With less than a month before April 2nd and WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, things are heating up on both Raw and SmackDown. However, while the blue brand delivered a compelling performance at Elimination Chamber, the Raw crew just completed a disastrous affair with Fastlane.
The booking at last Sunday’s event was so bad that many WrestleMania feuds are now somehow less compelling than they were before the show. The whole point of a show like Fastlane is to increase the momentum for the brand heading into the biggest show of the year. While the Fastlane lineup looked solid on paper, stunningly bad booking caused the event to be more of a hurdle than a ramp.
Going through the card match by match, it’s easy to see how WWE could have capitalized on this event, even without changing too many of the outcomes.
Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn – For the most part, WWE got this one right. Joe looked dominant in his inaugural WWE pay-per-view debut, and Zayn was, well, Zayn. There are few superstars in the business who can sell like Zayn, and he was on his game Sunday. The only real downfall here was that the match lasted under 10 minutes. If WWE had ditched the utterly useless bouts between Rusev and Big Show and Jinder Mahal and Cesaro, more time could have been given to this match. I won’t even get into New Day’s empty ice-cream bike.
Gallows and Anderson vs. Enzo and Cass (Raw Tag Team Championship) – WWE came very close to ruining Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson by putting them in lame comedy skits early in their run. Lately, they’ve booked the tag champs somewhat better, making them seem dangerous and opportunistic. However, Gallows and Anderson escaped with the titles after their match with Enzo and Big Cass at Fastlane by cheating, once again. Anderson had Enzo pinned in the corner, but Amore got a boot up on the ropes before the three count. Gallows swatted Enzo’s foot off the ropes, and the champs squeaked out another win. I understand that there’s a need to make Enzo and Cass legitimate threats, but it can be done without making the champs look like they need to cheat to win. This is another match that could have benefitted from a bit more time – allowing Cass and Enzo to pose a legitimate threat, but eventually fall to the champs. Instead, the bookers took the easy way out, and neither team is stronger for it.
Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax – This was an utter disaster. Banks beat Jax clean with a rollup in roughly eight minutes. Admittedly, this wasn’t the smoothest match, but Jax has been booked as a beast. She should never, ever lose on such a pedestrian move. Some reports on Monday stated that Banks botched the finish, and was supposed to have grabbed the ropes after the rollup, to protect Jax a bit. Since that didn’t happen, you have your resident “monster” losing to a move that wouldn’t work in a junior-high club match. At the very least, Jax should have beaten Banks down after the match. Nothing here made sense.
The Whole Rusev/Mahal Debacle – This would have been a groan-inducing segment on a regular edition of Monday Night Raw. It had no place on a pay-per-view. Rusev and Mahal weren’t really over as a heel tag team, but there was still hope for them. There didn’t appear to be any legitimate reason to break them up, particularly with no buildup whatsoever. Then, to have them both wrestle and lose makes the duo even weaker than they were before. This shouldn’t have been on the show. If WWE wanted to break the pair up, they should have put them in a match with Cesaro and Sheamus, let them lose, and then teased the breakup for Raw the following night.
Neville vs. Jack Gallagher (WWE Cruiserweight Championship) – This was the best match of the show, and it was also the best-booked match of the show. Neville retained the title with a bruising performance that made both the champ and Jack Gallagher, the challenger, look stronger. They gave this match about 12 minutes, which is just about right for anything not in the main event circle. Gallagher posed a legitimate threat to Neville, and Neville took some major bumps before winning clean over a game challenger. Both men looked like warriors after this match, and Neville might be the best-booked champion in WWE at this point. Give credit where credit is due, WWE wasn’t afraid to put the smaller athletes on display, and the cruiserweights delivered big time.
Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns – After two years of portraying Strowman as an unstoppable beast, WWE rolled him under the Roman Reigns Express at exactly the wrong time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of the seemingly millions of Reigns haters out there. I think Roman has a great look, delivers excellent matches just about every time out, and has a long future ahead as one of the best performers of his generation. However, WWE seems absolutely intent on making him the next coming of Super Cena. Reigns winning wasn’t the problem. Reigns overcoming an awesome Strowman onslaught and then pinning the giant clean was the problem. The fans aren’t buying it. Reigns is no more over than he was before, and Strowman is left with no direction. The best booking of this match, if WWE wants to keep Reigns a babyface, would have been for the match to be No DQ. Then, Reigns can take a tremendous beating, snap, and attack Strowman with a chair or a table or a stick or the broken body of James Ellsworth. The fans might have even appreciated Reigns resorting to whatever it took to get a win. Even better, WWE could have put Strowman over after a hard-fought contest, and highlighted just how valiantly Reigns fought before finally losing. Then, have Roman get a chair, etc. and exact some revenge. Hopefully, Roman getting chokeslammed by the Undertaker on Monday was the beginning of a heel turn. I’m not sure what they’ll do with Strowman.
Bayley vs. Charlotte (WWE Women’s Championship) – Everything here was broken. Charlotte lost her record pay-per-view streak. Bayley lost her squeaky-clean persona, and logic was a tragic victim of this booking. I understand that Charlotte’s winning streak at PPV events had to end eventually, if only to keep things from being predictable. I also understand that WWE wanted to keep the belt on Bayley to set up a multi-woman match at WrestleMania. There was a way to book this to keep all these things intact. Bayley and Charlotte had a solid, if not spectacular match. Having Sasha Banks run in to interfere makes sense, particularly if she’s going to turn heel at some point. So, book the match the same way, except, have Banks attack Charlotte, and cause Bayley to lose by disqualification. Charlotte’s streak is still intact, Bayley doesn’t look like she’s happy to win via shady means (but still remains champion), and Banks has taken a step toward the dark side. In terms of booking, it would have been easy to do, and so many storylines would still be in place.
Kevin Owens vs. Bill Goldberg (WWE Universal Championship) – No, no, no, no. Just….no. As I’ve said numerous times on this site, Goldberg vs. Lesnar at WrestleMania sells itself. There’s absolutely no need for the title to be on the line. While KO vs. Jericho for the U.S. title is a great match, and worthy of the Show of Shows, that bout needs to be for the Universal Title. Maybe even for both. Ramp up the stakes, and you’ve got yourself a main event for the ages. Instead, you’ve got a match that will likely steal the show, and it’s going to go on about an hour before the 2-minute Goldberg/Lesnar bout. You want to have Goldberg look strong? Fine, have Jericho actually come down to the ring and attack Owens, disqualify Goldberg, and have him spear and jackhammer both Jericho and KO. Goldberg still looks like a beast, and WWE isn’t left with a part-time champion after April 2. Since I advocated for a DQ finish to the Charlotte/Bayley match, that probably isn’t the way to go. Instead, have Lesnar come down to the ring and menace Goldberg from the apron. While Heyman capers around the ring, Goldberg stares down the Man Beast – allowing KO to launch a sneak attack, roll Goldberg up for the pin, and keep the belt. Then, Goldberg can spear and jackhammer everyone in the building and still have momentum headed into WrestleMania. Instead, WWE is faced with the problem of how to get the belt off of (presumably) Lesnar, and the marquee match for the biggest show of the year features two guys who aren’t good talkers and don’t work matches that last more than four minutes. Meanwhile, perhaps the best combo of worker and talker on the roster, Owens, will spend much of the summer elevating the U.S. title. (Not that it’s a horrible idea, but it’s still not the best use of KO.)
Fastlane was supposed to whet the WWE Universe’s appetite for WrestleMania 33. Instead, things are less exciting and more confusing than ever before. This had the potential to be a great show. Instead, it’s the worst PPV since the brand split, and maybe even longer than that.
Bonus – Jake’s Take of the Week – My son has been hoping and praying that the Hardy Boyz will make a return to WWE in time for WrestleMania. He was disappointed to see that they signed with ROH instead. However, rumor has it that Matt and Jeff Hardy’s contract with Ring of Honor runs out on April 1. Hmm. Jake thinks the Hardyz should show up at WrestleMania as….wait for it….the New Wyatt Family. In the words of Mike Mizanin, that would be AWESOME.