It was best for business to book the Fastlane main event that way.
Yes, Goldberg beating Kevin Owens in 23 seconds has its downsides. Goldberg is a 50-year-old man that has never been an exemplary worker. Owens is one of the most over full-time wrestlers in the company and has top-of-the-card potential for the next 10 years. Long-term, this booking doesn’t make much sense.
But there’s no need to be concerned about Raw’s long term. Owens is still over, and the audience isn’t dumb enough to hold the Fastlane main event against him. He’ll be fine. Goldberg, meanwhile, probably won’t be around this time next year (at least as an in-ring competitor). Given how he’s been booked, there’s no spot for him as a special-event attraction like Undertaker or Triple H. His gimmick to this point is squashing people, which has a short shelf life.
The short term isn’t concerning either. Much like Shane McMahon was last year, Goldberg is likely to be the biggest draw for WrestleMania 33. Pairing him with Brock Lesnar in a title match brings eyeballs and word of mouth to the event. Smarks may not like it, but there’s no denying booking that match was the best decision.
What’s concerning is the medium-term – from the Raw after WrestleMania until, say, Survivor Series. That’s six months of Raw. And it’s already crystal-clear what WWE creative has planned for the Universal Title for at least the first six months after Mania.
It’s now official that we’re going to get this Lesnar match at Mania. There’s not a lot to be confident about. Goldberg isn’t exactly a Broadway match wrestler. Discounting the shitshow that was their WrestleMania XX match, Goldberg hasn’t spent more than 5 minutes in a PPV match since Armageddon 2003. He hasn’t had a one-on-one singles match get 3 stars or higher since fighting Chris Jericho at Bad Blood 2003. He hasn’t EVER fought in a one-on-one singles match that went longer than 15 minutes. For what will ostensibly be the WrestleMania main event (unless WWE decides to bring back the rule that the Royal Rumble winner wins the actual main event, and for God’s sake, let’s hope they do) this isn’t going to be an extended wrestling showcase. Unless Goldberg has his longest one-on-one match ever, it’ll be the shortest WrestleMania main event since Lawrence Taylor beat Bam Bam Bigelow at WrestleMania XI. We’ve somehow gotten a title match where Lesnar is the participant with the best cardio, unless Paul Heyman secretly runs marathons in his spare time.
Speaking of The Conqueror, he is the overwhelming favorite to walk out of Mania as Universal Champion. In kayfabe, this makes little sense, as Goldberg has dominated him the two times they’ve met before, but this speaks to the predictability of WWE’s plans. Lesnar being the champion is fine, if he does two things: defends the title at every PPV and burns Suplex City to the ground.
The first one should be easy: he’s the champion of the brand, so he should represent the brand at all of its biggest shows. Raw and SmackDown are supposed to be competing with each other, so wouldn’t one brand missing its biggest belt tilt the scales toward the other? Lesnar cares about money and nothing else, so pay the man to show up once or twice a month. And for all the fans that say “Lesnar not wrestling all the time makes the belt mean more,” that advantage goes away the second Lesnar drops the belt to a full-timer. And by the way, the last time that happened, the full-timer (Seth Rollins) didn’t even pin Lesnar, so there went any extra meaning the belt had.
As for Suplex City, I’m done. It was great with John Cena, it worked against Rollins for a few minutes, but it has been lame since then. I’d rather go to Toledo or Little Rock. Lesnar is a good wrestler and has been for a while. Let him wrestle for a change and I’ll be happy to see him.
But more likely than not, Lesnar will suplex Goldberg and do nothing else besides an F5 or two, have one match at a random show in June where he squashes Cesaro to get some heat, and then go on to main event SummerSlam against everyone’s favorite Samoan, Roman Reigns.
It could not be more obvious that Reigns is being set up for yet another misguided babyface push. The issue with this is not simply that Reigns isn’t over as a face, although that’s part of it. At Fastlane he beat Braun Strowman, a dumb decision because Strowman isn’t over as a heel. That’s because creative’s big plan for Strowman to get heat has been to repeatedly spittle into Mick Foley’s face that he wants more competition. The problem with that, besides the fact that dominating jobbers is exactly what got many wrestlers (including Goldberg) over as a babyface, is that Foley isn’t particularly popular and has largely worn out his welcome with the fans. The bad authority angle on Raw has consequences.
The one argument for Reigns winning is that he needs to be built up to face Undertaker at Mania. First off, there’s very little evidence that Taker is still in good-enough shape to wrestle anymore. Second, why not have Taker interfere in the Fastlane match to protect Strowman? Strowman is one of the few wrestlers Raw has done a good job building since the brand split and now he has nothing to do at Mania.
It sure looks like we’re getting Reigns-Taker, and since Taker seems on his last legs, and Reigns is Reigns, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Reigns pull this one out. It sure seems like Reigns has served his penance for the Wellness Policy violation and will continue to win every match, except those he loses dirty, until SummerSlam, where he challenges Lesnar for the Universal Championship. It basically writes itself.
The one kernel of hope is Finn Balor, who dominated upon being drafted and cleanly beat Reigns and Rollins to become the inaugural Universal Champion. Reports say Balor is due back any day now, and one has to think he’ll be somewhat protected. If creative is smart, they’ll build him up, finally turn Reigns heel, and eventually when Reigns is the most hated man in wrestling, put Balor over him and make a new star.
Of course, that would make sense, so Vince and Hunter won’t do it.
Instead, we’ll get Reigns vs. Lesnar 2 at SummerSlam 2017. The only two men to beat Undertaker at WrestleMania. The two men who have been nearly unstoppable for years. One is a heel who barely wrestles but will somehow be cheered, because everyone hates the babyface so much WWE has to edit “Roman sucks” chants out of their YouTube videos.
I’ve got to call my doctor and get an appointment for August 21, 2017, because I’m going to be sick the night before.
Wrestledelphia.com columnist Evan Cross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EvanCross.