The pay-per-view shows on the way to WrestleMania are always a bit unusual. On the one hand, WWE wants to get fans invested en route to the big show, but there’s also a sense that any major title changes or story developments will be saved for the upcoming Showcase of the Immortals.

This year’s Fastlane card – airing live from Cleveland, Ohio – was a mixed bag of standard title clashes and more interesting matches that appeared likely to remove some of the clouds surrounding the Road to WrestleMania. Most of the company’s titles were on the line and there was also the small matter of Roman Reigns making his triumphant return to the ring after his battle with leukaemia.

Let’s take a look at what happened…

WWE Fastlane New Day Shinsuke Nakamura

New Day (Big E & Xavier Woods) defeated Rusev & Shinsuke Nakamura via Midnight Hour

Before the kick-off show match, a WWE official approached Kofi Kingston and said Vince McMahon wanted to talk to him about the WWE Championship match. Inside the ring, the heel tandem isolated Xavier Woods early on, until Big E was able to explode into the match with suplexes and a big splash. Eventually, Nakamura and Rusev got control of Woods again and he narrowly avoided a Kinshasa. New Day set up Midnight Hour, but Lana pushed Woods off the top rope, leaving Big E vulnerable to a Machka Kick for two. The smaller member of New Day was shortly after dumped on the floor after a failed dive and then found himself locked in the Accolade. Big E took out Nakamura at ringside and then got back in the ring to land Midnight Hour and win the match.

The New Day are the maestros of stealing the show with kick-off matches and, although this wasn’t up there with some of their best achievements, it was still a fun tag bout with some great near-falls. It’s simply not possible, it seems, for these guys to have a bad match, even against a thrown together team, like Rusev and Nakamura.

WWE Fastlane The Miz

SmackDown Live Tag Team Champions The Usos defeated The Miz and Shane McMahon via a roll-up

Miz and McMahon were a cohesive unit early on, drawing on the energy of a hometown crowd fully behind The Miz and even hitting a Hart Attack on the Champions. The Usos were able to overwhelm Shane, but he eventually made it to the A-Lister, who leapt energetically into the contest and revealed a ‘Cleveland is Awesome’ t-shirt before hitting a dive to the outside on both champions in front of his father at ringside. A pop-up Samoan Drop put the Usos back in control, but Miz hit Skull-Crushing Finale on Jey. The referee, however, was checking on Shane and so started his count a few seconds late, allowing the champ to kick out.

McMahon went to the top for Coast to Coast, only for one of the Usos to climb the opposite turnbuckle. The pair met in the air with a jaw-dropping collision, which opened things up for the Miz to try for a Frog Splash. The high-risk move was countered into a roll-up, allowing the Usos to retain. This was a solid match, capped off by that one incredible moment, but it was all about what would happen after the bell rang.

WWE Fastlane Shane McMahon Heel Turn on Miz

McMahon and Miz commiserated and hugged with Mr Miz in the front row, as Miz apologised to his partner for the mistake that led to their defeat. Shane initially seemed content, but delivered a clubbing blow to the back of Miz’s head and viciously pummelled him right in front of his father. He got a huge boo for tearing apart the Cleveland t-shirt and then locked in a triangle, choking Miz out as his dad watched. This was a brutal turn, executed perfectly by both McMahon and Miz, who proved to be a very sympathetic babyface, even in the face of some dreadful acting by his father. Their long-rumoured WrestleMania singles bout now seems like a certainty, and it has real heat behind it.

Elias took to the ring next and performed a brief song about the hometown boy being attacked, before putting down Cleveland and making a LeBron James gag. It was pretty much par for the course with Elias, who has become a heel again in recent weeks for very little reason. His shtick was doing well as a babyface.

WWE Fastlane Mandy Rose Asuka

SmackDown Live Women’s Champion Asuka defeated Mandy Rose via spinning kick

The story of this one in its early stages was the repeated interference of Sonya Deville, who distracted Asuka at every possible opportunity from ringside. Rose acquitted herself fairly well from an in-ring point of view, delivering some killer knee strikes and impressive moves. The Champion, however, peppered her with the strikes that have become her hallmark. As Rose went for her double underhook facebuster finisher, Deville lifted the ring apron to grab a kendo stick. Rose slipped on the fabric of the apron, allowing Asuka to land a stiff spinning kick to the challenger’s jaw. Three seconds later, it was all over.

This was definitely the best Mandy Rose has looked in the ring, despite the fact the final contest was ultimately a little brief and disappointing. The SmackDown Live Women’s Championship continues to look like something of an afterthought in the face of the mammoth main event women’s storyline over on RAW.

The two other members of New Day found Kofi Kingston backstage, still waiting outside Mr McMahon’s office door. They burst in and made an impassioned plea for Kofi to be added to the WWE Championship bout. McMahon acquiesced and announced that the newly announced triple threat match would be happening next, with the other members of New Day barred from ringside. It’s fair to say the Cleveland crowd was pleased.

