Written by: Kevin Pantoja
WWE Great Balls of Fire
July 9th, 2017 | American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas
I still can’t believe this is a real Pay-Per-View name.
WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Neville (c) vs. Akira Tozawa w/ Titus O’Neil
Not enough people are talking about it, but Neville has been one of the best things in all of wrestling in 2017. Unfortunately, despite being the best booked champion in WWE (against a hot babyface) they were regulated to the Kickoff Show. Their chemistry was evident early, harkening back to their Dragon Gate days. Tozawa was game to bump for Neville, and his comebacks also looked great. It was helped by a crowd who loved his battle cry. They also bought into the near falls, thinking we’d have a new champion. The finish was odd. Tozawa got crotched on the ropes and Neville kicked the rope. With Tozawa on the mat, Neville delivered a spin kick to the gut and won at 11:35. Other than the weird finish, this was damn good. Lots of action, a hot crowd and two guys, with great chemistry, playing their roles well. LONG LIVE THE KING! [***½]
Bray Wyatt vs. Seth Rollins
I know it would never happen because of their name value, but this belonged on the Pre-Show. It’s so hard to care. I don’t know if I ever cared this little about a Seth Rollins match. Honestly, they could’ve come out and attempted to legitimately murder each other, and I would’ve found it hard to get invested. The stuff they did was fine, it was just hollow. Like two guys going through the motions on a house show. Wyatt used a poke to the eyes to set up Sister Abigail and get the win at 12:04. Nobody cared and it all fell flat, though not quite as flat as the entire feud. Honestly, just repackage Bray at this point.[**¼]
Big Cass vs. Enzo Amore
Enzo got a lengthy promo before the match. The message was clear and cool, but the delivery got a little lost in the middle. Then, Cass came out to his new theme. It, like him and his gear, was incredibly bland. The match itself was pretty much exactly what it needed to be. Enzo got his ass kicked and had all his comeback attempts cut off. Cass won with the big boot in 5:21. He was too big, too strong and knew too much about Enzo to be fazed by him. Mostly a squash. [*]
WWE Raw Tag Team Championship Ironman Match: Cesaro and Sheamus (c) vs. The Hardy Boyz
Ironman matches can be tricky to pull off. Knowing a match is going 30 minutes can make some fans tune out of the opening stretch. They tried avoiding that here, as Sheamus hit a Brogue Kick for the 1-0 lead within 20 seconds. Somewhere, Daniel Bryan had flashbacks. From there, we got the tired Ironman match formula where the babyfaces fall behind and have to rally. Honestly, the WWE uses that formula too often in other things, like the Best of Seven between Cesaro and Sheamus last year. The Hardys found themselves down 3-1, before rallying to tie it (sorry Indians and Warriors). The final stretch where they desperately fought to tie it was easily the highlight. Matt got a nasty cut after a dive off the top. Jeff hit the Swanton, but Cesaro rolled him up to take a 4-3 lead with about 25 seconds left. He ran away but got caught with a Twist of Fate, only for time to expire before Jeff could get the three. Though the finishing stretch was the best part, the Hardys were clearly gassed. This is not the match for them to be working in 2017. Good match. The beginning was a bit slow, but it picked up nicely, even though the formula was predictable. [***¼]
WWE Raw Women’s Championship: Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks
It’s been widely noted that these two are not friends in real life. Sasha seemed to touch upon it on Raw Talks, saying Alexa doesn’t have any respect for the business and is fake. All I can judge on is performance. For months now, Sasha’s been lackluster, while Alexa has thrived. Here, their animosity came to the forefront. The match was snug and felt more intense than any main roster women’s match since Sasha/Charlotte at SummerSlam. There was a great spot where it looked like Alexa’s arm popped out of socket or something, but it was just a trick to lure Sasha in. She nails those little things. The finish was disappointing (notice a trend?) as Alexa got counted out at 11:48. I usually don’t mind the finish. It’s a smart way to keep a feud going. However, the WWE has gone to that well too often lately. Anyway, even with the finish, this only trails Alexa/Bayley at Payback for best Raw Women’s Title match of 2017. [***¼]
After the match, Sasha was a sore loser and attacked Alexa. Alexa tried to DDT her through the announce table, but Sasha fought her off. She jumped off the stage with the double knee attack, but mostly caught Alexa with a crotch attack.
