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SmackDown recap & reactions (July 21, 2023): Tribal Combat

As it turns out, all that talk about Roman Reigns and Jey Uso setting the “rules of engagement” was just a cool military sounding way to say they were going to have a contract signing on Friday Night SmackDown this week in Orlando.

Hey, I appreciate the creativity.

But it wasn’t just a contract signing, it was a way to add yet another layer to the story. Jey informed everyone, including Reigns himself, that, well, to hell with a contract, they’re blood and that means this would be TRIBAL COMBAT, which, as Jey himself explained it, essentially just means anything goes.

So they’re going to beat the ever loving trash out of each other with all manner of weaponry.

Then, he said it again, that this is Tribal Combat, and Reigns took the Lei off his neck, something that pained him greatly to do, before placing it on the WWE Universal championship. The symbolism seemed clear enough — they’re fighting for two titles.

WWE Universal Champion.

The Tribal Chief.

If it wasn’t clear, Michael Cole came right out and said it. I quite like stories like this without explainers but it was fair of them to have commentary make clear exactly what the stakes for this match will be.

To really drive it home, after a customary hand shake, Solo Sikoa tried to attack Jey but Roman stepped in before the Spike could land. Jey responded not by backing off but by laying Solo out with a Superkick while Reigns was still holding him.

When Reigns looked to him with concern, the message seemed equally clear.

What was it Paul Heyman said last week?

Jey is looking and acting more and more like a Tribal Chief all the time.

The clock ticks.

LA Knight did not win the Fatal 4-Way match to advance to next week to face Santos Escobar for the right to challenge Austin Theory for the United States championship.

But you know what? They handled this as well as they could have to mitigate any issue fans may have had with him losing. And that’s because they actually bothered to tell a story that makes sense with a wrestler we simply wouldn’t be turning on.

But they also made clear they know Knight is a star in the making. After all, he was the only one to get time on the mic before the match:


Then, they had Theory sitting ringside and getting involved to screw with Rey Mysterio, leading to Escobar hitting the ring to help his fellow LWO stablemate and mentor. But that didn’t include cheating for him to win. No, Mysterio overcome the outside attack to win anyway, and fans cheered for that victory despite Knight taking the loss (after he was taken out with a Brogue Kick).

It works because they were very clearly setting up a “Mentor vs. Protege” match between Mysterio and Escobar, one where Mysterio could and likely will do the job for Santos and give him a big endorsement on his way to a title match that he should probably win.

You couldn’t ask for a better story to tell there. And even if you’re an LA Knight fanatic like myself, you can’t be mad about them telling it.

His time will come.

Later in the evening, Theory demanded a non-title match against Escobar and had it granted. The two had a damn good showcase match, one that saw Escobar take advantage of an angry Theory and pin the champion clean in the middle of the ring.

The fans sure sounded behind Santos to me!

It may finally be time for the uber talented star to get a push at the level he can work at. Next week is a big one.

All the rest
  • Iyo Sky is still the Money in the Bank contract holder so in order to keep that fresh on everyone’s mind, they had her wrestle Charlotte Flair in a straight up singles match. Bayley, who thankfully looks like she survived injury and her knee is okay, was fantastic on commentary putting down the man she hates more than anyone, Michael Cole. She also tried to coach up Sky but Shotzi again used the Titantron to get in her head, which led to Bayley completely bailing on Sky. It was still one hell of a competitive match, and absolutely served to show us this is what the future looks like. But not just yet. Flair pinned Sky clean. Asuka attacked her after the match, itself a good thing because, again, she’s largely taken a backseat even as champion. This was really well done all around.
  • Oh, what’s this? Bobby Lashley hoping he would run into NXT Champion Carmelo Hayes and Trick Williams while in town for this show? And the two meeting for a talk? Whatever could this be about?!? Intrigue!
  • Dominik Mysterio defended the North American championship for the first time not his show, defeating BUTCH thanks to multiple assists from his lady friend Rhea Ripley. They also did a comedy spot with Pretty Deadly during the match, so those two are staying on TV despite Elton Prince’s injury, which bodes well for them. There isn’t much to say for Dom vs. BUTCH, other than it’s good they had Mysterio pick up a victory in a title defense before he heads off to The Great American Bash to square up with Mustafa Ali.

You could tell this was an FS1 show. That’s not to say it was bad — quite the contrary, actually — just that they didn’t overdo anything here and focused on a few key segments. I quite enjoyed it.

Grade: B+

Your turn.

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