The summer of 2009 bore witness to one of the best periods of televised matches in the past decade -- and it took place on Friday Night Smackdown!
Considered the B-show by the WWE, Smackdown has developed a reputation for being the wrestling-oriented alternative to the promo-heavy Monday Night Raw, featuring at least one or two matches with upwards of ten minutes a piece.
Last year the annual WWE Draft laid the foundations for what became an extraordinary summer. The uber talented Chris Jericho, the high-flying, farm bred miracle John Morrison, and the budding CM Punk were among the newest draftees to Friday nights.
Ironically, it was not always their matches with older members of Smackdown that dominated television, but rather the matches among themselves. During CM Punk's world title feud with Jeff Hardy, he had three matches with the soon-to-be Intercontinental Champion John Morrison, each being worthy of inclusion on a pay-per-view.
Similarly, during Chris Jericho's tremendous feud with Rey Mysterio over the Intercontinental Championship, their rivalry often overflowed onto Friday nights, as they put on several quality matches soon before another pay-per-view encounter during their epic storyline, and after it ended.
The faces of those two pairings, John Morrison and Rey Mysterio, would meet on Friday Night Smackdown for the Intercontinental Championship. Most members of the IWC knew the outcome, having heard the reports of Rey Mysterio being suspended for violation of the WWE's welfare policy. However, what many anticipated as a brief performance became a twenty-some minute, fast-paced, spot heavy contest between two of the WWE's most athletic wrestlers, which many recognize as the best television match of 2009.
After such a memorable summer, will this year's be able to live up to its predecessor? Or will it just be an average few months, without any memorable matches or moments?
When making this prediction, we must first look at the one of the most fundamental factors in determing a show's quality: the roster.
Last summer Smackdown had the fan favorite and solid ring worker with a high capacity for spots and tremendous selling, Jeff Hardy, as the world champion for much of the summer. Additionally, the highly versed technician with an emphasis on the full-contact strong style, CM Punk, contributed a controversial touch to Fridays with his turn from the straightedge hero to the self-righteous, damning persona that would later lead the Straightedge Society.
Those two competed for the World Heavyweight Championship throughout most of the summer, culminating in a stiff TLC match at Summerslam. To begin the summer of 2010, who do we have presently in the world title picture?
World Heavyweight Champion Jack Swagger and Big Show. While Swagger has managed to get his heel character over by lavishing himself with praise over his "awards" he earned throughout life, he's far from the level of heel CM Punk has become since transitioning into the self-proclaimed straightedge savior.
Big Show's also very lacking as a face in comparison to Jeff Hardy. To my recollection, Hardy never worked as a full-fledged heel in the WWE, so he was well established as a face and not just any face, but possibly the most adored and merchandised next to John Cena. Big Show, on the other hand, only became face as the result of knocking out three of the WWE's top heels (Chris Jericho, Edge, and The Miz), which though turned out to be effective, he's still nowhere near being at the level of fan support as Jeff Hardy.
They've done well in hyping their feuds, but as most matches with a giant like Big Show go, their performances have been far from inspiring.
However, it seems that their feud won't live long until the summer, as Undertaker now looms over the main event with his admission into world title match at Fatal Four Way, which could serve as just a transition from Swagger-Show to Swagger-Undertaker.
The Undertaker would certainly be an improvement over the Big Show, for he is more over as a face, more talented as a ring technican, and considerably lighter than Show, thus making him an easier opponent to work with for Jack Swagger.
However, last year when Undertaker re-entered the fold on Smackdown, his matches with CM Punk, with whom he had few to no interactions with previously, were lackluster, especially as Undertaker was reportedly working injured.
Perhaps that is why Undertaker was booked to wrestle Jack Swagger on Raw last month -- to begin familiarizing the two with each other, so that when they meet in a feud over the world title, they'd be better equipped to wrestle one another.
Yet will injury still hamper Undertaker's performances, or was he able to recuperate fully after Wrestlemania? Personally, I haven't noticed any signs of strain from The Undertaker, but perhaps I didn't pay close enough attention to either of his two matches since Wrestlemania (versus Swagger and versus Mysterio) to know for sure.
