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This Sunday the Raw brand will be delivering its last PPV before WrestleMania. While most of the outcomes are quite predictable, the implications of each match will have a huge impact on how each wrestler will be viewed heading into WWE’s biggest event of the year.
Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax
In a match that was just announced this week Sasha Banks will try to get revenge while Nia Jax is looking for a statement win to find a place in the Raw women’s title picture. It is strange to see this match being scheduled as these two squared off twice in January. With the four prominent women on Raw all showing that they are worthy of the championship, the winner of this match with certainly pose the biggest threat to whomever is victorious in the title bout later that evening.
It was no accident that Nia got a pinfall victory over Bayley on Raw and she has been called “the most dominant female in WWE history” on more than one occasion by the announce team. Much like how JBL has called Baron Corbin “a future WWE champion” over 20 times, the creative team wants to make sure the viewing audience knows that Jax is a legitimate title contender now, and will be for years to come. The challenge here is the size difference between Jax and Banks. In their last matchups, Sasha was selling a prior injury which allowed Nia to win quickly with Sasha protected. In this case, both women are healthy and anything but a quick and dominant win for Jax will make her look vulnerable. If she were to lose in any fashion, it would cast serious doubt on her participation in Wrestlemania.
Sasha has been primed and ready for a heel turn at any moment as the over the top babyface act just has not worked. The crowd reactions have died, and the majority of Banks’s promos have been very weak as of late. If Sasha were to lose this match, with the defeat being the catalyst of a heel turn, the impact of that attitude change in the weeks leading up to Mania could launch her back into the title picture and a loss on Sunday would not hurt that badly. If Sasha were to overcome Jax and stay a babyface, it would seem far more likely that we could be headed for a one on one match between her and Charlotte at Wrestlemania. Understanding the original plans called for Bayley to be involved, her performances in the spotlight as of late may have WWE officials changing their minds and shifting to a safe bet with Flair vs. Banks.
Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe has come onto the main roster like a ball of fire. He has the backing of Triple H, looked incredibly strong in his matches against Roman Reigns and Cesaro, and has been given ample TV time to tell his story and establish his character. His opponent is Sami Zayn, the lovable loser who has now been used to enhance the push of Braun Strowman and Joe while not gaining any steam for himself.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that Joe wins this match, but where does that leave Sami for Wrestlemania? Every championship angle is locked up and sending him to the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal seems like much less than a consolation prize for Zayn, who has done everything that has been asked of him since winning his feud with Kevin Owens. Zayn and Joe have the potential to create the match of the night, and it is up to both men to make Sami look as strong as possible so the losses he has been racking up does not start to hurt his credibility.
As mentioned, Joe is just about a lock to win this match. Contrary to what we need to see from Sami, however, Joe needs just the opposite. If WWE sees Joe as a major player in the title picture after Wrestlemania, this match needs to be very similar to what he and Cesaro did on Raw. While ardent fans would love to see these two go 20 minutes or more, it just would not make sense within the narrative structure of how Joe is being portrayed. I am in no way recommending this be a three minute squash, but Joe needs to put Sami away in quick enough fashion to continue his “destroyer” persona, especially with his Wrestlemania plans being unknown at the moment.
Tag Team Championship Match: Gallows & Anderson (C) vs. Enzo & Cass
Amongst all of the matches on the Fastlane card, this may be one of the hardest to predict. After Gallows & Anderson finally got their opportunity to attain the tag team championships, they have been buried in the mid card and most recently being used to make Roman Reigns look strong and garner sympathy. Not really the title run they, or any of their fans were looking for. With almost no story built into this match and no clear path for either team to Wrestlemania this one is truly a toss up.
Enzo & Cass were once thought of as legit championship contenders months ago, but have since engaged in more personal and comedic conflicts with almost no talk on TV of winning the titles. If victorious, it will say just as much about how much WWE views Enzo & Cass as how they perceive Gallows & Anderson. If victorious, Enzo & Cass will start yet another new chapter in the Raw tag division while Gallows & Anderson will dip even further down the card after losing and having one of the most disappointing title runs in recent history. One could make the argument that the Enzo & Cass act does not need the titles to be entertaining and relevant, but if they do not prove they can compete with the best teams on Raw at some point their credibility will start to drop.
After doing Gallows & Anderson no favors for the last month, WWE has an opportunity to showcase just how devastating this team could be. Every week the announce team talks about their dominance of the New Japan tag division and how successful they have been all over the world, yet none of it has translated to the television presentation. Further, when Gallows & Anderson continue to come up on the losing end, or having to cheat to win every match they are victorious in, it delegitimizes anyone else who may enter the WWE main roster from similar backgrounds. With an extremely weak Raw tag team division, Gallows & Anderson could benefit greatly from a decisive win and a lengthy title reign.
Cruiserweight Championship Match: Neville (C) vs. Jack Gallagher
Much like the Cruiserweight Title match at Royal Rumble, this couldn’t be more predictable. Jack Gallagher has done a fantastic job of endearing himself to the WWE fans and establishing himself as a formidable opponent for the champion, but it doesn’t change the fact that Neville is the star of this division and will not be dropping the title.
