By Chuck Carroll
WWE’s Raw brand presents Great Balls of Fire this Sunday, its final pay-per-view before SummerSlam. This should begin setting in motion the storylines that will populate Monday night shows until fall. Eight matches are on the card, and a few of them could be tricky to figure out.
At the top of the list is the Ambulance Match between Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman. Strowman was supposedly penciled in to face Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam next month. However, Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer reports that match has been scratched in favor of Reigns vs. Lesnar. Interestingly, that match is also supposed to headline next year’s WrestleMania, according to Meltzer. If true, the outcome of the Reigns vs. Strowman match seems clear. But this is WWE, where all storylines are subject to change at the drop of a hat and often do.
Samoa Joe has been red hot of late and has really jelled well with the WWE Universe. His popularity has only grown since debuting earlier this year. Obviously, this is not lost on WWE, as he’s main-eventing a pay-per-view in a title match. The question becomes whether a loss to Lesnar on Sunday will squash Joe’s momentum. Or will he score a shocking upset? Time will tell.
Joining me to make picks as always are Scott Fishman, who recently got Natalya to give her top tips for taking the perfect selfie, and Aaron Oster, who got a chance to talk kendo sticks with Alexa Bliss.
Universal Championship Match
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Samoa Joe
Chuck: I would love to say that Joe is going to walk away victorious here, but given WWE’s reported plans, I just can’t see that happening. It’s also hard to envision this being any sort of squash match à la Goldberg vs. Lesnar. Instead, this one should be a bruising strong-style battle that gives viewers their $9.99 worth. Having a solid brawl will keep momentum rolling for Joe in a loss while putting Lesnar in a position to move forward with plans to face Roman Reigns or Braun Strowman at SummerSlam. Pick: Brock Lesnar
Scott: Brock Lesnar versus Samoa Joe has been the best-built match WWE has done in quite some time. They have protected Joe and portrayed him as a viable threat against Lesnar. That said, I don’t think many believe Joe comes out victorious with SummerSlam approaching. I just hope this opened some more eyes for WWE decision-makers to keep the Joe momentum going forward. There is more money to be made with Lesnar and Joe working against one another. Pick: Brock Lesnar
Aaron: They’ve done a fantastic job building Samoa Joe. He’s looked completely credible and a threat to Lesnar. It’s reached the point where if Joe managed to win on Sunday, while it would be a surprise, it wouldn’t be shocking or out of nowhere. That being said, I don’t see it happening. I just hope the match is done in a way to keep Joe’s credibility moving forward. Pick: Brock Lesnar
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Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
Chuck: This is the trick match on the card. Braun Strowman is on an absolute tear right now. WWE handed him one of the biggest “must see” moments of the year when he superplexed Big Show and broke the ring. He’s been successful crumbling the Roman Empire with the exception of the spear off the stage that closed the show on Raw this week. It’s hard to see Reigns in the main event of SummerSlam without a win here, but there is also plenty of time between now and August 20 to get him in the title picture. But… Pick: Roman Reigns
Scott: WWE has done a great job when it comes to Braun Strowman and his evolution in the past year. An injury sidelined the big man, but he hasn’t lost a step, and fell right back into a program with Roman Reigns. The company clearly has a plan for Strowman, meaning a definitive win over Reigns will help. Especially, if a Strowman – Lesnar showdown is around the corner. Pick: Braun Strowman
Aaron: Roman Reigns declared himself to be the #1 contender for SummerSlam. Nobody has really challenged that assertion on screen. Thus, it seems like they’re going forward with it. Add the fact that Braun Strowman won back in April, and it all adds up to a Roman Reigns win on Sunday. Pick: Roman Reigns
Raw Women’s Championship
Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks
Chuck: Alexa Bliss is still the darling of the Raw Women’s Division. With the exception of the “This Is Your Life, Bailey” segment, Ms. Bliss has consistently been masterful on the microphone and captivates the crowd. Sasha Banks has a strong following and garners a solid reaction when her music hits each week. Unfortunately for her, WWE appears to be moving full steam ahead with a Bliss and Nia Jax feud. I’d be stunned if that wasn’t the Raw Women’s title match next month. Pick: Alexa Bliss
Scott: I’m surprised WWE has gone with Alexa Bliss defending against Sasha Banks so soon. The story they seem to be setting up is Bliss facing Nia Jax, which is interesting considering each are really heels with Bliss getting cheered. Perhaps they can do an angle where Bliss promised Jax a title match if she helped her defeat Banks. Either way, I don’t see Bliss losing the gold. Pick: Alexa Bliss
Aaron: Alexa is walking out with the belt here. I’m quite convinced on that fact. She will likely win in a cheap fashion. However, a countout or DQ finish is also possible, which throws the winner into some doubt. Either way, expect a triple threat at SummerSlam with these two and Nia Jax. Pick: Alexa Bliss
Seth Rollins vs. Bray Wyatt
Chuck: Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt are two of the best talents on the WWE. Yet, this feud really hasn’t seemed to make much of an impact. There is no doubt that bigger things are on the horizon for both men. But as of right now, they’re in a holding pattern of sorts. Given that Rollins is on the cover of WWE 2K18 and featured in all advertisements for the game, it’s a smart move to keep him looking strong. Pick: Seth Rollins
