WWE SmackDown 6: How the Blue Brand Elevated Eddie Guerrero, Edge, Chris Benoit

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterJuly 19, 2016

Credit: WWE.com

Talent fed off talent, drive fed off drive as the WWE SmackDown Six took over Thursday nights.

When WWE halved its roster in 2002, filling two separate rosters for Raw and SmackDown, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Edge, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio and Chavo Guerrero became the blue brand's centerpieces. Building around those men turned out to be a brilliant move. 

SmackDown morphed into the more wrestling-heavy show, the buzzing celebration of passionate performers.

It catapulted Benoit, Guerrero and Edge to top-tier status. In part, that was a result of added spotlight and an increased chance to close out the card. Fighting with and against great workers every week certainly helped, too.   

They—along with Chavo, Angle and Mysterio—became known as the SmackDown Six. That collection of stars battling in a variety of combinations was Paul Heyman's vision.

Paul Heyman at ringside.
Paul Heyman at ringside.Don Feria/Associated Press

Brock Lesnar's vocal advocate and ECW's head man during that promotion's heyday served as SmackDown's lead writer in 2002. As Heyman detailed on Chris Jericho's Talk is Jericho podcast, SmackDown faced possible cancellation when he took over. WWE had little expectations for that show, instead focusing on Raw.

WWE owner Vince McMahon moved Jericho over to Raw, and Heyman wanted something in return. He asked for Benoit and Guerrero.

Eddie Guerrero celebrating a win on SmackDown.
Eddie Guerrero celebrating a win on SmackDown.Credit: WWE.com

"Everybody in the room laughed at me," Heyman told Jericho.

At the time, Benoit and Guerrero were considered dependable hands, but not stars. Many believed they were too small to be marquee names.

Heyman saw huge potential in both of them, though. He added Benoit and Guerrero into a mix that was sure to produce stellar in-ring work night in and night out. His simple approach was to create three teams—Angle and Benoit, Chavo and Eddie, Mysterio and Edge—to be SmackDown's cornerstones.

"It was an excuse to feature them in the main events and make them all main event stars," Heyman explained on Talk is Jericho.

His plan proved fruitful. The blue brand soon featured a robust assemblage of grapplers.

The Wolverine Claws His Way into the Spotlight

The two knocks on Benoit were that he was undersized and lacked charisma. It's hard to argue either point. He was 5'11'' in a world of titans, and his reserve of personality was always low.

But fans eventually glommed onto the Canadian wrestler.

A tough-as-nails mat wizard, Benoit thrived in the ring, putting on tremendous technical performances throughout his career. That was enough to get him titles and airtime while at WCW, but he was never treated like a big deal. 

It didn't matter that audiences related to his real-life underdog story, appreciated his passion and marveled at his in-ring prowess. It wasn't until the birth of the SmackDown Six that Benoit began to reach true marquee status.

A foursome known as The Radicalz—Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenkoleft WCW for WWE in early 2000. 

David Shoemaker (aka The Masked Man) wrote of The Radicalz in The Squared Circle (h/t Deadspin), "They were all symbols of WCW's lack of ingenuity and inability to promote from within. In hiring them, WWF management were able to cast themselves as visionaries by co-opting wrestlers underutilized by their rival."

Neck fusion surgery stalled Benoit's early momentum after making the switch between promotions. 

But The Wolverine soon moved to a new show, one that would properly showcase him. In 2002, during WWE's first draft, SmackDown made Benoit its third choice. After Benoit recovered and the blue brand welcomed him, he looked right at home on center stage.

Being around Angle, the 1996 Olympian and former WWE champ, drove him. Jonathan Snowden wrote in Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling:

Guerrero and Benoit were the professional versions of Angle; obsessed to the point it wasn't healthy. Both were smaller men, jacked to the gills on steroids to make it in a big man's game. Both had resulting insecurities. Being in the ring with Angle, a man being immediately given what it took them a decade to earn, was only fuel to the fire that drove both men.

As Angle's tag team partner, Benoit thrilled in battles against Mysterio and Edge, as well as The Guerreros. Onscreen tension between him and Angle exploded, and the two went from bickering partners to full-scale enemies. At the 2003 Royal Rumble, Angle and Benoit put on one of the WWE's finest matches to date.

A successful stretch followed. His feud with Angle, his showdowns with Latino Heat and others, and his prominence on SmackDown all elevated his stock. Fan support swelled, and WWE took notice.

The Wolverine began to collect gold. 

He won the United States Championship in 2003 before losing it to Guerrero. He won the Royal Rumble in 2004, the precursor to challenging for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XX. That title bout, where he outlasted Shawn Michaels and Triple H to earn the right to be called world champ, was the pinnacle of Benoit's career.

He shared that moment with Guerrero, the two friends embracing at the close of WrestleMania, confetti sticking to their skin, both gripping gold in their hands.

SmackDown and the man running it were vital to that journey. Heyman treated Benoit like a main event star before WWE was fully willing to label him as such.

Latino Heat Hits a High Point

Where Benoit's tale was that of an underdog defying the odds, Guerrero was living out a redemption narrative. 

Eddie and Chavo Guerrero celebrate winning the tag team titles.
Eddie and Chavo Guerrero celebrate winning the tag team titles.Credit: WWE.com

As he openly admitted in his autobiography, Cheating Death, Stealing Life, Guerrero battled an addiction to painkillers and he drank heavily. "Looking back, it's amazing how self-destructive I was. I didn't like myself very much at all."

