WWE SmackDown 6/30/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved

"WWE SmackDown" may have been pretaped this week to accommodate the company's current transatlantic status ahead of Saturday's Money in the Bank, but that doesn't mean it wasn't an exciting and entertaining show, featuring two championship matches (that would have likely been on the MITB card if it had less going on already), a new edition of the Grayson Waller Effect, and the latest appearance from Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns ahead of this weekend's much-hyped Bloodline Civil War. But where did the official Money in the Bank go-home show reach its apex, and where did it fall short?

You can check out Wrestling Inc.'s "live" coverage of the show for all your play-by-play needs, if that's what you're looking for. If, on the other hand, you want to know what three parts of "SmackDown" we loved, and what three parts we hated, this is the place to be. 

Hated: I know what you cut last Friday

Last week, it was reported that Vince McMahon had made numerous last-minute changes to "SmackDown," cutting at least three matches from the card. While we didn't get Baron Corbin vs. Cameron Grimes, the other two matches were apparently delayed rather than canceled, as they both occurred this week — Bayley successfully defended her spot in the women's Money in the Bank ladder match against Shotzi, and Butch won a triple threat match against Santos Escobar and LA Knight.

To be clear: We didn't hate the matches themselves, nor did we hate the segments they preceded (in the case of Bayley/Shotzi) or followed (in the case of Butch/Escobar/Knight). Bayley vs. Shotzi was about what we've come to expect from a lower-card women's match, i.e. competently wrestled but too short to leave a lasting impression, and the subsequent cutting of Shotzi's hair could signify an effort to refresh the character, which she could probably use at this point. The triple threat, meanwhile, was fast-paced and tons of fun, and the Grayson Waller Effect promo parade segment kicked off by Logan Paul was good enough, though we still don't understand why people are climbing ladders to grab briefcases with nothing in them.

This was all fine, but unfortunately, we had a hard time getting past the fact that these matches were supposed to have happened a week ago, and because of McMahon's interference, four of the five wrestlers involved now have to wrestle twice in 24 hours. They were probably more than happy to do it, but that doesn't change the fact that they shouldn't have had to, and it's a little weird that Corbin and Grimes, who aren't wrestling tomorrow, didn't wrestle tonight either. Add that to the general narrative weirdness of things like the Bayley/Shotzi match not even being acknowledged last week, then suddenly being back on, and it was just hard to get into it with the specter of Vince looming all around.

Loved: The not-so-hometown heroes

By far the best match of the night was the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship match, in which Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens defended the titles against Pretty Deadly. Those who have followed Elton Prince and Kit Wilson since their days in "WWE NXT — or possibly even "NXT UK" — know that they can put on excellent matches, but they hadn't really done it yet on the main roster, and even though they lost, this contest felt like a statement. If you were hoping for the British tag team to receive a hero's welcome in London, you were disappointed, as Zayn and Owens were massively over, but Pretty Deadly looked like they belonged in the ring with the champs, earning several convincing-looking nearfalls and taking Zayn and Owens to their limits. It should be difficult for anyone to look at Pretty Deadly as anything other than future tag team champions after Owens' masterful selling of an injured leg (though those who are familiar with Zayn/Owens lore likely started hearing alarm bells go off in their heads when he started clutching his knee).

Overall, an excellent showing for Zayn and Owens' fourth title defense as they approach 100 days of the title reign that started at WrestleMania. It still doesn't feel like the tag team division as a whole has risen to the level of stardom that the current champions have achieved (outside of the men they took the belts from, the Usos) but this match was a positive step forward, and there may be reinforcements coming when teams return from injury or potentially get called up from "NXT."

Hated: Death by dropkick

If there was anything less than incredible about the Pretty Deadly match, it's that they didn't appear to be affiliated in any way with United States Champion Austin Theory, despite the two parties seeming to have been working together in recent weeks. And in other "wait, was that storyline dropped" news, the Brawling Brutes showed up backstage looking for revenge on Solo Sikoa after last week's main event, only to be told that Ridge Holland was getting what amounts to a U.S. title eliminator match instead. It wouldn't be at all surprising to learn that this confusion was another result of the wrench McMahon threw in the gears last Friday, but whatever the reason, we're starting to get whiplash, which was in no way mitigated by the Theory vs. Holland match.

This contest wasn't anything to write home about, and it featured an absolutely bizarre ending that saw Holland lose clean to what appeared to be a fairly basic dropkick. And fine, maybe if he had been facing IYO SKY that might have been believable, but Austin Theory is no IYO SKY. We're not the biggest Ridge Holland fans in the world, but we're not sure anybody deserves to lose that ignominiously. To make matters worse, the match was pretty clearly a set-up for a future U.S. title feud between Theory and Sheamus, and that just makes us tired. Both of these competitors feel like they've been in the same position on the card for at least a year now. Neither has had anything resembling a feud or storyline since WrestleMania. Sheamus has won the United States Championship before, and Theory has lost it before, so what are the stakes here? It feels like wheel-spinning, and given that these two have been spinning their wheels for three months already, it's hard to get excited about a program between them.

Loved: No cont-EST

We've said this before, but it's worth saying again: In an industry that relies far too much on cheap surprises and shocking swerves, it's always nice to see something happen just because it makes sense. Case in point: the WWE Women's Championship match between Charlotte Flair and Asuka. The match itself was more hit-or-miss than we're used to seeing from these two — there were some great sequences of chain and counter wrestling, but also some notable missteps and at least one instance of Flair selling an Asuka kick that missed her by several miles — but the match itself was also the least important thing going on. The important thing was Bianca Belair, who was sitting in the front row, having purchased a ticket in one of wrestling's most well-worn (but also most inherently logical) tropes.

