WWE Great Balls of Fire 2017: B/R Expert Match Picks, Predictions and Analysis
WWE will be holding its first pay-per-view under the Great Balls of Fire name on Sunday, and despite the ridiculous title, it has the potential to be a great show.
Eight matches have been scheduled for the event. Here is a full rundown, according to WWE.com:
- Neville vs. Akira Tozawa (Cruiserweight Championship)
- Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass
- Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman (Ambulance match)
- Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Hardy Boyz (30-minute Iron-Man Tag Team Championships match)
- Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt
- Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks (Women's Championship)
- The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose (Intercontinental Championship)
- Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe (Universal Championship)
Bleacher Report's lineup of contributors will examine each feud and provide predictions for the matches on the Great Balls of Fire card. Our larger-than-normal group is made up of the following:
- Anthony Mango (@ToeKneeManGo).
- Kevin Berge (@TheBerge_).
- Ryan Dilbert (@RyanDilbert).
- James Moffat (@JamesMoffat).
- Jeff Johnson (@JeffJSays).
- Tom Clark (@TomClarkBR)
- Yours truly, Chris Mueller (@BR_Doctor), will forgo providing predictions because of the high level of participation from the other writers.
Let's go through the matches on the card and attempt to make some logical predictions.
Neville vs. Akira Tozawa (Cruiserweight Championship)
Question: How has being aligned with Titus O'Neil affect Akira Tozawa's character in recent weeks?
Anthony Mango (AM): Tozawa has only benefitted from joining Titus Worldwide because, oddly enough, O'Neil is doing the best work of his career right now. It's strange that the same guy who cut the infamous "make it a win" promo is succeeding as a mouthpiece not just for himself but also for Apollo Crews and Tozawa, who both struggle with mic work. Tozawa is good as a guy who speaks little and lets his actions do the talking, but with O'Neil's support, someone else gets to hype things up as well without exposing Tozawa's flaws.
Prediction: As good as this has been for Tozawa, he's still going to lose to Neville.
James Moffat (JM): Tozawa has certainly benefitted from the increased exposure, but there's been no development to speak of. It's still early in their relationship, so that may change if WWE continues to pursue this angle. Alliances like the Titus Brand aren't the norm, but I'm happy to see even the slightest crossover between the cruiserweight division and the rest of the main roster. It's a welcome development and something WWE should explore more frequently. Superstars like Cedric Alexander and Tony Nese could certainly hang with Raw's midcard, even if it's only to build their stock in the cruiserweight division.
Prediction: Neville wins.
Jeff Johnson (JJ): It's given Tozawa more publicity and helped draw overall interest to his character. Tozawa's in-ring ability isn't at question, but other than the "HA!" chants, utilizing O'Neil as the boisterous mouthpiece can only help.
Prediction: Neville retains. He's been awesome during this run, and I think when he loses the title, he loses it on a bigger stage.
Ryan Dilbert (RD): Tozawa has added a new sharp look and is bolstered by the fact O'Neil wanted so badly to add him to his stable. Their relationship has allowed Tozawa to exist outside of the confines of the cruiserweight world, getting added airtime in the process. There's plenty to explore with this relationship moving forward, and it could be a boon for Tozawa if not written for laughs.
Prediction: Neville retains by underhanded means to set a rematch for SummerSlam.
Kevin Berge (KB): I have really liked Titus as a manager, particularly working with Crews. However, I have not bought into his alliance with Tozawa yet. Tozawa could use a mouthpiece, but the pairing is awkward. Until it is clearer how much he cares about Tozawa, there is no reason to believe the partnership can last.
Prediction: Neville wins thanks to an accidental assistance from Titus.
Tom Clark (TC): O’Neil's association with Tozawa has been odd, to say the least. O'Neil was a heel in the beginning, but now he's seemingly turned face. This has helped Tozawa, if only because O'Neil is so entertaining that fans can't help but enjoy it. It's no secret that 205 Live has had its share of challenges, as the brand has not been booked the way the Cruiserweight Classic was. Sadly, if there is no intent on presenting the cruiserweight product with a sports-show vibe, then more comedy will be included. It's WWE's way of producing television, and it works with the right dose, but it's not helped 205 Live thus far.
Prediction: If Tozawa does not win, then the Titus Brand will have some serious explaining to do. Neville is doing a fine job as champ, however, so he should retain the title at Great Balls of Fire.
Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass
Q: Which Superstar would benefit more from a win in the long run?
AM: I don't think it's even up for debate that Cass should win this match. It will do significantly more harm to Cass than it would be beneficial to Enzo, who won't get a serious push out of beating his former partner. Cass, on the other hand, stands a chance to get some attention thrown his way, and if he starts his solo career off with a loss against someone smaller, he'll look like a chump. Cass needs to win.
