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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Great Balls of Fire 2017 - The Performance Art Preview
By Samuel 'Plan
Jul 8, 2017 - 4:40:37 PM

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Just Business: Great Balls of Fire 2017 - The Performance Art Preview


If you were to compare the post-WrestleMania Brand Exclusives thus far, for my money, Monday Night Raw (MNR) wins out over Smackdown Live (SDL) by a pretty noteworthy margin. Payback and Extreme Rules was as solid a pair of pay-per-view as you could ask for from the Little Eight (or is that Small Sixteen now?). I left the latter hoping that WWE would up the ante when it came to the next big show for the flagship brand, this Sunday’s Great Balls of Fire, by putting on as solid a production with a bigger blockbuster card.

Alas, that’s not what we’ve been given. I will admit to some mild disappointment there. But perhaps more so than either of its aforementioned predecessor, Great Balls of Fire is an event already brimming with potential and intrigue, and there are three discussion points that have my attention captured more than any other.

My name is Samuel ‘Plan and this is my Performance Art Preview of Great Balls of Fire 2017.

The Missing Demon

Remember when Finn Bálor came bursting onto the MNR scene after the inaugural draft of the Second Brand Extension, offing Roman Reigns in a Raw main event before going on to become the first ever Universal Champion? You could easily be forgiven if you had forgotten, considering the inexplicably haphazard manner in which the Demon character has been presented ever since.

The first ever Universal Champion, for now the second of three MNR pay-per-views, finds himself without a spot on the card. It’s baffling. I have, in truth, never been quite as big a believing in the Demon as many others, and am far from a card carrying member of the so-called Bálor Club either, but is it too much to ask WWE for a little consistency? I think what I find particularly galling is the brilliant manner in which WWE rectified such inconsistencies at Extreme Rules, thanks to his Fatal Five Way performance presenting the clearest, arguably most engaging character arc of the bout; an arc that helped make sense of the relationship between the Finn and the Bálor parts of the character’s personality. But instead of capitalising upon that, perhaps moving into a feud they seemed, at one stage, to be clearly foreshadowing with Bray Wyatt, WWE reverted once again to keeping Bálor off of another major card.

I wonder, what with rumours circulating there have been recent changes happening to the Summerslam card WWE now desire to compile, whether Bálor will come to mirror the first two months after ‘Mania – moving from no active presence on pay-per-view to being right in the mix for the Universal Championship; perhaps even wrestling for it.

While I’m not entirely set against the prospect of the Beast and the Demon characters clashing, WWE’s extreme yo-yoing with Bálor, that seems somehow to unveil a potential inability to grasp just where a man like Bálor fits in among all that other charismatic star power, will do the man few favours, and any future Universal Championship storyline in which he is involved equally so.

Thus, I’ll be fascinated to see what Bálor does tomorrow night; hopefully, it won’t be a mere bit-part cameo in someone else’s tag title tale. Such a turn will make me anxious regarding Bálor’s future prospects, on MNR at least, because, from a writing perspective, muddied roster positioning operating in jarring extremes feels to me be to an unsustainable model for any performer.

Novelty and the Need to Deliver

I confess to my lack of enjoyment, and increase in frustration toward MNR, when I consider the television build to Great Balls of Fire. MNR has once again reverted back into the same compartmentalisation that dogs major promotions in the American pro wrestling industry, where feuding characters are kept inside their own bubble without any real sense of anything else going on around them. That’s not always the end of the world – though I maintain the shared universe approach is inherently vastly superior – but when you start coupling that compartmentalisation with a lack of imagination, you get pretty bog standard programming that does little to excite.

I look at the build to Great Balls of Fire and I feel saddened by the missed opportunity. Take the Rollins / Wyatt feud. Thanks to WWE’s continued inability to grasp who Bray Wyatt really is, the first solo feud between these two behemoths of WWE’s contemporary Era has felt a little flat. Rather than preying on Rollins’ demons, that have never been so prominent considering his obsession for success has now, at this stage, destroyed every relationship he’s ever considered dear to him, the creative has instead had Bray Wyatt fixate…on himself?! Rather than Wyatt the predator, we have Wyatt the narcissistic Greek god and, frankly, that’s just not that interesting.

I have similar gripes with the Tag Team Championship match. Many have enjoyed the announcement of The Bar vs. The Hardy Boyz pretty inexplicably transforming into a 30 minute Iron Man Match. Me? Well, I’d rather there have been an intriguing story rather than this old habit of papering over a lack of it with a novelty stipulation instead.

Thankfully, however, all this complaining from my end stands for nothing. I look at the prospect of what Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt can do in the ring together and it’s enough to get me looking forward to their clash tomorrow night. The same could be said about the aforementioned tag bout too. Even though I’m not a fan of this new middle aged tribute-band style Hardyz Reunion Tour, there’s no denying they’ve still something to offer between the ropes; and a 30 Minute slugfest could be just what Cesaro and Sheamus need to really draw a line under their establishment as a team to beat.