Last year Smackdown had a very strong mid-card. The summer began with Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio still feuding over the Intercontinental Championship and, when that ended, Rey was still having solid matches with his new challenger, Dolph Ziggler, who then was transferred to challenger of John Morrison after the Friday Night Delight won the title from Mysterio, and still they put on impressive mid-card performances.
It was not until John Morrison dropped the title to Drew McIntyre in the winter that the mid-card suffered a sharp decline, but we could also attribute that to the Road to Wrestlemania, during which the mid-card takes the backseat for the development of the Wrestlemania feuds.
In 2010, we begin the summer (I'm not going by the solstices, by the way; I prefer three months to each season -- does the beginning of June feel much different than the summer solstice a couple of weeks later? Not here.) with Kofi Kingston as the newly crowned Intercontinental Champion, while Drew McIntyre hopes to regain the title at the Fatal Four Way pay-per-view event.
Additionally, Matt Hardy is embroiled in a (not blood, because that's too naughty for PG) feud with Drew McIntyre, with it recently progressing in the form of Drew prompting Matt's suspension.
Drew McIntyre is far from the caliber of Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio, John Morrison, or even Dolph Ziggler in terms of being able to deliver in a match. He's a carbon copy of his rumored backstage supporter, Triple H, in that his style is characterized mostly by ring presence and an oldschool, brawler technique, which is not what is called for in producing a fast-paced, technical match up like we regularly saw in the mid-card last summer.
Kofi Kingston, the supposed-to-be breakout star who was kicked into the doghouse after a few screw ups on Raw, does provide for some exciting matches, even if he's without the flashier, more modern moves we see in guys like John Morrison.
Matt Hardy, a battle torn veteran, still has the ability to work a solid match, though age and injury have rendered him in the worst shape of his life. Still, his realistic selling gave a good start to his feud with McIntyre and probably the highlight of his singles career came during a similarly personal feud with Edge (though this one's premise is kayfabe), so maybe he'll show that he excels in this kind of storyline.
In addition to these mid-carders, we have Cody Rhodes (I have to say, that kick he's been doing lately is sweet), Dolph Ziggler (he's been in the doghouse for how long now?), Christian (strap him immediately!), Chavo Guererro (please keep him away from Hornswoggle), and Hornswoggle (look, I contradicted myself by putting him close to Chavo in this paragraph).
I must say that the talent in the mid-card isn't at the same level as we saw last year, but there's still some potential there. Put Christian up against Kofi Kingston and we could see some memorable face versus face, mutual respect type matches.
Cody Rhodes against either of those two would be interesting. He's looked a lot more impressive since coming to Smackdown now that he's away from his "punch, stomp, stare, chinlock" mentor, Randy Orton, and like I said, that new signature kick is nice. It looks all the more gruesome since he's doing it without kickpads.
Oh, but we must not forget CM Punk and Rey Mysterio! This year they're in a similar position as Rey was in with Jericho, coming to an end of a strong feud (though not as good as Mysterio-Jericho, their matches got more time), which may spill into the summer with a few rematches or matches that though aren't a part of their feud, still are notably more intense because of their history.
Once these two break away, there are a lot of possibilities for their use. Should they want to continue Jack Swagger's reign or if they just want to keep him near the main event, a feud with Rey Mysterio would be a great way to keep him relevant.
As for CM Punk, challenging The Undertaker would give his name the credit that they failed to give him when he so simply lost the World Heavyweight Championship to Undertaker last year.
Overall, I don't think Smackdown this summer will be as impressive as last year's. It will still be a large cut above Raw in terms of wrestling quality and we might see some memorable matches and storylines, but last year was truly extravagant, a period any wrestling fan would have enjoyed.
Like anyone with a pessimistic prediction, I should hope that I be proven wrong. Whether I do or not, I will continue to watch WWE's true A-show, Friday Night Smackdown, into the summer and beyond.
Ha, Toy Story reference.
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