Go back to 2002 and WWE (well WWF) was in a very different place. WCW had been absorbed, ECW bankrupt, TNA a figure in the Jarrett’s imagination. It was decided that to create competition Raw and Smackdown would become their own brand with separate rosters, writing staff and live events. The experiment was a success, it created plenty of new stars that would have not had the chance otherwise. In the beginning Smackdown was the superior brand mainly thanks to the ingenious vision of Paul Heymans “Smackdown 6″.
According to Paul Heyman on a Talk Is Jericho podcast, Smackdown became an afterthought. Raw ratings dropped dramatically in 2002, all hands went to that “A show”. Paul Heyman was given the role of head writer of Smackdown. In the light of Austin’s walk out and Rock leaving for Hollywood, Raw lacked stars. Chris Jericho was chosen as the man to jump to Raw shortly after the brand extension. A furious Heyman demanded two stars for the trade, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. Two solid workers he could build the brand around. Vince and creative laughed in Heymans face for the exchange, but Paul had bigger ideas
He knew he had to protect Brock Lesnar, who was a very green champion. By focusing on 6 men who could all work provided a massive amount of match combinations. Instantly you had Benoit and Angle paired together, two of the finest pure wrestlers in history. Their long history provided a common bond of one-up-mans-ship. Heyman saw potential in Edge and Rey, the same with Eddie, whom pairing with Chavo was an easy fit.
With the Tag titles exclusive to Raw and the tag division growing on Smackdown, a tournament was set up to determine the new WWE tag team champions of Smackdown. No Mercy 2002 saw Edge and Rey face Benoit and Angle in the finals. Benoit and Angle would pick up the win. At Survivor Series all six men faced off ina triple threat tag title match with Los Guerreros winning. This sparked the beginning of the break up of Angle and Benoit who would then feud over the WWE title.
All 6 men were exposed as main event talent. 4 of these six would win their first world title within 4 years. Chavo won the ECW Title in 2008. Edge would become the staple of Smackdowns success when he transferred across in 2007, leading the blue brand until his untimely retirement in 2011. What the Smackdown six proved is by healthy competitive booking a tag division helped shaped the careers of six stars when upper management had no intentions to anything with them.
No doubt Smackdown during this time was the finest it has ever been. A simplistic approach, no nagging from Vince allowed Paul Heyman to cement his legacy as an incredible visionary and booker. He saw stars in these six men, when management above didn’t see the grander picture. Building the show around delivered great wrestling, whilst protecting the weakness of other wrestlers. Raw became the entertainment show whilst Smackdown was about pure wrestling.
Competition between the two shows brought out the best of both brands. With the failure of ECW’s December to Disremember WWE dropped the solo PPV concept. This slowed down the focus for the mid amd lower card to regain focus on the main event. As the years went by, the draft disappearing, and Raw Supershow’s, Smackdown became less relevant to watch.
Building stars as a group simply work, just like we have seen with the Shield and The Wyatt Family. Focus attention to the tag division to help build stars; history gives us so many indications of when this approach worked so well. In recent times, look at the results of pairing Damien Sandow with The Miz. The future is always about learning from the past and the lesson from the Smackdown six is something WWE can really capitalise on.
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