WWE‘s fledgling Fastlane event is still, in many ways, just finding its feet. It’s not a bad concept for a Pay-Per-View either, introducing last minute twists and turns to the Road to WrestleMania. This year, the main point of contention was Kevin Owens‘ Universal Title defence against Goldberg. With the victor going on to face Brock Lesnar at the imminent WrestleMania, it’s something that the WWE Universe had their eyes set keenly on. Of course, the finish was always going to end up predictable. We’ll discuss that in the end but, first, there’s quite an undercard to comb over.
It all started off rather nicely on the pre-show. I always find Renee Young and the perpetually stoned Booker T to be compulsively listenable. Peter Rosenberg was a nice addition to the panel, but I think i’d like to see more of Sam Roberts. The highlight of their conversations came when Sheamus and Cesaro made an appearance. Cesaro merely standing from his seat got him an unbelievable reaction from the crowd. It’s genuinely heartwarming to see someone so deserving get so over. Beyond that, we were treated to a strong little cruiserweight match. The main thing I took away from it was the overwhelming star quality of Rich Swann. His ability’s been self-evident for some time, but i’m truly ready to see this incredible young athlete ascend.
Following the pre-show, things launched directly into an expanded squash match for Samoa Joe. It centred around a “feud” with Sami Zayn, hastily thrown together on Raw just in time for this year’s Fastlane. While the thread going into it was decidedly weak, you can’t fault either of the participants in their skill. As a result, the match was about as good as it could have been, considering its booking as a boost for Joe’s ruthless persona. It, at least, felt like a realistic clobbering, not like the squash matches of old (you know, where something like a mere Spear and Jackhammer is enough to do the trick…). Joe’s precise speed is genuinely mind-blowing, not to mention his face of animal aggression when putting Zayn to sleep.
The Raw Tag Team Championship was always in pretty safe hands. Since this is my first “smark’s guide”, it’s probably worth making a few opinions known that I won’t need to in future instalments. For example, it needs to be stated off the top that Benjamin and I (since he often watches with me) are far from a “cuppa haters“. Enzo Amore and Big Cass are so clearly two of the most talented sports entertainers that it’s a simple truism. As for Gallows and Anderson, they seem to be nothing more than what the Disciples of Apocalypse should have been. Still, it was a very energetic battle – showing the strengths of its participants – with a cutely controversial finish. I fully marked out at the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rope break controversy, shouting “Bullshit!” at my screen before smiling at the overall fun of it all.
After a strange segment with Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon (on speakerphone), Fastlane took quite a turn for the worst. Personally, i’m a huge champion of the evolution of female athleticism in the WWE. It’s been refreshing to see bra & panties matches consigned to the past, in favour of a more equal approach. I can’t wait to see every element of such perverted prejudice jettisoned (as some still remain), but the current direction is the right one. The transition has been, on the whole, more than welcome. Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks wasn’t shit because of sexism or skewed gender politics, it was just shit. Jax is a dull monster heel, her pathetic “streak” was undermined and the entire ring psychology was cliche. The participants are both yet to impress me too, so I just sat in hope that Bayley and Charlotte Flair would pick up the slack later.
The only good thing about the next two matches, which built on the split of Rusev and Jinder Mahal on the pre-show, was the appearance of Cesaro. He made the impact you’d expect, generally treating Mahal like the veiny freak he is. It just felt so much like Raw, rather than the PPV it should have been. The next squash (which I thought didn’t happen like this anymore after my comments earlier) featured Big Show making an absolute fool of the “Bulgarian Brute”. This all made for pretty insulting viewing, save Cesaro’s perpetual fan-service. For one thing, what’s Mahal doing so far up the card of a bloody PPV? The one saving grace of all this is the end of Mahal and Rusev’s alliance; a racist drag on the tag-team division.
Luckily, Fastlane still had something up its sleeve. Following all that saddening dross, Neville and Jack Gallagher completely stole the show. I’m pretty sure almost everyone who saw it is in agreement that it was the best match on the card. Neville’s fantastic, and has been from day one, but this is the match that finally sold me on Gallagher. I’m still not fully behind his gimmick. It is a caricature, and an ill-defined one at that. That speaks volumes about the match though. Gimmick just doesn’t really matter anymore when something’s that physically impressive and carefully crafted. No description could do this excellent match justice. Seeing it is essential, worth it just for the
sound of Gallagher’s iconic headbutts. As a side note, cruiserweight commentator, Austin Aries, should indeed be proud of his “huge” promo-package.
