WWE SmackDown 10/20/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved

Welcome to Wrestling Inc.'s weekly review of "WWE SmackDown," which can only be described as the strongest, the fastest, the smartest, the quickest, the roughest, the toughest, the best! Okay, yes, we are all pretty excited about Bianca Belair coming back to WWE TV Friday night — she has been sorely missed — and yes, we are definitely going to be talking about that in just a little bit. We will also be talking about other things from this episode, though of course, not everything. For everything, you would need to check out our live coverage/results page. This right here is only about the things that got WINC writers and editors in their feels.

So let's get into it! Were we excited about this week's Bloodline installment? Were we moved by John Cena's retirement tease? How hard did we pop for Belair's music hitting, really? Here are three things we hated and three things we loved about the 10/20/23 episode of "WWE SmackDown."

Hated: LA Naught (Miles Schneiderman, WINC senior lead news editor)

Hello, yes, That One LA Knight Hater back again, great to see everybody.

It's been a while since I wrote about LA Knight, and that's by design, because I'm probably just never going to like him, but a lot of other people do, and I really don't want to spend every Friday telling them why they're wrong for enjoying a thing. But I just couldn't stay quiet this week after the internet briefly blew up in praise for his show-opening promo segment with Paul Heyman, because LA Knight still can't cut a halfway decent promo and I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Y"all. It wasn't just not great, it was actively bad. To me, it's extremely clear that Knight isn't there yet when it comes to WWE-style promos, and putting him in there with Paul Heyman, of all people, did not do him any favors. Knight seemed jittery. I don't mind slip-ups like "Roman's Reigns" so much as I mind the poorly-timed pauses. the mini-bouts of word salad, and the sheer repetitive nature of the things he was saying, all of which speak to someone who didn't really go out there knowing what he wanted to say. His first line was "You wanna make noise, make noise, cause all you been doing out here is making a whole lot of damn noise," which ... what does that even mean?

The worst thing about it, though, was that there was no overarching point to this promo, nothing to get us excited about his match with Reigns at Crown Jewel, or even about the contract signing next week. When he wasn't changing his mind about whether he wanted Heyman in the ring, what did Knight say to Heyman, really?

He's mad that Reigns isn't here so he's intimidating Heyman; cool, everybody who has ever feuded with a Paul Heyman client has done this. The only point he really manages to get across is that he's going to keep coming until he wins the title, which doesn't really say anything about this specific fight. "I won't stop, I can't stop, and as a matter of fact, I will not stop," he says, sounding like someone who definitely thought this promo through ahead of time. He's repeating himself in weird ways, he's adding phrases that don't need to be added, and he's taking way too long to say way too little, and all of it is just painfully generic. The words could be said by anyone. The fact that Knight is the one saying them adds nothing.

In the end, there's just nothing here to latch onto. Knight says Reigns should be scared because he's never seen anyone like Knight, but why? Why is there no one like you, LA? We never find out, we just learn he's going to take the title "as fast as I's risen." Basically, the entire promo is empty bravado. The entire plane is made of bravado, it's bravado all the way down — because LA Knight doesn't have a character. He just. Has. Catchphrases. And not even good ones. Literally just 1-3 words that are easy to learn and fun to chant. Wow, what a great talker. Put the world title on him.

Sorry. Just had to get that out. Carry on.

Loved: Bring on the brand rivalry! (Jon Jordan, WINC news writer)

Ok so, in the interest of fairness, last week, I dogged Nick Aldis' debut a bit on account of him finally showing up on WWE television with very little fanfare. (WHERE WAS THE MUSIC? WHERE THE HELL DID HE COME FROM, EVEN?) Anyway ... I've moved on. Aldis is great, and having respective authority figures on both main roster shows is a fantastic move. Fresh GMs in Aldis and Adam Pearce is even better. (Neither of their last names is McMahon, neither is a Hall of Fame retread, neither has ever even competed in a WWE ring — yet.) Pearce has been around a bit, serving as this blanket authority figure for both shows for quite some time now, but with drafts and trades and all that, this was a necessary step. You can't make deals with yourself, and if you're going to feign competition between the two shows, each side has to fly their flag proudly. We got the start of that tonight, just in time for a premium live event in Survivor Series that has always been nothing when it doesn't mean anything.

So tonight, when we saw Aldis arguing with Jey Uso about the "Raw" talent coming onto "SmackDown" freely and ultimately handing him a $10,000 fine as Pearce joined the fray, doling out an identical fine to brother Jimmy on the other side, we got a glimpse as to where this is going — and the view is simply marvelous. Aldis, having enough of the backstage turmoil, requests that security escorts Jey out, but Pearce says that isn't necessary as he can escort his own talent — only to have Aldis demand that BOTH "Raw" affiliates take a walk. Pearce is game, of course, and says, "Let the games begin!"

Now, what sort of games are we talking about? Is there still a WarGames match to be had between the two brands at Survivor Series? Judgment Day vs. Bloodline seems unlikely at this point, given the recent affiliation, so maybe that's not a slam dunk, but how about some "Raw" vs. "SmackDown" bragging rights matchups at the very least? And how about some stakes to go with that, like the overall winner gets to pluck some talent or other from the other side, or maybe a free agent? And is "NXT" involved? (Gotta be a GM coming there at some point right? When does William Regal's no-TV-because-Tony-Khan-isn't-putting-up-with-this-f***ng-s***-anymore clause run out?)

In any event, if there's gonna be a brand split (jury still out), there have to be guidelines. Putting two believable figureheads in place is a great start.

