For the over the past two decades, WWE Smackdown has been a successful second stage for the WWE on a weekly basis. On Tuesday night, the ‘Blue Brand’ will air its 1000th show, which stands to be a celebration of everything it has become since debuting in 1999. While a host of special guests from the show's history have already been announced for the anniversary specatcle episode, including returns from Edge, The Undertaker and Batista among others, as always when it comes to the WWE, it is a safe bet that anybody from the show's star-studded past could show up.
Although Smackdown is clearly second in line to Monday Night Raw in both lineage and exposure, the show has without a doubt crafted its own proud legacy. At varying times, it has been the ‘wrestling fan’s’ show, built more on the backs of strong in-ring performances from the likes of Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and A.J. Styles, than the more entertainment/personality-first push of Raw. However at other times it has gone through unimpressive runs of truly being where the show has only been used as a place to fill in the time between episodes of Raw and pay-per-views.
At its best however, Smackdown has truly been a place where opportunity has been provided for legendary careers to take off, while others have added even greater chapters to their established legend.
With Smackdown 1000 upon us, here’s a look at the 10 superstars who have had the greatest impact on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights for the WWE over the past 20 years.
10. The Rock
So why The Rock, who made his name on Monday Night Raw and has spent the better part of the Smackdown era begin as much of a Hollywood star as a professional wrestler? Well, he’s responsible for the name of the show all on his own! The superstar that was known for ‘layin’ the smackdown’ star rose so high the promotion decided to name its second biggest episodic show after one of his catchphrases. Such has been the impact of The Rock on the lasting legacy of the show, that the word Smackdown was added to Webster's Dictionary six years ago.
The show that The Great One still very accurately refers to as 'his' got its start due to its tight association with the cross-genre superstar.
After years of being a great hand and enforcer in the WWE, John ‘Bradshaw’ Layfield finally got a chance to have a major vehicle built around him in the spring of 2004. Assuming an image reminiscent of a character off ‘Dallas’ or ‘Dynasty’, Layfield shoved himself into the title picture, pursuing the WWE Championship of Eddie Guerrero (amid a few border-related promos that would fit directly into current news cycle). JBL captured the title from Guerrero at, wouldn’t you know it, the Great American Bash and held the World Title for 280 days, a Smackdown-record that would stand for over a decade.
8. Kurt Angle
Of the many memorable moments of Angle’s career, many of the standouts occurred while he made the Smackdown brand his home. The highly-decorated Angle twice won the WWE Championship as a Smackdown superstar, twice carrying the title into WrestleMania representing the Blue Brand. In addition to a run as the show’s commissioner and helping to launch the careers Team Angle (Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin), Angle also was at the heart of many of the most memorable feuds in brand history. His bouts with Brock Lesnar, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and The Big Show are highlights of the show’s history, as is of course his open challenge match against a no-name jobber by the name of John Cena, who would go on to do a few things in his career.
7. A.J. Styles
The current top dog on the show is none other than A.J. Styles, who has gone from being an unlikely outsider to ever join the WWE in full, to becoming the longest-reigning WWE Champion in Smackdown history. Crowning the show ‘the house that A.J. Styles built’ after being drafted to the show in 2016, Styles has gone on to have one of the great, competitive WWE title runs of all-time. His feuds with Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens, Jinder Mahal and Rusev have provided a wrestling-purist run the likes of which hasn’t been seen since arguably Shawn Michaels’ mid-90s run.
6. Rey Mysterio
The ultimate underdog in WWE history, Mysterio used the Smackdown brand as the quite-often literal springboard for his Hall of Fame career. Deploying his signature style flash and dash style of offense that has thrilled crowds for the past two decades, Mysterio became a legend by taking on the odds – and often chopping them down to his size.
