10 Superstars Who Revolutionized WWE's SmackDown Brand
This week marks the 15-year anniversary WWE's debut episode of SmackDown on April 29, 1999. Since then, SmackDown has gone on to become one of the longest-running weekly episodic shows in American television history.
SmackDown further developed its own identity once the "Brand Extension" was born in 2002. This separated the WWE roster into two brands: Raw and SmackDown.
For several years, SmackDown was seen as the "wrestling" show, with Raw filled with promos and storylines. It still might have been seen as the B-show of the WWE, but at times it provided far more entertaining content for fans who weren’t interested in the angles but solely in the in-ring action.
The brand split effectively came to an end in August 2011, but in those 10 years, there were several Superstars who helped build the foundation of the blue brand and make it what it is today.
You can’t say "SmackDown" and not think of Edge. The two are essentially synonymous with one another due to how much time Edge spent on SmackDown and how the show and wrestler benefited from each other in different ways.
For most of his career, Edge was a Raw guy. It was where he won the WWE Championship in 2006, but even in his feud with John Cena, he was being overshadowed and never felt like “the face” of the company. Granted, no one ever did when Cena was around, but Edge wasn’t able to shine as much as he could with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Randy Orton and others on the show.
In May 2007, Edge beat Mr. Kennedy for the Money in the Bank contract on an episode of Raw and cashed it in days later on SmackDown to win the World Heavyweight Championship. In doing so, he officially became a SmackDown Superstar and almost instantly the face of Friday nights.
Whether he was face or heel, Edge carried SmackDown to new heights. It might not have been earning the same ratings it was in years prior, but the storylines, which had been lacking for a time, were gradually getting better and improving.
The Rated-R Superstar was in the title chase more often than not during his tenure on the blue brand and engaged in memorable feuds with Batista, Undertaker, Jeff Hardy and many others. Simply put, he made the program worth watching every single week.
Some might even argue that SmackDown hasn’t been the same since Edge abruptly retired in April 2011. It has had its moments here and there in the last few years, but his departure left a major gap on the show that has yet to be filled.
Rey Mysterio made his WWE debut on the SmackDown brand in 2002 and immediately made an impact in his feud with Kurt Angle. He fit in perfectly with the show’s rejuvenated cruiserweight division, but he’d soon prove to be a much bigger asset to the brand than just as cruiserweight.
By 2005, Mysterio was a well-known name on SmackDown, earning major credibility during his feud with Eddie Guerrero (whom he defeated on four different occasions on pay-per-view). Following Eddie’s passing later that year, Mysterio transitioned into the main scene and did what no one ever though he could accomplish: He won the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 22.
Whether his reign was a successful one was arguable, but he was the face of SmackDown for a big portion of that year. His various feuds with Edge, CM Punk and Chris Jericho were seen as some of the best rivalries in the show’s history.
Mysterio’s runs on Raw in 2008 and 2011 were both flops and further showed that the Master of the 619 belonged on Friday nights.
Very few Superstars have ever made a major splash upon their WWE debut, and Brock Lesnar is certainly among them. Within months of his arrival, he won the King of the Ring tournament and defeated The Rock for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam.
Lesnar claimed shortly after his title win that he had no viable challengers left on Raw, so he jumped ship over to SmackDown and took the title with him. He was one of the leading Superstars as part of the Ruthless Aggression era and competed in several instant classics with Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, Big Show and others.
During his time on SmackDown, Lesnar held the WWE title on three separate occasions. While Triple H dominated over on Raw, Lesnar was the closest thing to being the face of the franchise, as it was quite clear WWE was fully focused on making Lesnar the centerpiece of their company.
While he may have only been on the blue brand for a year-and-a-half before departing WWE after WrestleMania 20, he was one of the many Superstars who made SmackDown the “wrestling” show in the early years.
From his debut on the show in August 2002 to the time of his death in late 2005, Eddie Guerrero was one of the cornerstones of SmackDown. He, along with Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Chavo Guerrero, Edge and Kurt Angle made up the “SmackDown Six”, a group of individuals around whom the show was built at the end of 2002 and early 2003.
As Los Guerreros, Eddie and Chavo took the tag team division by storm, winning the WWE Tag Team Championships on two separate occasions. Eddie was also a mainstay in the midcard for a while when he became the first man to win the WWE’s resurrected version of the United States Championship in 2003.
By 2004, Guerrero was a main event player and in contention for the WWE Championship. He defeated Brock Lesnar in one of the biggest upsets in WWE history at February’s No Way Out event to win the prestigious prize for the first time in his career.
His reign saw him in one of the marquee matches at WrestleMania 20, successfully defending his strap against Kurt Angle. He had memorable feuds with Batista and Rey Mysterio in 2005 before abruptly passing away later that year.
Whether it was the tag team division, the midcard or the main event scene, Guerrero made a lasting impression with everything he accomplished on SmackDown.
It’s amazing to think that Kurt Angle has now been in TNA longer than he was in WWE. However, a majority of his WWE run was spent on the SmackDown brand.
He spent a significant amount of time in the tag team division upon his introduction to the brand in 2002, wrestling as part of the aforementioned SmackDown Six before entering the WWE Championship picture. His top-tier feuds with Brock Lesnar and Big Show over the title produced some of the best matches of 2003.
