If your only exposure to wrestling is through your friends’ Twitter feeds, you probably think all wrestling fans actually hate wrestling. We love to complain, especially about WWE and its reliably frustrating booking decisions.
Last night was different, though. The amount of scorn and derision heaped on WWE’s latest pay-per-view, Fastlane, is higher than usual, due to a stream of baffling finishes and an incomprehensible half-hour stretch right in the middle of the show of bad, unadvertised, poorly conceived matches featuring wrestlers with no real storylines. No matter where you stand on the great Goldberg debate of 2017, Fastlane was a rough show, with little to recommend when it was all said and done.
Still, if you insist on checking it out, and want to know what to fast forward through in advance, or even just want to see how your opinions stack up against ours, here’s a quick, easy run-through of last night’s matches, ranked from worst to best.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s wrestling, games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.
1 of 10
10. Big Show vs. Rusev: Here's all of WWE's horrible instincts summarized in a single match. This match was made on the fly, with no prior announcement or angle to set it up. It was essentially a squash match, although one that dragged on for almost ten minutes. Instead of trying to protect or elevate Rusev, who's 32 and in the prime of his career, a good worker with a good look and a great gimmick, it was a one-sided match used to prop up a 45-year-old who the audience largely stopped caring about when George W. Bush was still the worst president we'd ever seen, and who currently has no major storylines or matches to build up to. This was almost ten minutes of the Big Show (slowly, methodically, boringly) destroying Rusev, who could easily be rehabilitated into one of the company's top stars. It didn't just end with the Big Show beating Rusev, but completely embarrassing him, finishing him off with two chokeslams and then propping the Bulgarian's prone body against the turnbuckles so the giant could hit him with a final KO punch. It's the kind of match you'd used to see when a wrestler is leaving a promotion, or at least being written off TV, but that WWE does semi-regularly with anybody they've lost faith in or gotten angry with for reliably petty and obscure backstage reasons. It was a completely dead, dull, pointless match, with a finish that went out of its way to demean and diminish one of the best overall wrestlers in the company, and ostensibly to get over an irrelevant aging wrestler who through sheer overfamiliarity is incapable of being taken seriously by most fans. It's enough to make you think Vince McMahon secretly loves 1999 WCW, where this kind of booking was the norm.
2 of 10
9. Cesaro vs. Jinder Mahal: This impromptu match was exactly as pointless as the last one, but at least it didn't undercut a potential top star for absolutely no reason at all, and was competent in the ring. Cesaro, of course, is one of the best wrestlers in not just the company but the whole world right now, and his lack of a substantial push has been so constant that it's been the defining aspect of his character for years now. Jinder Mahal, meanwhile, was a released comedy jobber brought back to fill out the post-split rosters who the company never even tried to rehabilitate. If Cesaro had taken care of Mahal in only a few minutes, this probably would've been an inoffensive timekiller for a show that had to compensate for a lightning-fast main event. Instead it dragged on for almost ten minutes, with Mahal, who has absolutely no credibility whatsoever, getting more offense than he needed, and kicking out of one of Cesaro's major moves. This match, although, again, competent, served no purpose other than running down the clock—it did nothing to elevate Mahal (who shouldn't be elevated anyway, and is, indeed, far beyond the point of ever being elevated) and, if anything, just reinforced how little the company cares about Cesaro. It also killed what had been a hot crowd, and the show never really brought them back.