WWE sent him to rehab to help him free him from his dependence. That alone wasn't enough to change him.

As seen on The Smoking Gun, Florida police arrested him in 2001 for driving under the influence, which led to the company firing him.

Guerrero journeyed back to the independent circuit and tried to repair his marriage before returning to WWE in April 2002. A support system awaited him on the SmackDown roster. Eddie teamed with his nephew Chavo and regularly wrestled against his two good friends in Mysterio and Benoit.

Latino Heat looked recharged by the move, reborn after his struggles.

He and Chavo formed Los Guerreros, a team that believed that if you weren't cheating, you weren't trying. A series of vignettes showed off their personalities and made it hard not to root for the unscrupulous pair.

Reunited with his nephew, whom he tagged with in WCW, Guerrero took off. The team twice won the WWE Tag Team Championships and consistently entertained with both their antics and wrestling.

Being a part of the SmackDown Six led to a flurry of great matches.

Guerrero wrote in his autobiography, "There was a tremendous group of workers at SmackDown—Chris, Rey, Edge, Chavito and Kurt Angle, among others. It didn't matter what the combination was—singles matches, tag matches, Triple-Threats—each week saw at least one four-star match." 

Chavo relished the surplus of talent, too. He told Ring Rust Radio, "Any of those combinations killed it every single night."

He also remembered a shared intensity between him and his primary rivals. "Just being part of that was so awesome. The reason it was so good is we had Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit against me and Eddie, and we would literally try to beat each other up every night in the ring," Chavo said.

Like with the rest of the SmackDown Six, The Guerreros tried to outshine everyone. This constant competition bred greatness.

Chavo went on to become a four-time cruiserweight champ and in 2008 won the ECW World Championship.

His uncle, though, made the bigger impact. Latino Heat followed a U.S. title run with one holding the WWE Championship after beating Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004. He became one of WWE's most popular stars, cemented by his Hall of Fame induction in 2006.

Edge Thrives on Thursday Nights

Bent steel and bruised hips helped Edge first make his name with WWE. With his tag team partner Christian at his side, the long-haired Canadian was one of many risk-taking grapplers who thrilled audiences in ladder matches beginning at No Mercy 1999. 

The Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian and The Dudley Boyz all seized the audience's attention by falling off, flying between and crashing into ladders at WrestleMania 2000, SummerSlam 2000 and WrestleMania X-Seven.

Edge emerged from these battles a bigger name but not yet a star on his own.

That would change in the following years. WWE had him branch out on his own, slowly progressing up the food chain. He won the Intercontinental Championship and the 2001 King of the Ring tournament.

It was SmackDown, though, that fanned the embers of his popularity until he became a red-hot Superstar. 

After WrestleMania X8, where he fought Booker T over the right to be in a (fictional) Japanese shampoo commercial, Edge moved to the blue bland. He and Angle collided in a 2002 feud that ended with Angle forced to shave his head.

Up against Angle throughout this rivalry, Edge looked more and more like a marquee talent.

As his stay on SmackDown continued, he shined in memorable encounters against Angle, Benoit and Guerrero. His resume deepened when he began to team with Mysterio. The pair won the WWE Tag Team Championship on SmackDown in late 2002. Before and after that title win, they put on show after show against other members of the SmackDown Six.

SmackDown was becoming the go-to place for high-quality in-ring action, and Edge was at the center of that.

If they had been a part of Raw or been subject to McMahon's booking decisions rather than Heyman's, it's unlikely that Edge, Eddie and others would've received the amount of ring time and the prominent spots on the card that they did. And each of those men sought to maximize those opportunities, to prove themselves.

Edge said on the Talk is Jericho podcast, "We took it as a gang mentality. We're the show that can go. And we'll show every week why we're the show that can go."

The SmackDown Six did just that. 

For Edge, that led to WWE's mountaintop. In 2004, he moved to Raw and was soon in the World Heavyweight Championship picture before eventually winning the WWE title four times and headlining WrestleMania XXIV.

Being a part of such a talented group aided Edge in that rise. The same goes for Heyman showcasing him so much. Edge's story mirrored that of Benoit and Guerrero, SmackDown providing the perfect stage for those men to make their mark.

One cannot reflect on SmackDown's success during that period or retrace the steps of the SmackDown Six, though, without also addressing the tragedy that mars this part of WWE history.

A Cinderella story grew nightmarish. Eddie Guerrero's heart gave out on him in 2005 after years of substance abuse. Benoit's tale ended with murder-suicide

Benoit's last moments are so vile and tragic that WWE has had no choice but to simply stop mentioning his name.

As a result, the story of the SmackDown Six is one WWE won't talk about. There can be no documentary about Heyman's vision coming to life without Benoit's image conjuring up the most unsettling of scenes.

Still, WWE has to look back at Heyman's run over SmackDown and recognize opportunity's power to change careers.

SmackDown is set to transform again following the draft on July 19, following the show's move back to Tuesdays. Suddenly, SmackDown is set to be its own entity again, featuring a separate collection of talent than Raw.

That show can be the key for emerging stars like Kevin Owens and Cesaro to follow Guerrero and Edge's lead, to be the next beneficiaries of ample space on the stage.