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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business: Great Balls of Fire 2017 - The Performance Art Review
By Samuel 'Plan
Jul 12, 2017 - 6:36:28 PM

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


I suppose three in a row was always a big ask for a company like WWE, right?

I don’t mind saying from the off that I was left bitterly let down by Monday Night Raw’s (MNR) latest offering on pay-per-view, Great Balls of Fire. I had been filled with dread the moment the name was announced; more so when it became clear they were following a bizarre 1950s theme in the presentation, completely at odds with…well…everything else. I staved it off, however, in lieu of the last two excellent pay-per-view efforts put forth by the flagship brand and remained optimistic about the inherent potential of the card.

It was a potential that went unrealised.

I wrote in my Performance Art Preview that, due to the lack of story development heading in, there were matches on the card that simply had to deliver, and unfortunately I found few of them even met expectations, let alone exceeded them. Though, there were some bright spots too; including a tremendous opener that only gets better upon repeat, and one of the most memorable promos I can remember for a long time.

As ever, my name is Samuel ‘Plan and this is the Performance Art Review of Great Balls of Fire 2017!

The Tag Team Revival is Officially Dead

Let me start with the negative: Great Balls of Fire 2017 (GBOF) seemed, to me, to be the final death knell for any hopes we fans might have once harboured, however briefly, for a tag team revival to follow in the footsteps of the Women’s Revolution.

Thanks to yet another outstanding hype package ahead of the entrances, and most certainly thanks to a raw, honest, heartfelt and emotional promo from Enzo that demonstrated just how big an upside for him his oratory skills really are, any cynic when it comes to the split of the Realest Guys in the Room could be forgiven for thinking twice right before bell time.

Alas, then Big Cass’s music hit. Cass emerged to generic monster music, with a generic wrestler look, espousing generic trash talk in the ring during what became a generic squash match. With the role of monster a cluttered marketplace already on MNR, and little other than the short-term wave of interest being ridden by Cass on the back of his team’s split to set him apart from the rest of those occupying that marketplace, it was an undercard bout that only cemented my fears that this move will prove to be for the worse; for Cass; for Enzo; for the tag division; and for MNR.

Saddened already when it came to the evolving state of tag wrestling on MNR, then, my consternation was only further exacerbated by the championship Iron Man bout that followed, wrestled between “The Bar” and the Hardy Boyz. While one might admire its opening gambit and the sudden explosion of urgency at the close, it was, for the most part, underwhelming. At its worst, it wasn’t just generic; it was eye-scrapingly ordinary. The first ten minutes watch as any other tag match, only unbearably prolonged, while the majority of falls, certainly in the first half, prove anti-climactic.

And so the match goes for its entire duration, with little storyline development to lend context, total absence of character beyond the two-dimensional caricatures of good guys and bad guys and a distinct lack of singular personality to set it apart from the hundreds of other narratively identical tag bouts we witness on the main roster every single year. While urgency – otherwise lacking throughout in the performances – is ratcheted up in the final five minutes, any good done there is quickly unravelled thanks to the irritatingly stupid final fall. Listening to Cole afterwards proclaiming it, preposterously even by his own standard, as one of the greatest thirty minute matches you are going to see anywhere threatens only to elevate the foul mood felt by anyone intolerant of such unimaginative work.

Combine that Iron Man Match with the generic squash that came before it, and you are likely to be left with only three words on your lips: where’s the Revival? The Iron Man bout felt very much like a match that should have been saved for them because, as it was, it paled in comparison to the 20-plus minute bouts The Revival compiled consistently in NXT. That, instead, the opportunity was handed to the embarrassing Sheamus and Cesaro, and the frankly over-the-hill Hardyz, with a prelude in the aforementioned split of the Realest Guys in the Room, in the end provides any viewer only with the unassailable realisation that the tag team revival, and all its hopes for reviving tag wrestling as a variable art form in WWE, is officially dead.

Forget Finn; What About Neville?

For the first time on an MNR exclusive PPV, the Cruiserweight Champion Neville was bumped down into pre-show territory, presumably to facilitate more time for the bore of a tag title bout instead. The King of the Cruiserweight’s absence was keenly felt, leaving a gap on the show that both the tag division and women’s division failed outright to plug. That Neville’s absence was so noticeable is testament to his invaluable contributions to the MNR product since his return late last year.

His match against Tozawa might not have been his best outing, and certainly once again demonstrated how much a lack of robust storyline development can detract from match quality when compared to the Aries matches throughout Spring, but there was much to admire about it all the same. In fact, any fan waiting on 205 Live to deliver more of the CWC style of “More is More” match would likely find Tozawa’s challenge to be, in their eyes, a step in the right direction. The mixing of pace, that contrasted Neville’s grind against Tozawa’s explosiveness, and the mixing of personality, that contrasted a feral Neville with a charismatic Tozawa, worked in tandem with a whiplash-inducing aesthetic to create a content-driven and exhilarating piece of work; it was different, but not necessarily for the worse. Some might be put off only by its creatively minded conclusion, but for the storytelling lover that conclusion should only further bolster an already effortless outing from Neville.

That it did not take place on the main card was a shame; a noticeable shame.

