On August 26, 1999, Smackdown made its debut on UPN where it remained until the stations dissolution in September of 2006. The show’s debut came during a time in which there was a clear uncertainty on the part of the creative team. Vince Russo, head writer at the time, was becoming increasingly burnt out by the lack of time spent with his family. Now faced with an extra two hours of content to write per week with no additional pay increase, Russo’s complacency was evident as many stories around this time seemed to have no clear end game in sight. Another problem of the era was the trouble transitioning to new stars. Steve Austin’s neck problems were getting progressively worse and needed time off. To replace the Rattlesnake, such superstars as The Rock, Triple H, and Mankind, who was also struggling from serious physical ailments, were placed in high-profile feuds and matches for the bulk of 1999.
The main story centered around Triple H, who won his first WWE Championship nights before on Raw from Mankind, who had won the championship in a triple threat match which included Triple H at SummerSlam. This was the beginning of his reign of dominance on top of the wrestling world that would continue until the fall of The McMahon-Helmsley regime at King of the Ring 2000. He opened the program with one of his now infamous 20- minutes promos. He talked about his rise to the top despite everyone wanting to hold him down, as well as calling out the Rock who answers his call and challenges The Game to a title match later in the night. Triple H denies the request until then-commissioner Shawn Michaels appears to overrule the champion and make the match official, as well as naming himself the guest referee.
The mid-card at this time was loaded at the time as well. One of the main arguments used by people who are pro-attitude era is that the era was better than today’s because everyone had a story. This episode of Smackdown is a great starting point for that argument as WWE made sure to take advantage of every second of air time they received. The show was stacked from top to bottom with storylines and somewhat careful planning.
The show begins with a match between newly crowned Intercontinental champion Jeff Jarrett and Billy Gunn. After Jarrett won the IC championship, he issued an open challenge that was to be answered on a contract on a clipboard left backstage. Billy Gunn made his intentions clear to sign it but to his dismay, former DX teammate Chyna reached the clipboard before he could. This storyline would lead to the misogyny storyline that would last until Jarrett’s departure from the company later that year.
Other top stories from the mid-card included the now-infamous feud between Al Snow and the Big Bossman feud. Bossman defeated Snow on the night to win the Hardcore Championship and subsequently kidnapped Al Snow’s pet chihuahua Pepper which resulted in Pepper being cooked, served, and fed to Snow by Big Bossman.. yes you read that right; a man kidnapped another mans dog, cooked it and then fed it to him. Another story that dominated much focus on WWE programming at this time was the romance between Stephanie McMahon and Test. The two began dating after Test requested a date with her after winning a match with a stipulation of getting one wish that he wanted; that sounds more nonsensical than it did in my head but I digress.
The episode also featured a triple threat tag team match for the Tag Team Championships. The gold was held by The UnHoly Alliance, The Undertaker and The Big Show and they defended their championships against The Acolytes and the unlikely duo of Kane and X-Pac. It was a relatively short match ending around the 4-5 minute mark after Big Show hit a Chokeslam on X-Pac. Undertaker would soon be gone from WWF television with fans being given little to no kayfabe reasoning for the Deadman’s absence. Taker would not be seen until Judgement Day in May of 2000.
Chris Jericho’s debut match as he took on Road Dogg. This feud began days earlier at SummerSlam after Jericho interrupted Road Dogg’s promo. The two men exchanged insults leading into a match tonight. The match was nothing special from Jericho because it is well-known that Y2J struggled with adapting to the WWE style of in-ring performance. This sparked the end of this pseudo-feud as Jericho’s new rivalry was sparked with Ken Shamrock after the Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah ambushed Shamrock before the latter’s match with Val Venis.
Up next is Mankind v. Shane McMahon. This match was made during the opening segment after Shane McMahon came out to challenge Shawn Michaels booking of tonight’s main event. At the start of the match, Foley offered McMahon a free punch which Shane used to lay out Mankind before The Hardcore Legend quickly got up and laid out Shane with a flurry to punches. The Mean Street Posse are out to help Shane before they are intercepted by Test and The Stooges, Gerald Briscoe and Pat Patterson. The Demon Seed picked up the victory after Triple H interfered in his behalf with a low blow to Foley.
Quick buffer match before the main event as Tori takes on Ivory in an Evening Gown match. Literally nothing to comment on this one except for the origin of the famous gif of Tori walking down the hall being followed by Michael Cole. Tori inexplicably gets naked and continues walking towards the ring.. that’s the highlight of this one, folks. This feud has about as much heat as a naked man in a snowstorm.
It’s time for the main event. Michaels is out first in the most lewd pair of bicycle shorts I’ve perhaps ever seen in my entire life. Triple H comes out first which was odd when you figure in his new push as champ. Very fast action as Rock enters the ring going for the immediate exchange of blows between the two. The momentum swaps numerous times throughout until Shane McMahon comes out to help Triple H after Chyna is ejected following a low blow to The Rock. The ending comes when The Rock hits the Rock Bottom on the new champion. The championship is seemingly within reach for The People’s Champ as he sets up for the People’s Elbow. As he goes to drop the elbow, HBK levels The Rock with a Sweet Chin Music, allowing Triple H to get the pin. Fade to black with the heels celebrating in the ring.
I thought this was a very strong start for the program providing simplified visual interpretations of each story as they unfolded. Smackdown was used as a continuation of Raw storylines for the first years of its existence. Near the end of 1999 into 2000, it would become the show best known for its utilization of the deep mid-card, as the 24/7 antics of the Hardcore division would become a big focus of the blue brand. It would remain as a secondary show until 2002, when the brand split was implemented. The show soared to great heights during this period under the creative vision of Paul Heyman. Smackdown was viewed as flagship programming for UPN until it was forced to move to the CW network bringing the station consistently great ratings for the better part of a 7 year relationship. This proved that the UPN/Smackdown relationship was possibly the best thing that ever happened to either of the two.
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