By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
WWE presents a Raw Pay-Per-View Sunday with a new title, “Great Balls of Fire”. It’s a fun name for a wrestling show, and one which might stick, even if it does lack a Kane vs. Undertaker inferno match, which would belong on a show with such a name. Even better than the title is the card, as WWE is getting away from its recent rash of small, underwhelming PPVs for what should be a great night of entertainment.
The outcomes feel predictable, but there are a couple chances for surprises, and an even better opportunity for some strong work should make up for any uninspired booking choices. Let’s break down a card which should be hard to mess up for WWE by discussing what should, and will, happen at Great Balls of Fire.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Neville vs. Akira Tozawa (Kickoff Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: My main thought about this match is a question. If Titus can get clients title matches this easy, why doesn’t he ever get Apollo Crews something interesting to do? Brad is the cruiserweight expert here, so I’ll cede most of this to him, but I do think WWE does need to change things up with the division. Not because I don’t find them exciting, but because no one seems to care. No one watches 205 Live on the Network, and as Brad has pointed out before, Neville is being hurt by being limited to facing relative no-names in matches which aren’t getting over. A perfect angle would be for him to throw the title away and announce he’s leaving the division because he refuses to be typecast as a little guy. There’s no level of believability for him against a Brock Lesnar, but there’s plenty of him to do with the big boys, and he deserves it. For now, he wins this match and no one cares.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I have a better question … If Titus can get his clients title matches this easy, why doesn’t he ever get himself one? Ah, this is WWE, what am I thinking, nothing ever makes sense. Anyway, as Straub mentioned above, I thought Neville should have been elevated to the “main” roster after his rivalry with Austin Aries ended, but it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon. Neville has been one of the WWE’s brightest stars since he turned heel, but that star is going to dim real quick when the challengers dry up on 205 Live, which will likely happen after he wins this match. After Tozawa, who else is there for Neville to fight? And even though Tozawa has been good, there is no believable way he could ever beat Neville in a match, all things being equal. That’s the state of the cruiserweights … they have a great champion but little else to offer. (There’s talent, but there’s no personalities). Neville should take his wonderful heel act and go challenge somebody for the IC title first, or even the US title on SmackDown, and then work his way up to the main event. He’s been that good in his current role and would really shine if given the opportunity with bigger names.
Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: I wish they’d given this feud more time to build, because it had a chance to be good. Everything about it has made sense, which is not always a given in WWE, and the promos have been full of emotion and purpose. Enzo’s work on the mic was mostly tremendous, though it was hurt by the end where he came back in the ring and did the rap thing. The rest was enough to sell some subscriptions to the Network, however. Cass did his turn correctly and for the right reasons, but one of his reasons is what hurts this build. Enzo’s promo, for as good as it was, would have been more effective if Cass wasn’t right, or if Enzo was known in the ring for anything but knocking himself out cold at one of their first PPVs. This feud needed more time to build because Enzo needed a couple of good wins heading into the match. Right now, he doesn’t feel credible in the ring against Cass. If he wins, it hurts Cass more than it helps Enzo. But if Cass wins, Enzo’s character is done. Enzo wins, which I would have felt much better about a month from now.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: This was another friendship that died in the best possible way, as both Enzo and Cass sold it perfectly and both have done tremendous work on the mic in selling the animosity between the two. I, too, think this could have been built up more, as I’m a little surprised they would have these two fight this quickly on a random PPV, instead of say in a month at SummerSlam, where it could really be a must-watch part of the show. But you can’t really complain with the WWE putting these two together in a match right away. This match and feud does stink for Enzo, however, as after he and Cass are done fighting, maybe with another match at SummerSlam to end it, he really has no place to go. He could team with Big Show, and still do the same schtick he was doing before, but that won’t resonate. He’s more or less done after this, as he’ll be used for comedic relief and as a glorified jobber, if he ever gets back on television that is. For Cass, he did have some bright moments when Enzo was out with his concussion, proving he could hold his own against some of the top guys. But he’s far off from being a champion, or a player even near the main event. Remember, he’s behind Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns on the “big guy” scale of skill and over-ness. Anyway, I think they have to get some mileage out of this feud, so Enzo is going to get a sneaky win, probably get beat down afterward, and the real payoff will come next month.
Intercontinental Champion The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: The Miz’s talent has shined through during this poorly-executed feud. I get why they stuck him with the Ball family, as WWE wanted to get the attention they bring, even if it ended up being disaster they had to apologize for when LaMelo started saying things you can’t on television. Between his problems with Maryese, giant bears, and the Balls, his actual issues with Ambrose feel like they’ve been buried. I love the passion Miz has for the belt, the secondary titles in particular need it, but they just haven’t made this match meaningful at all. Ambrose wins when someone distracts the Miz, whether it’s Maryese, a bear, or LaVar Ball.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I’ll be short and sweet here, because this feud has been done to death: Miz has been awesome, especially when he has the IC title, elevating it to something meaningful. Ambrose has been terrible, boring and just needs to be repackaged somehow. Miz wins, this feud finally ends, and Ambrose gets lost with some other random feud where I don’t have to pay attention.