WWE Fastlane Cesaro Sheamus Kofi Kingston

Handicap Match: The Bar defeated Kofi Kingston via White Noise

When Kingston made it to the ring, the announcer was informed that the WWE Championship match would happen later. Instead, Kofi would now face The Bar in a handicap match, contested under tornado rules. Even the most charitable WWE fan would have to call this baffling and nonsensical booking. Boos rained down as Cesaro and Sheamus brutalised the babyface competitor, culminating in a Brogue Kick as chants of “this is boring” rang through the arena. The Bar refused to pin Kingston, bringing out the other two members of the New Day, who were swiftly taken out by Rusev and Nakamura. Back in the ring, The Bar hit an assisted White Noise and pinned Kingston with feet on his chest. It’s difficult to locate a point behind this one.

Elias was back in the ring with another song after the match, running down the New Day as well as The Miz and Cleveland all over again. Backstage, a delightfully smug-looking Shane McMahon refused to answer any questions about his heinous post-match attack.

WWE Fastlane Ricochet Scott Dawson

RAW Tag Team Champions The Revival defeated Chad Gable & Bobby Roode and Aleister Black & Ricochet via Shatter Machine on Gable

Ricochet’s eye-catching offence dominated the early part of the match, but The Revival was able to isolate him. Aleister Black exploded into proceedings and a sequence of high spots led to Ricochet hitting a shooting star press on Dash Wilder, with the subsequent pin broken up by Bobby Roode. Ricochet then scaled the turnbuckle and hit a hurricanrana on Scott Dawson all of the ways to the floor, with both men colliding with the apron in an unpleasant fashion. The One and Only then hit a breath-taking dive over the ring post but was tagged out by Gable in mid-air. This proved a bad decision from the Olympian, as he immediately fell victim to the Shatter Machine from the champions.

There was some fun tag team action here in a match that was clearly designed as another chance for the new NXT arrivals to shine on the big stage, particularly as they stood tall following a post-match brawl to end the segment. Ricochet is the embodiment of the “human highlight reel” cliché and Black’s intensity is an absolute marvel. Keeping the belts away from them, for now, is the best move, particularly as they are both far more impressive and useful as singles performers.

WWE Fastlane Rey Mysterio R-Truth Andrade

United States Champion Samoa Joe defeated Rey Mysterio, R-Truth and Andrade via Coquina Clutch on Mysterio

This was a back and forth encounter of exciting combination manoeuvres, anchored by Rey Mysterio’s high-flying attacks, rightly described as “timeless” by the commentary team. Carmella and Zelina Vega continued their tensions at ringside, with a brawl between the two distracting Truth and Andrade for almost enough time to allow Joe to retain his title in the ring. Truth, meanwhile, continued his quest to honour his “hero” John Cena, but he soon found himself tossed to the floor. Mysterio hit Joe with a 619 and attempted to drop the dime, but got caught by the champion in the Coquina Clutch. In short order, Joe choked out the luchador to retain the belt.

As was something of a theme throughout Fastlane, this was an engaging and enjoyable encounter from an in-ring perspective, but one that feels rather weightless in terms of implications beyond the end of the show. This is almost certainly the end of R-Truth’s spell as a major player on the blue brand, but it’s still unclear as to who Joe’s opponent at WrestleMania will be now that he has gold around his waist.

WWE Fastlane Bayley Sasha Banks

Women’s Tag Team Champions The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection defeated Nia Jax & Tamina via hurricanrana on Jax

Both teams utilised frequent tags early on in an attempt to overwhelm their opponents. The power of the challengers proved too much for Bayley and Banks, despite their speed advantage. Jax hit a massive powerbomb to Bayley to take over the contest, but the babyface was eventually able to tag in Banks. Some tandem high-flying assaults took down Jax and Tamina, allowing Bayley to land an elbow drop for a two count. Jax went for another powerbomb, but Bayley countered into a hurricanrana and scored the pin. With a couple of clunky moves on the part of the challengers, this was a contest that never really had a chance to get going.

Again, it was a relatively brief match that existed partly to give the champions a good first defence, but also to serve a post-bell angle. Jax and Tamina beat down Bayley and Banks after the bell, which drew guest commentator Beth Phoenix out from her announce position. Tamina talked trash in her face and the Hall of Famer lashed out, shocking Tamina but subsequently falling victim to a two-on-one assault. Natalya rushed out to defend her long-time buddy, but also found herself overwhelmed by the powerhouse heel duo, who left the babyfaces lying in the ring. The prospect of Phoenix – a legend of power-based women’s wrestling – getting back in the ring for a final hurrah is a very exciting one indeed.

WWE Fastlane Mustafa Ali Daniel Bryan

WWE Champion Daniel Bryan defeated Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali via running knee on Ali

This contest was declared to be a triple threat by the ring announcer, but the additional competitor proved to be Mustafa Ali rather than Kofi Kingston. The reason for this was never made clear and it is an odd move, to say the least, to position two separate babyfaces, in Owens and Ali, as antagonists in Kingston’s rise to the hero slot. It doesn’t do any good for either of those two men. Indeed, Ali got as many boos as he did cheers when his name was announced.