WWE Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (c) w/ Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel and Maryse vs. Dean Ambrose
The story here was that The Miz had the numbers advantage and if Dean could overcome it. Early on, Dean hit everything moving, including Axel and Dallas. It quickly was too much and Miz got him down. Miz focused on the leg, which Dean sold well at times. He held it in pain, couldn’t stand at points and limped. However, he also shook it off enough to hit a few too many high flying moves for my taste. It’s okay to use adrenaline here or there, but he did it over and over. This suffered from the same problem as Bray/Seth. Nobody really cares about the feud. Both guys were much better off on Smackdown and their stock has fallen on Raw, not helped by this lesser version of their Smackdown feud. The Miztourage got involved, leading to the Skull Crushing Finale for the win at 11:48. Inoffensive and it told a solid story, yet nobody cared. It felt like something I’d see in the middle of Raw. [**½]
Ambulance Match: Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns
Has there ever been a great Ambulance match? Anyway, their match at Fastlane was solid, but the Payback outing was an improvement. This had the slight edge as their best outing together. It felt like a war between two guys who hate one another. They threw bombs at one another and brought the big moments, like Strowman getting thrown through the stage. Still, Strowman wouldn’t die. Reigns got tossed off the stage, but came back by hitting Strowman with a light fixture. He went for the Spear, but Strowman sidestepped him and he hilariously flew into the ambulance. Strowman closed it to win after 16:33 of war. This was exactly what it needed to be. Two guys trying to kill each other and they both came out looking great. Reigns took another loss to Braun, but was protected just enough.[***½]
Post-match, Reigns was pissed and threw Braun into the ambulance. He drove to the parking lot and we got cheesy camerawork as we watched his “internal struggle” with the decision he was about to make. Roman backed the ambulance into a parked truck, crushing the back. THAT’S ATTEMPTED HOMICIDE! I was hoping Braun would still pop out and brush it off like nothing. Kurt Angle and other officials arrived as Roman walked off, to try and free Braun.
Curt Hawkins vs. Heath Slater
This served no purpose. The fans chanted “We want Balor” and there was no reason not to include him on this card. Since his return, he’s been on a Kickoff MizTV, eaten the pin in a main event and was a healthy scratch on three PPVs. Slater won but we didn’t see it because the camera was out with the ambulance. [NR]
They finally pried open the ambulance. A bloody Braun shook off medical help and walked off on his own power. People felt this was a double turn, since Reigns attempted murder and Braun walked off like a hero. I don’t think it is, since commentary was careful not to condemn Reigns for his actions. Good monster movie segment, though.
WWE Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) w/ Paul Heyman vs. Samoa Joe
During introductions, Joe attacked Brock and put him through the announce table. ADVANTAGE JOE! Brock made it back in to start the match and we got Joe kicking his ass. Brock fought back with several German suplexes, but Joe kept coming back with the Coquina Clutch. The submission has been expertly built and each time it was applied, you felt like Brock was vulnerable. Brock came in prepared and managed to counter or escape it each time. Joe countered the F5 into the Clutch, which Heyman sold masterfully at ringside. Brock fired up and hit the F5 to win at 6:26. Great stuff until the finish. Everyone kicks out of the F5 these days, so one seems flat. I don’t like people kicking out of finishers, so I’d have had Brock hit it and deliver another for good measure, to make sure his monster opponent was down for good. Besides the flat finish, this was basically just what I wanted. [***¾]
Final Thoughts: The tradition of me not giving a Raw PPV match **** continues, but like Payback two months ago, this was a consistently solid show. The worst matches still managed to get more than two stars (except for the Cass squash). There was a lot of good action, just hampered by some of the booking decisions and lame finishes. Joe/Brock and Reigns/Strowman were a very strong way to close out an event, while Sasha/Alexa, Neville/Tozawa and the Tag Title matches all delivered. Thumbs up.