The last stop before WrestleMania saw Raw hit the Fastlane – with a main event that evoked memories of late 90s WCW!
A fairly anaemic card was boosted with some impromptu additions, as we’ll get to!
Rich Swann & Akira Tozawa vs. Brian Kendrick & Noam Dar
Dar and Tozawa start us off, with Dar being taken into the ropes as he sells for a yell. Then some punches, before Swann saves Tozawa from a double-team suplex as Dar and Kendrick use Alicia Fox as a human shield to save themselves from a pair of topes.
Back from the break, we see Kendrick rushing in to get a two-count over Tozawa as something clearly happened during the break. A suplex gets a near-fall, before Swann tags in and clears house with clotheslines to Dar, before a standing frog splash got Rich a two-count.
Dar takes Swann outside, where the Scotsman throws the former Cruiserweight champion into the ringpost, before continuing to work on the left arm of Swann back in the ring. Kendrick tries for the Captain’s Hook submission, but he quickly releases it and opts for a suplex to take Swann further away from his partner.
Swann finally gets some separation when he flipped out of a backslide and kicked off Dar’s head, as Tozawa comes in to go to work on Kendrick, hitting a kick to the chest and a back senton for a two-count, before he tries for a deadlift German suplex. A blind tag to Dar ends that, as Dar and Kendrick get sent to the floor for an eventual pair of dives!
Dar almost steals it when he sits down on a sunset flip from Swann, but after Tozawa clears the ring of Kendrick, a Phoenix Splash proves to be enough for the win. A perfectly fine pre-show match – good, but save for the dive and Phoenix splash, still largely within the WWE pattern. **¾
Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe
This was Joe’s PPV debut, and it was almost all Joe – scoring with a kick to the chest early before Zayn made a comeback with some headscissors and a couple of shots. A straight right hand sent Zayn to the mat, leaving Joe with an easy target to pick apart with shots.
Joe stretches at Sami with a bow-and-arrow lock, but Sami flipped over and scored just a one-count as Joe used that to give him more reason to lay into Zayn. A surfboard stretch keeps Zayn at bay, only for Sami to hit back with a Blue Thunder Bomb for a near-fall, but that just winds up Joe some more as he gets a two-count from a back senton.
A series of jabs from Joe sends Zayn face-first to the mat, but that’s just suckering him in for a small package that gets a near-fall. Joe cuts off Zayn on the top rope with an enziguiri, before going for a superplex… but Zayn pounds his way free and looks for a sunset bomb, instead dropping Joe to the top turnbuckle.
Zayn looks to end things with a Helluva kick, but Joe sidesteps and grabs the Kokina clutch, and that’s enough to end things. A decent debut for Joe, but this match was more about establishing him as a threat rather than to have a showstealer. ***
“The Ultimate Thrill-Ride” is a horrific subtitle for a show, let alone WrestleMania for God’s sake.
WWE Raw Tag Team Championships: Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows (c)
Well, I’d forgotten that Gallows and Anderson had won the tag titles… Cass starts by taking the fight to Anderson in the corners, before dumping Karl to the outside with a lariat. Enzo’s quickly press slammed onto the champions on the floor, but it’s when they return to the ring when the tables turn around.
Of course, Enzo struggles to get anything in against Gallows or Anderson, with the former wearing down on Enzo with a rear chinlock. Anderson takes over with knee drops and elbow drops, before he tried that chinlock, as they teased tagging Cass back in.
Enzo side-steps Anderson, who’s sent flying to the outside, but it takes an enziguiri from Enzo to get some separation, before he ducks Gallows’ charge, as Luke hits the ringpost. Anderson recovers to cut-off Enzo from a hot tag with a diving tackle for a near-fall. Finally, Enzo gets that tag after avoiding an elbow from Gallows, then a leaping double knees from Anderson, and it’s Cass who clears the place with clotheslines and fallaway slams.
Cass dumps Anderson with a side slam as a set-up for the Empire Elbow drop, before he boots Gallows off the apron, which was almost enough for an Anderson schoolboy to get the win. A big boot from Cass sets up for a Rocket launcher, but Gallows breaks up the cover as Enzo was way too close to the ropes.
Gallows and Cass brawl outside the ring briefly, with Cass being thrown into the guard barriers. Enzo dives onto Gallows as payback, but he runs back into a kick in the ring from Anderson… who makes the cover, and as Gallows shoves Enzo’s foot off the rope, that’s enough for the win. A nice twist to the spotty officiating finish, which ensures that the champions retain in a short, TV-style match. **¾
Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks
Sasha leaps into Jax at the bell as she plays a game of cat and mouse – sidestepping Jax before being pushed away. Jax lands a pendulum-style backbreaker before using the hold as a submission.
After releasing the hold, Jax traps Sasha in the ropes with a stretch, before squashing Banks’ head in the corner with a hip attack. A biel across the ring keeps the one-sided arse kicking on form. Banks resists an Irish whip, but only gets thrown into the turnbuckle before Nia squats Sasha in a torture rack, before spinning her out… and somehow Sasha catches a guillotine from that.
