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Alex Rants on WWE Fastlane 2017

2.94K   //    06 Mar 2017, 11:05 IST
No amount of car puns can salvage this disappointing show...

Fastlane 2017 was a noticeable step down from the previous two editions. In 2015, we had Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns, which was an excellent wrestling match that, despite the more hated guy winning, at least sent some fans home happy. 2016 brought us Reigns vs. Ambrose vs. Lesnar, which, while not at the same level of quality as the year prior, was still OK.

2017 gave us the mother of all squash matches, and that’s not a good thing by any stretch of the imagination.

This was a disappointing show, with only a few high points worth mentioning. Each match had an underlying problem of some kind, some of which were more pronounced than others. It seems that WWE has lost sight of proper booking and just does stuff now without thinking long-term. You’ll see what I’m referring to momentarily.

So without further ado, let the rant begin.

I have no complaints or criticism towards the Samoa Joe/Sami Zayn match (shocking, I know). This was the right match to start with, and the fans loved every minute of it. The only question left after this is, what could Sami Zayn possibly do to get himself on the WrestleMania card?

He has lost virtually every high-profile match-up he’s had after SummerSlam and appears to be on a continuing losing streak. This is despite the fact that he’s still immensely popular and an excellent worker.

It’s obvious they have no plans for him on RAW, so he really should move to SmackDown as soon as possible, since he’ll have a better chance of making an impact over there. After all, RAW’s main event scene has become so crowded. It has names like: Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, the Authority, Triple H, Seth Rollins and now Samoa Joe as well.

There’s no way Zayn’s booking will ever take priority over any of those men, so he’s better off on a shorter show on which his matches will have more meaning.

If Joe keeps winning like this, he might reach the top of the RAW roster in short order.

If there’s one thing we learned during the Tag Team Title match, it’s that WWE’s rule on no instant replays doesn’t make sense. During the Tag Title match, Gallows & Anderson made a last-minute dirty move to win the match, which everyone saw.

The fans saw it, the announcers saw it, and the people at home saw it multiple times because of instant replay. Yet the referee cannot take this into consideration, despite the fact that Daniel Bryan reversed virtually the same mix-up on SmackDown less than a week ago.

WWE needs to make a decision on how it approaches instant replays. It cannot continue pretending that referees are idiots who cannot review recorded footage if there’s a controversy. I mean, how hard would it be to give the referee some credibility by booking the following exchange?:

Match ends due to foot on the rope, but the referee doesn’t see it.

Wrestler: I had my foot on the ropes!

Referee: Sorry, I didn’t see it.

Wrestler: check the instant replay.

Referee: fine, I’ll look.

The referee checks the instant replay, which he’d have access to by simply turning his head towards the giant screens everyone’s watching.

Referee: so that happened? OK, the decision is reversed.

At least this way, the referee doesn’t look like a complete idiot, and wrestling matches don’t have to end with these overdone ‘controversial’ finishes that make everyone involved look like fools.

There’s something important to booking a clean, decisive finish. When a wrestler wins without controversy, it proves they’re better than their opponent without any doubts. It’s only through such a clean victory that one wrestler can move onto a bigger challenge and climb up the ladder.

But if two wrestlers keep exchanging dirty finishes, necessitating rematches, both of them end up in the same place over and over again. It’s like being on a treadmill: you’re moving, but you’re not going anywhere.

Also read: Best and Worst of WWE Fastlane 2017

This is how WWE’s booking any wrestler or tag team that keeps winning via unclean finish. Those wrestlers don’t get over because they’re not winning decisively, so they have to keep facing the same people until the fans give up on that match-up entirely because it’s overdone too quickly.

Clearly, there’s something incredibly wrong with RAW’s booking when their Tag Team Champions cannot get a single clean win on PPV against what’s essentially a joke tag team in Enzo & Cass.

Pic related

The next thing we got was a waste of 5 minutes with the nonsense Stephanie segment. While true, they didn’t actually do anything or accomplish anything relevant to the show, that’s the point. Why would WWE waste precious time on a PPV with something like this that doesn’t serve any purpose, other than to put Stephanie on the show when she isn’t physically there?

I’m trying to understand the purpose of segments like this one, but that’s difficult when it doesn’t lead to anything in the grand scheme of things. The only conclusion one can draw from this was that it was done solely for the sake of reminding the audience of who is in charge tonight. As if we need to be reminded of that irritating fact considering they’re the ones that open every episode of RAW.

The next match was between Sasha Banks and Nia Jax. If you recall, Nia Jax has been called something along the lines of ‘the most dominant woman in WWE’ by Michael Cole on RAW for the past several months. She proved that to be a flat out lie by losing this match.

