Since the WWE first split its roster in half in 2002 between Raw and SmackDown, drafts and Superstar Shakeups have served to redistribute talent between the two shows, set up fresh stories and offer new opportunities to underutilized performers.
That process has taken several different forms over the years, but since the brands were split for the second time in 2016, the post-WrestleMania Superstar Shakeup has served as a fresh starting point for a new year of WWE.
Over the course of two days, WWE stars will move between Raw and SmackDown (and in some cases, from NXT and other WWE brands) to a new home. The first night saw some heavy hitters shift to Raw throughout the night — from The Miz at the start to AJ Styles to close it all out, and everything in between.
Here’s how Night 1 of the Superstar Shakeup played out.
WWE didn’t take long to get the night’s action underway, as The Miz moved from SmackDown Live to Raw. It’s a move that makes sense, and shouldn’t be that surprising. As The Miz himself noted, he has moved shows in every single Superstar Shakeup to date, and this gives him a clean break from Shane McMahon and the story that culminated at WrestleMania 35. Miz got a few shots in on McMahon for good measure in the moments after he ran to the ring, and being on Raw shouldn’t be much of an adjustment.
As far as whom he could face, the options are plentiful. As the newly reimagined babyface Miz, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley would seem to fit the bill, but a freshly returned Sami Zayn might be the most compelling opponent out of the gate. Something just feels right about Miz, one of the WWE’s most visible presences in mainstream media and a reality star on the USA Network (via “Miz & Mrs.”), returning to the WWE’s flagship program.
The Viking Experience
After taking a breath to fully process the absurdity of the name change to the NXT tag team champions formerly known as War Raiders and coming down, Ivar (previously Hanson) and Erik (previously Rowe) joining the Raw roster is still likely a net positive. Raw remembering it has a tag team division is good news, and as they showed in their debut match, Ivar and Erik are incredibly versatile big men. They got the win, alongside The Revival, over Aleister Black, Ricochet and tag team champions Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder.
If we can get away from the silliness of the tag team name (perhaps a tweak along the way, please?), Ivar and Erik are actually pretty strongly tied into the history of Vikings and are not nearly as problematic. There are a lot of horror stories of NXT call-ups going sideways, but if they’re given as strong and as powerful a platform as it seems, they can be anchors of a revitalized tag team division in a hurry.
The former cruiserweight champion hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ali by making a big splash after leaving 205 Live. He had taken a backseat of late to rising cruiserweights like Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese, so now is as good a time as any for a change of scenery. A matchup with the likes of a Chad Gable could showcase the best of what both guys have to offer, while a bigger opponent like Baron Corbin might be a good jumping off point.
– WWE (@WWE) April 16, 2019
After putting together some of the best matches of the last year on SmackDown opposite Rey Mysterio and a variety of other opponents, Andrade makes a move to Monday nights. A debut win against Finn Balor is a big deal in and of itself, and it’s the perfect way to show fans everything he’s capable of. His mix of Lucha Libre high-flying and vicious strikes with immense swagger in the ring makes him a future world title contender, and in the interim, an Intercontinental championship rivalry with Balor is a great place to start. Zelina Vega is also a valuable piece of the puzzle as a mouthpiece, heat magnet and valuable distraction in key matches.
WrestleMania 35 was a rough night for Mysterio, who lost in abrupt fashion to Samoa Joe. For at least an hour Monday, Mysterio also lost his former top rival on SmackDown, Andrade, until he, too, moved to Raw. A change of pace was well in order, although his time in the ring with Lars Sullivan on Monday night was not quite the warm welcome he might’ve hoped for. Rey’s got only a couple of years left in wrestling, by his estimation, and whether it’s mixing it up with some of the smaller stars on the Raw roster like the newly acquired Cedric Alexander or bigger guys like Baron Corbin, Mysterio still has something to give WWE and its fans.
Though it wasn’t made abundantly clear on commentary, Ricochet and Aleister Black have officially joined the Raw roster, as long as Ricochet’s tweet is as clear as it sounds. When Black and Ricochet were first paired up, the two diametrically opposed characters seemed like a strange fit, to say the least. Whether it’s their combined charisma or complementary in-ring styles, the pairing has meshed in a hurry and hasn’t looked even slightly out of place in challenging for the Raw, SmackDown or NXT tag team championships in recent weeks. Alongside the newly rebranded “Viking Experience,” this could be a sign that Raw’s tag team division is back on the rise.
Despite the spoiler from the graphics department, The Usos joining Monday Night Raw is yet another boost to the Raw tag team division. Some might just be happy that we won’t be getting any more combinations of The Bar/New Day/The Usos for the foreseeable future, but The Usos have proved time and again that every time they are given the spotlight, they thrive. Their performance at WrestleMania 35 once again proved they’re among the best tag teams in the world. They may be the ideal team to pry the tag team titles from Ryder and Hawkins and re-establish themselves as true villains — a role they thrived in.
