While talk of a Wednesday Night War located just a flick of the channel button away on the dial, lit the wrestling world on fire, there was another war brewing, the one between Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown. That war saw its first battle take place on Friday Night Smackdown as executives from FOX and executives from USA Network began to build their exclusive rosters. Both networks seemed to have a specific strategy as they selected from the first draft pool, which was headlined by Becky Lynch, Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt/The Fiend, Sasha Banks, and more. Online oddsmakers such as MobileBet were certainly ready to take bets.
In short order, those names were unsurprisingly among the first taken off the board. Lynch went first to Raw, a pick the red brand was afforded thanks to Bray Wyatt’s attack on Seth Rollins which resulted in a DQ against Roman Reigns in the opening match of the night. With Raw selecting first overall, the best two names in Friday night’s pool were Lynch and Reigns, the two faces of WWE 2K20 and arguably, the two faces of their respective brands. FOX had long wanted Reigns a part of their show and they made it official on Smackdown making the former multi-time champion the second overall pick. The first round followed with Raw taking not just United States Champion AJ Styles, but the entirety of the OC (Gallows and Anderson), Smackdown taking Bray Wyatt/The Fiend and Raw closing out the round with the selection of Drew McIntyre.
Round two saw Raw open up with Randy Orton, Smackdown takes Sasha Banks, Raw select Ricochet, Smackdown adds Braun Strowman and Raw finish up the round with Bobby Lashley. In round three, Alexa Bliss went off the board first to Raw, followed by Lacey Evans to Smackdown, Kevin Owens to Raw, the Smackdown tag team champions, the Revival (Dash and Dawson), to team blue and Natalya to Raw. In the final round of the night, Raw opened with the Viking Raiders (Erik and Ivar), followed by Smackdown taking Lucha House Party (Kalisto, Gran Metalik, Lince Dorado), Raw goes for Nikki Cross, Heavy Machinery (Tucker and Otis) land on Smackdown and Raw finish up the night with the Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford).
In a blockbuster trade, we have since seen Bliss and Cross drafted to Smackdown as the FOX executives desperately wanted the Goddess and her partner on their show.
Looking back over the picks, both Fox and USA seemed to have differing strategies while maintaining the same goal. Making theirs the brand name that everyone is talking about. So far, FOX seems to be well on their way to doing just that. After rumors of which brand would get the Fiend, without a doubt the hottest commodity in WWE right now, FOX seems to have won out. FOX also brought in Braun Strowman and retained WWE Champion Brock Lesnar the following Monday night. This means that as a result, FOX maintains the Lesnar/Cain Velasquez and Strowman/Tyson Fury feuds that began to build during Smackdown’s FOX debut a few weeks ago.
It makes sense that FOX would want to hold onto those feuds given both bring with them a very “real sports” feel. And it’s clear from the past few weeks that FOX is committed to giving Smackdown that vibe. WWE’s draft alone was prime example of that as they used some of their top sports personalities, Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, the Sunday NFL crew of Terry Bradshaw, Michael Strahan, Curt Menefee, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson, and Tony Gonzalez and the college football crew in Brady Quinn, Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart and Urban Meyer, in various spots throughout the night. They also used big sport televised draft tactics such as a running ticker at the bottom of the screen, round-by-round analyses from a draft panel, and more.
That’s not to say USA won’t embrace similar tactics going forward. So far, they’ve built a strong brand for the Raw roster, focused around the centerpiece that is Becky Lynch. They made the decision to build the men’s side around Styles and the OCs, a positive sign for those worried that WWE’s latest attempt to create a Bullet Club rendition had already gone by the wayside. Orton and McIntyre on the red brand are two other strong acquisitions, specifically McIntyre, who seems like he’s close to receiving a big push, one he is certainly ready for. Bobby Lashley, Kevin Owens, and Ricochet were all strong picks as well.
Interestingly enough, neither brand seemed to draft so specifically as to create differentiating identities. FOX grabbed Reigns, Strowman and the Revival, but also picked up the gimmick-heavy Wyatt and Lucha House Party. USA on the other hand, the network that can be seen as the one more focused on the E in sports entertainment compared to FOX’s focus on the S, didn’t necessarily come off that way. Sure, USA brought in the comedic Street Profits and mic god Kevin Owens, but they also built off strong in-ring talent with Styles, Ricochet, Orton, McIntyre, Lynch, etc.
Friday was only night one. Come Monday, there was a clearer picture of the kind of shows both FOX and USA are looking to build. As USA retained heavy hitters like Seth Rollins, Charlotte Flair as well as in-ring experts like Humberto Carillo and Cedric Alexander while FOX got Brock Lesnar, the ever-popular New Day, and one of the four horsewomen in Bayley.