It’s because of stuff like this that more and more people watch wrestling PPVs with the audio muted. The commentary throughout the broadcasts, especially from the RAW commentators, is below average at best and nails-on-a-chalkboard cringeworthy at worst.

Michael Cole is basically Vince McMahon, repeating things verbatim in a monotone, robotic voice. He often throws out one-liners during a conversation and emphasises the name of the PPV, as if people watching need to be reminded of the name of the show they’re watching.

But that wasn’t the worst part of this match. During said Banks/Jax match, Sasha didn’t sell the leg injury, nor did she have any tape to show the injury. What was the point of that in the first place if it wouldn’t factor into future matches?

They spent weeks building up that injury with replays of Jax’s original attack and several skits involving doctors. So when the two women finally fought, this injury did not exist at all. Great storytelling, WWE.

So to recap, Sasha banks wins, despite booking would require Jax to look strong going into WrestleMania, yet they did the opposite. Worse, Jax didn’t even follow-up afterwards. She looked shocked and dumbstruck, instead of maintaining the same level of control and power. What was stopping Jax from attacking Banks after the match? By just standing there she looked like a complete fool.

Why can’t they book Nia Jax like Chyna? She’d get over so much more quickly if they did.

Watching the Cesaro match made me feel sad, as no matter how much the guy works to prove himself, Vince is stuck in his ways and will not change his mind regarding the Swiss Superman. This match was proof of that. It was at this point during the broadcast that the audience stopped caring about everything.

There was no crowd noise during this match until the closing moments, as they did not care about Jinder Mahal whatsoever. Cesaro even tried to tell a mini-story about his back being hurt, but the crowd simply could not care about this at all.

This is what happens when you take a guy like Mahal, who had no storyline to speak of going into this match and expect him to survive against Cesaro in a match that wasn’t advertised and that the fans don’t have any reason to care about. If there was some kind of reward in place for the winner of this match, I can guarantee the fans would’ve had a reason to want to see Cesaro win.

Instead, he and Mahal were probably told, ‘go wrestle out there, just because’, which they had no choice but to do.

Also, why is Big Show winning matches against Rusev? Do they still think the whole ‘he’s Bulgarian, therefore he must be an evil foreigner’ shtick actually has weight in this day and age? Apparently so, because fans chanted ‘USA’ for Big Show, even though Show almost always loses. Way to give the younger talent a useful win there, WWE.

The cruiserweight match was a good step in the right direction. Finally, the cruiserweights got a truly positive reaction from the fans. Hopefully, they can have matches like this more often, instead of 3-minute nothing matches on RAW, through which they cannot tell any kind of story whatsoever.

WWE made a bit of a wrong call with the Strowman/Reigns match tonight. While they made the logical booking decision in terms of the winner (because Reigns appears to be the one scheduled for the big ‘Mania match with the Undertaker), Braun Strowman actually looked so much better than Reigns in this match.

It was Strowman whose offence looked better in terms of execution, and he deserves credit for jumping off the top rope, even if his move didn’t work. Reigns didn’t really do anything we hadn’t seen from him before, so he looked average, instead of using this opportunity to try something different.

Roman plays a powerhouse wrestler for the most part, but he was going up against a bigger wrestler. Shouldn’t you take this opportunity to showcase some more athleticism and moves you don’t use as often in this circumstance?

If I were Reigns, I’d have tried to execute some dropkicks or other ‘more athletic’ moves to try and bring down Strowman because my ordinary offence wouldn’t have been enough to defeat this behemoth. Maybe that way, some fans would rethink booing me because they’d see me doing stuff that they weren’t expecting me to be capable of doing.

Meh, it seems WWE had an opportunity to let Reigns try something different but decided to play it safe by making him to the same old stuff. So much for ‘high risk, high reward’.

The second-biggest disappointment was that Bayley and Charlotte were having a good match, until the finish. Sasha Banks ran down and put her hands on Charlotte. Now, in any circumstance, this should’ve been a disqualification. There’s no discussion; when a non-competitor touches someone taking part in a match, it’s an instant disqualification.

So why didn’t that happen here? Instead, the referee shrugged his shoulders and continued the match as if Sasha Banks wasn’t there. This was as perfect a moment for Botchamania as any. The referee clearly saw the interference but didn’t ring the bell. I guess WWE likes to change its own rules on a whim, these days.

Worse, with Bayley’s victory, Charlotte’s PPV singles undefeated Streak is over. This streak, which had been built up and emphasised so much over the past year, ended with a whimper.

No pictures of shocked fans. No raw emotion from the fans (Corey Graves tried to make it out to be some kind of travesty, but his voice was drowned out quickly). Not even a shot of Charlotte looking mad or upset because something special she had is now gone.

