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WWE 2019 Superstar Shakeup reaction and analysis

Roman Reigns moving to SmackDown represents a major shift at the top of both of WWE's biggest brands. WWE

Since the WWE first split its roster in half in 2002 between "Raw" and "SmackDown," drafts and Superstar Shakeups have served to redistribute talent between the two shows, set up fresh stories and offer new opportunities to underutilized performers.

That process has taken several different forms over the years, but since the brands were split for the second time in 2016, the post-WrestleMania Superstar Shakeup has served as a fresh starting point for a new year of WWE.

Over the course of two days, WWE stars moved between "Raw" and "SmackDown" (and in some cases, from NXT and other WWE brands) to a new home. The first night saw some heavy hitters shift to "Raw" throughout the night -- from The Miz at the start to AJ Styles to close it all out, and everything in between. Tuesday was bookended by SmackDown's additions of Finn Balor and Roman Reigns, in addition to a serious influx of talent to their women's division.

Here's how both nights of changes played out.

To read up on how Night 1 played out, click here


Night 2 (SmackDown)

Roman Reigns

Roman Reigns to "SmackDown" is a true game-changer. Reigns has long been the biggest star in WWE's vision for the future, and with a renewed sense of spirit since his return to action, Reigns brings serious WWE weight over to "SmackDown." Even when it was announced a massive star was on the move, it was hard to believe Reigns, of all people, would move off the flagship brand. But as it stands, with the elimination of The Shield (with a small sendoff this Sunday) and Seth Rollins' holding the Universal Title, this was the right move for Reigns going forward. With "SmackDown" headed to Fox later this year, there's one of the big faces for the advertising campaigns to come.

It's hard to say exactly who Reigns will feud with at the outset of his move, but Daniel Bryan could be a nice start. If not, maybe even Rowan, then Bryan. But the truth is, aside from Bryan, "SmackDown" doesn't have that big, bad heel to challenge new WWE champion Kofi Kingston. The likes of Samoa Joe and that United States title are an option, although Finn Balor's move might allude to one additional shift to come. There's also the potential of breaking out Rusev or Shinsuke Nakamura or someone from The Bar as singles performers once again to kickstart Reigns' run on "SmackDown." Perhaps "SmackDown" can work its way toward a feud with Lars Sullivan, which would be a sweet pay-per-view showdown, once Sullivan starts rolling a bit more.

The biggest question may be whether the once-most polarizing star in WWE history will face more of a mixed reaction as time rolls on, or if it'll be more positivity heading his way.


Elias

Vince McMahon was set to introduce the biggest, baddest acquisition in "SmackDown" history, and as he called for the drum roll, it was ... Elias, who walked down the aisle to a chorus of boos. Elias? OK, that works. He needs to work on rounding out what he brings to the table beyond his irreverent guitar-playing shtick. Let's hope it's not the same M.O. on the blue brand as it was on Monday nights, because we need Elias to showcase what he's capable of doing in the ring. It looks like he may have a familiar rival to start his "SmackDown" tenure.


Buddy Murphy

Upon his debut on 205 Live, Buddy Murphy was labeled the "best kept secret." He proceeded to tear it up over the next year, having some of the most entertaining in-ring performances in all of the WWE against the entirety of the cruiserweight division -- most notably in a series of matches against Ali and, eventually, Cedric Alexander, from whom Murphy won the cruiserweight championship in his native Australia. He put a bow on that run at "WrestleMania 35," when he and Tony Nese opened the "Kickoff Show" and made those who didn't arrive early regret that decision.

Revisiting Murphy's rivalry with Ali would be a solid reminder of what each is capable of, but the sky is honestly the limit for Murphy, who is also a former NXT tag team champion.


Lars Sullivan

After a pretty hefty build to his main-roster debut late last year, Lars Sullivan disappeared entirely in recent weeks. Since he officially debuted the night after "WrestleMania," he has torn through Kurt Angle, The Hardy Boyz, Rey Mysterio and R-Truth, showing off his brutal physicality.

After building up to an impressive few final months in NXT, which included a tremendous performance in a six-way NXT North American championship ladder match and an unsuccessful challenge for the NXT championship against Aleister Black, it's clear there's a lot of potential in Sullivan. It's hard to say who a natural initial feud would be with, but perhaps the likes of Kevin Owens or Ali. No matter who he stands across from in the ring, you can expect nothing short of serious intensity when Sullivan steps into the ring.