Jax throws Banks off, but only into a rear naked choke that Sasha eventually got tossed away from. A satellite DDT finally gets Nia down, before Sasha goes to the Bank Statement crossface… that wakes up the crowd, but Nia stands up out of it. A big chokeslam decks Sasha as she ran off the ropes, before a running legdrop added the exclamation mark.
Nia ragdolls Sasha again, but she slips out then rolls up Jax for the win. Eh, they tried to do the same story as they did in NXT with Bayley a little over a year ago, but it didn’t connect on any level until the finish. *¾
We see a recap from the Kickoff show where the Rusev/Jinder Mahal team went their separate ways. This is leading to two singles matches… but not against each other, despite them coming out separately. They brawl amongst each other, with Mahal shoving Rusev into the ring post, before a knee strike sent the Bulgarian over the barriers… and now here comes Cesaro?
Jinder Mahal vs. Cesaro
This was Jinder’s first PPV appearance since he was in WrestleMania 30’s Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Before that, if you don’t count Royal Rumbles, it was a throwaway six-man tag at TLC 2012 where Jinder, as part of 3MB, lost to Alberto del Rio, The Miz and, erm, the Brooklyn Brawler.
Cesaro easily throws around Mahal with a gutwrench suplex, before catching a leap and turning it into a backbreaker. That looked to hurt Cesaro, which gave Jinder a way back in, sending Cesaro into the corner and landing a dropkick in the lower back, before a deadlift suplex ended when the Swiss’ back went out.
The longer this match went on, the less the crowd cared, so of course we had Jinder raking away on Cesaro in the ropes, before running a series of knees into the shoulder. Eventually, Cesaro pulled out that suplex, despite his back, and that started a comeback with some running uppercuts. A drop toe hold sent Mahal into the middle rope for the Swiss-1-9, then scored with a cross body off the top for a near-fall.
Mahal grabbed the ropes insantly to avoid a Giant Swing, then punched down Cesaro before he locked eyes with Rusev’s new Andrade Almas-inspired hairstyle. That distraction led to a pop-up European uppercut, and that’s enough for Cesaro to win. A filler match that the crowd treated as such, with a horrible finish – Mahal getting distracted by a guy who’d been at ringside for the whole match? That’s worse than the passé “distracted by music” finish. *½
After the match, Rusev attacks Mahal, throwing him into the ringpost before stomping on him in the corner. A pump kick dispatches of Mahal, and then out comes the Bulgarian’s surprise opponent… the Big Show.
Rusev vs. Big Show
Just like the last match, this too was treated by the crowd as another beer run.
Show chopped Rusev, then gave chase as the Bulgarian left the ring, continuing the offence with a corner charge and a headbutt. Eventually Rusev tried to make a comeback with some clotheslines, only for Big Show to land some of his own to knock Rusev down, before a chop block took down Show.
Rusev worked over Show’s knee from there, before escaping a chokeslam with another chop block to the knee. A couple of superkicks to the downed Big Show was only enough for a two-count for a frustrated Rusev, so he tried to soften him up for the Accolade, only to be shoved to the outside. Rusev returns straight into a hattrick of chokeslams, before he was given a knock-out punch in the corner and that was enough for the win. Basic, but unoffensive. **
Cue filler segments as they tape up the ring ropes…
WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Jack Gallagher vs. Neville (c)
Well, this is a match I’d have been stupid for expecting to see on a WWE PPV a year ago!
After neutralising Neville’s early aggression, Gallagher launched into the champion with some uppercuts, before scoring with a dropkick to take the Geordie to the outside. Neville drags Gallagher outside, then throws him into the barricades, before throwing him back in for a missile dropkick that gets a near-fall.
Neville lands a snap suplex, then a clothesline in the corner, before a modified camel clutch saw the champion wrench away on Gallagher. Eventually Gallagher fights free, then hits another series of dropkicks that sent Neville to the outside, for a corkscrew tope that was effective at least. Back inside, Gallagher lands a belly-to-back superplex, getting a two-count from that, before he was dropped on the top rope with a hotshot that sent him to the outside.
Gallagher almost won it with a roll-up, before he was dropped on his head with a snap German suplex off the ropes, as Neville followed up with a Phoenix splash for another near-fall. A pair of headbutts knocked down Neville, before Gallagher slumped on top of him for another near-fall.
A missed dropkick in the corner led to Gallagher being kicked to the apron, but he manages to avoid a superplex and instead headbutt Neville on the top rope. Neville then dumps Gallagher as he tried for a superplex, then finished off with a Red Arrow to retain the title. A great match, easily the best thing on the card so far… so, why are the rest of the cruiserweight matches, especially on Raw, brief affairs?? ***½
So much filler followed, as we had video packages, a Paul Heyman promo and a segment with the New Day and an ice cream cart. Big E licked a freezer, which was covered in “New Day Pops” stickers, and really all this was telling us was that New Day really shouldn’t have caffeine.
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
Well, this was quite the surprise!
The opening stages saw Braun bully Reigns around, who seemed to be wearing a pair of Skechers Shape Ups in lieu of wrestling boots for some reason. Reigns came back by clotheslining Braun to the outside, before he was hurled over the ring steps, eventually side-stepping a charge from the big man.
