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The Smackdown Report Card: Grading The Superstar Shake-Up (Part 2)

Okay, let's do this. It's the last day of the school holidays. I'm just squeezing this blog in before the madness of Term 2 kicks in. Naturally, there was a bunch of work-related things I had to do that I just... didn't. Damn procrastination. Going forward, I'll try and keep my blogs going, but the schedule is likely to change. I have this entire term to do my teaching accreditation, and if I don't do it, then I can no longer teach. So that means my hobbies- in particular, writing for a pro wrestling blog- will need to take a backseat for a while. I also want to do a post about the UFC, but that will likely come next weekend at the earliest.

So, last time I was here, I was examining the changes to the WWE roster on the Raw side as a result of the Superstar Shake-Up. I graded them on a A-F scale based on two pieces of criteria- the talent of the wrestlers in question, and how valuable I believe they are likely to be to their new brand.



The crown jewel of Smackdown's pick-ups in the Shake-Up is undoubtedly The Big Dog. Reigns is fresh off returning from his battle with leukemia, and while it seems like the goodwill and positive responses from fans is wearing off already, he is WWE's franchise player with Cena doing the Hollywood thing these days. Roman Reigns announced his presence on Smackdown in the first week of the Superstar Shake-Up, interrupting Vince McMahon and hitting him with a Superman Punch, before Spearing Elias. Honestly, say what you will about Vince, but his willingness to be involved in physicality in his 70s is somewhat admirable. Reigns is yet to have his first official match on Smackdown, but his presence in segments with the McMahon family indicates that he will be a major player on the blue brand.

Grade: A. Roman Reigns has many detractors, but there is no denying he is one of the biggest stars in WWE today. His presence on Smackdown is significant. And while his match at Wrestlemania against Drew McIntyre was as basic as it gets, once he's back in the groove of singles competition, he should start delivering big time quality matches on TV and PPV. I feel Reigns is very underrated in that department because fans don't like his character/push. I could go into this more but I might save it for another blog post.


The WWE Intercontinental Champion now calls Smackdown home. He was actually the first man to make the jump to Tuesday nights, bringing his belt and his working boots. Last week he faced Ali, this week he faced Andrade, both excellent matches. After spending the last 3 years of his career on Raw, this jump provides Balor with a fresh landscape and some compelling new opponents. While Reigns is likely to be positioned as the top star of the brand, Balor is Smackdown's workhorse, bringing the entertaining matches with young, hungry up-and-comers.

Grade: A. Can't fault this move at all. Plus I love the Intercontinental Championship, and prefer the WWE Championship over the Universal Championship, so to me Smackdown now has the "real" championships. Also, Balor looks great in blue.


Elias came to Smackdown with a lot of fanfare, being introduced by Vince McMahon as "the biggest acquisition in Smackdown history". And while that might have been a bit of a troll move by Vince, there's no denying Elias' star power, as surprising as it is to a degree. The general narrative surrounding NXT call-ups is that they're great under the watchful eye of Triple H, and then Vince gets his hands on them on the main roster and they're screwed. Well, Elias is the exception to the rule. He was woefully average on NXT- and given the talent on NXT, "average" stands out in the worst of ways. But then Elias got promoted to Raw and a strange thing happened- he found a new level of confidence, and has emerged as one of the best characters WWE has had in recent years.

Grade: B+. I really need to lose some weight and work on my fitness, and I'm happy to do that while walking with Elias. The talent is there, and in the ring he's always stepping up. Actually, it might have been around a year ago when he had a hell of a match on Raw with Roman Reigns, for the Intercontinental title. Elias faces Reigns again at the Money In The Bank PPV in a couple of weeks, and that's what tempered my grade of Elias- I fear he's going to be used as cannon fodder to establish Reigns on Smackdown, and will become a creative afterthought. He's good enough to make anything work now, though.


It seems like forever ago that WWE were promoting the arrival of "The Freak" Lars Sullivan. His arrival back in January was nixed when Lars had a panic attack, apparently cancelling plans for him to feud with John Cena and have a Mania match. Instead, Lars emerged on the Raw After Mania, attacking Kurt Angle, and he has since gone on to attack Rey Mysterio, The Hardys, and R-Truth. Now, it's clear WWE seem intent on pushing Lars as a monster heel- he'll probably mow through R-Truth in his debut match en route to bigger and better things. The issue is that, like Elias, Lars wasn't exactly the most impressive talent in NXT. He didn't have that many big matches there, with the exception of a Takeover match against Aleister Black that was a decent effort, but probably among Black's worst matches.

