It feels like I just wrote my last one of these just a few weeks ago, but unbelievably enough it is that time year again to give out awards. I’d like to welcome you to my fourth annual edition of “Smackdown: Year in Review.” I am Mike Tedesco, Smackdown recapper, news reporter, stats keeper, and host of “Wrestleview Telemundo” and the TNA post-shows. It has been an interesting year in Smackdown. This show has really taken some hits in the star department. We’ve had key injuries to some of the major players, and the roster was raided for the most part during the draft, but through it all we’ve managed to still have consistently good shows week in and week out. How did we do that you may ask? We properly utilized the stars that we did have, and as has always been the case, we have created new stars. And yes, I’m using “we” as if I were talking about sports team.
So, without further adieu, let’s get to handing out some awards!
Rookie of the Year: Sin Cara
I understand that this selection is going to upset people right off the bat, but in terms of rookies debuting on the show this year, Smackdown was light on that. I certainly wasn’t going to pick Johnny Curtis for this category. In fact, he was on NXT first, so that wouldn’t have worked anyway. They need to be making their WWE debut and be on this brand to start it off. That left me with Sin Cara, Hunico, or Epico. I picked Sin Cara because he came into WWE with a ton of fanfare, but he turned out to be a big bust for the company. He’s not exactly “Rookie of the Year” material, I recognize that, but WWE didn’t give me a lot to work with here. I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing him a lot more in this column, so I won’t talk about him too much here.
Best Diva of the Year: Layla
Layla didn’t exactly start the year off hot. She was still teaming with Michelle McCool as one-half of Lay-Cool, the ultra-annoying heel diva tag team that plagued Smackdown for over a year. But, mercifully, the end of this came this year, and Layla started to come into her own. She emerged from that tag team as one of the few divas in WWE that can actually go and wrestle a competent match. Unfortunately, a knee injury sidelined her for the rest of the year. That was back in May, so I guess you can see just how great the divas of Smackdown have been since then. It wasn’t exactly a “Carnac The Great”-type prediction, but I did say in last year’s article that the diva’s division on Smackdown would not improve from 2010. I was correct, unfortunately.
Biggest Loss of the Year: Edge
Smackdown lost a person who was, essentially, the face of the show for the better part of four years. He wasn’t in the prime of his career anymore, but 37-years old is a young age to retire at in wrestling. Looking at the ages of some of the guys in TNA’s main events this year, Edge is a youngster. He wasn’t the best wrestler, but the guy had a ton of passion for what he did. The guy worked his butt off since he came back from major neck surgery in 2004, and he didn’t stop until he was forced to retire with another neck injury. Along the way, he earned everything that he got and had some great moments. He deserved to be champion. He deserved to be in the main event. I always personally liked him and felt a connection with him. I appreciated his story, I suppose. Smackdown has soldiered on without him, but that was a big blow to the show, and that hole is still not completely filled in the roster. At least he was able to walk away from the ring before his neck caused him to become another wrestling tragedy.
Best Finisher: Sheamus’s Brogue Kick
I don’t want to hear anything about Justin Gabriel’s 450 Splash. Yeah, it looks nice, but who cares? It isn’t an unpredictable move that can end a match at any given second. Sheamus’s Brogue Kick sure can, though. The same could be said for Randy Orton’s RKO, but I just happen to have more of an affinity to watching a pale Irish man kick someone’s head into the tenth row. It’s a vicious looking move that even the most cynical fan could say, “Damn, I could see that actually laying somebody out.”
Best Bump of the Year: Randy Orton takes a bad step on the commentary table
How Randy Orton walked away from this without having a fractured leg is beyond me. This was one of the nastiest things I’ve seen since I’ve been covering wrestling consistently. Orton absolutely dodged a bullet walking away from this one unscathed. Kane had put Orton on the table, and Orton fought him off. Then Orton took a step on the table, and his foot went right through one of the holes where the television monitors usually go. He went straight down, and he fell along with the table. Orton quickly popped back up, and he immediately started walking just to see if he could. It looked really bad at first, but he was, amazingly enough, ok. He was probably sore as hell for a few days, but he was ok.
Check out the nastiness of that fall here.
Honorable Mention: Randy Orton gave Sheamus a powerslam onto the steel steps, and Sheamus only half landed on the steps. The other half of his back landed on the actual steps. You may see that bump if you continue reading this column.
