Pushed to Punished: The Short-Lived Superstardom of Brian Kendrick in WWE
In Pushed to Punished, I analyze the controversial careers of past and present WWE Superstars who were once in the good graces of management but ultimately met their downfalls for one reason or another.
Brian Kendrick was a prime example of someone who never reached his full potential.
Arriving on the WWE scene in 2003, Kendrick had a brief albeit memorable stint on SmackDown as Spanky before departing the company in early 2004. It wasn't until he re-signed with WWE the following year that he started to show signs of one day becoming a promising singles star.
Kendrick might be best known for his time spent in the tag team division alongside Paul London. The two dominated the division, both on Raw and SmackDown, from 2005 to 2008, capturing two sets of tag team titles and holding the record for the longest-reigning tag team champions in WWE history.
Upon branching out on his own, he completely reinvented himself as The Brian Kendrick on the blue brand. He flirted with the WWE Championship picture and went up against top-tier talent prior to his second release in 2009, though the exact reason behind his exit remains unknown.
Here, I'll break down every peak and valley in the career of Kendrick in an attempt to discover where WWE went wrong with him.
Debuting as Spanky
When looking back on the golden years of SmackDown from 2002 from 2004, the first names that come to mind are Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, John Cena and The Undertaker. One individual who interacted with all the aforementioned talent that you likely forgot about was none other than Spanky, later known as Brian Kendrick.
He was a valuable asset to SmackDown's growing cruiserweight division at that time, often mixing it up with the likes of Jamie Noble, Nunzio and Shannon Moore. The cruiserweight title alluded him throughout his tenure on the Thursday night program, but he was still a treat to watch in the ring.
Although he didn't find much success during his first WWE stint, he is among the elite few wrestlers to hold a rare victory over Lesnar. Granted, he didn't defeat him by pinfall or submission, but The Beast Incarnate annihilated him so badly on an episode of SmackDown in August 2003 that he was awarded the win by disqualification.
The attack put him out of commission for over a month, but upon his return, he wasted no time in getting back into the swing of things on SmackDown. He formed a fun tandem with Paul London that October, but they were mostly relegated to working the Velocity tapings.
The biggest roadblock he faced in 2003 was that Creative didn't seem to know what to do with him. His small size might have played a role in that, but whatever the reason, he was released from his contract at the dawn of 2004.
Returning to WWE and Teaming with Paul London
Shortly following his WWE release, Brian Kendrick returned to the independent scene to further hone his skills as an in-ring performer before being brought back to the company in the summer of 2005.
He was allowed to compete under the Kendrick name, establishing that Creative intended on taking him more seriously this time around.
He was reintroduced as part of the cruiserweight division, but weeks later he rekindled his partnership with Paul London. Coming off his feud with Billy Kidman, London was in need of a new partner, and he and Kendrick were able to pick up right where they left off one year earlier.
The two were the perfect fit for each other, given their similar styles and lack of direction in the brand's undercard.
But the best part about their tandem was that they stood out from the rest of the division by sporting "comedy" and "tragedy" theatrical masks. While their meaning was never explained, they added an extra layer to their alliance along with their awe-inspiring in-ring ability.
They scored several impressive wins in tag team competition, knocking off everyone in the division in their quest to capture the WWE Tag Team Championships. By May, that dream finally became a reality.
Winning the WWE and World Tag Team Championships
Coming out of WrestleMania 22, their pursuit of the WWE Tag Team Championships caught steam. They defeated the then-champions MNM on several occasions before winning their first set of twin titles at 2006's Judgement Day pay-per-view.
From there, they took complete control of SmackDown's tag division. From Jamie Noble and Kid Kash to Idol Stevens and K.C. James, no one was successful in taking the titles from them.
The longer Paul London and Brian Kendrick held the straps, the more their reign was in jeopardy. Few fans knew for a fact they would come out on top because they were always picking up wins by the skin of their teeth, like true underdogs.
After reigning as champions for close to a year, they dropped the tag titles to Deuce n' Domino on an episode of SmackDown in April 2007. They then took their talents to Raw as part of the 2007 WWE Draft, winning the World Tag Team Championship almost immediately.
Sadly, they held the straps for all of a few days before losing them to Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch during a tour of Africa. Once London got injured in the final few months of 2007, Kendrick was mainly utilized as an enhancement talent.
