The storyline rivalry between Smackdown and Raw in 2005 was the first of its kind and by far the best battle between the two WWE brands.
From the dawn of the brand split in March 2002 until the start of the storyline in October 2005, there was little interaction between the two brands with an emphasis on making them feel different. Raw was the soap opera, sports entertainment show while Smackdown was less over the top, more focused on wrestling.
Notable exceptions in this time came in the form of an on-screen rivalry between Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon in mid-to-late 2002, General Managers of Raw and Smackdown at the time, and a mass brawl between the rosters on the WWE draft edition of Raw in 2004.
The seeds for the rivalry were planted with the release of the first “Smackdown vs Raw” video game in late 2004, with what happened next on-screen a clear knock-on effect of its release and promotional marketing.
The Royal Rumble, the annual event where wrestlers of the two brands did collide, set the scene for a near-year long build towards the battle for brand supremacy at Survivor Series.
Bischoff and Teddy Long, now Smackdown GM, engaged in debate while Triple H tried to entice Batista to move to Smackdown and take on JBL for the WWE title, regularly taking pot shots at his opposing champion in the process.
The Rumble also saw the first ever interaction between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels, two of the best ever, which led to a mini-series starting at WrestleMania 21.
Another inter-promotional bout took place at Mania between Randy Orton, then of Raw, and The Undertaker, the standard bearer on Smackdown.
It was clear that a storyline of sorts was brewing between the two brands and it came to ahead on the October 3rd episode of Raw, which marked its “homecoming” to the USA network after five years spent on Spike TV.
In the penultimate match of the night, an all-Smackdown 6-man tag match was set between the best of the blue brand. Teddy Long joined Michael Cole and Tazz on commentary, with Tony Chimel even on announcing duties.
Just as the match was set to begin, Bischoff came out with microphone in hand. He claimed his audience came to see Raw, not Smackdown and as far as he was concerned it was “lights out” cue darkness and laughter from the Raw GM as he called for a commercial break.
Smackdown’s revenge came later in the night following a WWE title match between John Cena and Bischoff (who were in a rivalry at the time), when Long said Smackdown were going to do this “gangsta style” leading to an all-out brawl between the two brands.
There were mentions of the rivalry in the coming weeks but it turned into a full-blown feud on the October 17th episode of Raw, when JBL’s music hit during Edge’s match with Big Show, costing him the match.
Edge returned the favour on the next episode of Smackdown, but speared Rey Mysterio, JBL’s opponent. JBL chased off Edge, allowing Chris Masters to enter and lock in the Masterlock on a beaten down Mysterio.
JBL then showed up on Raw. Bischoff stopped him entering, while Edge and Masters ran down the former WWE champion, Smackdown wrestlers and the show itself. This set up an inter-promotional match at Taboo Tuesday, a Raw pay per view.
Edge refused to compete, declaring he only cared for himself and no brand. Masters and Gene Snitsky, his replacement, went on to lose to Mysterio and Matt Hardy. An embarrassing defeat for Bischoff in the battle for brand supremacy.
The Raw GM was then asked by Vince McMahon what he was going to do about it, and questioned his ambition, creativity, and lust for competition.
Bischoff took this to heart, challenging Teddy Long to a classic 5-on-5 elimination match between the two brands, to settle this war once and for all. He also added that Smackdown was the “B show” in every aspect, from talent to audience.
Long accepted the match, declaring just like the Monday Night Wars, Bischoff would lose this one too. Of course, adding “playa” at the end in classic fashion.
The two brands’ line-ups were announced soon after. Raw were captained by Shawn Michaels and featured the World Tag Team champions Kane and The Big Show, as well as budding stars Masters and Carlito.
Smackdown’s five was made up of World Heavyweight Champion Batista, JBL, Rey Mysterio, Bobby Lashley and Randy Orton. Orton had replaced original member Eddie Guerrero, who sadly passed away in early November, and for whom tribute episodes took place.
Raw’s line-up was weaker, due to the WWE title match between John Cena and Kurt Angle on the same pay per view, as well as Triple H’s involvement in a personal feud with Ric Flair. Edge was also injured in this time despite appearing on-screen.
The build-up to the pay per view was a tit for tat between the two teams, with a series of run-ins, set ups and mass brawls between them. In this time Batista had suffered a muscle tear in his back, which was explained in the best segment between the two teams.
Team Smackdown turned up in the parking lot on the November 21st episode of Raw, leading to a showdown between the 10 men which made for a great visual.
The brawl saw The Big Show’s head put through a car window, Mysterio again put in the Masterlock and finally Batista double chokeslammed by the Tag Champions onto the front window of a car, “injuring” him in the process.
Batista was again laid waste to at the hands of the biggest tag team of all time on the final episode of Smackdown before Survivor Series. The storyline bad blood between the two teams was palpable and a main event for the ages was set.
The 5-on-5 elimination match saw Batista again taken out early to protect his ailing body, and eventually turned into a 3-on-1 finale between Shawn Michaels and JBL, Orton and Mysterio.
With the odds stacked against him, the Heartbreak Kid rallied, eliminating both JBL and Mysterio in rapid fashion to the tune of Sweet Chin Music. JBL later interfered, distracting Michaels, allowing Orton to hit the RKO and win it for Smackdown.
This was Orton’s third consecutive Survivor Series as the sole survivor, and he was treated to a hero’s celebration by the rest of the Smackdown roster. That was until The Undertaker made his return, confronting the Legend Killer.
This marked the end of the battle between the two brands, as in-show rivalries once again resumed. Bischoff paid the price for his team’s loss and his as his own to Long with an on-screen firing by Vince McMahon in the weeks following.
The reasons for Smackdown’s victory are unknown but it was possibly to help balance the power between the shows, with Raw always viewed as the pre-eminent WWE brand.
The success of the storyline was rooted in the storyline logic behind it, something which has been ignored in the years since. 2009 and 2010 saw Bragging Rights take place, a cringy named pay per view.
Since 2016, Survivor Series has once again played host to battles between the two brands, but it has always seemed forced and without a feeling of true loyalty to brands or hatred between them. NXT’s invasion in 2019 was an exception to this.
This is not helped by the fact the WWE Draft takes place near-yearly at this stage, the shows’ branding is identical bar colours red and blue, and assigned wrestlers regularly show up on the other brand unannounced.
Triple H’s ascension to Head of Creative coupled with the rumoured splitting of the Undisputed title may lead to a resumption of true brand warfare.
The 2005 storyline should be used as a template moving forward, such was its success and clear standing as the best battle between Smackdown and Raw.