WWE Smackdown Six – 10 Years Later
by Steven Jackson
I can’t believe it has been ten years since the “Smackdown Six”, my personal favorite time watching wrestling. Back in late 2002, I was glued to WWE, after the disappointment of the “InVasion” and the annoyances I felt for the “Attitude Era” it was such a refreshing contrast to finally see some great technical wrestling. The “Smackdown Six” era is seen in high regard now as one of the greatest combinations of talent ever in the history of pro-wrestling…
The “Smackdown Six” was the collective name given to Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero who were all wrestling on Smackdown. Smackdown (as well as WWE) in 2002 was highlighted by these six names and brought pure wrestling back to WWE after its diminishment in the “Attitude Era”. Looking at the six wrestlers involved in the “Smackdown Six”, it is obvious it was going to be a success and hailed in high-regard. I mean, just reading about the talent involved alone is mind-blowing; something out of a video-game dream match. Then add in the fact these six guys had not only singles matches and feuds with each other, but also a tag-team tournament and rivalry with each other, it is the stuff that legends are made of. If there was ever a point in time when rivalries didn’t need to revolve around trivial storylines and just wrestling ability, this was it.
What has to be kept in mind with the “Smackdown Six” is that at the start of 2002, WWE wasn’t exactly that exciting. Hogan had returned at WM 18 and had a classic with The Rock, but bar that 2002 wasn’t getting off to a good start. PPV buy rates were down and WWE was really suffering (not helped by the name change from WWF to WWE either). But then, as if by magic overnight, WWE began to regain momentum. Brock Lesnar and Rey Mysterio debuted, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit returned and of course Shawn Michaels returned after being out of action for four years. Maybe WWE had ‘God’ on their side, but by the time Summerslam 2002 came around WWE had gone from the depths of despair to riding high in the clouds, leading Summerslam 2002, to be acclaimed as arguably the greatest WWE PPV of all-time. It was such a miraculous turn-around from the beginning of 2002 to the end of 2002. WWE finally began to stop latching onto what was left of the “Attitude Era” and instead began a new era, the “Smackdown Six” era.
The “Smackdown Six” was the brain-child of the one and only Paul Heyman, who I believe is one of the most diverse bookers in history. When people critique Heyman for booking ECW with nothing but hardcore trash, they need to check out the “Smackdown Six”. Paul Heyman booked 3 of the “Smackdown Six” in ECW before; Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. So Heyman knew how to effectively book them to make them an exciting combination. I feel out of all Heyman’s successes in ECW, none of them come close to the “Smackdown Six” and it is something I believe no other booker could accomplish as well as he did; it was his true swansong in wrestling.
Another thing which Paul Heyman can be credited for more than any other booker in wrestling is that he makes TV matches just as important and on a par (if not better in some cases) than PPV matches. It’s amazing to look back and see some of the matches which were on Smackdown every week at the time of the “Smackdown Six”, it is a far cry from WWE TV today. But with this clever use of television, people got interested in the “Smackdown Six” and in turn ordered PPV’s to see blow-offs to the matches and feuds which they had seen on TV.
While the “Smackdown Six” is remembered in relation of the wrestlers I have just mentioned, let’s not forget the great supporting cast Smackdown had in 2002 which made it a success. Brock Lesnar, Big Show, The Undertaker, Tajiri, Jamie Noble and John Cena helped make the “Smackdown Six” such a success and in turn made Smackdown the must watch show in 2002.
One of the unique things about the “Smackdown Six” was that the wrestlers involved had somewhere along the line had dealings with each other in the past; Eddie Guerrero had feuded with Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio and his nephew Chavo extensively in WCW, and had feuded with Edge in WWE. Chris Benoit had feuded with Eddie Guerrero in WCW and Kurt Angle in WWE and so on. It was this depth to layering the feud and the combination itself which made it much more intriguing to watch, something I haven’t seen before or since. The way the feuds were followed on into the “Smackdown Six” again not only helped them develop, but made them more intriguing to see what would happen.
Another thing I really enjoy when watching the “Smackdown Six” back is that due to having six wrestlers, the combinations of matches is endless. From singles matches to fatal-four ways, tag team elimination matches to standard tags, 2 out of 3 falls and so on. It was also very refreshing that the majority of the “Smackdown Six” matches were not gimmick matches in the sense of ladder or cage matches and instead were all about showcasing the wrestling of the six wrestlers involved as opposed to the spectacle of the gimmick matches something which tag-team wrestling had become synonymous with (due to the TLC matches involving the Dudley Boyz, Edge and Christian and the Hardy Boyz.)
