The Best And Worst Of WWF Smackdown 8/26/99: Same As It Ever Was

Previously on … wait a minute, we’re at the beginning! That’s right, we’re starting vintage Smackdown Best and Worsts, and we’re starting from square one, in the summer of 1999. First of all, thank you for all your great feedback during the Cruiserweight Classic recaps. Don’t think I didn’t see those #AustinForSmackdown separatists in the comments section! While contemporary Smackdown is in very capable hands, I consider it a privilege to take you back in the day for some Blue Team memories. Let’s get to work!

Know your role and share this column! Keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter, and give my personal Twitter a look. (If it’s locked, just come back in a few days. I may be trying to prevent potential employers from asking “Who is this T.J. Perkins, and why does he disappoint you so?”) Also, here’s where to follow along with this Smackdown episode on the WWE Network.

And now, the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Smackdown for August 26, 1999.

First, Let’s Catch Up

Smackdown was established as WWF’s B-show, set up in direct competition to WCW Thunder. Same night, same timeslot, same blue color scheme. It marked a return to network television for WWF, even though calling UPN an actual TV network would be like calling Velveeta actual cheese. It takes guts to make Moesha the cornerstone of your channel. I’m just saying.

A pilot for Smackdown was originally filmed in April 1999, but the full production run formally began in late August. It was as good a time to introduce a new show as any, because SummerSlam had just occurred a few days prior, and there was a lot of pay-per-view fallout to deal with.

We’ll cover most of those residual issues as we go along, but the main thing to take away is that the majority of 1999 focused on a four-cornered title feud between Mankind, The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Triple H. Mankind actually won the title at SummerSlam, only to be screwed by Shane McMahon the next night on Raw, giving Triple H his first taste of the WWF Championship. So, the very first episode of Smackdown occurs one day into The Game’s first title reign.

Listen, I know you’re sick of origin stories, but sometimes we have to begin with shooting Thomas and Martha in the alley. Them’s the breaks. Relax, this’ll be fine as long as we don’t begin with roughly 20 minutes of talking!

Worst: Roughly 20 Minutes Of Talking

oh for the love of-

Okay, so we’re not exactly starting on the best foot here. Still, clunky exposition of several convoluted story threads is better than no exposition at all, I guess. You know the cast by this point: Triple H is still in his denim phase, The Rock is still in his “expensive shirts that look like Rainforest Cafe” phase, the gang’s all here.

It’s worth noting that this is kind of The Rock’s show. He’s not the mayor of Smackdown or anything, but it was “the people’s show,” and it was named after a fictional hotel he created because he liked Elvis a lot. All these years later, the show is still around, and the word “smackdown” has even made its way into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Not a bad legacy for a term that often shared a sentence with “roody-poo.” Remember that one? How many signatures do I have to get on a petition before kids at the National Spelling Bee are asking for the language of origin on “roody-poo?”

Eventually, WWF Commissioner Shawn Michaels shows up to end the game of Catchphrase Ping-Pong and wear his first Texas Wrestling Academy shirt of the night. He sets up a title match between Triple H and The Rock, which can only end poorly for The Great One. Having the benefit of hindsight, putting HHH and HBK in the same ring and expecting a neutral result is so telegraphed, it should be in Morse code. Eventually, Shane McMahon teleports to the ring and tries to name himself the second guest referee, in case Michaels gets raptured or something, but Michaels puts him in a match with Mankind instead.

Also, if we’re starting a new weekly column, we’re going to need a new running joke. So, let’s keep tally of all the things The Rock threatens to turn sideways and cram up a person’s butthole. So far, we have:

1. The WWF Championship belt
2. His shoe

I look forward to seeing how long this list gets.

