The WWE's "Great Balls of Fire" suggested that not even a car wreck can seriously sideline Braun Strowman.
This week in WWE was dictated by events on the weekend. Normally, title belts only change hands on television or on pay-per-views, but on Saturday night in Madison Square Gardens, only the audience in the arena saw A.J. Styles beat Kevin Owens for the U.S. Title. On Sunday, the poorly named "Great Balls of Fire" pay-per-view (which would have been cool if it actually involved fire or fireballs) gave us a high impact brawl between Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe that Lesnar won, and an ambulance match between Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns that had two ends. After 20 minutes of Strowman seeming impervious to all but Reigns’ attacks with a folding chair on Strowman’s previously injured elbow, Strowman won when he sidestepped a spear and let Reigns throw himself into the ambulance.
Afterwards, Reigns got Strowman in the back, drove the ambulance into the backstage parking, then crashed it ass-first into a truck. But not even a car accident could stop Strowman, who staggered away from the wreckage bellowing like a wounded ox.
Monday night on Raw, the Roman Reigns dilemma remained. You’d think trying to blow up a guy’s injured elbow and then the guy himself would complete the transition to Reigns as a heel, but no. Instead, he remained a tweener as he announced himself as Brock Lesnar’s opponent at SummerSlam—full of himself, confident, not dickish. When Samoa Joe joined Reigns and Lesnar in the ring, he got the hero pop from the crowd, and he deserved it. His style and attitude is pure heel, but the intensity he brings to everything he does makes him the guy you want to root for. Next week, Joe and Reigns will battle to see who’ll meet Lesnar at SummerSlam, and while I’m not usually a fan of big guy matches, the two of them promise an entertaining 15 to 20-minute battle.
After weeks of grousing about the Hardy Boyz, we may finally have some resolution. As I suspected last week, losing the 30-minute Iron Man match against Cesaro and Sheamus started to break the Hardys, and Monday in a segment Matt began to tease the return of his “Broken” persona. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows came out to kick them while they were down, challenged them to a match and won. While the beaten Hardys were still on the matt, The Revival rushed into the ring to further inflict damage. The next time we see them, all that damage should have broken the Hardys, and they’ll return in their more eccentric, extremely stylized incarnations.
The other highlight this week on Raw was a rematch of last week’s women’s tag team with Bayley and Sasha Banks against Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax. Bliss and Banks’ feud gained some heat Sunday night at "Great Balls of Fire" when Bliss ended what had been a good match and her best showing at Raw as an in-ring performer until she left the ring and sat down until she was counted out. Since title belts don’t change hands on a count-out, she conceded the match but kept her title. I love her gimmick as the person who wins by fighting as little as possible because those wrestlers never get the kind of confusing crowd reactions Reigns gets. People who paid good money for matches hate to see someone leave the ring whether to stall or to lose.
Monday night’s match was fine with a couple of notable moments in the end. Jax went to knee Sasha Banks’ skull against the barricade the way she decommissioned Bayley last week. Is this the sign of a more vicious Nia Jax? It would be good for her character to be both powerful and mean. And Bayley got out of the doghouse and pinned the distracted Bliss with a roll-up. Since these four women have been parts of each others’ stories for the last few months, Bayley needs to be stronger if she’s going to be a legitimate ongoing part of this story.
Tuesday night on Smackdown Live, A.J. Styles brought his new title belt to the ring and announced that he would defend it every time he walked in the ring, and that anyone in the back was free to come out and try to take it from him. That brought out John Cena, and while the two took the measure of each other in the ring, Kevin Owens came out to challenge Styles and Rusev sneak-attacked Cena from behind. That dust-up led to a tag team match with Styles and Cena against Owens and Rusev. Styles and Cena won, but the match had two takeaways. One: Cena rarely wrestles tag team and you could see it. Wrestling is not about subtlety, but the back rows didn’t need a video screen to see the hugely oversold anguish on his face as Owens and Rusev prevented Styles from tagging him into the match. Dial it down, dude. And two: we’re seeing the building of Styles as one of the WWE’s biggest stars. His dance with Cena will likely continue at SummerSlam, and when he wins there, Cena will give Styles his thumbs-up as a stand-up guy and top-flight wrestler.
Other than that story, little moved forward on Smackdown Live this week. Jinder Mahal beat Tye Dillinger then promised that next week, he’ll bring the Punjabi Prison with him that he and Randy Orton will fight in at "Battleground." The whole show & tell vibe of that promo undercut the menace it was supposed to convey. Baron Corbin and Shinsuke Nakamura were scheduled to meet in the ring, but the match didn’t get that far as the two started brawling first on the ramp and then in the crowd. The moment sold the depth of their hostility toward each other—something I’m not sure was necessary since Corbin’s good at selling hostility at all times—but the whole sequence was a little too purpose-driven to really pay off.
After this week’s Smackdown Live, I watched G.L.O.W. for more genuine entertainment.