Worst Rivalry of the Year: Sin Cara Azul vs. Sin Cara Negro
I want to meet the creative team member who swore up and down that feud was a good idea and promptly drill him in the face. This was, for a lack of a better term, senseless. It was born out of the fact that the actual Sin Cara was suspended for a month following a failed drug test. Sin Cara returned earlier than expected, and he had armed himself with a new arsenal of moves. Well, it turned out that it wasn’t the real Sin Cara. We learned this when he inexplicably kicked Daniel Bryan in the head on the live Smackdown in August. Sin Cara was heel until the real Sin Cara returned a few weeks later to confront him and defend his honor. Okay, so now there is two Sin Cara’s, and they’re all dressed the same. Confused yet? They would go on attacking one another for a few shows, and the crowd just never got into it. How can you react when you have no idea what’s going on? The actual Sin Cara can’t speak English, and the bad Sin Cara just couldn’t get a promo going, so all the back-story had to be laid out by Michael Cole on commentary.
It finally led to a match at Hell in a Cell that was less than spectacular. To let you know which was the good Sin Cara and which was the bad, they dressed the bad guy up in all black. That should have been enough to end the feud since the good Sin Cara prevailed, but a Smackdown in Mexico City made sure that we’d see one more effort from them. It was a Mask vs. Mask match in Mexico, a place where masks still mean something, so at least they were able to get SOMETHING good out of this. The crowd was at least hot for that match and Sin Cara Azul prevailed again, unmasking the imposter. They should have quit while they were ahead, but they kept it going for some reason. Sin Cara Negro turned into Hunico, and he continued to attack Sin Cara. Finally, the wrestling gods had seen enough, and they saw fit to end this rivalry the hard way. Sin Cara attempted to dive over the top rope at Survivor Series and, presto, his patella tendon disappeared. If WWE wasn’t going to end this, fate was. I’m not saying I’m happy he got injured; I’m just saying I’m glad this feud is over.
(Dis) Honorable Mention: The Corre vs. Big Show and Kane. Dear lord.
Best Rivalry of the Year: Randy Orton vs. Christian
This feud dominated Smackdown from mid-spring to the near end of the summer. They got some major mileage out of this feud, and it was a great effort from both men. Smackdown really needed this following the end of Edge’s career. Christian was, of course, the sentimental favorite to be the successor to Edge’s Smackdown throne, and he actually wound up winning the World Heavyweight Championship in one of the feel-good moments of the year at Extreme Rules. Then, unbelievably, on his very first Smackdown as champion, Randy Orton defeated him, and he lost the championship. Now that’s a hot way to start a feud. They would have a good-natured rematch later in the month that ended with Christian coming up short, and then he snapped. Christian turned heel, and he wound up being a thorn in Randy Orton’s side for the rest of the summer.
Christian would lose all of his matches, but never decisively. There would always be some technicality that would get him another rematch. Eventually his character started using lawyers to bend the matches to his favor, and he wound up winning the World Heavyweight Championship back in July. The feud eventually culminated with Edge calling Christian out as being a lame, whining champion, and Randy Orton beating him for the title in a brutal match at Summerslam. The feud was very entertaining, didn’t really go through any terrible lulls, and all the matches delivered tenfold. What more could you ask for a main event feud?
Worst Moment of the Year: Edge’s Retirement Speech
Don’t get me wrong. This was actually a beautiful moment; one of the few genuinely real moments you get in WWE every year. When I say “worst moment,” I don’t mean this was bad. I mean it was the worst as in most painful. It was sad to see Edge go, but thankfully he left on his own terms before he got seriously injured. The speech that he gave on the April 15 edition of Smackdown wasn’t as sad as the one he gave on Raw, when the feelings were much more fresh. He had some time to think about what happened, and he delivered a well-put together goodbye. Edge let the crowd know that he was in a good place, and he was going to step away for a while. Whether he was actually in as good of a place as he said he was, I highly doubt. How could you be? However, Edge said all the right things, and he ended his WWE career on a high note. He relinquished the World Heavyweight Championship, did his entrance just for the thrill of it, and he walked off into the sunset.
Best Moment of the Year: Randy Orton beating Christian for the World Championship
This was a very unexpected and cool moment for the show. As I’d mentioned earlier, Christian had just won the championship five days earlier at Extreme Rules. He had been the sentimental favorite following the untimely end of Edge’s career. All of a sudden, the spoilers for the show came out on Tuesday, and it said that Randy Orton had beaten Christian to become the new World Heavyweight Champion. He’d only truly been champion for two days. The reaction from the people on the Internet was largely critical and, for me, comical. People were downright flabbergasted. The big picture was that this was the perfect way to make Christian, a lifetime mid-carder in WWE for his entire career, a main event player. It also got people buzzing about what was going on with Smackdown, and that’s how you get people to watch your show. The match was a great match, by the way. It wasn’t like Christian lost like some chump. He looked good, and it was a great way to whet your appetite for bigger and better things from them.
