John: Welcome to the TJRWrestling WWE Fastlane preview featuring the Monday Night Raw brand. The show this place this Sunday, March 5 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
It’s a full card with seven matches on the main pay-per-view and a Kickoff Show match. I don’t expect another match to be added, but it’s possible that WWE could throw a New Day match out there so they can do more promos about ice cream. It’s not a lineup that comes across as being particularly strong. There isn’t one match that stands out as a potential “show stealer” as people like to say. I think several of the matches are very predictable, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the match quality is strong.
Joining me for the preview are Kurt Zamora and Mike Holland. No Matthew J. Douglas this time because of work commitments he had.
(Note: All graphics are from WWE.com. The banner is courtesy of our friend Melo Man.)
Rich Swann & Akira Tozawa vs. Noam Dar & Brian Kendrick (Kickoff Show)
Kurt: I’m sorry, but why should I care about this match when the Raw brand clearly doesn’t care about the division? I’m sure the babyfaces will win and Tozawa will be spotlighted.
Prediction: Rich Swann & Akira Tozawa
Mike: I've just gotten onto the Fastlane and already encountered the first bottleneck. Once again, Raw's vaunted cruiserweight division plays a starring role on the pre-show, but at least this time we've had a fairly solidly built feud between Akira Tozawa and his wannabe mentor Brian Kendrick to get us there. Tozawa is a wrestler that really stood out during the CWC for me, from his facial reactions in the ring to his explosive offense. Everything that made that series great, though, has been sadly lacking in the main roster incarnation, leaving guys like Dar and Swann to tread water.
I've felt Kendrick has occupied his role admirably for the most part, being just out there enough without flipping the page to truly goofy and making his feuds mean something. That continues heading into this match, where he expects to persist handing out lessons to Tozawa like a cruiser Dean Douglas. The secondary feuds in this division have been largely laughable, centering around things like umbrellas and Alicia Fox. The end result is that everyone gets tossed together and nobody wins. A few predictable high spots will liberally season this match but it tastes like boiled chicken.
Winners: Swann & Tozawa
John: All four guys are pretty good in the ring, so if they get time it will be better than a typical Raw cruiserweight match. The face team of Swann and Tozawa should get the win with Dar likely getting beat for his team. Basic tag match featuring the cruiserweights.
Winners: Rich Swann & Akira Tozawa
Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax
Kurt: Without giving away too much on my prediction for the Women’s Title Match later, I think Nia Jax needs the win here again to continue certain storylines throughout the division. I’m sure this will be more competitive than their match at the Rumble, since Sasha doesn’t have to sell the knee anymore, but with the size differential, there is no way Sasha should get a clean win over Nia.
Prediction: Nia Jax
Mike: The putrid usage of Sasha Banks makes me want to pull off the road to WrestleMania and locate a barf bag. Banks, incredibly over with the majority of the fan base and responsible for quite a bit of the best moments in the Women's division thus far, has been reduced to a shadowy wannabe due to injuries and nonsense. As we wait for the inevitable moment when she tires of supporting Bayley and turns on her, she's essentially in a glorified cameo role at this point. Sad.
Nia Jax has experienced the inverse of this, as she's been pushed heavily from the start despite showing minimal progress in the ring outside of her different look. That's not to say she's undeserving, but again I'd go back to the idea that she had way more juice in NXT. Considering she's both defeated Banks relatively easily already AND torn through the bulk of this division, there can't be much to this prediction, right?
Couple things work against that philosophy, however: 1) WWE's creative team flips coins regularly. 2) The upcoming Women's Title match at WrestleMania is expected to be a fatal four-way. Banks can't get blasted here and still get in that match.
Winner: Sasha Banks
John: I thought their match at the Royal Rumble (on the Kickoff Show) was forgettable. It’s happening again without much of a storyline except Banks is considered healthy after selling a knee injury for a couple of months. While I think it’s possible that Banks may win the match, what makes more sense is Jax looking dominant again as the bigger wrestler that continues to look unbeatable on the Raw brand.
Winner: Nia Jax
Cruiserweight Championship: Neville vs. Jack Gallagher
Kurt: See previous notes about the Cruiserweight division. Gallagher is in a bad spot here as the only reason he got the shot is because Rich Swann had an untimely injury, Swann is the one used on live events still to take on Neville, and then no one thinks he has a legit shot to beat Neville because they’re already starting the build for Austin Aries to be the next contender. I don’t even expect this match to be that competitive.