Grade: B-. He's obviously going to be an important part of Smackdown at least for a while, which is why he's not graded lower. But hey, maybe he follows Elias' lead and improves a ton on the main roster. Time will tell.


After bouncing around brands with Ricochet, Aleister now makes Smackdown his home. It wasn't originally this way- Black was initially put on Raw in the Shake-Up, as was Andrade and Zelina Vega. But backstage politics played a part in some late changes- Charlotte Flair was mad that her boyfriend, Andrade, was moved to Raw, so WWE officials moved him back to Smackdown to appease her. As Andrade's manager, Zelina had to be brought back to Smackdown as well. And in real life, Zelina is married to Aleister, so the man from Amsterdam is now exclusive to the blue brand. It's all a little soap opera-y.

Grade: A. It worked out well that Black got split from his tag partner Ricochet. They made a good team, but they can be even better as separate singles stars. Black cut an intriguing promo on the most recent Smackdown that seemed a little heelish, so that could be a fun path to go down.


Well, the Boss & Hug Connection is no more. The first WWE Women's Tag Team Champions lost to my girls, The IIconics, at Wrestlemania. Sasha took her ball and went home, leaving the Huggable One to fend for herself. Bayley's body language suggests that she is none too happy about the roster change- she's always been one to wear her real life emotions on her sleeve, you can usually tell by her demeanour whether she is winning or losing a match. Bayley is a exceptional wrestler though, and she helped inject some life into Smackdown's women's division with a nice match against Charlotte Flair this past week.

Grade: B. Talent-wise, she's higher than a B. But historically, she's never gotten the same level of push as Charlotte, Becky or even Sasha. Her feud against Alexa Bliss was one of the biggest one-sided burials I can recall in quite some time. She'll deliver in the ring, but the push is unlikely to match it.


I'm low-key hopeful that a new brand is a fresh start for this former NXT Women's Champion. Two early signs that I believe it might be- Asuka has been moved from the top of the division into a tag team, so there's a spot open. Also, on the WWE Network special 'The Shield's Last Chapter, Ember got a bit of spotlight when she pinned Ruby Riott with the Eclipse. She's a great talent with a unique style and an awe-inspiring finishing move, would love to see her rule Smackdown.

Grade: B+. Dat Eclipse tho.


Kairi's another great talent that I want to see succeed. I'm a little less sure that she will, though. She's been taken from NXT, where she was building chemistry in her team with real life bestie, Io Shirai, to be thrown in a team with Asuka on Smackdown. And like Ember, Kairi has a great finisher- the Insane Elbow. But I think both Kairi and Asuka deserve to shine as singles stars, not in the tag division. And that might seem like a slight on the women's tag division... but you know what, it kind of is. While I'm happy the IIconics, my fellow Aussies, won the championship, they went from jobbers, to champions... and now to jobber champions. They have zero credibility, which kills the division. Kairi deserves better. Asuka deserves better.

Grade: B. It's an A for talent, a C for how she's being used on Smackdown. Average that out.


After a stellar year on 205 Live, Murphy has changed his career. From probably on the verge of release, to the Best Kept Secret, to a MVP of the cruiserweight division, and now he gets to step up and prove his worth. Along with guys like Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali, Buddy Murphy regularly stole the show whenever he had a match. Just about every time he stepped between the ropes, it was a thriller. I can't wait to see him tear it up with guys like Balor, Ali again, Daniel Bryan, Andrade, Aleister... so much fun to be had!

Grade: B. I'm not totally sold yet on his roster position. I hope he gets a good crack at it, but realistically not every talent can be at the top of the roster. I hope he at least gets some chances to shine. For those that haven't seen him, or haven't seen him since his tag team days with Wesley Blake, his current wrestling style has shades of Kenny Omega. It's awesome.


