This week was a momentous one in WWE history. On the first ever SmackDown Live show, the WWE Draft sorted WWE Superstars into competition for either Monday Night Raw, under the new management of the legendary Mick Foley or SmackDown, controlled by the head of the 'Yes Movement' Daniel Bryan. Both Raw and SmackDown will now feature distinct casts, unique storylines and dedicated writing teams. WWE's 'New Era' has truly begun.
In a week which witnessed both Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose declared WWE's World Heavyweight Champion, the separation of the two talents between Raw and Smackdown will no doubt lead to intriguing storylines in the months ahead. Will there be two belts? Cross-promotional battles? We'll have to wait and see. There were some big surprises on the night as one would expect. Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon helped Mick Foley to pick 'The Club's Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson whilst Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan chose Club front runner AJ Styles. Sin Cara and his Lucha Dragon partner Kalisto have, as they announced before the draft on social media, decoupled and are now performing on Raw and Smackdown respectively.
For many, there was added enjoyment as a number of the NXT stars were called-up for their main roster debuts. Former NXT champion Finn Balor moves to Raw, together with Nia Jaxx whilst Mojo Rawley, Carmella, Eva Marie, Alexa Bliss and American Alpha (Chad Gable and Jason Jordan) will all be moving to Smackdown. For those that have already seen these top talents perform on an NXT show on the WWE network, the excitement will be palpable.
One should not underestimate the impact this has on WWE's growth and potential as a world dominating entertainment company into the future. There are more spots on the roster which means more potential for new talent to come through. There is the possibility that WWE will be seen in the UK more often, with Raw, Smackdown and NXT tours at different times. There is also the inevitable exhilaration to come when the next re-draft happens and stars move from one brand to the next. On that theme there are still some unanswered questions. One should not forget that, for example, Nikki Bella and Luke Harper have been out tending to injuries - where will they be drafted on their return? What about the Undertaker, Triple H and of course poor Heath Slater who looked none too pleased not have been drafted in posts shared by WWE after Smackdown Live. Will Braun Strowman find his way now he is apart from his fellow Wyatt Family travelers? Interest, intrigue and excitement await.... (for the complete results of the draft click here).
Whilst WWE continues to excel in sports entertainment, we were heartened to see that the company is also continuing to extend, expand and develop it's charitable and CSR endeavours in the New Era. WWE recently announced an international partnership with the Special Olympics to help create change through sports. WWE Superstars will take part in 'Play Unified' events with Special Olympics athletes from around the world, including China, India, Mexico, Germany, the United States and of course from here in the UK. WWE will again utilise its various global platforms including TV broadcasts, the WWE Network, live events and social media to generate support for the Special Olympics. Despite it being a new era for WWE, the partnership is far from a one-off showpiece given the WWE-Special Olympics partnership dates back more than 20 years.
The Special Olympics itself delivers 32 Olympic-type sports and more than 108,000 games and competitions throughout the year. For Royal Ramblings, the connection is somewhat personal. A friend of ours has a child with cerebral palsy who is wheelchair bound. An amazing young person, this child has become an excellent football player. One only needs to see the joy and excitement of the child's parents to know how big an impact the Special Olympics have had. The inspiration and then fulfilment that watching and then participating in football at the special Olympics had was quite remarkable, writ large the influence of the Special Olympics cannot be underestimated. That WWE has deepened its relationship with this special organisations is to be commended.
With Raw and Smackdown Live, NXT and the Cruiserweight Classic on the WWE Network, Live Events (tickets for UK shows available here) and much more beside you can be certain that the Draft is only the beginning of the new era in WWE. As the companies NXT brand rightly states, the future is now!