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Sunday night, the Superstars of WWE Raw will invade the Lone Star State for Great Balls of Fire, live from American Airlines Center in Dallas.
The event, headlined by a dream match in which Samoa Joe will challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship, will pave the road to SummerSlam. Co-headlined by an Ambulance match that will hopefully settle the intense rivalry between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, the show has the potential to be one of the best band-exclusive presentations since last year’s WWE Draft.
Five championship bouts, the culmination of several electric feuds and a rare Tag Team Iron Man match has fans of the flagship show salivating at the prospect of a previous unfathomable Show of the Year candidate.
With a star-studded top of the card and an undercard featuring the emotional showdown between Enzo Amore and Big Cass, another potential show-stealer from Dean Ambrose and intercontinental champion The Miz, the event figures to have something to whet the collective appetite of the WWE Universe.
Who will leave the show with their arm raised in victory, though?
Which Superstars will take Great Balls of Fire and turn it into their moment of glory, escaping with championship gold, establishing dominance and cashing their ticket to SummerSlam on August 20?
Let’s take a look.
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The night’s festivities will begin with the Great Balls of Fire Kickoff Show, featuring Neville defending his WWE Cruiserweight Championship against Akira Tozawa in what very well may steal the show before the live broadcast ever takes the air.
Tozawa, the newest member of Titus International, will likely be accompanied by his new manager Titus O’Neil as he attempts to do what no other Superstar in that weight division has proven capable of to this point: dethrone The King of the Cruiserweights.
It will not be easy.
Though Tozawa has proven adept at defeating the most talented cruiserweights on the roster, including TJP and The Brian Kendrick, Neville is a different beast. He has been booked as well as any Superstar on the roster and has demonstrated a nastiness between the ropes that allowed him to defeat the recently released Austin Aries on two separate occasions.
WWE Creative may be tempted to put the title on Tozawa and further the Titus Worldwide storyline but at this point, all signs seem to point toward Cedric Alexander finally beating Neville, perhaps as early as SummerSlam. Robbing him of that moment to boost a midcard act that may or may not hit is a risky move not worth taking.
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Big Cass’ betrayal of longtime Enzo Amore came at exactly the right time.
Their act never had the opportunity to become stale or overstay its welcome. The seven-foot-tall Superstar turned heel at the peak of the duo’s marketability and popularity. It was a strategic booking maneuver that not only makes Cass that much more unlikable, it also ensures a monumental reunion if, and when, WWE Creative deems it necessary.
Six days before the pay-per-view, on the July 3 episode of Raw, Amore cut the promo of a lifetime. Showing a range of emotions that included anger and heartache, he cut into the man he once considered a brother and vowed never to stay down.
Regardless of how many times he is knocked down or beat up.
Sunday will put that claim to the test as Amore is almost assured to endure a beating at the hands of his opponent. Whether he can fight from underneath and upset the bigger, stronger, more ruthless Cass is the question that bears asking.
Unfortunately, the answer is likely an emphatic “no.”
The match at Great Balls of Fire is less about putting over Amore’s heart and more about igniting what should be a sizable push for Cass. Management has long thought of the big man as a potential star on Raw, dating back to his inclusion in the Fatal 4-Way Elimination match for the Universal Championship last August.
This will be his showcase, as will the victory.
Big Cass defeats Enzo Amore
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Bray Wyatt cuts cryptic promo, kicking off rivalry with babyface for no apparent reason. Babyface wins.
That is a formula that has plagued The Reaper of Souls for the entirety of his career. Rather than winning the occasional match that supports the words of warning he deals every Monday night, he loses, rendering his credibility nonexistent.
Do not look for that to change Sunday night.
Sure, Wyatt may pick up a win that encourages hopes in his most staunch supporters but rest assured, he will lose come SummerSlam or earlier as WWE will seek to shine a spotlight on opponent Seth Rollins, who was recently named the cover athlete for WWE 2K18.
Rollins has gotten the best of Wyatt throughout the early portion of the rivalry but that will not stop WWE Creative from booking him to go over his antagonist when they meet Sunday night.
Normally, the length of the rivalry would dictate the outcome Sunday. If it is meant to be a longer program, Wyatt would win to extend it, giving the babyface something to fight toward in the coming weeks and months.
That logic is off the table when it comes to Wyatt.
WWE has booked him so against logic that it would not be at all surprising to see Rollins pin Wyatt clean, do it again at SummerSlam and cap off their program shortly thereafter with another win.
Seth Rollins beats Bray Wyatt
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The Miz defeated Dean Ambrose at last month’s Extreme Rules and since then, has weathered a storm of dissension with wife Maryse and welcomed Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel into his Miztourage.
Those two Superstars will almost assuredly play a role in Sunday’s Intercontinental Championship defense against Ambrose, who will be seeking to win the title he lost in somewhat controversial fashion at the June 18 event.
WWE Creative can be glad the in-ring chemistry between the two is as strong as it is or the program would have achieved monotony a long time ago. The matches between The Lunatic Fringe and his Hollywood A-Lister rival have been as strong as any on the Raw brand, thanks to their innate ability to pick and choose which spots fit where to ensure the desired reaction.
The characters play off each other so well, too, that the repetition of the booking becomes secondary to the entertaining promo work and engaging in-ring product the Superstars produce.
Sunday night, they will write the latest chapter in their rivalry. Expect Miz to retain, perhaps with the assistance of any of his associates.
He really could use a strong victory to bring the program to a close but given the characteristics of his on-screen persona, that is unlikely.