Kairi Sane

There's nothing surprising about Kairi Sane's move to the main roster, as the former NXT women's champion and inaugural Mae Young Classic winner has featured prominently in the women's Royal Rumble over the past two years, to say nothing of her work in NXT. Many were anticipating Sane would be accompanied to "SmackDown" by her longtime friend and tag team partner Io Shirai, but it appears that, at least for now, Shirai will be pursuing gold on her own in NXT.

If Tuesday's crowd reaction prior to hitting the In-Sane elbow is any indication, Kairi Sane will be a big hit next to new tag team partner Asuka. The natural presumption would be for Sane and Asuka to challenge for the women's tag team championships, and it's likely they'll find early success. The big move will come when those two collide in an intensely physical match down the road.


Bayley

Moments after Ember Moon was introduced onto the blue brand, Bayley's music hit to a loud reaction to an already rowdy Montreal crowd -- albeit a surprisingly negative one. This is a smart move in a few respects. Since a brief stint as the Raw women's champion shortly after her initial call-up from NXT, Bayley has been underutilized as a singles performer.

Of course, she has the distinction of becoming the first women's tag-team champion along with Sasha Banks, but the two lost those titles in somewhat shocking fashion at WrestleMania. And now, as it seems as though Banks' WWE tenure is in limbo, Bayley is left to become a stand-alone performer once more. Given her history and popularity, you have to believe Bayley is going to find her way in a battle against Becky Lynch and/or Charlotte Flair in the near future -- and this time, don't expect Bayley to be relegated to anything other than a top performer for some time to come.


Ember Moon

Considering how much air time Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey have taken up in the past few months, the rest of the women have had to take a back seat, including Ember Moon,. When showcased on Raw, Moon has had some promising showings, and with her recent return from injury, a fresh start seems fitting -- and now that WrestleMania is over, it's clear, the WWE wants to remind us of its depth of women's talent. Starting with Moon, a former NXT champion, and elevating her as the first woman to step up to Lynch on SmackDown seems a solid move.

Whether Lynch ends up being her first true target or she ties it up with any member of the quickly growing "SmackDown" women's roster, Moon has huge upside on her new home show.

Finn Balor

Well then. Who saw that one coming? Finn Balor was the first star to switch to "SmackDown Live" on Tuesday, which means, for now anyway, three of the four primary men's singles championships now live on the blue brand. Will that last? Is this a way to give "SmackDown" more juice moving forward?

Balor, who took on Ali in his first match on "SmackDown," can finally move away from his long feud with Bobby Lashley and move on to new stories. A renewed showdown with NXT rival (and fellow inaugural Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic) -- current United States champ Samoa Joe -- or another NXT rival in Shinsuke Nakamura could suit Balor well. Whatever the plan is, this is a move Finn needed, and a terrific start to replenishing "SmackDown" with some star power after the loss of AJ Styles, Rey Mysterio, Andrade and others on Monday.


Chad Gable

So much for the Chad Gable-Bobby Roode connection. In one of four late additions announced for the "SmackDown" roster, Gable returns to "SmackDown" after a year away. Roode and Gable had a nice run, winning the "Raw" tag team championships, but now it's back to singles competition.

Despite flashing some skills over the course of his main roster tenure, Gable has not had much impact as a singles competitor -- but there's no doubting what he's capable of in the ring. He's one of those guys who needs a chance to see what he can do without a partner -- it's just a matter of whether or not he'll be given that chance.


Apollo Crews

Crews is another mid-carder who has never found his identity, but someone who, from a skills standpoint, can make an impact. He would benefit from teaming up with a more accomplished performer, as his biggest impact to date was teaming up with Titus O'Neil, but on the surface it's hard to say who that would be, barring the breakup of one of the more established duos on "SmackDown." If not, Crews seems destined to continue in his current path of talented afterthought.


Mickie James

James' best days appear to be behind her in WWE, which is a shame because she's not yet 40 and remains a solid performer when given the opportunity. James could have found an opening on "Raw" as well, but either way, face or heel, red brand or blue, she is a solid gatekeeper for the likes of Bayley, Charlotte or even newly acquired Ember Moon.


