Retro Review

Retro Review – WWF Smackdown Network Premiere

Matthew Roberts travels back to the later summer of 1999 to review the network premiere of WWF SmackDown.

With its premiere episode on Fox due imminently, Matthew Roberts takes another trip in the TWM Time Machine, this time back to August 26th, 1999 and the network premiere of Smackdown.

Of course, this wasn’t the FIRST ever Smackdown episode, as a “pilot” had aired the previous April, but it was the first regular episode to air.  It was four days after Summerslam 1999 and three days after a certain Triple H had lifted the WWE Title for the first ever time. 

Which of course means that this show has to start with a Triple H in-ring promo.  It’s-ah, typical-ah, of the time-ah as HHH drones on about no-one ever believing in him, how he was always held down and how it’s his-ah, time-ah, now-ah.  It took him a good few years but at least he dropped that style of promo, where everything ended with an “ah”.  It meanders until The Rock takes mercifully interrupts and declares that he wants a title shot at HHH… and he wants it TONIGHT!  It’s the equivalent of Rock running through his greatest hits (which is still as effortlessly entertaining as ever two decades on) until Commissioner Shawn Michaels makes his way out and says he not only has the stroke to make the match, but that he will referee it as well.  Even with Shane McMahon trying to make himself the second guest referee for the match only for HBK to say that he’s fighting Mankind tonight instead it doesn’t take someone with a Doctorate in the Booking of Russo to see what’s coming at the end of the show. Still, despite the convoluted set-up and the illogical authority figures (Shane “owns” WWE but HBK has complete stroke to do what he wants) mess – it’s a fun opening segment.  The formula of which WWE follows to this day, but there you go. 

Having been a heel in the opening segment at the side of Triple H, Chyna makes her presence felt in the opening ever match on Smackdown between Jeff Jarrett and Billy Gunn next… as a babyface.  As it somewhat typical of lower card matches on WWE TV at the time this goes a whole three minutes until Chyna’s distraction costs Jarrett the loss by roll-up.  Just in case we haven’t had enough turns in the first quarter of the show, Chyna turns on Billy Gunn too.

Al Snow is upset that the Big Boss Man has kidnapped his pet dog, Pepper. Howard Finkel is polishing Chris Jericho’s boots.  Character development folks…

A Tag Team Title match is next as the Undertaker and Big Show defend against Kane & X-Pac and The Acolytes in a triple threat match.  Except “they” don’t defend as ‘Taker decides to offer up another one of his tough love sermons for Show and does colour commentary instead of wrestling.  Which seems counter-productive as a strategy AND means some terrible colour commentary.  Taker tries to cover this by saying he has a big plan but isn’t ready to reveal it yet.  Spoiler alert; he never does.  The match is at least quick, but it’s three and half minutes of rushed brawling that achieves pretty much nothing.  Show wins, despite being on his own, so what that says for the challengers is beyond me. 

The Big Boss Man comes out next and demands a Hardcore Title shot against Al Snow tonight.  If he gets one, win lose or draw, he’ll give Pepper back.  Al Snow agrees, loses the belt in another EPIC match (less than three minutes this time) and then the dastardly Boss Man grabs Pepper and runs off with him anyway.  If you don’t know how this story ends then google it.  But never tell your non-wrestling fans about it. 

Next up is a pretty historic moment as Chris Jericho makes his in-ring debut for the WWE.  That it’s in a match with the Road Dogg that again lasts less than five minutes and the former “hottest free agent in pro wrestling” loses by DQ means that it’s not a very auspicious start but hey, we can’t have everything.  If after that disappointment you think what is missing from the show is a brawl between two ring announcers do we have a treat for you next as Jericho sets his lackey Howard Finkel on Tony Chimmel . 

It should have been Ken Shamrock against Val Venis next but Shamrock and Jericho brawl outside the ring before Y2J runs off.  Yet another angle that went nowhere.  Instead of that match, Stephanie McMahon makes her way to the ring and asks for “Andrew” to join her. Andrew is of course Test, who has recently proposed to young Steph.  He asks again, she says yes and the Mean Street Posse and Shane McMahon (polluting WWE screens in multiple segments for more than two decades) take offence and run in.  This brings in Mankind who clears house then wants his scheduled match with Shane RIGHT NOW.  We sort of get a match but it’s one of those “it’s not really a match, it’s just a brawl” things for another absolutely pointless “bout” that sees Chyna and Triple H make the distraction allowing Shane to win. 

An update from an injured Stone Cold Steve Austin is followed by the Attitude Era staple, the Evening Gown match. It’s Ivory Vs Tori and writing out this sentence was more entertaining than anything that happened in the match.

And after some more brief interludes with Al Snow (he still doesn’t know where Pepper is) it’s time for the main event.  Perhaps the most interesting thing is that whilst the entrances of Triple H and The Rock get huge heat/reactions, most of the match doesn’t.  It’s almost as if the WWE of this era wasn’t about the in-ring product.  Or maybe it’s that this is another clusterfuck of a match that sees interference from Chyna and Shane, a heel turn from Shawn Michaels that you could see coming from a million miles away (and that was barely ever mentioned again, as it happens) and a whole lot of brawling that had no other real point than filling air time. 

There’s lots of names fans will recognise mentioned above and you may be fooled into thinking this is a great show.  It’s not.  If you’re being kind there’s SO much going on that it breezes by if you don’t think about it too much.  If you’re being unkind it’s everything that’s wrong with Russo booking and the Attitude Era and certainly doesn’t stack up to a viewing twenty years later.

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