The WWE draft is a process used by professional wrestling promotion WWE to provide new brand competition and to refresh its rosters. The draft was first used during the brand extension of 2002, though it was officially incepted and used in 2004. Since the inception of the process, it has been referred to as the WWE draft lottery (2004–05) and later simplified to the "draft" (2007–2011). Starting in 2005, the draft took place during the month of June; it was held in April between 2009 and 2011. After that, WWE terminated the brand split and promotion of interbrand competition from 2011 to 2016.
On May 25, 2016, due to SmackDown moving to Tuesdays and to a live broadcast starting July 19, necessitating a brand extension, WWE announced that the draft would be returning. It would later be announced that the 2016 WWE draft will be taking place on July 19 on the USA Network, during SmackDown's first live episode which will also be the first time that the WWE draft has taken place on SmackDown Live.
|After acquiring World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), the WWF split its roster into two distinctive wrestling brands, Raw and SmackDown!. WWF co-owners Ric Flair and Vince McMahon would draft superstars to Raw and SmackDown! respectively. The Rock was acquired by SmackDown! as the first overall pick, and The Undertaker was acquired by Raw as its first pick in the draft. Stone Cold Steve Austin was allowed to choose which show he wanted to be on.|
|To remain active with the WrestleMania XX tagline of "Where it all begins again", WWE Chairman Vince McMahon announced a draft lottery, as he stated it was time for a "new WWE" and "it's time to shake things up again". Each general manager received six picks.|
|Unlike previous draft lotteries which occurred on one night, this draft lottery took place over the month of June. Each general manager received five random picks. During the draft, SmackDown! was left without a world champion after Raw drafted John Cena, who at the time held the then-WWE Championship. Plans to create a separate SmackDown! world championship were abandoned when Smackdown! acquired Batista from Raw, who at the time held the World Heavyweight Championship.|
|2006||ECW||There was no official draft in 2006. But as part of the launch of the ECW brand, WWE allowed ECW representative Paul Heyman to draft one superstar from each of the Raw and SmackDown! brands.|
|Was the first ever tri-branded draft lottery, where all three of WWE's brands took part in the draft. Unlike previous drafts where the general managers were able to randomly select their draftee, matches took place between representatives of each brand and the winner received a draft pick. The draft took place on June 11 on a special three-hour episode of Raw.|
|Was the second consecutive draft where draft picks were determined by matches. During the draft, three championships switched brands due to the champions switching brands. The draft took place on June 23 on a special three-hour episode of Raw.|
|The 2009 draft took place on the April 13, 2009 edition of WWE Raw and consisted of tri-branded matches with the winner of the match's brand earning a pick. A total of 12 wrestlers were drafted on television. A supplemental draft was held at April 15, in which a total of 24 wrestlers were drafted.|
|The Richmond Coliseum confirmed that it would serve as the venue for the 2010 WWE draft, which was held live during an episode of Raw on April 26, 2010. The draft consisted of interpromotional matches with the winner of the match's brand earning a pick. A total of 8 wrestlers were drafted on television. A supplemental draft was held on April 27, in which a total of 13 wrestlers were drafted. It was also the first draft without ECW after its cancellation.|
|On April 18, WWE, USA Network, and the RBC Center confirmed the 2011 draft to take place on April 25 from Raleigh, North Carolina. The draft consisted of interpromotional matches with the winner of the match's brand earning a pick. A total of 8 superstars were drafted on television. A total of 22 more wrestlers were selected in supplemental draft the following day, as WWE.com updated the site with every pick. This was the final draft occurring under the brand extension of 2002.|
|On May 25, it was announced that the main roster would once again be divided with SmackDown moving to a live broadcast on Tuesdays, starting July 19. It was later confirmed that the WWE draft would be taking place on the live SmackDown on July 19, which was also the first time SmackDown held the supplemental WWE draft event. 6 NXT Superstars were eligible to be 'drafted' (thus promoted) to the main rosters (except NXT champions).|
Impact on championships
Whether a champion keeps their championship after being drafted is unpredictable:
- During the 2002 draft, Undisputed WWE Champion Triple H and Women's Champion Jazz were ineligible to be drafted as, at the time, their respective services were deemed available to both brands. The rest of the champions, however, were eligible to be drafted to either brand's roster. Initially, the Intercontinental Championship and European Championship became exclusive to Raw, while the World Tag Team Championship, Hardcore Championship, and Cruiserweight Championship became exclusive to SmackDown. However, later that year, the World Tag Team and Hardcore championships would become exclusive to Raw while the Undisputed WWE Championship became exclusive to SmackDown when then-champion Brock Lesnar signed only to appear for that brand. It was renamed the WWE Championship as Eric Bischoff created the World Heavyweight Championship for Raw. The European and Hardcore championships were unified with the Intercontinental Championship in July and August, respectively, and SmackDown created the WWE Tag Team Championship in October.
- A draft did not occur in 2003, however, SmackDown reactivated the United States Championship for their brand.
- During the 2005 draft, WWE Champion John Cena was drafted to Raw and kept his championship. General Manager Theodore Long announced that a new SmackDown Championship was to be created but the idea was abandoned when World Heavyweight Champion Batista was drafted to SmackDown, bringing the title with him.