Even when he returned to the ring, the tandem did nothing of note for the remainder of its run on Raw. It was a waste of one of the company's most popular tag teams, but losing meant a split was only inevitable.
Going Solo and Alliance with Ezekiel Jackson
After nearly three years of teaming, Paul London and Brian Kendrick were finally forced to go their separate ways as a result of Kendrick getting sent to SmackDown in the 2008 WWE Draft.
But it wasn't WWE's way of attempting to sabotage the team; they had virtually done it all together, and Creative had bigger plans for Kendrick on his own.
While London remained on Raw and was later released, Kendrick ventured over to Friday nights and reinvented himself as "The" Brian Kendrick. That extra "The" in his name made all the difference, as he adopted an all-new attitude and look that would immediately get him noticed.
Kendrick made his SmackDown re-debut on the July 18 edition, making short work of Jimmy Wang Yang. The same night, he introduced his heavy Ezekiel Jackson to the WWE Universe as well.
Needless to say, comparisons were drawn to Shawn Michaels and Diesel circa 1994, which was interesting considering Kendrick was trained by HBK. It was evident from the moment he resurfaced that WWE intended to push him as a major deal on the blue brand.
In the months that followed, he defeated everyone he went up against and embarked on an undefeated streak in singles competition. Jackson followed up each victory by decimating Kendrick's fallen opponent in the middle of the ring.
The message was sent that they were around for the long haul.
Competing for the WWE Championship
WWE's interest in prominently pushing The Brian Kendrick became apparent by the fall when he started building momentum. Kendrick's impressive undefeated streak earned him a spot in a WWE Championship Scramble match qualifying Battle Royal, which he won with help from Ezekiel Jackson.
In the weeks leading up to Unforgiven, Kendrick shared the ring with the illustrious likes of Triple H, MVP, Shelton Benjamin and Jeff Hardy. He even scored an upset victory over Hardy at one point, further establishing his credibility as a singles star on the rise.
Oddly enough, Kendrick didn't seem out of place when battling these top-tier talents. He was never seen as a strong candidate to walk out of Unforgiven as WWE champion, but being in the presence of the aforementioned certainly didn't hurt his stock within the company.
He served as the interim WWE champion during the bout before losing the temporary title to Jeff Hardy (and no, the reign is not officially recognized). It looked like he was on the verge of moving up the card, but Unforgiven marked his final night in the main event spotlight.
Almost overnight, he was back to lower-midcard status and wasn't featured on pay-per-views for the remainder of the year. He engaged in a flop of a feud with R-Truth, was unsuccessful in winning the WWE Tag Team Championship and failed to advance to the Money in the Bank Ladder match at WrestleMania 25.
Any opportunity WWE had to make him a star was lost.
Move to Raw and Release
The worst thing WWE could have done with The Brian Kendrick was split him from Ezekiel Jackson, which is exactly what it did in the 2009 draft. He went to Raw, while Jackson was sent packing to the ECW brand, effectively ending their alliance.
Upon his return to Raw, Kendrick could have started anew as a singles competitor, but he was essentially yesterday's news by that point. Instead, Creative had him lose every match he was a part of and fail to find a suitable partner to challenge for the Unified Tag Team Championships.
Days removed from an embarrassing loss to Kofi Kingston on the July 27 edition of Raw, it was announced he was released from his contract. The news didn't come as a surprise to fans who witnessed his downfall in the short of span of one year, but it was still sad to see WWE officially give up on a promising talent.
Thankfully for the former tag team specialist, he found success during his short-lived stint in TNA as X-Division champion and made a one-off return to NXT on the February 25, 2015 episode to face Finn Balor. He most recently helped Eva Marie with her wrestling training and is currently doing the same for two former Tough Enough contestants, Daria Berenato and Mada Abdelhamid.
If there were ever a time to give Kendrick the singles push he long deserved, it was when he was at his hottest in 2008. His crazy charisma combined with his above-average in-ring ability would have cemented him as a star, but it is very possible that a poor backstage attitude and/or, as the Wrestling Observer (via Wrestlezone) reported at the time, repeated violations of the Wellness Policy played a factor in his demise.
Be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on how Brian Kendrick was utilized over the course of his WWE career. Also, include any potential Superstars or Divas you would like to see featured in upcoming editions of Pushed to Punished.
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Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.