WWE SmackDown 7/7/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved

"WWE Raw" was technically the fallout show, but after Jey Uso pinned Roman Reigns in the main event of Money in the Bank, all eyes were on "WWE SmackDown," and the "Trial of Roman Reigns" at the hands of his cousins. Beyond that, WWE had announced a U.S. title match between Austin Theory and Sheamus, the latest contest between AJ Styles and Karrion Kross, and a new edition of "The Grayson Waller Effect" featuring a returning Edge. And of course, it was a special evening, because the show was taking place at Madison Square Garden, and Vince McMahon was once again backstage.

So how did "SmackDown" shake out in the hallowed halls of MSG? As usual, we're looking at a mixed bag. One story got tons of attention and benefitted from it, and another story produced the evening's best match, but everything else was left to do its best on the margins, trying to squeeze through the cracks left by the brand's biggest performers. The straightforward details can be found in our live coverage, but which parts of "SmackDown" were acquitted of all charges, and which were found guilty? Here are three things we hated and three things we loved about the 7/7/23 episode of "WWE SmackDown."

Hated: The Bloodlong

As usual, we enjoyed the Bloodline story this week — we'll get to the specifics in a little bit — but it was an absolutely massive part of "SmackDown" this week, taking up almost half of the show's total runtime. The opening "Tribal Court" segment, in particular, was more than 30 minutes long with zero commercial breaks, and while it was good, it was also pretty obvious that the Anoa'i family significantly exceeded their planned time constraints. Pretty much everything following the opener was visibly rushed (including the Styles/Kross match, which was ridiculously short) and the normal pace of the broadcast was noticeably disrupted by commercials, which aired with increased frequency to make up for their initial absence. By the time we got to the end of the episode's third and final match and realized the Bloodline were also going to close "SmackDown," we couldn't help but laugh at the comical degree of emphasis on a single storyline, no matter how popular it may be.

And for the record, this is not about match time. Complaining about match time as a percentage of overall broadcast time is aggressively uninteresting to us. It just threw off the feel of "SmackDown" and got us guessing about what might get cut instead of immersing ourselves in the show. It also made everything not involving the Bloodline story feel unimportant. As much as we continue to enjoy all things Roman Reigns and Jey Uso, and as much as we understand the temptation to throw all your weight behind your hottest act as you prepare to build for your second-biggest annual event, we also feel bad for everyone who didn't get time to shine as a result, and we'd be lying if we said that the skewed pace of "SmackDown" didn't shape a lot of our opinions on this episode, particularly the negative ones.

Loved: At least there was a women's division segment

Of all the things we thought might get cut for time Friday night, we were most worried about anything involving women, since Vince McMahon was backstage again and has shown a recent tendency toward scrubbing the ladies off the board at his earliest opportunity. It would have been so ironic, too, after we spent a good portion of Monday's "WWE Raw" column applauding the company for actually highlighting the women's division for once.

Fortunately, the division didn't completely get the axe. While there was no women's match (which is a problem) there was at least a women's segment — hastily performed, undoubtedly, but still long enough to get the crowd to its feet. Following Bianca Belair's interference in last week's title match, WWE Women's Champion Asuka only had time to get in the ring, presumably for a promo, before Belair attacked again, starting a brawl that inevitably drew out Charlotte Flair. The high point, however, was the arrival of Bayley and IYO SKY, the latter of whom won Saturday's women's Money in the Bank ladder match. Like her "Raw" counterpart, Damian Priest, SKY teased cashing in after laying out the champion, but was disrupted by the other women in the segment before she had the chance. Madison Square Garden was legitimately excited to see SKY (though they probably would have been more excited to see her, you know, wrestle) and probably would have exploded if she'd won the title right then and there, but we're glad it didn't happen. SKY's potential involvement via the threat of the briefcase adds a new element to the Asuka/Flair/Belair storyline, which we'd love to see get some actual time next week, and it's way past time WWE actually did something with the women's MITB winner beyond "she cashes in on the same night" or "she cashes in the night after on 'Raw.'" SKY is already the longest women's briefcase holder since Carmella, who was the first one. There's a ton of meat left on this bone, and we very much hope WWE realizes that, too.

Hated: The beat (of the Bodhran) goes on

Of all the segments to suffer as a result of "Tribal Court," it could be argued that none was hit worse than the United States Championship match between Sheamus and Austin Theory. Styles vs. Kross almost certainly had its time drastically reduced, but at least it was over quickly. Sheamus/Theory got hit with two rapid-fire commercial breaks as the company tried to rush through some of the advertising they'd neglected earlier in the broadcast, and since the match wasn't designed to stretch across three distinct segments, it was poorly-paced and difficult to follow. Was it good? Who knows, it was hard for us to pay attention.

What we do know is that, regardless of match quality, this entire "feud" still isn't going anywhere. Pretty Deadly are now back with Theory after their brief trip to London to challenge for the tag titles, but they're doing the same thing they did before — interfering in Theory's matches and helping him retain his title. There's still been no promo work or character work supporting this alliance; we don't know if it's official or if it has a name or anything, and it's been what, a month? We're going to need something different happen with this soon, because right now there is zero reason to care. And beyond that, WWE, you already have one extremely prominent faction whose matches revolve around ref bumps/distractions and outside interference. They've been doing it for years now, and it's fine, but it does mean that other heels have to not do that sometimes. You can't build the entire ship out of run-ins, guys.

As for the Brawling Brutes, it's just kind of sad to see GUNTHER and Drew McIntyre, two-thirds of the instant classic Intercontinental title match at WrestleMania, preparing for an epic singles match at SummerSlam, while other third gets to do ... whatever this is. Sheamus and the lads need some kind of change to get some life back into them. We just have no idea right now what that change could be.

