The NFL Draft began, with some notable modifications, on April 23rd. LSU Quarterback Joe Burrow was the first pick. He wasn’t able to shake commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand like in previous years due to the NFL practicing social distancing.
WWE has been doing its own version of a draft on and off since 2002. The roster became so bloated with WCW and ECW talent following both companies closing in 2001, that WWE decided it needed dedicated rosters for Raw and SmackDown. Like the NFL, there have been highs and lows on WWE’s draft days over the years. Here are the most memorable.
The Rock and the Undertaker being the first two picks of the first WWE draft made sense. With “Stone Cold” Steve Austin being classified as a free agent and Triple H appearing on both shows as Undisputed Champion, they were the two top stars on the draft board. However, their contributions to the shows they were drafted to were minimal.
The Rock, selected #1 overall in the draft by SmackDown, was in the process of transitioning to his new day job in Hollywood. After winning the Undisputed Championship in July and dropping it to Brock Lesnar at August’s SummerSlam, the Rock’s WWE appearances would become more sporadic. He was gone altogether by the end of 2004, and wouldn’t return as a performer until 2011.
For his part, the Undertaker would become a vital contributor to a WWE brand for many years. It just wound up not being the one which initially drafted him. The Undertaker jumped to SmackDown in September of 2002 to feud with Brock Lesnar over the WWE Championship. He remained on the brand for the rest of his run as a full-time wrestler.
However, WWE’s version of the nWo might be the biggest bust in the entire draft. At the point they were drafted, the group consisted of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and X-Pac, with Hulk Hogan having left the group following a babyface turn at WrestleMania X8. The group would implode quickly after the draft. Nash missed significant time due to injuries, including a torn quad. While he was on the shelf, Hall and X-Pac were both released from their contracts. WWE’s nWo did at least contribute Shawn Michaels’ return to Raw. He briefly joined the group and tried to recruit Triple H. That eventually led to his comeback as an in-ring performer.
Triple H was the biggest to change shows in the 2004 WWE Draft show, if only for a few days. The 2004 pick was a lottery rather than a traditional draft. John Cena interrupted SmackDown GM Paul Heyman’s third selection with a rap and then picked for him. Heyman, who was goaded into keeping the pick by Raw‘s Eric Bischoff, wound up with a steal: Triple H. Triple H would unsuccessfully challenge SmackDown’s Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Championship in the show’s main event. That was the end of Triple H’s SmackDown run. It was revealed on the next episode of SmackDown that Bischoff had traded the Dudley Boyz and Booker T to get Triple H back on Raw.
John Cena’s long run as the top star on Raw began when he was the first selection of 2005’s draft lottery. He wouldn’t rejoin a SmackDown roster until the second brand split in 2016. Cena debuted on Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel, kicking off his first major feud on Raw with Jericho. Raw briefly had both of WWE’s world champions, Cena and World Heavyweight Champion Batista, on the same show before Batista was SmackDown’s final pick.
2006 was the only expansion draft in WWE history, with Paul Heyman getting two picks for the revived ECW brand. Heyman picked Rob Van Dam from Raw and Kurt Angle from SmackDown. Both men were meant to be foundational pieces of the new brand (Van Dam was the first ECW Champion of the WWE era). Following the third One Night Stand pay-per-view in 2007 (a series which began as an ECW reunion show), Van Dam had left WWE. Heyman and Angle preceded him in 2006.
Many big names changed shows in the 2008 WWE Draft (Triple H, Batista, CM Punk). However, it was a switch in announcers that was the most significant move of the show. Jim Ross and Michael Cole were functionally traded, with Ross moving to SmackDown and Cole going to Raw. This broke up the long-standing team of Ross and Jerry Lawler. The move is still a sore subject for Ross, primarily because he was blindsided by it, something he’s talked about on his Grilling J.R. podcast. Ross’s work for WWE would become more sporadic over the years before he jumped to AEW in 2019 to be part of its commentary team.
The draft returned in 2016, with WWE once again creating dedicated rosters for Raw and SmackDown Live. NXT was included for the first time, with Finn Balor and Alexa Bliss among the notable draftees from what was WWE’s developmental show. However, it was a man who went undrafted who may have benefited most.
After having the lights turned out on him as he waited for a draft selection that never came, Heath Slater bounced between Raw and SmackDown looking for a contract. That led to a memorable confrontation with Brock Lesnar, who revealed he did not care about Slater’s numerous children by F5ing their dad. Slater was eventually given a lifeline by Rhyno, who chose him as a partner in a tournament to crown the first SmackDown Tag Team Champions. Slater and Rhyno went on to win the tournament, defeating the Usos in the finals. This would lead to Slater’s first piece of merchandise in the company, an “I Got Kids” t-shirt that he parodied after his recent release from the company.
Much like the NFL, WWE have been doing its own drafts for years. Unlike the NFL, WWE's are usually fraught with drama and violence.