Given that the match didn’t start until 10:59 p.m. – one minute before the broadcast was scheduled to go off the air – it was obvious there was not going to be much drama here. WWE extended the show as Owens stalled by jumping out of the ring. Chris Jericho’s music hit, he appeared at the top of the ramp and Goldberg did his thing on a distracted Owens.
There is not much to say about the specifics of the match so let’s look at this through the prism of history.
• When Hulk Hogan returned to WWE in 2002 after the demise of WCW, he won the world championship two months after he came back.
• When Brock Lesnar returned to WWE in 2012 after switching to UFC and trying pro football, he would win the WWE title, although more than two years elapsed from his comeback to his championship.
• When The Rock returned for various appearances between 2011 and 2013, he would win the title for his first championship in more than 10 years at the 2013 Royal Rumble.
• Triple H wrestled one match in 2015, but when he re-entered the ring at the Royal Rumble in 2016, he left with the championship.
That is not to question any of these moves individually and why they did – or did not – make sense at the time. It is only to point out a pattern.
Goldberg — the champion at 50 years old — simply adds to the pattern.
For the biggest wrestling company in the world to have its marquee and big-money talent hold the championship is perfectly legitimate. But did Goldberg need to win the title?
On the yes side: The rematch between Goldberg and Lesnar at WrestleMania on April 2 will now be for the title in what is expected to be Goldberg’s final match after returning last fall from 12 years in retirement. Lesnar-Goldberg could close the show and the title being at stake just ups the ante. WWE is trying to get all it can from two big names while it can, and why not?
Owens will go on to face Jericho for the U.S. title at WrestleMania in what could be a classic, given the chemistry the two have developed while working together over the last few months. With Jericho expected to depart WWE for the summer to tour with his band Fozzy, Owens presumably wins the title.
On the no side: Unless Goldberg is planning to remain with WWE, it’s hard to see how putting the title on a part-time guy for less than 30 days matters much at Owens’ expense when Owens has become a cornerstone of the RAW brand.
Where I land: WrestleMania is about creating the famed “WrestleMania moment.” As much buzz as Goldberg’s victory against Lesnar in 1:26 at the Survivor Series, could they find a way to create more? Goldberg and Lesnar will get their chance to make amends for an awful bout from WrestleMania 20. The championship only adds to the mix. Owens’ loss comes with the caveat that he was distracted by Jericho. He has worked with WWE’s top stars and thrived in his two years on the main roster. There is no reason that won’t continue.
Thumbs in the middle
WWE had done a much better job of late in making the brand-only pay-per-views feel like special events rather than just Sunday night versions of RAW and Smackdown Live without commercials.
Fastlane seemed like a bit of a step back in that regard, although some of that can be mitigated by the fact that there was no reason for WWE to waste a huge angle less than a month away from WrestleMania. The purpose of the show was to move the storylines along.
While the matches at the top of the card largely delivered, and Goldberg’s win was about what you would expect, the early part of the show was a bit lackluster.
Samoa Joe made his WWE pay-per-view debut with a victory against Sami Zayn in the opening bout, but this was not the blowaway match I was expecting. The matches added to the show – Big Show vs. Rusev and Jinder Mahal vs. Cesaro seemingly ended up being a means to fill time given that the main event was going to be quick.
Streak is over
Charlotte’s run of 16 consecutive wins in pay-per-view singles match ended when she lost to Bayley with an assist from Sasha Banks. It was Bayley’s first pay-per-view title defense.
Charlotte was about to attempt a moonsault from the top rope on a prone Bayley when Banks ran down to the ring to distract her. Banks then pointed out to referee that Charlotte was grabbing the tights to prevent a pin. Bayley used the opening to hit the Bayley-to-belly suplex and end the match.
Charlotte had accepted Bayley’s challenge to keep her protégé Dana Brooke away from the ring and then it was Banks who interjected on Bayley’s behalf. That won’t sit well with Charlotte.
Earlier in the night, Banks pulled off a surprise win against Nia Jaxx.
The reported plan has been for a four-way match at WrestleMania, although there is still some storyline development needed to get there.
King of the Cruiserweights
Even WWE officials have acknowledged that the cruiserweight division and 205 Live as a standalone program is a “work in progress,” as Paul “Triple H” Levesque recently put it.
But the division is gaining some traction around cruiserweight champion Neville, who defended his title by beating Jack Gallagher. The two had an effective and often vicious match with Neville pulling out his former finisher — the “Red Arrow” — for the victory.
A heel Neville out to prove he is the worthy “King of the Cruiserweights” has potential to carry the division while other talents get established. If Austin Aries is returning from an eye injury in time for WrestleMania to face Neville, that match could be a show stealer.
Neville is scheduled to defend the title on RAW on Monday against former champion Rich Swann.
Yes, a 385-pound Braun Strowman jumped off the top rope. Yes, it was as amazing as it sounded, even if he missed Roman Reigns. Strowman sent Reigns through a table with a power slam after catching him in another tremendous move.
With the Fastlane match and the match against the Big Show recently on Raw, Strowman continues to add dimensions to his in-ring performance. He’s no longer just squashing enhancement talent in quick bouts.
Strowman could have used a victory here more than Reigns, but Strowman continues to elevate himself. Hopefully, this loss doesn’t slow any of that momentum. Looking forward to what WWE has in store for him at WrestleMania. Could it be winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal?
As for Reigns, he is expected to meet The Undertaker at WrestleMania. The build for that match could start Monday night with The Dean Man rumored to be coming to RAW.