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WRESTLING COLUMNS

The Evolution of SmackDown!
May 1, 2005 by London Calling


Since World Wrestling Entertainment was divided into two, Monday Night RAW came to be known as its flagship brand. It was the television program in which viewers could tune in and watch the real household names like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H compete. To this day, Monday Night RAW has arguably the more star-studded roster in a pool of talent that includes Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Kane, Chris Jericho, Edge, Ric Flair and Chris Benoit, not to mention occasional appearances by superstars like the Rock, Stone Cold and Hulk Hogan. However, after watching Thursday Night's episode of SmackDown, I was given hope that SmackDown might rise as the superior brand yet.

Thursday's episode of SmackDown was, needless to say, brilliant. I can honestly say that top to bottom, I thoroughly enjoyed every segment of the show. But as Thursday Night SmackDown came to an end, I was left pondering one thing. I knew I was more satisfied with the recent SmackDown product than I was with what Monday Night RAW was providing every week, but why" After taking this into deep consideration, I came up with the following components.

John Cena - The Next Superstar
Whenever the WWE seems to head into its next generation, that whole new level of professional wrestling that carries the promotion to new heights - a new superstar rises. In 1984, as the sports entertainment industry was on the brink of exploding, Hulk Hogan rose to the top of the World Wrestling Federation and revolutionized the sport. During the 1990's in what came to be known as the Attitude Era, two stars made their presence known: The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Even as we headed into an entirely new millenium, the McMahon-Helmsley Era brought sky high ratings with Triple H acting as the cornerstone of the WWE. And in today's wrestling world, as we have written the WWE's recent downfall in ratings off as the promotion being in somewhat of a slump, we look to find a new superstar who will carry World Wrestling Entertainment to entirely new heights. Low and behold, if there is anyone worthy of taking on this status, it's the WWE Champion John Cena.

Sure, one can argue that his ring work is poor and because of this, he is not capable of becoming the next superstar. But those who do must ask themselves, was Steve Austin as physically gifted in the ring as Bret Hart" Was the Rock as incredibly talented in the ring as Ricky Steamboat" Was Hulk Hogan as amazing a ring general as Chris Benoit" No. But that didn't stop those three men - arguably the three greatest icons the professional wrestling industry has ever seen - from reaching the top. Making note of that, why should I or anyone else doubt that his slight lack of talent in terms of ring work will keep John Cena from achieving legendary status"

Besides, he is not the complete dud in the ring that people make him out to be. During his stint in 2002 and 2003, John Cena put on a hand full of spectacular matches against the likes of Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. He displayed a tremendous wrestling arsenal that allowed for him to capitalize on his incredible athleticism. He could execute spectacular offense with dozens of different suplexes, bombs and drivers. And when the time called for it, he wasn't hesitant to head upstairs and perform something like a Missile Dropkick or a Flying Double Axehandle. Granted, he's never displayed any amazing pure wrestling abilities, but take into consideration that John Cena is a mere twenty-eight years old. Still well into his youth, he has plenty of time to improve his work rate. And fortunately, in the meantime, he has his electrifying charisma and top-notch mic skills to fall back on.

What really sets John Cena apart from the rest is his gimmick. It isn't simply appropriate that that they slap some urban hip hop gimmick on him and let audiences cheer him. He is the character that he plays on television, and if we've learned anything from pro wrestling it's that the best gimmicks always come about when you simply be yourself. More significantly, Cena's gimmick is what's "in" in today's society. Hulk Hogan won the hearts of wrestling fans around the world not only because he had a squeaky clean gimmick that inspired America's children to drink their milk, eat their vitamins and stay drug free, but also because a big fad in the 1980's was to be in shape. His incredible physique played a huge role in Hogan's winning the admiration of professional wrestling audiences. In the 1990's with influences on society like MTV, the antihero became extremely popular. It was every man's dream to drink beer and beat the hell out of his boss, thus everyone adored Stone Cold Steve Austin. In today's wrestling world, most fourteen year old children - who happen to be the WWE's largest demographic - look up to John Cena because the urban hip hop gimmick is what's cool in today's society.

With the potential to very well become the WWE's next superstar, the sky is the limit for John Cena. His presence could be the decisive factor in SmackDown becoming World Wrestling Entertainment's new flagship brand. And just as his theme song and latest single suggests, his time is now.

John Bradshaw Layfield - A Success Story
After the release of Ron Simmons, many wondered how the WWE would make use of Bradshaw. Surely, he was past his prime and really didn't serve much purpose to the promotion outside of the tag team division. But the WWE had found a different way to utilize this veteran. They incorporated his real-life personality into creating a brilliant heel character, dubbing him John Bradshaw Layfield. But still, most wrestling fans weren't satisfied. Myself included, many had their doubts about Bradshaw as they pushed JBL into the main event.