Raw Tag Team Champions Cesaro & Sheamus vs. The Hardy Boyz (30-Minute WWE Iron Man Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: WWE’s recent trend of PPVs with small cards which feature long matches and filler is getting bucked Sunday, which is why an Iron Man match is an interesting choice here. I love the idea, it’s probably my favorite stipulation for a match, but something else might get short-changed as a result. I was surprised they took the belts off the Hardyz so soon, but WWE has done well selling them as deserving challengers who even got robbed of a chance to win them back on Raw, when their 2-of-3 falls match ended in a double-countout for the third fall. I don’t see this feud going to a third PPV, however, and I don’t see the Hardyz without the belts for that long, so I think they win in a three-fall, strong match.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: And I thought I was the one who wishes he was watching Attitude Era-WWE instead of Straub. For some reason Straub believes the Hardyz are still good and young enough to carry a division. For shame, Straubby, for shame. The Hardyz’ return at WrestleMania was great, one of the top moments on the entire show, and they got a nice run with the tag titles as everyone remembered the good old days of WWE. Now, however, the Hardys have run their course, as they have no character development, except for being those guys who used to wrestle back when WWE was great. The present and future isn’t with the Hardyz, Straub, it’s with Sheamus and Cesaro, who are easily my favorite tag team, have one of the best entrances in all of wrestling, and, oh yeah, can both wrestle. Sheamus and Cesaro are the bar, Straubby. I’m honestly not even sure the Hardyz can go 30 minutes, but they’ll certainly try. How great would it be if Sheamus and Cesaro went up like 5-0 in falls with about seven minutes to go, and the Hardys fight back to get four falls in miracle fashion, but just fall short. Either that, or have Sheamus and Cesaro just win 5-0 or 6-0 and totally own the division. That, however, would never be agreed upon. Still, either way, Straub’s wrong, and woah, woah, woah, Sheamus and Cesaro, win again!
Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: Wyatt isn’t nearly at Enzo’s level of losing, but it gets harder to hear his whole “I’m the savior, whoever I’m mad at this month is a menace to the world” thing when he loses so often. I’m not sure how you transition away from such a unique character, but Wyatt does need some sort of face lift at this point. Even when he wins, all his feuds go exactly the same way. He randomly seeks out a face, makes a bunch of supernatural references (right now he’s a “God”), and then the other guy beats him in the match. Perhaps his act would be less tiresome if he won more, but I think he’s better off as more of an occasional guy, like the Undertaker. He wouldn’t be used as sparingly, but his entrance and persona lead themselves well to big surprise returns, so I’d give him a couple months off between feuds. As for Rollins, he’s been owed another rematch for the title for nearly a year now, as every loss he’s taken in a title match has come with interference. Usually the face then gets another rematch, but Rollins just sort of fell away from the title picture. It was a good way to move him down while keeping him strong, but I hate when wrestlers just “forget” what motivated them for so long. At least this is a new pairing, but it feels like they’re wrestling because there’s nothing else for either to do right now. Rollins wins, because Bray always loses.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: The WWE has killed Bray Wyatt, it’s pretty much official now. I don’t know what he did to deserve his terrible booking, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Even him being moved from SmackDown to Raw hurt him. Straub’s idea for Wyatt being a special attraction is nice, but there’s no way WWE would keep someone off television for that long between feuds, unless you’re the Undertaker, Brock Lesnar or John Cena. That’s the very short list. Meanwhile, yes, Wyatt will continue to lose, while even his biggest fans start to care less and less about it. Rollins, as I’ve written before, just doesn’t work as a face, and it’s why the crowd quickly falls asleep during his matches. Rollins as a heel is perfect, but they can’t go back now after the whole Triple H-Stephanie feud. It’s too bad, because Rollins right now is miscast. This is really just a match to get the two on a PPV card so the fans don’t forget either of them exist. The winner is obvious, though, and it’s Rollins. Shed a tear for Bray.
Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: This is another match which would have been much better served by a longer build. Even WWE.com’s own preview for this match is skimpy. It has a brief history of how Banks earned her title shot, and throws in some nicknames, but that’s about it. There’s no meat on the bone here, which is a shame because both women can use the mic and this should be a good match in the ring. Bliss has been much, much better than I ever thought she’d be, while Banks has shown herself to be an all-timer in the women’s division. This feels like it could be so much more, but for now it’s just a match. It will be a good one, and hopefully this feud gets some legs next month. Bliss wins with interference or cheating to set up a rematch.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: For once I was right about where the women’s division was going, as I thought Bliss would move on from Bayley (another talent the WWE buried) and start up a program with Sasha Banks. It really wasn’t hard to predict, but you never know what the WWE will do. Bliss has been the women’s MVP since the shakeup happened, outshining everyone, including Charlotte, who has been lost on SmackDown. She should continue her reign as champion here, even though it will likely come with a ton of outside interference, likely with most if not all of the Raw women’s division making an appearance. Nia Jax will probably destroy everyone, but since she’s still nowhere near ready for a title match, Banks should stick around and continue to be the main challenger for Bliss going into SummerSlam.
