Smackdown has long been established as WWE's "B show."
No, you won't hear Vince McMahon -- or even any of the talent -- call it that in interviews. But with Raw being a well-established weekly spectacle filled with many of the company's top stars, Smackdown is obviously No. 2. Not that that's a bad thing, though.
But this year's WrestleMania season drives the message home harder than a Brogue Kick.
Looking at the line-up for the pay-per-view, a clear majority of all the show's top matches have been built on Raw: The Rock vs. John Cena, Triple H vs. The Undertaker, Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk and, to a lesser extent, the recently announced divas tag match pitting Eve and Divas Champion Beth Phoenix against Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos.
A 12-man tag team match with teams picked by Raw and Smackdown General Managers John Laurinaitis and Teddy Long, as well as the grudge match between Randy Orton and Kane -- confirmed on Friday night's Smackdown -- have been built across both shows.
The only two truly Smackdown matches so far on the WrestleMania card are Daniel Bryan's World Heavyweight Championship defense against Sheamus and Intercontinental Champion Cody Rhodes facing off with Big Show.
The good news is that both of those matches have been given proper time to develop and blossom. The Rhodes-Show feud came out of nowhere, amidst rumors of NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal's involvement, but it has become a decent midcard feud to keep Rhodes busy at WrestleMania.
Sheamus' Royal Rumble victory automatically made the match between him and Bryan seem more important, and on the grandest stage of all, they'll have the opportunity to prove themselves as leaders of the new generation and worthy of a spot on the show.
Smackdown is a place where young talent can grow and prosper. When I interviewed Rhodes last year, he said, "It's a varsity team loaded with freshmen, and that's a good thing because those freshmen are going to turn into studs and are turning into studs before your very eyes."
He's absolutely right. The Smackdown roster is loaded with potential, and the sad truth is, there's not room at the top of the WrestleMania card for everyone -- even for those who deserve it.
But with hard work and continued dedication, these young superstars can easily prove themselves worthy of carrying the torch into the future, and Smackdown is a show that gives them that opportunity.
One year ago, Sheamus and Bryan were competing for the United States Championship and bumped from WrestleMania. This year, they aren't in the main event, but they're in a spotlighted match that will give both young men an opportunity to shine.
What exactly each superstar does with the chances laid before him is in his own hands, but there's no reason to be ashamed to be part of the blue brand. They should follow Rhodes' example and take pride in their show.
* The feud between WWE Champion CM Punk and Chris Jericho has gotten personal. I wasn't a fan of Jericho's Raw promo, as I thought it pushed the boundaries of appropriateness for today's WWE. He cut a similar, yet toned down, promo on Smackdown. The issue with this storyline is that Jericho isn't calling out Punk's personal demons, but those of his family, which makes it less effective and harder to believe that it bothers Punk to his core.
The match between Jericho and Sheamus was a really strong television main event and made both world title challengers look strong. They had a good amount of time to work before Jericho won via countout, albeit with an assist from Bryan. As I said before, these two young men are proving themselves capable of hanging with established veterans at the top of the card. Hopefully pushes continue for both of them after WrestleMania.
* David Otunga wrestled the best match he's had in a long time against Kofi Kingston. It wasn't a five-star classic by any means, but they worked decently well together and there was nothing offensive about the bout. The ending came when Santino Marella distracted Otunga, allowing Kingston to hit Trouble in Paradise out of nowhere. It should also be noted how awesome it was to see Otunga wrestling in dress slacks and shoes, though his pants did seem to have weak seams on the backside.
* A match between AJ and Nikki Bella was a highlight of the show, though little of it had to do with the match. Bryan's behavior while "coaching" AJ made this segment tremendously fun. He stopped "twin magic," which allowed AJ to pick up the win. Immediately afterward, Bryan jumped in the ring and celebrated like he'd just won the world title again. While walking to the back, Bryan told AJ that it would have went much more smoothly if she just did everything he said. In no way is an abusive or controlling relationship a positive thing in real life, but in the wacky world of professional wrestling, it's working wonders for both Bryan and AJ.
* Rhodes proved he can topple giants by defeating The Great Khali. Honestly, I tend to space out when Khali is wrestling, but the match seemed alright, and it's nice to see Rhodes score a clean win here. I hope his title streak doesn't end at WrestleMania.
* It's been far too long since the words "one more match" have graced Smackdown, so it was great to see Christian back on the show to host "The Peep Show" and officially announce his alliance with Team Laurinaitis in dramatic fashion, ala LeBron James' "The Decision." The Raw team is starting to look stacked, which almost makes me fear they'll come up short at WrestleMania. The last thing WWE needs is more Teddy Long, if you hear me, playa.
* Apparently Kane doesn't like Randy Orton because they shook hands last summer. That and he prefers a lifestyle of assaulting random top-tier superstars while claiming he needs to destroy and decimate them to get back to his old self and lose all sense of humanity. OK then. If you ever need to find a match between two random wrestlers paired together due to a lack of nothing better to do, remember and look back on this one.
* Mark Henry killed Yoshi Tatsu. Not really, but it wasn't much of a match. Henry has had back-and-forth booking in recent weeks, but they have to make him look strong for his match with Cena on Raw.
* A week after being reinstated, Drew McIntyre was squashed by Big Show. At least the "is he fired or not?" angle is over, but hopefully this is actually going somewhere. McIntyre is far too talented to be a jobber to the stars.
Kofi Kingston d. David Otunga
AJ d. Nikki Bella
Cody Rhodes d. The Great Khali
Big Show d. Drew McIntyre
Mark Henry d. Yoshi Tatsu
Chris Jericho d. Sheamus by countout
Friday night's episode of Smackdown was pretty strong. It wasn't must-see television, but there were few baffling booking gaffes and nothing horrible from an in-ring standpoint. If Smackdown were this good or better on a weekly basis, the show would be doing just fine. The build to WrestleMania continues to improve and hold interest, and though Bryan vs. Sheamus isn't a true main event, it's one of my most anticipated matches on April 1.
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