How Successful Was The WWE Brand Extension Draft In 2002?
How successful was the 2002 WWE Draft, with the benefit of hindsight?
Another year, another draft.
Hard to believe that almost twenty years have passed since the first time WWE attempted a brand extension.
There was a lot of intrigue for the first go-around, seeing as a wrestling 'draft' had never really been attempted before.
On the March 25, 2002 episode of Monday Night Raw, the SmackDown and Raw brands each selected ten available wrestlers/entities to populate their rosters. The rest of the locker room was divvied up after Raw went off the air, so the more "important" talents were selected during the broadcast portion.
Looking back at the Draft with 2021 eyes, it's interesting to see who WWE thought was worth spotlighting on that televised part of the draft.
With a little pinch of kayfabe sentiment, let's take a look back at those 20 selections, and see who actually paid off for the brand that selected them. We'll examine the short-term success, the long-term success, and summarize their tenures on either Raw or SmackDown with a letter grade. Letter grades are fun, after all.
Away we go.
The Rock (1 SD, 1 Overall)
Short Term: Went away for media purposes not long after the draft, returned after three months or so to challenge for the WWE title.
Long Term: Won WWE title in July, lost it in August, vanished for five months to film The Rundown, moved over to Raw in early 2003 to feud with Steve Austin and Goldberg before dipping out again.
Analysis: It's The Rock, so he can never be considered a bad pick, but SmackDown didn't get his full time services by any means. Big matches with Brock Lesnar and Hulk Hogan were special, but it's not like he was carrying the show for the long haul. One of the first "part timers" in modern WWE, to be sure.
The Undertaker (1 Raw, 2 Overall)
Short Term: Captured the WWE title in May, held it for two months.
Long Term: Pivoted into a feud with Brock Lesnar, chasing him to SmackDown when Lesnar jumped with the WWE championship. Remained a SmackDown staple for nearly a decade after the fact.
Analysis: Raw really got low-bridged by this one. Their top pick only stayed with the brand for five months before taking up near permanent residence on the opposition for the remainder of the aughts.
While Undertaker, like Rock, is never worth a low grade, it's hard to call this a value pick, since "The Dead Man" was being counted on to anchor Raw, and he ended up doing that for somebody else's show. Still, he was a focal point for five months on Raw, and that's worth something.
Kurt Angle (2 SD, 3 Overall)
Short Term: Engaged in worthwhile feuds with Edge and Hulk Hogan.
Long Term: Became integral part of The SmackDown Six, remained part of SmackDown's upper echelon into 2005.
Analysis: Angle may have badgered McMahon to select him, but it was worth it. Angle was synonymous with the blue brand for the next three years, and the era is partially defined by his individual greatness.
The New World Order (Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, X-Pac) (2 Raw, 4 Overall)
Short Term: Nash got hurt, Hall was fired, and X-Pac remained in the midcard.
Long Term: None of them were with WWE by the end of 2003.
Analysis: Aside from Nash giving Raw some main event value in 2003, the nWo was a complete bust in WWE. Through various issues, the group never came close to sniffing their WCW heights.
Chris Benoit (3 SD, 5 Overall)
Short Term: Didn't return to the ring until early July, doing so initially on Raw for vaguely-defined reasons.
Long Term: Became an upper card player on SmackDown, battling Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Lesnar, and others. Moved to Raw in January 2004 after winning the Royal Rumble.
Analysis: It's hard to argue against Benoit's value here (real life ending aside). Though his eventual World title victory came over on Raw, Benoit boosted SmackDown through captivating performances and his usual gung-ho ring work. SmackDown became the 'wrestling' brand, with Benoit helping define this era.
Kane (3 Raw, 6 Overall)
Short Term: Injured at the time, wouldn't return until August.
Long Term: A whirlwind of angles that included Katie Vick, a partnership with RVD, several title reigns, and an unmasking.
Analysis: Kane remained with Raw for over four and a half years after this selection, a veritable eternity. While the brand was getting a wee bit too crowded with giants, this was a sensible pick, which says nothing of the senselessness of many of his ensuing angles. Nonetheless, Kane was the earliest Raw pick that actually stuck. The only downside was some pretty bad creative.