Worst: Double J Vs. Mr. Ass, In Case You Forgot It Was 1999

The first match in Smackdown’s official canon is Jeff Jarrett versus Billy Gunn, because it’s the Attitude Era and we need an excuse to fill the ring with two sets of cleavage (Debra and Miss Kitty) and a guy who loves butts. Jarrett has just defeated D’Lo Brown for the Intercontinental Championship, and Billy has such a literal addiction to mooning people that he went to the courthouse and legally had his surname changed to “Ass.” Actually, I think this is a whole match of compulsive behaviors, because it takes all of 90 seconds for Debra to get on the apron to try and flash Gunn.

It’s a mess, and it’s over mercifully quick. Chyna makes her second (of many) appearances, as well. On the previous Raw, she basically stole a contract for an Intercontinental Championship
match, so she tries to get in Jarrett’s head the best way she knows how: By stealing his guitar and knocking out both of his valets with it. Chyna’s kind of a thief, now that I think about it. Maybe that’s why the relationship with Eddie Guerrero worked so well. Oh man, now I’m just looking forward to writing about that.

Best: The Undertaker, Regional Manager Of Sales

We’ve seen The Undertaker play a lot of roles over the years. He’s been a Satanic warlock, a Satanic warlock who sold out to a billionaire, a motorcycle enthusiast, an evil motorcycle enthusiast, and the final boss of WrestleMania, just to name a few. But how many of you remember his time as the world’s most overbearing boss?

He and The Big Show have just won the WWF Tag Team Championships at Summerslam, and ‘Taker is now taking something of a mentor role to Show. It’s hilarious, because he’s awful at it. The only way he knows how to teach people is trial-by-fire tough love, and Big Show is just barely keeping up. Meanwhile, Undertaker joins Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on the commentary desk, because he was still allowed to talk in 1999. This is like hiring a personal trainer who tells you to run a few windsprints to the sun and back while they go to the bar for a quick drink.

Show is then left to defend the championships single-handedly against the Kane and X-Pac and the Acolytes. We give Goldust a lot of love for being the master of odd couple tag teams, but Kane has to at least be in that conversation. Over the span of his career, he’s won tag team gold with a contrarian goat-man, the world’s worst superhero, and a weird Minnesotan sex pervert who couldn’t stop pointing at his crotch. Kane is the universal donor of tag team wrestling.

Best, But Only In Hindsight: The Al Snow/Big Boss Man Feud

Ohhhhhhhhh my sweet lord. I suppose it’s about that time, eh?

If you’re asking why I’m giving a Best to a storyline that ends with Al Snow eating a bowl of Scott Tenorman Special, it’s because I love the look on people’s face when they hear about it for the first time. Even with all the context in the world, there are certain angles that make wrestling virgins incredulous. It’s also kind of a memento mori, in case we ever start thinking that our precious pro wrestling is all intellectual and stuff. Sometimes we get perfectly executed drama between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, lifelong friends turned bitter enemies. And sometimes we get Al Snow, whose only crimes were misunderstanding an oral sex reference and loving his dog too much. Remember where you came from.

In case you’re just joining us, Al Snow had a chihuahua named Pepper. It was an adorable mascot, and Snow claimed it could talk to him, because he’s the same kind of “crazy” that Dean Ambrose is. We call it Hot Topic Crazy around these parts. At this time, the Big Boss Man has kidnapped Pepper because he’s a deplorable human being who crashes funerals with macabre beat poetry. More on that in weeks to come, trust me.

Boss Man says he’ll trade Pepper for a shot at the Hardcore Championship, and Snow agrees. In true heel fashion, Boss Man knocks out Snow with his nightstick, wins the title, and re-abducts Pepper just for the hell of it. I don’t know how they do it in Cobb County, but when you use a chihuahua as a bargaining chip, I was always told that you’re supposed to honor the deal. Obviously, this angle will get significantly worse in the near future. Still, it’s my favorite Pepper story that isn’t performed by the Butthole Surfers.

Best: The Gift (Of Jericho) That Keeps On Giving

Hey, do you know what Road Dogg wants you to suck? It. He wants you to suck it.

