SmackDown Rivalry Report Card (6/11/21) – Grading the Friday Night Feuds

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Friday Night SmackDown continues to gallop at a brisk pace towards Hell in a Cell, laying the groundwork for their contributions to the match card. Most of the roster is embroiled in tightly focused and refreshingly written conflicts, and June 11’s installment of SmackDown did its best to showcase each of these storylines in differnt ways. Here is a progress report of which SmackDown feuds Exceed Expectations and which Need Improvement.

Liv Morgan vs Carmella

If her stirring operatic entrance music ever bores her, Carmella is well within her rights to switch her soundtrack to “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. and Rakim. Although her gimmick is trading higher than ever on her sex appeal, she is above all a talented and accomplished in-ring performer. She has a poisonous toolkit of submission wizardry, including her finisher the Code of Silence. She is a 1x SmackDown Women’s Champion, as well as a former Money in the Bank winner.

Liv Morgan’s WWE career has been quite the opposite trajectory, one of fits and starts. Their current rivalry was presumably an outgrowth of Morgan’s need for a storyline as a singles competitor now that Ruby Riott’s release has put the ice on the Riott Squad for the second. and most likely final. time. The prize they seem to be fighting over… Is who can call themselves the most beautiful woman in the WWE?

As dubious as this is, it is in line with Carmella’s gimmick as a vanity-obsessed narcissist, casting Morgan as the scrappy punk taking aim at Carmella’s rampant vainglory. The two have good in-ring chemistry, with Carmella’s gritty ruthlessness and Morgan’s buoyant athleticism.

SmackDown Rivalry Grade: B-

It’s fun, but not setting the Thames on fire and has some questionable undertones about feminine beauty.

Bianca Belair vs Bayley

Another installment of “Ding Dong, Hello!” saw Bayley and Seth Rollins congratulating each other on their villainy and laughing at their respective torment of Bianca Belair and Cesaro until both their adversaries crashed the party. Bayley brings the best out of Belair’s character work. Belair has struggled on the mic, but when Bayley starts honing in on her with her over-the-top antics, “The EST” easily plays her part, embodying “living my best life” vitality while Bayley seethes with insecurity.

The two are not only hilarious and dynamic together, but it’s a broadly comic take on a poignant topic: jealousy between two women in a professional setting. Unlike the flimsy insults flung between Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley on Monday Night Raw, this rivalry trades on the unfortunate dynamic of having to deal with “the haters” when you finally become successful and hits all the right notes. With each run-in, Belair digs deeper into character, becoming who the office wants her to be, and anticipation to see them in the ring again will only make their Hell in a Cell match worth the wait.

SmackDown Rivalry Grade: A

Bayley continues to carve a new niche for female performers, using psychological agitation reminiscent of Roddy Piper’s targeted obnoxiousness, and Belair is her vivacious, charming, and relatable foil.

Street Profits vs. Alpha Academy

When Chad Gable entreated The Street Profits to join his Alpha Academy stable, he pointed out that, “Profits are down.” He had something of a fair point. The action for the SmackDown Tag Team Championship has shifted to current champs The Mysterios and the reunited Usos, with the Profits having lost the belts to Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode a while back. However, Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins did not take kindly to the offer and even went so far as to tell Gable’s acolyte Otis that Gable has failed him repeatedly and done him no favors with his training methods-leading to a physical outburst from Otis. The tension came to a head on June 11 with a surprise delight of a match between Ford and Gable.

From the moment Ford and Gable locked up, it was clear that despite the comic nature of the storyline up to this point, they weren’t playing in the ring. Gable, like Kurt Angle before him, was an Olympic amateur wrestler, and he showed off his impressive technical skill with deftly applied takedowns and submission holds on Ford. For his part, Ford held his own with equally admirable technical tactics, and emotionally telegraphing both vulnerability and tenacious grit, doing both convincingly. The match ended in disqualification when the two heavier parties of each tag team, Angelo Dawkins and Otis, interfered to aid their lither comrades.

What started as a comedy feud produced a match that hummed palpably with Gable’s frustration and Ford’s determination, both showing off formidable athleticism. The encounter also went towards legitimizing Otis’s heel turn as Gable’s overprotective golem, too blinded by loyalty to see that maybe Ford’s and Dawkin’s assertions that his training hasn’t helped much have some truth to them.  SmackDown’s current prioritizing of tag team wrestling is producing some great moments in 2021, and this was one.

