Superstar Shakeup Fallout: The Smackdown Live Landscape

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Photo: WWE

We have already taken a look at the Monday Night Raw and NXT rosters and how they shape up after the latest Superstar Shakeup.  Now it’s time to look at the brand that many consider “won” the shakeup and is now the “A show”, so to speak.  Is this really the case though? A deeper dive into the Raw roster showed that Raw still has a very strong, if unproven roster.  Let’s analyze the new SmackDown Live (SDL) roster.

SmackDown Live: Superstar Shakeup

Main Eventers:

(AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Daniel Bryan, Big Cass, The Miz, Samoa Joe)

While it’s not the famed Smackdown Six of 2002 (Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Edge, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio and Chavo Guerrero), this is a core group of guys that you can build a brand around.  The potential feuds like AJ vs Joe, Bryan vs Nakamura, Cass vs Joe and of course Miz vs Bryan will ensure SDL has some of the best feuds of the year.  Smackdown’s ace AJ Styles is the face of the brand.  He will have amazing matches with all of these fresh opponents and will continue to be the brand’s main star.  The other face and SDL’s biggest star Daniel Bryan is a huge keep.  The leader of the YES movement has not missed a beat since unretiring and the fans love him as if he never left.  He has truly picked up where he left off, but now there are so many dream matches awaiting Bryan.  The heel contingent could see this become a heel dominated year.  Picking up Samoa Joe is a great piece of business for SDL as, when not injured, he has been one of the most entertaining members of the roster.  The Miz is someone that never should have left.  Smackdown is his home – it is the place that saw him reemerge as a star when his IC title run and amazing promos saw the WWE Universe finally recognize his talent.  He is so versatile and the inevitable showdown with Daniel Bryan will be a big money match for SDL.

A rejuvenated heel Nakamura needs to be the next WWE Champion. As a face, Nakamura got by on his charisma, but lacked spark – a return to his old CHAOS ways from NJPW has immediately seen him become the star all New Japan fans knew he could be.  Cocky heel Nakamura low blowing the entire SDL roster and kneeing them in the face will be something to look forward to this year.  The surprising final member is Big Cass.  After returning from injury he was thrust straight into the main event scene and a feud with Daniel Bryan.  Big Cass has replaced Baron Corbin as the big man, but unlike Corbin, Cass is the finished product – he can cut a nice promo and really plays his character well.  Expect Cass to have a breakout year and emerge as one of Smackdown’s top guys.

Smackdown’s main event scene looks great.  They have some very versatile workers who if used right could put on some fantastic feuds and really help Smackdown stand out.  While not as star-studded as Raw, it has more excitement and a really fresh feel to it.  Something which is all too rare in modern day WWE.

Upper Midcard:

(Jeff Hardy, Andrade “Cien” Almas, Randy Orton, Shelton Benjamin, Rusev)

Current US Champion Hardy was another great pick by SDL.  The enigmatic daredevil is insanely popular with the WWE Universe and provides a nice draw and someone that can work anywhere on the card.  While he will challenge for the WWE title, he won’t win it and I see him being in and around the US title scene and using his experience and star power to put on good matches with the weaker midcard.  Two more veterans, Benjamin and Orton, can play face or heel and are good at everything. Benjamin is a real workhorse as well, who will be used to make the Main Eventers look good.  Orton is a modern day legend and, like it or not, is a future hall of famer – his name really adds to SDL.  Orton has been valuable to SDL as he has put over their newer guys and works well with anyone.  The two wildcards are Rusev and Almas.  Rusev is insanely popular and his “Rusev Day” gimmick is similar to Daniel Bryan’s “YES” chants.  While he doesn’t win much, he is capable of working with the main eventers and is on TV every week making him too popular for the midcard.  Hopefully Rusev can get a push over the next year, but either way, he will be an important asset for Smackdown to have.  Last, but certainly not least, is Andrade “Cien” Almas.  Former NXT Champion, one half of the first 5-star match in a WWE ring since CM Punk vs John Cena, and formerly known as La Sombra, the founder of Los Ingobernables.  Despite being just 28, his list of accolades is as long as your arm and he is one of the world’s best wrestlers, something which NXT, NJPW and CMLL fans are well aware of.  As the newcomer to SDL, Almas provides them someone to build the brand around. The question is will he be the next Eddie Guerrero? He has the charisma and the talent to be a big star.  He will be the workhorse that SDL needs and will put on consistently great TV matches.

