In 2016, WWE brought back the draft along with a brand split that would make things quite different than previous years. This return meant that superstars would be exclusive to the brands participating in it, SmackDown and Raw. Back in 2011, WWE had changed that, meaning superstars were appearing on both SmackDown and Raw brands.
At the time, the company decided to rename SmackDown to SmackDown Live. This also happened right around the same time in which Shane McMahon was making appearances. In July of that year, WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon appointed Shane as the commissioner of SmackDown and Stephanie as the commissioner of Raw. A few days later, Daniel Bryan was announced as the GM of SmackDown while Mick Foley became the GM for Raw.
The rivalry between the brands was back and it was time for the draft. The rules were announced, with Raw receiving the first pick. The rules also mentioned that six draft picks had to be made from the NXT roster. The rule didn’t include current champions from that brand.
WWE SmackDown vs. Raw
The Raw brand kicked off the draft with Seth Rollins as the first pick. No surprise there since Seth Rollins was a superstar and was coming off a WWE World Heavyweight Championship run that ended because of an injury.
His former The Shield teammate Dean Ambrose, who was WWE Champion at the time, went to SmackDown. He would later feud with stars such as AJ Styles, who was actually the second pick by SmackDown.
Other top picks included Charlotte (Raw), Finn Balor (Raw), Roman Reigns (Raw), John Cena (SmackDown), Randy Orton (SmackDown), Brock Lesnar (Raw), and The New Day (Raw). The brands also drafted some talent from the NXT roster, including Alexa Bliss and The Vaudevillains.
The introduction of the draft and brand split brought a number of additions, especially for SmackDown. Charlotte was drafted to Raw and she was the WWE Women’s Champion while The New Day also joined the roster and they were the WWE Tag Team Champions. This led to SmackDown adding two new titles, the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship and the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championships.
Heath Slater As the Free Agent
WWE SmackDown also became the land of opportunity for some superstars. The draft ended with Heath Slater as the only active superstar not to be drafted. We all remember that segment with him sitting next to the empty chairs of the superstars that were drafted.
The whole thing actually led to a nice tag team run with Rhyno. Slater became a WWE SmackDown member after earning a contract with a win at Backlash. In that PPV, Rhyno and Slater became the first WWE SmackDown Tag Team Champions.
Things Changed Quickly
It has been nearly five years since the brands went back to the split. A lot of the superstars remain in WWE but the commissioners and general managers changed. Daniel Bryan returned to wrestling in 2018 while Mick Foley was fired by Stephanie during a 2017 episode of Raw.
Shane made appearances for a few years before disappearing for a while. Same for Stephanie, who was mostly seen during short segments, including the one in which Mick Foley was fired. A few days after the Mick Foley move, Mr. McMahon appeared in an episode of Raw to announce Kurt Angle as the new GM of the brand.