We’re up to number 12 in the SmackDown Countdown this week; a countdown of my top 15 moments in the almost 15 year history of WWE’s Friday Night show. This weeks edition goes slightly against the grain though. This week I’ll be reviewing the WWE Tag Team Championship tournament which took place in 2002 to crown the first ever WWE Tag Team Champions for the SmackDown brand. The reason that it goes slightly against the grain is because the tournament final didn’t take place on an episode of SmackDown, but at the No Mercy pay-per-view.
Earlier in 2002, Raw and SmackDown had been split into two brands. Originally, Ric Flair owned the Raw brand and Vince McMahon owned the SmackDown brand. The Intercontinental, European, Hardcore and Women’s Champions were drafted to the Raw brand and the Cruiserweight and World Tag Team Champions were drafted to SmackDown. At Vengeance in 2002, Hulk Hogan and Edge lost their recently won World Tag Team championships to Lance Storm and Christian of the Un-American’s stable. The following week on SmackDown, The Un-American’s successfully defended their titles against Hulk Hogan and The Rock. This would be the last time that the World Tag Team titles were defended on the “Blue Brand” as the following Monday, The Un-American’s (Lance Storm, Christian and Test) defected to the Raw brand under its new General Manager Eric Bischoff.
This left SmackDown without a Tag Team Championship and in October of 2002, SmackDown’s General Manager Stephanie McMahon created a tournament between eight teams for the newly created WWE Tag Team Championships. A tournament which would commence at the SmackDown show in Lafayette, LA on October 4th and would conclude at the No Mercy PPV in Little Rock, AR on October 20th. The quarter final matches were set up as follows with the winners indicated:
Edge & Rey Mysterio (w) vs Tajiri and WWE Champion Brock Lesnar (who was a substitute for an injured Jamie Noble)
Billy & Chuck vs Ron Simmons and Reverend D-Von (w)
Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit (w) vs John Cena and Billy Kidman
Los Guerrero’s (w) vs Rikishi and Mark Henry
Competition was heating up before the semi finals between the three main teams in the tournament. Those teams being Los Guerrero’s, Angle and Benoit and Mysterio and Edge. Rey Mysterio and Edge faced Ron Simmons and D-Von in the first semi final match on October 15th 2002. Edge and Rey won a relatively short match when Edge hit the Edgecution to D-Von to pick up the win for his side to send them into the final at No Mercy.
In the aftermath of the match, Eddie Guerrero and his nephew Chavo hit the ring and attacked the winners. Chavo took out Rey as Eddie went after Edge. Chavo dumped Rey to the outside and then hit a suplex to Edge to set him up for Eddie’s Frog Splash. Eddie had just come out of a feud with Edge which lasted for a couple of months and they had a couple of really good pay-per-view matches. Los Guerrero’s left the ring, giving Rey a couple of cheap shots on the way out as they looked to “steal” any advantage they could leading up to No Mercy.
However, the problem would be that Los Guerrero’s wouldn’t make it to No Mercy. Angle had an ankle lock in tight on Eddie Guerrero, but referee Brian Hebner was knocked down and was on the floor selling the usual referee injuries. Chavo came into the ring with a chair and as he was about to clock Kurt Angle in the back of the head, Benoit came into the ring and took the chair from Chavo.
To say that Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit were an unwilling tag team would be an understatement. They’d been involved in a feud for a couple of months, both as heels, and they’d had a very fine match at Unforgiven in September. Stephanie McMahon was the brain behind the pairing as a team in the tournament and told both men that if they got into a physical confrontation they’d both be suspended for one year without pay.
So, back to the match. Benoit had the chair in hand and Chavo was pleading with Chris not to hit him. He didn’t, Benoit instead held his hand out to shake Chavo’s. Chavo accepted the handshake and Kurt looked around to see that he was now seemingly outnumbered by Chavo, Eddie and Eddie’s best friend Chris Benoit. Chavo seemed to be happy with that union. That was until Benoit double crossed him and smashed the chair over his head and then hit Eddie across the back with it before Kurt Angle hit the Angle Slam to Eddie as Chris pushed the ref back into the ring and Brian Hebner counted to three and the final was set up for No Mercy that Sunday.
The tournament final didn’t disappoint. It was a match that ebbed and flowed and you really didn’t know who was going to pick up the win until it was over. It was one of those beautifully crafted wrestling matches between four of the very finest wrestlers of the modern era. In fact, the match was so good, it was named as the number one match of the year by Wrestling Observer.
The end of the match came about when Rey Mysterio managed to make a hot tag to Edge and Benoit tagged in Angle. Edge took down Angle with a couple of clotheslines and Benoit tried getting himself involved but got caught with an elbow to the face. Edge then took Angle out with a big back body drop and took Benoit out of the equation with a face plant. Kurt came back in looking to hit a clothesline, but Edge ducked out of the way and hit the Edge-O-Matic, but Benoit broke up the pinning attempt at two.