3 of 10
8. Kevin Owens vs. Goldberg: The fact that everybody knew this was how it was going down didn't make it any less disappointing. I don't have a problem with Goldberg beating Owens or winning the title—he's been gone long enough that his act feels oddly fresh, his promos are better now than they ever were in the 1990s (due in part to their brevity and their apparent sincerity), and it fits the idea that this entire run is a karmic make-good for how horribly he was used during his previous WWE stint—but this clearly wasn't the best way to do it. Putting the belt on Bill simply to pass it on to Brock Lesnar in four weeks, instead of putting over a younger wrestler with more of a future, might not be the best decision—especially if this entire process builds to another would-be coronation of Roman Reigns—but let's avoid conjecture and focus on the show and match at hand. So: Goldberg was obviously going to win. Owens was obviously going to be a megaheel. Chris Jericho was obviously going to make his return after Owens destroyed him during the amazing Festival of Friendship. WWE combined these elements in perhaps the worst way possible. Owens did an old-school heel stall job worthy of Jerry Lawler or Larry Zbysko, circling the ring for several minutes, preventing the bell from being rung. Goldberg won after only two moves, in less than thirty seconds of actual mat time, and only after a distraction finish, which made him look less like a monster and more like a flukish opportunist. And Jericho's big return was one of those horrible WWE distraction finishes that do nothing for anybody involved, where his music hits and he stands on the entrance stage while Owens pauses in the ring like a fool and immediately takes the loss. Instead of having Jericho attack Owens before or during the match, which would both make Jericho look good and give Owens a reasonable excuse for his loss, they made Jericho look passive and Owens look the fool. It's generally bad booking for the heel to enter a main event at a disadvantage, so Jericho attacking Owens before the match wouldn't have been great for Goldberg's character either, but it would've been far more satisfying for the fans and better for the Jericho / Owens feud if Jericho's interference was physical and not just musical. The only reason this segment isn't at the bottom of the list is because the match itself was so short.
4 of 10
7. Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks: Complaining about Sasha Banks pinning Nia Jax would seem unthinkable just a few months ago. Even now, the disappointment with this finish doesn't seem to have a lot of passion behind it—people aren't angry that Banks won in the larger picture, but given the current direction of the women's division storylines, this finish simply didn't make much sense. Despite an easily forgotten submission in last year's Survivor Series match, Jax has been portrayed as a true monster in the division, steamrolling Banks in matches and ambushes for weeks, and using the enduring popularity and championship cred of Banks to hopefully turn Jax from a squash match project into a legitimately over force. Eventually Banks should have gotten her revenge, but if the rumored four-way Women' Championship match at WrestleMania pans out, it's an odd call to have Jax lose a singles match for the first time the month beforehand. But hey, we're not ranking finishes here, even though finishes have outsized importance on how we remember a match. The fact that Jax, who has the size and moveset of a true monster, and Banks, the charismatic star who regularly takes major bumps and knows how to sell, can't put together a consistently compelling match means one of two things: either these two just don't click, or else Jax, who struggles to have good matches with anybody, is still too new at wrestling to regularly work a good match. This was a slow, heatless slog with one good segment (when Banks scurried all over Jax while alternating between chokes and a sleeper) and an out-of-nowhere finish that doesn't make much sense for the storyline.
5 of 10
6. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass: When it comes to in-ring action, Enzo exists for one reason: to take a hellacious beating. That's basically what happened last night, as the tag team champions delivered a solid beat down for several minutes before Enzo was able to make a legitimately hot tag to Big Cass. Considering how rarely heels actually cheat anymore, it was good to see the Good Brothers do something as minor as pushing Enzo's foot off the ropes during the pinfall. This match was basically a testament to the enduring strength of the traditional tag team match layout: the face who's a better seller or more sympathetic spends most of the match taking punishment to build up heat that pays off when he's finally able to tag in his partner. Given the deficiencies of the still-learning Enzo and Cass as wrestlers, and the relatively limited skillset of Luke Gallows, this match probably shouldn't have been as acceptable as it was. But with a firm ring leader in the form of Anderson and a timeless match layout, it was completely tolerable. If this was the worst match on a show, it would probably be a pretty good show.
6 of 10
5. Sami Zayn vs. Samoa Joe: Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn's first WWE match wasn't supposed to be a classic. The point was to get Joe over as a killer, and although he did make Zayn submit clean, there was a surprising amount of back-and-forth during the relatively short match. Although it would've been great to see the two put on a 20-minute clinic, it does make sense for Joe, in his WWE PPV debut, to basically kill Zayn to establish him as a major threat. This nine-minute-and-change match, while crisply worked, felt like an awkward compromise between the two. It's like they were worried about the damage a squash would do to the credibility of Raw's de facto number two babyface, even though most wrestling fans probably wouldn't view Zayn any less if he was dominated by a new top level monster heel. A match like that probably would've boosted Joe's already-significant credibility more than it would've hurt Zayn's. Still, this was a perfectly fine match, if a little disappointing given the participants and the match's ostensible goal.
