WWE SmackDown 12/01/2023: 3 Things We Hated And 3 Things We Loved

Welcome to Wrestling Inc.'s weekly review of "WWE SmackDown," the show where the main event segment revolves around paperwork way more often than you'd think! We're coming off a historic WWE Survivor Series, an event that changed ... precisely nothing for the blue brand. Bianca Belair and Charlotte Flair are still fighting Damage CTRL, Santos Escobar is still fighting Dragon Lee, Pretty Deadly are still fighting Butch, and LA Knight is still fighting The Bloodline, so really it's basically same old, same old on Friday nights. Except, of course, for the fact that Randy Orton is back and now officially part of the "SmackDown" roster. That's kind of a big deal. He's probably gonna get Speared soon.

Anyway, this is the part where the WINC writing and editorial staff tell you their opinions on some of the things that went down on the first night of December, and sadly, we couldn't have feelings about every part of the episode. Our live coverage/results page is always here for you if you just need an objective recap of the show's events — what we offer here is more focused subjectivity. Did Orton's "SmackDown" return do anything for us? Did the latest chapter of the story of Bayley and Damage CTRL justify their WarGames loss? And most importantly, why did we have so many thoughts about the United States Championship picture, of all things? The answer to all of these (except maybe that last because, because who knows, we're just weird) lie before you! Here are three things we hated and three things we loved about the 12/1/2023 episode of "WWE SmackDown."

Hated: Bianca wins LOL

One of the most frustrating things in professional wrestling today is the fact that WWE's women's division is so good, and the way WWE books the women's division is so bad. That problem is compounded on "SmackDown," which has (a) the better women's division, and (b) a long-running, actually compelling storyline in the form of Bayley being slowly marginalized from Damage CTRL. And yet, even here, I can't handle the booking, which is set-your-watch predictable, and not in a good way.

It's bad enough that Damage CTRL is continuing to feud with Bianca Belair, Charlotte Flair, and Shotzi, despite the three of them winning at WarGames, because what else are any of them going to do? At one point during the brawl in the opening segment, Michael Cole said off-handedly on commentary "I guess WarGames didn't settle anything," and that's just a depressing statement. Beyond that though, WWE pulled the same kind of booking that frustrated me in the otherwise incredible women's WarGames match. On Saturday, Bayley sacrificed herself to save Kairi Sane, a story beat that would usually be followed by Sane winning the match, because cause and effect. Instead, the babyfaces just won anyway. On Friday, Bayley came out to help Sane against Belair in singles action and successfully did so behind the referee's back, a story beat that would usually be followed by Sane winning the match, because cause and effect. Instead, Belair just won anyway.

The justification is the same in both cases — Bayley has to be seen as a failure by Damage CTRL to widen the rift between them — but let's not pretend WWE is consistently booking the top star babyfaces of the women's division to win almost always and Damage CTRL to win almost never is something that's unique to this storyline. This time last year, a team led by Belair had just defeated Damage CTRL in a WarGames match at Survivor Series, and it seemed pretty clear that the heel stable that had debuted with such impact a few months earlier was already nothing more than a punching bag for Belair and the rest of the division's unstoppable superheroes. A year later, even with a member of Damage CTRL holding the WWE Women's Championship, we're in the exact same place. Now that's depressing.

Written by Miles Schneiderman

Loved: Kevin Owens and Logan Paul meet face-to-face

I will be the very first to admit that I am not the biggest Logan Paul fan in the world, but boy does he make for an effective heel.

After announcing that the next No. 1 Contender for his United States Championship would be determined in the coming weeks in an eight-man tournament, Kevin Owens –- who is set to be a participant –- confronted Paul. The verbal exchange between the two that ensued was both entertaining and fun, including my personal favorite moment: Owens managing to make a reference to Vine in 2023.

It's nice to see Owens back in the United States title picture (even though I think he should be competing for the top title, but I digress). Since his arrival on "SmackDown," it feels like Owens has been floating around a little bit, and his feud with Grayson Waller and Austin Theory is kind of growing stale. Logan Paul? Not so much.

Written by Olivia Quinlan

Hated: Such urgency to put one's title on the line

I was compelled to write something like this after "Raw" on Monday, when Seth Rollins was so eager to find the next contender for his WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but on account of Rollins' stature as Babyface McGee (at least for now), which goes hand-in-hand with "being a fighting champion," I backed off. On Friday, with uber-heel Logan Paul lamenting the fact that he can't give Rey Mysterio a rematch at the moment, and all excited about "agreeing to" an eight-man tournament to determine his next challenger, I couldn't hold back.

