RAW Deal: Goodness gracious, Great Balls of Fire

Completely silly name and premise aside, WWE’s first ever Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view (which may or may not happen again next year) is building up to be a must-see card.

One would think that a monstrous first-time matchup in Samoa Joe vs Brock Lesnar might be undermined by the theme of the event, but in fact, it’s doing the opposite—the strength of this WWE Universal Championship kind of has the unintended side effect of legitimizing something fans were completely skeptical about. It’s no less silly, for sure, but at the very least RAW’s giving us something to sink our teeth into.

It definitely helps that RAW’s deep roster and upper midcard scene is now spread out into various singles matches. They’re not all as compelling as Joe vs Lesnar, but the show’s done quite a notable job of giving us storylines and matchups that we have some investment in over the past month. In fact, I’d say RAW’s managed to feel a little more like SmackDown Live lately, which is saying something. It’s not perfect, but it’s now a little more palatable.

Let’s not waste any more time and go on the 8-match card: 

Akira Tozawa (with Titus O’Neil) vs Neville (c) in a kickoff match for the Cruiserweight Championship

Before I talk about this match, you should know that Austin Aries has asked for his release from the WWE, apparently because of the way he (and, by extension, the cruiserweight division) has been treated. It’s more than tangentially related to how this match is merely in the kickoff, even if there doesn’t seem to be any other match on the card that could be bumped down to the preshow. Oftentimes the division is just an afterthought, even if it’s just as much a part of the main RAW roster as the Universal Champion.

That said, even though it’s entirely possible that they give Tozawa the win, the kickoff status all but guarantees a Neville retention. Considering I already know how the formula works, they’ll be milking the chase for as much as they can—if they do decide to give Tozawa the eventual championship win. Titus O’Neil is also doing wonders for Tozawa’s relevance, but I hope they don’t keep the Stamina Monster from talking on his own, as listening to Tozawa gamely challenge his opponents in his decent English is a treat to listen to, and also a low-key substantial part of his charm.

Winner: Neville

 

Enzo Amore vs Big Cass

RAW’s current Breakup of the Month (one of two, actually, as the team of Goldust and R-Truth also broke up—why couldn’t they have been the kickoff match instead?) while entirely premature, is getting along just fine on the strength of the two players’ performances on the mic. What I’m not sure of is how good this match will be. Amore plays the small beaten-up babyface pretty well, and it won’t be any different facing Cass. It’s on Cass now to translate his onscreen passion into a decent match (and, eventually, a compelling character), and while he’s proven he could be a fiery giant of a babyface before, he’ll have to switch up his style now.

Anyway, this has to be a Cass win, but it also has to be a good story told. Both men have some experience in that department, but we can only see whether they’ll be given the time to do that, and whether they can carry out a good performance.

Winner: Big Cass

 

The Hardy Boyz vs Sheamus and Cesaro (c) in a 30-minute Iron Man match for the RAW Tag Team Championship

This should be a fun one to watch, for two important reasons: first, because you know both teams can put out one hell of a match (thanks, primarily, to the young Sheamus and Cesaro), and second, it’s been rumored that the Hardys are close to a resolution with Anthem, the current backers of (what was once called) TNA for use of their popular #Broken characters.

While I’m not sure this match or anything afterward will see the Hardys finally become broken, it seems as though it’s time for the champions to lose again as Sheamus is scheduled to be written off television for an undisclosed reason. Even if the match stipulation favors the champs, it seems as though the Hardys are getting it back—but what’s more urgent is that they find a way to be broken sooner than later, as people are starting to tire of a couple of 40-year-old men still playing characters from the year 2000.

Winner: The Hardy Boyz (new RAW Tag Team Champions)

 

Seth Rollins vs Bray Wyatt

If there’s a feud right now that I can’t quite understand, it’s this. It seems like a completely random rivalry between two upper-midcard guys who’ve got nothing else to do, and the only way they could make the most of this is if they eventually escalate it into a blood feud. Right now, I don’t see that happening, as Wyatt is still being written to be as frustratingly cryptic as he always is when there’s not much at stake. I do hope he wins, though, especially if he wants to remain relevant.

Winner: Bray Wyatt

 

Dean Ambrose vs The Miz (c) (with Maryse, Bo Dallas, and Curtis Axel)

You may not have noticed, but then again it’s hard not to notice: this feud is wonderfully anchoring the RAW midcard thanks to a new, refreshing use of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel—two jobbers who literally had nothing else going on—as the Miz’s associates. This is what SmackDown did best; they maximized every little bit of their roster to go a long way. RAW has a deeper lineup than SmackDown does, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have underutilized players. Not only does this story give them something to hang on to, it also re-formalizes Dallas and Axel as a tag team, after they quietly stopped being one.

And the match? After revitalizing the careers of two schmucks, there’s no way Miz loses this one. It’s time for both men to move on, anyway, as they’ve been having this feud all summer and last year. Time to give chance to others.

Winner: The Miz

 

Sasha Banks vs Alexa Bliss (c) for the RAW Women’s Championship

Despite Bliss’s decent-to-good work as a champion, the scene has already felt a little stale since she won it a couple of months back. It may be time to shake the status quo up again; a Banks win would feel nice, and it wouldn’t hurt Bliss’s stock at all. The only problem is I could definitely see RAW deciding to coast along with what they’ve already got, and that there’s not much of a reason for them to do otherwise. I’m keeping my options open, though.

Winner: Alexa Bliss

 

Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman in an ambulance match

The company is, in theory, stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to these two guys feuding with each other. On one hand, they’re insistent on penciling Roman Reigns in as the next big challenger, and perhaps the Universal Champion moving forward from SummerSlam next month. On the other, even they find Strowman’s energy and appeal undeniable, always making him look strong—well, because he has to look strong, anyway.

What they do here really depends on what the plans are for SummerSlam. If they’re really going with Reigns’s challenge for the Universal Championship from a few weeks ago, then he’s going to win this match in an unpopular decision. (Not to mention it will be a little difficult to rebuilt Strowman after such a setback.) They can still throw those plans out of the window and just ride Strowman’s massive momentum, but they have to follow through with a Strowman challenge at SummerSlam if they do.

I’ll err on the side of history here and predict a Reigns win, but I’m hoping to heaven that this prediction is completely wrong.

Winner: Roman Reigns

 

Samoa Joe vs Brock Lesnar (c) (with Paul Heyman) for the WWE Universal Championship

Samoa Joe has looked like Brock Lesnar’s most formidable opponent in possibly years, and it’s no coincidence. There’s just no way to make Joe look like a chump, even at the hands of Lesnar. Unfortunately, the buck has to stop here as there are other plans for Lesnar and the title. It’s pretty much accepted by most smart fans, so the hope from here on out is that Joe looks absolutely credible in the loss, enough for him to remain always hovering in the Universal title’s stratosphere. I do hope that he gets a chance to win it before he retires.

Winner: Brock Lesnar

*****

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