Hello again Cagesiders, who here is ready for WrestleMania?
No one? No? Okay, moving on.
FastLane, the last stop on the road to WrestleMania is upon us, and when you think about it, they really dropped the ball not focusing on the wordplay that the PPV name provides. You'd think it'd be mentioned on commentary, but maybe it was. I was too busy wondering how to download the WWE app.
As we look to FastLane and to the big spectacle in Santa Clara, it's normal for WWE fans to be nervous. After all, it's been a while since a WrestleMania lived up to the hype.
Last year was ages ago.
Okay so WrestleMania 30 will go down as one of the better ones WWE has given us, but much of the booking since then has left many fans preemptively let down by what's to come at WrestleMania 31. I don't know anyone who looks at the potential card and thinks it will top last year, but it would be nice if it was at least better than WrestleMania 29's bloated bummer.
Like many of you I've grown disillusioned at the direction of the WWE over the past several months. I'm not just talking about the Roman Reigns fiasco, either. The entire creative direction has stagnated. Where once storylines moved at rapid pace, now they crawl. "Feuds" barely live up to the name, as the current WWE idea of a feud is to either:
1) have two guys wrestle each other on Raw over and over and over and then once more on PPV.
2) have two guys wrestle someone else on Raw over and over over (always the same opponent week after week), while causing each other to lose their matches and then make angry faces at one another until they fight on PPV.
Rise and repeat.
There doesn't seem to be any forward momentum anymore to the product. Things happen on PPV and then the table is reset on the next night's Raw. Then we repeat that Raw three more times before the next PPV. It's maddening.
Which brings us to the FastLane and WrestleMania PPVs. Fans can look at the card (and presumptive card) and come up with a pretty good idea of where things are headed. By that I mean, fans who have been watching for a long time can imagine logical and reasonable match finishes and storyline trajectories. We know we're not going to guess right every time, but that's not the point. The fun is in looking at how the feud has progressed and trying to figure out how it will end.
But in this day and age you can't just "predict" a PPV anymore, you have to predict and then add "so of course."
So consider this the "so of course" predictions for FastLane:
RYBACK, ZIGGLER & ERIC ROWEN vs ROLLINS, KANE & BIG SHOW
In the match that continues to pretend like the finish to Survivor Series actually mattered, we have two of the best in the business going at it plus four other guys taking up space.
Reading the tea leaves, Rollins looks to start a feud with Orton, while the rest of the competitors seem poised to try and make their mark in the "Second Annual Andre the Giant and Cesaro's push Memorial Battle Royal Brother Jack Dude in Five Languages." You'd think Kane and Big Show would finally end up coming to blows, possibly eliminating themselves in that match. In any event, it seems reasonable to think that this is the end of the mini-feud that has been going on since November.
So of course...
BAD NEWS BARRETT vs DEAN AMBROSE
Who remembers when Barrett looked like he was being groomed for a world title run? Or the time he was groomed for a World Title run? Or that one time he looked like he was about to get a world title run? Do you remember when he at least looked like he was going to bring prestige back to the Intercontinental Title?
Easier question: Does anyone remember when Dean Ambrose actually won a match?
You'd think one of the most popular superstars on the roster, who doesn't look like he's going to get a main event push anytime soon, would be the perfect pick to carry the company's number two title. In a logical world, Dean Ambrose walks out of FastLane with the belt and then does what no IC champ has done since Clinton left office: Actually win non-title matches. Having him shed his "literally stupidest guy on the roster" gimmick and become the true lunatic brawler he was in the Shield would be a great way to kickstart the next phase of his singles push.
So of course...
GOLDUST vs STARDUST
This feud has been a long time coming. It was talked about the moment Goldust returned to win back Cody's job and it was anticipated by fans the second Stardust burst onto the scene. Both guys have been doing great work with decreasing attention paid to them by the head writers. They started out hot as part of the anti-Authority angle in late 2013, then cooled and became a fixture on the tag scene.
After Stardust appeared it looked like they were going to get a nice push but instead they were overlooked. Random heel and face turns haven't helped them to connect with audiences they way they first did and that has hurt things now that they've finally started feuding. It's obvious that there will be more to this after FastLane and Goldust has more than earned a respectable WrestleMania moment, especially after the great comeback he's had.
So of course...
USOS vs BRASS RING CLUB
For those of you not paying attention, it's always "Jimmy and Jay" in that order, and if the facepaint is on the left side of your screen, it's Jimmy. If the paint is on the right side of your screen, it's Jimmy. One of them is married to the Funkadactyl, but I don't even care enough to google which one.