So yeah, here’s future first-ballot Hall of Famer Chris Jericho. As a WWF kid growing up, if you ask me today to close my eyes and picture Chris Jericho, this is what I see. The long hair, the black-and-rainbow tights, the Titantron video with the stripper silhouette, all of it. Of course, it also comes with the lame repeater powerbombs that he was trying to get over at the time, but I’ll give that a pass. Weird signature move for a cruiserweight, am I right? If Brock Lesnar can’t make it look right, there’s no way Jericho can.

Y2J faces the D-O-Double G here, and it should be noted that this is actually Jericho’s WWF in-ring debut. At this point, we’re just two and a half weeks removed from the now-legendary “Raw is Jericho” promo, in which he made his first WWF television appearance. It’s easy to be dismissive about the in-ring content of this Smackdown card, but we’re getting Triple H’s first title defense and Chris Jericho’s debut all in the same night. Not bad for UPN!

Jericho elects to take the dirty way out, getting disqualified after putting Road Dogg through a table. He slaps on the Walls of Jericho afterward, which becomes a strange commentary moment because it has yet to be named such on WWF television. They obviously don’t want to call it the Liontamer, so Jerry Lawler calls it a “modified Boston Crab with a little extra pressure applied.” Doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

Also, if we’re continuing the theme of weird mentor relationships that Undertaker already established, Jericho has been trying to convince Howard Finkel that he’s a “warrior.” The payoff for this is Jericho deploying Finkel to the ring (WITH THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR’S THEME MUSIC) to stop Tony Chimel from introducing a Ken Shamrock match. Unfortunately, Howard Finkel is made of wet pizza dough, and Chimel retaliates with a flurry of offense that’s weirdly reminiscent of the CM Punk/Mickey Gall fight. To make matters worse, Fink tries to swing at Shamrock on his way to the ring.

Two things:
1. Finkel misses a huge opportunity by not instantly pratfalling over the cables on the floor when Jericho sends him to the ring.
2. Pratfall or no, Jericho laughs straight to the camera once Finkel is gone, because he’s Chris Jericho and he is a treasure.

This whole thing ends with Jericho bailing on Finkel in the parking lot, where it is implied that he craps his pants when Shamrock finally tracks him down. It’s pretty much this scene, note for note.

If I’m Finkel here, I go for the kneebar. With any luck, it would send Shamrock into a PTSD flashback of his Pancrase fight with Minoru Suzuki. (Yes, this column will occasionally lapse into mid-’90s Japanese shootfighting references.)

Best: Billion Dollar Princess, Year One

Search your feelings. Be honest with yourself. Let the truth come out. At some point in your life, you’ve been madly in love with Stephanie McMahon.

Whether it was ’99 Rookie Year Stephanie, ’02 Smackdown GM Stephanie, or ’15 Authority Stephanie, she found a way inside your brain. Here, she’s just a few months removed from The Undertaker’s attempt at the most Anne Rice wedding ever. You’d think that would turn her off the concept of marriage forever, but Test has just proposed to her on Monday Night Raw, and now she’s ready with an answer. She calls him Andrew (his real name), which is kind of adorable in its own right. Of course, she says yes, and this instantly prompts Shane McMahon and the Mean Street Posse to hit the ring and make Test pay. I know Shane is supposed to be the bad guy here, but being an older brother myself, there’s part of me that would probably react the exact same way. The first time I saw one of my sisters kiss a guy, I wanted to launch nukes at the schmuck’s house. My reaction was not rational, and neither is Shane’s. We get each other.

This leads into Shane’s match with Mankind, but I want to fast-forward a bit and show you how happy everyone is for these two. Isn’t it wonderful to be in the presence of young lovers, bound by destiny and high hopes? Baby Michael Cole looks like he could cry.

Might want to avoid Las Vegas in the near future, that’s all I’m saying.