Liv Morgan

WWE rounded up their late moves with an interesting, under-the-radar decision of breaking up the Riott Squad. Liv Morgan was likely the weakest of the three in terms of in-ring performance, despite solid showings in 2018 against Ember Moon, but this move probably makes Ruby Riott and Sarah Logan that much stronger, if they stay together; Logan may find a new home with the newly rebranded "Viking Experience," but for now, Morgan, like James, seems likely to be positioned as another mid-carder who can fill in the gaps when needed, unless there's a major change in approach going forward

Night 1 (Raw)

The Miz

WWE didn't take long to get the night's action underway, as The Miz moved from SmackDown Live to Raw. It's a move that makes sense, and shouldn't be that surprising. As The Miz himself noted, he has moved shows in every single Superstar Shakeup to date, and this gives him a clean break from Shane McMahon and the story that culminated at WrestleMania 35. Miz got a few shots in on McMahon for good measure in the moments after he ran to the ring, and being on Raw shouldn't be much of an adjustment.

As far as whom he could face, the options are plentiful. As the newly reimagined babyface Miz, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley would seem to fit the bill, but a freshly returned Sami Zayn might be the most compelling opponent out of the gate. Something just feels right about Miz, one of the WWE's most visible presences in mainstream media and a reality star on the USA Network (via "Miz & Mrs."), returning to the WWE's flagship program.

The Viking Experience

After taking a breath to fully process the absurdity of the name change to the NXT tag team champions formerly known as War Raiders and coming down, Ivar (previously Hanson) and Erik (previously Rowe) joining the Raw roster is still likely a net positive. Raw remembering it has a tag team division is good news, and as they showed in their debut match, Ivar and Erik are incredibly versatile big men. They got the win, alongside The Revival, over Aleister Black, Ricochet and tag team champions Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder.

If we can get away from the silliness of the tag team name (perhaps a tweak along the way, please?), Ivar and Erik are actually pretty strongly tied into the history of Vikings and are not nearly as problematic. There are a lot of horror stories of NXT call-ups going sideways, but if they're given as strong and as powerful a platform as it seems, they can be anchors of a revitalized tag team division in a hurry.


Cedric Alexander

The former cruiserweight champion hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ali by making a big splash after leaving 205 Live. He had taken a backseat of late to rising cruiserweights like Buddy Murphy and Tony Nese, so now is as good a time as any for a change of scenery. A matchup with the likes of a Chad Gable could showcase the best of what both guys have to offer, while a bigger opponent like Baron Corbin might be a good jumping off point.

Andrade

After putting together some of the best matches of the last year on SmackDown opposite Rey Mysterio and a variety of other opponents, Andrade makes a move to Monday nights. A debut win against Finn Balor is a big deal in and of itself, and it's the perfect way to show fans everything he's capable of. His mix of Lucha Libre high-flying and vicious strikes with immense swagger in the ring makes him a future world title contender, and in the interim, an Intercontinental championship rivalry with Balor is a great place to start. Zelina Vega is also a valuable piece of the puzzle as a mouthpiece, heat magnet and valuable distraction in key matches.


Rey Mysterio

WrestleMania 35 was a rough night for Mysterio, who lost in abrupt fashion to Samoa Joe. For at least an hour Monday, Mysterio also lost his former top rival on SmackDown, Andrade, until he, too, moved to Raw. A change of pace was well in order, although his time in the ring with Lars Sullivan on Monday night was not quite the warm welcome he might've hoped for. Rey's got only a couple of years left in wrestling, by his estimation, and whether it's mixing it up with some of the smaller stars on the Raw roster like the newly acquired Cedric Alexander or bigger guys like Baron Corbin, Mysterio still has something to give WWE and its fans.

Ricochet & Aleister Black

Though it wasn't made abundantly clear on commentary, Ricochet and Aleister Black have officially joined the Raw roster, as long as Ricochet's tweet is as clear as it sounds. When Black and Ricochet were first paired up, the two diametrically opposed characters seemed like a strange fit, to say the least. Whether it's their combined charisma or complementary in-ring styles, the pairing has meshed in a hurry and hasn't looked even slightly out of place in challenging for the Raw, SmackDown or NXT tag team championships in recent weeks. Alongside the newly rebranded "Viking Experience," this could be a sign that Raw's tag team division is back on the rise.

The Usos

Despite the spoiler from the graphics department, The Usos joining Monday Night Raw is yet another boost to the Raw tag team division. Some might just be happy that we won't be getting any more combinations of The Bar/New Day/The Usos for the foreseeable future, but The Usos have proved time and again that every time they are given the spotlight, they thrive. Their performance at WrestleMania 35 once again proved they're among the best tag teams in the world. They may be the ideal team to pry the tag team titles from Ryder and Hawkins and re-establish themselves as true villains -- a role they thrived in.

The prospect of The Usos against The Viking Experience, as well as a straight-up tag team match against Aleister Black and Ricochet, is exciting and fresh -- just what the doctor ordered for tag team wrestling in WWE.


