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Great Balls of Fire is a stupid name for a PPV. Judgement Day is a good name for PPV. So is Vengence, Fully Loaded, SummerSlam, Armageddon, etc. Great Balls of Fire is a terrible name and I feel stupid just writing it and I’m sure wrestlers feel ridiculous saying it.
That being said, the PPV has the potential to be one of the best WWE shows of the year. For all of their faults, WWE has managed to put together a PPV with a slew of matches that either feel important or are the result of long-term booking. Under no circumstances can you claim that the PPV has been hastily thrown together.
Leading the way was the decision to have Samoa Joe be the first challenger for Brock Lesnar’s WWE Universal Championship, which really looks like a stroke of brilliance. WWE understands that in order to make Joe look like a legit contender they need to book him like he is the most dangerous man in the company, and that is exactly what they have done. The segments between Joe and Heyman, as well as Lesnar’s involvement, have been the highlight of RAW every week and WWE has been able to capture a “big-match feel” for their match. At the onset of the feud WWE may have believed Joe vs Lesnar was only going to be a one-time match, but that seems impossible now considering the buzz that has surrounded their feud. It would seem likely that if Joe doesn’t win at Great Balls of Fire (and he could conceivably win) he would at least be involved in the main event of SummerSlam.
The second biggest match on the show will be the long-awaited Braun Strowman vs Roman Reigns Ambulance match. The match was in the works earlier this year but was put on a delay when Strowman was injured. Say whatever you want about Reigns and Strowman as performers, but WWE has booked Strowman really well over the last year or so, and his return by coming out of the Ambulance last month on RAW was just another wise move when it came to his presentation. The original idea behind the feud would be for Strowman to beat Reigns and challenge Lesnar at SummerSlam, but in the last month things have shifted in the opposite direction and it seems like Reigns is going to face Lesnar in some capacity at SummerSlam. My best bet would be that Reigns wins the match and challenges Lesnar at SummerSlam in a Triple Threat match that also involves Samoa Joe.
Two other feuds that may not have been as well-booked as the top two matches, but at the very least have been long-term developments are The Miz vs Dean Ambrose and The Hardys vs Sheamus and Cesaro. The Miz and Ambrose have been feuding for a bit too long, since last December and they have been in some truly ghastly segments, culminating two weeks ago in the LaVar Ball tragedy. Sheamus and Cesaro turned full-fledged heel but don’t seem to be any more popular than they were as lukewarm babyfaces. A 30-minute match does seem like a little too much of those two teams, but with multiple-falls they might be able to make it interesting.
One feud that has lacked a decent build is Bray Wyatt vs Seth Rollins. Outside of the one segment where Rollins dove immediately off the top rope and took out Wyatt, nothing they have done has been memorable. I really like Rollins as a talent but he just has not found his niche as a babyface and it comes down to his promos. You never really hear him speak, only what has been written for him. The best talkers over the last decade; Cena, Punk, Miz, Bryan, etc. succeeded because when they spoke you felt like it was actually themselves talking and it gave everything a sense of authenticity. Rollins just doesn’t have that gravitas when he is talking and it lowers the ability of his feuds to really impact the audience.
On the bright side, I do think the split-up of Enzo and Cass has been handled pretty well. I thought both men have cut good promos leading up the match, which admittedly is unlikely to be much of a match. All signs are pointing to Cass squashing Enzo, but I wouldn’t be that surprised if Enzo managed to win, since WWE really likes surprises. I could see Big Show coming out, interfering and allowing Enzo to win. That would continue the feud and while the matches are not much, the promos are good enough to keep it going for a few more weeks.
The Women’s Championship between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks I think could be an important match in the development of Alexa Bliss. For whatever reason, she was not permitted to have really good, back-and-forth matches with Bayley. I want to see her have a good, high-level match with Banks because Bliss has the character and the personality down, but if she wants to sit at the table with the likes of Banks, Lynch and Charlotte, she is going to need to start having high-quality matches.
Great Balls of Fire is not the most inspired name choice, but overall WWE has done a fine job manufacturing long-term feuds with matches that are either for titles, or feel personal. The show could end up being bad, but I would bet that it is going to be one of the best RAW PPVs of the year.
New Japan G1 Specials:
You would have to qualify the NJPW shows in the United States as a big success. They were able to rapidly sell-out their venue and got a good buzz going around throughout sports media, with outlets like Sports Illustrated promoting the event. The events themselves were very good, maybe overall they were not at the same quality as some of the best NJPW shows of the year, but if the goal was to provide US fans with an authentic experience, it was a smashing success.
(Note: Due to the length of the two shows, I will only be reviewing the top matches on each show)
Kenny Omega vs Tomohiro Ishii: ****½
Really great main event match that sent the fans home happy and with a good sense of what NJPW is all about. Ishii got over really well with the crowd and was arguably the most popular Japanese wrestler that performed over the weekend. The spot with Omega attempting to give Ishii a Dragon Suplex off the apron and Ishii holding on to the top rope with his teeth was terrific and when Ishii finally did take the tumble through the table it felt appropriately devastating.