Moving into WrestleMania, the story within the Cruiserweight Division will be focussed solely on Neville and Austin Aries, with the build to some crazy 8-man tag match in the background destined for the pre-show. Gallagher has been a fantastic babyface that has gotten most fans to dislike Neville more and more each week, which will pave the way for Aries to come in as a hard-nose babyface and challenge Neville in Orlando. The most important aspect of this match will be making Neville look tremendous and as despicable as ever.
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
The two men involved in this match have been on a crash course leading to Fastlane for weeks, and it will be interesting to see how they perform in a sanctioned match. Unfortunately for Braun, the outcome of this match will mean far less than how the finish plays out. With no set plans for Strowman at Wrestlemania, this match will be all about Roman Reigns and The Undertaker. Rumors are flying about Undertaker showing up to cost Roman this match and setting up their story for WrestleMania, which would make sense.
Understanding that this matchup is more about Reigns than it is about Strowman, the WWE has pushed Braun as a monster, keeping him string and almost always getting the best or Reigns in the build. With the impending arrival of The Undertaker, it will be important to give Braun enough time to further his character and dominance of the main event players on Raw. With Roman already lined up for a marquee match in Orlando, Strowman cannot simply be in a supporting role on Sunday. Braun’s strength and athleticism needs to be on full display so his performance isn’t easily forgotten once Fastlane goes off the air., or even if and when the gong hits.
Roman is on a much different track. WWE will be faced with making the decision of finally turning Roman heel, or keep him babyface against one of the most iconic figures in WWE history and hope fans take his side. For Reigns, his actions and demeanor in this match is much more important than the outcome, which will most likely be a DQ or a non-finish. We know that WWE will do everything in their power to make Roman look as strong as possible heading into WrestleMania, but we could find out how he will be presented moving forward at Fastlane.
Women’s Championship Match: Bayley (C) vs. Charlotte Flair
Does anyone truly believe that Charlotte’s much talked about PPV winning streak will be broken at Fastlane? Me either, but as mentioned in the Sasha vs. Jax preview, this match’s presentation will help shape the Women’s Title scene moving into WrestleMania.
Bayley won the Women’s Title at a time where she was not ready, nor had she been built up like a champion prior to her victory. With having the deck stacked against her at Fastlane, it will be interesting to see how the finish is booked and what it will do to the fans’ perception of the Bayley character. If she is beaten clean in the middle of the ring, partnered with a Sasha Banks victory, both Bayley and Jax could be ousted from the rumored fatal four-way match at WrestleMania. The most likely scenario, however, would see Bayley get in a ton of offense only to lose to Charlotte by way of cheating or outside interference. There has been so much of that in recent months on Raw that it would not be surprising at all to see Dana Brooke or even Ric Flair get involved to help Charlotte pick up the victory. This would allow Charlotte to keep her PPV win streak in tact while giving Bayley a plausible reason for getting another shot at the title.
The problem with the aforementioned ideas is that Charlotte is not someone who should be relying upon outside help or cheating tactics to win important matches. Yes, I understand she is the daughter of “the dirtiest player in the game,” but Charlotte is by far the most physically gifted female on the roster and one of the best performers in the WWE. Regardless of how it effects Bayley, Charlotte should be winning this match clean and heading into WrestleMania as an unstoppable champion. The hot potato being played with the Raw Women’s title has done no good for anyone involved and a long reign for Charlotte should start this Sunday.
Universal Championship Match: Kevin Owens (C) vs. Goldberg
It all comes down to this. Kevin Owens is finally coming into his own as a credible Universal Champion while Goldberg is looking to have one more title run before he officially retires. Personally, I do not see any scenario in which Kevin Owens retains his title with Goldberg squaring off against Brock Lesnar at Wreslemania, and the intrigue here is how WWE books the finish.
Kevin Owens is destined to face Chris Jericho at WrestleMania and it wouldn’t make any sense for each wrestler to have a title when they face off. Personally, I think it is a shame to take the title off of Owens before the biggest show of the year after finally showing a more serious side of his character, but it seems destined to happen. If this is the case, Owens cannot lose in a typical Goldberg match where he is beaten in under a minute. Owens is fantastic, but the only person who can handle a loss like that is Brock Lesnar. Further, Owens does not have the luxury of staying off television for months at a time to let the effects of the loss fade away. To protect Owens, Chris Jericho needs to play a role in Goldberg’s victory which will help enhance his story with Owens and give him a reason to explain away the defeat.
The factor which makes me (and almost everyone else) believe that Goldberg will leave Milwaukee with the Universal Title is that Vince McMahon would never book a non-title match to close WrestleMania, and the match that will close this year’s show is undoubtedly Goldberg vs. Lesnar. While he may be relying upon Jericho to assist him in victory, Goldberg does need to establish utter dominance in this match. Since his Survivor Series match his physicality and promos have been equally as clumsy, and a solid performance here could erase a lot of those memories. Aside from that, this match seems awfully straightforward, I simply hope it doesn’t hurt Owens long term.
Hope everyone enjoys Fastlane and has a great weekend!
NOW CHECK OUT THIS PREVIOUS ARTICLE: PPV OUTCOMES & IMPLICATIONS – ELIMINATION CHAMBER: World Title at stake, Bliss vs. Naomi, Tag Turmoil, Orton vs. Harper, Nikki vs. Natalya