Naomi

Naomi, a two-time women's champion, has been on SmackDown since the 2016 brand separation draft and has run through stories with most of the women on that roster. Just as the Raw tag team division got a complete overhaul in the Superstar Shakeup, this could be a strong move toward reshaping the women's division on Raw. With the big overarching story of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey overshadowing the rest of the Raw and SmackDown women's rosters over the past few months, getting the right balance between the two shows will be paramount. Naomi could find tremendous matchups against the likes of Ruby Riott and Ember Moon, or even turn more evil and ultimately face off against Sasha Banks or Bayley -- the latter with whom she easily dispatched The IIconics in her first match on Raw.


EC3

Monday night was something of a mixed bag for EC3. After months of floating around in the background with only a few matches, EC3 is officially a member of the Raw roster, but his welcome came in the form of a brutal mauling at the hands of Braun Strowman. It's going to take some time to shake off the stink of playing a background character for so long, or getting thrown into LED boards and through the stage like EC3 did on Monday night, but he can be a valuable contributor on Monday nights if he's handled right.

The proper move here would be to pair EC3 with his pre-WWE compatriot Drake Maverick and have Drake build EC3 back up from scratch. The one thing working in EC3's favor is that he can't fall much further than where he is now.


Eric Young

Every once in a while WWE will break up a tag team just to prove that "anything can happen" with a Superstar Shakeup -- everyone remember when Bubba Ray and D-Von were sent to different shows? But separating Eric Young and essentially scuttling SAnitY by just dropping him onto the end of the graphic is peak afterthought action. Since moving from NXT, SAnitY was crippled with nausea-inducing camera shots upon their debut and never got a fair shake of making something of themselves on WWE TV. Tearing Nikki Cross out of the group was like ripping the chaotic heart out of them, and not appearing on TV for months at a time was indicative of where they stood on the totem pole.

Young, Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe are all individually talented, but alone it seems as though there is little direction for them to head in. Young should have something to contribute, but without a dramatic shift in character or opportunity, it's hard to see much upside.


Lacey Evans

Lacey Evans was plucked from NXT and placed directly into conflict with the newly crowned Raw and SmackDown women's champion, Becky Lynch. After weeks of simply walking down the ramp in the midst of other matches and moments on Raw and SmackDown, Evans attacked Lynch twice and then finally made her main roster debut Monday against Natalya. There's no doubting Evans' character and how far she's come in that regard, but she's still working to polish up her in-ring repertoire to catch up to a similar level. Her springboard moonsault that put Natalya away was visually impressive, but it also seemed like a rough landing in terms of actual execution.

It's clear that Evans has some big fans in high places in WWE, but she'll have a lot to prove in a high-pressure situation against Lynch as she vies for the Raw women's championship very early on in her main roster tenure.

AJ Styles

Since making his WWE debut in 2016, Styles has made a habit of defying expectations and squeezing the most out of every opportunity. Almost all of that success has come as a member of the SmackDown roster, with that show often described as the "House that AJ Styles built." He became a two-time WWE champion on that show, with career-defining rivalries against John Cena, Dean Ambrose and Shinsuke Nakamura and epic matches against Brock Lesnar, Finn Balor, Daniel Bryan and many others. Styles became the longest-reigning WWE champion in SmackDown history.

But all good things must come to an end, and the opportunities on Monday Night Raw for Styles seem endless. A Universal championship rivalry with Seth Rollins would be a tremendous way to carry into the summer, or even as next year's WrestleMania comes around. If Finn Balor remains on Raw, they could renew tensions or align with the shared history of a certain "club." If Roman Reigns stays on Raw, he and Styles could revisit a short rivalry they had after they went face-to-face in the 2016 Royal Rumble. Styles and Drew McIntyre could absolutely tear it up and elevate both men in a heartbeat.

Most importantly, Styles is one of the most visible centerpieces of the WWE in this moment. He was on the cover of WWE 2K19 and had an entire marketing campaign built around Styles playing one lucky winner for $1 million. Though Styles was far more well known for his skills in the ring than his time on the microphone early in his career, Styles has found his niche and connects with WWE audiences worldwide. One need only look at the crowd at any WWE event to see how many pairs of AJ Styles gloves and how many AJ Styles T-shirts there are in the crowd to know how valuable a member of the roster Styles has become.

He's one of the centerpieces of this version of the Superstar Shakeup and there's no reason to believe he won't thrive in a new environment. It's going to take a tremendous move in the opposite direction Tuesday night to come close to the impact that Styles' move made on Monday.