WWE’s Fastlane wrecked on Saturday night, promising big names, alluring finishes and long-ranging story developments.
Only the big names like John Cena and LA Knight were checked off the list by night’s end, cementing it as the winner of Worst PLE of 2023 that will be hard to beat.
The pacing of the night was good, with five matches and a quick runtime. But if there was ever a pay-per-view that screamed “WWE offseason,” this bad boy was it.
Start right at the top, where Cody Rhodes and Jey Uso took the undisputed WWE tag team titles off The Judgment Day (Finn Bálor and Damian Priest) in a surprising finish.
Rhodes and Jey are super-over with fans, but it’s mind-numbingly weird to see WWE break up The Usos, only to have Jey move brands to be a solo star—with theme music stressing it—and then win tag titles during a filler PPV.
WWE now has to navigate these messy waters that include somehow keeping Rhodes and Jey over with fans while eventually having them lose championships, all before The American Nightmare presumably shrugs that off to go and challenge Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40. Maybe it’s just a vehicle to get these guys on both Raw and SmackDown weekly (maybe de-unifying them too?), but let’s not pretend the brand split really matters.
Carlito and Latino World Order taking down Bobby Lashley and The Street Profits in a 10-minute match was fine, and it’s hard to complain in either direction. And it was nice to see Iyo Sky avoid losing the WWE Women’s Championship at a filler event.
Cena and Knight against The Bloodline, consisting of Jimmy Uso and Solo Sikoa, was basically what fans thought it would be going into things.
It’s a blessing to still see Cena and he’s clearly got some gas left. Knight is super-over and getting huge reactions from fans, so him getting this spot is a good sign WWE will continue to let him soar.
As a match, though, it didn’t provide a moment. It was a headline-styled event the company knew couldn’t main-event, and it didn’t do all that much for the bad guys, either.
Which brings us to the main event, where Seth Rollins retained the heavyweight title over Shinsuke Nakamura. That doesn’t do the match itself justice, because it was brilliant and fun, but the result over the long term won’t do it any favors.
Rollins got absolutely brutalized after entering with well-understood back issues. He got dropped through a table with a dive, off a ladder through a table after a nice misting to the eyes, he had his back dropped on concrete and stairs, and even ate a finisher through a table.
And still won.
It almost felt like Rollins and WWE going for the opposite of his criticized matches with Bray Wyatt from years ago, making Nakamura look amazing in a loss. Problem is, plenty of onlookers will be disappointed The Artist lost, especially because it probably means he just goes back to the midcard.
And hey, in the moment, this was acceptable at least somewhat because surely, the effort put into storytelling there meant Priest would come out and cash in his Money in the Bank contract and take the title from The Visionary, setting up some amazing stories for The Judgment Day and a fresh main event scene.
Now there’s a Priest problem, too: He looks like a massive dork. At a recent PLE, he made a point to show he was going to be unavailable after a Rollins main event for a cash-in because he would be out celebrating.
This time, nothing other than a knee emphasis from his match that can’t be worse than Rollins’ back. He just didn’t show. And like with Rollins overcoming that beating, it just asks fans to uplift that suspension of disbelief a little too high.
Just how weak does a champion need to be before Priest decides it’s safe to cash in? While, by the way, he has four people who can help him do it to win a world title?
At this point, after seeing how much damage Rollins took without a cash-in, one could be convinced Priest might let the contract expire and never speak of it again.
For as hot as pro wrestling is right now and for all the stuff going on, one would think the program might have alluded to some of it.
Jade Cargill got a mention, but there were zero CM Punk hints, no Roman Reigns, the sort of stuff that would tell fans, “Hey, don’t skip the skippable-looking events.” All this while All Elite Wrestling has some big stuff going on, which WWE has blatantly acknowledged with the massive counterprogramming that is stuffing big names like Cena on Tuesday’s NXT, to the point even The Undertaker might be there.
Look, these are unforced errors. But bad shows are going to happen. And to WWE’s credit, it has been on fire in 2023. Blazingly so. This showing isn’t going to doom anything, but it does present some weird storytelling issues. And that’s why Fastlane will easily go down as the most forgettable event of the year in an otherwise stacked lineup.
But hey, at least it went by fast.