Tag Archives: Charlotte

Review – WWE Fastlane

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.

Painfully predictable

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.

Pleasant surprise

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.

Momentum

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…

On The Road With My NFL Team

Going on the road to watch your team in the NFL is a strange thing.

As with all the major sports in the USA, the distance between each team can be anything from sharing the same stadium, to travelling almost 3,000 miles across a single country and multiple states.

But the main difference is that the NFL is king in America, and travelling to see your team play away from home is more like a pilgrimage; it’s taken very seriously. And I didn’t realise that fully, until I flew from London to Charlotte to see my NFL team – the Green Bay Packers – play the Carolina Panthers away from the team’s home field.

The Panthers aren’t the most storied team in the NFL, having formed as part of the League’s expansion in 1995, but its fan base are about as passionate as the rest, despite it needing a bit of growth. Bank of America Stadium is also a really cool place to catch a game, if a little generic for a downtown stadium.

It seems to suit the team, the structure is new, and exciting, but lacks any character gained from a lengthy history.

None of that mattered though, as joining the thousands of Packers fans outside – who had also travelled an incredible distance to see the team play – made Charlotte feel like the streets surrounding Lambeau Field back in Wisconsin, proving that Pack fans really know how to make anywhere in the USA feel like a home from home.

Small market, big support

“Oh yeah, if the Packers come to town it’s always the biggest game for us,” said Adrian Green, a sales assistant at a sports retail store local to Bank of America Stadium.

“They just come in droves and it’s actually a real positive for our business round here. I mean, even the Panthers’ rivalry games don’t attract the same sort of support as the Packers, wherever they play, it seems like the entire fanbase converges on the city.”

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Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium

And he really wasn’t joking, as the tailgating scene surrounding the stadium was littered with people of all ages donning ‘Green and Gold’.

“Oh, it was only a 14 hour drive down,” said one Wisconsinite in a worn-out Packers jersey, while grilling a bratwurst beside his truck. “We try and do one game a year outside of Green Bay, it’s just really fun to see new places and cheer on the team as a road warrior.”

The pre-game festivities have become an essential part of every NFL gameday now, as everyone meets up and parties in the huge parking lots or bars near the stadium.

Back in Green Bay, Lambeau Field is quite segregated from the rest of Wisconsin and its major cities Madison and Milwaukee. It’s a small town, in the middle of an agrarian part of America; so gameday is a day which eight times a year, brings everyone together in celebration of the smallest market in the league.

Tailgating in the middle of a city is so different. Charlotte is very much cosmopolitan, and densely populated, so the areas where fans party are tightly packed and spread out. It didn’t detract from the experience though, as per usual, I was constantly offered all manner of food and drinks when walking around, between the various set ups soaking it all in.

“Has the game started yet?” one fan asked me. “No,” I replied. “There’s still an hour until kick-off.”

“Brilliant,” he said. “More time for beer!”

Warm welcomes

The atmosphere in the stadium was also a friendly one. Whether it’s just a ‘Southern Hospitality’ thing or not, it was really encouraging to see both Panther and Packer fans alike cheering, chatting and sharing the game experience together.

There’s no segregation in America, which to a UK fan may seem very alien, but out in the US it’s normal. I didn’t have to be quiet when the Packers scored – partly because there were so many of our fans, and partly because Panthers fans were very accommodating.

“American sport sets itself apart from other countries when it comes to fan culture”

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever shouted louder during a game, despite being surrounded by fans wearing black and blue jerseys. The Packers started strong, but played awfully after leading at the end of the first Quarter. Until the final 15 minutes of regulation, Carolina were firmly in control, leading by three scores, but the Packers battled back and made for one of the more exciting finishes to a football game I’d ever seen.

Down just one score with two minutes to go, Green Bay’s Demerious Randall intercepted Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton to give the Packers extremely favourable field position for one last shot at victory.

The section I was in erupted, with a unique mixture of groans and jubilation. I’ll never forget jumping up and down, screaming and high fiving all the fellow fans around me. What seemed like a foregone conclusion at halftime was suddenly turned on its head; I guess that’s the sort of drama which gets so many people make the trips to opposing teams’ stadiums.

Incredible experience

In the end it wasn’t meant to be though, as the Packers turned the ball over just a few yards from the score. My team, our team, Wisconsin’s team, had lost; and it was somehow gut-wrenching, despite all of us having accepted defeat seemingly hours before the game’s conclusion.

Those of us wearing green were left with long journeys home ahead of us, including an eight-hour flight back to London for me.

But it was worth it. Seeing the NFL for what it really is behind the TV screen, and in its native country is always an incredible experience.

American sport sets itself apart from other countries when it comes to fan culture, because it’s always such a great experience for families, as much as die-hard fans; it’s closer to Bundesliga, than it is Premier League.

“Better luck next time,” one of the Panther fans said on the way out of the stadium. “You guys are good, and we’re just riding high. See you in the playoffs hopefully? It’ll be a great game!

“Oh, and thanks for making the trip,” he added just before turning an opposite way to us onto the street outside the gates. “You guys made the atmosphere special today.”