It's WrestleMania season, but before the granddaddy of them all on April 7, there's many storylines to address in the world of WWE.
Sunday night at Fastlane, the final pay-per-view event before WrestleMania, should answer some key questions. Six titles will be up for grabs, but perhaps the most notable showdown will pit Charlotte Flair against Becky Lynch, with huge stakes for the latter performer. If Lynch wins, she will be granted a spot in the WrestleMania Raw women's championship against Flair and Ronda Rousey, making the likely main event that much more fascinating.
Daniel Bryan has a big obstacle against a returning Kevin Owens, while The Revival and The Usos hope to hang on to their respective tag-team belts.
How will it all play out? Tim Fiorvanti is live at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio and his coverage will be supplemented by Sean Coyle and Matt Wilansky throughout the night.
This story was updated in real time.
The Shield def. Baron Corbin, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley
Billed as the in-ring return of Roman Reigns and a final reunion for The Shield, the trio found themselves matched up with three of RAW's top heels in the main event. While Seth Rollins' road to WrestleMania 35 is set in stone as he'll battle Brock Lesnar for the Universal championship, the paths for other combatants in this match were unclear heading into Sunday night's match.
Chaos ensued before the opening bell with all six participants throwing hands, but order was restored and the match began. Quick tags were made by the Shield early on as they controlled the beginning of the contest, but Rollins soon found himself in trouble after McIntyre caught him with a kick to the chest. The heels then rotated individual attacks on Rollins as the crowd awaited the hot tag.
Eventually, Rollins tagged Ambrose and one of the early highlights took place when he jumped off the top rope and drove an elbow into McIntyre to the outside of the ring. McIntyre eventually recovered, regained control and Ambrose found himself in the same situation Rollins was in earlier. This time, it was Reigns waiting to come in on the outside.
A patented Ambrose rebound clothesline cleared the way for Reigns to enter to the roar of the crowd and he began to put on an offensive show, which included a drive-by dropkick to Corbin. From there, everyone got involved as Ambrose and Rollins hit dueling suicide dives. However, as Reigns looked to follow, he was intercepted by Corbin who hit him with a Deep Six.
The chaos continued as Lashley, Rollins, Ambrose and McIntyre battled into the crowd while Reigns and Corbin squared off in the ring. Corbin connected with his End of Days finisher, but by that point Rollins and Ambrose had made their way back to the ring to break up the pinfall attempt.
The heels then tool control and proceeded to clear off the announcers table with hopes of sending Reigns through it. As McIntyre had Reigns up, Ambrose and Rollins made the save. Rollins then caught Lashley with a curb stomp onto the announcers table and the Shield shifted their focus as a group to McIntyre, who was power bombed McIntyre through the table.
That left Corbin alone in the ring as the Shield surrounded him. A super kick, superman punch and Dirty Deeds put Corbin on the mat, then they connected with a triple power bomb to claim victory.
After the match, the Shield celebrated. There were no heel turns, no swerves, no hints at future WrestleMania rivalries. Just three friends celebrating the end of an era as a faction and the triumphant in-ring return of Roman Reigns.
Becky Lynch def. Charlotte Flair via disqualification, earns spot in WrestleMania match
We've talked a lot about all of the meandering, excessive maneuvering and gimmicky storytelling that has happened since the Royal Rumble between Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. Lynch earned a WrestleMania women's title match by winning the 2019 women's Royal Rumble match, but everything since that point has been a head-scratcher.
Since that late Sunday night in January, we've gotten suspensions, Twitter battles that broke the fourth wall, misleading title abdications that never came to fruition and all manner of questionable over-reliance on Lynch's knee injury. Fastlane offered an opportunity to put all of that in the rearview mirror and allow the next four weeks to be focused on building up a triple threat main event at WrestleMania 35.
We got there in the end, as Lynch defeated Flair on Sunday, but the overbooked conclusion lined up nicely with all of the other missteps along the way. With Lynch in peril and Flair nearly locking in a figure-eight submission to lock Lynch out of the WrestleMania main event, Rousey charged down to the ring, punched Lynch and triggered a disqualification to push Lynch forward by technicality.
