Tuesday, July 11, 2017

LEAVE ME ALONE: WWE Great Balls of Fire Review

No, a violent ambulance crash wouldn't and should't affect him, why would you ask
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Two TH Big Reviews in the span of a day? LET'S DO IT.

  • Bray Wyatt pinned Seth Rollins after a thumb to the eye and Sister Abigail's kiss in the main show opener.
  • Big Cass annihilated Enzo Amore, finishing him with a big boot.
  • HOSS International (Cesaro and Sheamus) retained the RAW Tag Team Championships over the Hardy Boys in the 30-minute iron man match by a score of four falls to three.
  • Alexa Bliss lost via intentional countout to Sasha Banks, but retained the RAW Women's Championship.
  • The Miz retained the Intercontinental Championship with a Bo Dallas sucker punch and Skull Crushing Finale on Dean Ambrose.
  • Braun Strowman won the ambulance match after dodging a spear from Roman Reigns, causing him to barrel into the back of the ambulance.
  • After the match, Reigns burst out of the back of the ambulance, forced Strowman into it, and then backed it at high speed, crashing into a trailer. Strowman walked away bloodied after being freed with the jaws of life.
  • Heath Slater apparently defeated Curt Hawkins while the paramedics were freeing Strowman, but if a wrestler pins another wrestler and no one sees it, does it really happen?
  • Brock Lesnar retained the WWE Universal Championship over Samoa Joe by countering a Coqina Clutch into the F5.

