Christopher McManus takes a deep dive into the WWE Smackdown Live side of this week’s Superstar Shake-Up!
The smoke has cleared and now the RAW and SmackDown Live rosters have changed dramatically over the span of 48 hours. The WWE Universe has seen an entirely new landscape with locker room leaders switching brands, tag divisions finding balance, and a women’s division stronger than ever. Today, I highlight the moves that were made to the SmackDown Live brand and what this means in a very pivotal year for the show going forward.
It is no secret that with SmackDown moving to the Fox Network in October, the brand was going to have a large number of star power and a roster that’s is presentable for a prime time slot that’s going to be available in every household possible. The Superstar Shake-Up did that in droves, creating strong moves that will make the blue brand an intriguing show going into its transition.
Let’s get to one of the main reasons SmackDown will be benefitting heavily with their impending move to the Fox Network and that is The Big Dog in the WWE. The former WWE and Universal Champion made his jump during the closing moments of SmackDown Live, delivering a Superman Punch to WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and spearing Elias. This was the play that the company had in mind for well over a year, as Reigns swapping with AJ Styles was necessary for a number of reasons.
Reigns, much like Styles, have done all that he could on Monday nights. Highly regarded as the top male star in the company and the main locker room leader, Reigns bring the star power and motivation to a young SmackDown roster ready to transition. He will still be in the background as he’s still recovering from his leukemia treatment. Until then, he will be working small programs with Elias to pick up on his ring condition. When that happens, it’s going to be an exciting time with all the new match-ups at his disposal.
A move that was a year in the making, Finn Balor has the opportunity to be one of the top three names on the SmackDown Live roster. Balor also brings the WWE Intercontinental Championship with him, for who he is in his second reign. It is possible that like before, the midcard titles could effectively switch brands with Samoa Joe and the United States title going to Monday Night RAW. Balor also has Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows lurking around, so if creative was interested in pairing “The Good Brothers” again then that’s a direction worth looking into.
The Boulder Beast has finally found a home. After his debut was postponed due to him no-showing a couple of events in January, the Leviathan made his long-awaited presence felt by destroying WWE legends such as Kurt Angle and The Hardy Boyz during Mania Week. It seems like the WWE brass is still high on The Freak Man, having him decimate a number of super popular stars. With Sullivan officially being on the blue brand, many could expect some big plans heading his way.
“The War Goddess” made her return at WrestleMania after recovering from elbow surgery and didn’t miss a beat with her showing in the Women’s Battle Royal. As what was shown leading up to WrestleMania was the severe lack of depth to SmackDown’s women’s division, leading to Charlotte Flair to regain the title from Asuka to help with the brand’s credibility at the time. With the Shake-Up approaching yesterday, Ember was one of the easy candidates in providing balance to a depleted women’s roster and an opportunity to be a perennial title contender in the coming months.
While expected, this still came as a surprise that the former Women’s Tag Champion would now be on Tuesday nights. Bayley has been indirectly involved with the current fiasco surrounding Sasha Banks, who has taken a leave of absence following their defeat at WrestleMania. Whether it played a factor in Bayley moving over or has yet to be determined, but this was also needed for lovable babyface. Prior to her tag run with Sasha, Bayley tread throughout the RAW’s waters barely finding consistent footing. Far too often and even now, she is seen as the fourth wheel of “The Four Horsewomen” of wrestling and. This is her chance to “be the change,” as she likes to put it and make a name for herself as a solo star.
As promised by Paige last week, she would bring in an impressive team to SmackDown Live to combat against The IIconics. “The Pirate Princess” made her SmackDown debut aligning with Asuka as two STARDOM alumni and instant contenders for the Women’s Tag Team Titles. Sane has been featured on both Women’s Royal Rumbles and WrestleMania Battle Royals to moderate success and participated in WWE’s sole women’s pay-per-view Evolution. The casual audience that knows her should fall in love with the Disney character come to life, as her charisma and mannerisms will have her as a longtime fan favorite for years to come.