Worst: Unprotected Chair Shots

Anyway, Shane vs. Mankind. This quickly turns into a messy brawl that spills everywhere except the few square feet that Stephanie uses to huddle over Test while he recuperates. Eventually everyone but Shane and Mankind get cleared out, but Chyna returns (again) to run interference so that Triple H can brain Mankind with a chair. In fact, he and two-thirds of the Mean Street Posse end up taking some nasty-looking shots to the dome during this match. Knowing what we know now, this is unpleasant to watch. It’s not like the chairs were any flimsier back then, and now that we’re in a post-Benoit world, this is basically fossil evidence of a time when our collective ignorance was bliss. Violent, violent bliss.

Also, supplementary best to the Mean Street Posse. I’ll just come right out and say it, I love the MSP. Wrestling gimmicks with just a hint of self-awareness are usually hard to pull off, but they were just perfect on a meta level. Shane grew up in a Connecticut mansion, of course his childhood friends would be squishy wannabe tough-guys. The meanest thing they encountered on the streets of Greenwich was probably a Macy’s that closed early on Sundays.

It’s also fun to imagine what the modern-day Posse would be like. I’m guessing three dudes from Williamsburg with sleeve tattoos and handlebar mustaches, and their tag finisher is called “You’ve Probably Never Heard of It.”

Best: Ivory’s Here!
Worst: … For Roughly Three Minutes

I don’t know if you retroactively get to decide that someone is your jam, but heck with it, Ivory is absolutely my jam. She wasn’t Akira Hokuto in the ring or anything, but she was underrated, hardworking, and she had G.L.O.W. street cred. Here we are for the premiere of Smackdown, and Tina Ferrari is your WWF Women’s Champion!

Unfortunately, she’s taking on Tori in an evening gown match here. “Facing Tori” and “evening gown match” are the two biggest handfuls of nothing you could ever smash together, in my opinion. Tori was 100% forgettable. The only storyline of hers I can remember off the top of my head is her weird love triangle with Kane and X-Pac. She and Ivory sprint through this evening gown match like they don’t want to be there (I wonder why), and it’s over almost as soon as it starts. You know the match bookmarks on the WWE Network, right? The little dots on the timeline that indicate the start and finish of a match? They literally overlap for this match. It looks like the Visa logo. This was the female place on the card for years, and we still aren’t getting it quite right after the Hashtag Divas Revolution. At least Ivory took it all in stride, though. Go watch that episode of Table for 3 with her, Molly Holly, and Alundra Blayze where’s she’s throwing back martinis like water. Ivory is your mom’s fun friend from the ’80s that you want to go back in time and party with.

Best: The Portrait Of Lillian Gray

Seriously, I think she’s from Vanna White’s coven of blonde witches who don’t age.

Best/Worst: You Know The Drill

You’ve seen this match before. You’ve seen Triple H versus The Rock, and even if you haven’t, you’ve seen enough of them individually to know what to expect when they face off. Also, you’ve seen enough Shawn Michaels to know what his deal is. There are a lot of familiar ingredients here. They work well together, but familiarity is only so interesting.

This is all build-up to Shawn’s sudden but inevitable betrayal of The Rock, of course. He pretends to play fair by ejecting Chyna from ringside, but that might have just been because she made so many appearances on this episode that she was about to start making overtime pay. Michaels interrupts a People’s Elbow with Sweet Chin Music, and the fans are just shocked. Shocked, I tell you. Someone even throws something at HBK as he leaves with Triple H, Shane McMahon, and Chyna, who I guess had some sort of magnetic attraction to the ring for the duration of this episode. It’s a pretty sure sign of HHH’s game plan as champion in years to come, and it’s cool that they set up that narrative so early. But still, the elements at play here don’t allow for anything too groundbreaking.

If anything, I was watching Michaels more than anyone else. By the way, here’s Shawn’s second TWA shirt of the night, complete with phone number.

Just to recap: This show featured the McMahon siblings at each other’s throats, Triple H in a position of power, Mick Foley being a sad-sack, Chris Jericho being the best in the world in what he does, Jerry Lawler being insufferable, and a veiled reference to the school where Daniel Bryan and Brian Kendrick were training. I think 2016 might just be the gritty reboot of 1999. I mean, Green Day and Metallica both have albums coming out this year, so we can’t rule it out.