The Fastlane go-home shows for RAW and SmackDown Live certainly provided some memorable moments on WWE TV this week and gave our AllWrestling Power Poll plenty of performances from which to choose.
Obviously, RAW dominated the big stories as a now healthy Roman Reigns convinced Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose to reunite The Shield, Ronda Rousey turned in a scorched-Earth heel turn in which she said f*** everyone from the fans to the company and Triple H delivered a slobberknocker of a promo to sell his upcoming WrestleMania feud with Batista. However, SmackDown delivered a long-awaited gem to the fans, crowning Samoa Joe as United States Champion, an overdue honor for one of the best in the business.
Unfortunately, WWE continues to fail in its creative work in a few different areas. Despite devoting a lengthy amount of time to tag team wrestling on RAW, none of the matches provided anything overly compelling to make you invested in any of the teams. It’s also obvious that in focusing on the Becky Lynch-Charlotte Flair-“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey feud for the RAW Women’s Championship that the rest of the women’s division on both shows is getting thrown to the wayside. SmackDown Women’s Champion Asuka got only seconds of screen time to ambush her challenger, Mandy Rose, who had a blink-and-you-missed-it victory over Naomi, ahead of their title match at the pay-per-view show in Cleveland.
Taking all of that into account, let’s countdown the top performers of the week in our last AllWrestling Power Poll before Fastlane.
They Didn’t Quite Make the List
Tamina & Nia Jax – Tamina scored a rare singles match victory over Sasha Banks, thanks to timely interference from Jax, to keep the build going for their Women’s Tag Team Championship match at Fastlane. Tamina and Jax continue to look like unstoppable forces who hold a distinct size advantage over Banks and Bayley. I don’t think there’s any way the WWE ends the title fun for The Boss & Hug Connection in their first title defense, but this is a way to keep heat on Jax as a top heel for RAW.
Elias – Though I haven’t been a fan of the seemingly directionless way in which WWE has bounced its resident musician back and forth from babyface to heel, The Drifter turned in a strong showing this week. He roasted Philadelphia with his song, including the classic line that Philly is the place where Bryce Harper said his career would go to die. Then, Elias, who had bashed Dean Ambrose in the back with a guitar during RAW’s opening segment, followed it up with a victory over The Lunatic Fringe in the ring. Given Elias hasn’t had much to celebrate lately, this counts as a big week for him.
Ricochet & Aleister Black – Though their pairing as a tag team still puzzles me, the NXT callups got a big thumbs up this week by landing a match on the first pay per view since their main roster debut. These two haven’t lost on the main roster and could have potentially unseated current RAW Tag Team Champs The Revival if not for meddling from former champs Bobby Roode & Chad Gable. This orchestrates the mess that is the RAW tag team division. Ricochet and Black had nothing to do with each other at NXT, have simply been thrown together since then and already have a title shot. The current champs – Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder – have lost so many times since they claimed the belts that it’s a wonder anybody takes them seriously as champs. The former champs – Roode & Gable – had zero personality. Could Ricochet & Black leave Fastlane as champs? That you can’t dismiss that possibility tells you all you need to know.
Heavy Machinery – Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight scored consecutive victories over The B-Team, The Ascension and Curt Hawkins & Zack Ryder – three teams that comprise the equivalent of tackling dummies in the NFL. Though these squash matches are supposed to build up the reputation of the NXT callups, those three teams are held in such low regard that it’s doubtful Heavy Machinery got much of a boost in credibility. However, the upside for them is that it seems to point toward a push for them in the coming months.
Top 10 Superstars of the Week (In Reverse Order)
10. Mandy Rose – God’s Greatest Creation navigated a rough week on the way to her first singles title shot this Sunday in Cleveland. A native New Yorker, Rose got to return close to home at a WWE Live event in White Plains, NY, on Monday, but then news flooded Twitter that she possibly injured Asuka while trying to perform her finisher in that match. Luckily, Asuka let fans know later on she was okay. Rose then had an afterthought match that she won over Naomi in about three minutes toward the end of SmackDown, but was ambushed by the champion on her way up the ramp with Sonya Deville. Since the Empress of Tomorrow has rarely appeared on TV this year, it’s fair to wonder whether Rose might win at Fastlane.
9. The Almighty Lone Psychopaths (Bobby Lashley, Baron Corbin & Drew McIntyre) – My nickname for the RAW heel faction notwithstanding, these very unpopular men laid waste to Kurt Angle, Braun Strowman and Intercontinental Champion Finn Balor on RAW before being announced as The Shield’s opponent at Fastlane. If there is a sure bet on Sunday, it’s that The Shield beats these guys. However, they all get a bump for even being a part of that match. Considering WWE has teased a confrontation between Reigns and Corbin over his comments about The Big Dog while he was battling leukemia, this might lead to a WrestleMania match between Reigns and the former RAW general manager.
8. Kevin Owens – Man, is it nice to have one of the best mic workers in the company back on top of his game. KO gave us one of the few foils for “The New” Daniel Bryan who could keep up with the WWE Champion in a war of words. Though Owens ended up losing a match to Bryan’s muscle, Rowan, near the end of SmackDown, it gave us a nice appetizer of what should be a potential show-stealing match at Fastlane. Due to rumors Kofi Kingston will face Bryan for the title at WrestleMania, it doesn’t seem like it’s Owens’ time to be champion again just yet.