Prediction: Big Cass is victorious.
JM: Not only does Big Cass need this win, but any sort of loss or false finish would quickly evaporate the push he's received over the past few weeks. Cass is on the verge of becoming a breakout star in the singles division, someone who could challenge for a title. Anything that would stunt his push—a double count-out, a fluke win by Amore, any sort of stumble—would be detrimental.
Prediction: Big Cass wins big.
JJ: Cass. He has to stand on his own and present himself as a monstrous heel for this to payoff. Enzo will always be good as long as he has functional vocal chords. Cass needs this to legitimize the split from Enzo and travel down that Dieselesque path to singles success.
Prediction: Cass dominates in a better-than-expected grudge match.
RD: Big Cass has to win here. He would look like a fool breaking away from Amore only to lose to him on the first try. Amore can sustain a loss or two. He's the underdog. Cass needs to devour Amore here and go marching up the Raw food chain.
Match Prediction: Cass wins.
KB: If Enzo has any chance in WWE as a singles wrestler, he needs to win this match—even by nefarious and fluky means. Big Cass has made clear he is the star and has always been weighed down by Enzo. If he defeats Enzo easily in their first meeting, it will prove his point and leave Enzo with no momentum. That said, it may be a lost cause to invest in Enzo as anything more than a manager.
Match Prediction: Big Cass destroys Enzo, who cannot bring himself to fight his best friend.
TC: Enzo has the most to lose if he does not go over. Big Cass is supposed to win, but fans know he's headed for bigger and better things. If he loses via a quick schoolboy, or if Big Show comes out on Amore's behalf and helps him get the win, Cass will still come out looking good. But if Amore is pinned, there is a chance he may not recover.
WWE could be setting Enzo up for big things too, and his most recent promo on Monday Night Raw was the best of his career. He definitely has the ability to get over, but the mismatch in terms of size may be too much for WWE to ignore. Each man will bring everything to this match, and they should tell a great story.
Prediction: Enzo may need the win, but WWE probably will not give it to him. Cass is just too big and too important to be stopped. While Amore could pull off a sneaky pin and come out as the winner, this is likely going to be a victory for Big Cass.
Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt
Q: Has Wyatt reached the point of no return in regard to being taken seriously as a top competitor after being defeated so many times in big matches?
AM: I was of the mindset that he reached that point long ago—before his WWE Championship run. To me, putting the title on Wyatt just to transition it to Randy Orton was a mistake, and Wyatt has never proved himself to be worthy of maintaining that top spot in my book. Being on Raw just exposes the monotony of his promos because he struggles as a big fish in a small pond, and when he's tossed into a larger pool, he fades even more into obscurity.
Prediction: Flip a coin. Both men could lose, and it wouldn't matter in any regard, so WWE may just decide who wins at the last moment.
JM: You'd never guess it based on his booking, but Wyatt is 7-3 in his past 10 pay-per-view matches. The problem is, any momentum he gets is almost immediately stopped with a terrible loss. I don't see that changing anytime soon. I view Wyatt similarly to Dean Ambrose—a very good main eventer who won't ever be taken as a serious title contender.
Prediction: Wyatt will win since there is no title on the line and a loss doesn't hurt Rollins at all moving forward.
JJ: I think he has one more chance in him, but at what point does WWE commit to him? His abbreviated title run was a mistake, he loses 90 percent of his significant feuds, he can't keep a faction stable and he has recited variations of the same promo for years. Who expects him to win a major match anymore? I know "winning isn't everything" in pro wrestling, but you can't proclaim yourself to be the Eater of Worlds while you starve for relevance.
Prediction: I'll contradict myself and choose Wyatt here. Rollins doesn't need a win as much. If Wyatt loses, don't expect people to care about him for a long time.
RD: No. It only takes a sustained push and some smart booking to get someone going again. Should he knock off someone like Lesnar, the narrative around him completely changes. WWE just has to commit to him longer than it did for his recent world title run.
Prediction: Wyatt wins via trickery.
KB: He needs a radical change in character. It is hard to imagine his standing in the company changing, and no one is going to believe he can take the next step, as he was supposed to do just that on SmackDown Live and was quickly sent crashing back down. The only answer I can see for Wyatt is a face turn, likely improving his booking and credibility right away.
Prediction: Rollins wins to begin his rise to the title scene and solidify his status as the WWE 2K18 cover star.