The character was without flaw. Bradshaw played the stereotypes of a rich, racist white American to perfection. He portrayed an entirely new side that wrestling fans never knew Bradshaw had in him. Generating heat and pissing off audiences wasn't a problem. He cut genius promos, playing his role to a tee. But his ability to play his character wasn't the problem. Many had their doubts about making JBL a main eventer for various reasons. At the time being, even the casual wrestling fans were being spoiled by their WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero, growing on the fact that they had a champion who was capable of putting on five star wrestling competitions. Needless to say, Bradshaw's ring work wasn't exactly on par with Eddie Guerrero's. He was also a problem backstage, known for giving rookies a very hard time. These random acts of mischief grew worse and worse, as during a show in Germany when he failed to generate heat he even resorted to performing the Nazi salute - an act that is illegal in Germany. But how was he rewarded"

He was rewarded by being granted the WWE Championship at the Great American Bash, defeating Eddie Guerrero in a Texas Bullrope match. Now, more than ever, casual fans and the internet wrestling community alike were sent into an uproar. Neither audience honestly took John Bradshaw Layfield seriously - memories stained by witnessing so many years of Bradshaw in the midcard, let alone take well to his winning the WWE Championship. But as doubtful as so many wrestling fans were of John Bradshaw Layfield, he suddenly seemed to grow on almost everyone.

After nine months of constant improvement and entertaining promos, John Bradshaw Layfield had been accepted. And in hindsight, despite his many critics at the beginning of his title reign, JBL has truly become a success story. His nine month reign as the WWE Champion has been thought of as one that restored a lot of credibility to the title. And most importantly, his presence on SmackDown is now a huge asset to their main event division.

Cruiserweight Division/Women's Division
A specific item on RAW that has done anything but draw audiences - I'd go as far as to say that it's repelled them - is the Women's Championship. Unfortunately, the WWE has expressed that they are more interested in filling the roster with women that are appealing to the eyes rather than establishing a foundation of good female wrestlers. But whether it's Christy Hemme or Molly Holly on the television screen, the women's division has not really generated much interest from RAW's viewers. Most people admit to taking a piss break whenever it's time for the divas to have their air time on RAW. This isn't the case on SmackDown, however. SmackDown's spectators and employees alike are proud of their alternative division: the cruiserweight division.

The cruiserweight division adds an entirely new element to SmackDown. It provides for something unique, because it displays to the viewers an exciting, high-flying style of wrestling that is not available on RAW. On Monday night's, as we watch Christy Hemme battle Stacy Keibler in a lingerie pillow fight, we're not witnessing anything that is exclusive to SmackDown. If we wanted that kind of action, we could very well tune in to SmackDown on Thursday's and watch a bikini contest consisting of Torrie Wilson, Miss Jackie, Dawn Marie and a handful of new SmackDown divas. But on RAW, you don't have the cruiserweight action displayed on SmackDown. Sure, you have your Hurricane's and Tajiri's of the roster, but how oftenly are they allowed to compete in a showcase of aerial maneuvers"

The cruiserweight division is something special, and at the time being, the WWE is paying more attention to it than their women's division. What message are you sending to your divas when you make room for a RAW Diva Search by releasing decent female wrestlers like Gail Kim and Jazz" Why ask Molly Holly to job to Christy Hemme when you know she's on the verge of leaving, knowing that she's a valulable asset to your women's division" I'll admit that the WWE hasn't always acted like saints towards their cruiserweights, but their neglect of them has really been kept to a minimum as of late. It seems as though the WWE has been paying a lot more attention to their smaller competitors, as the cruiserweight division is reaching its peak with Paul London as champion and contenders like Akio, Spike Dudley, Chavo Guerrero, Sho Funaki and Nunzio. On top of this, tremendous juniors from the independent scene like Frankie Kazarian, Super Crazy, Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera have been signed to developmental contracts!

New Blood - MNM, Matt Morgan & More
Recently, we have seen a lot of new blood make an impact on SmackDown. Their rookies seem to have debuts that have a lot more impact than those witnessed on RAW. For instance, Carlito Carribean Cool won the United States Championship from John Cena the night of his debut on network television. On the previous episode of SmackDown, the hot tag team MNM won the Tag Team Championship titles from Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero - and this is merely their second week since being called up onto the main roster.

I am intrigued in particular by MNM. In my opinion, if used correctly, they could be the future of tag team wrestling. They have all of the elements necessary to became very big stars. Their physiques are very impressive, they have the beautiful valet who also just so happens to be a class wrestler at their side in Melina, they seem to have a decent amount of charisma about them, their gimmick is extremely unique and their in-ring abilities are incredible. My advise to the WWE would be to throw a third tag team into the mix - the Thrillseekers of Matt Cappotelli and Johnny Jeter, for instance - and along with MNM and the Dudley Boys, hold another series of Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches. Because in all honesty, I think that MNM has the potential to reach popularity that no tag team has since the days of Edge & Christian and the Hardy Boys.

