WWE Fastlane 2017 - Positives and Negatives Heading into Wrestlemania
It’s hard to write about Fastlane this year, and it doesn’t seem right to run down and rate the entire card. While there’s been a lot of skepticism surrounding WWE’s direction lately, most PPV shows have been mildly-pleasant surprises that end up surpassing low expectations. Fastlane was a pretty damn terrible show, with zero surprises and only slightly more decent matches. The main problem going in was the fact that the card was actually pretty well-stacked. The Cruiserweight title match, Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn, and Bayley vs. Charlotte all promised to be solid matches. And those three were hands-down the best things on the entire show, although only the former exceeded expectations to truly reach the level of excellence. The rest of the PPV was just shy of terrible, and some of the matches don’t even necessitate a recap or rundown. The real issue is the fact that this is the last PPV before Wrestlemania, and that event’s card is still way too up in the air for comfort. So, for this column, I’ll be looking at the negatives and positives from the show, as well as its impact on Wrestlemania as a whole.
Alright, no secret that this outweighs the positives by a large margin. Taking it from the top, the second match of the night was Gallows & Anderson vs. Enzo & Cass for the RAW Tag Titles. I’ll just come right out and say it: I’m not sold on Enzo & Cass. Their ring work leaves a lot to be desired, and I’m sick of their entrance going on as long as it does, covering the exact same ground each and every time. If the two cut down their entrance time, maybe RAW and PPVs wouldn’t quite hit a three-hour runtime. The match itself was far from great, although it did give Karl Anderson more time to shine than usual, and having the Club retain was the right call. Still, not a rivalry I’d like to see continue.
Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax was as unremarkable as everyone expected it to be, aside from Sasha’s surprise victory by roll-up. Coupled with Roman Reigns’ expected win over Braun Strowman, WWE shot down the momentum of their two top monster heels in a single swoop. Another feud that needs to end. They followed that up with two unannounced matches featuring the newly-split up Jinder Mahal and Rusev. The fact that they crammed two filler matches midway through a PPV essentially confirmed that Goldberg would squash Kevin Ownes in the main event. The matches were downright horrible, and I legitimately wondered what the hell I was watching.
In my notes, I didn’t even rate Reigns vs. Strowman, I was just so disinterested. And the thing is, I actually expected a decent showing. They’re both limited performers in-ring, but the feud at least made some sense. But Reigns stopping Strowman’s momentum did nobody any favors, and the fans rejected his going over as expected. So basically, Braun was toppled en route to Wrestlemania, which almost confirms that the Reigns vs. Undertaker match is on. Lucky us.
And then there’s the big one: Goldberg vs. Owens. People have been calling the result for a month now, and pissed off as I may have been when the word “squash” was thrown around, it turns out that was exactly the case. Jericho’s entrance distracting Owens meant nothing, as their grudge match was already one of the few sure things for Wrestlemania. What really upsets me is the fact that Owens is one of the best all-round performers on the roster, who was given the brand’s top prize on faith from Triple H. His title reign featured not a single PPV victory without interference, making him look ineffectual rather than a bullying, sharp-witted heel. And to top it all off, a past-his-prime part timer knocks him out in mere seconds to win the Universal Title for a match that is likely to last less than three minutes with Brock Lesnar. Having Goldberg win makes some sense on paper: he’s destroyed Brock in a matter of seconds twice since returning, and Lesnar is supposed to be the biggest, toughest badass in the entire company. To have Owens go over Goldberg, or even hold his own for a lengthy match would implicitly suggest that he’s tougher than Lesnar, and you can’t have that. So, what should have happened was an interference that led to a DQ, whether from Lesnar (they teased it with Paul Heyman appearing backstage), or Jericho (more than a brief entrance distraction). Instead, we got a predictable, awful “match” that will lead only to the two surefire feuds on the Wrestlemania card, and will inevitably sap them of their natural heat. Part timers don’t need the Universal Title to draw, and giving Owens the U.S. Title as a consolation prize only serves as a demotion in terms of his place in the company hierarchy.
With all of that out of the way, there were a few notable bright spots on the Fastlane card which deserve some mention. Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe have had a number of good matches against one another in the past, and their meeting Sunday promised more of the same. Interestingly, it was chosen to open the event, and ended up as the second-best match of the night. It was at least five minutes too short, and wasn’t given enough time to breathe, which definitely was a let-down. However, there were no sour notes whatsoever in terms of ring work, and Samoa Joe came out looking exactly like the type of destroyer WWE is pushing him as. Unfortunately, the submission finish was way too abrupt, with Zayn getting choked out in a matter of seconds. Even in loss, Sami is playing the part of the underdog perfectly, and when he does get his big comeuppance win (and there will be one in the near future), it will be that much more amazing a moment.
While most expectations held that Joe and Sami would have the match of the night, that spot was amazingly taken by the Cruiserweight Title match between Neville and Jack Gallagher. Neville and Gallagher blew everything since the CWC away, delivering a well-paced, exciting and genuinely unpredictable match. It was everything I had hoped the division would bring, and hands-down the best thing that’s been done in the division since the tournament. Neville looked fantastic as the dominant heel, and having him retain the championship was the right call. Gallagher, a personal favorite and undeniable standout from the tournament, pulled off some amazing work, and actually looked to have a chance of winning at several points. Most notably, the whole thing connected well with the live audience, which will hopefully inspire such high-quality work in the future. Sadly, it was all downhill from there, with Bayley and Charlotte’s match ending up as a decent, serviceable affair and little else. Plus, Charlotte’s PPV streak ended far too soon, as it should have extended at least until Wrestlemania.