- There was not an official draft in 2006, however, ECW became a third brand. ECW's Rob Van Dam won the WWE Championship, making it ECW property and the ECW World Heavyweight Championship was also subsequently reactivated for the brand. Van Dam held both titles until Raw's Edge defeated him for the WWE Championship, bringing that title back to Raw.
- During the 2007 draft, ECW World Champion Bobby Lashley was stripped of the title after being drafted to Raw. Later that year, SmackDown's Cruiserweight Championship was vacated and deactivated.
- During the 2008 draft, Matt Hardy was drafted to ECW with his United States Championship, Triple H was drafted to SmackDown with his WWE Championship, and Kane was drafted to Raw with his ECW Championship. Shortly after the draft at Night of Champions, ECW's Mark Henry defeated Raw's Kane and SmackDown's Big Show to bring the ECW Championship back to ECW. The following night, SmackDown's World Heavyweight Champion Edge made an appearance on Raw and CM Punk cashed in his Money in the Bank contract and defeated Edge for the championship, moving it to Raw. A month after the draft, the Divas Championship was created for SmackDown, and Shelton Benjamin won the United States Championship, moving it back to SmackDown.
- Before the 2009 draft, the World Tag Team and WWE Tag Team championships were unified as the Unified WWE Tag Team Championship. Both titles remained as independently active championships but were defended on any brand as the unified championship, regardless of what brand their holders belonged to. During the draft, Unified WWE Tag Team Champions The Colóns (Carlito and Primo), Divas Champion Maryse, United States Champion MVP, and WWE Champion Triple H were drafted to Raw, while Women's Champion Melina and Intercontinental Champion Rey Mysterio were drafted to SmackDown. Shortly after the draft at Backlash, SmackDown's Edge defeated Raw's John Cena for the World Heavyweight Championship, moving the title to SmackDown.
- Before the 2010 draft, the ECW brand was disbanded, which subsequently vacated and deactivated the ECW Championship. During the draft, Unified WWE Tag Team Champions The Hart Dynasty (Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith) were drafted to Raw. Later that year, the World Tag Team Championship of the unified championship was decommissioned in favor of continuing the WWE Tag Team Championship. Also, the Women's Championship was retired as it was unified with the Divas Championship, which briefly became known as the Unified WWE Divas Championship.
- During the 2011 draft, United States Champion Sheamus was drafted to SmackDown. The following month, however, it was returned to Raw following Kofi Kingston's title win.
- With the end of the first brand extension in August 2011 and no need for two world championships, on-screen COO Triple H set up a unification match between then WWE Champion Randy Orton and World Heavyweight Champion John Cena at the 2013 TLC event. Orton won the match and became the first WWE World Heavyweight Champion; the title retained the lineage of the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship was retired. The Divas Championship would then be retired and subsequently replaced with a new Women's Championship at WrestleMania 32 in 2016. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship reverted back to being called the WWE Championship in June 2016.
- During the 2016 draft, SmackDown drafted WWE Champion Dean Ambrose and Intercontinental Champion The Miz (along with his wife Maryse), while Raw drafted Women's Champion Charlotte, United States Champion Rusev (along with his valet Lana), and WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day. This left Raw without a world championship and SmackDown without a tag team championship and women's championship. To remedy this, Raw created the WWE Universal Championship and SmackDown created the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship and WWE SmackDown Women's Championship. The WWE Championship was renamed to WWE World Championship (but reverted back to the former in December 2016), and Raw's Women's and Tag Team championships were subsequently renamed to WWE Raw Women's Championship and WWE Raw Tag Team Championship, respectively. Raw then created a new WWE Cruiserweight Championship for their cruiserweight division, who also appear on the cruiserweight-exclusive show 205 Live, which premiered in November 2016. Later, the WWE United Kingdom Championship was created and was intended to be the top championship of an as of yet announced WWE Network show to be produced in the United Kingdom but was later assigned to the NXT brand.
- "Ad Age's 40 Under 40 in Marketing, Agencies, and Media: Stephanie McMahon". Advertising Age. Crain Communications. Retrieved 2013-03-19.
- Steinberg, Brian (2016-05-25). "WWE's 'Smackdown' Will Move To Live Broadcast On USA (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 2016-05-25.
- "WWE's destiny to be determined during SmackDown's LIVE premiere". WWE. 20 June 2016. Retrieved 20 June 2016.
- "WWE Launches ECW As Third Brand".
- "WWE announces 2009 WWE draft". Retrieved 2009-02-11.
- "WWE Supplemental Draft". World Wrestling Entertainment. 2009-04-15. Retrieved 2009-04-15.
- "WWE presents Monday Night RAW". Richmond Coliseum. Retrieved 2010-03-02.
Monday April 26 will mark the date of the 2010 roster draft featuring all WWE superstars from Raw and SmackDown!
- "Final Draft, 2010". World Wrestling Entertainment. 2009-04-29. Retrieved 2009-04-29.
- Caldwell, James (2010-02-05). "WWE Officially Announces NXT's Debut Date Replacing ECW, Only Two Episodes Remaining". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved 2010-02-05.
- "Caldwell, James (2011-04-18). "WWE News: Big News – WWE Draft scheduled for next Monday on Raw according to USA Network executive". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved 2011-04-18.
- Wood, Donald (20 June 2016). "WWE Announces Date, Details For Brand Extension Draft". Forbes. Retrieved 20 June 2016.