The “Smackdown Six” is most fondly remembered in relation to the WWE Tag Team Championships. Due to the brand split of RAW and Smackdown in 2002, each show got exclusive championships and as the World Tag Team Championships were on RAW, Smackdown needed their own set of tag belts. So on 1st October 2002, the tournament to declare the first ever WWE Tag-Team Champions began and each of the “Smackdown Six” were part of a team in the tournament; Edge and Rey Mysterio, Los Guerreros (Eddie and Chavo Guerrero) and Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit. Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit were not only the most intriguing team to watch from a wrestling stand-point, but they also were intriguing because they were feuding with each other and subsequently hated each other. Stephanie McMahon made them tag with each other regardless. It was this clever combination and layering of talent which made the tournament so successful and lead to arguably one of the greatest tag-team matches ever with Rey Mysterio and Edge vs. Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle in the finals of the tournament at No Mercy 2002. But it would not end there as at Survivor Series 2002, feeling annoyed at being eliminated from the tournament, Los Guerreros joined Edge and Rey Mysterio, along with Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit for a three-way tag-team elimination match for the WWE Tag-Team Titles. It was this which kept the feud fresh and exciting and such a blast to watch. Many fans claim that when the Dudley Boyz, Edge and Christian and Hardy Boyz feud ended, tag-team wrestling has never been the same in WWE. I will challenge that argument head on and claim when the “Smackdown Six” era ended; tag-team wrestling was never the same again (and never will be).
All three teams involved held the WWE Tag Team championships once in 2002 which helped each team look strong instead of one team appearing dominant and the other two looking weak. It was this strategy of booking which helped make the “Smackdown Six” a success and tag-team wrestling the reason people watched WWE as opposed to singles matches (something which sadly isn’t the case today).
So what has happened to the “Smackdown Six” over the past ten years? Well a lot…
Firstly, Los Guerreros would go onto hold the WWE Tag-Team Championships once more, making them the only team involved in the “Smackdown Six” to hold the titles twice. While Rey Mysterio would share another three reigns of the WWE Tag-Team Championships with Rob Van Dam, ironically Eddie Guerrero and finally Batista. Each of the wrestlers involved in the “Smackdown Six” would go onto hold world championships sometime over the past ten years; Eddie Guerrero won the WWE Championship, Chris Benoit won the World Heavyweight Championship, and Chavo Guerrero won the ECW World Championship. Kurt Angle, Edge and Rey Mysterio would hold both the WWE and World Heavyweight championships multiple times during the last ten years, as well as each of the wrestlers sharing reigns of the United States, Intercontinental, Cruiserweight and World Tag Team Championships. Plus, three of the “Smackdown Six”, Edge, Rey Mysterio and Chris Benoit would all win the Royal Rumble (Edge in 2009, Rey Mysterio in 2006 and Chris Benoit in 2004). Rey Mysterio holds the record for the longest time in the Royal Rumble match; 62 minutes and 12 seconds, while Chris Benoit joins Shawn Michaels as the only two men to enter as the number 1 entrant and win the Royal Rumble.
As well as these accomplishments in WWE, Kurt Angle controversially jumped from WWE to TNA in 2006 and cemented a Hall of Fame legacy in TNA; capturing the TNA X-Division, World Tag Team and World Heavyweight Championships (at one time holding all the titles simultaneously along with the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from Japan). And to go along with these already legendary credentials, two of the “Smackdown Six” have been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame; Edge (in 2012) and Eddie Guerrero (posthumously in 2006) and it is here we come to the sad part of our ten years since the “Smackdown Six”.
Firstly, two of the “Smackdown Six” have passed away over the last ten years; Eddie Guerrero sadly died in 2005 due to heart complications leaving behind a legendary legacy of matches and moments which will live forever.
Then in 2007, Chris Benoit committed suicide after murdering his son Daniel and wife Nancy, which overnight turned him from one of the most respected wrestlers, to one of the most controversial. While no wrestling fan condones what Chris Benoit did, the saddest thing about his death is that when you re-watch Chris Benoit in the “Smackdown Six” you see it with a tainted view into the future and what inevitably lead up to his death; two losses which will always have an impact in the world of the wrestling.
As well as this, only one wrestler remains in the WWE from the “Smackdown Six”, Rey Mysterio. Kurt Angle jumped to TNA, Chavo Guerrero was released by WWE (at his request) in 2011 and Edge had to sadly retire due to injuries sustained throughout his Hall of Fame career in 2011, a truly sad ending to the past ten years looking back at 2002.
While the “Smackdown Six” maybe a tragic look back to many people about what could have (and was) in WWE, I rather see it more positively. The “Smackdown Six” brought wrestling back to WWE in 2002 and had some of the most exciting, innovative, and classic matches of the past ten years. The “Smackdown Six” will always be seen in high-regard as the benchmark for all great tag-team and singles wrestling, as well as weekly television episodes. The “Smackdown Six” may be only ten years old, but it will always live forever in the minds of the fans who saw it firsthand.
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