DeMarco: Don’t Hate The Player (The WWE Draft), Hate The Game (The Format)

Another WWE Draft is in the books, and the reaction is trending in the wrong direction. Greg DeMarco has thoughts on what the real problem is…

This past week saw WWE spent another week of our lives focused on a roster draft that left fans feeling more underwhelmed than any draft has done before.

It hasn’t always been this way–in fact, it was quite the opposite. Believe it or not, there was a time where online pundits like myself were calling for the WWE Draft to be it’s own WWE Network Special! (Look, not all my ideas are bad: I was suggesting that Money In The Bank be its own pay-per-view long before it actually became one.)

I’ll even go a step further. In the weeks leading up to the 2024 WWE Draft, few (if any) were calling for it’s cancellation. Hindsight is always 20/20 (unless you choose to turn a blind eye), and most of this criticism is indeed coming after the fact. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

There Wasn’t Enough Change?

The reactions have been on either side of this claim. For some, too much change is…well–too much. You won’t want a complete roster swap where Raw becomes Smackdown and Smackdown becomes Raw. We’ve been close to that in the past, and it’s simply not any fun. On the flip side, you don’t want to see ZERO moves, rendering the draft more pointless than many are already claiming it is.

Let’s look at change. Of the 24 picks made on television:

  • 5 changed brands
  • 5 were call-ups from NXT
  • 14 stayed at their current brand

One “changed brands” is Sheamus, who technically moved from SmackDown to Raw despite having made his return on Raw (and not appearing on SmackDown) after his injury. That means 58% of the draft picks kept a talent on their current brand. “Protecting your talent” was touted as one of the strategic elements of the draft, albeit a boring one.

Of the 16 supplemental picks made via social media:

  • 5 changed brands
  • 2 were call-ups from NXT
  • 9 stayed at their current brand

While this is a higher percentage of change (31% vs 20% on television), it’s still not a ton. Even with the call-ups, 56% of these picks saw talent stay on their current brand.

And no offense to Nia Jax or Shinsuke Nakamura, no currently “major” names moved brands. Given that both of these television shows are changing networks within the next 9 months, this makes perfect sense. It wouldn’t shock me if rosters were presented to potential networks during the negotiation process, and a major change could easily strain a network relationship.

Major Names Not Involved In The 2024 WWE Draft

The biggest name in all the land–Roman Reigns–was revealed to have “removed himself from eligibility” right before the draft started. The move makes sense, as Roman isn’t coming back until later this summer and will undoubtedly be part of The Bloodline storyline. With him, The Bloodline was a sure-fire first overall pick. Without him, they went in the third round of the first night. I am actually surprised they didn’t sell the third round pick for The Bloodline as representative of the trouble they can cause for a General Manager–but hey, I am not the one writing television for WWE.

Some injured names were left out of the draft including Rhea Ripley and Jimmy Uso. Brock Lesnar is currently “inactive,” and he isn’t always a draft eligible commodity anyways.

Then you have your champions, all of which were not eligible to be drafted:

  • Undisputed WWE Champion Cody Rhodes
  • World Heavyweight Champion Damian Priest
  • Women’s WWE Champion Bayley
  • Women’s World Champion Becky Lynch
  • United States Champion Logan Paul
  • Intercontinental Champion Sami Zayn

The WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions–Kairi Sane and Asuka–were eligible to be drafted as part of Damage CTRL, but as champions they can float between brands (same would go for Jade Cargill & Bianca Belair when they undoubtedly win the titles at Backlash this weekend).

I Thought NXT Was Going To Be Part Of The Draft???

I think this one isn’t on WWE, but on many of us who made assumptions. Yes, Ava said NXT was part of the draft, but I don’t know that it was ever going to be in a role other than what we saw. It makes the most sense for talent to be “called-up” from NXT, allowing more spots for talent to step-up.