The Upper Midcard, much like Raw, has a good mix of experience and potential with the added star power of having Jeff Hardy in there.

Women’s Division:

Both Raw and Smackdown have absolutely loaded women’s divisions right now.  SDL managed to keep their Queen Charlotte, who the division has been built around since last year.  Joining her is ally Becky Lynch, who will hopefully have a more focused year than 2017, where she didn’t do much of note.  Naomi will look to reclaim the Women’s title. and Carmella, the first-ever Ms. Money In The Bank, is your new Women’s champion.  She plays her role of the delusional coward so well, her character work alone makes her a good and different choice for champion.  In a like for like swap, Absolution‘s Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville are here to replace the Riott Squad  the heel tandem will have no shortage of opponents to work with and a split could see Rose break out if given the chance.  Finally, we have the newest addition to the roster the Empress Asuka.  Fresh off of losing her streak at Wrestlemania, Asuka is easily the most interesting female superstar on the roster.  Where does she go now? Do we see her start to lose confidence? Will we see more of heel Asuka that was so awesome in NXT?  These questions provide us with a reason to pay attention to the women’s division and Asuka specifically.  SDL has a strong roster of women, that if used right can make magic in the ring.

Tag Team Division:

The crown jewel of Smackdown Live, the tag team division is absolutely stacked.  The Usos and The New Day are two of the best tag teams in modern day WWE and maybe ever.  Their rivalry last year put both teams on the map.  The current champions and the team that the whole division is chasing are the Bludgeon Brothers.  Harper and Rowan have been leaving a trail of destruction everywhere they have gone recently.  Who could stop such a dominant tandem?  Well, there is a certain pair of Good Brothers that would love to try.  The Club has been directionless since splitting from Finn Balor a few months ago, but the former Raw and IWGP Tag Team Champions are still a force to be reckoned with.  While all of these teams are great, there is a standard in tag team wrestling.  A standard known as The Bar. Cesaro and Sheamus have been putting on good matches ever since forming their team.  The two tough fighters would love nothing more than to dethrone the monstrous champion.  And what wrestling fan doesn’t want to see them take on the Usos or New Day?  SDL will have to put a big emphasis on tag wrestling over the next year and they have the perfect division to get fans excited about the division again.

The Rest:

This is where things get incredibly thin for Smackdown.  R-Truth is an entertaining veteran and will be good when called upon for matches or skits.  The perfect one, Tye Dillinger, stays on SDL where he will continue to get good reactions for his fun gimmick, but he will lose more than he wins.  Sin Cara always makes his opponents look good and is a solid veteran.  Aiden English is the easily the most over of them all, as his singing gimmick works so well with Rusev.  SDL has a thin but talented group of guys who are very capable of doing their job

The Newbies:

The Iiconics made their debut the night after Mania to assault Charlotte and hand the Women’s title to Carmella.  They give the women’s division a big personality injection, as fans of NXT know the two are incredible heat magnets that get under your skin so much.  Their insertion into the main women’s feud so early gives hope that there are big plans for the talented duo.  The other NXT addition SaNitY are leaving Nicki Cross behind in NXT.  The addition of Eric Young, Alexander Wolfe, and Killian Dain helps to beef up the roster.  Young is the perfect guy for SDL, as he can do anything and will add to both the tag team and midcard scenes.  Dain is someone that has the potential to add to the SDL upper midcard, as the big bruiser is sure to catch the attention of Vince McMahon.  Sanity are a fun addition as their NXT work was always really good and the group has a chaotic feel that is hard to match.  Now you’re probably thinking Almas should have been here too. He should but we see a clear plan for Almas as one of Smackdown’s main heels, as they were previously lacking in that department.

Overall Analysis:

Smackdown as a whole feels like a small roster that is going to be buffered by their tag and Women’s divisions.  As great as the main event scene is, they can’t give away too many big matchups but who else is there to work with?  Over the course of the next 52 weeks, SDL will have some matches done to death and have given away major matches on TV, but it is in a position to be a really, really strong show as they certainly have the talent available to build some great feuds and put on amazing matches.

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