On September 24th, 2019, the SmackDown Live era officially came to an end. It began on July 26th, 2016, a week after the WWE Draft and a couple of days removed from the Battleground PPV. There was a whole lot of buzz about it because fans were thrilled about the second brand split.
After all, the roster was clearly getting crowded and it was evident that there wouldn’t be opportunities as such in a single brand. So on July 26th, the SmackDown Live era officially began with Shane McMahon, the commissioner, standing in the center of the ring with Daniel Bryan announcing the new era that they were a part of and getting right to business, finding then-WWE Champion Dean Ambrose a SummerSlam title contender.
The final shot of the SmackDown era was Sasha Banks attacking Becky Lynch backstage, while in the ring, Kevin Owens offered to put his career on the line in along with Shane McMahon. It has been over 3 years since the SmackDown Live Era began and it officially concluded at the end of September. As of October, SmackDown will be moving back to Friday Nights and will take up the old name “Friday Night SmackDown” with a brand new logo, ditching the “SmackDown Live” logo and advertising.
It’s a fresh start for the blue brand, but this article is looking at the three years of SmackDown Live. In hindsight, it can be said with certainty that it was an absolutely great era. It’s exciting to see which direction they could be headed towards, but looking back, there were quite a few great things that happened and quite a few superstars that were created.
There’s no doubt that the SmackDown Live of 2016 was by far the best in terms of quality of the product. It’s interesting because when the rosters were set in the draft, fans were angry, feeling that RAW got the roster that was clearly superior, especially the Women’s division. But what WWE proved was that having a stacked roster is one thing, but utilizing superstars is a whole other thing altogether. This was where SmackDown excelled in that period.
Not only did the main event feature an incredible trio feud involving Dean Ambrose, AJ Styles and occasionally John Cena, but there was a great midcard, the Intercontinental Championship was at its most important point in over a decade and a half and the women were being utilized even in non-title storylines.
Even though there were only a handful of women, WWE managed to use all of them and have multiple storylines going on at once. Overall, the product was simply excellent to watch and it was clear that SmackDown Live was the best wrestling show in the world at the time, even superior to NXT (which was going through a rough phase at the time).
With AJ Styles leading the charge, it was clear that he had taken the role of Edge many years prior, where he was the top heel and also “Mr. SmackDown”, helping elevate the show to new heights. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the era of SmackDown was none other than Styles himself, as he spent nearly three years on the brand before switching over to RAW. Moreover, he had two vital WWE title reigns, one of which was as a heel and the second of which was as a babyface who had a year-long championship run.
But he was the cream of the crop in all of it. While SmackDown was excellent as a whole, there’s no denying that 2017 was the worst year for the brand. It started off with a lot of promise with AJ Styles and John Cena battling it out for the WWE title, only for Bray Wyatt to win it two months later. However, the direction post-WrestleMania was poor, to say the least. It felt like a repetition of history where WWE saw SmackDown get too successful and took some of the most important superstars and put them on RAW.
Not only did this gut the roster of the blue brand, but the decision to make Jinder Mahal the top heel in 2017 backfired, resulting in some very average programming. Even the women’s division clearly weakened at the time and it was only the tag team division that really thrived that year.
2018, thankfully, turned out to be a much better direction for the brand as AJ Styles was once again the leading star and Daniel Bryan’s return to the ring added a whole new layer to the main event scene, one that would only be felt months later. It was a clear step-up from the previous year because WWE had learned their lesson. Perhaps the best thing that really happened on SmackDown in 2018 was the incredible rise of Becky Lynch – one that was unexpected but absolutely fascinating to watch. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see any woman have a run like that in the near future, but it really cemented what turned out to be a great year.
2019, of course, was a good year as well, but the emphasis on brand exclusivity had faded away due to the Wild Card rule. There were still some interesting occurences, but it was clear that 2016 and 2018 were the two best years for SmackDown Live. Not to forget, things like Talking Smack only added to the aura of the show and overall, WWE should be happy about how they handled the entire thing.