WWE announces that SmackDown’s debut episode on FOX will be a 20th anniversary celebration, featuring legends like Hulk Hogan, Sting, and more. For those fans saying to themselves, wait, didn’t WWE just have a reunion show, the answer is yes. But when trying to impress one’s TV network partners with sizable ratings, it’s been proven time and time again that trotting out the retired or semi-retired legends of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s is a sure bet for a spike in viewership.
Should that be the case? Many would argue no. After all, it’s not like WWE doesn’t have popular performers such as Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, and Seth Rollins on its active roster. For whatever reason though, the wrestlers of WWE’s current era don’t seem to have managed to break into the rarefied air of overall pop culture notability that those who battled during the golden age of Hulkamania, the Attitude Era in which “Stone Cold” Steve Austin dominated, or even the 2000s rise of John Cena managed to attain. Many factors likely play a role in this, especially the streaming boom of the current decade and the dropoff in linear TV viewership, leaving the overall audience more splintered than ever before.
Whatever the rationale one employs, WWE clearly has no intention of stopping its over-reliance on the top names of the past to draw in increased interest to its product. Case in point, mere weeks after the enormous Raw Reunion saw dozens of legends return to TV, WWE has now announced that SmackDown’s big debut broadcast on FOX October 4 – emanating from Los Angeles’ Staples Center – will be a 20th anniversary show featuring lots of Hall of Famers. Headlining that list are Hulk Hogan – who also appeared at Raw Reunion – and Sting, who will be making his first live WWE appearance in awhile.
In addition to old WCW rivals Hogan and Sting, another big name on the guest list is Ric Flair, another old nemesis of Sting’s. One assumes he’ll align with and then turn on Sting a few times during the show for old time’s sake. Also officially confirmed for SmackDown’s 20th anniversary is Goldberg, fresh off squashing Dolph Ziggler at SummerSlam. Even more names include Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle, Booker T, Mark Henry, Mick Foley, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Lita, and Trish Stratus, who battled Charlotte Flair at SummerSlam.
Outside of the officially confirmed legends listed above, WWE’s promo graphic for the show – tickets for which go on sale this Friday, August 16 – includes The Undertaker, so it seems likely The Deadman will show up to claim some more souls. Criticisms of excessive nostalgia aside, it’s not hard to see why WWE is making this move. The company cut a massive billion dollar rights deal for SmackDown to move to FOX, and now it’s time to prove to the network that they made the right investment.