A sense of deflation is not ideal amongst WWE fans going into the biggest WrestleMania of all time.
But given its proximity – just four weeks away – Sunday’s Fastlane event, presented by the RAW brand, had a huge weight on its shoulders.
The best that can be said of Fastlane – and I’ve always thought that it sits far too close in WWE’s calendar to WrestleMania – is that it showcased the right talent, and planted seeds for storyline progression in the coming weeks and months.
The worst is, however, more noticeable. Milwaukee’s Bradley Centre witnessed two impressive winning streaks, those of Braun Strowman, yet to be pinned or submit, and Charlotte Flair, until now undefeated on pay-per-view, come to unnecessary and anti-climactic endings.
Fastlane, considered by fans and WWE officials a ‘B’ show, was not the right platform on which to halt the progress of two rising stars.
That is not to say that Strowman and Flair have been irreparably damaged by their respective defeats to Roman Reigns and Bayley.
Charlotte remains the best women’s wrestler in the company and Strowman has huge potential as the product’s only credible monster.
Clearly, though, WWE wanted Reigns to look strong heading into WrestleMania, where it is rumoured he will face The Undertaker.
“Sunday night’s event produced a painfully predictable main event… 22 seconds in total”
Fans will have seen his victory coming, but what made the whole thing worse was the lack of surprises in the match. It wasn’t spot-filled enough and, in defeat, Strowman didn’t look as convincing as his recent run suggested.
Flair will surely have a place in WrestleMania’s fatal-fourway match for the women’s title, set also to feature Nia Jax, Bayley and Sasha Banks.
It is likely that she will not drift too far from the championship picture, given her talent and popularity with fans. Banks’ match with Jax was slow and a little sloppy; I blame Jax for her stiff, methodical style.
Sunday night’s event also produced a painfully predictable main event. It was clear that either Brock Lesnar or Chris Jericho would interfere in Kevin Owens’ Universal title defence against Goldberg.
But obvious time constraints (thanks to the addition to the card of two unannounced matches) told fans that the show’s final bout would be short. And it was – 22 seconds in total.
I did not want Owens to lose the belt. He is a much younger talent who has been on an incredible run of late. Goldberg is in the twilight of his career at 48, and since it was confirmed that Lesnar would be his WrestleMania opponent anyway, he did not need a belt to add any value to such a marquee match.
“Gallows and Andrews, are bland, and I can’t understand why WWE tag team gold remains around their waists”
Judging by the way he celebrated victory with his young son, the match felt like such a throwaway.
For Owens, the path ahead is clearly Jericho, a former partner whom he turned on mercilessly a few weeks back.
It was at least a pleasant surprise to see Jericho back on WWE duty; his absence from RAW the past few weeks has been glaring.
I think the two will have a stellar match in Orlando at WrestleMania 33, and having him screw Owens in his title defence provides a more heated backdrop to their feud.
There were few particularly interesting things to take away from this year’s Fastlane.
The return of a 375lb Big Show was nice to see, the fans clearly into his new look, though this could possibly be due to the knowledge that his current run will be his last in WWE after almost 20 years with the company.
I wasn’t a fan of the manner in which he beat a much younger Rusev, but if WrestleMania is his final match, he must go in with solid momentum behind him. The break-up of Rusev and Jinder Mahal wasn’t going to be anything other than a mild understatement.
Enzo and Cass, whom I have come to like immensely, continued their losing streak in pay-per-view matches, which is shocking when one considers the excitement generated by the duo.
Their opponents, Gallows and Andrews, are bland by comparison and I can’t understand why WWE tag team gold remains around their waists. It is possible that a split for the former is in the works, but that does not mean a title run cannot work.
Lack of charisma
Even the opening contest, a decent match between Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe, couldn’t allow me to rate this PPV event at any more than two stars.
“If this is the Fastlane to WrestleMania, then I’d suggest we find a side route…”
Both men are undoubtedly technically gifted, but lack the charisma to really, fully integrate a crowd with a match.
Joe’s victory was made predictable by his recent introduction to WWE Television, and his relative freshness makes the crowd’s lack of investment into him somewhat odd.
In fact, ‘somewhat odd’ aptly summarises Sunday night’s show.
The wrong superstars were stunted just weeks before the biggest show of the year.
A part-timer, who has contributed just 48 seconds of match time since his return in the autumn, has been rewarded with a major championship run, and WWE insists on putting its lower-card belts on talent who just aren’t managing to capture the excitement of the live crowd.
If this is the Fastlane to WrestleMania, then I’d suggest we find a side route…