Looking Back On The First WWE Draft

In March 2001, the longstanding rivalry between World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) came to a dramatic conclusion as WCW sold the majority of its assets to WWF. With this move, WWF also welcomed in several of the talents previously contracted to WCW. Around the same time, Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), another prominent wrestling promotion, was headed on a downward financial slope. Ultimately, ECW could not recover, resulting in the company officially shutting its doors in April 2001, and many of its talents moving on to WWF.


In 2002, with the WWF roster now bringing aboard a surplus of stars from WCW and ECW, WWF executives made the decision, for the first time, to implement a brand extension that would theoretically provide talent with fairer opportunities for television time. Accordingly, WWF coordinated its first-ever draft event in an effort to divide and assign talent to one of its two television brands — "WWF Raw" and "WWF SmackDown." While WWF Chairman Vince McMahon seized control of "SmackDown," WWF Hall of Famer Ric Flair assumed authority over "Raw."

The inaugural WWF Draft event took place on the March 25, 2002 episode of "Raw," with McMahon earning the right, via a successful coin toss, to claim the first draft selection. Before the draft officially commenced, though, WWF CEO Linda McMahon noted that there were a few exemptions, including the three performers competing in an Undisputed WWF Championship match later that evening — Triple H, Chris Jericho, and Stephanie McMahon (yes, really). WWF Women's Champion Jazz was also ineligible to be chosen, as her title allowed her to freely float between both "Raw" and "SmackDown." Linda McMahon announced that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was also ineligible due to a contractual clause that made him a free agent.


Due to time constraints, only the first 20 draft picks would be televised on "Raw." The remaining picks were then revealed on WWF's website via a random draft lottery.

SmackDown's superstar selections

In historic fashion, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson emerged as the first overall pick in the 2002 WWF Draft. Unfortunately for Johnson, his return to "SmackDown" came with some added stipulations, courtesy of Vince McMahon. Notably, The Rock was barred from physical contact with McMahon and using his signature "it doesn't matter" line. The Rock was also barred from referencing "candy asses" on "SmackDown." The Rock, of course, wasted absolutely zero time informing McMahon exactly what he thought of these ultimatums: they didn't matter.


Following his selection of The Rock, McMahon eventually gained for the blue brand three additional former world champions — Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, and Hulk Hogan — and one future world champion in the form of Edge. Angle was an on-screen ally of McMahon and convinced him to take Angle second after being highly offended he hadn't gone first overall. Meanwhile, despite being drafted to "SmackDown," the injured Benoit later would join the "Raw" brand upon his return; he would ultimately end up back on "SmackDown" alongside Eddie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, and eventually Rey Mysterio, rounding out (with Angle and Edge) what would come to be known as the SmackDown Six.

In the draft's fifth round, McMahon chose WWF Tag Team Champions Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo, also obtaining Billy and Chuck's manager at the time, Rico. While Billy and Chuck remained united in the draft, The Dudley Boyz (D-Von and Bubba Ray) weren't as fortunate. In the seventh round, Ric Flair assigned Bubba Ray Dudley to "Raw," to which McMahon responded by drafting D-Von Dudley to "SmackDown." As a result, the former WWF Tag Team Champions were officially positioned as singles competitors, with D-Von Dudley soon set to pivot to a preacher-like persona.


The remainder of the televised "SmackDown" picks boasted the likes of Rikishi, Mark Henry, and Maven, who held the WWF Hardcore Championship at the time of the draft. Maven ultimately lost that title to Raven before the brand extension officially went into effect, meaning it would actually be carried to Raven's new home of "Raw."

Ric reveals the future of Raw

As a counter to McMahon's selection of The Rock, Ric Flair announced The Undertaker, his own WrestleMania X8 opponent, as the first draftee headed to "Raw." Evidently frustrated by the implications of working under Flair, Undertaker immediately sought out McMahon, who vowed to rectify the situation for him sometime in the future —'Taker would be moved to the "SmackDown" roster about five months later.


With Undertaker unofficially slotted as "Raw"'s top singles star, Flair followed up by picking a well-known trio that could serve as prominent players in both the singles and tag team division — the NWO (Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and X-Pac, all drafted as a single unit). Shortly thereafter, Flair confirmed the additions of Kane, Booker T, Big Show, Bubba Ray Dudley, and Rob Van Dam, who then reigned as WWF's Intercontinental Champion. Flair later acquired another titleholder in the form of William Regal, who held WWF's European Championship.

Another notable "Raw" selection was Brock Lesnar, who debuted just one week prior to the 2002 Draft. Upon his call up to WWF's main roster, Lesnar was accompanied by the managerial services of Paul Heyman. As such, both Lesnar and Heyman were onboarded to WWE's red brand, but Lesnar would also switch to "SmackDown" shortly after winning the WWE Undisputed Championship at SummerSlam 2002. The Undisputed Champion had previously been able to appear on both brands; Lesnar becoming exclusive to SmackDown prompted the creation of the original World Heavyweight Championship, beginning the WWE trend of recognizing a world champion for both "Raw" and "SmackDown."


To close out the televised portion of the draft, Flair announced that the "Raw" brand would be bringing in a key member of the WWF women's division — Lita. Unfortunately, this draft pick yielded no results, as Lita subsequently suffered a serious neck injury that rendered her unable to compete for over a year.

Supplemental draft lottery: Things get random

Once "Raw" went off the air, WWF determined the rest of the brand assignments via draft lottery.

On the "Raw" side, Flair secured the likes of Bradshaw, Matt and Jeff Hardy, Goldust, Mr. Perfect, and Raven, who entered the brand with the Hardcore Championship after defeating the aforementioned Maven. Within the women's division, "Raw" gained the likes of Trish Stratus, Mighty Molly, Jacqueline, and Terri. Flair also won the battle for Steve Austin's services; he would remain on "Raw" for the very brief remainder of his in-ring career, which ended in 2003 at WrestleMania XIX.


Meanwhile, "SmackDown' officially welcomed in talents such as WWF Cruiserweight Champion Tajiri, Albert, The Hurricane, Al Snow, Lance Storm, Hardcore Holly, and Diamond Dallas Page. A match involving the latter two, however, eventually resulted in a serious neck injury for DDP, after which doctors advised him to step back from professional wrestling.

Another notable lottery recruit was Chris Jericho, who, after losing in the Undisputed WWE Championship match the night of the draft, was assigned to the "SmackDown" brand as well. Along with Jericho, "SmackDown" also clinched a few figures in the women's division, including Torrie Wilson, Ivory, and Stacy Keibler, who eventually succeeded in becoming Vince McMahon's personal assistant.