Scott: Not really much new ground broken when it comes to the new chapter in Seth Rollins and Bray Wyatt. This is sure to be a solid match, but I’d expect some shenanigans or some hokey you know what. But when the dust settles, I’m going with Rollins. It’s a case of two former world champions in a holding pattern, so it’s kind of a toss-up for me who walks out the winner. Pick: Seth Rollins
Aaron: This match could go either way. The feud isn’t exactly hot right now, and there isn’t a clear direction for either superstar after this. I think Bray Wyatt could use the win a little more, so he can win it here. Maybe if the match goes well, Rollins can get his win back at SummerSlam. Pick: Bray Wyatt
The Miz (c) vs. Dean Ambrose
Chuck: The Miz is still doing his best work in years. Normally, a storyline where a couple have on-screen feathers being ruffled doesn’t do much. This time around, however, it’s different. Maryse has brought a lot to the table and has proven that although she’s not wrestling, she can more than hold her own. The drama between the real-life husband and wife will be ratcheted up a notch at WWE Great Balls of Fire. And that doesn’t look good for Miz’s chances of retaining the Intercontinental Title, Miztourage or not. Pick: Dean Ambrose
Scott: There is clearly some trouble in paradise with The Miz and Maryse. I’m going to go with Ambrose winning with Maryse somehow costing Miz the Intercontinental championship. That could then be the catalyst for even more dissension now that Miz has his Miztourage. Of course, I could be completely wrong, and the happy couple could be staying together. Given WWE history, that may not be the case. I’ve loved Miz as the IC champ and think he is an important part of the roster. That said, I think he might have even more to give in the main-event scene down the line. Pick: Dean Ambrose
Aaron: Everything about this screams that The Miz should win. The one odd thing is Maryse seemingly moving away from Miz, and then coming back with no mention of it. Could that lead to a bigger breakup moment on Sunday? I could see it. But, the title picture is better going into SummerSlam if Miz is holding the title. So he should win. Pick: The Miz
Raw Tag Team Championship: 30-Minute WWE Iron Man Match
Cesaro and Sheamus vs. The Hardy Boyz
Chuck: Man alive, I do hope eventually we’ll see the Broken gimmick in WWE. Depending on who you ask, The Hardyz and Anthem Media, owners of Impact… check that, Global Force Wrestling, are close to reaching a settlement that would allow the gimmicks to be relinquished. The best way to bring in Broken Matt and Brother Nero would be to have The Hardyz come up short for the titles again and again. Even if that’s just a pipe dream, they’re still not going to win here. Pick: Cesaro and Sheamus
Scott: I don’t like seeing championships playing hot potato, and I like the duo of Sheamus and Cesaro. That is why I’m going with the duo to retain. The Hardy Boyz don’t need the titles, as they are already over with the fans, and there is more juice for them to squeeze in the chase. Look for this one to be a potential show-stealer, considering the two-out-of-three fall stipulation. Pick: Cesaro and Sheamus
Aaron: Even though this feud has been going since WrestleMania, I expect it to last at least one more month. After all, who else can even challenge for the belts in August? The Revival? They’re not challenging Sheamus and Cesaro. So, what’s the easiest way to make that happen? Have the Hardys win. A draw is possible, but it’s hard for me to see Sheamus and Cesaro win definitively here. Pick: The Hardyz
Enzo Amore vs. Big Cass
Chuck: The split between Enzo and Cass has been coming for months. I’m honestly surprised it’s taken WWE this long to pull the trigger. The buildup has been phenomenal, and Enzo’s promos have been brilliant. We’ve actually gotten to see a slightly new side to the little guy. Some of the powers that be in WWE have eyed Cass as a big-time singles star for a while. With him just breaking out on his own, there is a zero (dimes) chance that he’ll walk away with a loss. That and the feud between these two won’t be settled in one match. They have years of history together. Pick: Big Cass
Scott: This is a crossroads of a match in many ways for Big Cass and Enzo Amore. I’m sure they will work hard to tell a compelling story, knowing how important it will be in their singles’ careers. Enzo and Cass have done well in building this match, even though the first bout between the two could have taken place at SummerSlam. There was still room to elevate the intensity. I can see Cass defeating Enzo here in some dastardly way. Knowing WWE, this will probably be the first in a series of confrontations. Pick: Big Cass
Aaron: This feud clearly isn’t ending here. The question is simply this. Do they have the rematch at SummerSlam? If so, expect an Enzo win via rollup, or something similar. If it goes longer, expect a Cass win, and then potentially a different opponent at SummerSlam, like Big Show, before wrapping up the feud in the fall. I’m leaning towards the latter. Pick: Big Cass
WWE Cruiserweight Championship (Kickoff Match)
Neville (c) vs. Akira Tozawa
Chuck: While some may disagree, Titus Worldwide has been refreshing. It breathed new life into Titus O’Neil’s character while also putting the spotlight on Apollo Crews and Akira Tozawa. But that storyline can continue handsomely without a Tozawa win. More importantly, WWE is going to want its biggest name to hold the title heading into the second biggest pay-per-view of the year. And Tozawa isn’t it. Pick: Neville
Scott: Neville has done well in the position WWE has put him in as the “King of the Cruiserweights.” I see his dominance continuing against Tozawa. One of the bright spots on “205 Live” has been Tozawa and how he has resonated with the audience, associating with Titus O’Neil. However, the fact of the matter is there is nobody right now over enough to take the championship from him. Maybe a rejuvenated Austin Aries or a new hot face to enter the mix will get the job done? Pick: Neville
Aaron: Neville didn’t just beat Aries three times in a row to lose to Akira Tozawa. I like Tozawa, but he doesn’t quite have the support of the crowd yet. I do expect the win to be in a way that lets this feud continue though. Pick: Neville
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.