The WWE is apparently toying around with the idea of moving its secondary program, Smackdown, to a Tuesday night live format to avoid competition with UFC on Friday nights once it moves its Ultimate Fighter (TUF) series starting early next year.
The program originally aired on Thursdays before moving to its Friday time slot and debuted all the way back on April 29, 1999, as a television special on UPN. The special garnered a 5.8 rating thanks to it taking place at the height of the WWE's popularity.
With all that in mind, I was tooling around YouTube and stumbled across the special Pilot episode. The quality isn't the greatest but it's a nice trip down memory lane to a time in which the pro wrestling business was booming and WWE could, quite simply, do no wrong.
Videos, accompanied by a lot of notes and background, after the jump.
SMACKDOWN! THURSDAY, APRIL 29, 1999
Off the bat, the first thing you'll notice, obviously, is the theme music. This was a somewhat obnoxious sound to be greeted with every Smackdown but I would much prefer it to "Know Your Enemy" by Green Day, the current theme. Tony Chimel as the ring announcer brings back fond memories. The opening segment features the McMahon family, which was the norm during this time period. This was the show directly following the Raw episode in which Stephanie was "saved" after being abducted by Undertaker. Surely you remember this angle. It's the one that resulted in the most infamous and cheesy line in the history of pro wrestling: "Where to, Stephanie!?"
Midway through the segment, The Corporation makes its way to the ring with a budding singles star, Triple H, along with the woman he would shun for his current wife, Chyna, and the rest of the cronies behind their leader, Shane McMahon, who promptly boots Vinny Mac and Stephanie to the back.
Shane-O-Mac sets up the main event for the night, Stone Cold Steve Austin teaming up with The Rock, who he was feuding with at the time, against Triple H, who volunteered for the match and Undertaker, who threw his hat into the ring with a cheesy promo saying he wanted revenge against Austin for stopping him on Raw just a few days prior from making Stephanie his "bride and servant." Seriously. This sounds horribly bad now, but as you can tell, it was all good back then. 'Taker was running his own faction known as "The Ministry" at the time.
Val Venis comes out and cuts his usual promo, which he was insanely over with. Jeff Jarrett makes his way to the ring with Debra, to little fanfare, and says he'll be stepping in for Owen Hart for this match. Ring the bell.
But wait, here comes the Blue Blazer, who was actually Owen Hart but in the storyline, he was acting as though he wasn't even though everyone knew he was. They have a short but solid match ending with Jarrett assisting Blazer in defeating Venis before Nicole Bass comes out and chases Val to the back.
The Godfather (remember him?) comes out to clean house. Debra was supposed to work for Godfather as one of his hos, which was a big deal at the time because a lot of fans thought she was sexy as all hell. Can't say I agreed. Godfather, of course, gets beat down and Debra leaves with Jarrett and Blazer. After a commercial break, Blazer does an interview in which they again allude to knowing Owen Hart is Blazer. Sadly, this was Hart's one and only appearance on Smackdown. He would die in a tragic accident at "Over the Edge" just less than one month later. Watching this again makes me miss his work and remember how great he truly was.
Big Show, who had signed and debuted with WWE just two months prior, is next out for a match with Test, who was tossed out of the corporation just days ago on Raw. It was essentially a squash match, with Show going over easy. Big Bossman comes out at the end to attack Test to continue their feud before but gets chased off by Show.
It sucks to think but three of the wrestlers in this video are dead and gone.
The Rock makes his way out to the ring to plenty of fanfare. This was at the tail end of that transitional period when Rock was still trying to be a heel but the fans were cheering him like crazy because of his incredible promos and natural charisma. Indeed, when he starts to go into one of his catchphrases, the crowd tries to sing along. This, of course, upsets Rock, who stops and let's the crowd finish it out before starting over. This was so brilliant because every fan on Earth wanted to sing along with Rock and would have paid any amount of money to do so.
Finally, he turns his attention to Steve Austin, who is still the most popular guy in the company at this point. Rock was approaching him but you can tell the "Rattlesnake" is still the man. And Stone Cold shows exactly why that is just as soon as he climbs in the ring. While walking to the corner carrying his title at his side like a complete badass, Austin doesn't even look over at Rock while he flips him off before getting on the second rope and mugging for the crowd. Genius.
Austin starts cutting a promo and gets every reaction in every spot he's supposed to, despite the fact that fans were cheering Rock just a second ago. Shane McMahon comes back out and can barely speak over the "ASSHOLE" chants. Once he does, he introduces the Ministry and announces that Undertaker's faction has joined forces with the Corporation to form the "Corporate Ministry." This would later lead to a goofy storyline involving a "higher power" that eventually led to an obvious conclusion of Vince McMahon as the man behind everything. You've heard the promo before a million times. During the big reveal, McMahon, after showing it was him, said, "IT'S ME, AUSTIN. IT WAS ME, ALL ALONG, AUSTIN!" You can watch that moment by clicking here.