To help transition, a surprise appearance by Paul Heyman featured all the usual tactics. Heyman’s always fun to listen to, but i’m a little fatigued of his boxed-in posturing on Lesnar’s behalf. Still, it managed to separate things up nicely and at least made sense. I have to echo Corey Graves‘ comment of “What am I seeing?” to sum up the next time-wasting trick, though. Featuring WrestleMania hosts, The New Day, all we really get is a couple of minutes of them riding around on an ice-cream dispensing bicycle and some meaningless warbling from Xavier Woods. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m behind The New Day. They’re passionate, talented and, hell i’ll say it, pretty funny. This was just far from their best work. However, with the mention of Graves earlier, it’s worth saying quickly what an intense asset he is to the announce team.
Nearing the end of Fastlane, with three matches to go, there should have been a lot of excitement still left to come. The majority of Braun Strowman‘s tussle with Roman Reigns pandered to that excitement, living up to it in large part. It was a heavy brawl with a lot of impact which, of course, you’d expect. The “Holy Shit!” chant was entirely justified for Strowman’s gorgeous powerslam through the announce table. What has no justification is the finish. The match felt like it was building somewhere, showing inherent signs of a clever creativity. When Strowman missed a spash from the top rope, receiving a spear for his troubles, it hardly seemed enough to topple his dominance. It’s nothing short of bullshit that Reigns got the pin at all, let alone the way he got it. Way to make me lose confidence in your latest bearded beast, WWE.
Bayley vs. Charlotte should have been one of the very best matches of the card, especially after the preceding disappointment. Charlotte’s work as “The Queen” has been some of my favourite heel stuff in a long time. In contrast, Bayley’s humble styling was endearing to me in an entirely different way. I say “was” because this match has changed my perspective entirely. They’re both brilliant technicians, so that was never going to be a problem. What really ruined it, like many of the matches on Fastlane was its finish.
Sasha Banks is far from a legit boss, more like a legit bitch for her constant meddling in Bayley’s career. For me, it takes away a very talented young wrestler’s integrity, making her just another smug clique member. In some ways it makes for a heel turn in my eyes, since I no longer view Bayley as the sweet bastion of purity she once was. Charlotte’s own streak deserved a lot more reverence too; having it taken away via outside interference will only make her future grievances understandable and relatable. Will this mean for a face turn for Charlotte, just when she was really turning up the dial on her heel sensibilities? Bayley and Charlotte are both capable of a far better match than they had, as we know from Bayley’s initial title victory on Raw.
Everyone knows the result of the main event by now, so I feel free in talking about it. I know the chants of his name are loud, and WCW bitch-boys are still shitting in their pants that he’s even still alive, but does anyone actually like Goldberg’s current WWE run? Indeed, does anyone actually like any of Goldberg’s WWE attempts? I didn’t mind so much when he humiliated Lesnar. I’m a long time detractor of Lesnar, mostly for his open disdain for sports entertainment, so I took some pleasure from his quick defeat. Kevin Owens, however, is one of the more interesting and capable people on the roster. As he’s so keen on reminding everyone, this is the man who beat John Cena on his main-roster debut. How the hell am I supposed to accept that he can be taken down by nothing more than a Spear and Jackhammer?
I know Chris Jericho “distracted” him, but didn’t just about everybody and their dog conclude that was going to happen? I’m well aware that Goldberg is barely capable of anything more, but then I see no reason why he would take my interest. People who complain about Cena’s “Five Moves of Doom” are the same people who think Goldberg’s “Two Moves of Bad Booking” are cool. They’re not. The whole thing’s a statement, fine. I’m just not happy with any statement in my PPV main events that leaves the entrances longer than the match at hand. If that’s really the best that Goldberg can do, get him away from my main events. Entertainment and story should absolutely be a part of the WWE, but I also believe the word “wrestling” is a part of that acronym. As such, i’d like a little bit of that in my matches.
Fastlane wasn’t utter dogshit across the board. Some of it made for great viewing, and there was some outstanding wrestling throughout. What really let viewers down was its confusing and uncaring treatment of finishes, characters, streaks and booking in general. I hope this isn’t going to become a permanent feature of future Fastlane outings. I agree that it should switch things up before WrestleMania; stirring the pot if you will. This was just too much, and concentrated in the wrong places. Not much was very effective, but I guess that may have been deliberate in an effort not to steal thunder from the upcoming spectacle on April 2nd. To sign off – another Lesnar vs. Goldberg WrestleMania match? Wasn’t the last one awful enough?
Neville vs. Jack Gallagher
Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks