Despite its silly name, the card for Great Balls of Fire has every appearance of becoming one of the best WWE pay-per-view events of 2017. Five title matches, an ambulance match and a grudge match between tag team partners has set the stage for Raw to make a big statement in their last pay-per-view before SummerSlam.
As the night rolls on, Tim Fiorvanti recaps the action match-by-match, in real time, and ESPN Stats & Information's Sean Coyle provides in-depth ratings for each contest on a one-to-five scale.
Brock Lesnar (c) def. Samoa Joe
A complete recap of this match can be found here.
Ambulance match: Braun Strowman def. Roman Reigns (16:35)
Braun Strowman picked up a stunning victory over Roman Reigns, but that became little more than an afterthought after a postmatch moment that, like a few other moments in the Strowman-Roman Reigns rivalry, evoked some of the most memorable moments of the Attitude Era.
After a spear attempt sent Reigns hurtling into the back of an ambulance, allowing Strowman to shut the doors and pick up the victory, the moment was short-lived. Reigns threw open the doors, speared Strowman to the ground, slammed the doors on Strowman several times, and then sent Strowman into the back of the ambulance and jumped into the driver seat.
Reigns tore off into the backstage area with the ambulance, and then reversed at full speed to cause the cab of the ambulance to crash into one of WWE's production trailers. As other emergency crews were called into service, and Reigns stumbled away, an impromptu match saw Heath Slater beat Curt Hawkins on a split screen while everything was going on backstage.
After the jaws of life were able to pry open a door, Strowman fought off EMTs trying to help him, and tried to walk away under his own power. He crawled and stumbled until he could right himself -- battered and bloodied and hobbled -- but he walked away nonetheless. The consequences should come on Monday, but the match, and this moment, served as another epic chapter in this ongoing rivalry.
The back-and-forth for most of this match was familiar, and entertaining. For much of the early stages, Reigns fought with everything he had, but ran into a proverbial brick wall at every turn. He ate a reverse choke slam, a running power slam, and got slung over Strowman's shoulder on multiple occasions.
But Reigns, as he always does, defied the odds with great feats of strength. He hit a dead-lift one-armed Samoan drop, a drive-by dropkick to the elbow, several elbow strikes on the ring post and a pair of chair shots with the elbow wedged against the ring post.
But as the chair shots continued, Strowman hulked up -- he no-sold a chair-shot to the shoulder, and then a second to the other arm.
"Hit me you son of a b----," screamed Strowman, before grabbing the chair out of Reigns' hands and tossing him into the ring barrier yet again.They fought up the ramp and teased a table spot that never happened, but Strowman sent Reigns, like a lawn dart, into the side of the ambulance once again.
Reigns slammed Strowman into the door twice, hit a couple of superman punches, but simply could not do enough to subdue the giant. Strowman still nearly got Reigns into the ambulance, but he went full star fish to avoid it. Strowman pulled a backboard out of the back of the ambulance and beat Reigns with it, and then through him several feet into the air, sending Reigns back up onto the stage on the fly.
A spear/power-slam tease ended with Strowman getting thrown through the LED video wall at the edge of the stage, leaving a giant hole. Both men stayed down for a bit. Strowman shoved Reigns back down to the floor, and Strowman crawled behind him. Reigns nailed Strowman with a light, but as Strowman was poised at the open doors, a full-blown sprint meant to end in a spear cost Reigns the match.
The rest, as they say, was history.
Intercontinental championship: The Miz (c) def. Dean Ambrose via pinfall (11:20)
Despite some entertaining moments in recent weeks, the crowd reaction from an otherwise hot Dallas audience from the opening moments told you everything you needed to know about The Miz vs. Dean Ambrose. After months of feuding on multiple shows, having traded the title back and forth, any remaining steam behind an Ambrose-Miz rivalry has finally evaporated.
Ambrose instantly attacked Curtis Axel, trying to take out the numbers advantage, and then, after attacking Miz, took out Bo Dallas as well. But that momentum didn't last long, as a moment of Axel on the apron allowed for enough of a distraction to give The Miz control over the next five minutes. Ambrose countered a double axe-handle and hit a flurry of his own, capped by a top-rope double under-hook suplex.
Ambrose tweaked his knee, and fell into a Miz figure-four attempt, all the while bleeding from the mouth. The "it" kicks, as Miz now calls them, served as the turnaround point for Miz, as they've been since he stole them from Daniel Bryan for all the wrong reasons. The last kick missed, as it always does, and it took the introduction of all three members of the Miz-tourage to give Miz what he needed.
After a skull-crushing finale was reversed into a dirty deeds, Maryse put Miz's leg on the bottom rope to save him. A final distraction from Axel allowed Dallas to strike Ambrose and allow Miz to hit the skull-crushing finale to pick up the pinfall win. The victory was cheap, granted, but if it can be the end that allows Ambrose to say good riddance and move on, than this disappointing effort becomes far more valuable in retrospect.
Raw women's championship: Sasha Banks def. Alexa Bliss (c) via countout (11:40)
With just a few weeks gone by in this new rivalry, it seemed unlikely that the conflict between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks would be wrapped up into a neat and tidy bow so quickly.