7. WWE Champion “The New” Daniel Bryan & Rowan – The heel champion and his 7-foot protector “Redwood” baited Owens and ultimately sprung the trap in the form an underhanded victory for Rowan in the penultimate segment of SmackDown. I find this feud interesting if only for the jarring switch in roles with Bryan as a heel and Owens a face. It’s not something I’m used to seeing, but I came away impressed that both men came off with authority on their promos. Outside of the match between Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, there isn’t another match on the Fastlane card that I’m looking forward to seeing more than this one.
6. Charlotte Flair – The Queen failed to receive the coronation as the RAW Women’s Champion that she teased coming into Monday’s show from Philadelphia, but the segments this week with which she was involved made it virtually a lock that women will main event WrestleMania for the first time. That’s a monumental victory for the women of WWE and three women involved in the match. Flair got off easy when Rousey went postal on RAW, slipping out of the ring and watching the champ rain down fists and arm bars on The Man. However, Flair got a Dis-Arm-Her at the end of SmackDown Live after calling out the injured Lynch in an attempt to work her over some more after Rousey’s attack.
5. Triple H – A month before he’s inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame with his D-Generation X faction, Hunter took us back in time with an epic promo to continue the build for his WrestleMania match with Batista. Though some people blanched at the mention of Reid Flair’s death, I thought Triple H’s promo was pitch perfect in selling his friendship with Richard Fliehr, the man known in the ring as Hall of Famer Ric Flair. The closeness of their bond provided the fuel for Triple H’s outrage over Batista attacking Flair the week prior during his 70th birthday celebration. This bit of mic work provided just the continued push this feud needed to carry it forward to WrestleMania.
4. RAW Women’s Champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey – “Incensed” by their social media feud last weekend that saw Lynch liken the head of Rousey’s husband, Travis Browne, to a penis, the Rowdy One came to RAW to fight. She stomped to the ring, told Stephanie McMahon that she didn’t give up her title, wanted her belt back and then lit into fans, the WWE and ultimately Lynch herself. Depending on whose rumors you read, Rousey and Lynch are either close friends selling this as complete storyline gold or Ronda is legit ticked off at The Man and wants to pound her into oblivion for real. Though it certainly seems like there is some angst there from Rousey, I’ve admittedly been fooled a time or two. Regardless, Rousey finally went from a choir girl masquerading as “The Baddest Bitch on the Planet” to actually looking like the UFC beatdown beast most people were expecting to see when she first announced her arrival in the WWE. That has excited her UFC fans who tune into WWE now, and has most of the traditional WWE Universe ready to boo her out of arenas. Seems like a win-win for the WWE.
3. Becky Lynch – I can already hear some critics now. Rousey beat her to a pulp, but you have Lynch higher on the list? Hear me out. Lynch ended the week with her path back into the WrestleMania main event laid out – a win or go home match with Flair at Fastlane – and she ended perhaps her final appearance on SmackDown in dominant fashion against The Queen. In case you missed our report earlier this week, WWE’s app took mentions of Lynch out of advertisements for WWE Live events for SmackDown brand shows this week. Furthermore, eagle-eyed fans pointed out that Lynch actually never tapped to any of Rousey’s arm bars during the assault and ended the segment smiling at Rousey. If anything, Lynch taking Rousey’s best and smiling it off only adds to her legend as a Stone Cold Steve Austin-type badass.
2. United States Champion Samoa Joe – R-Truth finally took on more than he could handle when Samoa Joe, Rey Mysterio and Andrade all answered his open challenge for the U.S. title. While the champion did his best, the sheer numbers were too much. The Samoan Submission Specialist ended up hitting El Idolo with a uranage and capturing the belt.This has been far too long coming for Joe, a veteran who has been great consistently since he came to WWE. His matches have not always been fantastic, but his work and presentation have made him always feel like a star. Joe has such a wealth of potential rivals for his title. Hopefully, that isn’t wasted at WrestleMania. He could have great singles matches with Ali or John Cena, but WWE could also just throw him into a multi-man title match with Mysterio, Andrade, Truth, Ali and Jeff Hardy.
1. The Shield (Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose) – In a storyline thread that ran most of the show on RAW, the boys got the band back together one more time. They will take on Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre and Baron Corbin at Fastlane. According to some rumors, this might also be a jumping off point for a Shield one-off and more faction in-fighting. Though WWE has sold Ambrose leaving the company hard, there are still some rumors that he doesn’t leave. Whether he stays or goes, Ambrose may wind up turning on Reigns and giving us a memorable feud for WrestleMania. Given his heel turn the night of Reigns’ leukemia announcement and his reluctance to rejoin The Big Dog and The Beast Slayer, The Lunatic Fringe may be plotting against Reigns, according to rumors making the rounds on the Web. Whether you’re a hardcore Shield fan or a critic who didn’t want to see them get back together, you can’t argue that there is potential for some great storytelling with these three in the next month or so if it really is Ambrose’s swan song.