Worst Episode of the Year: November 29, 2011 in Charlotte, NC
This is the worst episode of the year because it was a live Smackdown, a great way to drum up interest with some viewers who don’t normally watch the show, and they struck out. I don’t think it was the holiday theme that hurt the show. You can always do a theme show and make it entertaining. The show opened with a long and boring segment with Mick Foley dressed as Santa Claus telling lame jokes, and it just kept going downhill from there. Sure, the show had some gems like Randy Orton vs. David Otunga, and a great match between Mark Henry and Daniel Bryan, but if anyone was still watching by that point, I’d be surprised.
There were probably a handful of episodes that were worse than this one. Technically the Smackdown before WrestleMania was the worst Smackdown of the Year, but that show has traditionally been horrible. It would be a cop out if I picked that one. This Smackdown is the worst because, as I said, it was live, and Smackdown always seems to strikeout when it’s live. They freeze up when it’s a live show. They try to be like Raw when they should be sticking to the formula that their normal viewers go out of their way to watch.
Click here for my recap of the show.
Best Episode of the Year: January 7, 2011 in Tucson, AZ
There is always one episode of Smackdown that I watch every year that I just can’t seem to forget about. This was that show, and it was the very first show of the year. I can’t think of another episode that I’ve watched this year (and I’ve recapped all but one show) that entertained me more from top to bottom. The show kicked off with a great match, featured a title change, had a new star come onto the roster, a fresh new face in the championship hunt, and a good main event to close it out. It even had a tolerable diva’s match!
The show kicked off with the final match of the 2010 “Worst Feud of the Year” winner Edge vs. Kane in a very good Last Man Standing match for the World Heavyweight Championship. If you’re going to end a terrible feud, you might as well go out with a bang. Did they ever! That was a fun match and a hot way to open up the show. They followed that up with Kofi Kingston winning the Intercontinental Championship from Dolph Ziggler, and then beating him a second time to retain it. The match was unadvertised heading in to the show, so it was very surprising to see the title change hands that way. Then we saw a fatal four-way match to determine the new number one contender to Edge’s World Heavyweight Championship. Dolph Ziggler, after just losing his title moments ago, won this match after Wade Barrett debuted and beat up the Big Show. Now we’ve got a new face in the title hunt. Finally, the show closed out with a nice 2-out-of-3 falls match with Rey Mysterio and Alberto Del Rio, which was won by Del Rio. That was the blow off to their feud as well.
It was an awesome show. I remember writing in my thoughts section that this show was perfect and that WWE would have a tough time topping it. I’m not saying Smackdown was crap the rest of the year. There were a lot of shows that were on par with this one, maybe even just as good, but this was top to bottom entertainment for me.
Click here for my recap of the show.
Worst Match of the Year: Sin Cara, Daniel Bryan, and Ezekiel Jackson def. Wade Barrett, Cody Rhodes, and Ted DiBiase * – June 17, 2011
To be honest with you, this match wasn’t all that bad. It was just another six-man tag team match, until the end of it. Daniel Bryan caught Ted DiBiase with a dropkick, he covered him, and DiBiase kicked out, only the referee kept counting. Then the match just ended, and everybody in the ring was left with the proverbial “deer in the headlights” look. Smackdown is a taped show, and they always re-tape endings or, in some cases, whole matches if they didn’t work out a first time. Why they didn’t just redo the ending is beyond me. I don’t know if it was an editing oversight or what, but they put a product out on TV that made them look foolish, and that’s inexcusable, especially when you have at least two days to edit the footage and make it look presentable.
Also, as long as we’re being honest, I was going to pick a diva’s match, but that’s too easy. I also didn’t pick any squash matches because, well, that’s dumb. Those matches aren’t designed to be good. This was a match that was given some time, and they wanted it to be good, but it just failed in the end.
Best Match of the Year: Sheamus def. Randy Orton in a No DQ Match **** – June 10, 2011
This match I can say, with 100% certainty, was the best Smackdown match of the year, hands down. This was an exciting and very brutal match that was absolutely PPV-quality. The things that Randy Orton and Sheamus did to each other on a free show are impressive. What’s more impressive is the fact that this match wasn’t even promoted. Teddy Long set it up in a random backstage segment. They had no hype for it, and they still went out there and tore the house down. This is definitely one of the top Smackdown matches I’ve recapped since I’ve been with this website.
Click here to watch the match and see for yourself.
