Recently on the Something to Wrestle With podcast, Bruce Prichard discussed the first WWE draft in 2002. Below are some highlights:
The idea of creating two separate brands.
"It was around the Royal Rumble time. The WCW brand was dead. Nobody cared, so rather than try to revive a dead brand, you had two strong brands in Raw and SmackDown so let's just really put the gas on both of those and do something from within. So, it was probably around the Royal Rumble time because we are thinking, holy s*it, now what? How do we split them? Who gets who?
"Vince McMahon presented the idea of creating our own competition and separating the brands. In Vince's head, Vince saw it as Raw was one brand, SmackDown was the other brand and never shall the two cross that if you are SmackDown you have got 3-4 years on SmackDown before you could ever be seen on Raw again and vice versa. We all took it that you were able to build for an entire year so that WrestleMania was your Super Bowl. Whoever your SmackDown champion was he would face your Raw champion, that was the one time every year that the two brands would mingle together and merge and face one another. Vince McMahon was like, no, they are separate brands and they will remain separate, but WrestleMania will have representation from both, but they wouldn't be against one another. It was kind of confusing, but to us it was an opportunity to build two guys and they get to meet one time a year where you get to see the mega matches, what would happen? Vince was like, no, they are separate brands, they will remain separate.
"At this time, we were still in the studios in Stamford, CT and we had a Writer's Room. It's funny because the Writer's room I had designed a long time ago is what became in the studio at the time, but I had a big conference room in the center and around the conference room were actual offices for each of the writers to have their own separate offices where they can come together and meet in the conference room in the middle. The only difference with this space was that it wasn't individual offices, there were desks around, you didn't have any privacy to shut the door. So, if you had a conversation with somebody, the guy at the desk heard everything you said, and you had nowhere to go privately."
The intrigue of separating the two brands:
"The way it was presented to us was intriguing because we had a lot of talent and the way the shows were, one was a cable cast [Monday Night Raw] and the other was broadcast on UPN, that is intriguing in of itself so you had two particularly different audiences to cater to. We were doing shows of what happened on Monday Night Raw was part 2 of what happened on SmackDown and you would catch everybody up on Monday. This enabled us to slow down and be able to---the talent that was working on Monday wouldn't have to work on Tuesday and vice versa, so you could have more talent exposed, but you're not exposing as many people as much; the same people as much because the same guys who were working on Monday Night were working on Tuesday Night on SmackDown. Now you have two separate crews and that was intriguing."
How talent felt about the brand split:
"I think everybody was excited about it. To my recollection, everybody was happy as they were saying thank God that we don't have to have everybody on both shows anymore and excited about the possibilities of giving new guys opportunity because a lot of those guys who were stuck in the middle have the opportunity to step up and have new opportunities on a new show."
Ric Flair being brought back to WWE in 2001 as co-owner of WWE:
"I don't know if it was necessarily to have a pay off. It was to bring Ric Flair back as a character and have him part of the show. At that time, bringing Ric back, no, it wasn't because of the Draft to bring him back for Raw. He was being brought back as an on-screen character, and next thing you know it he is back in the ring with Vince McMahon. I guess when Ric Flair came, it was the birth of the GM role. For years, the funny thing about it, especially in the WWF is that people just accepted that President Jack Tunney was making matches and making rulings. We didn't have to have Jack Tunney every week and have him say it and all these things. Every Wrestling company in the world operated that way. We had done that for years, and now you have Vince McMahon as the Owner in a storyline with Steve Austin that now you have a heel Owner that Vince became convinced that you have to have someone in charge. There has to be someone that people can hold accountable for what is going on on-air and that is how the General Manager came to be.
"Ric Flair was there, and he was brought back as a character to be that figure-head on television. He was already there. He was already in place. To me, what hurts that is that we did do that match at WrestleMania where he loses 100%, but the next night he has it back. Shane McMahon, if he loses to The Undertaker is gone forever but he's back, running SmackDown."
Vince McMahon changing his mind on stips:
"The audience is forgiving and the audience does accept it, and they are happy when their favorites come back and overcome. A lot of times it doesn't make sense, and to me, a stipulation guy. If your stipulation doesn't mean anything, it is hard to sell another one, however, they have proven time and time again that wrong because we keep doing it, and that was always frustrating to me."
Who else was considered for the color commentary role on SmackDown:
"Ron Simmons was somebody that was considered for that role. On the top of my head, I couldn't remember anybody else. Raven, going back to the Scotty Flamingo character. Back in the day, he was a damn good color commentator. He did color commentary in Portland, Oregon. I was the one who suggested him to be in that role because I heard his color commentary up in Oregon. We thought D'Lo Brown would be good. I don't remember who suggested Stevie Richards, but he was another one who had a gift for gab, but he was quick witted and that was something Vince McMahon was looking for. Backstage, Ron Simmons was quick, plus he has that voice that was so powerful, but there were a few that were considered, but Taz got it because Taz messed up his back or neck, whatever the injury was, and here he was that was someone who had the gift for gab, and was local. He lived in New York, so he fit all of those. He checked every box."
Why they wanted draft picks to be a secret:
"Main reason was that we didn't want it leaking out, and Vince McMahon also wanted - which he still does until this day. He doesn't tell guys because he wants a genuine reaction so if someone knows then you are going to get a canned reaction is his feeling. I don't think Scott Hall and Kevin Nash knew, but Steve Austin knew, The Rock knew, Undertaker knew, Hulk Hogan probably knew, but beyond that, there weren't a lot of guys that knew where they were going."
Being cornered by talent to tell them were they were headed:
"There were guys - every one of them was trying to corner us asking us where they were going. The answer was the same for everybody, that I couldn't tell them, but they are going to have to find out when everyone else finds out. I did know but I couldn't tell them, and that was the line. That was what everybody was told, with the exception of those top guys, but they didn't know, and they got those genuine reactions. Some were legitimately pissed, some were legitimately happy. The overall feeling to be on Raw or SmackDown and to be in a smaller group to have more TV time was appealing to everybody."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Something to Wrestle With with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Source: MLW Radio