Ranking the 20 Greatest Moments in WWE SmackDown History on 20th Anniversary

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistAugust 24, 2019

Ranking the 20 Greatest Moments in WWE SmackDown History on 20th Anniversary

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    Credit: WWE.com

    For 20 years, the WWE Universe has been privy to some monumental, historically significant and unforgettable moments courtesy of SmackDown.

    Beyond those moments, the blue brand has been home to some of the greatest athletes to ever lace a pair boots, including Brock Lesnar, Steve Austin, The Rock, Rey Mysterio, Edge, The Undertaker and AJ Styles.

    On October 4, SmackDown will debut on Fox with a special episode featuring appearances by legendary Superstars like Hulk Hogan, Booker T, Lita, Goldberg, Ric Flair and Sting. The broadcast will also feature an homage to the first two decades of the show.

    In preparation for that star-studded celebration, enjoy this stroll down memory lane, celebrating the 20 moments that helped to define SmackDown, ranked according to their significance and overall contributions to the legacy of the brand.

20. The Shield Decimates the Undertaker (April 26, 2013)

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    The Undertaker may have accomplished a rarity by tapping out Dean Ambrose on the April 26, 2013, episode of SmackDown, but it was The Lunatic Fringe and his fellow Hounds of Justice who would have the last laugh.

    Seconds after the official called for the bell, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins hit the ring and put the boots to The Deadman.

    A three-on-one beatdown ensued, culminating with a triple powerbomb through the announce table that left the storied veteran in a heap.

    No story came from it. The Phenom never did avenge the beating, but he didn't have to. The segment was less about the established star and more about cementing The Shield's status as an unstoppable force regardless of whom they stand across the ring from.

19. GORE! GORE! GORE! (August 9, 2001)

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    We have witnessed many instances of Superstars destroying WWE sets over the years, but the first time it occurred on SmackDown featured a raging Man Beast and one of the greatest to ever lace a pair of boots.

    Chris Jericho had verbally humiliated ECW owner Stephanie McMahon on Raw, and just three days later, on the August 9 episode of SmackDown, Rhyno got revenge on her behalf.

    Just moments after Jericho defeated Hugh Morrus, Rhyno attacked. Stunned, Jericho had no defense against the charging former ECW champion, succumbing to a massive Gore that sent him crashing through the stage.

    The angle drew a huge reaction and added heat for a feud that had previously felt thrown-together. Furthermore, it provided SmackDown with an unforgettable moment at a time when it was looking to shed the label of "Raw's little brother."

18. Edge and Vickie Guerrero's Wedding (July 18, 2008)

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    The wedding of Edge and Vickie Guerrero should have been a momentous occasion in which the vile king and queen of SmackDown made their relationship official in grand fashion. Wrestling, though, has a sordid history of ruined nuptials, and theirs was no different.

    Days before a showdown with The Rated R Superstar for the WWE Championship at Great American Bash, Triple H interrupted the ceremony (big shocker!) and unveiled footage of Edge's torrid affair with wedding planner Alicia Fox.

    The happy relationship between the manipulative heel and overbearing general manager disintegrated, leaving Edge's personal and professional life in doubt.

    And for the second time in his career, Triple H was responsible for the destruction of one of life's happy moments.

17. Team Hell No and Randy Orton Defeat The Shield (June 14, 2013)

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    To say The Shield was an unstoppable force leading into the June 14, 2013 episode of SmackDown would be an understatement. Together, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were unbeatable. They had spent months knocking off the likes of John Cena, The Undertaker, Big Show, Ryback, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and Kane.

    Their win-loss record was unblemished, and it was looking more and more unlikely that WWE could establish a trio capable of defeating The Hounds of Justice. That is until Bryan, Orton and Kane banded together to present them a challenge fueled by frustration and desperation.

    On that fateful episode, Team Hell No and The Viper finally put an end to The Shield's winning streak.

    The crowd's response reflected the magnitude of the win too. Bryan tapping out Rollins generated a thunderous ovation that not only enhanced the moment but gave management a hint at the crowd's willingness to get behind Bryan, something that would dominate the product for the next year.

16. Stephanie McMahon Wins the Women's Championship (March 30, 2000)

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    By March 2000, the McMahon-Helmsley Era was in full effect in WWE. Triple H was the world champion and his wife, Stephanie, had all the power. Surrounded by D-Generation X, they made life a living hell for the company's most popular Superstars.

    It is for that reason the WWE Universe reacted with glee when Vince and Linda McMahon came together to book Stephanie in her very first match: a WWE Women's Championship contest against the hard-hitting, double-tough veteran Jacqueline. Unfortunately for the fans, there would be no one-sided ass-kicking or comeuppance for The Billion Dollar Princess, thanks in large part to the interference of X-Pac and Tori.

    Jaqueline found herself tripped up and DDT'd, allowing the overmatched McMahon to crawl into a cover and win her first championship. The post-match celebration was a thing of heelish beauty, with the third-generation McMahon acting as if she had legitimately captured the gold.

    The moment would spark a five-month reign that further cemented her status as one of the most hated villains in the long and illustrious history of sports entertainment.

    The fans reacted in kind, loudly booing the display just days before WrestleMania 2000, an event that would feature more celebrating from the despised faction.

15. Arnold Schwarzenegger Lays the SmackDown on Triple H (November 11, 1999)

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    With his film End of Days ready to hit big screen worldwide, Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on the November 11, 1999, episode of SmackDown to promote the film. Realizing the mass appeal of the WWE product, he even appeared before the live audience, which accepted the action hero with open arms.

    A star of that magnitude appearing on WWE programming would be enough to earn him a spot on this list by itself. That he appeared on commentary during the night's main event and unloaded on Triple H with hard rights only enhanced the significance of the appearance and, eventually, earned Arnold a spot in the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame.

    The future governor of California was the first of many celebrities to appear on the show over the years, including Busta Rhymes, Nick and Aaron Carter, Freddie Prinze Jr., Oscar-winning rappers Three 6 Mafia and Samuel L. Jackson.

14. Stone Cold Blows Up the DX Express (April 27, 2000)

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    "Stone Cold" Steve Austin made his first televised appearance since major neck surgery on the April 27, 2000, episode of SmackDown, sending an explosive message to The McMahon-Helmsley Faction by blowing up its DX Express bus.

    The angle, just days before a Backlash pay-per-view in which Austin would be in The Rock's corner for his WWE Championship match against Triple H, was one of the first major displays of cinematic proportions SmackDown had seen.

    To this day, Austin dropping the boom on the bus and the subsequent explosion remains in every sizzle reel promoting the illustrious history of WWE's blue brand.

    And rightfully so.

13. Jeff Hardy Plays the Game (April 12, 2001)

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    On the heels of a dastardly attack by Triple H and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin that saw The Hardy Boyz and Lita bludgeoned with steel chairs to close out Raw, Jeff Hardy sought revenge. He attacked The Game at the beginning of the April 12, 2001, episode of SmackDown and found himself in an Intercontinental Championship match against The Cerebral Assassin later in the night.

    Clearly overmatched against the former WWE champion, Hardy took a beating but showed off that resiliency that had helped him connect with audiences at the height of the Attitude Era. As the action broke down, Matt Hardy appeared and blasted Triple H with a steel chair. That allowed Jeff to deliver the Swanton Bomb and earn his first non-hardcore singles title in WWE.

    The reaction to the victory hinted at the willingness of the fans to support a singles run for Hardy, something that would be in effect later in the year, when he engaged Rob Van Dam in a feud over the hardcore title. For that night, though, Hardy's win was an exciting lesson to WWE Creative that fresh and unexpected was, is and will forever be a good thing.

12. Daniel Bryan Announces Return to In-Ring Action (March 20, 2018)

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    For three years, Daniel Bryan watched from the sidelines as WWE's in-ring product evolved into a more athletic, sports-driven style that would have meshed well with his abilities. A history of neck injuries and concussions, though, made it unlikely the former WWE and world champion would be cleared to return to competition under WWE's Wellness Policy.

    Then, just weeks before WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans, fans were alerted to a special announcement to be made by Bryan on the March 20 episode of SmackDown.

    Clad in a suit, Bryan relived the tumultuous years that preceded the moment and then revealed he had finally been cleared to return to action in time to partner with Shane McMahon against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at The Showcase of the Immortals.

    Fans rejoiced, welcoming back a Superstar they had thrown their unwavering support behind over the course of his WWE career, and SmackDown had a feel-good moment to add to its legacy.

11. Brock Lesnar Crushes Hulkamania (August 8, 2002)

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    Before the most important match of his career, a WWE Championship match against The Rock at SummerSlam 2002, Brock Lesnar squared off with another industry icon on the August 8 episode of SmackDown, battling Hulk Hogan.

    Much like Bubba Ray Dudley, Rob Van Dam, Test and Ric Flair (among others) before him, Hogan stood no chance against the young super-athlete. The Next Big Thing overwhelmed Hogan throughout the match, and when it came time for the magical, mystical hulk-up and babyface comeback, Lesnar no-sold it. Big boot and leg drop? Get outta here with that nonsense, Lesnar said before dropping The Hulkster with an F-5.

    Lesnar could have defeated Hogan then and there but opted to wrap his massive arms around him and suck the remaining fight out of the bloodied Superstar, forcing him unconscious in an unforgiving bearhug. The post-match visual of Lesnar smearing Hogan’s blood across his chest was haunting and a great indicator of the brutality that awaited The Great One at the Biggest Party of the Summer.