All of this, though, means one important thing: these matches absolutely must deliver on the night, and deliver big. When the story behind the match fails to live up to expectations, the story in the match must absolutely come to exceed them. We’ve seen in the recent past what can happen when you pair talented world class performers opposite one another without much of a storyline to back them up. The result might not be called apathy, but we can most certainly say it creates a steeper slope towards engaging the live crowd on the night, if past evidence is anything to go by.

Great Balls of Fire, then, may not have the best storyline build up; but hopefully the pressure cooker of the need to deliver classic stories in the ring will bring out the best of these top flight performers. And besides, WWE hype packages are so often very good at resolving all these sorts of criticisms right in the nth hour….

That New Gen Touch

I have made half of writing ‘career’ out of encouraging fans to find a way to make something they’re not enjoying work for them. You might be able to tell from the general negative vibe of this preview so far that this is a piece of advice I’ve found myself in need of taking this month. Those who follow my work closely, especially on The Right Side of the Pond, will no doubt be sighing in exasperation at the words in the sub-title to this section, but it is GBOF’s New Generation Era inflections I find myself getting most amped up for.

There are a number of elements to MNR right now that I’m finding to be unusual in their resemblance to the most criminally revised Era in WWE’s modern history, and I’m hoping we really see those elements get further boosts as we move inexorably towards Summerslam in August.

Goldust and R-Truth aren’t officially scheduled to wrestle on the card but should they, even if they did one of those dreary ‘bonus match’ turns WWE love to do, I must admit I’ll be far from disappointed, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it is a prime example of a small and charming undercard story, told between lower card wrestlers, which has had time to develop; sleepers like that never steal shows, but certainly help to make them. Secondly, because I adore the return of Goldust as he was when he first appeared on our WWF (as it was the time) screens, returning to his ‘cinematic directorial roots,’ as the case may be. That Goldust was capable of some excellently robust undercard and mid card work back in the later 1990s, the man could prove to be a great asset to the MNR roster and any pay-per-view upon which he appears.

The Titus Brand storyline that has come to envelop Tozawa’s Cruiserweight Championship match is another undercard facet I’m digging right now; probably because it reminds me very much of the Million Dollar Corporation days of the mid 1990s; or the Heenan Family days, for those of you possessed more of a Golden Age disposition. It might appear to be going nowhere, it might appear to be a stable filling up with some very randomly selected talents, but if MNR can flesh the Titus Brand out into a full-fledged mid card stable of loosely affiliated talents, it could come to add extra depth to storylines just as the Million Dollar Corporation did before it. I would love to see Titus chase a Universal Championship through the untraditional means of signing potential contenders, rather than working up to be one himself. And wouldn’t it be great if a developing story like this one eventuated in a one-off challenger of the month main event for the Universal title one day? Like when Sid challenged Diesel under the auspices of DiBiase…. It’s exactly the sort of aspect to a show that facilitates shared universe storytelling and variety at the top of the card.

There’s more still. Neville has become a near unparalleled storyteller between the ropes, and I think it far from unreasonable to expect another storytelling-heavy legacy match from Miz and Ambrose’s IC Championship return bout. Indeed, New Gen style storytelling in the ring has been a watermark for both MNR’s last two events, with Rollins and Reigns both no small part of that, and there’s little reason not to expect more of the same here.

Especially with the main event; an example of how great a challenger-of-the-month World title ecosystem can be. Nobody really expected Samoa Joe to attain the victory last month, but that he did has been refreshing. It’s been refreshing for the title scene; refreshing for Joe’s character; and refreshing for Lesnar too. Now, we have a major blockbuster Universal Championship match that is really going to make that red strap look like a prize. We can only live in hope that the theme of refreshment carries on through into the match itself, with the potential of Joe’s character being the one to break the now inert Suplex City formula that is in so desperate need of a rest. If they do, I can’t help but get excited at the increasingly likely prospect of experiencing a main event that will so readily come to remind me of the In Your House days I love so much: a classic, not of its time but of all time.

In Closing

In spite of its lacklustre build, then, I’m still looking forward to Great Balls of Fire, and I guess the primary reason is because I’m intrigued as to whether it will continue to essentially redevelop the MNR product into something that reminds me of my favourite time in WWE lore. If it doesn’t, so be it; we might still get a number of instant classics when you look at that card.

My main fear is that WWE are not yet again undone by their inability to maintain logical roster positioning, consistent character development and intriguing storylines. So often, this unholy trinity of failure proves to be the undoing of a WWE card stacked with talent. I will keep my fingers crossed. And I will hope that those New Gen inflections become more than just an interpretation on my part!

Let me know what your thoughts are on tomorrow’s card ahead of time, as well as what you are or aren’t looking forward to and why, down in the comments below or over on social media!

Don’t forget to pick up your copy of my book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, from the LOP Store today! Simply click on the icon on the left of our homepage to find a host of books and merchandise on offer, all courtesy of LOP’s own!

For more of my thoughts on the rest of the show, and WWE in general, click here to add me on Facebook!

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