So here we are with Part 2 of my retrospective look at Smackdown. Part 1 focused on some of the greatest matches and rivalries to take place on the blue brand, and this one moves on to look at some of the more standalone moments or characters we have seen on Thursday and Friday nights. Let’s get right into it!
Lesnar/Big Show ring break (2003)
This is arguably the most iconic moment in Smackdown history. This is the moment that made an arena full of people who were just coming out of the Attitude Era stand as one and chant “Holy Sh*t”. That is a winning chant from a WWE audience. This was probably when Big Show was at his most credible as a top level guy, and this was also when Brock Lesnar was at his peak as one of the best wrestlers in the world. The two goliaths needed some kind of magic moment to cement their place in history, and this more than did the job.
Rhyno gores Chris Jericho through the set (2001)
This was during the Invasion angle. Remember that? How poorly the whole thing was booked has been well-established by now, but it did give us a few gems. This was one of them. The real reason this happened was apparently because Smackdown was getting a new set for its 2-year anniversary, but no other set in the WWE has ever had this kind of send-off. Jericho was doing his usual routine of insulting Stephanie McMahon (who was in storyline the owner of ECW), and it was Rhyno that came to her defence. The most memorable way being here, where Rhyno gored Jericho through the original Smackdown set.
Hall Of Pain (2011)
Ah Mark Henry. From the former Olympian, to Sexual Chocolate, to the World’s Strongest Man. I’m not sure there is anyone else who has been equally laughed at and feared in the WWE. His best run in the WWE though came in 2011, when he was drafted back to the blue brand from Raw. He had a change of attitude, not just beating people, not just hurting people, but injuring them. His promos seemed to kick up a gear too, and the culmination of all these factors was Mark Henry becoming World Heavyweight Champion. He waged war with Sheamus and the Big Show, and defeated Randy Orton to win the belt. He was at the top of his game in 2011, and was arguably the best heel in the company at the time.
One More Match (2011)
At the same time as Mark Henry was ascending to the championship, Christian was having the year of his career. He began the year injured, but returned in February to aid his friend Edge in his battle against Alberto Del Rio, countering the Brodus Clay factor. After Edge’s retirement post Wrestlemania, Christian won the vacant World Heavyweight Championship to become a World Champion in the WWE for the first time. An unexpected heel turn followed, along with one of the feuds of the year against Randy Orton. He lost, won and lost the belt again, but that didn’t stop him from asking for more opportunities. He infamously campaigned for just “One More Match”, where he promised to regain what was rightfully his. Like Henry’s push, it was a chance for a veteran to prove their worth to the company at the very top level, and it resulted in some of the best work of Christian’s career.
Smackdown 6 (2002-2003)
Way back at the very start of the Brand Extension, there were a group of hungry superstars, determined to prove a point. Couple that with Paul Heyman, a writer who also had a hell of a lot to prove, and you had a recipe for magic. That group of superstars were Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and Edge. You may also notice that list includes some of the best pure wrestlers of all time. They were (nearly, sorry Chavo) all World Champions, and should all have been Hall of Famers. Most of them still will be. But it is sad looking back at those 6, and seeing what has become of them. 2 dead, 1 retired, 1 “on hiatus”, 1 in the final year of his career in TNA, and Chavo. Theoretically, we could still be seeing all of these people on Raw or Smackdown every week. So much talent there, so much to be missed.
Rise of Cena/Orton/Batista
But of course, the previous 6 would all become veterans, and had been around for a while (in the world of wrestling if not WWE) before 2002. Smackdown also needed some new blood. And strange though it is to say it in 2014, where they are the veterans, in 2002 that new blood came in the form of John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista. All three men made their WWE TV debuts on Smackdown, and all three men went on to dominate the company. Between them, they have held 33 World Championships. And they all made their name in a lot of ways on Smackdown. John Cena debuted by challenging Kurt Angle, and rose through the ranks to become WWE Champion, before being drafted to Raw in 2005 where he has remained ever since. Randy Orton’s first match was against Hardcore Holly just after Wrestlemania 18, and while he became a star in Evolution on Raw he did have a memorable feud against The Undertaker in 2005, and became the face of the brand upon being drafted back in 2011. Batista debuted as Reverend D-Von’s muscle, but would also become a part of Evolution. He picked up John Cena’s slack in 2005 though, and became Smackdown’s dominant champion for much of the late 2000s.
VKM’s NWO promo (2002)
This all stemmed from the Invasion angle. The night after Survivor Series 2001, where Team WWF as it was at the time finally defeated WCW once and for all, Ric Flair was announced as the new co-owner of the WWF. Vince McMahon of course, hated this. He resorted to bringing in the NWO, in his words to “kill” his creation before Flair could. He was going to inject a lethal dose of poison to his own company. It was a fantastic promo. And it was huge. These were WCW’s top three names at one time, the group that crossed into mainstream culture. And they were coming to the WWE. Sadly the group as an entity didn’t last too long in 2002, but Hulk Hogan got a huge boost out of it, becoming WWE Champion once again, and of course having that electric match against The Rock at Wrestlemania 18. The return of the NOW was something that had to happen, but it was Vince’s promo that started it all again. When he turned in his chair and we saw the letter N. W. O… Magic.
First post 9/11 broadcast (2001)
This one is in for obvious sentimental reasons. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre towers happened on a Tuesday morning. Now, understandably, the entire nation went into a state of mourning, and kind of shut down. All major public gatherings were cancelled. Including the Smackdown taping scheduled for that Tuesday night. But Vince being Vince, he wasn’t going to let something like terrorism stop him. That Thursday night, Smackdown went out live. Lilian Garcia sang the American National Anthem, the entire roster was standing on the ramp and entrance-way, and Vince made an impassioned speech. It was the first major public gathering since the attacks. I’m not American, but even I get chills when I watch the opening to that Smackdown. It was something special for sure, and to do something like Smackdown when nobody else had done so yet really showed the power of the WWE.
The post 9/11 opening of Smackdown is for me one of the greatest moments in WWE history. They are all great moments though, and they are all memorable characters and storylines. Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list, so feel free to share your own personal favourites from Smackdown’s history. I will be back at the start of next week with much more analysis of Smackdown, looking at how it descended to a two-hour Raw recap, and where it could possibly be going in the future in part 3 of Smackdown: A Retrospective.