Prediction: Neville retains
Mike: There's literally no point to typing anything in this space other than Neville is hellaciously awesome, but I'll give it a shot. Given the slow and excoriating starvation death that's been the Cruiserweight division since its main roster debut, Neville's ability to show up and make the thing watchable again deserves the loudest of kudos. Neville has basically been the one-man Game of Thrones, roaring out of the wardrobe department to let us know winter is coming. It's been a treat to watch.
WWE doesn't seem to know what to do with Jack Gallagher, booking Corey Graves and Austin Aries to drool over his incredible talent while simultaneously digging through the Santino Marella playbook to showcase him attempting fisticuffs or having a tea party. This is the sort of thing that drives you crazy sometimes about WWE, and especially Monday Night Raw: give them a talent that's over without you even trying, and proceed to bury them through a logjam of needless bureaucratic intercessions that inter them semi-permanently in red tape. Should the aforementioned Aries be the man to challenge Neville at WM, I'll be all for it. In the meantime, this exercise will pale in comparison more than Gallagher's skin tone.
Winner (and STILL Cruiserweight Champion): Neville
John: I give credit to WWE for trying to build up the feud with plenty of TV time, the contract signing a couple of weeks ago and the main event ending of 205 Live as well. However, I don’t think the crowd really buys into the idea of Gallagher winning. Kudos to WWE for trying to get the Gallagher character over. He’s not going to win, though. Neville will win clean because he’s the long-term champion.
It’s possible they could start some Aries vs. Neville rivalry here as well. I think the cruiserweights will get the Ladder Match spot at WrestleMania, though, so that singles feud can hold off a bit.
Raw Tag Team Championships: Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore & Big Cass
Kurt: Logic would say that WWE would save a big moment such as Enzo and Cass winning their first tag title ever, for say WrestleMania. The Bayley title victory last month would tell you what WWE thinks of logic though. This time though, they’ll get it right. I think Sheamus and Cesaro will come in during the match and ruin things, forcing a triple threat tag match at WrestleMania.
One thing to look at though, Enzo’s antics have gotten WAY over the top. John has mentioned it quite a bit in the Raw Deal. I’m not sure if that’s a subtle start to give Cass a reason to break away from Enzo or if I’m reading too much into it. They’re selling a TON of merch and there’s more money to be made with them as champs, so I don’t think it’s anything to worry about at the present time.
Prediction: Gallows and Anderson retains after a Cesaro/Sheamus run-in
Mike: This was the tag team title match we all wanted about fifteen pay-per-views ago, right? Before Big Cass was pushed for a brief cup of coffee as a potential Universal champion option, before Enzo had that weird sexual tension with both Lana and Rusev, and even before Gallows & Anderson wore lab coats. It's kind of stupefying that Raw has this much talent in the tag team ranks and yet the matches themselves feel very uninspired in general. Gallows & Anderson have the gold, but have they convinced you they are anything but transition champions, biding their time until the next big thing comes along? I doubt it.
Enzo & Cass seem to deserve a brief time in the sun before the big guy makes me incredibly happy by removing Enzo's irritating melon from the shoulders it reposes on. We've already had the happy-go-lucky sing-along and slightly edgy face team as champs, and New Day did it so well and for so long that they don't even have to wrestle at Mania. I've no doubt that they will get said time, but I've got plenty of doubts that it will happen here. Side note: Enzo looks like he was purchased in a Chinatown antique store.
Winners (and STILL Raw Tag Team Champions): Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson
John: The champs should retain since they haven’t held the titles that long. I’m disappointed in the story leading up to this match because there isn’t much of a story. The crowd may be into it since they love Enzo & Cass, but I wish there was more reason to care.
I think the story needs to continue until WrestleMania. There should be segments where Enzo & Cass wonder if they can win the “big one” since they haven’t been champs when they were in NXT or on the main roster now. There can even be a moment where Cass suggests that they break up if they don’t win the titles at WM. That way it builds up the moment more, so then they can win the titles at WrestleMania and the crowd will love it.
Winners: Gallows & Anderson
Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe
Kurt: Was I the only one that found it weird that Joe was just standing there on the other side of the ring from HHH in his promo from Rollins and did absolutely nothing? As much as he denies it in promos, that does nothing to steer the conversation from people thinking he’s just HHH’s lackey. Maybe that’s supposed to be the narrative, but it doesn’t work for me either way. I was able to see this match at a Live Event last weekend and they had a fantastic match, but I felt there was another level they could go to. I hope they’re able to get to that level in this match and it doesn’t end up being a glorified squash win for Joe. Meanwhile, Zayn look all set for the Andre battle royal.