The prospect of The Usos against The Viking Experience, as well as a straight-up tag team match against Aleister Black and Ricochet, is exciting and fresh — just what the doctor ordered for tag team wrestling in WWE.
Naomi, a two-time women’s champion, has been on SmackDown since the 2016 brand separation draft and has run through stories with most of the women on that roster. Just as the Raw tag team division got a complete overhaul in the Superstar Shakeup, this could be a strong move toward reshaping the women’s division on Raw. With the big overarching story of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey overshadowing the rest of the Raw and SmackDown women’s rosters over the past few months, getting the right balance between the two shows will be paramount. Naomi could find tremendous matchups against the likes of Ruby Riott and Ember Moon, or even turn more evil and ultimately face off against Sasha Banks or Bayley — the latter with whom she easily dispatched The IIconics in her first match on Raw.
Monday night was something of a mixed bag for EC3. After months of floating around in the background with only a few matches, EC3 is officially a member of the Raw roster, but his welcome came in the form of a brutal mauling at the hands of Braun Strowman. It’s going to take some time to shake off the stink of playing a background character for so long, or getting thrown into LED boards and through the stage like EC3 did on Monday night, but he can be a valuable contributor on Monday nights if he’s handled right.
The proper move here would be to pair EC3 with his pre-WWE compatriot Drake Maverick and have Drake build EC3 back up from scratch. The one thing working in EC3’s favor is that he can’t fall much further than where he is now.
Every once in a while WWE will break up a tag team just to prove that “anything can happen” with a Superstar Shakeup — everyone remember when Bubba Ray and D-Von were sent to different shows? But separating Eric Young and essentially scuttling SAnitY by just dropping him onto the end of the graphic is peak afterthought action. Since moving from NXT, SAnitY was crippled with nausea-inducing camera shots upon their debut and never got a fair shake of making something of themselves on WWE TV. Tearing Nikki Cross out of the group was like ripping the chaotic heart out of them, and not appearing on TV for months at a time was indicative of where they stood on the totem pole.
Young, Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe are all individually talented, but alone it seems as though there is little direction for them to head in. Young should have something to contribute, but without a dramatic shift in character or opportunity, it’s hard to see much upside.
Lacey Evans was plucked from NXT and placed directly into conflict with the newly crowned Raw and SmackDown women’s champion, Becky Lynch. After weeks of simply walking down the ramp in the midst of other matches and moments on Raw and SmackDown, Evans attacked Lynch twice and then finally made her main roster debut Monday against Natalya. There’s no doubting Evans’ character and how far she’s come in that regard, but she’s still working to polish up her in-ring repertoire to catch up to a similar level. Her springboard moonsault that put Natalya away was visually impressive, but it also seemed like a rough landing in terms of actual execution.
It’s clear that Evans has some big fans in high places in WWE, but she’ll have a lot to prove in a high-pressure situation against Lynch as she vies for the Raw women’s championship very early on in her main roster tenure.
Since making his WWE debut in 2016, Styles has made a habit of defying expectations and squeezing the most out of every opportunity. Almost all of that success has come as a member of the SmackDown roster, with that show often described as the “House that AJ Styles built.” He became a two-time WWE champion on that show, with career-defining rivalries against John Cena, Dean Ambrose and Shinsuke Nakamura and epic matches against Brock Lesnar, Finn Balor, Daniel Bryan and many others. Styles became the longest-reigning WWE champion in SmackDown history.
But all good things must come to an end, and the opportunities on Monday Night Raw for Styles seem endless. A Universal championship rivalry with Seth Rollins would be a tremendous way to carry into the summer, or even as next year’s WrestleMania comes around. If Finn Balor remains on Raw, they could renew tensions or align with the shared history of a certain “club.” If Roman Reigns stays on Raw, he and Styles could revisit a short rivalry they had after they went face-to-face in the 2016 Royal Rumble. Styles and Drew McIntyre could absolutely tear it up and elevate both men in a heartbeat.
Most importantly, Styles is one of the most visible centerpieces of the WWE in this moment. He was on the cover of WWE 2K19 and had an entire marketing campaign built around Styles playing one lucky winner for $1 million. Though Styles was far more well known for his skills in the ring than his time on the microphone early in his career, Styles has found his niche and connects with WWE audiences worldwide. One need only look at the crowd at any WWE event to see how many pairs of AJ Styles gloves and how many AJ Styles T-shirts there are in the crowd to know how valuable a member of the roster Styles has become.
He’s one of the centerpieces of this version of the Superstar Shakeup and there’s no reason to believe he won’t thrive in a new environment. It’s going to take a tremendous move in the opposite direction Tuesday night to come close to the impact that Styles’ move made on Monday.