General Observations:
  • I swear, WWE My Boyfriend's Back Great Balls of Fire came about because Vince McMahon is senile enough to think the '50s are back in style every couple of years and no one has the guts to talk him off the ledge.
  • Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt had about as vanilla a beginning as one might expect from these two until Wyatt just started tossing Rollins into shit around the ring like he was owed money or something. Much like Kevin Owens would be improved upon if he were allowed to be as violent as Kevin Steen was, Wyatt might be a far better worker if he embraced his inner Godzilla.
  • Corey Graves called Wyatt "deceptively fast," and three seconds later, his cell phone blew up from CBS Sports wanting him to call National Football League games with Jim Nantz.
  • I've always maintained that the best Rollins is the one who bumps like a maniac and then throws himself at his opponents. He's got the first part down, because the bump he took on the apron DDT looked like the best of Shawn Michaels' flailing on big moves.
  • Someone in the crowd brought wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men signs to the show, which was funny because one, Bayley wasn't even in sniffing distance of the card, and two, they looked like condom-sheathed penises. Then again, the event was called Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini Great Balls of Fire. It needed some phalli to go along with it.
  • WWE's production team does some great work on recap videos, but the Enzo Amore Top Ten Anime Death Recap tugged on them heartstrings. Maybe this Amore kid is pretty good at being a WWE superstar, eh?
  • Amore's pre-match promo was everything great about his innate ability to string words together and everything infuriating about how the scriptwriters and/or he himself love to crutch on garbage misogyny/homophobia and rote talking points at times.
  • Of course, Big Cass beating the absolute shit out of Amore after said promo was shocking because no one gets that kind of spotlight just to get murked. It was a really good ass-whipping though.
  • I'm convinced that if insurance or liability weren't in play, Cass would've thrown Amore into the third row a la Mike Awesome and Spike Dudley.
  • Look, I don't care that she divested from the former TNA and probably doesn't give a flying fuck about anything but getting that sweet, sweet exposure. It was still jarring as fuck to see Dixie Carter talking during a WWE telecast.
  • Doing a flash fall to open an iron man match feels like something WWE does a lot (even if the stats probably don't bear out), but having Cesaro fake Matt Hardy out only for Sheamus to come in with the SURPRISE BROGUE KICK was just about as fresh a take on that trope as they could do, and it came off super well.
  • The "BROTHER NERO" chants were so loud that I could only imagine they were deafening in-house. Coupled with the promo from RAW last night and everyone hating the Hardy Boys right now, I wonder if becoming... BROKEN is right around the corner...
  • Only Cesaro could take a gutwrench suplex and turn into feats-of-strength porn. Like, WWE is featuring him, and he may only have a limited singles ceiling, but man, he's still one special-ass performer.
  • Booker T on commentary is either infuriating or the gift that keeps on giving depending on how one views him. Example, at the beginning of the match, he stated that HOSS International would be best off playing keep away from the Hardys, and then somewhere around the ten minute mark, he chided them for not going after an injured Jeff on the outside. Of course, that wasn't as egregious/outstanding as his call on RAW last night stating that he didn't think Akira Tozawa deserved a rematch for the Cruiserweight Championship before being interrupted and immediately saying after that he totally thought Tozawa deserved another shot. It's a wild ride on the RAW commentary team, guys.
  • I enjoyed the way that they extended out the first heat segment so that it didn't drag but that it helped fill up the time they had to work. All four wrestlers are excellent at their craft, so I'm not surprised they found a way to lay out a match with superior psychology, but still.
  • WWE agents really need to stop laying out matches to include the "shoulder-first dive into the ring post through the turnbuckles" spot because I swear it happens every other fucking match.
  • The moment Cesaro and Sheamus went up three falls to one, I thought McMahon finally caught wind of the "Warriors blew a three-one lead in the NBA Finals" jokes that are still now rampant on Twitter and was going to be as timely as he usually is with pop culture references.
  • Sheamus interrupting the Ten Beats of the Bodhrán at two because the fans were counting along was peak prick asswipe heel, and I loved it so, so much.
  • Jeff hitting the double leg drops on an accordion-folded Cesaro for the first fall of the Hardys' tying comeback was such a great wrinkle on his expected spots, and it probably only could have happened with Cesaro's athletic freakishness as a canvas.
  • Cesaro is probably closest to a perfect worker that the business has, but even he makes mistakes, referenced by him being late as fuck breaking up a pin attempt off a moonsault attempt. Of course, the crowd blamed the referee because scripts aren't made to be broken, y'know.
  • As much as the snaked deciding fall ruled, I'm not sure when Sheamus tagged Cesaro to make him the legal man, unless it happened deep off-camera. I wouldn't be surprised since Kevin Dunn needs to be fired yesterday for being bad at his job.
  • Alexa Bliss yelling "GET OFF" at Sasha Banks off an opening lock-up reaching the ropes is why she'll end up being the best-remembered female performer of this era if she doesn't get hurt.
  • Of course, Banks ain't bad either. Her dropkick was at about a 0.99 on the Okada Scale, although she really should stop doing lucha armdrag spots. Whether it's a timing issue on her end or the fact that the only wrestlers on the roster who seem equipped to handle them right now are Becky Lynch and Bayley, it's not a good look.