Prediction: Samoa Joe
Mike: On paper, this is match of the night for my money. While Sami Zayn is essentially a stand-in for the injured Seth Rollins (and isn't that basically Zayn's gimmick at this point? Jobber to the stars?), he's a welcome one, and personally I'd like to hope he and the beatdown machine that is Samoa Joe deliver as they did numerous times during their encounters in NXT. Hopefully that shared history is alluded to during this match, because it was some darn good stuff. Joe has been impossible to take your eyes off of since his first Raw appearance, and that has also added to the magnitude of this encounter.
Joe has thus far been presented as Triple H's hatchet man, so it wouldn't be a shock if Rollins ventured to ringside to try to sway the result. Simply put, though, Joe can't be booked to lose here. No such luck for Sami, who gets to follow the unenviable task of being used as a crash test dummy by Braun Strowman by providing cannon fodder for Joe. The bright spot in the storm cloud is that Zayn is hella good at being bandied about, and will be a gamer. Tough to watch in a good way.
Winner: Samoa Joe
John: If this match was going to be like their 40-minute classic in NXT last March (watch it here if you want) then I’d be really excited about it. I don’t think it’s going be like that, though. What made that match great was they got a lot of time obviously, it was booked evenly and had an exciting finish. For this match, it’s going to be about making Samoa Joe look like a heel badass that is there to destroy people. Did you see his match with Cesaro on Raw? It was a competitive match for about eight minutes and Joe won clean. That was a pinfall win. This one could be a submission win for Joe at around ten minutes.
Zayn is one of the best in-ring performers in WWE. He’s also a guy that management clearly isn’t behind in terms of wanting to push him to that next level. His last meaningful win was over Kevin Owens at Battleground last July. Owens went on to become Universal Champion and a long term main eventer while Zayn has done…nothing. This time, Zayn is in the spot to put over Joe in Joe’s first pay-per-view match. I hope WWE realizes how great Zayn can be because he could be so much more on a show that is seriously lacking in terms of full time wrestler faces that the fans like.
Winner: Samoa Joe
Raw Women’s Championship: Bayley vs. Charlotte Flair
Kurt: It’s amazing with the talent of the likes of these two women, they’ve still managed to make the title feel so meaningless. The amount of title changes since the creation of the title last WrestleMania is just staggering and ridiculous. Unfortunately, I think we’re in for more of the same here. I’m sure WWE wants Bayley to be the one to break Charlotte’s PPV streak at WrestleMania, but the problem with that is the unnecessary title change on Raw to Bayley, so you won’t have the double value of Bayley’s first title win on top of ending Charlotte’s streak.
As I stated in the Sasha/Nia match, I was saving some opinion for this match and it’s as follows. We’re destined for a fatal four-way match at Mania. Nia needs the win over Sasha to make herself a feared contender still. Sasha can work her way into the match by finally turning on Bayley here and costing her the match. Sasha is a natural heel, in more ways than one, and will do better for her and I think will also do better for Bayley. As a result, Charlotte will be that much closer to beating her father’s 16 title reigns by the end of 2017.
Prediction: Charlotte becomes new Women’s Champion….AGAIN.
Mike: In WWE's apparent quest to make sure Ric Flair's daughter surpasses his amount of title reigns before John Cena does, another chapter presents itself as Charlotte looks to redeem herself after surprisingly dropping the strap to the scrappy Bayley on Raw a few weeks back. Was that done just to allow Charlotte to notch another PPV win prior to granting Bayley her heavily Photoshopped WrestleMania moment shortly thereafter? Is it even a PPV streak if you don't have PPVs? These questions pretty much answer themselves.
I've heard the innuendo that perhaps Sasha Banks has a hand in securing a Charlotte victory, but I don't see it. Raw has an abundance of heel women at this point, and I think a far more likely scenario is Banks secretly plotting revenge on the hugger after their 4-way dance in a bit. Stephanie McMahon has also been presented as having an axe to grind with the thoroughly likable champ, and with the friction playing out with Mick Foley you wonder if that plays a role here as well. Charlotte doesn't lose at these things. Well, until the next thing.
Winner (and NEW Raw Women's Champion): Charlotte
John: Title change is coming. I felt like WWE made a mistake when they put the title on Bayley last month and they should have waited until WrestleMania to let Bayley get her moment. Now, they’re going to move the title back to Charlotte. Congrats to Bayley for becoming Sasha Banks 2.0 as the woman that won the Women’s Title on Raw. Bayley is going to lose it in less than a month to Charlotte, who is 16-0 in PPV singles matches, which WWE showed with a cool graphic on their website.