    There are many who will point to that PPV match with The Rock as the moment Lesnar was legitimized, but to have Lesnar go over Hogan so cleanly and dominantly on network television was about as serious a statement as WWE Creative could possibly have made in regard to the future Beast Incarnate's status as wrestling’s next breakout star.

10. Edge Cashes In (May 11, 2007)

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    A steel cage match between world heavyweight champion The Undertaker and Batista ended in controversy on the May 11, 2007, episode of SmackDown, with both men's feet hitting the floor at the same time, robbing fans of a definitive winner.

    A post-match beating dealt by Mark Henry left The Dead Man prone, allowing Edge to hit the ring with the Money in the Bank briefcase he won just days earlier to cash in on the titleholder. A spear to the battered, bloodied Undertaker put an end to his title reign and solidified Edge as the face of the SmackDown brand for the next year.

    In reality, a torn bicep robbed The Phenom of a longer reign and necessitated the change that would alter the course of the blue brand for a two-year span.

    For Edge, the moment was further approval from WWE management of his work and proof of their belief in him to carry a brand.

9. Rey Mysterio's Explosive Debut (July 25, 2002)

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    After weeks of vignettes announcing his arrival, Rey Mysterio exploded from the stage and captured the WWE Universe's attention with a high-flying, aerial assault unlike any it had ever seen before.

    Clad in a red, webbed homage to Spider-Man, Mysterio battled Chavo Guerrero in a competitive match that was won via a 619 and West Coast Pop.

    The debut wowed fans and almost instantly established Mysterio as one of the faces of the blue brand in the post-roster split era of WWE. By the end of the night, he aided Edge and John Cena in clearing the ring of Chris Jericho, Test, Christian and Lance Storm, sending foursome to Raw.

    At that point in time, it was rare to see a debutant catapulted into a top-flight feud. It would only get better for the future Hall of Famer in the weeks that followed, when he engaged Kurt Angle in a program that would culminate with a blockbuster SummerSlam bout.

8. Eddie Guerrero Celebrates His WWE Championship Win (February 19, 2004)

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    Eddie Guerrero's victory over Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004 was a rare, genuine feel-good moment thanks to the raw emotion that accompanied it. Four days later on SmackDown, Guerrero returned to the blue brand a conquering champion and the fans greeted him with an unforgettable reception.

    Arriving amid pyro and confetti, Guerrero was treated to a heroic homecoming the likes of which few Superstars received upon their defining first championship victory.

    In an industry where happy endings are ruined by unnecessary angles or overly complicated booking, Guerrero was allowed to bask in the glory and celebrate his monumental victory with the same fans who made it possible for him to rise to that level in the first place.

7. Price Check on a Jackass! (December 13, 2001)

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    Booker T so pissed off "Stone Cold" Steve Austin by interfering in his match at Vengeance on December 9, 2001, that The Texas Rattlesnake stopped at nothing to gain a measure of revenge on the former WCW champion, even following him to the grocery store four days later and opening up an unforgettable can of whoop-ass.

    Austin unloaded on an unsuspecting Booker, humiliating him and beating him down in a public place in front of a worldwide audience on television. The humor involved, including Austin's departing "price check on a jackass!" line elevated it from a typical pro wrestling beatdown to a great bit of entertainment regardless of the genre.

    There was no payoff to the angle, as Austin and Booker never had a definitive, one-on-one PPV encounter.

    For Booker, it further solidified him as a main event act in the eyes of WWE fanbase still unsure of what to make of the WCW mainstay. For Austin, it represented his last great angle before his unexpected departure from WWE the following June.

    As for SmackDown, the bit was yet another reminder that not all of the creative energy was focused on its A-show counterpart.

6. Tearing Down the House (June 12, 2003)

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    There have been Superstars who have crashed and broken the ring since, but the first instance of such an angle came on the June 12, 2003, episode of SmackDown, when Brock Lesnar delivered a superplex to The Big Show that caved in the ring and left the audience in awe.

    The conclusion to a hard-hitting WWE Championship clash, the moment put an exclamation point on the bout unlike any witnessed before.

    The images of the Superstars crashing to the mat below, the ring shifting and referee Mike Chioda bouncing up and down before settling on the wreckage of the squared circle, remain some of the most vivid in the show's two-decade history.

    No winner was declared. Nor did there have to be.

    The iconic finish, which has been replicated but never duplicated in terms of its overall effectiveness, made up for the non-decision and added another jaw-dropping moment to the SmackDown sizzle reel.

5. AJ Styles Wins the WWE Championship (November 7, 2017)

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    Never before had the WWE Championship changed hands outside of North America. That is until AJ Styles challenged Jinder Mahal for the title in Manchester, England.