TC: As much as fans complain that Wyatt never wins big matches—and he doesn't—that never seems to factor into the thought process. Fans have a tendency to take it one match at a time, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But while Wyatt's record is indeed dreadful, the majority of WWE fans usually don't have his win-loss record dedicated to memory. However, they do know he loses quite a bit, so his promos typically come out as nothing more than white noise.
Wyatt is talking a good game, and Rollins would look just fine with failure at GBOF, but that means the feud would continue. The issue there is fans have no reason to care about this one in the first place. The backstory is just too minimal, and it's almost as if the guys are working each other just to have something to do.
Prediction: Rollins is The Man, and there is just no reason for him to lose here. Wyatt needs the win, but he always does. WWE continues to mishandle his career, and that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman (Ambulance Match)
Q: What is it going to take for Reigns to get the babyface reaction WWE wants him to get from the crowd?
AM: He needs to turn heel first. It's as if WWE's creative team hasn't already spent decades in professional wrestling and has forget how many times a heel turn has created a great babyface. Pushing Reigns as the top hero doesn't work, and continuing to stubbornly believe that people will just give up and start going with the flow has been the mentality for the past two or three years. Yet here we are with the same reactions continuing. Changing him to a heel will convince some people his character is better. Others will cheer just to be different, and further down the line, WWE can turn him babyface again so he actually gets a pop.
Prediction: Strowman is the Superstar I'm rooting for in the short term, but in the long run, I think Reigns needs to win in order to give him the momentum to defeat Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam.
JM: Nothing. There will always be a segment of the WWE Universe that hates Reigns simply because WWE brass loves him. The best thing for Reigns to do is to embrace it the same way John Cena has his love-hate relationship. If he can do that, and do it naturally (which may be the tallest task facing Reigns), then everything will be fine.
JJ: Put The Shield back together. That seems like the only time the marks cheer for him. Reigns should accept that Cena-style heel-face ambiguity for now. He gets reactions and puts on great matches. People know this; they just want to boo him. Let them. It's better to be a lightning rod than irrelevant.
Prediction: Roman wins. LOL.
RD: Turn heel. Be hugely successful in that role. Revert back to face status. Embracing the boos until they turn into cheers is an obvious move. This approach is going against the grain out of stubbornness.
Prediction: Reigns wins a memorable slugfest.
KB: That will only come from a heel turn. Fans these days love a bad guy, and Reigns has already showcased the overconfidence and aggression that would make him better in the role than he ever has been as a face. It seems counterintuitive, but he would be cheered within a few months as a heel and could easily transition back after a year or so.
Prediction: Strowman overcomes Reigns to set up a clash with Brock Lesnar.
TC: Reigns could save a school bus full of children from going over a cliff and would still be booed out of the building. He's forever been compared to John Cena, and he forever will be because of WWE's refusal to turn him heel. The company feels that giving him an edge is enough to get him over, and it's not. The company also feels that pitting him against a monster heel like Strowman is enough to get Reigns over as well, but that's not happening either.
The only thing that will work for Reigns is time. It's the same thing that worked for Cena, and it has not always worked for him, either. With enough time booking Reigns as the unshakable babyface who cannot be moved, fans would eventually respond. As long as WWE sees dollar signs with Reigns as the top protagonist, there will be no desire to turn him. But fans will never fully accept him, either.
Prediction: Just when it looks like WWE can do no wrong with booking a new star, that is likely what is going to happen here. This match has been designed to get Reigns over, and he will surely do that when he loads Strowman into the ambulance at Great Balls of Fire.
The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose (Intercontinental Championship)
Q: This feud has been going on since both men were on SmackDown. Regardless of who leaves GBOF as champion, who do you think should be the next contender for the IC title?
AM: Finn Balor needs to be the next person to challenge The Miz for the IC title. The main roster hasn't been too kind to Balor, as he's accomplished a 24-hour title reign and hasn't had a feud to properly sink his teeth into. The Miz is better than Ambrose as far as being champion goes, and since Balor's weakness is mic skills, The A-Lister could do the majority of the talking for the both of them.
Prediction: The Miz retains with some help from Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel.
JM: While I think The Miz vs. Ambrose will continue through to SummerSlam, I would like to see Seth Rollins make a play for the IC title. The main event scene is crowded, and Rollins seems to be the odd man out. Having him challenge for the intercontinental title opens up a wealth of matchups WWE fans have yet to see or haven't seen in quite some time.
Prediction: The Miz retains the Intercontinental Championship.
JJ: Rollins. The Universal Championship picture is Joe, Brock and Reigns, who is waiting in the wings. Seth would continue the elevation of that title, and having him face either Miz or Dean would be more interesting than this feud.
Prediction: Miz will retain via Miztourage interference.