It's going to take every ounce of energy I have not to write 10,000 words on how horribly mismanaged Cesaro was starting with the day after WrestleMania 30. I'm not going to go into it. I'm just going to hope and pray he sticks around long enough to get a second chance. Best case scenario, this team with the delightful Tyson Kidd (made delightful because everything NXT touches turns to solid gold) becomes a kind of "Team Hell No" thing, where the two can team up, get some vignettes to get over, win some matches and eventually go their separate ways and let Cesaro get the main event push he more than deserves. That journey should start at FastLane with a tag title victory, and it should continue at WrestleMania with a successful defense.
So of course...
NIKKI BELLA vs PAIGE
It's no secret that NXT is the hottest thing in wrestling right now. In fact it's the best "sports entertainment" show on the air, with engaging storylines, clear motivations for the faces and heels, and matches that enhance the drama that is unfolding every week. A big part of its success is the care and attention paid to the womens matches.
One of the women who helped redefine what a "divas" match could be is Paige. The first NXT Women's Champion has had an up and down first year on the main show, but overall she's managed to fit right in with the crowds and get over as--not just the future, but the present top star of the division. Nikki Bella, to her credit, has improved considerably in the ring, and though her character is still booked like a rejected extra in the Mean Girls movie, her skills between the ropes are certainly praiseworthy. If given enough time, these two ladies have the potential to wow the mainstream WWE audience and make them think twice about the so called "bathroom break" matches. Each of the NXT Takeover specials have had killer womens matches. They were also given plenty of time, with matchtimes of 13, 17, 11, 12 and 12 minutes, respectively. Paige and Nikki ought to be given similar time to tell a story and work their magic.
So of course...
JOHN CENA vs RUSEV
I think most fans can see which way the wind is blowing here. I foresee three possibilities:
1) Cena beats Rusev clean, then again at WrestleMania, and then loses in some kind of dusty finish at Extreme Rules
2) Cena passes out to the Acolyte, beats Rusev at WrestleMania and that's the end of it.
3) Cena beats Rusev clean and then loses at WrestleMania.
The idea of Cena winning twice in a row seems unlikely, but it's a possibility because "lolcena wins" is always a possibility. Still, Rusev is a great commodity and I don't see Vince throwing all the work they put into him away with back to back losses. Realistically, the second scenario seems the most likely one. Cena shows weakness on the B-PPV, and then comes back looking strong on the top show of the year. Rusev gets the final win at Extreme Rules to save face.
And yet, scenario three is the most intriguing option. It allows Cena's fans a chance to see him win against the "bad guy" (who really is only a heel in name only in this feud), while at the same time causes heartburn for Cena's detractors up until Mania. Everyone and their brother will be predicting another Cena win and then BOOM, Cena passes out like a bloodless version of WrestleMania 13. He gets to have a big signature moment that DOESN'T correspond with his hands being raised. It would be a great redo after the horrible booking with Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 30.
So of course...
DANIEL BRYAN vs ROMAN REIGNS
Here's the most interesting match of the night, as it should be since it's the main event. What started out as a very awkward and forced-together "feud" suddenly kicked it into high gear and became quite intriguing. Reigns and Bryan have so many more reasons to dislike each other and there are so many more layers to this story than what we got over the past few weeks (it makes me wish that Paul Heyman or NXT's Dusty Rhodes were writing this thing). Still, the two performers at the center of it made the most of what they were given and managed to create a compelling matchup. There seem to be three ways this thing can go down. The least likely scenario is for Bryan to win and take Reigns' place. That seems almost impossible as Reigns has no real backup to feud with and it would cripple the momentum Vince has been trying to get rolling for months now.
The other option is for Reigns to win clean and for Bryan to wrestle on the midcard of WrestleMania. This would be the option most likely to enrage a significant portion of the fanbase, not to mention it seems obtuse from a booking standpoint: They went to so much trouble to keep Bryan and Reigns away from each other at the Rumble, only to throw them together and FORCE fans to take sides. Now that they have, things are--at best--split, but really Bryan holds a real edge in fan support. Why pair them up only to disappoint a big chunk of the audience again? Does Vince really think it was just Philly that booed Roman, and that Memphis will be nicer? Does he forget the role Memphis played on Bryan's road to Mania last year?
The third option is to split the baby and send both guys to the Mania main event. From a creative standpoint this is lazy booking, but from a technical angle it's smart as it gives the match a player who can call the action and keep things going when Reigns vs Lesnar 1-on-1 would likely stall (and possibly turn into a train wreck). It keeps Bryan and Reigns' fans happy as both get what they want, it keeps the Reigns v Bryan feud going which only JUST started to get interesting, and it gives Paul Heyman another guy to talk about. Any reason for Paul Heyman to talk is good.
It might be a bit of a retread from last year, but it seems like the best option is to go with a triple threat at WrestleMania, which means Bryan and Reigns have a clean match that ends in some kind of a non-finish. Both men come out of the match looking equal and both go on to WrestleMania looking to be the one to slay the Beast. That seems to make the most sense.
So of course...
There's always NXT.