The Miz defeats Dean Ambrose to retain
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The Hardy Boyz have repeatedly gotten the best of Sheamus and Cesaro but it was one slip-up, at the June 18 Extreme Rules pay-per-view, that cost them the Raw Tag Team Championships.
Since then, Matt and Jeff have remained in the hunt for the titles they proudly held following their monumental homecoming at WrestleMania 33. So much so that on the July 3 episode of Raw, general manager Kurt Angle informed the eager champions they will defend their titles in a 30-Minute Iron Man Tag Team match at Great Balls of Fire.
The match should prove to be the conclusion of the rivalry, which has dominated the Raw tag team division since The Showcase of the Immortals.
Sheamus and Cesaro, at the peak of their in-ring careers, can undoubtedly go 30 minutes and not look winded or otherwise affected. The Hardys, on the other hand, are on the other side of their prime. There is a lot of mileage, and plenty of bumps and bruises, on their bodies. They have not yet had their endurance tested against two Superstars of superb in-ring condition as they will be Sunday night.
What Matt and Jeff have is a rabidly loyal fan base and enough tricks up their sleeve to keep the audience invested, even if they cannot physically keep up with their opponents.
The happy ending would see Matt and Jeff beat the Sheamus and Cesaro to win the titles. Unfortunately, that is not the outcome that makes sense. The champions are still relatively fresh off their victory at Extreme Rules and beating them here would render that booking decision obsolete.
Essentially deleting them out of the history books would be an extraordinarily bad idea.
In an exhilarating match, expect Sheamus and Cesaro to score a last-minute fall that awards them the win and titles while preserving the popular Hardys’ heat.
Sheamus and Cesaro narrowly fend off Matt and Jeff Hardy to retain
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Alexa Bliss has made a career of taking immensely popular female Superstars and beating them down, taking their titles and leaving them shells of their former selves. She did it on SmackDown Live with Becky Lynch and on Raw, where she obliterated Bayley’s Women’s Championship reign and extinguished her heat.
Sunday night, she faces a competitor in Sasha Banks who is riding a wave of momentum.
The Boss earned her way to Great Balls of Fire by beating Nia Jax in the final fall of a Gauntlet match, then proceeded to tap Bliss out on the July 3 episode of Raw, establishing herself as a real threat to take the title.
WWE Creative routinely books Bliss to look vulnerable on television, then allows her to score a convincing win when it counts.
That is the likely scenario Sunday.
All signs point to Bliss vs. Jax for the title as soon as SummerSlam. Banks will provide strong competition and, perhaps, Bliss’ best pay-per-view match to date but by the end of the night it will be Little Miss Bliss leaving Dallas with her arm raised in victory.
Alexa Bliss defeats Sasha Banks
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There is no rivalry that has run as long Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman, nor had as much television time devoted to it. Sunday night, the fight for supremacy continues as the heavyweights wage war in an Ambulance match.
The ambulance has played a central role in the rivalry. Prior to Payback this past spring, Strowman assaulted Reigns to the point The Big Dog was driven out of the arena in the emergency vehicle. When the three-time WWE champion retaliated, injuring The Monster Among Men’s elbow and sidelining him, Strowman returned in the back of an ambulance and reignited his war with Reigns.
The steadily built rivalry has intensified with every passing week. Their two previous matches have been immensely enjoyable heavyweight battles in which the Superstars have split victorious. Now, in the third and deciding match, they will have nothing holding them back.
There will be no disqualifications, no countouts. There will be no rules to tiptoe around. They will finally be allowed to have the balls-to-the-wall brawl they should have had long ago.
The question facing fans is whether WWE wants Strowman or Reigns as the next No. 1 contender to Brock Lesnar’s Universal Championship.
Reigns is a big-money opponent for The Beast Incarnate, with whom he has unfinished business dating back to WrestleMania 31. Strowman, though, is red-hot and a mammoth competitor against whom Lesnar’s strength and fury would be impressive.
WWE Creative has done a solid job of riding the hot hand in recent months. Expect that to continue here with a Strowman win in which Reigns is not pinned or submitted, thus retaining his aura.
Braun Strowman beats Roman Reigns
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The most anticipated match of the summer occurs Sunday night as Samoa Joe and Brock Lesnar meet in a dream match of sorts.
The two most destructive forces of their generation, they are legitimate badasses who will seek to tear the roof off American Airlines Center with a brutal and violent championship clash.
Joe has gotten the best of Lesnar to this point, choking both him and his advocate Paul Heyman out. He has refused to back down from The Beast Incarnate and, unlike others, has opted to take the fight right to him. Perhaps that will prove an effective strategy, catching the typically dominant Lesnar off-guard Sunday night.
Maybe it proves problematic for Joe, who is competing in only his second WWE pay-per-view main event. Perhaps he allows his aggression to get the best of him, leading to a misstep that Lesnar takes advantage of.
One thing that is for certain: the Coquina Clutch will be the centerpiece of the story the Superstars tell. It has been integral to the build and Joe will likely try to catch Lesnar in it at every turn. The question is whether or not The Beast breaks out the Kimura that was such a major part of his arsenal during his first two years back with the company.
If so, the intensely personal championship clash could evolve into a masterclass of submission holds, leaving one Superstar no choice but to endure the indignity of tapping out.
As hot as Joe is right now, and as much fun as it would be to see him dethrone Lesnar and get a run with the title, WWE seems intent on letting Lesnar run with the title through the end of the year and into WrestleMania.
He gets the win here, regardless of how it happens.
Brock Lesnar successfully retains