RD: Balor. He is above taking on the likes of Elias Samson. He needs to be a bigger part of Raw to take advantage of his rising popularity. He would make a great foil for The Miz. And battling The Miztourage could easily lead to Balor joining forces with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson once more.
Prediction: The Miz retains to end the feud.
KB: It's time to try someone new and give Kalisto a shot. The Miz could likely make any face feel like a worthy competitor, but his competition is slim at the moment, with many feuds only beginning. With Balor, Rollins and Reigns likely occupied, the options are only Kalisto, Heath Slater, Crews and Big Show. I'll take Kalisto, who has the most potential to put on great matches.
Prediction: The Miz retains with the help of his Miztourage and finally ends this feud.
(TC): The shortlist of contenders for the Intercontinental Championship includes overflow from the Universal Championship picture. Monday Night Raw features Reigns, Balor, Rollins, Samoa Joe, Strowman, The Miz and Dean Ambrose. Any one of those seven men could conceivably become the next universal champion, but only one can hold the belt, with two to three in title contention.
The other top names need a title to work for, and the IC belt is the best choice. Balor should be the man to challenge for the championship because he and Miz could have a great feud. Balor's title run would re-establish him as a top player on Raw and occupy him until the time is right for him to challenge for the universal title once again.
Prediction: Miz should retain against Ambrose, especially with the additions of Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas by his side.
The Hardy Boyz vs. Cesaro and Sheamus (Tag Team Championships)
Q: Once this feud is over, which Raw tag team would you like to see get a shot at the titles?
AM: Without thinking too much about how to stretch things out until WrestleMania, I'd have to go with The Revival. They're the best tag team to not have had a series of matches with The Hardy Boyz yet, and I'm hoping we see Cesaro and Sheamus drop the titles to allow that to happen. Gallows and Anderson have more to offer, but I haven't missed them since they've been off, whereas I've been itching to see The Revival's return.
Prediction: The Hardy Boyz win the belts back.
JM: No tag team has even been featured on Raw programming in months, so no one is truly deserving of a title shot. I feel The Revival would be the best option, but the team would need to be worked into the hunt, and I don't see WWE successfully doing that between now and SummerSlam.
Prediction: The Hardy Boyz win, setting up one final match with Cesaro and Sheamus at SummerSlam.
JJ: The Revival. Their momentum was halted by Dash Wilder's broken jaw, but they should be the next in line for the gold.
Prediction: Cesaro and Sheamus retain. Maybe this will finally render the Hardys "broken."
RD: The Revival. That smashmouth duo could put on a great match with anybody. It would be great to see them trade haymakers with Cesaro and Sheamus or pound The Hardy Boyz to the point they revert back to their "broken" characters.
Prediction: Cesaro and Sheamus retain.
KB: Assuming The Hardy Boyz win, which seems likely given the lack of face tag teams on Raw, there are many good options. Gallows and Anderson deserve a chance to prove their worth as competitors, and they should make for a natural next step for the veteran faces, particularly until The Revival is ready.
Prediction: The Hardy Boyz regain the tag team championships and move on to new challengers.
TC: Raw has seen the dissolution of two different tag teams in recent months. The team that has been conspicuous by its absence is The Revival, who have yet to make a real return since Wilder's injury. If Wilder and Scott Dawson are to get a shot, then The Hardy Boyz should regain the titles at Great Balls of Fire. It's the feud that makes the most sense, especially considering both teams have been warring via Twitter as of late.
Old-school fans want the feud because it would be a throwback to the days of The Rock 'n' Roll Express versus The Midnight Express. Younger fans want the feud because it would be the clash of two different generations. Every fan wants it because it would be a top-notch main event rivalry.
Prediction: The Hardy Boyz should regain the Raw Tag Team Championships at GBOF. It's the perfect setup to the program with Dash and Dawson that is sure to follow.
Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks (Women's Championship)
Q: The Raw women's division has a handful of performers being underutilized. Who do you want to see inserted into the title scene after GBOF?
AM: With the storylines (or lack thereof for some people) WWE has put forth so far, it makes sense to have Nia Jax against Alexa Bliss at SummerSlam, but I'm more upset that Mickie James hasn't been given anything to do since the Superstar Shake-up. She could have easily had a feud with Bliss for a month or two, but she's been ignored—even as part of a supplemental feud. If there weren't any plans for her, she should have stayed on SmackDown.
Prediction: Alexa Bliss retains.
JM: The obvious answer is Jax since she is ready to take the spotlight. But as far as underutilized performers go, Emma needs to be highlighted more. She is one of the best workers on the roster and has no direction. Much of that is due to her numerous injuries, but it doesn't seem WWE has any clue how to best utilize her. I say just get her more exposure and let her do her thing. She'll be a top main event performer in no time.
