WWE made some surprising moves in the 2019 draft, in particular loading up Monday Night Raw with a slew of the company’s best in-ring performers when the widespread expectation was that the red brand would be its entertainment-centric show.
Long-running reports have indicated that SmackDown would be a “more sports-oriented” show upon its move to FOX, but the blue brand sure seems to be more about packing a star power punch than in-ring performances thanks it star-studded roster that features names like Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman. While that was a surprising move, it’s good news for any rising stars who find themselves on Raw, which has plenty of star power itself but also possesses one of the best ensembles of in-ring performers in the brand split era. Now, two stars who’ve never really gotten a fair shot at success stand to benefit in a major way from all of the changes recently made to the WWE roster.
According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer (h/t Wrestling Inc), Paul Heyman pushed for both Aleister Black and Buddy Murphy to move to Raw in the WWE Draft and is a big fan of both superstars:
“Buddy Murphy coming to the red brand was because of RAW Executive Director Paul Heyman. Heyman is said to be ‘super, super high’ on Murphy. We noted before that Heyman was also pushing for Aleister Black to be brought to RAW, which ended up happening.”
In addition to working with names like Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey, Heyman had been working hands on with the character development of Black, but his ability to do so was limited by the fact that Black was on SmackDown while Heyman was heading up the creative side of Raw. That might be the best explanation as to why Black, after being called up to the main roster in early 2019, found himself getting lost in the shuffle on the blue brand, only having a brief feud with Cesaro that wasn’t much of a feud at all. Needless to say, that’s been a colossal waste of Black, who is both one of WWE’s best in-ring performers and one of its most captivating characters, and thus, should be a focal point of–at the very least–the upper midcard but has main event potential with the right booking.
Heyman hasn’t been without his fair share of hiccups since taking over Raw (the Bray Wyatt vs. Seth Rollins feud and the salacious angle between Rusev and Bobby Lashley come to mind), but his stint as the creative head of SmackDown in 2002–when he relied on the SmackDown Six, a core group of phenomenal in-ring performers, to carry his brand–showed what Heyman can do when the restraints are taken off and he’s allowed to really put his stamp on WWE’s programming. When Heyman ran SmackDown from 2002 to 2003, that period was defined both by the rise of several major superstars, including Lesnar, and a focus on phenomenal in-ring talent. After all of the moves made in the 2019 WWE Draft, Heyman is expected to follow a similar format this year for a Raw show that is chock full of great in-ring performers.
Despite Heyman’s recent struggles to book a quality product on Raw, Black is one of the stars who could receive some much better booking under Heyman’s guidance, and he isn’t the only one. Another “Paul Heyman guy” is Murphy, arguably the most overlooked and underutilized performer in all of WWE.
Earlier this year, Murphy accidentally lucked his way into a brief push on SmackDown by pure happenstance, and WWE temporarily capitalized on that by providing Murphy with the stage to put on stellar matches with top stars like Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan, the latter of which he actually beat cleanly on an episode of SmackDown. Murphy’s push didn’t last very long, but it did expose “WWE’s best kept secret” to the rest of the world and help transform him into a cult favorite sorts. After spending his entire singles career as a heel, Murphy began generating some strong babyface reactions as the crowd could see how incredible he is in the ring and that he was overlooked, two important factors that can make a poorly used talent organically get the fans behind him.
While it looks like WWE is going to push Murphy as a heel, it’s an encouraging sign that Heyman was able to get his wish and land Murphy on the red brand, which suddenly features an amazing core of in-ring performers led by guys like Rollins, AJ Styles, Andrade, Black and Murphy himself but doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 full-time villain. There are countless feud possibilities for WWE’s wrestler-heavy Raw roster, and with Heyman having a lot of say-so in WWE’s creative process these days, Murphy and Black are two stars who fans should keep an eye on for the foreseeable future as Raw continues to experience viewership growing pains with its heavy focus on new and unproven stars.
Everyone knows WWE needs more top stars these days, and if the effort is made, there is no reason to think that Black and/or Murphy can’t give WWE two new stars to build around. But that will depend heavily upon whether Heyman can turn things around on a Raw show that hasn’t been great since he took over as Raw Executive Director, whether due to Heyman’s shortcomings or his inability to get his ideas past Vince McMahon.
With Black and Murphy, the talent is there, but as Raw continues to struggle in the ratings department, it remains to be seen if WWE will go back to its old ways of pushing veteran talent–which, of course, won’t bode well for guys like them.