State of Wrestlemania
Everything that happened at Fastlane looks to have little desirable impact on the Wrestlemania 33 card. On a positive note, it looks like Shaq vs. The Big Show has been nixed, which saves us all that waste of time. Most notable on the card, of course, is the next chapter of Goldberg vs. Lesnar, something which has been set for months now. With that kind of build, Lesnar’s crossover appeal, and Goldberg’s hype following his return to WWE, there didn’t need to be any belt on the line. This kind of match draws on its own, and people were planning to watch before Goldberg ever thought to challenge Owens for the Universal Title. The way I see it, Lesnar is going over in this one, simply to avenge his string of losses to Goldberg. That means that he’ll be the new Universal champ, as a part-timer, and the roster will have a hell of a time dethroning him. Which can only mean that another Roman Reigns title run is in the cards. Beyond all of that, there’s no chance in hell that the ‘Mania match will be anything approaching decent. Lesnar is a very good wrestler, when allowed to actually work, which hasn’t been the case for some time. Goldberg has never been able to truly wrestle, and his return has only emphasized this. He looks to be in great shape, but he always has, and it was common for him to get winded back in the day going over five minutes. Things aren’t looking good.
Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho actually has promise to be one of the better matches currently announced, but even that has some problems. The story and build between the two is fantastic, and they’re both two of the best all-round workers in the company. Problem is, the match should have been held with both the Universal and United States championships on the line. As it stands, it looks like Owens will win the U.S. belt from Jericho almost as a consolation prize, seeing himself demoted to midcard status.
Roman Reigns vs. the Undertaker is pretty much guaranteed, and that’s nothing to look forward to either. It seems unlikely that ‘Taker will halt Roman in his tracks given the talk of his imminent retirement. Which can only mean that he will go under in an effort to further boost Reigns’ stature. I don’t need to convince anyone that that would be a disaster, and would arguably go over worse than Reigns’ World Title win over Triple H last year. Regardless of the outcome, the match promises very little from an in-ring standpoint, and the only thing worse than pissing off that many fans is doing it after boring them to tears. There’s a chance that this one will work out alright for both of them, but I’m not expecting anything at all.
The triple-threat match between Sasha/Charlotte/Bayley will unquestionably be a good one. The issue here is that we’ve already seen this. At last year’s Wrestlemania, in fact, with two-thirds of the same lineup. Throwing a fresh face into the mix would be a good decision, but the biggest probability there is Nia Jax, who isn’t likely to impress on the big stage. It seems like this one can really only boil down to Charlotte winning the Women’s Championship back, with Sasha costing Bayley, or vice versa, and finally turning Banks. That would at least create a good opportunity for a grudge rivalry between the two allies (which was the case in NXT), and would allow all three women to move on from the constant title chase we’ve been subjected to all year. The SmackDown Women’s Title match looks to be a mess, with every wrestler in the division challenging Alexa Bliss for the title. This just highlights a big issue with the brand split, namely, there are simply too many performers and titles to give equal time and attention, meaning the importance of certain wrestlers and championships will continue to get muddled as the year goes on.
The tag team title matches look to be pretty unexceptional. Gallows & Anderson (RAW) and American Alpha (SD) are amazing teams, but it all comes down to their challengers and the amount of time they’re given to work. In the case of the former, if it does end up being Sheamus & Cesaro, the match should be pretty solid, if nothing game-changing. Alpha’s opponents are still up in the air, so that one really stands out as a question mark currently.
On the subject of tag matches, it seems like the intergender John Cena/Nikki Bella vs. The Miz/Maryse is on. Can’t say I’m looking forward to that one, or that I have any expectations whatsoever. God forbid we have a Wrestlemania card without John Cena. It certainly seems like a better idea to me than constructing a last-minute feud for him and Nikki just to fit them onto the card.
The main event was finally decided, and has the most intrigue and promise of all. After some back and forth indecision, Randy Orton finally turned on Bray Wyatt, and beat AJ Styles to secure the main event spot that was already his. While the initial misdirection en route to his feud with Bray seems somewhat unnecessary, this is one of the most interesting stories the company has done in a long time, and both are good enough wrestlers that things look very promising. Plus, word is that Bray is set for a long title run, and having him go over a tenured star like Orton would make him look fantastic. Should that actually be the case, 2017 looks to be a very promising one for Wyatt, and hopefully the fans.
A downside to this main event is the fact that AJ’s place on the card is now up in the air. Let’s all hope that the proposed match with Shane McMahon does not materialize, as that would be a horrible misuse of a fantastic wrestler.
As of now, there’s no word as far as plans for Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, or even Finn Balor’s likely return. Given that those three are some of the very best talents in the company at this time, and that makes things look a little off. Hopefully there’s a place for each of them, but the card is already looking a little bloated as it is. More important is to not give us another five-plus hour spectacle fraught with poor booking decisions and predictable outcomes.
And, to top it all off, Ravishing Rick Rude has been confirmed as a Hall of Fame inductee, at long last. So, that’s one definite perk for Wrestlemania weekend.