WWE SmackDown 7/14/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved

Welcome to Wrestling Inc.'s deeply biased (but entirely based) review of "WWE SmackDown!" We're back covering the show that made wrestling TV history last week (in part by not featuring very much wrestling on TV) as an audience of millions tuned in for the latest drama in the scintillating story of The Bloodline. This week, the undisputed protagonist of that drama, Jey Uso, was "on the warpath" following the destruction of his brother, Jimmy, at the hands of Solo Sikoa and Roman Reigns. Would Jey finally make it official and challenge his cousin for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship at SummerSlam, almost three years after his fateful first challenge back in September 2020? Meanwhile, we also had a WWE Women's Championship match, the first match in the United States Championship Invitational, and Shotzi laughing maniacally while cutting her own hair!

For all your objective, just-the-facts needs, check out our live coverage of Friday's show. To find out what actually worked for us and what didn't, here are three things we hated and three things we loved about the 7/14/2023 episode of "WWE SmackDown."

Loved: Throat trauma

We're not sure what we loved more: Pretty Deadly picking up another win (they're now 5-1 in televised main roster matches) or the way they did it. The match featured Brawling Brutes members Sheamus and Ridge Holland attempting to get their revenge on Kit Wilson and Elton Prince after last week's interference, and ended when Prince slipped the pad off the top turnbuckle while the referee was distracted, then dodged a charging Holland, who drove into the exposed turnbuckle throat-first (or at least, so the story goes). Now, your mileage may vary when it comes to this angle of Ridge Holland losing repeatedly because he has a damaged throat; it's not as though he's been selling it when cutting promos or anything like that, so it's really been on the announcers to make sure the whole throat thing comes across to the viewer. But no matter how well you're able to suspend your disbelief, it's still nice to see the attempt at continuity and detail — Holland's throat was initially injured three weeks ago by Solo Sikoa, and the week after that, Austin Theory targeted it, as well. Not only does it reward viewers for paying attention, it also gives Pretty Deadly a heelish victory, but not a lucky or immaterial one. Yes, Prince exposed the turnbuckle, but he doesn't look weak as a result — he just looks smart for knowing that Holland was about to run at him throat-first, and ruthless for gaining himself a relatively minor, but important, advantage. This kind of booking lets Pretty Deadly continue as dastardly heels without turning them into ineffectual cowards and thus giving us no reason to care, something that happened repeatedly under Vince McMahon's creative auspices.

Still no details on the connection between Deadly Theory or whatever they're called, but we're guessing this match was the end of their feud with the Brutes, and we couldn't be happier. Let's get all these people into some new storylines, stat.

Hated: AJ Syles vs. Karrion Kross is apparently still a thing

The main reason we think this Brutes thing with Theory is finished is because Theory is getting a new #1 contender for his United States title in two weeks following the conclusion of the United States Championship Invitational, i.e. the now-standard Paul Levesque mini-tournament involving the winners of two multi-man matches facing off in a singles contest. This week's fatal four-way, which featured Butch, AJ Styles, Santos Escobar, and Grayson Waller, was serviceable, though clearly not everything went the way it was supposed to go. There were several fun spots — Escobar's suicide dive, known and idolized by "Lucha Underground" fans as the Arrow From The Depths Of Hell, was our favorite — and for the second week in a row, Waller was a breath of fresh air in the ring, making the likes of Styles and even Butch feel stale by comparison. But having Theory jawing back and forth with Michael Cole on commentary was unbearable, and the only actual story development involved, unfortunately, the continuation of Styles' feud with Karrion Kross.

As discussed last week, we feel pretty strongly that there's not much meat left on the bone with this feud, or with Kross in general. Yet here we are, watching Kross beat up the OC backstage and distracting Styles long to enough to get him taken out by Waller, who was subsequently pinned by Escobar. We're fine with the result — it seems a little weird to have Waller get pinned in a four-way, but if we're being honest, whoever won this one was probably getting beaten by LA Knight on the 28th, anyway. We're just really not looking forward to Styles vs. Kross again, and we wish that wasn't the most important thing happening here.

