WWE SmackDown 11/17/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved

Welcome to Wrestling Inc.'s weekly review of "WWE SmackDown," the show where Charlotte Flair apparently invented teleportation and yet somehow failed to use the technology to actually hit her moonsault to the outside! Between "Smackdown" going head-to-head with "AEW Collision," new matches being added to both Full Gear this weekend and Survivor Series next weekend, and Ronda Rousey apparently working a Ring of Honor taping of all things, it's been a pretty hectic night here at the WINC offices, but the evening can't end until we've provided our personal opinions on some of the things that happened on the blue brand.


As always, the emphasis there should be on "some." If you want "all," or if you prefer your wrestling commentary more objective, check out our live coverage/results page. But if you want to know how the WINC writing and editorial staff felt about Santos Escobar's heel promo, LA Knight's continued targeting of The Bloodline, or the latest participant in WarGames, this is the place for you! Here are three things we hated and three things we loved about the 11/17/23 episode of "WWE SmackDown."

Loved: Trouble In paradise for Damage CTRL? (Olivia Quinlan, WINC news writer)

Okay, I think it's safe to say that the Damage CTRL split has been coming for a while now, but the way it's playing out is pure genius.

In the world of professional wrestling, it's more common than not to see the leader of a stable be the one choosing to kick out a particular member for whatever reason. However, in the case of Bayley, it appears to be happening the other way around, with Kairi Sane, IYO SKY, Asuka, and Dakota Kai hinting that they may be gearing up to kick her out of the group. Bayley herself has seemed to take note of this, looking concerned by a particular quote from Dakota Kai who translated a conversation between Sane, SKY, and Asuka.


"It's nothing, but IYO was just saying this isn't the new and improved Damage CTRL," Kai said. "Because someone in this ring is not a part of the new and improved Damage CTRL."

Of course, SKY was (apparently) referring to Asuka not yet being made an official member of the group, but Bayley's character work is pure genius here. Unlike 99.9% of other wrestlers in similar situations, she's not ignoring the obvious. She sees what's happening and hears what her teammates (Kai in particular) have to say, which has caused her to become quite paranoid. Yes, this isn't the first time that this scenario has ever happened, but it's a refreshing change of pace from the usual stable break-ups we see in the modern age. I'm super interested to see where this ends up going and have high hopes as things continue to unfold.


Hated: Grimes/Waller/Theory goes nowhere (Jon Jordan, WINC news writer)

Grayson Waller can do no wrong. Of this, I am convinced. I want more "Grayson Waller Effect." I want more Rolling Thunder Stunners. I want more shoeys. But what I don't want anymore of is the association with Austin Theory. Get Waller away from him as soon as possible. Break that team up and have Waller smash him into a long-needed repackaging, for his sake, and for all of ours.


John Cena was right. Theory is hard to believe as a character overall. He's fugazi. He's playing pretend. He's not an exaggerated version of himself, as most great characters are, and if he is, my goodness, that's problematic. Worst of all, nobody cares. Good, bad, indifferent, Austin Theory's just kind of there. Case in point: Friday night, where he was just kind of there alongside Waller in his bout against Cameron Grimes — and that's where I go completely sideways on this segment, which had two guys floundering in nothingness and a star flirting with a similar fate if he doesn't disassociate, pronto.

Aside from Apollo Crews, no one has done less since the 2023 WWE Draft than Grimes, a phenomenal talent who was tremendously over during his time in "NXT." Grimes' "To the Moon" crypto/investor gimmick and feud over The Million Dollar Championship with LA Knight was as hot as it got late in the pandemic era. And now that's dead in the water. You can't go back, not even with obscure graphics on his TitanTron entrance. Not now. No one remembers. It's too late.


If direction for Grimes isn't found, it's going to be too late altogether. Same for Theory, who needs to go away for a bit and come back with something completely different, or he's toast too. As for Waller, run, mate. Run as fast as you can. You can't be associated with this void for long without being affected yourself.