Rey was at his peak powers in 2006, when he won the Royal Rumble after entering the 30-man bout second overall. He carried this momentum into WrestleMania, where he defeated both Kurt Angle and Randy Orton to become the smallest WWE World Heavyweight Champion in history. So much so that the 5’6, 175 pound Mysterio would have the ‘heavyweight’ portion of the title removed during his standard-defying run as Smackdown’s top dog.
5. Brock Lesnar
‘Here Comes The Pain’ was the calling card for the beast that would go on to become WWE’s greatest crossover athlete of all-time. Accompanied by Paul Heyman, Lesnar hit Smackdown like a true F-5 hurricane in 2002, shortly after winning the King of the Ring tournament. Lesnar quickly feuded with the best of the best, including Hulk Hogan and The Rock, who he defeated for the WWE Undisputed Championship at the age of 25, becoming the youngest champion in WWE history.
Lesnar is also responsible for arguably the most memorable single moment in Smackdown history, when he suplexed The Big Show off the top rope, causing the entire ring to collapse.
Although he had a pair of title runs on Monday Night Raw before reaching Smackdown, Batista’s singles star took off full blast after moving to Thursday nights. He was the top guy on the promotion at a time when The Undertaker, Edge, Rey Mysterio, JBL and Booker T made it their home. After being drafted to the brand in 2005, for the better part of the next three years, Batista remained in the main event scene, picking up the tag team titles twice with Mysterio.
Aside of The Undertaker, Batista remains the top good guy champion in Smackdown history, with the showdown between the two powerhouses at Wrestlemania 23 in Detroit remaining one of the peak feud moments in the show's history.
3. Eddie Guerrero
Nobody did more with their time on Thursday nights than Guerrero, who joined the promotion in 2002. What’s more, nobody who became anything on Smackdown at the time did so without passing by Eddie on the way. He feuded with everyone from JBL to Chris Benoit to Ric Flair to John Cena to Edge and of course, Rey Mysterio. In 2004, he began a feud with young WWE Champion Brock Lesnar, who was at his most unstoppable. But deploying his usual cunning approach, Guerrero stunningly defeated Lesnar for the Undisputed title and later defended it at WrestleMania XX against Kurt Angle.
Guerrero’s most memorable Smackdown moments could make up a list of their own. But between the ‘lying, cheating and stealing’ alongside his nephew Chavo and pushing lowriders on his way to the ring, one of his most enduring feats was pulling off his signature frog splash from the top of the steel cage onto JBL.
2. The Undertaker
Although the specter of The Dead Man has hung over the entire WWE since the late 80s, his presence has been most evident over Smackdown. After reaching the brand in 2002, the Undertaker has primarily called it his home for the past 16 years. It has seen many of most diverse personas, ranging from the ‘Big Evil’ days to the return of his Deadman persona and the many variants it has carried on. Rivalries with Kane, Batista, Edge, Randy Orton, Mark Henry and Brock Lesnar have colored his history, while 'Taker has also won a Royal Rumble and a pair of World Heavyweight Championship victories for the brand.
The presence of The Undertaker gave instant credibility to the brand, keeping the idea of it being the WWE’s ‘B-Show’ at bay. Nothing that The Phenom is a part of is second rate, as he has regularly driven home as a mainstay over the show’s history.
While he had plenty of unforgettable moments on Monday Night Raw, including his ‘Live Sex Show’ with Lita and first-ever Money in the Bank cash-in, The Rated R Superstar truly came into his own on Smackdown. Edge participated in epic feuds with The Undertaker and Batista, while also having one of the most memorable angles in history with his ‘girlfriend’ and Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero.
Edge defined the swarmy, do-whatever-it-takes heel role on the show, to an extent that he became the WWE’s most complete superstar between 2007-2010. Although injuries often interrupted his runs on top, the peaks are unforgettable and proved the feather in his Hall of Fame cap. The ‘Ultimate Opportunist’ made the most of his opportunities on Thursday nights and became the greatest all-around performer in the history of the Blue Brand.
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