Another impressive rookie who debuted, or re-debuted in this case, was Matt Morgan. After a half-way decent stint in 2003, Matt Morgan was sent back to Ohio Valley Wrestling to further sharpen up his ring work. And from what I've gathered, this project was a success. While you can only learn so much from watching a wrestler squash an opponent in a matter of three minutes, the offense Matt Morgan displayed was very impressive, especially his finisher. It looked to be a Vertical Suplex into a Rock Bottom, certainly a very unique maneuver that I've never seen anyone perform before. Many fans will be quick to bash Morgan's newfound stuttering gimmick, but in my opinion, it's going to work out quite well. It's not exactly a one dimensional gimmick and won't keep Matt Morgan from advancing higher up the card, and I personally think it adds an interesting element to his character. His debut promo on SmackDown was actually fairly entertaining.

I'm sure I will continue to be impressed by the new faces to appear on SmackDown, especially with rumors of superstars like Frankie Kazarian, Super Crazy, Juventud Guerrera and Psicosis on their way.

The Eddie Guerrero/Rey Mysterio Saga
Finally, one of the most appealing angles to me on recent SmackDown television has been the on-going feud between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio. It is the perfect combination of both great wrestling and entertainment, as the feud has so far provided for a spectacular opening match at WrestleMania, two very amusing episodes of Carlito's Cabana and an excellent competition in which Eddie and Rey dropped their Tag Team Championship belts to MNM. As the feud between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio slowly progresses, I can't help but notice that the build-up has been tremendous.

They began best of friends and the WWE Tag Team Champions. But after being brain-washed by his own nephew in Chavo Guerrero, Eddie was convinced that he must prove himself in a match with Rey at WrestleMania 21. Unsuccessful in defeating Mysterio, there were perhaps some bitter feelings left in the ring, despite their hand shake post match. But as their last bout at WrestleMania may have been a respect match, with conflicts between Rey and Eddie heating up more and more every week on SmackDown, it's doubtful that the same will be able to be said about their next encounter.

Whatever pay-per-view it is where Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio end up having their final encounter, their match alone will almost make purchasing the event worth while. On WrestleMania, they were merely the opening match. But on a pay-per-view that's strictly SmackDown, like Judgement Day, or even a lesser inter-promotional event like SummerSlam, a match between Mysterio and Guerrero would have more significance. It would be much higher up the card, and therefore both men would most likely be given more time to work. And if given the appropriate amount of air time, there's not a doubt in my mind that these two could put on a five star competition.

It surely won't be the first time that we've seen Mysterio and Guerrero in the ring together - they've fought each other many a time. But this isn't the type of ordeal where the two have battled each other so many times to the point that viewers are bored of it, like in the case of Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Their experience in working with each other merely provides for a much more powerful chemistry in the ring between these two workers. In their final encounter, expect exciting high-flying maneuvers, great chain wrestling and a story to be told that will consist of Eddie Guerrero's hot temper getting the best of him, lashing out on Rey Mysterio who sells the assault to perfection and when playing his cards right, has occasional bursts of offense. In the end, no matter who is the actual winner, it will be us SmackDown spectators who will have won.

As great as it is to watch superstars like Triple H, Chris Benoit, Edge, Christian, Shelton Benjamin and Chris Jericho on RAW, as well as the occasional appearance from Steve Austin and the Rock, I've slowly become more fond of watching guys like John Cena, Carlito Carribean Cool, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle, The Undertaker, John Bradshaw Layfield, Rene Dupree and others who compete on SmackDown. And as SmackDown's popularity grows, many other wrestling fans may be singing the same tune.

by London Calling..


Antonio Figueroa wrote:
I'm very glad to hear that SOMEONE is watching the same WWE that I am. Smackdown! is light years ahead of RAW in every way; rosters, storylines, fueds, everything. The only things I can't stand about Smackdown! are:

1) They delayed Eddie's heel turn too long. The repeated losses to Rey killed any momentum Eddie might have been able to get heading into this feud. Eddie should have gone into this match as the heavy favorite, instead he's going in as an underdog who just happens to be heel.

2) Cena's WWE title belt is such a piece of garbage. It is an absolute insult to the most prestigous title in this industry. As far as I am concerned, JBL is still the champion, because he has the real belt, and because the match at WM was so bad (due to Cena, not JBL).

3) Lack of Undertaker since WM. I know he has a bad hip, but at least he could show up and chokeslam someone.

4) The last and most important thing I don't like about Smackdown! actually hasn't happened yet, but I'm sure we've all heard about the massive Cruiserweight signings WWE has made, including Super Crazy, Psicosis, Juventad Guerrera, Kid Kash, and more. This really pisses me off when WWE hires all these "stars" from WCW and TNA, when they refuse to push the best Cruiserweight in history, Billy Kidman. Its an absolute outrage.
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