Hated: The one where we make the internet mad

Okay, full confession: We don't get the LA Knight thing.

Don't get us wrong — we're extremely happy for him. We think it's awesome that he's getting so over; it's good for the product, it's great for his career, and it's fun to see a guy who Vince McMahon pegged as a manager suddenly explode as a wrestler. We're never (well, almost never) going to complain about somebody succeeding. But personally, we don't understand what the big deal is. He's a guy whose popularity seems to be based entirely on catchphrases that are fun to say, and while that is certainly not unprecedented in wrestling, it doesn't really move the needle for us on its own. He's a good promo and a fine wrestler, but we are completely mystified as to why so many people are suddenly desperate to see him win a world title. At the very least he needs a storyline to actually sink his teeth into, otherwise he's just going to keep doing what he did this week: Coming out to cut a promo in which he ultimately said nothing of consequence.

Knight will be part of next week's fatal four-way, and we'd hazard a guess that he's winning it, winning the invitational, and quite possibly winning the United States Championship. And that's great; a midcard title is about where he should be aiming right now, no matter what Wrestling Twitter has decided. But his promo was just a bunch of hot air because he has nothing to talk about beyond "I'm going to be champion," and it's unclear why he got a live promo segment while his three opponents were only given short pre-tapes. If the answer is just "because he's popular," fine, but as far as we're concerned, this was time that could have gone to a different part of the show. On this occasion, we did not need LA Knight to talk to us.

Loved: Who run Bloodline town?

Ever since it was reported that Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso was the plan for SummerSlam, we've had this theory. We'd love to see Jey as champion, but we're not sure WWE is ready to end Reigns' historic title run just yet. But we also do not want to see Reigns straight-up beat Jey, even with the traditional Bloodline ref bump + interference. That would just be fundamentally wrong for the story these two men have been telling for the last three years. So, what if at SummerSlam, Jey has Roman beat, but purposefully gets himself counted out or otherwise decides not to win the championship, because he realizes he doesn't want to be like Roman. He doesn't want to be the Tribal Chief.

It's a concept that's probably a little too outside-the-box for WWE — the idea of any character intentionally not winning the world title because some things are more important than individual success just isn't something we'd ever expect to see from this company — but after Friday's promo segment between Jey and Paul Heyman, we're very slightly starting to wonder if that's where we're going. After Jey cut another incredible promo (one WINC staff member suggested he's currently one of the top 10 promos in wrestling, and they're right) Heyman came out to plant the seeds out doubt. Specifically, this segment revolved around Jey openly saying that he was going to dethrone Reigns and become the new Tribal Chief. Heyman initially responded that Jey's passion reminded him of Roman — which immediately brought Jey up short, conflicted emotions playing across his face. Become Roman is the last thing he wants to do. Heyman then pivoted, saying that Jey doesn't have the conscience to be Tribal Chief, because if he cared so much about his brother, Jimmy, he wouldn't have turned on Reigns and pinned him at Money in the Bank, actions that led to Roman's retaliation.

So we have Jey, who has previously said he doesn't want to be Tribal Chief, now saying he does want that, to which Heyman is responding that he doesn't have what it takes. In other words, Heyman is reiterating Reigns' own perspective — that Reigns does everything he does out of love for his family — and saying that since Jey's actions led to Jimmy's injuries, Jey doesn't have enough of that love to make the hard decisions required of someone in Reigns' position. It seems to us that the only way to counter that narrative, and thus the only way to end this story effectively, would be to have Jey shine the light of truth on those lies. Which is what he would be doing if he demonstrated to Reigns that he could beat him to become champion if he wanted to, but that actually loving your family means standing firm against the temptation of power, not giving in to it. Reigning over your family with an iron fist isn't loving them, it's loving yourself.

We're still having a hard time believing this could actually happen in a WWE story, but this chapter made us think it's at least possible. And if not, at least Jey got to superkick Heyman.