Cut to a short backstage interview with X-Pac and Kane, who were tag partners at the time.
Before the video ends, we see entrances from Droz (with Prince Albert) and D'Lo Brown (with Ivory). D'Lo's head bobbing with the most annoying schtick of anyone on the entire roster when he first started doing it but after a while, it managed to grow into a joke that never got old.
Brown and Droz have a decent match that ends in disqualification after Prince Albert interferes before D'Lo can hit the Low Down. A returning Mark Henry (look at how slim he appears) comes out to make the save for Brown, who was about to get pierced by Droz and Albert, before the faces celebrate with the crowd.
It's almost surreal watching this match back knowing that a few months later, on Oct. 5, 1999, Droz and Brown would have another match that would result in Droz being paralyzed after a botched powerbomb.
Sable promo. She was still a big deal then.
Backstage interview with Road Dogg Jesse James and the Bad Ass Billy Gunn. Short and to the point, setting up the tag team title match about to happen. X-Pac's music hits and the crowd cheers wildly. Yes, folks, there was actually a point in time when X-Pac was over and fans actually enjoyed watching him work. The entrances of both teams takes about four minutes thanks to the New Age Outlaws intro, which was awesome for a very long time. You all sang along with him, just like the live crowd, every time. You know you did.
The match was centered around the New Age Outlaws going after the tag titles despite having to get through X-Pac to do so. The trio were still friends despite DX having temporarily disbanded after Triple H betrayed the group to join the Corporation just weeks before. A well crafted finish leads to X-Pac and Kane retaining the belts.
Cut to the back for a shot of Steve Austin putting on his knee brace, which was damn near as synonymous with his character as any other singular aspect of him.
Backstage segment shows Road Dogg and Billy Gunn teasing a breakup, which they would eventually do early the next year. Predictably enough, this led to the former completely falling out of favor with both the fans and the company while the latter would enjoy some measure of success forming another tag team later on. A gay team. Yep.
The Brood makes an appearance for a big promo spot. Gangrel completely ruins the entire segment simply by opening his mouth and speaking. He was a cool character at first but as soon as he cut a promo and revealed his near total lack of delivery or charisma, it was impossible to take him seriously. Edge also cuts a cheesy promo in tune with his character, but he at least shows signs of the superstar he would eventually become. They close out the segment with Michael Hayes getting one of Brood's trademark blood baths. The group split not long after this when Edge and Christian found success as a tag team feuding with the Hardy Boyz.
Bradshaw and Ken Shamrock have a strong style street fight with plenty of potatoes for both men.
Shamrock wins by choking out Bradshaw with a baseball bat after a forgettable match.
Mankind out for a match with Bossman, which features appearances from both Test and Big Show, who help Mankind pick up the victory. This was mostly a throwaway match and a way to keep Mick Foley on TV. He would move on to bigger and better things a short time later teaming up with the Rock to form the infamous "Rock-N-Sock Connection." On Sept. 27, 1999, almost four months to the date of this episode of Smackdown, Mankind and Rock would take part in the "This is Your Life" segment that did an 8.4 rating on Raw, which is the highest in the history of the long running show.
Finally, we get to the main event, with walkouts and introductions taking plenty of time.
Undertaker and Triple H start to work over Rock so Austin's music can hit and the crowd just eats it up. Watching this today is truly a lesson in the kind of difference the live crowd makes. Back in 1999, the audience at the arena truly cared about what was going on in the ring. It shows, even in grainy old YouTube videos.
Another thing with this match is star power. This was legitimate star power, not any puffed up guys that were being pushed on us too early. Even Triple H, who, at the time, wasn't yet the mega-star we know him as today, was widely known as the next guy to get a big push and he proved throughout the match that he deserved the spot. He was routinely delivering amazing matches, with this mixed tag being no different.
The match was overbooked like crazy, but that was the norm for that time and everyone eventually got what they wanted. Undertaker and Shane McMahon both ate Stunners from Austin, who did his beer drinking routine and that was that.
After all of that, my final impression? They managed to do what TNA tries and fails so ridiculously at today -- crammed in as much storyline advancement as possible for everyone on the card without taking anything away from the overall show while giving us plenty of in-ring action. It felt like the perfect balance between interviews, promos, backstage segments and actual wrestling matches.
Maybe that's why the product was so hot at the time.
Another thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the fact that everyone on the card has a program or an angle they are involved in and they all get the proper amount of time to tell their stories in a meaningful way that actually has a chance at getting over with the crowd.
Anyone else longing for the days of old? Feel free to wax nostalgic and leave your thoughts in the comments, Cagesiders.