RAW Deal: Strife in the Fastlane

Okay, I can’t lie; I stole that title from the new WWE mobile game WWE Champions. It was such good copy that I had to borrow it.

Anyway, yes, the Fastlane to WrestleMania is coming up this weekend. It’s RAW’s turn to set their final plans for WrestleMania in motion—but before that, SmackDown’s got something to say with a huge regular episode of its own to remind you that it doesn’t need a big PPV to have big moments.

It’s something I’ve noticed RAW doesn’t like doing. For all its 3 hours of interminable action, they don’t maximize the single-brand PPV setup and build up to special regular episodes every now and then, instead preferring to wallow in its own muck and letting the usual big matchups carry it. For example, a match like Samoa Joe vs. Cesaro from this week’s episode could have topbilled a Very Special RAW a few weeks ago to match SmackDown’s Elimination Chamber PPV. If Vince McMahon truly is overseeing SmackDown, then it’s funny how the left hand really doesn’t know what the right is doing.

So before I move on to Fastlane predictions, real quick: SmackDown made major moves to its pieces this week. My first possible outcome turned out being true, to an extent: Randy Orton turned on Bray Wyatt right after AJ Styles beat Luke Harper to become the new #1 contender to the WWE Championship, setting up a complication that’ll lead to AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon (presumably, but hopefully there’s a representative involved somewhere) at WrestleMania.

There are, indeed, some major loose ends, but at least we know we’re they’re going. The turn has been a long time coming, planted ever since the Viper suddenly joined the Wyatt Family from out of nowhere (see what I did there). The only outcome was ever going to be destruction from the inside, and while it could have been longer, this is pretty good for WWE standards. It was the best time, anyway, since WrestleMania is some four weeks away from now, so we can have a whole month’s worth of buildup.

AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon isn’t really a match that appeals to me, only because Styles deserves a better dance partner than this. My biggest hope is that someone deserving from the SmackDown roster steps up to wrestle for McMahon. Granted, there aren’t enough top babyfaces to match up against Styles on paper, but this is a good chance to pluck someone up and make a star out of them. Let that guy be Apollo Crews, at least. A medium-length match with Styles on the WrestleMania lower-card will do wonders for Crews’s status on SmackDown.

Fastlane predictions

Yes, we really gotta do this.

Rich Swann and Akira Tozawa vs. Noam Dar and the Brian Kendrick (with Alicia FOOOOOX) in a tag team match

This is your perfunctory cruiserweight division match, and on paper it’s great (just look at all these guys in the match) but the terrible thing about it is that it tells me Rich Swann really is feuding against Noam Dar. Presumably over Alicia FOOOOOOOOX. Not a good look for one of the better cruiserweight champions in the purple reboot.

Winner: Rich Swann and Akira Tozawa

Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax

This is the second or third straight match between these two women, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that no one really cares about this. People want Sasha Banks to play for the title more, and Nia Jax is a hard woman to care about, especially on RAW. Sasha may win here, but not decisively.

Winner: Sasha Banks

Neville (c) vs. Jack Gallagher for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

For all the things Monday Night RAW gets right, it’s the cruiserweight division, but partly because it has another hour exclusive to the cruiserweights to help move things along. Neville vs. Gallagher is a simple story anchored on the extremes the two competitors represent: Neville as pure rage and Gallagher as cool, collected technique. I won’t expect fireworks, but given enough minutes, this will be a solid little midcard match. Let’s hope it’s used as more than a cooldown bout between two hot matches.

Winner: Neville

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass for the WWE RAW Tag Team Championships

I don’t mind Enzo and Cass being two cheerable assholes as long as RAW makes it clear that they’re not to be taken as family-friendly acts. They’re like the tag team version of Stone Cold Steve Austin (okay, modern-day D-Generation X?) which gives them instant appeal, but to insist that they’re ever good guys is going to make people turn on them sooner than later. Let them be.

That said, the Club should be bigger heels in this match. It’s too soon to make them drop the championships, especially that you have to build up a new dominant team after the New Day has bizarrely moved on from the titles at this point. Let Enzo and Cass build the chase first so this can work better, but I wouldn’t be surprised if RAW pulled a sudden switch.

Winner: Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe

If we get this feud all the way ‘til WrestleMania, I won’t complain one bit. The Destroyer deserves a strong opponent in his first main roster storyline, and if an injured Seth Rollins can’t be that guy, then Sami Zayn is as good a candidate as any other. I want this storyline to take on an extra layer by bringing up the fact that both men were Triple H Babies, and that he no longer likes Zayn for underperforming on RAW.

There is a disconnect between NXT Triple H and RAW Triple H, and it’s hard to not be aware of that dissociation so long as they keep publicizing what he does for his developmental system. They have to find a way to either embrace the disconnect or insist on one thing over the other. They probably would have found a way on SmackDown, though.

Winner: Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

Strowman doesn’t deserve to lose here. For all his improvement, if he’s going to be the next monster, they have to make sure Strowman walks away with the W, even if it makes Reigns look a little bad. The guy’s been so overpushed that he could take this hit, and it builds up a potential WrestleMania match.

That said, look for this match, if booked properly, to be a show-stealer. Especially considering Strowman’s style.

Winner: Braun Strowman, or Roman Reigns by DQ or something

Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair for the WWE RAW Women’s Championship

They’re still doing that thing where people beat Charlotte on TV and Charlotte wins it back on PPV, because she can never be beaten on PPV, right?

Winner: Charlotte Flair (new Women’s Champion)

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Goldberg for the WWE Universal Championship

Okay, so let’s list down all the ways this can play out.

Option #2 is my most preferred bet here (actually, it’s Option #3, but this is RAW and that’s unrealistic) but the fear of #1 happening is too real. Either way, it’s more than certain that Goldberg is heading into WrestleMania as the Universal Champion, because what better way to top the show off (and give the tocino belt some prestige) by having two legends compete for it? It may not be the best move, but it makes a lot of business sense I can’t deny.

Unless, of course, Vince McMahon has enough political will to go long-term over short-term. But I doubt it.

Winner: Goldberg (new WWE Universal Champion)

Let me know what you’re picking for Fastlane on Monday morning (Manila time)! – Rappler.com

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