(Advantage: Aldis thus far, if you ask me.)

Hated: Actor's strike? No problem, Cena brings the dramatics (Daisy Ruth, WINC news writer)

We all know a very good portion of the reason John Cena is hanging around "SmackDown" right now is because of the ongoing Hollywood actor's strike, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised at the "Peacemaker" actor bringing the extra dramatics to the ring. Cena has previously said he's going to go out there at every point of this run and thank the fans, which is all well and good, but tonight just felt like a lot. Maybe that's just because at this point of the show, we had only had one actual wrestling match compared to multiple talking segments.

The way Cena was delivering this promo tonight made it seem like he wanted a go at another championship reign, but knowing he's kind of a short-timer at this point, I couldn't really believe it. His voice got emotional and shaky and he started to talk about retirement. I imagine that Cena is likely close to retirement, but there's absolutely no way he's going away that easily. It's going to be an entire retirement tour and it's going to be advertised to high heavens. We'll know about Cena's retirement well in advance.

Looking back on it now, the promo itself didn't really make sense. Cena is out there talking about how he has a streak of his own, a losing streak, 2,002 days without a singles win on television. His last win was all the way back in 2018. He said the "next idiot" that came out of the back was going to have a bad night, but when Solo Sikoa made his way to the ring, there was no ref and the bell didn't ring. It ended up being another beat-down on the show, rather than a singles match.

Cena may be going on to 2,003 days without a singles win on TV, but at least he didn't rack up another "L" in that column. I also don't think he's going to be winning any awards for his performance tonight, but the crowd certainly ate it up.

Loved: Him Jim (Schneiderman)

Do I ... like, all of a sudden ... like Jimmy Uso now? What is this sorcery?

Honestly, I don't know how it happened. I think maybe when Jimmy cost Jey the tag titles on "Raw," and I realized that we really were doing a Jimmy/Jey feud, and basically stopped hedging as to whether Jimmy was back in the Bloodline as the result of a story that makes no damn sense, I was able to just accept that things were heading in this direction and try and find something to appreciate about all this. Mainly though, I think it's Jimmy's football language. That backstage segment where he's just running with the backup quarterback analogy and being like "Red 70 Black Star, touchdooooooown, Bloodline" — I popped for it, I don't know what to tell you. In a weird way it's like WWE's answer to "Timeless" Toni Storm. This guy has just kind of snapped a little bit, and he's going super over-the-top with it in his bright red suit and just leaning hard into this one specific thing. When Jey attacked him after the in-ring segment later and he was lying on the floor with security holding Jey back, he tried to call a time out. How could I not love that?

So yeah, while this still isn't the Bloodline story I wanted, the individual performers remain top shelf, and it's been a while since Jimmy reminded me that he was in that conversation. He was just really, really fun in this episode, and I can absolutely have a good time with this character. HIM JIM USO 4 LIFE.

Hated: Oh good, another contract signing (Jordan)

LA Knight's rise to prominence in WWE has been an organically-produced have-to thanks to fan support and him being undeniable as far as that goes. Fine. I actually really like the guy. He's a veteran, a fine worker, the people love him, and he's now got himself a shot at Roman Reigns' Undisputed WWE Universal Heavyweight Championship at Crown Jewel. But let's get serious: He's not winning. He's not on that level. At best, he has a good showing against Reigns in Saudi Arabia and settles in as a dependable mid-carder vying for Intercontinental and/or United States title gold for a good while to come. Nothing wrong with that. But he's not on a Roman Reigns level. Few are. It is what it is. So how do we attempt to get him there and make this title shot believable? Well, I don't know.

But I'll tell you what won't do it: A contract signing.

Kudos to wrestling companies for always trying to make contract signings seem special and all, but we all know where this is going. Knight comes out, does a little sign language, gets the crowd to say some stuff, does it all again, YEAH! Then Reigns comes out, 14-minute entrance and all, the crowd boos, Paul Heyman introduces himself, and Reigns, and does something with his phone, Knight signs the contract, YEAH! Reigns eventually signs as well but maybe puts Knight through a table first (somebody's definitely going through a table), YEAH! But maybe instead, John Cena comes out, only to be met by Solo Sikoa, who steals the pen and Samoan Spikes it into Cena's dome, setting up that match at Crown Jewel too (which is cool and all, given the Umaga connection, but I think we were already headed that way), YEAH!

Ultimately, I guess this gets business done, right? But at this point, it's lazy. And if you've seen one contract signing, you've seen them all.

Loved: Bianca Belair is back! (Olivia Quinlan, WINC news writer)

Bianca Belair is finally back in WWE!

I have all the respect in the world for Charlotte Flair and her contributions for women's wrestling, but I have to admit that I'm not her biggest fan. So when I learned she was receiving yet another shot at the WWE Women's Championship, I was not overly thrilled to see a match I feel like I've seen one too many times. Of course, personal feelings aside, I knew that her and IYO SKY would put on a good match –- which they did. Then came the Damage CTRL post-match beatdown on Flair. I thought it would be the same old thing, and I had lost a little interest.

I very quickly changed my tune, however, when Bianca Belair came running down to the ring and provided Flair with a helping hand.

The women's division on "SmackDown" has been feeling a little stale as of late, with WWE doing a lot of the same matches over and over again. Belair's reemergence was a much-needed, refreshing change of pace. It'll be interesting to see the direction they take her character from here, whether that be turning her back on Charlotte Flair (or vice versa) and a subsequent program or regaining the title she lost to SKY. Either way, it's good to see Belair back, and I'm excited to see what's in the future for her.