7 of 10
4. Rich Swann and Akira Tozawa vs. Brian Kendrick and Noam Dar: The cruiserweight division continues to hum along, putting on enjoyable, if not quite exceptional, matches that the fans are given no reason to care about. They've taken up residence in the preshow, kicking off most pay-per-views with exciting tag matches like this one, that present some fast-paced action and a few judicious high spots but leave few lasting memories and little impact even on the cruiserweight-only show 205 Live. There's nothing really wrong with that, though: having guys like Akira Tozawa and Rich Swann wrestle fun, frenetic matches like this before every pay-per-view is an immediate improvement on the type of matches WWE would typical air during the preshow. This one was a perfectly fine example of this: it was a quick burst of crisp action with a smattering of the amazing acrobatic displays you'd expect from the cruiserweights.
8 of 10
3. Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley: This wasn't quite at the level of some of the recent women's title matches, either on TV or PPV, but a lot of that had to do with a nonsensical finish. Charlotte and Bayley put on the first half or two-thirds of a good match, and then when it should've hit the final gear before heading to the finish Sasha Banks came out and blatantly interfered without any disqualification. Bayley, the ultimate babyface, pinned Charotte clean a few minutes later, as Banks continued to distract Charlotte from outside the ring. Look, logic in wrestling is permeable, but at no point was this announced as a no-DQ match, and for one of the most fundamental rules of wrestling to be blithely disregarded for absolutely no reason and with no explanation is simply insulting to the audience. Sasha's presence will no doubt have storyline consequences, but her run-in and its result simply don't make any sense. It made Charlotte look like the face who had to overcome greater numbers and failed, instead of the cheating heel whose first-ever PPV defeat should've been treated like a big deal. There are a solid 12 or so minutes of action here, but the finish is so baffling that it's hard to remember how good the match was shaping up to be.
9 of 10
2. Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman: Say what you will about Roman Reigns, but he tends to deliver on the big stage. Yes, he's terminally boring on the microphone, and WWE's insistence on pushing him as the company's top superhero face has been an anchor on the entire company for over two years now, but he's adept at wrestling the kind of brawling-heavy power match that typifies the so-called WWE Main Event Style. The big surprise here is how quickly Braun Strowman has progressed. A year ago he was a clear in-ring liability, and now, after months of alternating TV squashes with longer house show matches against some of WWE's better workers, he's suddenly become a fine WWE-style wrestler. They combined for one of the two best matches last night, and really, you could easily argue it was the best. Strowman did take his first clean singles loss, but he was protected, regularly shaking off or kicking out of some of Reigns's biggest moves, and getting more offense in than his opponent. Despite the loss Strowman looked good, both as an in-ring performer and in storyline sense as a monster, and the fans reacted accordingly. It seems like WWE might actually have something with Braun. Reigns winning no doubt disappointed a large portion of the audience, for good reason, but anybody who's not expecting a Reigns win in almost every match at this point clearly hasn't been paying attention these last three years. Plus Reigns losing a high-profile match just a few weeks before a major WrestleMania match with the Undertaker, which will probably be portrayed as more important than the actual title match, wouldn't have made sense. From a wider view, the continued Reigns megapush is a mistake, but since that's the direction they're going in, they probably should make Reigns look as strong as they can. Strowman should be okay in the end as long as they don't completely lose faith in him like they did one of their last major heel projects, Rusev.
10 of 10
1. Neville vs. Jack Gallagher: It's almost sad to point out that Neville has revitalized his career since turning heel and dominating the cruiserweight division—he was always amazing in the ring, throughout all the abysmal booking he was subject to. Like, his career shouldn't have needed revitalizing. He's done exactly what a wrestler of his skillset should do when turning heel, largely dropping the flashy excesses both inside and outside the ring. Instead of the constant high flying he's worked in more strikes and mat-based wrestling, only using a move as fantastic as the Red Arrow at the end of a match. Neville's new style and intense, no-nonsense promos make him a perfect foil for Jack Gallagher, whose cartoonish Britishness would be off-putting and limiting if he wasn't so great at most aspects of wrestling. Gallagher also prefers a grounded style with judicious use of high spots, so when he and Neville squared off last night the result was a fast-paced, highly athletic grappling match flavored with a few of Gallagher's goofy World of Sport-style spots and a few critically timed aerial moves. It was a little too short to be a true classic, and the general aimlessness of the cruiserweight division will also weigh these matches down a bit, but Gallagher and Neville were the highlight of a bad show.