Hated: Don't interrupt the wise man at work (Daisy Ruth, WINC news writer)

If there are two things I love most on "SmackDown," it's Paul Heyman and LA Knight. But now, those two things just don't exactly mix anymore. When we saw Knight lose to Roman Reigns at Crown Jewel, that should have been it for "The Megastar" in the picture with the seemingly unbeatable Reigns — for now, at least. I thought maybe he would go on to the United States title picture. Logan Paul versus Knight? Yes, PLEASE! Give me that war of words and get the belt actually back on "SmackDown" with a star who actually deserves a title! But no, it seems like Knight is still involved with Reigns and The Bloodline, and I hate the way they did things Friday night to continue that story.


Paul Heyman came out to the ring with Jimmy Uso and (more importantly for this segment) Solo Sikoa, who Heyman put over big for taking out John Cena at Crown Jewel. Heyman lauded Sikoa for quite some time about all that he did to Cena, even referencing "the five moves of doom" and singing the "doo do-do doooos" of Cena's theme song before Knight's music hit. And Heyman was doing a heck of a job running down Cena, who, of course, with the ending of the strikes in Hollywood, was not there. It was a great promo, and the interruption by Knight just didn't do it for me. Heyman was on an epic roll, and as much love as I have for Knight, he just brought Heyman screeching to a halt.

Knight was set to have a match with Uso, and even though he got the victory, of course there were shenanigans after the match, thus continuing Knight's story with The Bloodline. Even as President of the LA Knight Girlies, I can't bring myself to love anything about this. Also ... let's never interrupt the master, the "wise man," at work. Ever again.


Loved: Santos shreds the LWO (Jordan)

So maybe you wanted the reincarnation of the LWO to last more than eight months. So did I. But if you're gonna blow it up, you gotta go nuclear. Santos Escobar cranked things up to near-atomic levels, saying the old adage of "never meet your heroes" is true, that Dominik Mysterio was right about everything he said about Rey, and that he hopes Rey's recent knee surgery didn't go well. In fact, he wished an infection upon Rey, a leg amputation, and the inability for arguably the greatest Luchador of all-time to ever hit the ring again. Ouch.


The rant, and the ensuing altercations (first between Escobar and Zelina Vega, and then between Escobar and his former Legado del Fantasmo running mates, Joaquin Wilde and Cruz del Toro) led to the involvement of Carlito, with whom Escobar obviously has had beef since his return at Backlash in February. This begat a match between the two coming up at Survivor Series, and from there, we can go in a whole bunch of directions, which I think is where the gold lies.

What's Carlito's modus operandi? He didn't come back just to get Rey Mysterio's back, and it wasn't until he was back in the fold full time that the LWO started having problems. Beyond that, Carlito makes a far better heel than a good guy, in my opinion, so it's only natural that he ends up back on that side of the coin. How do we get there? No idea. That's not what they pay me for here. (I think I'm just supposed to ramble. And I feel like I'm doing real well to that end!)


Wilde and del Toro haven't done a ton other than exist as Escobar's underlings — maybe they flip the script and realign with Escobar as part of his master plan at some point? And what of Vega? She was at her hottest ahead of (and at) Backlash, but could use a freshening up herself. Maybe somehow this presents her with that opportunity. Is there an alternate universe where Dominik re-engages with his Pops when he returns, ultimately bringing Vega back to "Mami?"

That was a lot of question marking, but hey, that's a good problem to have, and this is a solid storyline to keep an eye on.

Loved: Finish the story ... but with subtle, consistent storytelling (Ruth)

There is absolutely no secret about how much love I have for Cody Rhodes. Rhodes' love of the business is infectious, and if you're even just a little bit tuned in to WWE news on X (Twitter, whatever), you know that Rhodes is constantly on live events. So when his music hit on "SmackDown" and he came down to kick some Bloodline butt, to me, it was a pleasant surprise. He's always everywhere already, why wouldn't he show up to "SmackDown" sometimes? (I also like hearing "Kingdom" at any chance I can get, but hey, I'm a sucker for an earworm.) I certainly didn't love LA Knight interrupting Paul Heyman to get to this match where Rhodes helped out, but it lessened the bad taste in my mouth to see "The American Nightmare" at the end of everything.


For me, what I loved about Rhodes' appearance was consistency. He has. To finish. THE STORY. Even though he's involved with The Judgment Day before Survivor Series: WarGames, he still hates The Bloodline more than anything. He has to get through Roman Reigns' family to finish the story and make sure he gets a shot at that title. He hasn't been in your face with the "finish the story" thing for a while, so him popping in to "SmackDown" to remind us he's still there, that he's still thinking about The Bloodline, was a nice little touch. I love consistent storytelling, especially when it comes to a star being involved in multiple stories. It helps me believe those behind these stories don't think their fans are too dumb to remember multiple things going on at once.


I also loved the extremely short backstage interaction between Rhodes and Nick Aldis. It was wonderfully awkward, with the new "SmackDown" general manager basically telling Rhodes, "...uh, maybe you should go now." It was weird enough that I don't see any repercussions for Rhodes invading "SmackDown," but I could be wrong. This was a simple thing to love on tonight's episode of "SmackDown," but Rhodes is almost always a good thing in my book.

Hated: The Man comes around to WarGames (Miles Schneiderman, WINC senior lead news editor)

I've always been a big fan of Becky Lynch, but I have to say, when the reports about her joining the babyface team in the women's WarGames match started trickling out, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Not because Lynch isn't great, but because her inclusion didn't make a ton of sense. Jokes about how (not) seriously WWE takes the brand split aside, Lynch is on "Raw" while the rest of these women are on "SmackDown." Lynch is currently feuding with Xia Li, and she was "NXT" Women's Champion before that, and she was feuding with Trish Stratus before that; she hasn't been involved with Damage CTRL since WrestleMania. I get that WWE probably just wanted to get Lynch on the Survivor Series card somehow, but there was seemingly no storyline justification for her to enter her second consecutive WarGames, and it felt like a spot that could have really benefitted someone else — a Mia Yim or a Zelina Vega, or even a lower tier "Raw" star like Candice LeRae or Tegan Nox.


Then they actually executed the idea on "SmackDown," and things went from nonsensical to honestly just silly. Bianca Belair starts trying to recruit allies, but is stymied when Damage CTRL keeps beating them up. And by "them" I mean Yim and Vega — Bianca hilariously just gives up after asking two people, presumably because the only other women on the "SmackDown" roster are like, Scarlett and B-Fab? It's also never made clear why Damage CTRL beating somebody up now, on November 17, would preclude them from joining the team on November 25. If anything, wouldn't Yim and Vega want revenge? It's the kind of angle that works when the PLE is the following night, but really doesn't when the PLE is in eight days. Finally, Charlotte makes a phone call to bring in Lynch, who was thankfully already close to the arena for some reason, because otherwise I don't know what the faces would have done.


For one thing, this smacks of poor planning. WWE has know for ages now that they were going to do a women's WarGames match. Over on "Raw," I would say the men's WarGames match has been built — well, maybe not to perfection, but it's been very well done, especially if we assume Drew McIntyre is now involved. That's a legitimately well-told story; in comparison, the women's match feels very thrown together. For another thing ... where the hell is Jade Cargill? I had kind of just assumed that Jade would be the one joining the babyfaces, since that just seems like a great way to debut her (and "SmackDown" could obviously really use her). And hey, maybe she still does. Lynch has a match with Li on Monday, which could theoretically lead to Li joining the heel team and necessitating another babyface teammate, which could be Cargill.

If it's not, though, or if it just ends up being an eight-woman match, the decision to involve Lynch and not Cargill is truly mystifying to me. "Becky and Bianca and some friends vs. a version of Damage CTRL" is literally the same match they did last year. If that's really all they've got, that's a huge disappointment.