With Lynch hobbled and leaning on a crutch from the moment she walked down to the ring, Rousey's involvement was a means to an end -- but it once again left Lynch looking less than strong with only a few weeks to go until the biggest match of her career.
Flair dominated the match up until the DQ happened, other than a brief roll-up and a failed attempt at a dis-arm-her. The drawback of having a hobbled Lynch reared its ugly head in predictable fashion, as Lynch used every part of the ring to lean on and pick her spots, but simply didn't have enough to overcome a healthy opponent.
Let's hope Lynch can "heal up" that knee and be at least 60 or 70 percent, because without that mobility the WrestleMania match won't be able to reach its maximum potential.
Fans still cheered "thank you Ronda" after the match, but the faster we forgot how we got to this triple threat match we can focus on the in-ring possibilities and the history that can be made.
WWE championship: Daniel Bryan (c) def. Kevin Owens vs. Mustafa Ali
So let's get this straight. At one point, this match for the WWE championship was supposed to be Kofi Kingston against Daniel Bryan. Then in a controversial decision a couple of weeks ago, Vince McMahon decided it was best for business to swap in a returning Kevin Owens for Kingston -- because of KO's ostensible star power. Then earlier Sunday, it looked like McMahon had a change of heart, implying Kingston would be reinstated in the match as part of a triple-threat -- but ultimately was not.
So we were back to Bryan against Owens -- until we weren't. As the performers were about to be introduced, the ring announcer called for a triple-threat match for the WWE championship.Kofi, right?!?!
Instead, Mustafa Ali came flying to the ring. Yes, the entire saga was a bit convoluted, probably more than it needed to be, but the underlying message was clear. This was all about the continuation of teasing, if not hoodwinking, Kofi and his passionate fan base to further build on his burst to superstardom. You need only to listen to the crowd, which yelled his name in unison for large pockets of time throughout the battle.
Despite the Kofi drama, the match went on, and it was impressive from start to finish. KO brought it early on. He was overpowering and dictating action. But then Bryan had his moments, unleashing a series of about 10 kicks on Owens, nearly pinning him until Ali broke it up.
Then it was Ali's turn. The aerial genius converted a Spanish Fly, and then a few moments later, attempted an 054 on Owens, who was able to get his knees up just in time, leading to a stunner that nearly pinned Ali before Bryan broke it up.
Ali was hardly done, crushing Bryan with a 450 on the apron. At that point, Rowan got involved legally, since it was a no-disqualification match, but was handled nicely by Ali and Owens, who took out the big man with a flip over the top rope. Ali then struck Bryan with a splash on the outside, but Owens absolutely crushed Ali with a pop-up powerbomb on the apron.
A few minutes later, Ali was pinned after Bryan clocked him with a high-flying running knee to the head. The action was fast and furious. It was explosive and intense. All three men put on a fantastic show.
And amid it all, the crowd could be overheard singing the praises of Kofi Mania. Soon enough.
Women's tag team championship: Bayley and Sasha Banks (c) def. Nia Jax and Tamina
History was made last month at the Elimination Chamber when Sasha Banks and Bayley defeated five other teams to become the first-ever WWE women's tag team champions. In their first title defense, they faced off with one of those five teams Sunday night in Nia Jax and Tamina.
The champs were aggressive as the match began with frequent tags, but the strength advantage of the challengers caught up to them. Jax and Tamina utilized their power early on, highlighted by a nicely executed power bomb by Jax onto Bayley.
Banks attempted to turn the tide when she tagged in, but was met with a poorly executed Samoan drop by Jax. The champs kept fighting back as Bayley assisted Banks with a cross body block to the outside of the ring onto both Jax and Tamina. The challengers caught Banks, so Bayley charged ahead with a suicide dive and knocked everyone down.
The finish saw Jax go to the well once too often when she attempted another power bomb onto Bayley. Bayley reversed the attempt into a hurricanrana for a three count and the win.
After the match, Jax and Tamina assaulted the champions and tossed Banks over the announcers table toward WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix who was doing commentary for the match. Phoenix hit Tamina with a right hand, but Jax ran right over her. They tossed Phoenix into the ring and continued the beat down until Natalya stormed the ring to make the save. Natalya was treated to a Tamina super kick for her efforts.
