WWE brand split and draft provides opportunity and excitement for entire roster

ByBRIAN CAMPBELL via <a href="http://espn.go.com/" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
July 20, 2016, 3:20 PM

&#151; -- The WWE, as we know it, is about to undergo a major facelift.


For the first time since 2011, the WWE will implement a brand extension (or brand split), separating its roster into two competing shows: the flagship three-hour "Raw" on Monday nights, and "SmackDown," which will air live for the first time after moving to a new night on Tuesday.

This week's debut of SmackDown Live (8 p.m. ET, USA Network) will be a special one with the return of the WWE Draft.

In some ways, the change of direction within the promotion is a return to old, with the WWE having utilized a draft of some form on an annual basis between 2002 and 2011. This one, however, feels fresh and new, with the WWE's decision to withhold key details (including the title structure and how the two brands will intertwine on pay-per-view) adding to the anticipation for fans and performers.

"Every time that I've done a draft, it has always been the most nerve-wracking, unexpected thing I have ever been involved with in the WWE," The Miz, the WWE's Intercontinental champion, told ESPN.com. "It changes not only your life and your career but it just changes everything about the dynamic of WWE in general."

While it's sometimes hard to decipher between what's truth and what's a work when WWE performers speak outside of the ring, both The Miz and WWE women's champion Charlotte said on Monday that they remain in the dark about their future ahead of Tuesday night. The feeling, the Miz said, is reminiscent of his first draft in 2006.

"We had a show called ECW and there was a supplemental draft the next day," The Miz said. "I found out on WWE.com that I was being drafted and was like, 'Oh, all my friends knew before I did.' That's how secretive it is. No one knows exactly where they are going. Not one superstar."

One of the main reasons for excitement entering this year's draft is the promotion's depth, helped by an influx of young talent from developmental third brand NXT. With the brand split creating a need for more proven talent, the WWE has also made a pointed effort to acquire top superstars from rival promotions such as A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura.

What that means is a much bigger emphasis on the keyword at hand -- opportunity -- which is something that was echoed by Charlotte, the daughter of two-time WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair, who has become the face of the rebranded WWE women's division.

"I think it keeps everyone on their toes," Charlotte said. "It's opportunity -- there are more slots and there are more players. I'm just more excited to see what brand I'm going to be with, and then look at it as an opportunity to make the most of it and become a major player. Especially with new talent coming up from NXT, that's definitely going to mix things up a bit."

WWE released a partial set of draft rules on Sunday. With more time to fill more than three hours, Raw will not only receive the first overall pick, it will make three selections for every two of SmackDown Live, which remains two hours long. In addition, tag teams will count as one pick unless a commissioner or general manager of a specific brand wants only one member.

The WWE also announced a total of six selections will be made from the NXT roster. Paul Heyman, the on-screen "advocate" for Brock Lesnar, told ESPN.com in June that "the NXT factor" will be one of the biggest components to the draft's impact.

"You are going to have a whole bunch of new opportunities for people to move up into the main event mix just by the very nature of Raw and Smackdown having an exclusive roster," Heyman said. "As we saw with the debut of The Shield a few years ago, you can get a lot of people into that mix very, very fast if they seize the moment of opportunity which is given."

From a storyline standpoint, the two brands will take on different identities with sibling rivals Stephanie (Raw) and Shane McMahon (SmackDown) serving as commissioners. The babyface-run SmackDown will play the underdog, helped by the addition of retired fan favorite Daniel Bryan as general manager. Mick Foley, meanwhile, will be the GM of Raw, which will likely have a more heel-centric approach due to Stephanie McMahon's membership in "The Authority."

WWE chairman and patriarch Vince McMahon has preached to his on-screen hope that his children and their respective shows would truly compete against each other, which mirrors WWE's real-life expectations for the brand split.

"SmackDown has to come across as a brand that is truly competing with Monday Night Raw," Heyman said. "If the brand is not competitive with WWE in terms of talent, production, look, presentation and just in terms of the manner in which the announcers get to describe the product, it's doomed. But I don't see it going down that way.

"Vince thrives on competition. Just like he did in 2002, when there is no one out there competing with Vince McMahon, he will create his own competition."

McMahon bought out chief rival WCW in 2001 and created the original brand extension the following year in hopes of manufacturing an in-house version of "The Monday Night Wars." While the results were never quite as intended, the time appears ripe to try it again, provided the WWE has learned from its mistakes after the first go around.

A major byproduct of splitting up the rosters, according to The Miz, is the pride for your brand that extends into the locker room.

"We are so competitive here in the WWE," The Miz said. "You want to be No. 1 and want to beat the other person whether you are looking at ratings, merchandise sales or people coming to the building. You are looking at who is really reacting to the superstars better. You are looking at every little aspect of everything there is."

Although the scripted draft will ultimately play out however WWE's creative team decides, the true reflection it provides regarding each performers overall value won't be lost on the participants.

The Miz, who slipped into character long enough to declare he expects to be selected first overall, looks at the top draft choice as essentially the highest honor in sports entertainment. He also didn't take kindly to news that he was drafted 17th overall in a recent ESPN.com mock draft.

"You can look at it as the No. 1 pick is basically the most important [superstar] and will be the hub of Raw or SmackDown Live," The Miz said. "But being No. 17 is a slap in the face to me. So if Shane or Stephanie thinks that I should be 17 then I might as well just call it a career because I value myself so much higher.

"There are going to be a lot of people very angry and a lot of people very happy with their draft position. Make no mistake about it -- we are all in competition to be No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3. We all want to be a high draft pick. No one wants to be the last guy picked -- Mr. Irrelevant, if you will."

Charlotte, who said she was honored by being selected No. 2 overall in the ESPN.com mock draft, considers it an illustration of just how far the WWE women's division has come in a short time, referencing the pride she takes in having her title changed from "diva" to "superstar."

"It just goes to show that the women are a huge part of what we do and are being focused on more and more storylines," Charlotte said. "Usually there are two matches on Raw and now with the brand split, who knows? I'm looking to main event a pay-per-view and I know that's how all the women in the locker room feel. To be No. 2 among a giant roster just goes to show the women are important."

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