The Great Khali Award (Worst Superstar of the Year): Sin Cara
This guy has a four-fecta in this year’s edition of this column, though in the worst match he was just a bystander and the rookie of the year was just from lack of options. They made a huge deal about him when he came in. They had a press conference in Mexico, newspaper coverage, vignettes, tons of merchandise, and lots of showcase matches. They certainly seemed to be pegging him to be their Rey Mysterio of the future. The results weren’t quite what they were looking for, though. The guy suffered from a bad case of the botches (in every match), got hit with a thirty-day wellness policy suspension just months into his debut, and to top it all off, he capped off his epic rookie year with a ruptured patella that will keep him out for a good portion of 2012.
WWE made some major errors when they brought him in. I’d equate this to an actual sports team signing a rookie to a big deal and putting him on the squad having only seen videos of what he can do. You can’t just take a guy who was big in another country, plop him in the center of the ring, and say, “Here you go – make me money!” The first order of business should have been to put him in FCW and let him learn how to work a match in WWE. It’s not just learning how to pace yourself in the match, but also learning how to emote and connect with the fans. Granted, he didn’t do a terrible job with the fans, but it could have been better. If anything, he could have learned to communicate better in the ring with his opponent. So, in the end, it wasn’t his entire fault. In fact, I’d say none of his shortcomings were truly his fault. He simply wasn’t prepared for this gig, and WWE didn’t protect their investment. As a result, he was exposed, made mistakes, and failed miserably. What a shame.
Best Superstar of the Year: Mark Henry
Sensational, amazing, stunning, astonishing: just pick your superlative. It will describe what Mark Henry has been to wrestling over the past eight months. Back in April, Mark Henry was just another guy on Raw struggling to keep his head above water. He’d been hanging around WWE for the better part of fifteen years with lame gimmicks and a bunch of expectations that were never accomplished. There was even talk that this may be his last year with the company. The move to Smackdown just seemed like a casual move so they could just move him off Raw. Then he attacked John Cena in the main event of the Raw draft, and things all of a sudden took off from there.
Mark Henry started to become dominant. After a few months he just stopped losing matches all together. He was, for one of the first times in his career, legitimately being taken seriously. His promo skills took off, and the quality of his matches began to get better for a big man. After fifteen years, everything seemed to be clicking with him. Mark Henry wound up becoming one of the most compelling gimmicks of the year. There’s always that handful of fans that won’t take him seriously because of his past gimmicks, but the majority of fans have very short memories, and are therefore more forgiving. Mark Henry carried Smackdown in the fall following the conclusion of the Orton/Christian feud. He was a convincing and legitimate champion. He also had some good matches along the way. I liked the intensity of his matches against Sheamus, he had a good one against Big Show at Hell in a Cell, and an excellent Cage Match against Daniel Bryan. It’s the little things that he does as well, like the off microphone trash talking, and the emoting the he does to put things over. The Hall of Pain gimmick was great. I literally cannot sing his praises enough, but I’ll stop there before I get accused of overselling this.
When you hand out awards that are simply for the “best” and “worst”, you don’t get a chance to really talk about the guys in the middle. There were a ton of other guys that helped Smackdown along this year who didn’t get their praises properly sung by me. First and foremost is Randy Orton. Mark Henry just barely edged him out as being the best of the year. It was the fact that Mark Henry came out of nowhere to become such a dominating force that gave him the advantage. Orton has been a bona fide main event guy for years now, but it should go without saying that Smackdown just isn’t as good without Randy Orton on the show for the summer. Orton did a yeoman’s service for this show this year. Orton goes out on every episode, and he absolutely gives his all. His greatness and sacrifices for the show can clearly be seen in the Match of the Year.
Sheamus is another guy that comes to mind. Sheamus came in as a heel, but somewhere along the line he turned into one of the brand’s best babyfaces. They just haven’t been able to capitalize on his newfound popularity, a rare shortcoming by the Smackdown writing staff. Cody Rhodes is a guy that has matured through the year. He started the year as “dashing”, he became “disfigured”, and now he’s “enlightened”. His maturation has been fun to watch as he’s been coming along nicely. I look at Wade Barrett in the same light. Christian has been a solid heel for the show, and he provided a perfect foil to Randy Orton during the summer. Finally, Daniel Bryan has kind of been in the background this year. He came into some prominence during the summer when he won Money in the Bank, and then he was right back to where he was before: the mid-card. Only at the end of the year did he explode onto the scene with some major stuff. Can he maintain it in 2012? We’ll find here next year I suppose.
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E-Mail – MikeTedesco@wrestleview.com
I wish each and every one of you the happiest of holidays. Thank you so much for sticking with me for another year!
Thanks for reading!