The 5 most shocking WWE Draft picks
As collegiate hopefuls taste gridiron glory — or crushing disappointment — in the 2015 NFL Draft, the WWE Universe is instantly reminded of a Raw and SmackDown tradition unseen since 2011: the WWE Draft.
Created in 2002 as part of a Brand Extension that transformed the blue and red brands into two distinct entities, the WWE Draft became a yearly tradition two years later, granting Raw and SmackDown General Managers the opportunity to reshape their rosters. The annual event, as Mr. McMahon put it, was a recurrent opportunity to “shake things up again.”
And boy, did things get shaken up. From stunning defections to catalysts for chaos, the WWE Draft altered the sports-entertainment landscape on multiple occasions. But which draft picks dropped the most jaws? Here are the five biggest WWE Draft shockers.
Mr. McMahon drafts The Rock to SmackDown: March 25, 2002
WWE ventured into uncharted territory in the wake of WrestleMania X8, when the roster was split into two separate brands, Raw and SmackDown, and divided by way of the first-ever WWE Draft lottery. With Mr. McMahon selecting Superstars for his SmackDown locker room while his WWE co-owner Ric Flair chose the roster for Monday Night Raw, it was The Chairman who would get the first draft pick. Who better to lead the blue brand into a bold, new era than “ The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment”?
When The Rock was named as the first pick in the 2002 WWE Draft, the raucous Penn State University crowd came unglued, and so did The People’s Champ. Not exactly a fan of Mr. McMahon’s managerial style at the time, The Great One led the denizens of Nittany Lion country in a chant describing The Chairman. It might have rhymed with “glass bowl.”
The Brahma Bull’s move to “his” show set the tone for future WWE Drafts, when a Superstar’s reaction to their brand alignment would become just as exciting as the anticipation beforehand.
Paul Heyman is drafted from SmackDown to Raw: March 22, 2004
Paul Heyman’s been drawn to drama since before the birth of the cell phone, but not even “ Paul E. Dangerously” likes to be at its epicenter. During the 2004 WWE Draft, then–Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff randomly selected Heyman to join the Raw roster, in a bizarre turn of events indeed. The lottery pick proved that no one was immune to the WWE Draft, including authority figures.
After years of accusing the former WCW head of pilfering his best ECW competitors in the 1990s — including the likes of Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and Dean Malenko — Heyman was fated to work for his nemesis, performing such menial tasks as doing Bischoff’s laundry and washing his car. The extreme innovator needed an escape, and needed it fast.
In a scene made all the more pitiable by the brace encircling Heyman’s neck, the skulleted strategist did the only thing that seemed natural at the time and quit WWE. It wouldn’t be the last time.
Batista is drafted from Raw to SmackDown: June 30, 2005
As the monthlong 2005 WWE Draft was drawing to a close, SmackDown General Manager Theodore Long was left without a World Champion. As such, the head honcho of “holla” announced the introduction of a SmackDown Championship, set to be decided in a Six-Man Elimination Match on the June 30 edition of his show.
Following a grueling battle, it was JBL who would emerge victorious and, seemingly, the first-ever bearer of the blue brand’s title. But what Long said after the bout silenced even The Longhorn Loudmouth.
With what appeared to be the new SmackDown Championship concealed within a drawstring pouch under his arm, Long revealed that the title JBL had just earned was no longer necessary. In what Teddy presented as a bad news/good news scenario, JBL had just become the new No. 1 contender to the final pick in the 2005 WWE Draft: World Heavyweight Champion Batista!
The Animal, who just four days earlier became the first Superstar in history to pin Triple H inside Hell in a Cell, strode onto the SmackDown stage like a true gladiator, poised to dominate the blue brand until the WWE Draft returned him to Raw three years later.
Rey Mysterio is drafted from SmackDown to Raw: June 23, 2008
For six years, Rey Mysterio was a cornerstone of the SmackDown brand, dazzling the WWE Universe with his gravity-defying offense and inspiring a generation of underdogs with his World Heavyweight Title victory at WrestleMania 22. A biceps injury sustained during a 2008 WWE Live Event tour of South America, though, would ground the captivating highflier for several months, leaving many to wonder when they would ever get the chance to marvel at Rey-Rey’s aerial artistry again.
Few expected, then, to witness Mysterio’s return during the 2008 WWE Draft, when The Ultimate Underdog was selected as Monday Night Raw’s No. 1 draft pick. After WWE Champion Triple H felled the mighty Mark Henry to earn the red brand’s coveted first selection, Mysterio hit the stage, assuring the WWE Universe that Monday nights were about to get even more exciting in the very near future when he was ready for battle.
John Cena is drafted from SmackDown to Raw: June 6, 2005
Raw’s then–General Manager Eric Bischoff hyped it as the “single biggest acquisition” in the brand’s history, and with good reason. As the No. 1 pick in the 2005 WWE Draft, John Cena rolled into Raw with purpose, decked out in a throwback Spirits of St. Louis Moses Malone jersey and with his customized “spinner” WWE Championship slung over his shoulder.
In an instant, the WWE Universe packed inside St. Louis’ Scottrade Center and the millions watching at home witnessed a turning point that would forever change sports-entertainment as a whole. On that night, both Cena and the WWE Title itself took up residence on Raw, carrying Monday night’s hottest show into a bold, new era. Save for a minutes-long move back to SmackDown during the controversial 2011 WWE Draft, Cena has stood strong as the red brand’s standard bearer ever since.
When Cena proclaimed “The Champ is here” that night (or more accurately, “The Champ is hurr” to give the phrase an appropriate St. Louis twist), he never meant it more. And he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.