  • Having not seen Bliss do her double-jointed thing in NXT (or at least not remembering it), I literally thought she dislocated her elbow horrifically at first.
  • Using that stunt was one thing, but she followed it up with some deliciously vicious no-fucks-given rudo offense (heel sweep on the apron, swift and snug hairpull backbreaker) that upped the ante for this match by about a billion.
  • Of course, all that good shit leading to an intentional countout was the most idiotic, weakest possible finish the people running this shit could've pulled out. Save those overused tropes for RAW, thanks.
  • The post-match brawl was bomb-ass though, so maybe the SummerSlam rematch will be a street fight?
  • Miz and Dean Ambrose have had some of the best WWE PPV matches of the year, but man, outside of the rote "Ambrose beating the shit out of the Miztourage" before the match, the first time it felt like something more than some paint-by-numbers RAW match was Ambrose busting out the avalanche butterfly suplex. Just disappointing all around.
  • "Someone call me an Uber to the afterparty!" At least Graves dropped some high workrate shit during the match.
  • Is it bad that the first thought I had after the finish was "Finally, WWE is actually utilizing a heel stable in a way that isn't just to provide fodder for the superman hero?"
  • As ubiquitous as the shoulder through the turnbuckles spot has been in WWE for years, charging into the ringpost on the outside is starting to catch up. Granted, when it was Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns doing it, maybe some of the ubiquity could be forgiven.
  • Strowman utilized the stairs for a good bit in the beginning, leading me to think these two could probably save the stairs match gimmick.
  • Again, great workers aren't perfect, and Strowman's still kinda green despite taking to the biz as naturally as someone can, so I can kinda forgive him trying a cover, even if it was pretty funny. Graves covering for it by saying "Maybe his brains are a bit scrambled too" was one part clever, but three parts gross given that WWE's treatment of head trauma victims is less than optimal.
  • Of course, the agent here called for the shoulder-through-the-buckles spot HERE too, but at least it set up Strowman taking perhaps the best Drive-By Reigns has ever done.
  • Strowman was at peak form once they started the sequence getting to the ambulance. Between snatching the chair right from Reigns' hands after barking "HIT ME YOU SON OF A BITCH: at him to reprising the ambulance lawn dart to beating the shit out of Reigns with a backboard, he was in rare form, amazing to watch.
  • Strowman barreling through the video screen popped off the screen better than it had any right to, but even better was the look in Reigns' eyes as Strowman started to get up. It was despair distilled down into its purest form, just the best theater that wrestling can provide.
  • Normally, I'd be calling WWE out on the finish of Strowman allowing Reigns to put himself in the ambulance via momentum, but fuck, Strowman got put over like a beast during the meat of the match. Sometimes, context turns a shitty finish into a clever one.
  • I'm ashamed to say that I got worked on the "ambulance rammed in reverse into the trailer" spot, not that I thought Strowman was really in the back, but that WWE allowed Reigns to fulfill any yen he had to be a stunt driver. Sometimes, even the best get tripped up.
  • Strowman was the MVP of that segment, no doubt, but Kurt Angle's facial expressions were the perfect complement given the utter absurdity. Maybe Angle can't make any other facial expression after years of working for TNA, but still, it worked.
  • I know Curt Hawkins and Heath Slater aren't exactly germane to the narrative right now, but I still felt bad for them that they were shuttled out while this gargantuan melodrama played out on the TitanTron. I felt even worse when they got hit with the double-whammy of "We want Bálor!" chants. Seriously, how do you have a dude like Finn Bálor and not have him on the card at all? Although if the crowd had gotten its way, he'd have been part of the long-running joke.
  • I don't know what the intent of that segment was, but if it was anything but "putting Strowman over like a fucking cool and bad-ass monster," then lol WWE.
  • The highlight, of course, was Strowman gutturally barking "LEAVE ME ALONE" as he left the scene bloodied and broken. Like even I wanna take a bullet for that dude even though I know he'd probably catch it in his mouth, eat it, and shoot it at Reigns once it was time to pass it through his colon.
  • Samoa Joe jumping Brock Lesnar before the bell and putting him through a table was probably the best way to usher in a post-John Cena SummerSlam '14 world vs. a normie match. Although if Joe was a normie before the match, he certainly wasn't afterwards.
  • Seriously, when Lesnar is suplexing a dude and all you can hear are chants for the victim and not "SUPLEX CITY," that dude is made. My heart grew three sizes hearing that crowd chant "Joe's gonna killllll youuuuuuuu."
  • Of course Joe had to rock Lesnar in the nuts, because Undertaker showed that Lesnar's groin area is his worst weakness.
  • And of course again, Lesnar had to take the shoulder-through-the-buckles bump, but at least he put a beastly spin on it, just sliding backwards between Joe's legs to escape the follow-up. Sometimes, one forgets how freakishly athletic even current Lesnar can be.
  • I noticed the gimmicked broken video board was still flickering in and out of static, a very nice touch.
  • I think if you're judging a Brock Lesnar match by its length anymore, you're missing the point. The dude gets paid and gets the fuck out, but as referenced by this match and the WrestleMania Goldberg match, he really gives out a lot of bang for one's buck.

