This is only the second year the WWE Fastlane pay-per-view has existed, and I’m already wondering if it’s more of a hindrance than a benefit to the company.
For years, WWE operated without a show in February as there were only the Big Four events. Times change and eventually, the company would put on pay-per-views every month, so the build up to WrestleMania wouldn’t immediately start after the Royal Rumble, as there was another event between those two.
The longest lasting tradition for February’s schedule was the Elimination Chamber (or its predecessor with a better name, No Way Out) which has since been moved to a random WWE Network special at another time in the year yet to be decided. When the company had two world titles, whomever would win the Royal Rumble would challenge for one of them while the other champion was left without a #1 contender. The Elimination Chamber provided the perfect setup to establish who this person would be, as it meant he would have to survive an equivalent gimmick match to justify why he gets to challenge the champion if he had not won the Royal Rumble.
Obviously, with the company changing things up and only having one world champion now, this concept needed to be abandoned. In the grand scheme of things, one WWE World Heavyweight Championship is a smarter plan, and that’s not where the criticism of this article comes into play.
The issue going on right now is that Fastlane has no identity to itself to be interesting on its own merit, so WWE feels the need to force something upon it. Both main events for this new pay-per-view have revolved around naming a #1 contender to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship—something that is normally already taken care of by the Royal Rumble.
This year, WWE is in a bit of a bind with so many injuries and they are forced to continually change things up. I have no doubt in my mind that if Seth Rollins, John Cena, Randy Orton, and others who are currently sitting on the sidelines had never gone down with injuries, what we have seen from Survivor Series onward would have been much different. The title tournament wouldn’t have taken place, nor would Sheamus cashing in the Money in the Bank contract most likely. Triple H and Roman Reigns still could have been the main event of WrestleMania as it seems to be right now, but there’s a good chance Triple H could have faced Seth Rollins instead, leaving Roman Reigns to defend the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against someone else (or challenge for it, for that matter).
Because of these injuries, WWE felt the need to put the championship on Triple H at the Royal Rumble, setting up a #1 contender’s match for Fastlane which will inevitably see Roman Reigns win, earning his spot to challenge for the belt at WrestleMania. It’s a plan that makes sense from a business perspective, and while it’s predictable, WWE’s hands are tied pretty tight with so many people not available to wrestle.
Why does Reigns need to win a #1 contender’s match to begin with, though? By WWE logic, he already is entitled to a shot at the belt due to his rematch clause. We’re supposed to forget about this, however, because Fastlane needed a main event and that’s the most sensational match WWE could think of doing. WWE is working backward with their plans this year, wanting Roman Reigns to win the title from Triple H at WrestleMania, which meant he needed to drop the belt (hence the rule change to the Royal Rumble) and he would need to establish his chance at redemption through Fastlane.
That’s all well and good, but what is last year’s excuse?
If you remember, Fastlane 2014 was a mess where Goldust and Stardust had a match (if you can call it that) where one of them didn’t want to fight the other, John Cena proved that he could beat Rusev before their WrestleMania match (killing any suspense) and the secondary main event was to be Sting and Triple H staring at each other. The main event on that show was a #1 contender’s match where Roman Reigns needed to prove he was worthy of a shot at the title at WrestleMania. Sound familiar?
Booking Reigns to win the 2015 Royal Rumble was met with disastrous results as fans wanted Daniel Bryan to win and for the second time in a row, were disappointed. History shows that WWE made a mistake in 2014 and should have had Bryan win that year, but they made the right decision in 2015 as Bryan would go down with an injury soon after WrestleMania for the second time in a row. Reigns was the best positioned to fight Brock Lesnar, and even though we all may love Bryan, that just ended up being a fact at the end of the day.
So why did WWE then book a match where Roman Reigns—the Royal Rumble winner who had earned a shot at Brock Lesnar by doing so—would face Daniel Bryan to prove that he deserved the title shot? In more ways than one, this was ridiculous, as it brought the issue that upset fans to the forefront instead of masking it. There were three goals in mind when booking this: 1) prove that Reigns is the man while Bryan is not, 2) have Bryan endorse Reigns to shut the fans up who don’t want to go along with the script similar to how a character being replaced on a television show will often promote their replacement before leaving, and 3) give the fans something controversial that will make them want to watch Fastlane.
In 2015, Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble, but it didn’t matter, because Fastlane needed a main event that couldn’t be Brock Lesnar defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
In 2016, Triple H won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in order to set up the main event of Fastlane in order to get us right back to square one that we were before the Royal Rumble by the end of WrestleMania.
For the second year in a row, Fastlane’s main event will determine who challenges for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania rather than the Royal Rumble—the event meant to kickoff the Road to WrestleMania by specifically accomplishing one task above all others: determining who challenges for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship!
More leeway can be given to WWE for the way this year has gone down, but last year was a train wreck and there needs to be a concerned effort in making sure 2017 doesn’t fall victim to the same trap. If the winner of the 2017 Royal Rumble needs to prove himself yet again by putting his title shot on the line at Fastlane in the main event, it will prove that WWE cares more about taking the easy way out with booking the headliner to the February event than it does keeping the value of one of its two most important pay-per-views of the year.