Hulk Hogan (4 SD, 7 Overall)
Short Term: Won sixth and final WWE title in April, reigned for one month.
Long Term: Gained legend emeritus status on SmackDown, even if his appearances began to grow more sparse. Parted ways with WWE in June 2003.
Analysis: Can't blame them for striking while the iron was hot. Hulkamania was strongly reborn in 2002, and capitalizing on the new wave was good business. It wouldn't last, however, but Hogan did provide some quaint moments in his brief return. That counts for something.
Rob Van Dam (4 Raw, 8 Overall)
Short Term: Battled Eddie Guerrero for the IC title, fell short in King of the Ring final.
Long Term: Helped anchor upper midcard on Raw into the spring of 2004, when he moved to SmackDown.
Analysis: Van Dam was a model of consistency in his time on Raw, delivering dependable performances, and giving fans someone they could count on. Unlike many of the aforementioned names that wouldn't stay put, Van Dam buoyed an uneven Raw, though was unfortunately not given a true main event run in this period.
Billy and Chuck (5 SD, 9 Overall)
Short Term: Reigned twice as Tag Team champions.
Long Term: Took part in publicity stunt that proved moot when Billy suffered a subsequent injury, effectively killing off the team for good.
Analysis: Nothing wrong with taking the reigning Tag Team champions, but there was little long-term return on the investment. SmackDown became a haven for great tag team wrestling by year's end without Billy and Chuck, which goes to show how fast a hot act can fade in this biz.
Booker T (5 Raw, 10 Overall)
Short Term: Became forgettable nWo member, formed humorous mismatched duo with Goldust.
Long Term: Remained upper card player on Raw until moving to SmackDown in spring of 2004.
Analysis: Like Van Dam, Booker helped give Raw a consistent pulse, at times with an unlikely comic foil in Goldust. As was also the case with Van Dam, WWE stumbled at the line in giving Booker a headline-level run in this period. Nonetheless, Booker brought the goods in this era, and was one of the most entertaining parts of an often mundane red brand.
Edge (6 SD, 11 Overall)
Short Term: Defeated Kurt Angle in a feud, getting to shave Angle's head as a result.
Long Term: Prolific on SmackDown in singles and tag action before getting sidelined by a neck injury in early 2003. Moved to Raw a year later.
Analysis: Edge was clearly earmarked for long-term success by this time, as the 28 year old was being given big wins, and technically-gifted opponents to sharpen his skills against. Though the injury derailed his earnest ascent, Edge was a tremendous value pick that paid dividends for both brands come 2006-08.
The Big Show (6 Raw, 12 Overall)
Short Term: Joined nWo for the third time in his career, didn't do too much else of note.
Long Term: Eventually moved to SmackDown, won WWE title, remained brand fixture before moving back to Raw in 2005.
Analysis: Show's Raw run in this period lasted a mere seven months, before Eric Bischoff traded him to SmackDown for a plethora of midcarders. While Show did well on SmackDown, it's hard to call this pick a win for Raw, even if he did do more than most of the rest of the directionless nWo revival.
Rikishi (7 SD, 13 Overall)
Short Term: Briefly reigned as Tag Team champion with Rico in a convoluted angle.
Long Term: Waded around in the midcard as something of a recognizable babyface "gatekeeper" that ascending heels could beat. Released in 2004.
Analysis: With so many worthwhile talents still on the board, Rikishi proved to be not so great of a pick. Unless you tuned in to SmackDown strictly to see midcard heels take the Stinkface. In which case, pick well spent.
Bubba Ray Dudley (7 Raw, 14 Overall)
Short Term: Anchored Raw's Hardcore title picture.
Long Term: Partnership with Spike Dudley gave way to reunion with D-Von later in 2002. More Tag Team dominance followed, prior to SmackDown move in 2004.
Analysis: While the Dudley Boyz are usually better together, Bubba was fine as a solo on Raw. Not "Bully Ray roasting the crowd and flexing his calves" good, but fine nonetheless. Still, it was too soon to split the Dudz, and Bubba being a single (no matter what potential he showed) simply reminded fans of that gaping hole in the tag division.