Following this show, they can do the fatal fourway women’s match at WrestleMania with Charlotte defending against Bayley, Banks and Jax. Bayley can win there by pinning Banks or Jax leading to yet another match with Charlotte at the next pay-per-view, which is Payback in Bayley’s hometown of San Jose. That could be where Charlotte’s singles match PPV streak finally ends…or she’ll win it back…and the cycle never ends.
It wouldn’t shock me if something happens where Banks accidentally costs Bayley the win. Remember, it was Banks that helped her win the title in the first place, so if they had Banks cost her by accident it would be nice twist leading to that likely Banks heel turn.
Winner and New Raw Women’s Champion: Charlotte
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
Kurt: I cannot say enough good things about the progression of Strowman. He does everything right and you can tell how much more comfortable he is. Steve Austin had a great point on his podcast recently, he said when Strowman was in the Wyatt Family, you saw the “deer in headlights” look on Strowman even when he was trying to look menacing. Nowadays, you don’t see it.
This is another match I was able to see at the Live Event I went to, and it was a fantastic match. I don’t care what the haters say about Reigns, he has great matches. He and Strowman went toe to toe and had a great match. What made it so great is Strowman was able to show how much he can go. After they had gone 15-20 minutes already, Strowman was able to hit that next gear for the finish they went to. Almost any guy his size, couldn’t do that. I think Strowman showed some of that in his match against Big Show.
Does Undertaker show up to cost Roman the match to repay Roman for eliminating him in the Rumble? There has to be something along those lines to protect Strowman as he clearly has a lot of steam right now. The match I saw live had a DQ finish and I could see that possibly here as well. Either way, I think a lot of people are going to be surprised at how good this match is.
Prediction: One of them will win by disqualification
Mike: Finally, a match with a good bit of intrigue regarding the outcome. Both of these guys have been straight wrecking balls during their time on Raw, and it's tough to imagine either one walking away with a clean victory here. Roman Reigns would be the obvious choice to go over Strowman under normal circumstances, but with a WrestleMania card looming it's far from the norm. WWE certainly didn't have RR chuck The Undertaker out of the Royal Rumble for nothing, and The Deadman is currently looking for a dance partner next month. It therefore would make a lot of sense for him to put in an appearance and factor heavily into a Strowman upset.
The other option would be some sort of no-contest, particularly as Strowman would suffer far more with a loss here and also is without defined opposition for WM. Their battles have been fairly even so far, with Strowman actually having a bit of an advantage, so I don't envision any scenario where Reigns goes over him clean. The best-case scenario in my book would be 'Taker hitting the ring after some solid back-and-forth action and attacking Reigns, with Strowman caught in the middle and then going after both of them. That sets up a three-way at Mania, giving the fans someone to potentially boo more than Roman and allowing Undertaker to catch more of his breath since a frankly embarrassing Rumble appearance.
Winner: No Contest
John: It’s hard for me to pick against Roman Reigns in a spot like this because we know he’s going to face The Undertaker at WrestleMania. However, Braun Strowman has been booked so strongly in the last eight months that I find it hard to believe that he will simply lose clean to put over Reigns. Doing the job at a house show isn’t really a big deal because that’s what heels are supposed to do. Are they going to have Strowman lose clean here? I’m not sure if it will happen, but I’m picking Reigns to win.
A possibility with this match involves The Undertaker. As we have seen when Reigns lost to Kevin Owens a few times, WWE will book Reigns to lose…it just won’t be clean. Having The Undertaker show up would be an out to put a loss on Reigns while furthering their story. The problem with that idea is that WWE has made no mention of The Undertaker since the Royal Rumble and there really doesn’t seem to be an issue with Undertaker/Reigns at all. Yes, Reigns eliminated him at the Rumble and had a staredown, but that’s where it ended. Would The Undertaker really show up to cost Reigns a win against a heel like Strowman? That idea seems flawed to me.
I think the match quality will be better than most people think and they might have the longest match of the show as well. As I always say, Reigns isn’t as bad as his haters think and he isn’t as good as his bosses think. He’s also a good in-ring performer when given a chance. Strowman has impressed me a lot in the last few months. I think he’ll impress again.