With a title change seeming a bit sudden, and Banks unlikely to lose and carry on, the options were a bit limited. While a countout result was a bit tough to stomach, the aftermath of the match did as much, if not more, than the physical, impressive match that preceded it in building up the anticipation and animosity between champion and challenger.
The back-and-forth early on saw these still unfamiliar foes feeling each other out, but a dropkick that landed flush on Bliss' mouth sent the champion tumbling out of the ring -- an area she'd become quite familiar with by the end of the match. She ate one hit after another, and it looked bleak for the champion at times, but Bliss gave at least as good as she got. As the match carried on, fans were able to get a sense for just how far Bliss has come inside the ring -- and on this night, Banks and Bliss were equal parts responsible for a high-quality showdown.
As things played out, Bliss was all about counter-offense, distraction and running to the hills when she had to. She even pulled out an old secret weapon, her ability to dislocate her own elbow, as a well-executed plea for pity.
A backstabber seemed to set Bliss up early for a Banks statement, but Bliss once again retreated to ringside. "I'm the champ and I don't need this," Bliss shouted, as she started walking up the ramp. Banks ran out after her, and brought Bliss back to the ring, but once again Bliss took advantage again by pulling Banks' legs out from underneath her which sent her crashing back-first into the apron.
Double knees, a front-hand spring and a backflip into more knees into the back showed Bliss' clear objective in the matter. A modified bow-and-arrow with her knee in Banks' back continued the onslaught, and a crazy-looking whiplash backbreaker stopped any sign of a Banks comeback for the time being.
"Why won't you give up?" Bliss asked, slapping Banks in the face. That fired Banks up, as she hit a series of knees to the midsection and then suplexed Bliss into the turnbuckle. After a shining wizard. Bliss countered again, hitting a sunset flip powerbomb to set up Twisted Bliss from the top rope. However, Banks got her knees up, locked in the Banks statement in the middle of the ring, and appeared poised to win.
Bliss struggled and eventually got to the ropes, but Banks, clearly frustrated, had to be pried off of Bliss by the referee at the five count. It eventually became Bliss' one and only goal to get counted out, and in that, she succeeded. After thwarting a final Banks attempt to pull her into the ring, a slap sent Banks reeling and allowed the referee's count to reach 10.
Banks chased Bliss up the ramp and they battled near the announce table. After each got tossed into the video boards, Bliss was tossed to the floor below, and Banks hit her signature flying double knee attack from atop the table. These two are far from done, and whether or not Nia Jax gets involved on the way to SummerSlam, it seems the women's division has the central rivalry it's so desperately sought over the past couple of months.
Thirty-minute Iron Man match for the Raw tag team championships: Sheamus & Cesaro (c) def. The Hardy Boyz (4-3)
With 30 minutes and multiple falls to work with, The Hardy Boyz and Sheamus & Cesaro had every opportunity to produce something special. Within the opening seconds, it became clear that each team was ready to bring it creatively and physically throughout the contest.
After Cesaro charged Matt Hardy and rolled right out of the way, Sheamus hit a Brogue kick and just like that, in 17 seconds, Sheamus and Cesaro picked up a 1-0 fall lead. The Hardys briefly took control, but by and large, Sheamus & Cesaro took over. By isolating Jeff Hardy, and continuously keeping Matt from getting the tag, the defending champions picked up a second fall on Jeff with a tag team version of Sheamus' "White Noise."
After Sheamus missed a charge at Jeff, and fell out of the ring, Matt Hardy essentially snapped, hitting about 40 slams of Cesaro's head onto the turnbuckles.It started with the top one, and progressed down as Cesaro slipped farther and farther. With Sheamus still incapacitated, the Hardys hit their classic sequence on Cesaro -- Poetry in Motion, Side Effect, Twist of Fate -- and closed the score to 2-1 with the pin.
Even as Cesaro got a tag, Sheamus quickly fell back under the control of The Hardy Boyz's offense. After a springboard off of Jeff Hardy's back, chaos ensued on the outside, but before Matt Hardy could get back into the ring, Cesaro sent him into the ring post earned Sheamus & Cesaro a countout fall and a 3-1 lead.
Matt continued to get pummeled for more than five minutes, and even when he hit a desperation Side Effect on Sheamus, he couldn't pick up the pinfall.
It became a pattern -- Matt got pummeled by one partner, and the other would pull Jeff off the apron.
Matt finally got back to the friendly confines of his corner, Jeff tagged in, and as Matt set up a backslide pin attempt, Jeff hit a double leg drop into a deep pinfall attempt and earned the three count on Cesaro, closing the score to 3-2.
From the six-minute mark in, it was near-fall after near-fall as the Hardys kept trying to tie up the score. Each time they seemed to set it up though, that final fall would simply not come for the challengers -- up until the last three minutes. A moonsault from Matt didn't do it, as Cesaro came to Sheamus' aid, but a top rope Twist of Fate from Matt on Sheamus evened things up at 3-3.