D-Von Dudley (8 SD, 15 Overall)
Short Term: Became Reverend D-Von, introduced Batista to WWE in kayfabe.
Long Term: Floundered as the Reverend, moved back to Raw as part of Big Show trade, reunited with Bubba. More goldage ensued.
Analysis: The Dudleyz split made no sense when the nWo and Billy and Chuck got drafted collectively. While each man has their own unique talents, WWE chose to break up a sure thing. Charismatic as D-Von is, the preacher gimmick didn't exactly work. Credit to WWE, though, for recognizing that and giving the fans one of their favorite teams back.
Brock Lesnar (8 Raw, 16 Overall)
Short Term: Devoured everything in sight, won the King of the Ring.
Long Term: Devoured everything in sight, won the WWE title, moved to SmackDown. The devouring didn't stop.
Analysis: The only thing keeping this from being an A+ is the fact that Raw lost Lesnar to SmackDown in August. Otherwise, this pick made the most sense: a 24-year-old Terminator with no ceiling above his cranium. If you were to redraft from the 2002 roster, knowing how the future plays out, there aren't many names that go before Lesnar's.
Mark Henry (9 SD, 17 Overall)
Short Term: Began performing feats of strength to reintroduce himself to the audience.
Long Term: Sustained a knee injury that sidelined him until mid-2003, at which time he quietly moved to Raw.
Analysis: The story of Henry's early WWE career is that a ton of injuries stunted his development, to the point where the initial ten year contract he signed became a punchline. The greatness of his "Hall of Pain" run was still almost a decade away, and Henry was still viewed as a bust at this point. Can't call this a win, even knowing how good Henry would become.
William Regal (9 Raw, 18 Overall)
Short Term: Traded European title with Spike Dudley.
Long Term: Joined the Unamericans, teamed with Lance Storm, sidelined in spring of 2003 with heart defects that ultimately sidelined him for a year.
Analysis: In the year following his selection, Regal performed dutifully as a villain on Raw, whether it was mentoring the equally diabolical Chris Nowinski or cheating to victory with Storm. Regal remained in the midcard prior to his health-related hiatus, but qualifies as a value pick, simply based on what he brought to the table in his role.
Maven (10 SD, 19 Overall)
Short Term: Formed midcard duo with Al Snow, inactive after May.
Long Term: Moved to Raw in November, feuded with Nowinski, later feuded with Evolution with little success.
Analysis: WWE wanted to maximize the standing of the first male Tough Enough winner, but Maven had already peaked when he eliminated Undertaker in the 2002 Rumble. The bloom was off the reality TV rose in his latter three years with the company, and memorable moments became scarce.
Lita (10 Raw, 20 Overall)
Short Term: Sidelined with a serious neck injury while filming for TV series Dark Angel.
Long Term: Didn't return to the ring until September 2003, won Women's title the following year, remained with brand until 2006 retirement.
Analysis: This is a pick where you really have to look at the long-term value. While Lita missed 18 months of action after getting picked, she remained with Raw and eventually became the brand's lead female heel, forming a successful power duo with Edge. If the plan was for Lita to be the face of the division in 2002, injuries scuppered that. But "evil Lita" was worth the wait.
Average Grade: B-
Best Pick: Kurt Angle
Worst Pick: Mark Henry/Maven (tie)
Best Sleeper Pick: Edge
Analysis: SmackDown started hot by hitting on four picks early, but tapered off after picking Edge. Getting Lesnar and Undertaker from Raw later, as well as acquiring Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio, bolstered their already impressive draft haul.
Average Grade: B-
Best Pick: Brock Lesnar
Worst Pick: New World Order
Best Sleeper Pick: William Regal/Lita (tie)
Analysis: Raw fleshed out a very good upper midcard with the on-camera selections, and got good long term value out of some later picks (Regal, Lita). The nWo pick was good only for giving Shawn Michaels a vehicle to return in, seeing as he'd be a top guy on Raw in the second half of the year. An uneven haul, but with definite gems in there.