Hated: Yet another woman be crazy

Bayley defeated Zelina Vega this week (hooray for two women's matches on the show!) but the important thing was what happened after that, as we continued the story that began when Bayley cut off a piece of Shotzi's hair, which she is now parading around with. Shotzi's promo, delivered via the big screen, was generally well-performed and effective; we understand why Bayley was freaked afterward, and we're looking forward to Shotzi's new look, at the very least. But while we're happy to see Shotzi getting a storyline, we just can't get past the fact that WWE is making yet another one of their female performers start acting stereotypically crazy.

WWE has always had an obsession with the "crazy girl" character. Victoria and Mickie James both did it in the mid-2000s, and Luna Vachon and probably numerous others were doing it before that. AJ Lee did her own variation of it in the 2010s; Alexa Bliss did it during her partnership with Bray Wyatt's "Fiend" character and seemed to be going back in that direction prior to her recent pregnancy. After losing what was then the "SmackDown" Women's Championship back to Ronda Rousey, Liv Morgan started to exhibit similar attributes, and she had already done something resembling such a character back when she was part of the Riott Squad. But she's toned down those elements since being paired up with Raquel Rodriguez in the tag division, meaning there was apparently a crazy girl void to be filled, and Shotzi has apparently been selected to fill it.

Are we overreacting? Possibly. Maybe Shotzi won't end up playing this kind of character, or maybe she'll come up with an interesting spin on it. All we know is that we're tired of WWE having a single-digit list of potential character traits for women and just going back to them over and over, and this one is ... well, not the most problematic, because it's WWE, but still not great. We're glad to be seeing more of Shotzi, but we wish this wasn't what it took to make it happen.

Loved: Chaos is a ticket stub

In a welcome development, especially after last week, the primary storyline in the women's division both opened and closed "SmackDown" this week, with Bianca Belair and Charlotte Flair starting things off with an in-ring promo while Belair got her long-awaited WWE Women's Championship rematch against Asuka in the main event. Belair wasn't really acting as heelish as we might have expected her to be acting by this point, but if this really is a heel turn for her, it's being drawn out — she got a great reaction from the crowd despite being in "Flair Country" and was acting like an uber-confident bad-ass, which is a good look for her. See, WWE? Sometimes if you take the championship off your top babyface and stop having them beat everyone, crowds get behind them rather than getting sick of them. There might be a reason this kind of booking, rather than Vince McMahon's "here's a superhero, he's awesome and better than everyone else" booking, has a long track record of success in wrestling. Just a thought.

Anyway, we really enjoyed both the promo segment and the main event, but for us, the thing that really made everything work was the backstage segment where Charlotte almost leaves the building. Having talked Belair into giving her a title match if Belair wins back the championship, Charlotte tells Adam Pearce she's leaving before he has time to tell her she's banned from ringside, because she trusts Bianca to get the job done. But then, of course, Bayley and IYO SKY show up with IYO's briefcase and tease that the match could end up getting slightly more complicated, she decides to stick around after all. Not only is it a hilarious moment that Peace's exasperated facial expressions really sells, but it sets up the chaos to come: We could have had a nice, simple singles match between Belair and Asuka without Charlotte's interference, but SKY and Bayley lurking adds an unknown element, so Charlotte stays, obviously ends up interfering, and even more obviously hits Belair with a spear by accident, ending the match by disqualification. SKY almost manages to cash in, but Asuka escapes, hits Bayley with her blue mist, and gets out of town with her title. No, we're not sure why anybody needed to buy tickets to the show in a repeat of that trope, but it's fine, we can go with it.

We would still guess this is leading to a Belair heel turn — though we're not sure what to make of that now that Bobby Lashley has returned and appears to be recruiting the Street Profits, who had been rumored to be turning alongside and joining up with Belair — but the important thing is that the main event match exacerbated the sense of chaos that's been driving Pearce insane. Belair vs. Flair. vs. Asuka is obviously being set up for SummerSlam, but we could also see SKY walking out with the belt that night, a year after her main roster debut. She's held the briefcase for two weeks now, WWE has to be getting antsy. If nothing else, we're glad this feud is getting its due, and that no fewer than five women are getting to spend time in the main event segment as a result.