In early 2002, the WWE introduced a new plot twist with the brand split - RAW and Smackdown! would become two entirely independent shows. Wrestlers took part in a draft, appearing exclusively on whatever show they were drafted to. Much drama would soon be made of wrestlers 'defecting' to the other show after the draft ended. When Brock Lesnar, WWE Champion, defected to Smackdown!, RAW created a new heavyweight title of its own. New tag team title belts were created for Smackdown! after a similar situation.
After the brand split, Smackdown! began carving out a reputation as the 'wrestling show', as opposed to the 'drama show' of Raw. Much of this was due to Paul Heyman's influence as head writer of Smackdown!. Former owner of ECW, Heyman shifted the focus of Smackdown! towards booking intensely physical, fast-paced matches guaranteed to please the crowd. In-ring skills were worth much more on Smackdown! than on RAW; charisma and audience manipulation were certainly valued, but most Smackdown! superstars had to be able to back it up in the ring.
Smackdown! reached its peak in mid-2002, with the rise of the Smackdown Six - Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Edge, Rey Mysterio Jr, Eddie Guerrero, and Chavo Guerrero Jr These wrestlers formed the core of Heyman's booking, carrying other superstars, as well as each other, to some of the best free television matches in the history of professional wrestling.
Eventually, the cost of Heyman's booking style became apparent. Most pay-per-view matches put on by Smackdown! superstars were widely derided as not being much more special than the television matches. In instructing his wrestlers to leave it all in the ring every week, Heyman brought his television matches to an unprecedented level of quality. In doing so, he also managed to give the audience even less reason to buy the monthly pay-per-views.
Smackdown! is currently carried by UPN.