SmackDown Rivalry Grade: A+

This storyline knitted together some of the division’s hanging threads in a storyline that can go from lighthearted to electric at the drop of a pin. Everyone involved is at full tilt, and it’s fun to watch.

Big E vs Apollo Crews, and Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens

The match that kicked off the show was a tag match between the four men vying for-or, in Crews’s case, to keep the Intercontinental Championship. Plans for Big E’s rivalry with Aleister Black were kiboshed due to the latter’s release, which is presumably what kept E off SmackDown for a week. To paraphrase Drake, his new flex is his old flex, as he is back to vying head to head with Crews, which only makes sense. This, after all, was supposed to be E’s moment, and former friend Crews wigged out and stole his thunder.

As for Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, their beef is presumably still that Zayn is kind of wacky and Owens is trying to cannonball some sense into him. Their bit has gone on a bit long, but the very nature of the race for the Intercontinental Championship salvages both of these storylines when the parties hit the ring. The honor is traditionally one for technical wrestlers, and those with an unconventional je ne sais quoi; each of these athletes currently in the running honors that spirit with a distinctive and well-honed fighting style. Owens is one of the WWE’s most dynamic performers, and watching him is always a masterclass in choreographed brutality; Zayn’s whimsically volatile persona belies his own prodigious skill.

E didn’t lose much shine for sitting out last week, but his win over Crews would have felt more earned if his character was not now so dependent on interference from the ominous Commander Azeez. Crews has a deep bag of tricks that haven’t really been seen since he was a babyface on Raw before the 2020 draft. E and Apollo will most likely be facing off for the Intercontinental Championship at Hell in a Cell, with E regaining it and his glow up continuing. Hopefully, then, Crews will bring his A-game and tone down his gimmick.

Smackdown Rivalry Grade: B+ for E and Crews, C for Owens and Zayn

Everyone involved is a joy to watch, but the specter of Aleister Black and whatever scrapped plans for the Dark Father storyline were going to begin airing around this time shows in the stagnancy of the storylines filling its place. Owens, most of all, needs a new gig.

Roman Reigns vs. Rey Mysterio

All roads lead back to “The Tribal Chief.” The week before June 11’s episode, Roman Reigns interfered in The Usos’ second match against The Mysterios for the SmackDown Tag Team titles. Dominik Mysterio had seemed to claim the victory for the father and son team, pinning Jimmy Uso. However, Jimmy brought the matter to Sonya Deville and Adam Pearce’s attention, and footage revealed that he was powering out of the pin when the match was called. The victory was thrown out, and a rematch was held. Reigns burst onto the scene and brutally attacked Dominic and Rey Mysterio.

A seething Rey, hell-bent on revenge for his son’s attack, called Reigns out to the ring and challenged him to a Hell in a Cell Match. As Reigns took the mic and began to utter his reply, Rey attacked with a kendo stick. “The Tribal Chief’s” bestial rage surfaced, and he once again laid waste to the Mysterios.

To say that this storyline works is a vast understatement. As in his feud with Kevin Owens, this storyline plays on “The Tribal Chief’s” hypocrisy. He states, time and again, that his actions are for the best interest of his family. It is clear to outsiders looking in, though, that not only is this a lie that he uses to manipulate cousin Jey, but that the families of others mean as little to him as his own does. This isn’t the first time that Dominik, who is still feeling his way around the ring, has been used as a pawn against Rey; he was a similar prop in Rey’s feud with Seth Rollins. Nonetheless, it’s an effective emotional heartstring to tug, and casts Rey as a truly concerned father pitted against Reigns, the despotic patriarch.

When The Hart Family incorporated dramatic, realistically resonating family dynamics into their storylines in the early 90s, it was atypical in an industry that still adhered to strict kayfabe. Now, it is more of a norm, and Rey Mysterio and Roman Reigns have both used this storytelling style to great effect in the pandemic era. To bring the two together, the affectionate Mysterios versus “The Head of the Table” and his bullying machinations, is an intriguing clash.

SmackDown Rivalry Grade: A+

It’s no secret that Reigns is carrying the show, but he does so generously, and it’s giving the Usos, Rey, and Dominik Mysterio a chance to shine. The family dynamics of the storyline speak universally and are delivered with a zesty pinch of melodrama.

SmackDown is doing a great job with utilizing its roster in storylines that play off their skills and contrasts in their personas. As Hell in a Cell gets closer, it’s creating exciting possibilities for what to expect at the event.

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