Friday Night Smackdown Aftergasm: Jeff Hardy, CM Punk Fight For the Future
Friday Night Smackdown Aftergasm: Jeff Hardy, CM Punk Fight For the Future

Tonight on Friday Night Smackdown the campaign raged on, and I'm not talking about the Star Trek promotional campaign. In one of his smartest moves in recent memory Vince McMahon would appear to have told the young talent that he's looking for a few new stars, and sent them out there to battle for his attention. The result has been two weeks of refreshing WWE television. One couldn't point to a lot of big events on the shows. No limousines have been filled with quick drying cement. Nobody has been kidnapped or crucified. Yet they feel more like can't-miss programming than we saw in the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania 25.

In his autobiography Bret Hart tells anecdotes off and on  for hundreds of pages about all of the pushes that Vince McMahon promised him privately. It seems that every time Bret became discouraged Vince told him he was going to make the Hitman a star really soon, that he had big plans for him, just wait and see. Even after he was a main event star he says Vince was constantly making him promises about how long he would have the belt or how much his contract extension would be for that all seemed to shockingly fall apart at the last moment.

If Vince is up to his old tricks he could plausibly by telling half the guys in the locker room in private that he has his eye on making them the next Shawn Michaels or Dave Batista in just a year's time. Whatever the case, though, the kids are stepping it up - and by kids in some cases I mean guys like Matt and Jeff Hardy who have been waiting their turn for a decade.

Tonight on Friday Night Smackdown CM Punk beat the World Heavyweight Champion for the second week in a row (this time by way of a countout.) Umage, not to be outdone, leaped on him after the match with animal enthusiasm and tore him apart. Umaga will challenge Punk at Judgment Day. Jeff Hardy opened the show with a face to face verbal duel against Chris Jericho, and ended it by beating The Lionheart with a Swanton Bomb in the middle of the ring. John Morrison continued his winning streak by having another excellent match, this time taking advantage of Charlie Haas' underutilized skills. R-Truth got the crowd singing and jumping around on his way out to beat Mike Knox. Rey Mysterio spoke and came out to the ring to distract Jericho wearing a blindingly gray mask that looked like a 1920s women's swimming cap. Even Jesse (of Jesse and Festus) had a new outfit and Cryme Time had new sunglasses.

The fight for the future even brings out the best in the current main event stars, as Edge was sharper, funnier and fresher tonight than we've him seen in a while. When Todd Grisham made the mistake of asking Edge how his wife's doing he shot with back, "She's great! Thank you for asking!" with such scandalous sarcasm it really cracked me up.

With so many stars on all three brands making a case for themselves, though, the question presents itself, who is winning?

The Power Rankings

8. Kofi Kingston - I don't see him ever becoming a main event star, but Vince obviously likes him and can find something to do with him on RAW every week. That's not a bad thing, especially since I like him too. Who doesn't?

7. Matt Hardy - I absolutely don't see Matt Hardy ever becoming a main event star. He's too small to gain Vince's acceptance, he's not photogenic like Cena, he's not that likable, he's not as good of a wrestler as his brother and he's acted immaturely in the past. But he's been getting a lot of airtime for five straight months now. You can't ignore that.

6.  The Miz - I don't ever see The Miz becoming a world title star, but you can't argue with the push he's getting against John Cena on Monday Night RAW. He's gotten ample time to talk two weeks in a row now and he's entertained the crowd both times. I like him a lot. I just don't see his annoying loud mouth shtick working for long because the entire point of the character is that he legitimately is annoying.

5. .John Morrison -  The fact that Morrison hasn't gotten any microphone time yet even when guys like Cryme Time, Matt Hardy and The Miz are getting their shot suggests to me that Vince doesn't think he's ready quite yet. He's winning weekly matches, which suggests he's in the mix. But I just wonder whether Vince has ever seen an episode of his own series The Dirt Sheet. Morrison is the total package. He'll come out ahead of everyone else on this list in the long run, but his turn may not be first.

4. Ted DiBiase Jr. - DiBiase has the look and style to be Vince's next chosen one. Rumor has it that Vince is a great admirer of his. So far I don't believe DiBiase is near being good enough on the microphone to carry big soap opera storylines. But I expect him to get more than his fair share of chances to prove himself, and if he ever does break out his talent won't be overlooked the way others' will.

3. Jeff Hardy - There's a ceiling for Jeff Hardy that I don't ever see him busting through. Not only has he had a drug problem but he's a terrible talker on the microphone. But he just re-negotiated a contract and I have a feeling he did so to great effect. He's had high profile matches at several pay-per-views in a row, and he's main evening the next pay-per-view for the championship. I think he may win it.

2. CM Punk
- I don't believe that Punk has the talent necessary to achieve staying power. I don't think he's a charismatic interview. I don't think his gimmick has much to it, or that he's got an exceptional amount of style in the ring. But it's clear Vince thinks he does. I still don't think Batista is at that level for a lot of the same reasons and he's been a world champion several times over. So if Vince wants to have CM Punk win Money in the Bank twice, beat the world champion two weeks in a row on free television and play him up at every turn nobody's really going to be able to tell him differently.

1. MVP
- This could easily change but Montel Vontavious Porter has worked two main event matches on the flagship show in the past two weeks and he's gotten a featured media appearance on The View. Vince McMahon may feel that MVP works a safe, ground based offense that puts him at a low risk for injury and fits in well with the current style of main event matches. He's physically larger than most of the young guys he's competing against, and that's never a bad thing with Vince. The WWE hasn't traditionally done tremendously with dark skinned African-Americans in the main event picture but they may realize that finding an acceptable opportunity to break that pattern is good for business. I've always loved MVP, and I'll be very satisfied if that's a direction they end up going in.

Watch Friday Night Smackdown Fridays at 7PM to see who surges and who drops out of the race.

-Henry Jenkins, BuddyTV Staff Writer

(Image courtesy of World Wrestling Entertainment 2009. All rights reserved.)