Belair, as we knew going in, had beef with the entire concept of this match's existence. Having seen her record-breaking title reign end at the hands of Asuka and her mist, she understandably felt she deserved a rematch. Instead, Flair, who hadn't been seen since WrestleMania, waltzed back into the company and was rewarded a championship match for no reason beyond "I'm Charlotte Flair." Belair had repeatedly attempted to insert herself into the situation, but been repeatedly rebuffed by authority figure Adam Pearce, who ultimately decided to ban her from ringside to ensure the match wasn't interfered with. Anyone who's ever watched wrestling before knew where this was going: With Belair sitting in the front row, it didn't take much provocation for her to jump the barricade, wipe out both competitors, get the match declared a no contest, and KOD Charlotte through the corpse of the previously KOD'd Asuka.

Now, if WWE expects Belair to start getting booed for this sort of behavior, we would caution them to temper their expectations. Regardless of her internally-listed alignment, Flair is the most naturally hatable person in the women's division, and the current storyline works in part because of the very real perception that she can show up whenever she wants to and win the championship — which, as it happens, she did exactly six months ago. Belair, on the other hand, had been getting some boos recently due to the staleness of her character, and giving her an edge like this was absolutely vital. There's nothing like a former babyface (tweener, nominal heel, whatever) who's been confronted by clear and obvious evidence that playing by the rules doesn't get you anywhere and decides it would be easier to just obliterate everyone in their path. It was obvious that Belair was going to interfere in this match, because she should have interfered, and also because Belair becoming a bad-ass who is entirely out of f***s was so obviously her next evolution. The fact that we saw it coming doesn't make it any less the right choice; in fact, the exact opposite is true.

Hated: Who's excited for Kross/Styles 2

Karrion Kross is having a rematch with AJ Styles, and is it enough to say that we just don't care? Kross gets used on TV more than a lot of other people brought back to the company by Paul Levesque, and yet it somehow seems like he's made the least impact. He's had several multi-match feuds, but no real storylines. He was given back Scarlett and his entire "NXT" presentation, but the presentation isn't anything by itself. It seems like he'd be a natural person to do weird cinematic stuff while Bray Wyatt remains mysteriously absent, but nothing he's done has been ambitious enough even to fail at the level Wyatt has in the past. Nobody comes out of a Karrion Kross encounter a changed person, especially not Karrion Kross. He hasn't really been pushed, and he hasn't really been buried; he's just here, and it's getting hard to understand why.

AJ Styles is in a similar situation, trapped in a place where his character doesn't seem to want anything and doesn't seem to have anything to lose. He's just stuck hanging out with the OC and Mia Yim, all of whom have also been kept out of anything resembling a story. Really, this is the same problem as Austin Theory and Sheamus have: There's just no long-term storytelling happening in the "SmackDown" midcard. None. It's like the Bloodline sucks the creative juices out of everything around it, become stronger and more narratively interesting while everything else gets blander and less interesting.

We know WWE can tell stories. We know they can tell good stories. We know they can tell the best stories in wrestling. It remains unclear why, so much of the time, they simply choose not to.

Loved: The Solo Chief

That having been said, it's once again time to talk about the best story in wrestling.

As we head into Money in the Bank and the Bloodline Civil War, there's one question that's been nagging at us: What's the next reveal? What's the next twist? The Bloodline lives and dies on character-driven cliffhangers; its success is a product of fully-realized, believable people interacting in ways that make you constantly wonder what's going to happen next, and make you tune in as a result. The Bloodline Civil War, to this point, hasn't really had that hook. There's an inherent allure in watching the Usos finally take on Roman Reigns in an actual match, but we've given no indication of how the status quo might change as a result.

That changed on Friday's "SmackDown," when Roman Reigns gave his cousins one more chance to bow down and acknowledge him before Money in the Bank. Instead, the Usos came out and began speculating what might happen to Reigns if he loses on Saturday. All of a sudden, Reigns' long-standing "Tribal Chief" status appears to be in jeopardy, as Jimmy and Jey declared that they would prefer to see, not themselves, but Solo Sikoa in the role.

Now, was this just mind games being played on a novice tag team by a veteran one? Possibly. But it opens up a new realm of storytelling possibilities. Could Solo turn on Roman and claim the title of Tribal Chief for himself, with the Usos backing him up? Honestly, it's not the worst idea. The only way forward for the Reigns character at this point is down, even further down, into loneliness and madness, and he and Solo winning seems like a narrative dead end. If Solo joined the Usos against Reigns, not only would it make sense thematically, but it would allow WWE to keep making money off something called the Bloodline, now a trio of massive, crowd-pleasing babyfaces. And even if WWE is hesitant to give Jey Uso a world championship, a Solo turn could facilitate him being the first person to pin Reigns in three years — something else that came up in the Usos' promo.

Knowing WWE, we're probably getting ourselves worked up for nothing and Jey is going to re-join Roman or something stupid like that, but at the same time, this has been a unfailingly competent narrative that generally makes the right decisions for about a year now. If a Roman-free, babyface Bloodline is the direction we're headed, they took a clear step to get there this week, in a segment that was typically well-performed by everyone involved.

Now let's just hope these guys are actually main-eventing Money in the Bank, instead of Cody Rhodes and Dominik Mysterio.