What was not so, however, was the absence of Finn Bálor. The Demon has now missed two MNR exclusive pay-per-views and it is quite telling that neither particularly suffered for his lack of attendance. At GBOF in fact, he did not even appear on the pre-show. Some might argue his presence would have served both Payback (where he was limited to a pre-show chat show appearance with the Miz) and GBOF for the better, but that WWE seem comfortable in affording him a night off does not provide a glowing endorsement of his contributions since his return from injury.

It seems apparent at this stage that Finn Bálor continues to benefit from a corporately driven hype machine with no real evidence to back up the claims being made about him; constantly. There are bigger personalities and better in-ring track records; in abundance. Ironically, the character is guilty of crimes so often levied at the likes of, say, Roman Reigns or John Cena. This is the exact opposite of Neville, who, in any decent meritocratic company, will soon have his outstanding contributions recognised and afforded a privileged spot that he has, quite honestly, more than earned.

When confronted with a situation where Neville has outgrown his own spot and Bálor has failed to grow at all, and where one is noticeable by his absence and the other is not, and where one continues to be apparently taken for granted and the other over-marketed, the only logical conclusion seems to be to swap the two around. It is high time Neville was given a chance to mix his lot in on the main roster, and Bálor may only benefit from being slotted into a smaller talent pool to see if he can rise to the occasion as Neville so undeniably has.

The One That Delivered

I could conclude by writing about the Ambulance Match, that like many other matches last Sunday night was, once again, awfully generic. I could conclude by writing about the main event, that quite honestly disappointed me with its at times clunky, at times awkward, at times clichéd content, in spite of its impressively committal opening. I want to do neither; because both disappointed me.

In the interest of ending on a positive, I will instead focus on the opening match of GBOF’s main card. In a strange way, the curtain jerker wrestled between Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt was a microcosm for the entire show. Just as was the case across the board, theirs was a match with no robust story development underpinning it, and the demand for them to deliver was therefore a heavy one. Unlike elsewhere across the card, however, Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt bucked the trend that would evolve last Sunday night by doing just that: delivering.

The first time around, their twelve minute encounter was a charming if somewhat basic watch. The second time around, it revealed its true self as a fiercely creative opener. It’s unlikely to make Match of the Year (MOTY) honours come December, but there’s no taking away from its accomplishments all the same.

Those accomplishments come on a multitude of levels. Firstly, there is the creative content, so seemingly focussed on being original. From fleeting moments like Wyatt launching Rollins face first into the ring steps before ploughing him into the barricade, to larger set-pieces, such as the superplex counter to the attempted sunset flip powerbomb, the Kingslayer and the Eater of Worlds wrestled a match that, at times only they could wrestle with each other, at others did enough to set itself apart from the pack. Put simply, it was a match singularly informed by their individual characters and in-ring approaches; not something we see enough of in WWE today. It was so entrenched in character, in fact, that Wyatt even attacked Rollins’ knee at one stage, in a lovely and greatly appreciable moment of long term character continuity.

This was a match as brutally minded as it was creatively so. Look to moments like Rollins being planted into the ring canvas, or being near-decapitated by a Wyatt clothesline, or striking back at Wyatt with an offensive flurry of the same feral nature that came to the forefront at WrestleMania opposite Triple H, and you could be mistaken for thinking this to be exactly the kind of match it was criticised for not being going in: the pay-off to a well developed blood feud storyline. The prospect of what they could do once that storyline is put in place, therefore, becomes mouth-watering.

Best of all, however, was the final outcome. Rollins is a character seeking to endear himself, and a character heavily established thanks to his relationship with Triple H. A loss for him here was a perfect choice. Wyatt is a character seeking to re-establish himself, and one in desperate need of once again eliciting a sense of threat among WWE’s top echelon. His win – and more importantly his dominating performance that carried such presence Sunday night – was exactly the kind of treatment his character requires.

This one, I hope, is far from over. Together, even without an iota of interesting story behind them, they compiled a hit by delivering a compelling story in the ring; and for my money it was the only outright success of the night. Fingers crossed they’ll get an even more compelling rematch in the weeks to come, with a better fleshed out narrative to inform the action and generate greater stakes for their clashes.

In Closing

MNR’s unblemished run lasted only two pay-per-views in the end, thanks to a generally disappointing outing last Sunday night at Great Balls of Fire. Beyond those matches mentioned above, we received a forgettable Women’s Championship Match that whiffed of the insecure desperation that is now a hallmark of most Sasha Banks matches – all of which seem to be stuck in the point-proving territory of 2015 while the rest of the world has moved on – and a strong if uninspiring Intercontinental Championship rematch between Miz and Ambrose too. Neither warranted much comment.

Having watched Backlash 2000 in between my two watches of last Sunday’s show, the difference made by under-developed storyline up and down a card was striking. Where Backlash never ceased to entertain from its first minute and utilised even simple little stories to elevate the most minor match’s quality, GBOF peaked with its first two matches, that survived by delivering on the night, only for the show to slide downhill from there.

Hopefully, then, MNR can correct its course as we head into the third Big Four event of the year, Summerslam. But until then, share your own thoughts on last Sunday’s show, and my thoughts of it, down below or 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 here to find a mine and a host of other 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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