Back inside, Braun throws Roman into the corner again, then wears him down with a neck crank, and again with a rear chinlock before deciding just to lay in with some punches. Reigns finally slipped out and punched his way free, only to run into a face-first chokeslam from Strowman for a near-fall. They headed outside where Strowman cleared the Spanish announce table, but ended up being shoved into the ringpost. That favour was returned as Strowman blocked a Drive By dropkick and rolled Reigns back inside – to some boos, as this crowd wanted to see Roman thrown through the table.
A missed shoulder charge gives Roman a breakthrough, with a barrage of offence ending as he slipped out of another face-first chokeslam and landed a Samoan drop for a two-count. Reigns calls for the Superman punch, but he’s just pushed into the corner before a clubbing forearm to the chest knocked him down for a spin-out facebuster for another near-fall.
Braun sends himself flying to the outside after missing a Yakuza kick, and he’s left leaning against the apron as Roman flew in with a Drive By, then a spear… but he’s caught and drilled through the Spanish announce table with a big powerslam to set the crowd on fire. That was good!
Strowman took a while to get back into the ring, as the knee was still bothering him from running into the ring steps earlier, which led to him taking a spear for a near-fall once he made it back in. Braun took a series of Superman punches, finally knocking him into the ropes, before a body attack knocked down Reigns as he looked for a spear.
In something else I never expected to see, Braun headed up top for a big splash… which missed, and allowed Reigns to connect with a spear for the win. A really, really good match for the style these guys worked. Yes, Strowman losing is a bit “ehh” given he’d been unstoppable, but this shouldn’t hurt him one bit. ****
WWE Raw Women’s Championship: Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley (c)
Charlotte came out with Dana Brooke – but promptly sent her to the back as they tried to do a straight singles match instead.
Flair takes Bayley into the ropes from the off, before forcing a one-count from a waistlock takedown. Bayley returns the favour, before taking a series of shoulder tackles as the match went back and forth in the opening moments. Bayley knocked Charlotte down on the outside with a ‘rana, before going up top for a crossbody that earned her a near-fall, as Charlotte grabbed the roped and fled to the outside to avoid a Belly-to-Bayley.
A game of cat and mouse quickly ended with a clothesline from Flair, who took over back inside with some mounted punches. Bayley works free then launches a springboard armdrag, only top get dropped with a knee off the middle rope as Flair continued to drill her with knee drops en route to a near-fall. Flair uses a figure-four headscissor to smash Bayley’s head into the mat, eventually getting a near-fall out of it, before Bayley’s brief fightback ended with a neckbreaker and a boot into the corner.
More reverse DDT-esque backbreakers follow from Flair, who turned it into a Dragon sleeper for a moment, before going up top for a moonsault that connected… Flair followed up with a flip senton for a two-count as she kept up the aggression over Bayley. The comeback started with some Bayley chops, before a rope-hung neckbreaker and a shoulder charge led to a belly-to-back suplex for a two-count for Bayley.
There’s a weird spot where Bayley tries to spring off the ropes for an elbow drop… then she stops, tries again, and missed before some more orthodox elbows hit their mark. Flair drags Bayley into the turnbuckle to turn thing around, but Bayley came back with some forearms as Charlotte was on the top rope, capitalising with a top rope ‘rana and a top rope elbow for another two-count.
Charlotte looked shocked as her Natural Selection snapmare only got a near-fall, before a blocked Figure Eight led to her being shoved to the outside. Bayley tried to follow, but she took a press slam off the apron as Charlotte looked to finish off with a top rope moonsault. Sasha Banks took that as a cue to come out and get involved, but Charlotte went after her, which left Flair open for a Belly-to-Bayley on the floor.
Back inside, Flair tried to get the win with a small package – but Sasha called the referee on Flair’s handful of tights. Another distraction leads to Charlotte taking the Belly-to-Bayley, and that’s enough for Bayley to retain! Personally, I’d have preferred the story to be Bayley winning the title at WrestleMania, as opposed to winning and defending with two big asterisks next to them as we’re seeing here. A decent match though, and hopefully the WrestleMania moment (trademark) comes in just fashion. ***¼
WWE Universal Championship: Goldberg vs. Kevin Owens (c)
It was just like late 90s WCW with a lot of Goldberg chants before the ring entrances.
The match started almost at the top of the third hour, with Owens killing time by leaving the ring as the referee was about to call for the bell. Once the bell rang, “Break the Walls Down” hit and Chris Jericho came out. That distraction led to a spear for Owens, then a Jackhammer. Goldberg wins in 21 seconds and gets the title. DUD.
What Worked: As a set-up show for WrestleMania, this was just about acceptable. They did what they needed to do to tell the stories they wanted, but save for Reigns/Strowman and Gallagher/Neville
What Didn’t: I wasn’t a fan of the 21-second title change – either here on in general. I get they wanted to have Lesnar/Goldberg for the title, but there’s so much other stuff they could have done. Also, what was the deal with the filler matches – if they’d been advertised going in, they may have had a slightly better chance, but as it was, the crowd just treated them as an extended beer run/toilet break.