And to be fair, NXT was one of the draft highlights, as we saw talent find out their draft status in real time. We found out this past Tuesday that NXT title holders were not eligible to be drafted, which I don’t think was explicitly shared ahead of time. Small detail, but WWE almost never misses the small details.

Seeing the real-life reactions of those drafted from NXT to the main roster (Kiana James, Ilja Dragunov, Lyra Valkyria, Blair Davenport, and Dijak) was quite enjoyable, and all are very deserving. I purposely left off Carmelo Hayes as he was already at SmackDown for his re-debut, and Baron Corbin who has extensive main roster experience already.

However, I expect none of the to immediately become a world champion like Finn Balor in 2016.

At Least We Did Away With Free Agents

I hated the “free agents” last year–while that is my opinion, look at the list and tell me I am wrong:

  • Baron Corbin – ended up in NXT anyway, where he had a good run
  • Brock Lesnar – he doesn’t even count
  • Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin – one got released and the other did next to nothing (and could have benefited from a run in NXT–and still could)
  • Dolph Ziggler – would eventually be released
  • Elias – would eventually be released
  • Mustafa Ali – ended up in NXT, and would eventually request and be given his release
  • Omos and MVP – not released, but also rarely used/featured
  • Von Wagner – stuck around in NXT, and was released
  • Xyon Quinn – made a few appearances here and there, and was released

I believe Dijak was also a free agent, but I may have imagined that as I can’t find it anywhere. It doesn’t matter as he ended up being considered an NXT call-up in this year’s draft.

So What’s Wrong With The WWE Draft?

The results of the draft are actually positive–but they are lost in the boring nature of the process. And THAT, my friends, is the problem that I have spent over 1000 words getting to.

The format sucks.

It’s that simple. If you have a roster of wrestlers not assigned anywhere, then this format works. But we have only had that a few times in the brand extension era. 2016 was a great example of this format working. Even last year’s draft wasn’t as bad since the disarray of WWE at the time lent itself to the format “working” at the time.

But Triple H put a lot of effort into establishing roots over the past year. Rooted brand assignments, rooted tag team pairings, and rooted movement from NXT to the main roster. And that commitment rendered this format nearly useless.

It really only worked for the NXT selections.

So What’s The Solution, Greg?

I’m glad you asked! The solution, friends, is found in the 2005 WWE Draft.

That draft saw 10 draft selections get made over 8 television programs–four weeks of television. The moves were treaded as a huge deal, starting with newly crowned WWE Champion John Cena making the jump from Smackdown to Raw, and ending with newly crowned World Heavyweight Champion Batista moving from Raw to Smackdown.

Each week of television had anticipation, and instead of one week of a (supposed) ratings bump, you got 4. One pick was made on each episode until the final week, where two picks were made on each episode. That was 10 picks total, which is equal to the number of brand changes we saw this year (including the “supplemental” picks).

Whether it’s over 1, 2, 3, or 4 weeks, you completely eliminate announcing any picks that are “staying home,” and focus on the ones that are actually exciting as they are moving. You have them be revealed through their theme song playing, or using the ol’ lights off trick (much more entertaining than an Hall Of Famer reading the name off of a notecard).

You can include the NXT call-ups in this process, or do them separately–considering that Raw or Smackdown drafting someone from NXT is the only “draft” thing about the WWE Draft.

Overall, I don’t think the draft needs to go away. It’s also been called the “Superstar Shake-Up,” and that’s really what it is. I am fine with calling it the WWE Draft, and I am fine with it coinciding with the NFL Draft. But do it your way–do it as a pro wrestling show that is full of surprises and stories, not people reading from notecards. I think we can all agree–that method is not working.

Bonus Content

I will return this to it’s proper form the next time around, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that both Mr. Tito and Aaron Rift had their draft thoughts published as well, and I think you should check them out.

Also, this is my 4th opinion column here at NoDQ–you can find the other three here.

Until next time, remember to Always Use Your Head!