Loved: The Edge effect

Would it have been amazing if WWE had given Grayson Waller a win over Edge in his first main roster match, at Madison Square Garden? Yes. Was that ever in a million years going to happen in a McMahon-led WWE? No. Was it still great? YES.

Wins and losses are generally overrated by wrestling fans, and never more so before than they are today, and WWE went out of its way to make Waller look like he already belongs on the top part of the card. This wasn't Waller getting unceremoniously punked by John Cena at Money in the Bank; this was a competitive wrestling match where Waller held his own against a multiple time world champion, the highlight being Waller hitting Edge with a flipping Unprettier (the longtime finisher of Edge's longtime partner, Christian). Nor was Waller torn down by the commentary team, who suggested he was "bombastic" and annoying, but that he could also back up everything he said. And of course, you had Edge telling Waller during their talk show segment that he had to sink or swim, and then getting on the mic after the match t say "Hey kid, you swam." That's about as far from Cena-burial as you can get without actually putting Waller over. It wasn't quite Undertaker raising Jeff Hardy's hand after their world title ladder match, but it was in the same genre.

Gone are the days of Waller's bizarre supplemental draft status — he's clearly the male "NXT" call-up with the most backstage support in WWE at present, and he deserves every bit of it. His main roster debut was the last match of the show, the only match that actually felt like a match, the best match of the evening by a staggering margin, and saw him get directly put over by one of Vince McMahon's personal favorite superstars. Win, lose, doesn't matter; this was a good sign for the future.

Hated: The dictionary definition of Karrion

It just does not look good for Karrion Kross right now. His match with AJ Styles clearly got shredded, time-wise, but the unfortunate result is that he was essentially squashed, and it's really hard to see where he goes from here. It's been almost a year since he returned. In that time, he's wrestled a total of 16 matches, and that includes the Royal Rumble and the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. He's just not a big part of the show, and he's not an important part of the show, and he's not even being given very many creepy vignettes or weird backstage segments anymore. Is it too soon to send him down to "NXT?" Maybe it sounds mean, but at this point Shawn Michaels would probably do a better job with him than Paul Levesque has been.

Styles is in a slightly better position, but not by much, and his next direction is also unclear. He's punching below his weight with Kross, but this is also the exact sort of thing he should be doing at this point in his career: working with newer talent. He's another guy who seems like he would benefit from a character change, a presentation change, or even just some sort of storyline that can get itself some degree of screen time. WWE (and "SmackDown" in particular) has a lot of guys that like that right now, and it's a problem.

Loved: Judge, Jey, and executioner

Say what you will about the Bloodline story, it's done the one thing WWE has consistently failed to do over the course of the last decade: It's made new stars. Sami Zayn is a star. Solo Sikoa is a star. Roman Reigns is one of the biggest stars in wrestling history. And as for the Usos ... well, when you get a reaction like that at Madison Square Garden, your stardom goes without saying.

Like the "Trial of Sami Zayn" segment from January, this edition of "Tribal Court" was a little clunky, especially because unlike the last time they did this, it was never really clear what the trial was for. The Usos presented "Exhibit A," which was basically a package of all the times Reigns had mistreated the people around him (the Usos have excellent video editing software) but there was no "Exhibit B." Reigns' character work was typically excellent, but his question about how he can even be called before a Tribal Court, and under whose authority, was never really answered. And did WWE really expect us to believe that after taking a single pinfall loss at Money in the Bank, he would willingly give up both his role as Tribal Chief and his world championship?

The thing is, though ... for a second, we almost did believe it. Reigns sold the moment extremely well, building to it by binding together all the narcissistic threads of his character to create the narrative that he was tired, that the burden of working so hard to support his family was growing too heavy, that they needed him more than he needed them, and that if they didn't want his help, they could gladly relieve him of the weight of his responsibilities, because he didn't want them anymore. It's a lie. We all know it's a lie. But we also know that the character of Roman Reigns believes it. He really does see his tyranny as beneficence. And while he's obviously not going to give up that "burden" for anyone (because it's not actually a burden, it's addiction to power), you can talk yourself into thinking that maybe he might, because that's what Reigns would do if he actually was the person he's pretending to be rather than an abusive, power-hungry manipulator.

Certainly Jey Uso could talk himself into believing that's what was happening. if there's one thing we love most about this segment, it's that Jey still clearly loves his cousin. It's the thing that separates people like Jey from people like Reigns, and that allows the former to be used by the latter. And it happened again, with Reigns using Jey's compassion against him before he and Solo Sikoa (who had a few interesting character moments of his own in the opening segment) delivered a beating that landed Jimmy Uso in the hospital. Which was actually something we expected to happen weeks ago.

Because that's what was always going to happen if a title match between Jey and Roman was the goal. The only way to facilitate such a match was always to have Roman destroy Jimmy. It's the one thing Jey would never be able to forgive. Jey turned against the Bloodline for his twin brother, but he was still clearly sympathetic to Reigns. That's over now. The promo that Jey cut in the show's main event segment, where he declared himself the Tribal Court's judge, jury, and executioner, and explicitly challenged Reigns to "trial by combat," was absolutely incredible, and it gave us the thing we've needed to see for three years. No more sympathy. No more compassion. No more blaming anything on Paul Heyman. Jey Uso is going to fight Roman Reigns, presumably for the world title, presumably at SummerSlam, and how that match ends — not necessarily who wins, or who's champion, but how it ends — is an incredibly important decision.

We have arrived. We're getting Roman vs. Jey, again, for the championship, again. Let's hope the Bloodline story treads carefully from here, because if it steps in the wrong direction, it's a long way down. But if WWE gets this right, it could officially reach the top of the mountain — the apex of narrative storytelling in professional wrestling.