Prediction: Bliss retains by hook or by crook.
JJ: Jax. After her dominance in the gauntlet match, she should be front and center for the next opportunity.
Prediction: Bliss retains.
RD: Jax vs. Bliss is a smart feud, but WWE should also have Emma hover around the title scene, taking down babyfaces in search of her shot at the gold. She is one of the most wasted talents on either show, and the squandered months of her career with the Emmalina debacle.
Prediction: Bliss squeaks by Banks in the best match of her career.
KB: Jax put on an impressive performance in the recent gauntlet match and has earned a long-overdue opportunity to compete for the title. Bliss vs. Banks vs. Jax could be an easy sell as a title match, but Bliss vs. Jax could also be excellent if WWE continues to build the tension between the two despite the fact both are heels.
Prediction: Bliss defeats Banks clean and continues to look dominant.
TC: Emma has been the odd woman out for quite some time, and it doesn't seem to be changing. Her repackaging was a bust, and since she returned to the same gimmick as before, she's been more than flat. Assuming Sasha Banks goes over at Great Balls of Fire, she needs a fresh opponent to step up, and Emma should get the nod.
Jax has been a monster in the women's division, and she should get a shot after eventually turning on Bliss. But WWE may not be that high on Jax considering she has yet to get a title run. It could be that she's still too rough around the edges. It could also be that the company is saving her coronation for another time, possibly even WrestleMania 34. Regardless of the reason, the time may be right for a new challenger to step up, and it should be Emma.
Prediction: Bliss is solid, and she's on her game, but Banks should regain the championship at Great Balls of Fire.
Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe (Universal Championship)
Q: If not Samoa Joe, who do you think is the best candidate to defeat Lesnar for the title and why?
AM: Reigns is the inevitability, so I'm hoping that happens at SummerSlam instead of dragging it out until WrestleMania next year. Hopefully, based on the great progress he's made and the positive reception from the crowd, we get to see Strowman defeat Lesnar at next year's WrestleMania, but I don't wish for the title to be on the line in that scenario. However, if anybody other than Reigns or Joe were going to be taking down Lesnar and winning the Universal Championship, Strowman would have to be my pick.
Prediction: Lesnar retains the championship.
JM: I think WWE has the perfect person to defeat Lesnar in Joe. He's become a believable threat since winning the Fatal 5-Way at Extreme Rules and would be a great universal champion. While it seems likely Roman Reigns will be Lesnar's SummerSlam opponent, I think WWE would be foolish to build Joe as it has only to feed him to The Beast Incarnate for one pay-per-view. This is a great feud, and one the company should capitalize on.
Prediction: Joe does the unthinkable and defeats Brock Lesnar.
JJ: Reigns. He retired the Undertaker, gets one of the loudest reactions and all roads lead to this event. WWE will ride the waves to an eventual Roman title run, so why not have him take the belt off Brock?
Prediction: Brock retains the title in a brutal, MMA-like war.
RD: Strowman. Beating The Beast Incarnate would be a game-changer for a guy who was Raw's MVP before his injury. He's a compelling monster and has begun to get an ardent babyface reaction. Making him a priority moving forward would be the right move, and that could start in a big way by having him dethrone Lesnar.
Prediction: Joe shines, but Lesnar retains.
KB: It has to be Strowman. The big man has grown into the role of WWE's top monster, and he would be established as truly dominant by overwhelming The Beast Incarnate. Unfortunately, WWE will likely immediately go to this feud, and Strowman will be another heavyweight fed to Lesnar during his reign of dominance.
Prediction: Lesnar defeats Joe with a second F-5 after surviving the Coquina Clutch by making it to the ropes.
TC: Fans would surely love to see Samoa Joe go over at Great Balls of Fire, and he just might. But if he doesn't, then the only real choices left are Reigns or Strowman. It's not to take away from other Superstars, like Balor or Rollins, who should each get a shot. But the title has been on Lesnar since WrestleMania 33, and his first challenger is one of the toughest men to ever set foot in a wrestling ring.
Whoever comes next should continue that trend, as the championship will hopefully become more relevant over time. WWE's master plan is likely to book Reigns versus Lesnar at WrestleMania 34, where The Big Dog will go over The Beast Incarnate clean. But in the meantime, Strowman versus Lesnar would be very interesting. However, if 'Mania in 2018 is the ultimate destination, then it will be Reigns who takes home the gold.
Prediction: It will be a hard-fought battle, and it could end with a count-out or a no-contest decision, but either way, Lesnar retains the Universal Championship.