Winner: Roman Reigns
WWE Universal Championship: Kevin Owens vs. Bill Goldberg
Kurt: On my podcast last week (cheap plug accomplished), I mentioned the dilemma facing Kevin Owens now. Right in the middle of what seemed to be a surefire defeat, and more than likely squash to Goldberg, Owens turned on Chris Jericho and once again became the Kevin Owens of NXT that got him to the main roster in the first place. This new-found momentum was too good and too much to go to waste by having Goldberg destroy him. He deserves to carry the Universal Title through WrestleMania. How can we get there though when everyone knows there’s no way Goldberg is losing before Mania? I’m going to present a scenario that would work but I need to note two things first. One, I’m sorry I’m booking another run-in. This is the fourth match I have one in, but if Raw isn’t creative, how can I be? Secondly, I absolutely know this scenario isn’t happening and it will more than likely be a simple Goldberg win, but I’m going to try and think outside the box.
Have Goldberg and Owens brawl early in the match and take out the ref. Maybe Goldberg goes to Spear Owens, but Owens moves and the ref takes it. So we have no ref and then all of the sudden, here comes Brock Lesnar. Lesnar goes after Goldberg and for all intents and purposes, it looks like a 2 on 1 situation. Then, here comes Chris Jericho to go after Owens. Now you have all four men brawling all over ringside and hell, all over the arena. The ref finally comes to as he sees total chaos everywhere and he rings the bell and calls for a no decision. He can’t disqualify anyone because he didn’t actually see anything but he knows that he can’t bring control to the situation so the match is called. That way no one loses and Owens keeps the title. Not bad, right?
Prediction: No contest (But really, I know Goldberg is winning the title)
Mike: Normally in discussing the ultimate match of a wrestling card, I'm excited to delve into it and figure out what in the bout makes it tick for me as a fan. This particular match fills me with nothing but dread no matter where I look. It's like A Christmas Carol except all of the spirits are The Ghost of Christmas Future. To think that WWE has reached a point where their most important title could conceivably be around the waist of a part-time WCW "legend" whose initial run with the company was mercifully aborted before it could become terminal is to plumb the depths of mental despair.
Kevin Owens, of course, deserves better, and this continues the trend of outside guys being laid to waste for a quick buck and some marketing. Owens has basically been booked as a guy who can't win a damn thing without help (sound familiar, Seth Rollins fans?) and while that's a part of being a heel, it can't be the only part. Having his partnership with Chris Jericho wonderfully explode in front of our eyes was great drama, but just makes the outcome of this match even more clear. We will have to content ourselves with those two battling over the United States Title instead.
Will Brock Lesnar be there? I have no idea, and I don't really care. All of Goldberg's matches have been short to this point, and the most realistic action was the abuse he took bashing a backstage door with his noggin. How can we assume anything but that he is allowed to lay waste to Owens in short order? I obviously can't be too critical before seeing what happens, but the possibilities frankly frighten me. Sacrificing a hardworking champion as fluff for the funeral pyre is not my idea of a good time. Save it for the Network, WWE.
Winner (and NEW Universal Champion): He Who Shall Not Be Named
John: I don’t think this is that complicated. Goldberg said it on Raw when he promised a victory while noting that it would be a Spear, Jackhammer, 1, 2, 3 and Goldberg becomes the new Universal Champion. I think that’s what is going to happen. When Goldberg beat Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series I think the plan was in place for Goldberg to win the Universal Title here and drop it to Lesnar at WrestleMania. That’s the story that they’re sticking with as far as I know. Do I love the idea? Not really. I don’t think Goldberg winning the title is a big deal, but if WWE believes that this might cause casual fans to watch WrestleMania then it’s a smart reason to do it. Time will tell, I guess.
Some fans probably think Chris Jericho might show up to cost Owens. I’m not sure if that would fit the storyline because Goldberg is booked like an unstoppable monster that can win on his own. Why would Goldberg need help? That doesn’t fit the booking of his character at all.
I’m a huge Kevin Owens fan and I’ve enjoyed seeing him carry the Universal Title for over six months, but I think that journey ends here in a match that is done in about eight minutes. It might be less than that. This show will end with Goldberg ending the night as the Universal Champion just like he said.
Winner and New Universal Champion: Bill Goldberg
John: It feels like an average show. I’m not that excited about anything that is scheduled, but I feel like there’s enough talent on the card that they can surprise us by putting on a better show than some of us expect.
I will write a live review of WWE Fastlane this Sunday night during the show, so check out TJRWrestling.net during the show or after it’s over for my thoughts on everything.
Kurt - @KTankTMB
Mike - @DharmanRockwell
John - @johnreport
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