When former ECW owner and promoter Paul Heyman took over the lead writer position for SmackDown in 2002, the Blue Brand was barely surviving. Despite a strong debut in 1999, by 2002, the secondary show had become an afterthought for many WWE fans. RAW was still doing well with the fan base suffering from a post-Attitude Era hangover, but SmackDown had generally fallen to disfavor. Heyman’s posting was almost an afterthought, sent to a dying brand as a last resort, with cancellation plans already circulating the offices in Stamford, Connecticut. But like the shrewd businessman he portrays with his “advocate for Brock Lesnar” on current WWE programming, Heyman masterminded a key trade for the Blue Brand in that year’s first brand split draft that changed the landscape and set up SmackDown as the company’s top show for several years. When informed that RAW would be getting SmackDown’s Chris Jericho in the draft, Heyman pleaded for something in return. When Vince McMahon asked him who he wanted, Heyman asked for two people in return – Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. McMahon was quick to agree – Jericho was a bonafide main event star, the first ever Undisputed World Heavyweight Champion. Guerrero and Benoit? While they were solid workers, in Vince’s eyes they were nothing more than mid-carders. But Heyman had other plans in mind. And once Rey Mysterio Jr. came out of his exile following the demise of his former home WCW the previous year and joined the Blue Brand, suddenly Heyman had in place the people he needed to built a brand around: The SmackDown 6.
Following the brand split, Kurt Angle headed to SmackDown as the brand’s top heel. He had a huge feud with Edge, who had recently become a singles star following years as a tag team wrestler with Christian, which ultimately lead to the hair vs hair match that resulted in Angle getting shaved bald. He began his Kurt Angle open challenge (one of the challengers would be a debuting John Cena) and soon formed a tag team with Chris Benoit. The new team would enter into a series of feuds over the WWE Tag Team Championships with two other teams – Edge & Rey Mysterio and Los Guerreros, the pairing of Eddie Guerrero and his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr. The three teams had a vicious series of battles, swapping the tag team titles, and establishing all six men as the top stars of SmackDown – later to be christened The Smackdown 6. Angle would also assemble his Team Angle on SmackDown, featuring Shelton Benjamin and Charlies Haas. He would remain SmackDown loyal until 2006, when he was sent to the rebooted ECW brand, but it would be short. By the summer, he had departed the WWE for TNA/IMPACT Wrestling. During his four years on SmackDown, Kurt Angle won three World titles (2x WWE Champion, 1x World Heavyweight Champion) as well as one reign as WWE Tag Team Champion with Chris Benoit.
Edge was a rising singles star when he joined SmackDown, having been a 7x WWE Tag Team Champion during the height of the Attitude Era. While he had two runs as Intercontinental Champion and one as US Champion prior to joining the Blue Brand, many people didn’t expect Edge to become the impact player he became on SmackDown. Although he would make jumps to Raw on subsequent drafts, he had most of his success on SmackDown where he would win seven World Heavyweight Championships, making the Blue Brand the most Rated-R
REY MYSTERIO JR.
Rey Mysterio made his WWE debut on the Blue Brand, after initially choosing to wrestle elsewhere follow the demise of WCW in 2001. After a return to Mexico and CMLL for a year, he signed with the WWE and immediately struck gold in a tag team with Edge. He would go on to solidify the WWE Cruiserweight division, winning the Cruiserweight title three times in his first two years with the company. It was as a member of SmackDown than Rey finally won his first World title, capturing the World Heavyweight Championship in 2006 at WrestleMania 22. Mysterio’s lucha libre style wowed the WWE Universe for the Ruthless Aggression era, making SmackDown WWE’s most exciting program for years.
Eddie Guerrero had had a good run on Raw prior to joining SmackDown on Paul Heyman’s request. He was a former 2x European Champion and Intercontinental Champion, who had become a fan favourite with his run as “Latino Heat” alongside Chyna. When he arrived on SmackDown after the 2002 brand split, he was paired with his real life nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. in Los Guerreros, who dastardly “lie, cheat and steal” gimmick – initially a heel team – soon won over the fans as the brand’s most electric and entertaining duos. In 2004, Eddie Guerrero would reach the pinnacle of his career, defeating Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship at No Way Out. To this day, Eddie Guerrero is still the last man to cleanly pin Brock Lesnar in a singles match. Sadly, Eddie’s run would only last one more year, as he passed away in 2005.
The unlikely star of the six, Chavo Guerrero joined the WWE shortly after the sale of WCW and became part of The Alliance team in the WWE vs. WCW/ECW Invasion storyline. But until he became a member of SmackDown, he was relegated to the WWE Cruiserweight division, where he routinely competed against the likes of Taijiri, Spike Dudley and Scotty 2 Hotty. But paired with his uncle Eddie, Chavo became one of SmackDown’s main event players, as Los Guerreros were engaged in headlining feuds with the likes of Edge & Chris Benoit and Edge & Rey Mysterio. During his time on the Blue Brand, Chavo would win the WWE Cruiserweight title four times, before joining fellow SmackDown 6 member Kurt Angle on the ECW reboot.
To the staff of Monday Night Raw, having Chris Benoit on their roster was more of a coup from the Monday Night Wars – Benoit had jumped to WWE right after he won the WCW World Heavyweight title in early 2000 – than an actual asset. While he’d win the Intercontinental Championship four times before becoming SmackDown exclusive in 2002, Benoit was always seen as the foil in someone else’s feud, never the star of the show himself. But under Heyman’s guidance on SmackDown Chris Benoit became the living embodiment of “Ruthless Aggression” that the era got it’s name from. No one in WWE’s creative new Benoit better – it was Heyman who had originally given Benoit his first big break in North American wrestling, bringing him in to ECW from New Japan Pro Wrestling in 1994. It was Benoit’s masterful work on the Blue Brand that lead to his elevation as a main event star and Vince McMahon ultimately bringing him back to Raw, where he would capture the World Heavyweight Championship in 2004 at WrestleMania XX.