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In the annals of WWE history, there’s a chapter that stands out as the pinnacle of brand warfare – the epic showdown between SmackDown and Raw in 2005. This clash of the titans was not only a first of its kind but also a masterclass in storytelling and brand rivalry. Let’s take a trip down memory lane to revisit this iconic battle.
The Era of Brand Differentiation
From the inception of the brand split in March 2002 until October 2005, WWE had meticulously maintained a separation between SmackDown and Raw, with each brand having its unique identity. Raw was the epitome of sports entertainment, while SmackDown was synonymous with wrestling. This differentiation was crucial in making each show distinct and appealing to different segments of the WWE audience.
Notable exceptions to this isolation included the on-screen rivalry between Raw’s Eric Bischoff and SmackDown’s Stephanie McMahon in 2002, and a massive roster brawl during the WWE draft edition of Raw in 2004. However, these were isolated incidents, and the brands largely stayed in their lanes.
The Catalyst: SmackDown vs. Raw Video Game
The seeds of the epic rivalry were sown with the release of the first “SmackDown vs. Raw” video game in late 2004. This landmark game had a profound impact on WWE’s storytelling, leading to an on-screen rivalry that mirrored the game’s promotional marketing.
The Royal Rumble Sets the Stage
The annual Royal Rumble event became the starting point for a year-long build towards the battle for brand supremacy at Survivor Series. This event saw sparks flying, as Raw’s Eric Bischoff and SmackDown’s Teddy Long engaged in heated debates. Triple H attempted to lure Batista to SmackDown for a WWE title match against JBL, with verbal jabs thrown at his counterpart.
The Royal Rumble also witnessed the first-ever interaction between two wrestling legends, Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels, setting the stage for an iconic mini-series that would unfold at WrestleMania 21.
Inter-Promotional Bouts at WrestleMania
WrestleMania 21 featured inter-promotional matches that added fuel to the brewing rivalry. Randy Orton, representing Raw, squared off against SmackDown’s Undertaker, a true legend of the blue brand. This clash emphasized that the brand war was escalating.
The Spark: Raw’s Homecoming to USA Network
The rivalry reached a boiling point during the October 3rd episode of Raw, marking its “homecoming” to the USA Network after a five-year stint on Spike TV. In an all-SmackDown 6-man tag match scheduled for the night, Raw’s General Manager Eric Bischoff interrupted, claiming that the audience came for Raw, not SmackDown. He called for a commercial break, leaving SmackDown in the dark.
SmackDown retaliated later that night during a WWE title match between John Cena and Eric Bischoff (who were in a rivalry at the time). Teddy Long declared that SmackDown would handle things “gangsta style,” leading to an all-out brawl between the two brands.
The Birth of a Feud
The full-blown feud emerged on the October 17th episode of Raw when JBL interfered in Edge’s match with Big Show, costing Edge the victory. In retaliation, Edge interfered in the next episode of SmackDown, spearing Rey Mysterio, JBL’s opponent. This tit-for-tat rivalry escalated quickly.
Taboo Tuesday and an Unpredictable Edge
The rivalry culminated in an inter-promotional match at Taboo Tuesday, a Raw pay-per-view event. Edge, refusing to compete and declaring allegiance only to himself, left his team hanging. His replacement, Gene Snitsky, and Masters, lost to SmackDown’s Rey Mysterio and Matt Hardy, dealing a humiliating blow to Raw’s brand supremacy efforts.
The Showdown: Brand Supremacy Match
The final showdown was set for Survivor Series, featuring a 5-on-5 elimination match between Team Raw and Team SmackDown. Raw’s lineup was led by Shawn Michaels and included Kane, The Big Show, Chris Masters, and Carlito. SmackDown’s dream team featured World Heavyweight Champion Batista, JBL, Rey Mysterio, Bobby Lashley, and Randy Orton (replacing Eddie Guerrero, who had sadly passed away).
Survivor Series 2005: A Classic Battle
The 5-on-5 elimination match saw Batista being eliminated early to protect his injured back, leaving a thrilling 3-on-1 finale between Shawn Michaels and Team SmackDown. In an awe-inspiring performance, the Heartbreak Kid eliminated JBL and Rey Mysterio in rapid succession with his Sweet Chin Music. JBL’s interference backfired, leading to Randy Orton hitting the RKO and securing the victory for Team SmackDown.
The Undertaker’s Surprise Return
The showdown ended with a victorious Team SmackDown celebrating, but it wasn’t over yet. The Undertaker made a surprise return, confronting Randy Orton in the ring, setting up the next chapter in their storied rivalry.
Eric Bischoff faced the consequences of Raw’s loss as he was “fired” by Vince McMahon in the weeks following Survivor Series. While the reasons for SmackDown’s victory remain a mystery, it likely served to balance the power dynamic between the two brands, with Raw traditionally being the flagship show.
A Template for Future Rivalries
The 2005 SmackDown vs. Raw rivalry should serve as a template for future brand warfare in WWE. Its success was grounded in logical storytelling, a sense of brand loyalty, and genuine animosity between the two sides. While subsequent editions of brand rivalry, such as Bragging Rights and Survivor Series, have felt forced, the 2005 storyline remains a testament to the art of storytelling in professional wrestling. With Triple H’s role as Head of Creative and the rumored split of the Undisputed title, WWE has the opportunity to recreate the magic of this epic rivalry, and fans are eagerly awaiting its return.