last three months of Angle's prolific WWE career, while Big Show went on to become the second post-revival ECW champion that July.
The format was tweaked once again in May 2007, as the first ever tri-branded draft at Toronto's Air Canada Centre saw nine cross-brand matches with the winners earning a random draft pick to their show. While the selections lacked some of the firepower of previous drafts, Bobby Lashley's move from ECW to Raw saw him stripped of the ECW championship -- the first time a draft ever caused such an event. Ric Flair moved to SmackDown, while The Miz and Johnny Nitro (later John Morrison) went to ECW as part of the supplemental draft; the latter pairing ultimately helped both Miz and Morrison lift themselves up as the anchors of the WWE's third brand.
The most dramatic shift in talent since the inaugural brand separation draft came in June 2008, as San Antonio's AT&T Center saw 28 wrestlers moved from their original homes using the same format as the previous year. There wasn't a single low-key pick in the bunch, as Rey Mysterio, CM Punk, Batista and Kane headed to Raw, while WWE champion Triple H, Jeff Hardy, Umaga and Mr. Kennedy went to SmackDown and Matt Hardy was drafted to ECW.
But the most shocking moment of the night came with the fifth selection, as Raw commentary institution Jim Ross was shockingly selected to SmackDown and Michael Cole went the other direction back to Raw with the following pick. In all, three champions were drafted (Kane relinquished the ECW championship), along with Money in the Bank winner CM Punk, who would ultimately cash in his briefcase on Edge to bring the world heavyweight championship back to Raw.
The WWE settled into a similar format for the third straight year, and the only way that this particular draft could be described is pure chaos. Seven of the nine titles and the Money in the Bank briefcase (again with CM Punk) switched shows, including the unified tag team championships (which were defended on all three brands). There were trades in June, and again in November, but with secondary titles flipping between Raw and SmackDown, Triple H once again switching brands while holding the WWE championship and 36 overall picks, there was a lot going on. Add in the fact that ECW was shut down in February 2010, leaving their superstars to be distributed between the other two brands, and you have most of the roster ending up somewhere new.
For the first time since 2007, no championships changed brands during the live portion of the draft during the April 26 edition of Raw from Richmond, Virginia. The most notable moment of the night saw Hornswaggle defeat Dolph Ziggler to earn Raw a draft pick, which turned out to be Chris Jericho. Edge was drafted from SmackDown to Raw, but traded back to SmackDown in exchange for CM Punk in October of that year. The Hart Dynasty (Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith), then the tag team champions, would ultimately be the only title-holders moved, late in the supplemental portion of the draft the following day.
Cena made history by being drafted twice in one night, as the first pick from Raw to SmackDown, and then back to Raw with the final pick of the night. There were six other picks during this April 2011 edition of Raw from Raleigh, North Carolina, with Orton, Rey Mysterio and Big Show among others drafted. Daniel Bryan and then-United States champion Sheamus were among supplemental selections, with both heading to SmackDown. This still stands as the final draft lottery, with the end of the brand extension in August 2011.
The second-ever brand separation draft left us with the Raw and SmackDown rosters we, by-and-large, have today. The July 19 premiere of SmackDown Live saw 30 picks happen on air and another 29 that followed during a WWE Network special that immediately followed. The first round of the draft came to define much of the 10 months that followed; Seth Rollins was the No. 1 overall pick (Raw), followed by then-WWE champion Dean Ambrose (SmackDown), then-WWE women's champion Charlotte Flair (Raw), AJ Styles (SmackDown) and, in the first of six NXT selections on the night, future Universal champion Finn Balor (Raw).
Balor came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, but an injury at SummerSlam on his way to winning the Universal championship left Balor on the sidelines and an opening at the top of Monday Night Raw. Kevin Owens (who wasn't picked until No. 18 overall) stepped up and filled the role as the anchor of Raw all the way into 2017 -- proving that it doesn't matter when you're taken, when it comes to making an impact.
So where will things go Monday and Tuesday night? Until we know the format, we can't know for sure. But one thing seems certain, if the past is any indication -- a change of scenery can go a long way.