Speaking of awesome... Chad Gable is an exceptional talent. A former Olympian, he adapted to WWE super quickly. He's found success in WWE as a tag team wrestler, first with Jason Jordan in American Alpha on NXT and Smackdown, then with Shelton Benjamin, and most recently with Bobby Roode on Raw, winning the titles there... so will Gable find another tag team partner to go for the gold again, or will he embark on a singles career? He absolutely has the skills to go there- he gave his idol Kurt Angle probably the best match of his farewell tour (suck it, Baron Corbin), but largely Gable seems to play jobber when in singles matches. I hope he finds his place on the roster but I think he'll be a bit of a forgotten player on the blue brand, sadly.

Grade: C. Just for his impact/presence on the brand. I think he'll be there to put over guys like Lars. I hope I'm wrong.


Apollo is a tremendous athlete- with the charisma of plywood. If he wasn't so jacked he'd probably be sent to 205 Live obscurity for the rest of his career. WWE flirted with a push for him at the very start of 2019- but abandoned it when they found out he has the personality of a cheese grater. I'm ragging on the guy, but I've seen him in all these different things outside of main WWE programming, all these YouTube clips and things like Ride Along... he doesn't joke around, or say anything engaging, or speak with emotion... it's a shame because he looks like a million bucks, and can do some very impressive things inside the ring. He's just the world's most boring man.

Grade: D. Would not be upset if he was released tomorrow. At all.


Okay, I was wrong- THIS is the world's most boring man. All the negative things I said about Crews apply to Mahal... and Mahal even wrestles boring matches. He drastically changed his physique, leading to the least deserving WWE Championship reign ever. You might think, a physique like that, he must do some impressive power moves! Nope, 80% of his matches are chinlocks and headlocks. Every time he cuts a promo, it sounds like he's going to lose his voice. He's responsible for the worst matches of Seth Rollins and Cesaro's careers.

The Singhs are cool though. They were responsible for the only entertaining portions of Jinder's WWE Championship reign, bumping around like maniacs, especially for Randy Orton.

Grade: F. Fire Mahal and let the Singhs stay around to manage someone with actual talent.


Liv is so damn fine. Unfortunately, her wrestling skill doesn't match her beauty, and WWE's all about portraying the women as strong athletes rather than showcasing them for their beauty. But, she has a lot of heart- she's actually been doing this for a while between NXT and the main roster. She got concussed by Botchy Brie Bella and still managed to finish the match, so she deserves kudos for that. I can't see her having a prominent role- especially since Smackdown already has Lana and Mandy Rose in the roles that Liv could do. That said, Liv is only 24, so there's definite upside there.

Grade: C. We haven't actually seen Liv in many singles matches for the last couple of years, being in the Riott Squad. She might have actually improved a lot.


Mickie could actually be an incredible asset on Smackdown if WWE let her be. She's a veteran that can really help the younger talent out, but she's not old. It speaks to the difference in genders when it comes to age, though- 39 is considered old for a women's wrestler, but a lot of the top talent on the men's side are around the same age or older- AJ, Joe, Nakamura, Jeff Hardy, Bobby Roode, Finn Balor, Rey Mysterio, Bobby Lashley...

Grade: B. I don't know if they will use her in a prominent spot, but Smackdown could do a lot worse than Mickie James in the title scene. I believe she's a 6X Women's Champion or something like that. Love Mickie James.


Steaks and weights, baby! Love these guys. A really fun tag team, big men, but deceptively athletic, Otis in particular. Who could have imagined a guy with his build could pull off The Worm? (Or The Caterpillar, as he calls it) Great comedic timing as well, which means they have value in segments as well as matches. All these two guys need are a few wins to establish a bit of credibility as a team to go along with the fun stuff, and they'll be an awesome addition to Smackdown's tag division.

Grade: B. One of the WWE's Performance Centre's real success stories. Otis and Tucker came into NXT with no decorated indy career, like a lot of the more recent signings that NXT have had. They started from the bottom, now they're here, and I can't wait to see what's next.


Alright, hopefully that's it for the 2019 Superstar Shake-Up. I think I've presented every talent to jump to a different show. Let me know what you guys think of my gradings. Agree? Disagree? Was I too harsh? Too easy? Drop me a message in Facebook comments, forum replies, or my e-mail-

Until next time, take care,


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Image of Mick Robson, founder of The Arena Media

Mick Robson is a freelance writer from Australia. A lifelong fan of pro wrestling and MMA, he endeavours to bring that passion through his coverage in news, reviews and opinion pieces.

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