It was a foregone conclusion that Buddy Murphy would be making a jump to the big boys after losing the Cruiserweight Championship at WrestleMania, the only question is where he would go. When Cedric Alexander was announced he’ll be heading to RAW, Murphy was the next name to be leaving 205 Live to join Team Blue. This is an incredible story for “The Best Kept Secret”, who just in 2017 was grinding on the NXT Florida loops and having heavily-praised classics with Johnny Gargano and Aleister Black. He would continue to chase for the brass ring in shedding enough weight to join the 205 Live roster and stealing the show on a weekly basis.
The former “Cruiserweight Juggernaut” will have a chance to do the same thing on Tuesday nights, with a fresh set of faces to display his skills against. He can rekindle his old feud against Ali, trade strikes with Finn Balor, and even step up to Roman Reigns himself. The possibilities are endless for him and if there’s one man that can prove his opportunity is worth it, it is him.
Vince McMahon’s “biggest acquisition in SmackDown history” turned out to be RAW’s former drifter Elias. Feeling that now he longer have to deal with the interruptions on Monday, Elias was quickly dealt with by Roman Reigns. This is likely to be his first program on the blue brand, as SmackDown has always been the breeding ground for midcarders needing to break through to the top of the card. He’s always been a serviceable act on RAW and now will have to step it up a notch on the show full of workhorses.
The Riott Squad started like a ball of fire nearly two years ago only to fizzle out throughout 2018. As with many members of the main roster, they became victims of circumstance, often fed to Ronda Rousey and The Four Horsewomen. It was only a matter of time that the trio would run their course and had to split in order to truly get the most out of each other. In Liv Morgan’s case, this is a show-and-prove moment for the mischievous, plucky superstar. It will be her first true test as a potential singles competitor, which means she will have to go out of her way to stand out on a now stacked division. Hopefully, she has grown enough not to draw similarities to Carmella, who both developed a brash and urban-influenced gimmick in NXT and are both billed from the Tri-State.
Gable’s run on the main roster has been flashes of brilliance marred with being lost in the shuffle. After being swapped to RAW last year in hopes of a solo run, he was paired with Bobby Roode in a makeshift tag team with moderate success. Then he got stuck again after losing the tag team titles and was sent to SmackDown when it looked like the duo was starting a heel run. Now on his own again, this might be the last shot for Gable to make something worthwhile after so much push and pull.
Getting placed in a tag team with Shelton Benjamin again would only defeat the purpose of Gable’s desire of wanting a solo run. With Fox focusing on a sports-oriented product for their weekend slots, Gable could be seen as a potential athlete to promote. He’s a former Olympian and can be seen as the heir to Kurt Angle if given the right push.
Mickie James has been absent over the past few months before returning for the Women’s Battle Royal at WrestleMania. She returns to SmackDown as a veteran leader into the SmackDown locker room full of talented women. I doubt that she will have much of a bigger role on a roster that includes Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Bayley, and Ember Moon, but she will be a great hand to get younger stars like Kairi Sane and Liv Morgan over and will have good matches.
Heavy Machinery was built for SmackDown Live. The comedic powerhouse duo of Tucker and Otis is a great fit to a dynamic tag team division full of colorful individuals. I wouldn’t be shocked if they have a small run with the titles, though there will more interactions between Mandy Rose and Otis for my amusement.
Apollo, much like Chad Gable, was a victim of being bottlenecked on such a top-heavy RAW roster over the years. He would find some success with Titus O’Neil and Dan Brooke as a part of Titus Worldwide but later went solo facing Jinder Mahal and Baron Corbin in small TV programs. Now back on SmackDown, Crews help in a diverse midcard where no matter where he is placed, he’s gonna do well. He may not be a future world champion now, but Crews have the ability to get to the next level.
SmackDown Live continues to be the beacon of in-ring athleticism and new faces making their mark in the company. This year, the roster has a chance to truly cement themselves as THE A Show.
You can follow more of Chris’ musings on Twitter: @RappersRActors