Omega of course is the real hero of the weekend because he has an innate ability to project himself as being a star, both in the ring and out. His matches are fantastic, three four star matches in this weekend alone and nobody can claim to be having a better slew of matches in 2017 than Omega except maybe Okada. More importantly though are his promos, particularly his post-match presser where he talked about the title and basically shot on NJPW in the US and how important he is to the company. He walks the line between legitimacy and reality so well that he feels authentic as well as being in-character; nobody quite does that except Omega.
Tomohiro Ishii vs Zack Sabre Jr.: ***¾
This was the beneficiary of some great storytelling that began the night before. In his first round match against Juice Robinson, Sabre Jr. secured the submission by taking every limb Robinson tried to extend to the ropes to break the hold. In his next match against Ishii, Sabre Jr. tried the same maneuver and kept bottling up Ishii, who managed to make the ropes as the crowd went crazy. It is that kind of storytelling and psychology that is often lacking in WWE and it was one of the main reasons Ishii was able to get over so well with the live audience.
Kenny Omega vs Jay Lethal: ****
Another great effort from Omega and from Lethal. This match swerved a bit when Lethal came out on fire early and hit the Lethal Injection in the opening minutes and kept pouring it on to make it seem like an upset was coming. In the end, Lethal’s injured ribs were exploited and the finishing segment of Omega trying for the One-Winged Angel, Lethal countering into a hurricanrana and Omega blocking the counter and hoisting him back up for the One-Winged Angel, was well done.
Kenny Omega vs Michael Elgin: ****½
Great, back and forth match that felt like a NJPW-style match that was impressive considering it was in the United States and featured two Canadian workers. Elgin was good in Ring of Honor and had some great matches, but his style seems like a better fit for NJPW and he plays a unique role as the one-true power wrestler in the upper-card. I don’t know if he will ever get his hands on the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship because it is such a fiercely protected title, but he is certainly good enough to hold the title.
Tomohiro Ishii vs Testuya Naito: ***3/4
The biggest upset in the tournament came when Ishii sent Natio home in the first round. This was a good, intense match with Naito getting his lip busted open early. Ishii pulled off the upset which set him up for his star-making performance later in the tournament. Naito didn’t have as good of a showcase as he probably deserved considering he is arguably the most popular wrestler in Japan and has been a stud for them since returning from Mexico a couple years ago. The return was that Ishii had a great tournament and really got over with the US audience, so it was worth it.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs Juice Robinson: ***¼
Solid match that the crowd got really into with Sabre locking on the different submissions and Robinson valiantly fighting to escape. Robinson getting over with the audience was interesting because the guys who got the most heat during the show were ex-WWE guys; Cody, Yoshi-Tatsu and Billy Gunn but Robinson was really over and he was essentially a job guy in the NXT. You see a guy like Robinson and the success he had after leaving NXT you would think that some guys
Jay Lethal vs Adam Page: **½
A tough match to get the crowd involved in. Lethal, like Cody, is good in the ring but he is a step below the elite NJPW workers. Another thing is that he really thrives on being in long-term feuds and being able to cut promos and tell stories, so a single-elimination tournament is really the best way to utilize him. Page has gotten a lot better in the ring over the years, has filled out his physique more and I like his hangman character as well. There was nothing wrong with the match from a technical standpoint, but it didn’t connect with the audience that well and I think it would have been better served if it wasn’t the first match in the tournament.
Cody Rhodes vs Kazuchika Okada: ***¾
A safe, easy title defense for Okada as it was highly unlikely Rhodes was going to win the title. The main focus of the match was to further the riff between Omega and Rhodes as Omega tried to get Brandi Rhodes to throw in the towel; this coming weeks after Rhodes tried to throw in the towel during Omega’s 60-minute broadway with Okada. I actually think the Omega vs Rhodes feud is going to develop more in ROH and I could see the main event of Final Battle being Rhodes vs Omega for the ROH World Championship.
Hiroshi Tanhashi vs Billy Gunn: **
Easily the worst match of the tournament because Gunn looked completely out of place and it would be hard for anyone to have a great match with him. Gunn didn’t botch a ton of spots like he did on the first night during the multi-man tag match, but he wasn’t stealing the show here and Tanahshi did his best to make the match passable. It was a real misstep because even if you had someone like Juice Robinson, or EVIL challenge for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship the match would have been solid and the fans wouldn’t have been as negative to it.
The Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice: ****1/4
A great match between two teams that have had a lot of them. They used the unique ramp structure that they had set up for the shows for some interesting spots and both teams hit big moves and kicked out of finishing moves. The Young Bucks were very over with the crowd in Southern California and there was a sense that this was like a Pro Wrestling Guerilla match blown up to a global scale. The story after this was that Rocky Romero announced that it was time for Trent to move on to the heavyweight division and they amicably broke up Roppongi Vice. This should lead to Romero getting a new tag team partner since he is such a crucial part of NJPW’s Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team division. I think it could possibly be David Finlay, who has kind of been in limbo as the young boy who is too good to be a young boy.
Must Watch Matches
Marty Scurll vs KUSHIDA: ****1/4 – ROH Best in the World
The Young Bucks vs War Machine vs The Best Friends: **** – ROH Best in the World
Cody Rhodes vs Christopher Daniels: **** – ROH Best in the World