Edge and Rey Mysterio backed Benoit into a corner and Edge whipped him hard into the corner on the opposite side of the ring and Rey whipped Edge into Benoit who caught The Rabid Wolverine in the mid section with a big shoulder and Chris fell to the canvas. Rey was chomping at the bit in the corner where he’d just whipped Edge from and this time Edge returned the favour, whipping Rey into the opposite corner where Rey jumped onto the chest of Chris with his legs spread and hit the Bronco Buster.
Angle and Edge were still the two legal men in the ring. Angle had made it back to his feet. Edge put Kurt into another corner of the ring and hit him with a shoulder to the mid section before setting Kurt up on the top rope. Rey, once again chomping at the bit, ran into the corner where Kurt was perched and would use his partner Edge as a human catapult to elevate him up onto Kurt’s shoulders and took Kurt back down to the canvas with a Hurricanrana from the top rope. Edge covered Kurt as Benoit climbed to the top rope and dived off looking to break up the pinning attempt with a diving headbutt. Edge moved out of the way though and Benoit ended up catching Angle’s shoulder.
Benoit made it back to his feet, only to be dropkicked from the ring by Rey Mysterio which allowed Edge to try to pin Kurt again, but he kicked out at two. Edge pleaded for a three count from referee Jimmy Korderas, but it was indeed only a two count and Kurt managed to catch an off guard Edge with a German Suplex. Both men again managed to get back up and Edge had his back turned to Kurt who was poised and ready to strike the moment Edge turned around. However, Edge didn’t turn around. Instead, he once again catapulted the high flying Rey Mysterio into Kurt Angle sending the Olympic Gold Medallist to the canvas and just as Edge looked poised to strike with a Spear, Rey pulled Angle from the ring and Benoit took Edge down, locking in the Crippler Crossface. Edge eventually made it to the ropes, but Chris pushed the rope away with his foot and didn’t release the hold until Rey Mysterio came in with a 619 taking out Chris as Angle re-entered the ring.
Upon Kurt’s re-emergence, he came in like a man possessed by hitting a huge Angle Slam to Mysterio and the straps came down. Kurt locked in the Ankle lock to Edge who managed to reverse it by pushing Angle into the ropes with his feet and catching him with a roll up when Kurt came back, but Kurt kicked out at two once again. Once again, both men got back up and Edge ran at Kurt, dodging a couple of clotheslines and then connected with a Spear. Edge covered Angle but Benoit pulled Edge off of Kurt at two. Benoit then collapsed to the mat next to the apron and Rey disposed of him again with a Baseball Slide, sending The Rabid Wolverine to the floor.
Rey then hit the ropes and jumped up onto edges shoulders in a powerbomb position and used Edge’s body as a springboard to hit an Assai Moonsault to Benoit, ensuring he stayed out of the action. Back in the ring, Edge attempted an Edgecution on Kurt, but he locked his hands around Edge’s waist and took him down to the ground, locking in the Ankle lock with a look of pure intensity on his face. Edge managed to reverse the hold though into an Ankle Lock of his own and had it locked in tight. Just when Kurt had raised his hand to possibly submit, he reversed the hold into another Ankle Lock. This time, unfortunately for the team of Edge and Rey Mysterio, Edge had no option but to tap out and Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit were crowned the first ever WWE Tag Team Champions.
The fun of the tournament didn’t end at No Mercy, though. On October 24th, Edge and Rey Mysterio defeated Los Guerrero’s to become the number one contenders for the WWE Tag Team Championships and on November 7th, they defeated Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle in a two out of three falls match to win their first ever WWE Tag Team Championship. The title reign wouldn’t last long, though as they lost the the Championships in a triple threat match at Survivor Series to Los Guerrero’s in a match that also featured Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit. The six men would go on to be known as “The SmackDown Six” and all of them would go on to become World Champions in WWE.
To go along with that, more tag team success followed. Los Guerrero’s would become two time WWE Tag Team Champions, Rey Mysterio would go on to win the titles in the future with Eddie Guerrero, who also won the titles once with Tajiri at Judgment Day, 2003. Rey also held the titles with Rob Van Dam in 2004 and Dave Batista in 2006. While Edge and Chris Benoit wouldn’t hold the WWE Tag Team Championship again on SmackDown, they would go onto hold the World Tag Team Championships twice as a tag team in 2004. Kurt Angle and Chavo Guerrero wouldn’t hold Tag Team Title gold in WWE again but both have held the TNA Tag Team Titles over the years.
Other teams who have gone on to hold the WWE Tag Team Championships since their inception in 2002 include: Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas who held the titles twice, Johnny Nitro and Joey Mercury who held the championships a joint record three times. That record is shared with Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel. Other teams Carlito and Primo, Tyson Kidd and DH Smith, The Dudley Boyz, John Morrison and The Miz, Chris Jericho and Big Show, Triple H and Shawn Michaels, Deuce and Domino, Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder and the longest reigning title holders of course being Brian Kendrick and Paul London who held the WWE Tag Team Championships for 331 days.