Next, Jeff was perfectly positioned for a swanton bomb, but as Cesaro pulled Sheamus outside the ring, Jeff dove to the outside and took out both men. A flying elbow from two opposite corners led to another near-fall, and in the final seconds, chaos reigned.
Both Cesaro and Jeff got blind tags, but that didn't become clear until Jeff hit a swanton bomb on Sheamus, only to get sneak-attacked by the truly legal man with just 29 seconds remaining.
Cesaro rolled out of the ring and turned tail, and while he got caught by a Twist of Fate by a bloody-faced Jeff with three seconds left, there wasn't enough time left for a fall. Sheamus & Cesaro picked up a decisive victory, and as they appear ready to leave The Hardy Boyz in their rearview, they closed out a fun rivalry with these pairings' best match to date.
Big Cass def. Enzo Amore via pinfall (5:25)
Unless there were some serious shenanigans in play, the outcome to this match was clear from the moment the match was announced, but as much as the match was destined to be a physical destruction for the diminutive Enzo Amore, the moments before the match meant far more for him personally as a character.
For the third straight week, Amore pulled a potentially career-defining promo out from his soul and his past, based entirely around Frank Sinatra's "That's Life." He told his story along with the lyrics; "That's life, you're riding high in April, shot down in May, back on top in June." His multiple tattoos dedicated to the legendary Sinatra were one thing, but the emotion with which he spoke every single word of the promo connected him to the audience in a far, far deeper way than any popular catch phrase could have done for him.
He even challenged Big Cass to take his size 16s and stomp on his dream, because he wouldn't stop dreaming. "I don't sleep, because my real life is better than my dreams."
The glimmer of hope that fans got when Amore charged right at Big Cass, and dodged a few punches, was quickly dashed. He gets a few stray kicks and punches in, despite the odds, but each time he did Cass made him pay in triplicate.
After getting thrown back and forth between the turnbuckles, and tossed all over the ring, Amore got press slammed from inside the ring all the way to the floor. Amore got in just before the count out, but ate a big boot to the face, which gave Cass the pinfall win.
Where do we go from here? Who knows, but each of them has assets and flaws alike that could send them in any number of directions in the near-future. Each has shown signs of a bright potential, but the immediate post-breakup period will be key to each of their careers.
Bray Wyatt def. Seth Rollins via pinfall (12:10)
Like many others heading into this match, I allowed myself to fall into a familiar trap. Seth Rollins seemed to have all of the momentum on his side. Video game cover athlete, and every reason to pick up some big wins heading into the summer. It showed early on in his match with Bray Wyatt, too, but there was far more than meets the eye going on throughout the contest.
As soon as Wyatt hit a forearm on Rollins, who was mid-suicide dive, the feeling surrounded this match changed.
Each guy got some stiff shots in. Wyatt sent Rollins off the apron, head-first into the steel steps, into the ring barrier, a superplex. Wyatt hit Rollins with a massive lariat that turned Rollins inside-out, and got major height on his always-vicious Uranage.
Rollins gave as good as he got, though, with a successful suicide dive, a blockbuster, successful suicide dive, slingshot forearm and falcon arrow.
The pace of the match was strong, and the physicality, as mentioned, was on-point throughout. Even as it seemed as if Wyatt was getting too caught up in himself, screaming, "Fight me. This is what a man looks like. This is what a god looks like." Slapping Rollins, it was merely a trap. As Rollins fell into a fit of rage, sending Wyatt to the outside, the ref turned his back to contain Rollins and gave Wyatt an opening to hit a thumb to the eye.
A reeling Rollins was left prone for a Sister Abigail in the middle of the ring, and Wyatt picked up the somewhat unexpected, but valuable, 1-2-3. Expect this rivalry to carry on well beyond Great Balls of Fire.
Cruiserweight championship: Neville (c) def. Akira Tozawa via pinfall (11:40)
From the opening bell, the in-ring action and commentary synched up perfectly to tell the story of the evening -- an over-confident, arrogant champion in Neville. The champ got off to a quick start and dominated the first few minutes of action in every way, but upon returning from commercial break, Akira Tozawa really made his mark. A pair of lightning-quick suicide dives and an Octopus stretch in the middle of the ring were indicative of the distinctly different style Neville and Tozawa were allowed to use. This bout had the feel of a major indy match, something that's often lacking from a roster that would do far better if the symbolic restrictor plates were taken off.
The rest of the match had a distinctive back-and-forth to it. A missed second-rope Phoenix Splash led Tozawa to roll up Neville for a very close near-fall. A shining wizard set up a successful top rope flying senton, seemingly clinching the win for Tozawa, but Neville rolled out of the ring.
Neville crotched Tozawa on the top rope, just as he appeared to be setting himself up for victory again, and a second blow, a roundhouse kick below the belt, fully incapacitated the challenger and allowed Neville to pick up the victory.
Giving Neville the win via nefarious means leaves this conflict open-ended, and this rivalry could carry on into the summer -- and possibly all the way to SummerSlam. This match deserved better than the kick-off show, but with a stacked lineup that sees even Finn Balor on the sidelines, Neville and Tozawa did everything they could with the opportunity.