WWE wasted this opportunity to build up Charlotte’s upcoming WrestleMania match into something much bigger. It was bad enough that Bayley won the championship by defeating Charlotte on a random and otherwise forgettable episode of RAW.

It was made worse by the fact that Charlotte’s undefeated Streak wasn’t ended at WrestleMania. It would’ve been a much bigger and better storyline had Bayley defeated Charlotte for her first Women’s Championship at WrestleMania, just to emphasise how important the title is to both women.

Instead, the title kept changing hands nonsensically, and on the one occasion when another title change actually would’ve made the most sense to tell a greater story, they messed that up too.

So now what will they do for WrestleMania? A random fatal-4-way for the RAW women’s championship where none of the participants has any momentum going into the match? That appears to be the likely scenario, given how Nia Jax still insists she’s in the title picture, despite losing to Sasha Banks earlier on the program and Banks not selling one single bit of Jax’s offence.

Sadly, things got even worse after that.

Goldberg defeated Kevin Owens for the WWE Universal Championship. He hit one spear and one Jackhammer to win the match. My stopwatch must’ve been a bit off, but the whole ‘match’ bell-to-bell was 22.2 seconds. That’s more or less the same amount of time it took Chris Benoit to defeat Orlando Jordan for the United States Championship over a decade ago.

It was obvious that Goldberg cannot work a lengthy match of any kind, given his advanced age. But in watching this match, I learned something: the fans no longer want to see a wrestling match. All they want to see is wrestling moves, and I think Vince’s decision to book this match the way it went proved that.

This man does two moves and the crowd erupts. No wonder Reigns keeps doing the Spear...

There were more people chanting for Goldberg than Kevin Owens, despite the fact that Owens has a sizable fanbase. But Goldberg only hit two moves (one of which we saw Roman Reigns hit only 30 minutes earlier), and this was enough to pin Kevin Owens.

The fans cheered everything Goldberg did, what little there was. He got a louder ovation than the cruiserweights, Cesaro, and the women combined. All of those wrestlers actually had wrestling matches and were telling a story. Goldberg did two moves and got the loudest reaction of the night.

It’s possible – albeit unlikely – that wrestling fans are now being divided into two distinct groups. Those that want to see actual storytelling in matches and competitive bouts between two equally booked wrestlers, and those that want to see wrestling moves end matches quickly.

The big question now is, which one of those groups will bring Vince McMahon the most money; because that’s the group he’ll cater to.

As someone that actually enjoys competitive wrestling matches and appreciates seeing the hardest workers earn their spots, it’s aggravating when people cheer someone that hasn’t wrestled a full match in over a decade more loudly than the hardest workers in the company.

Meanwhile, Chris Jericho’s return to WWE after being ‘savagely’ attacked by Owens was completely anticlimactic. All he did was appear on the entrance ramp after his music played, which allowed Goldberg to take advantage. No post-match brawl, no mocking of Kevin Owens. Nothing. All he did was stand there for 5 seconds and that was enough for Kevin Owens to get distracted.

So to summarise, Kevin Owens looked like the biggest idiot in the world on this night. He lost his prized championship to a 50-year-old part-timer in less than thirty seconds, after getting distracted by entrance music.

Going forward, why would anyone care about anything this man says or does, given how he lost more decisively than Lesnar did back at Survivor Series? How could Owens possibly get any credibility back going forward?

But more importantly for WWE, why would anyone want to buy the merchandise associated with a man that loses just like that?

If WWE markets its merchandise primarily to children, those kids are going to want to buy the merchandise of a guy that wins a lot, not a guy that loses so spectacularly. Thus, WWE might’ve just lost a tonne of money in merchandise by making Kevin Owens looks like a fool.

It’s because of stuff like this that so many fans prefer SmackDown over RAW. SmackDown has better writing overall, a ‘fresher’ roster, and an emphasis on hard work and competitive wrestling matches. The three guys in the World Title picture on SmackDown, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton and A.J. Styles, are all outstanding workers who manage to make both themselves and their opponents look good in every match.

This makes SmackDown the polar opposite of RAW, which is driven primarily by cheesy drama and a ridiculous overemphasis on part-timers. Heck, John Cena’s also a part-timer but at least he wrestles in excellent wrestling matches and can go more than twenty minutes.

Given all of that, I think it’s fair to say that we have gone back in time to 2002 when SmackDown was ‘the wrestling show’ and RAW was ‘the entertainment show’ (the term ‘entertainment’ here is used very loosely).

If that’s the case, let’s all hope SmackDown does all it can to defeat RAW in the ratings. It’s the superior show in terms of weekly wrestling quality, and hopefully it will stay that way  in the years to come.

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Alex is a lifelong professional wrestling fan that loves to write about it just as much as he enjoys watching it.
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