Look, you're the champ, and despite all the great work Paul's done to earn the respect of fans and colleagues alike in such short order, you're still a heel. You have the championship around your waist, at major events across the country, and even in compromising situations over which, storyline or not, other folks would probably get into some hot water. Why are we so fired up about putting it on the line? Relax! Be champ! Hell, if I earned a title belt, I'd prance it around all over the place and hope like hell nobody is interested in stepping up. And once they did, I'd be like, "Well, s***."

Paul's got a good thing going. I just don't get the psychology behind just needing to lay the title on the line as soon as possible, at least not in his case.

Written by Jon Jordan

Loved: Selling on offense

Hi, hello, it's me, the person who appreciates Kevin Owens more than just about any wrestler on the planet (aside from his wrestling soulmate, Sami Zayn) and I'm here to tell you about why I really enjoyed the Kevin Owens match on "SmackDown." I know, shocking. But I want to point out the main reason the match worked, which is because of how hard Owens committed to the increasingly rare practice (it seems to me, at least) of selling on offense.

For those not in the know, "selling on offense" occurs when a wrestler has, within the fiction of the match, suffered an injury, usually as the result of an opponent targeting a specific body part. In this case, it was Owens' hand, which Austin Theory illegally stomped on outside the ring, setting up his teammate, Grayson Waller, to focus his attacks on the hand. Of course, the injured wrestler will eventually get back on the offensive, and when they do, selling on offense dictates that they continue to behave as though that body part is injured, even though they're the one attacking. Every time he did a move that even marginally involved his hand, Owens would wince and shake his hand performatively, making sure the people in the cheap seats could see it. It's not just a matter of internal logic or plot holes; selling on offense tells the audience that the entire match matters, that their attention is being rewarded, that a story is being told. It gives the audience permission to get invested in the performance and care about the characters involved.

Too often, wrestlers seem to magically heal the moment their opponent stops working them over. They overcome their knee injury or their back injury or their neck injury, hit their finish, then celebrate and stand tall, and you'd never know they had been acting out expressions of horrific pain ten minutes earlier. Not Kevin Owens. The hand injury mattered — it made pulling off his moves more difficult and eventually made him resort to defeating the younger, less experienced Waller with a desperation roll-up, after which Owens slid out of the ring and back up the ramp, selling the hand the entire time. You might be able to change the channel and see more athletically impressive performances, but Kevin Owens, more than maybe anyone else wrestling today, knows how to make you care about the fact that he's in pain, and that seems to me to be the rarer gift.

Written by Miles Schneiderman

Hated: Ridge Holland is still mad at Butch ... over a tiny miscommunication

It's pretty inevitable that at some point, all factions within professional wrestling are bound to break up. It was only a matter of time before this happened with The Brawling Brutes, and while I do love a good faction break-up, I have to say that I am not a major fan of how this one is playing out.

Ridge Holland was noticeably absent from ringside Friday night during Butch's match with Bobby Lashley, after making his frustrations known last week by walking out on Butch during their tag team match against Pretty Deadly. Absences during singles matches and walking out of tag team bouts are pretty standard in build up towards a faction break-up, and I didn't mind either of them in this particular storyline, but the thing I'm having a hard time looking past is the fact that this was all over a small miscommunication during a tag team match. The issue would be very easily solved if Holland simply looked at the replay, but instead, it seems as if their feud will be built on this one, extremely flimsy development.

Written by Olivia Quinlan

Loved: Never trust a Viper

No matter how you look at it, Randy Orton back and active in WWE is a big win — and a big ol' love around these parts. Even better? The RKO is back, baby, and "out of nowhere" is in full effect. No one is safe, not even "SmackDown" General Manager Nick Aldis!

That's right, authority figures are once again fair game! (At least that's how I'm taking this, for now.) But more than that, Orton on "SmackDown" is a great move for a show that felt like it was missing a heavy hitter or two of late. Plus, over on the "Raw" side, things are a bit loaded (even for three hours) and a star that shines as bright as "The Viper" needs a place to do said shining.

Best of all, in Orton's first "SmackDown" appearance since May 2022, his plot to exact vengeance on what's left of The Bloodline was furthered with physicality toward Solo Sikoa and Jimmy Uso, along with some flavorful interaction with "The Wise Man," Paul Heyman. All of this adds up to Orton headed toward Roman Reigns, one would think, which is also a big win, giving Reigns another way-more-than-formidable opponent (who doesn't need to win) ahead of whatever his WrestleMania 40 match might be.

Bottom line: Orton's back and RKOing people at will, including the GM of his new home brand, and damn it, that's just fine and dandy by me. (Plus, hey look, Aldis can still bump ... more of that too, please!)

Written by Jon Jordan