    In a special pre-taped episode on November 7, 2017, The Phenomenal One etched his name into the history books, pinning The Modern Day Maharaja to capture the gold.

    For Styles, it was the culmination of hard work and dedication. His second reign as champion essentially solidified his status as the face of the blue brand, a role he took to heart. In fact, his reign would last more than a year, a testament to management’s belief in him in that role.

    For the title itself, it was historic.

    Established in 1963, the gold had changed hands all over the United States and in Canada. The idea that it had never been won outside of North America in the 54 years of its existence was mind-blowing. Styles changed that, and SmackDown had yet another monumental moment upon which to hang its hat.

4. Vince McMahon Wins the WWE Championship (September 16, 1999)

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    It is safe to say Vince McMahon had no intentions of winning his company's world heavyweight championship. By the time the September 16, 1999, episode of SmackDown rolled around, though, he found himself battling lead villain Triple H for the WWE title in the night's main event.

    The owner of sports entertainment's largest empire received a tremendous beating but was able to negate The Game's onslaught with a low blow that created separation. The action broke down, Shane McMahon, Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco all became involved and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin dropped Triple H with two straight stunners to give McMahon the title victory.

    There was nothing to the match, and McMahon relinquished the title the next Monday on Raw, but the idea of the billionaire owner of WWE holding its title after playing such a significant role in the company's comeback in the Monday Night War was apropos.

    Best of all? It stands out as one of those defining moments of the early days of the SmackDown program fans have come to love in the two decades since.

3. Ruthless Aggression! (June 27, 2002)

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    The Kurt Angle character long had a tendency to let his mouth get him in trouble. He talked his way into many an ass-kicking, and on the June 27, 2002, episode, he nearly found himself beaten and embarrassed by a fresh new face to WWE programming.

    That face? John Cena.

    The debuting Ohio Valley Wrestling product stood face-to-face with the Olympic gold medalist and told the former WWE champion it was ruthless aggression that made him believe he could beat the best in the world. And he nearly did.

    Cena had a stellar first match with Angle, taking the mat magician to the brink of a loss before succumbing to a rollup.

    Even in defeat, Cena announced his arrival to the WWE in spectacular fashion, quickly hinting at the generational franchise star he would become.

2. The 1st One (August 26, 1999)

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    To land a primetime television deal is a significant accomplishment for any professional wrestling company. For WWE, SmackDown landing an 8 p.m. deal on UPN was the latest in a string of outstanding achievements, fueled by the tremendous success of the Attitude Era.

    On August 26, 1999, Vince McMahon unleashed his brand of entertainment on a network television audience. That night, The Rock, Triple H, Chyna, Kane, Undertaker and Chris Jericho invaded households across the country, registering a monster 5.7 television rating in the process.

    The inaugural main event? A strap match between WWE champion Triple H and The Rock.

    The Game narrowly escaped with his title when special referee Shawn Michaels shockingly betrayed The Great One with Sweet Chin Music and aided his on-again, off-again friend to victory.

    From a quality standpoint, the first episode left much to be desired, but historically, it was a major leap for McMahon's promotion and an opportunity for WWE to consistently showcase its unique product to the masses.

1. United We Stand (September 13, 2001)

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    The September 11 terrorist attacks shook the U.S. to its core and, for the first time in a generation, left its citizens afraid of what the future held.

    WWE was originally slated to tape an episode of SmackDown that night in Houston, but upon hearing of the attacks and for the sake of security, the event was postponed. After much consideration, and meetings with government, both local and national, Vince McMahon and his company held the first major public gathering of any kind two days later.

    Michael Hayes, in a 2011 WWE.com piece titled "The Oral History of the First SmackDown After 9/11," recalled, "I think Vince made the decision later that Tuesday night. He got with Lee Brown, who was the mayor of Houston at the time. It was a huge decision for Vince—a lot of responsibility on that."

    Bill DeMott echoed that sentiment in the same article. "I can't speak for the McMahons, but I think it was a hard decision to look their people in the eyes and say, 'We're staying, and we're gonna do what we came here to do.' And I don't think anybody thought, 'These guys are out of their minds.' If anybody can take the country's mind off of what's going on, it's us. As a collective decision, it was awesome."

    Emanating live from the Compaq Center, the show featured a heartfelt rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by a tearful Lilian Garcia, matches with little consequence to ongoing storylines and a general sense of normalcy in the face of uncertainty.

    It is an event that, more than anything, will be remembered for an emotional and defiant speech by McMahon himself.

    For wrestling fans, it was akin to their wrestling father taking them under his wing and telling them everything was going to be OK.

    And for one night, it was.

    Never before and never since has SmackDown been more culturally relevant than it was on that night, making the September 13, 2001, episode one of the greatest presentations in WWE history.