The match itself struggled with this in its opening minutes. Owens and Ali squared off in exciting fashion, but all the crowd wanted to do was chanting for Kofi. Bryan soon took over and introduced a methodical pace that only increased the ire of the fans. Ali picked up the pace, though, landing a reverse hurricanrana on Owens, followed by an avalanche Spanish Fly on Bryan. Owens recovered in time to nail Ali with a stunner, but Bryan broke up the count. Ali hit a 450 Splash to Bryan on the apron and then joined forces with Owens to take Rowan out of the equation at ringside. The big man later made his presence felt, though, when he robbed Owens of the chance of victory after a pop-up powerbomb to Ali on the apron.

There was such an exciting phase of action, in fact, that the crowd seemed to forget about Kofi Kingston for five minutes or so. The match continued to heat up down the stretch, with all three competitors coming within a second of victory. Ali went for a springboard DDT on Bryan, only for the champion to counter the move in mid-air with a precision-timed running knee for the three-count.

This was an exceptional triple threat that would’ve been considerably better if the crowd hadn’t been deflated by its very existence. The WWE Championship picture continues to be something of a tangled mess, so the hope will be that the next few weeks of television product can locate a coherent path to a WrestleMania clash that, this time, will have to involve Kofi Kingston. Hopefully, they can find room for Owens and Ali too, who both shone brightly in this match.

WWE Fastlane Charlotte Flair Becky Lynch

Becky Lynch defeated Charlotte Flair via disqualification

Becky Lynch came to the ring with the help of a crutch, only to toss the walking aid aside so she could square off with Flair, albeit almost hopping around the ring on one leg. Flair brutally attacked the injured knee for the whole match, with only occasional flurries from Lynch. The Man managed to lock in the Disarm-her, but Flair rolled through and tied her up in the Figure Four. It was at this point that Ronda Rousey made her inevitable arrival, punching Lynch in the face to score her the win via disqualification. As per the match stipulation, Lynch’s victory means she is now part of the RAW Women’s Championship bout at WrestleMania.

This match was all it needed to be. The five minutes or so of beatdown put more heat on Flair and Rousey made sure she got her desired result. The stage is now set for the WrestleMania main event everyone expected was coming, with a month or so of television left to push these rapidly shifting characters into new directions.

WWE Fastlane Elias

Just before the main event, Elias made his third appearance, with another derogatory song about the Cleveland crowd. As he celebrated a rare night on which his performances were not interrupted, Lacey Evans arrived to do another of her bizarre walks along the ramp. With the segment seemingly over, Randy Orton sprang out of nowhere to land an RKO on Elias. His time in the spotlight was cut short, however, by AJ Styles, who hit a Phenomenal Forearm on the Viper and stood tall.

This points to an interesting rivalry in the coming weeks between Styles and Orton, which could produce some very good matches. However, it’s something of a shame to see Elias used only as a starting gun for other people’s storylines.

WWE Fastlane The Shield Bobby Lashley Drew McIntyre

The Shield defeated Baron Corbin, Bobby Lashley & Drew McIntyre via triple powerbomb on Corbin

It was no surprise to see The Shield enter this match in explosive fashion, with the crowd greeting Roman Reigns as a returning hero when he tagged into the match. Dean Ambrose was eventually isolated by the heels and almost lost the match by count-out after a Claymore Kick from Drew McIntyre sent him to the floor. Ambrose and Rollins then joined forces against the villainous team, delivering stereo dives to the floor. This left Reigns and Baron Corbin brawling in the ring, while the other four men fought out into the crowd, where Rollins did one of his trademark dives from the stands.

Back in the ring, Corbin hit End of Days on Reigns, but fortunately, his comrades were able to break up the pin. The heels set up a disrespectful attempt at a triple powerbomb through the announce table, but Rollins wriggled free with the help of Reigns and hit a stomp on Lashley against the table. Corbin ate a spear on the floor and McIntyre found himself on the receiving end of a triple powerbomb through the table. Back in the ring, the Hounds of Justice circled Corbin and he took a string of finishers, culminating in another triple powerbomb before the final pinfall.

This was a fitting return for one of modern wrestling’s greatest stables, helped by the obvious emotion running through all three men. When Rollins yelled an expletive as he prepared for the final powerbomb, it was a clear outpouring of passion that was paid off by the tearful embrace the trio shared after the bell rang. Whatever Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose have in their immediate future, this was a poignant farewell for their most successful personas.

Overall, Fastlane was another fun pay-per-view from WWE. With the exception of the delightfully self-contained Shield bout, though, everything felt like a case of moving pieces around the board to get everything ready for WrestleMania. As much as some things slotted neatly into place, there are still a handful of questions that need to be answered as the build to the big show continues.

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