Even while injured in 2004, Angle was highly entertaining in his role as the SmackDown General Manager and in his appearances in a wheelchair. His SmackDown tenure temporarily came to an end in 2005 when he was drafted to Raw, but he returned to the blue brand in January 2006 to win the vacant World Heavyweight Championship.
Angle may never be looked at as one of the biggest stars of all time in WWE, but the amazing matches he competed in on SmackDown will not soon be forgotten.
The biggest accomplishment of Chris Benoit’s career came when he won the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 20. While he was a member of the Raw roster at that time, he contributed more to SmackDown than he did to the flagship show.
Not only was Benoit a part of the SmackDown Six, but he also made the midcard relevant when he held the United States Championship on several occasions. He reigned as champ for nearly seven months before dropping the belt to newcomer MVP at Judgement Day 2007.
He may not have been involved in many memorable angles on Friday nights, but his matches were what made SmackDown the show to watch for the best in-ring action. He was allowed to shine brighter on the blue brand as opposed to on Raw, where his world title reign was overshadowed by the likes of Triple H and Shawn Michaels.
Batista’s rise to the top was rather organic, as more and more fans each week wanted to see him turn on Triple H during his time in Evolution. Once he finally did, he won the World Heavyweight Championship from The Game at WrestleMania 21, solidifying himself as a main event star in the process.
Shortly after his feud with Triple H concluded, Batista was sent packing to the SmackDown brand via the 2005 WWE Draft and brought the world title with him. Officials intended on building the company around their two biggest stars: John Cena on Raw and Batista on SmackDown.
Batista won almost every pay-per-view match he was involved in in 2005, successfully defending his title against the likes of JBL, Eddie Guerrero and Randy Orton. He spent his next two years on SmackDown continuing to compete for the title, gaining more credibility with each win he scored.
After three years on Friday nights, Batista was moved to Raw as part of the annual draft in 2008. However, most of his time on Monday nights was spent either injured or feuding with Randy Orton.
Prior to his departure in 2010, Batista had one last run on SmackDown, turning heel in October 2009. His star power was needed on the blue brand at the time, and his heel turn brought back excitement to the show.
Had it not been for his move to SmackDown, who knows if Batista would have been successful as he ended up becoming. He was one of the leading stars in the youth movement at the time and showed that SmackDown was the home of the future.
Yes, I realize that Big Show may not seem like the most probable candidate to include on this list, but just bear with me.
Big Show has probably switched brands (and turned face/heel) more than any other Superstar in WWE history. However, he had more of a presence on SmackDown than he ever did on Raw following the birth of the Brand Extension.
On SmackDown, Big Show was put in the world championship picture on multiple occasions. In fact, it was on the blue brand that he won his second WWE Championship and first two World Heavyweight Championships.
The most memorable moments on SmackDown involving The World’s Largest Athlete came during the three-way feud between Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle and Show over the WWE Championship in 2002-2003. Most notably, he was the one to be suplexed through the ring at the hands of Lesnar on the Friday night show.
In subsequent years, Big Show dominated as United States Champion, put over a young John Cena, feuded with The Undertaker, won the WWE Tag Team Championships with Kane and captured two world titles in 2011 and 2012. Those are only a few of the many impressive accolades Show earned while a part of SmackDown.
During most of his WWE career, Show has been a measuring stick for many WWE Superstars and was a major focal point of SmackDown for many years. He was nothing more of a sideshow on Raw and was always treated better on SmackDown.
Known as simply Bradshaw early on in his career, he was a part of one of the best tag teams of the Attitude Era: The Acolytes (aka the APA). By 2004, he was completely rebranded as JBL and almost immediately won the WWE Championship from Eddie Guerrero.
JBL went on to reign as champ for a whopping 10 months, the longest WWE title reign in the history of SmackDown. During this time, he successfully defended his title against the likes of The Undertaker, Big Show and Booker T.
While he might not have had as many good matches as Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, JBL was pivotal in the rises of Batista, John Cena and Rey Mysterio, all of whom he put over during his time on the blue brand. He enjoyed a reign as United States Champion and lead his stable The Cabinet while there as well.
He came out of retirement in December 2007 to join the Raw brand, but he wasn’t nearly as successful as he was on Friday nights.
While all of the aforementioned talent made major impacts during their respective tenures on SmackDown, no one had the lasting power of The Undertaker.
While he was initially picked to be a member of the Raw brand in the 2002 WWE Draft, he moved over to SmackDown later that year, where he remained for the rest of his active in-ring career. He may have taken time off at various points in those 10 years, but if there was any one face of SmackDown, it was definitely Undertaker.
It was on SmackDown that Undertaker won his three World Heavyweight Championships and headlined countless pay-per-views. SmackDown was also the place where future talent was groomed, so it came as no surprise that Undertaker helped put over a number of names during his time on the blue brand.
From Edge to Batista to Randy Orton, it’s possible that such stars wouldn’t have garnered as much success as they did had it not been for their unforgettable feuds with Undertaker. The Deadman was a staple of the Friday night show up until the very end of the Brand Extension in 2011 and proved to be the measuring stick for almost everyone who stepped foot on SmackDown.
Read the original version of this article on Wrestling Rambles here.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham “GSM” Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and “like” his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.