While the match itself left a lot to be desired, the postmatch events were intriguing. It appears that we're headed toward the reuniting of the Phoenix/Natalya tag team of year's past as the women's tag team championship picture heading into WrestleMania begins to unfold.
U.S. championship Fatal 4-way: Samoa Joe (c) def. Rey Mysterio vs. R-Truth vs. Andrade
When Samoa Joe won the United States championship Tuesday night on SmackDown, it just felt right. He emerged from a Fatal 4-Way match against R-Truth, Rey Mysterio and Andrade looking as strong as he has since his moment in the sun opposite Brock Lesnar, and after a number of short and/or ineffective reigns, Samoa Joe seemed ready to bring some shine back to the title.
A last-minute change to the Fastlane card plucked Mysterio and Andrade from the Kickoff Show and placed them into a four-way rematch for the title just five days later. A loss on Sunday night would've quickly rendered the United States championship unimportant, but that simply wasn't to be.
All four men involved stepped up their efforts and delivered another spot-heavy, yet enjoyable match. From the moment Joe landed the first significant offense in the match through a clever counter into a Coquina Clutch and the submission victory, the story of the match was about Joe's opponents and their inability to keep him down for long enough to make a difference.The ageless Mysterio nailed four jaw-dropping hurricanranas on the three other participants, each more impressive than the last. It started with a double effort on R-Truth and Andrade at the same time, built to an assisted version with Andrade on R-Truth's shoulders and peaked when Mysterio set up a third such effort by jumping off the top rope and hitting Andrade on the outside.
There was no love lost between Andrade and Mysterio in this match, as Andrade continued to try to use Eddie Guerrero's mannerisms to mock his veteran foe. Zelina Vega got involved by superkicking R-Truth, Carmella countered and the whole mess caused a massive distraction that nearly distracted all involved from a quick cover inside the ring.
R-Truth continued his Cena impersonation in defeat, dropping a five-knuckle shuffle in the match, and it's easy to wonder whether that decision lends itself to some kind of subliminal messaging and a last-minute Cena appearance.
The match was fun, but the result was what it needed to be. After Mysterio scrambled out of nowhere and lined Joe up for a 619 -- with everyone else out of commission -- Joe slid out of the way and positioned himself perfectly to snatch Mysterio up and lock in the Coquina Clutch, which put Mysterio to sleep.
Raw tag team championships: The Revival (c) def. Bobby Roode & Chad Gable vs. Aleister Black & Ricochet
In a backstage video minutes before Fastlane began, Ricochet put his journey into perspective. "Our lives are defined by moments," he said. "And tonight, I get to create a new moment in my first-ever WWE pay-per-view match."
He was amped. His partner was equally intense.
"One of us will fly, one will strike and everyone else will fade to black," Aleister Black said.
Whether true or not, the teaming of Ricochet and Black has been a thrilling ride since they made their Raw and SmackDown Live debuts just weeks ago. But Sunday would be a new level of competition, as the NXT stars had the daunting task of taking down the pairings of Bobby Roode and Chad Gable, and champions The Revival for the Raw tag-team championship.
Ricochet did not disappoint, using his usual innovative tactics to slow down Gable. But as you'd imagine, there were a lot of momentum shifts in this one. Dawson slowed the pace, manhandling Ricochet, before his partner, Black, came in and put some energy into the air with a series of vicious kicks and a double-knee takedown on Roode from the top rope. This led to the first "wow" moment of the encounter, and then a second when Ricochet landed an incredible shooting star press on Wilder that nearly earned his team the titles.
He wasn't finished. Moments later, Ricochet converted a hurricarana taking out everyone on the outside of the ring. But amid Ricochet's theatrics on the floor, The Revival was busy taking care of business in the ring, as the champs caught Gable in a Shatter Machine to win and retain the titles.
Still, the newbies had the last laugh as Black beat down everyone in his way after the bell and Ricochet landed a 630 on Wilder. They stood in the ring, proud of their accomplishment, but ultimately without a belt -- for now.
