The speculation and predictions leading up to any WWE roster shakeup are equal parts exciting and nervous. Opportunities for a fresh start abound, and the possibility of first-time matches and the rekindling of old rivalries brings a buzz — but the fear of lost momentum or getting lost in the shuffle is equally present.
In the era of the WWE’s brand split, even one bound to be somewhat superfluous with the return of co-branded pay-per-views throughout the year, there still remains a fear among some fans that Raw will gobble up the lion’s share of the top talent in any shift, leaving SmackDown to scramble. Once the 2018 Superstar Shakeup was over, would former and future world champions like Daniel Bryan or Charlotte Flair be on the way out?
Though parts of Raw’s roster were ultimately stronger by the end of Monday night, with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn officially in the fold, Bobby Roode making the move over and Drew McIntyre making a shocking return to Raw, among other moves, the top of the SmackDown pecking order remained intact. The lone move to SmackDown on the first night of the 2018 Superstar Shakeup, The Miz’s move to Tuesday nights minus his Miztourage, did far more to bolster SmackDown’s immediate future than any single move that Raw made on Monday night.
So what did Raw gain from its haul on Monday? Let’s break it down.
– Jinder Mahal brought the United States championship over to Raw, and promptly lost the title to Jeff Hardy in the opening match of the night. Whether that means Hardy will head back to SmackDown in his place, or Seth Rollins will take the Intercontinental championship over to Tuesdays to balance things out, it was not the brightest of moments for Mahal. The backstage tease with No Way Jose gives us a hint of where Mahal will head next.
– The Riott Squad interrupted a good match between Bayley and Sasha Banks just as it was starting to heat up, and drew a fair bit of heat from the Hartford crowd in the process. This helped stretch out the Bayley-Banks tensions as well, which should only mean good things. Whether this means a mirror shift for Absolution, or perhaps their absorption into the Riott Squad, this was a solid move in light of Paige’s departure.
– Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens officially joined the Raw ranks one week after bludgeoning each other to exhaustion in search of a contract. While this could’ve turned into a weekly game of both men trying to do everything in their power to get a job, quickly closing the chapter on what happened on SmackDown with Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon is probably for the best. Having Stephanie McMahon overrule Kurt Angle is another great way to keep the tensions between them simmering while she and Triple H are off TV.
– Breezango changed precincts and potentially brought the Fashion Files to a more appropriate home on Raw. What’s more, they shocked a lot of people by pulling off a major upset over former Raw tag team champions The Bar on night one. Could this be an indication that either Sheamus or Cesaro is SmackDown-bound? In any case, despite Breezango’s night one success, the SmackDown tag team division was largely left intact; Breezango was joined in their move by The Ascension, and Chad Gable left Shelton Benjamin behind with a solo move.
– Natalya making the move to Raw was a flash of brilliance. As Ronda Rousey’s real life training partner, they can be friends or foes over the coming weeks and months to help Rousey’s proper integration into the Raw women’s division.
– WWE (@WWE) April 17, 2018
– Dolph Ziggler didn’t get the loudest of reactions upon his entrance Monday night, but within a few minutes his master plan offered the most interesting wrinkle of night one of the Superstar Shakeup. Ziggler shook off an offer Titus Worldwide and re-introduced the world to McIntyre, his new associate, via a blindside attack. McIntyre, most recently the NXT champion and nearly four years removed from his last appearance on Raw, seemed an unexpected compatriot for Ziggler. But between their combined finishing maneuver, and some definite “Shawn Michaels and Diesel”-esque vibes, these two guys made one heck of an impact.
– Despite showing flashes on a number of occasions on SmackDown, including a United States championship reign and a Money in the Bank win, Baron Corbin needed a fresh start and got one with a move to Raw. What they do with him from this point, though, is anyone’s guess.
– Bobby Roode’s appearance in the main event 10-man tag team match is an indication he should have high hopes attached to his move to Monday nights. Whether the Intercontinental championship stays or his attentions turn right back towards the United States championship, Roode could use something of an edge right off the bat.
– WWE made a handful of announcements throughout the night on social media, both during and after the show. Zack Ryder, The Ascension, Mike Kanellis and, ultimately, Gable, were announced off-air. Gable has proven himself worthy in limited singles action, but the rest of this group has a lot of work to do to prove itself in a suddenly very crowded Raw locker room.
Hits and misses
– Jeff Hardy’s United States championship win made him a Grand Slam champion, by the newer standards for the accomplishment. Hardy has held almost every title the WWE’s had to offer in his career: three different tag team titles, the World Heavyweight Championship, the WWE championship, the Intercontinental championship, the European championship, the Hardcore championship, the short-lived light heavyweight championship, the hardcore title, and now the U.S. championship on top of it all. Will he be folded into Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt’s “Expedition of Gold”, or will Jeff continue to stand alone? Could Mahal get near-instant revenge with a win at Greatest Royal Rumble?
– Speaking of Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt, they qualified for a Raw tag team title shot in Saudi Arabia with a win over The Revival Monday night. Gold seems to be in their future. As for Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder, a move to SmackDown seems like it would be highly beneficial.
– Rousey coming out to save Natalya was a nice way to cement their relationship, but it also proved that Sonya Deville would benefit greatly from a move away from Monday nights. Her MMA pedigree has helped her to this point, but putting her opposite a world-class fighter like Rousey, who’s being built up as an unstoppable force, is not a good fit.
– For the second straight week Samoa Joe stood on the ramp and cut a promo as Brock Lesnar’s proxy, lobbing insults and insinuating Lesnar was an unbeatable monster. Joe has done a remarkable job with an unenviable task, but it’s good to hear Lesnar will be back on Raw next week to do his own dirty work ahead of Greatest Royal Rumble.
– The 10-man tag team match to close out Raw was a fun way to welcome Roode and Bobby Lashley into the fold, while sending Miz off into the sunset. Braun Strowman was far and away the most over guy with the crowd all night, and he ultimately picked up the win for his team. On the opposite side of the ring, there was a clean break between Miz and his Miztourage as Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel refused to tag in when Miz needed saving. They need to figure out their next move in a hurry, though.
– WWE (@WWE) April 17, 2018
– Ember Moon impressed in her debut singles match on Raw against Mickie James, capped off by what might be the most impressive-looking Eclipse to date (thanks in large part to a huge sell by James). Her fellow former NXT compatriots the Authors of Pain were equally successful against Heath Slater & Rhyno, though it still feels like something is missing without Paul Ellering by their side.
– The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan is happening. Years of unfulfilled tension, finally paid off. SmackDown is must-see TV from here on out.