Match of the Night: Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman - While they have had bomb-ass matches before, they were behind an eight-ball from jump thanks to the stipulation. The ambulance match has never produced anything worthwhile, although it's only been done on the mainstream level five times, none of which contained pairings known for their in-ring chemistry. With Reigns and Strowman however, it was a proven match that took a bad gimmick match and reversed fortune on it, creating an iconic match and a template for its stability.

While giving the match points for starting out hot feels like a failure of WWE agenting than something good, I really liked that Reigns and Strowman started out throwing bombs and never really stopped to catch their breaths except for fatigue and selling. Their big spots looked cool, bursting off the screen with energy. Of course, Strowman is so special that when he ragdolls ANYONE, it looks tremendous, but it looks even better when that person is Reigns, and at its best when it's in context of a hard-fought battle. Reigns' big spots looked even better, as he captured the moment with both his struggle-tinged Samoan drop and the perfectly-framed Drive-By between the turnbuckles and the post.

But the match is going to be ultimately judged by the end portion around the ambulance (and perhaps overshadowed by the post-match angle), and in that regard, it overdelivered. Whether it was rehashing the lawn-dart into the side of the ambulance, the big crash through the video board, or the well-timed finish, both competitors made use of the gimmick to its fullest and helped save it from utter ignominy. It was the main event-level match that everyone wanted and needed from the two, even if the hammy post-match angle is what most of those people decided to talk about in the aftermath.

Overall Thoughts: It's hard to say that WWE Long Tall Sally Great Balls of Fire overdelivered when the hype for the show was astronomically off the charts to begin with. Maybe the show should be framed on the fact that it met said hype and didn't falter like the company has done so many times in the past. Only two shows in recent memory, Money in the Bank 2011 and WrestleMania XXX, gave return on investment comparable to the anticipation. Most other great WWE shows in The Wrestling Blog Era have come out of nowhere and exceeded expectation. So while Payback and WrestleMania this year both left better lasting impressions, I don't know if it's fair to say they were better altogether because the hype levels weren't nearly as high going in.

Of course, the biggest criticisms were and will continue to be about WWE's use of pay-per-views as proxies for television, as if it didn't oversaturate USA Network with five hours of programming a week with its own twists and turns. Honestly, outside of the Alexa Bliss/Sasha Banks match, I didn't really see the issue in the other fuck finishes. A thumb to the eye doesn't have the cache it would have had in 1985, and HOSS International stealing a win the way it did doesn't feel like a means for feud continuation; it's just sneaky heel tactics working. The benefit of being late as fuck on a report such as this is that one has the benefit of getting to watch RAW and see how things end up unfolding; of those three bad finishes, the only one that's going to have continuance is the one that shouldn't have happened on pay-per-view anyway. Maybe the community at large needs to have a conversation on expectation of what WWE does nowadays, but it still feels shit like taking the countout loss intentionally, which is still an overused trope on television anyway, shouldn't happen at a special event.

Otherwise, the show quality was off the charts. Wyatt/Rollins was passable, which for them isn't a guarantee at all, especially vs. each other. Big Cass nuking Enzo Amore was exactly the kind of booking WWE rarely employs, and it was smart for the feud and for mitigating the shakiness in the start of Cass' push as a singles giant in the land of innumerable other more established singles giants. The tag title match saw two teams work a set half-hour time limit masterfully, stretching out psychology and stoking the embers for flare-ups at the right times. Before the nonsensical finish, Bliss/Banks was an absolute banger, and the main event kept following the "vulnerable post-Cena Lesnar" formula laid out with the Goldberg feud perfectly. The only misstep was the Intercontinental Championship match, but Dean Ambrose and The Miz have been wrestling each other non-stop since the end of Queen Victoria's reign it seems. It's hard for two passable, sometimes great, but still limited workers to give a churn of matches where all of them are memorable. I mean, they're not John Cena and CM Punk or Hiromu Takahashi and Dragon Lee now.

However, the event will center on, rightly so or not, Reigns' attempted vehicular homicide on Strowman. Arguing that Reigns did a crime on a show where laws don't work (especially now that WWE has a real-world explanation for being able to get away with literal murder since the current corrupt-as-fuck President is a company Hall of Famer) or that he's not a babyface absolutely no water. You could argue that WWE should be following more classical formula with heroes and villains. I tend to agree, but it's gotten to the point where the argument is rote as hell. WWE is never going to switch the paradigm it started with in 1997 because old men are harder to teach new tricks to than old dogs. One either has to decide WWE is not for them, or look at its storytelling through a different lens.

With that being said, it was a fantastic way of putting Braun Strowman over as the company's new war-eating god-king. Any other attempt at looking at the vignette just makes too many other people look terrible, and I for one am not in the business of watching something to hate on it. Fuck, I write this blog for fun, because I'm in the business of something else that I wish not to talk about here for my career. Once Strowman comes back next week on RAW to interrupt the announced Reigns/Joe match, it's going to make the ambulance segment and the jaws of life and stumbling punch drunk out and bloodied into the aether even more incredible, and I'm here for it, 100 percent. That's why for me, WWE Put Your Head on My Shoulder was a resounding success.