The Bar def. Kofi Kingston
The Quicken Loans Arena crowd was buzzing. After Big E, Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston barged into Vince McMahon's office and demanded what they felt rightfully belonged to Kingston -- a WWE championship match -- McMahon informed the trio that the WWE title match would now be a triple threat, and told Kingston to go out to the ring.
In a measure seemingly intended to maintain fairness, Big E and Xavier Woods were banned from ringside. But after Kingston made it to the ring, McMahon pulled a bait-and-switch and made Kofi the fool once more. The WWE title match would happen later in the night, and Kingston would instead face The Bar in a handicap match -- with both members of the team allowed in the ring at the same time.
Cesaro and Sheamus predictably took control quickly, but Kingston fought back valiantly with everything he could muster. That comeback ended in a hurry when Kingston flew directly into a giant European uppercut from Cesaro. A double-team clothesline-powerbomb combo left Kingston prone on the mat, and, as Cesaro held Kingston up, Sheamus nailed a Brogue Kick.
But that wasn't enough. Cesaro picked Kingston up after a one-count. The rest of the New Day tried to intervene, but Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura returned to gain a measure of revenge on Woods and Big E from earlier in the night on the Kickoff show.
After a combination version of Sheamus' White Noise suplex, Sheamus and Cesaro pinned Kingston with one foot apiece on his chest.
It's easy to see what the goal of such an exercise -- sympathy for Kingston -- but with just a few weeks to go before WrestleMania, the window to turn this disadvantage around is shrinking by the week.
SmackDown Live women's championship: Asuka (c) def. Mandy Rose
This wasn't the match-up many anticipated, but here we are. I suppose we should be thankful that the SmackDown women's championship is being featured on the show at all given its exclusion from WWE TV most weeks. Asuka is far too talented to be ignored, though, and perhaps she, along with the title, will be featured more prominently after tonight.
Her title defense against Mandy Rose began with the champ in control, but we were quickly reminded that Rose had an ace up her sleeve in her comrade Sonya Deville, who was at ringside. Deville distracted Asuka early and often, which allowed Rose to get back into the match.The two went back and forth a bit and angry Asuka was unleashed after some ill-timed taunting by Rose.
The finish saw Deville pull a kendo stick out from under the ring, but in doing so, she left a piece of the ring apron laying in the ring. As Rose bounced off the ropes, she slipped on the apron which allowed Asuka to connect with a spinning heel kick to the jaw for the win.
After the match an upset Rose refused the hand of Deville and a split was teased. The match was nothing to write home about, but now, perhaps, a legitimate WrestleMania rivalry for Asuka can begin.
SmackDown Live tag team championship: The Usos (c) def. The Miz and Shane McMahon
It was too good to be true. We all knew it, and it was just a matter of time.
From the outset, the union of "the worlds best," The Miz and Shane McMahon, was destined to be short-lived, despite their brief run as SmackDown tag-team champions.
On Sunday at Fastlane, following a disappointing loss to The Usos when Miz was rolled up after a missed frog splash, the split became official.
As McMahon and Miz were embracing The Miz's father, who was sitting ringside, following the match, the former SmackDown commissioner unleashed a memorable and sudden beatdown on his partner.
McMahon pummeled Miz into the barricade and went as far as grabbing Miz's father in the face. McMahon ruined the friendship and a viable team, but in the end likely set up a WrestleMania showdown most of us saw coming.
While in the back of our minds that this swerve was always in the cards, Miz and McMahon had natural chemistry. It was a story of enemies turned partners, and partners turned champions. And then this.
So long to a joining of misfits that seemed to work so well with each other. And hello to what will no doubt be a bitter feud until a likely battle come April 7.
The New Day def. Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura
The lone match on tonight's Fastlane kickoff show featured a tag match pitting Big E and Xavier Woods of the New day against the duo of Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura. The entertaining bout served its purpose of warming up the crowd as they came alive for the mid-match hot tag to Big E. After a number of false finishes, its conclusion saw the New Day execute their UpUpDownDown finisher on Rusev for the win.