WWE – Smackdown 20th Anniversary (Cert 15)

2 Discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 368 minutes approx.

In 1999, the WWF had finally regained control of the Monday Night Wars over WCW after an 83-week domination in the TV ratings. Thanks to Vince McMahon leaving his comfort zone and embracing edgier, adult orientated ideas and the creation of new stars, the WWF touted the idea of adding a second major show to its TV output to counter WCW’s Thursday night show Thunder, and Smackdown was born.

Originally, the idea was to have a two-hour show devoted to the women in the WWF, then known as Divas, the majority of who had very little actual wrestling ability. The mind boggles as to what sort of exploitative, sexist nonsense the show would have entailed – they won’t give the current women their own show who do have the talent to pull it off – but the idea was shot down and a wrestling show was accepted in its place.

Taking its name from one of the many phrases used by The Rock in his promos, a one-off special aired on April 29th 1999 to test the waters, headlined by The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Triple H and The Undertaker (included in the DVD extras), and it was a hit. So, in August 26th, Smackdown officially debuted as a series and has since become a staple of WWF/WWE programming.

A rather timely release, this retrospective collection is not just about celebrating the show’s 20th anniversary but is also a canny tie in with the multi-million dollar deal WWE has signed with FOX TV in the US to air Smackdown. Never one to miss an opportunity, I would have been more surprised if the WWE didn’t try to cash in on this but Vince loves the folding green stuff too much to let it pass by.

Hosted by Byron Saxton and Jerry Lawler (who only appear about four times) this is your basic compilation of matches and segments from the past 20 years. Normally, I would insert an adjective like “memorable” or “significant” here but only some of the content qualifies such description. Entries better best forgotten include Pat Patterson dropping his underpants to give Crash Holly a Stink Face, a sexist skit involving Vince interviewing for a Personal Assistant that wouldn’t air today, and a Thanksgiving food fight.

The set opens with the main event from the first proper episode pitting The Rock vs. Triple H for the WWF title with Shawn Michaels as special ref, (the only clip from 1999) before leaping to 2000 for some Hardcore title silliness, the precursor to today’s 24/7 title, the Jericho/Rhyno gore spot that broke the original SD stage set from 2001 as well as Vince’s post 9/11 speech.

Other evergreen clips include the supermarket brawl between Austin and Booker T, the debut of a jacked up rookie named John Cena, Sexy Kurt (which is cut before HBK’s interruption and Kurt putting Sherri in the Ankle Lock), and the ring collapsing with Big Show and Brock Lesnar. From more recent times, the only skit featured is the genesis of Rusev Day, which probably says a lot about the quality of the skits these days.

Matches include Eddy Guerrero vs. Edge in a No Holds Barred match, Rey Mysterio vs. Matt Hardy for the Cruiserweight title and a steel cage match between CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy, which was Jeff’s farewell match in WWE (at that time). Following Christian vs. Randy Orton from 2011, there is a huge jump forward to 2017 for our first and only women’s match, the second Women’s MITB match, before coming up to date with Kevin Owens vs. Kofi Kingston.

2002 is the most represented year with regard to matches though the real shame is that many of the truly great bouts from this period when Paul Heyman was booker and gave us the Smackdown Six, couldn’t be included since once of the key players was He Who Shall Not Be Named, thus robbing us of some top quality action. On the plus side, the longest reigning champion in SD history, JBL is nowhere to be seen, so be thankful for small mercies.

Also interesting is the six year jump between 2011 and 2017, which would cover the period when the first brand split ended and talent would appear on both shows again, effectively erasing the existence of The Shield, Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Jack Swagger, Cesaro, The Usos, Paige, AJ Lee, Bella Twins, The Miz, and more. There were certainly enough good matches to choose from and leaving out familiar names for current fans seems counter-productive in representing the show’s entire history.

With regard to angles, promos and segments, arguably the biggest omissions are Paul Heyman’s fantastic rant at Vince McMahon from 2001, Billy & Chuck’s Wedding from 2002 (though this might be a bit sensitive in today’s climate), Arnold Schwarzenegger beating up Triple H and some of The Rock’s rare post-2002 appearances, like when he verbally took apart Damien Sandow.

Curiously they singled out Edge as being the one man synonymous with Smackdown, yet surely that distinction would go to The Undertaker who remained on the blue brand from 2002 until 2010 whilst Edge hopped between the two rosters every two years. Even Kurt Angle spent more consecutive years on SD than Edge did! Just don’t expect to see any Undertaker matches or segments here, bar one brief appearance.

To give the WWE video compilers the benefit of the doubt, 20 years worth of material is a lot to sift through and not everything can be included. Obviously there are perennials which can’t be excluded but criteria like “best”, “classic”, or “memorable” are subjective. As a taste of what Smackdown has produced during its run, this is a packed release – 6 hours plus worth – of nostalgia and quality wrestling action that is as comprehensive as a 2-disc set will allow.

Extras:

German Language

Disc 2 only:

First Ever Smackdown Main Event – April 29th 1999 – The Undertaker & Triple H vs. The Rock & Stone Cold Steve Austin

 

Rating – *** ½

Man In Black