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman (Ambulance Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: For a match between two guys who can’t talk, this feud has been built beautifully. They have used feats of strength to build some drama here, and there’s enough hatred to sell the match. Strowman could be an excellent face if he could ever develop even a little personality, while Roman’s heel turn feels closer every week. WWE may leave him in the “Cena zone”, where they just let the kids love him and adults hate him, but I’m starting to think he could go full heel before too long. Either way, there should be some powerful moves in this match. If you appreciated wrestling in the 1980s and like big guys throwing each other around, this will be entertaining for you. If you like the more high-flying style, you might want to turn the show off when this match starts, as you won’t like this match or what comes next. As for the winner, Roman wins, because of course he does.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I don’t think the closed-minded Straub realizes someone can like all styles of wrestling and not be pigeon-holed into one form. It’s OK, Straubby, you can like it all. Seriously. So, no, nobody will tune in for Neville-Tozawa and tune out for this highly-anticipated match between a face who’s hated and a heel who’s loved. It’s truly amazing how much myself and the fans love Braun Strowman now. It certainly helps he’s destroying Roman Reigns at every turn, but nobody thought he’d be this over when he split from the Wyatt family and went on his singles run. Nobody. But here he is, getting a gigantic pop when he emerged from the ambulance and returned from injury early and continued his quest to beat down Reigns. He’s been awesome and easily the best thing on Raw each week. Reigns, eh, Reigns is Reigns. There isn’t much to say about him anymore. He’s the same as he ever was. In a prediction that will make Straub sad, I’m going with Braun Strowman to win.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: You can’t see it right now, but I’m doing the Daniel Bryan “Yes” thing because I’m so excited about this match, and that’s hard for me because I hate Daniel Bryan. The buildup has been fantastic, and there’s no chance it’s a bad match in the ring. This isn’t Goldberg, this will be a longer match with storytelling and ups and downs. Joe, a fabulous in-ring performer, will bring out the best in Lesnar, who will finally give us more than a bunch of German suplexes. You might actually see some wrestling in this match. There will definitely be some good brawling and hopefully a good story to be told. The work the two men did in the last few weeks to set up the match was fantastic, giving the match an emotional element most of Lesnar’s matches lack. These guys don’t like each other, and they’ve done well to drive the point home. The old-school split-screen interview was a blast from the past last week, and the twist at the end where Joe went looking for Lesnar was well done. Paul Heyman is a genius, but they’ve even let Lesnar speak lately, which is rare and shows his own investment in this feud. When Lesnar gives a darn, he’s tremendous, and he seems involved in this program. I’m so excited about this match I won’t even harp on the fact it’s Brock’s first title defense since he won the belt three months ago. The only thing keeping this match from being a classic is the obvious outcome. Brock won’t lose before SummerSlam, though I really hope they manage to have these two meet again in Brooklyn. This will be a great way to close what should be a terrific show.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Here I thought Straub would only get excited over Roman Reigns and John Cena wrestling, but now with Samoa Joe in the picture, he might actually have a holy trinity of awkward man love to pass around. Nice Straub. For this awkwardly-named PPV, it’s amazing how stacked the card is. It truly could be a lineup for SummerSlam and there would be few complaints. There’s a lot to be interested in and a lot of opportunities for this to be one of the best PPV cards of the year. I’ll hand it to Samoa Joe, he’s been so awesome in his main event build against Brock Lesnar that it wouldn’t shock me if he actually won the title. (If it did happen Straub would probably get the cops called on him by the neighbors thinking someone was getting hurt with all the high-pitched screams coming from his living room). I don’t believe Joe will win, though, as Brock already suffered some pretty bad losses to Goldberg, and I don’t see WWE breaking him down again. But Samoa Joe has been everything and more the WWE could have hoped for. He’s proven himself a main event contender, even if he comes up short against Lesnar Sunday. I know the plans have always been rumored to be Lesnar vs Braun Strowman at SummerSlam, but I don’t think anyone would complain if this feud continued. That’s how good this build-up has been. I really can’t say enough good things about Joe. For Brock Lesnar, yeah, he’s a show in and of himself, but it’s pretty sad he’s barely on television and still holds the biggest title in the company. It’s not Brock’s fault, but rather WWE’s, still it just doesn’t bode well for Raw. That could work in favor of putting the belt on Samoa Joe after some outside interference, say from Triple H, and let’s hope that does happen. But likely it’s going to be Brock Lesnar winning clean. Hopefully Samoa Joe isn’t buried from here, but as is the case with several other high profile stars on Raw, where would he go from here? We’ll see if we have any answers come Sunday night.
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