The result of the main event of WWE Fastlane on Sunday will lead to one of two outcomes: Daniel Bryan is added to the WrestleMania 37 Universal championship match or simply the original plan -- Roman Reigns vs. Edge. While adding Bryan would be the logical next step, it wouldn't be the first time WWE utilized a cruel, heartbreaking twist of events to get fans excited about Bryan's future.
Bryan was pinned by Roman Reigns to close out the match, but the chaos that led up to that moment certainly seemed to indicate that there is more of a story to come in the three weeks between Sunday night and WrestleMania. First and foremost, Bryan got Reigns to tap out -- meekly, but clearly -- in a WWE landscape in which Reigns has been protected from such an outcome throughout his entire WWE career.
That tapout happened in the chaos created by Jey Uso, who broke up an unwinnable situation for Reigns with Bryan's Yes Lock in place. Uso superkicked both Bryan and the special guest enforcer, Edge, to help Reigns and start the closing sequence of the match. Uso also introduced a chair, and it eventually led to Bryan's swinging at Reigns, missing, and hitting Edge instead. As Bryan was accomplishing the impossible -- forcing Reigns to tap -- an incensed Edge smashed both Reigns and Bryan with that same chair.
Reigns crawled on top of Bryan to pick up the three count, but there couldn't have been a clearer case for Bryan to force his way into WrestleMania.
Bryan-Reigns was one of several matches that overperformed at Fastlane despite the predictable nature of the card and its potential outcomes, with Drew McIntyre vs. Sheamus, Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Riddle vs. Mustafa Ali all fitting that bill, as well.
But the main event reached an entirely different level from the rest, as Bryan and Reigns slowly built up tension in a classic clash of styles -- Bryan's technical prowess vs. Reigns' strength and unwillingness to bend at all costs.
Reigns repeatedly broke Bryan down, only for Bryan to turn around and play each situation to his advantage. Bryan broke out a half-dozen different transitions into Yes Lock attempts, some successful and some not. Reigns, frustrated with how hard Bryan was going at the submission, got increasingly ruthless with his punches and attacks every time he fought his way out.
The match reached another level when Reigns launched his body into a spear attempt and ran directly into Bryan's knee. Bryan bounced off the ropes for a running knee of his own, only to hit the referee when Reigns ducked the attack. Reigns then hit a spear, leading Edge to roll into the ring to get involved for the first time all match. Now serving as the replacement official, he counted to two before Bryan kicked out of the pinfall attempt.
Reigns drove hammerfists down on Bryan, but Bryan caught Reigns in a triangle choke. Reigns picked Bryan up for a one-armed powerbomb, but Bryan punched his way out. Bryan yet again slid back to the ground and put the Yes Lock on in the middle of the ring. Cross-face punches by Bryan further injured Reigns before he locked in a Yes Lock that looked inescapable.
Uso, as he has for the majority of Reigns' 200-plus days as Universal champion, interjected himself at that point, and after the aforementioned superkick and chair introduction, he got hit by a flying Bryan knee for his troubles. After smashing Uso out of the ring with the chair, Bryan accidentally hit Edge with the chair and countered a final spear attempt into one more Yes Lock. Bryan torqued back and forced Reigns to meekly, gently, almost unnoticeably tap out.
But neither Edge nor the original ref saw it, or cared to. Edge handed out his own chair shots and stormed backstage. With that, Reigns had won -- but tensions between all three men grew stronger.
What's next: Friday's edition of SmackDown will tell you all you need to know. Either a triple threat, or sticking to the plan.
Alexa Bliss def. Randy Orton
The return of "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt wasn't an unexpected moment once a match between Randy Orton and Alexa Bliss was announced. But the new, burnt up look of "The Fiend" had the world buzzing in all of the wrong ways once Bliss won the match.
This was never going to be a normal match, and that thought was cemented when, as Orton was showered with sparks during his pre-match routine, he spit up black goo again, as he has every time he has crossed paths with Bliss in recent memory.
The bell rang, and Orton ran directly into a jet of fire shooting up from the ring. That sent the referee running only to return in the match's final moments. Orton recovered, charged at Bliss and missed, going shoulder-first into the ringpost. Bliss danced to the opposite end of ringside, taunting Orton and beckoning him to give chase.
Lights from the rigging dropped right in front of Orton as he drew nearer to Bliss. Then, Bliss launched a fireball into Orton's eyes, but Orton protected his face just in time. Finally a burnt, disembodied hand reached up from underneath the ring and grabbed Orton's leg. Orton scrambled away, and then a jet of fire sprang up from underneath the ring.
An even more sickening version of The Fiend, burnt to a crisp and almost all in black, came up from underneath the ring, bent on revenge after Orton set him on fire. Bliss pushed Orton straight into a Sister Abigail, and Bliss straddled Orton to get the three-count victory, with the referee somehow regaining his bearings enough to count the fall (but not to notice the multiple disqualifying moments beforehand).
What's next: A cinematic match at WrestleMania involving Orton, Wyatt and Bliss, which should be fun. But if this new version of "The Fiend" lasts much beyond that, it's a recipe for disaster for all involved.
Drew McIntyre was never going to lose this match to Sheamus, this close to WrestleMania. But all the credit in the world belongs to those two longtime friends, who absolutely battered each other all over the WWE Thunderdome in a particularly brutal No Holds Barred match.
McIntyre set the mood from the top, with his face painted blue and white and channeling Braveheart. Within a couple of minutes, the ringside area was torn apart, and both men were on the ground, recovering from steel stairs and apron attacks. Sheamus introduced a kendo stick and got quite a few licks in, and then McIntyre raised the stakes. He got those kendo stick shots back, and then added a side Russian leg sweep and a stick to the eye at the end of it.
That was the theme for this match -- one man setting the bar with an attack, or attempt at one, and then the other man returning fire. Stiff punches. Suplexes on the floor. Sheamus hit a rolling Senton, so McIntyre fought back and, after spinning Sheamus around, tossed Sheamus through one of the video boards filled with the faces of WWE fans. That led to a particularly well-executed wide camera shot that had McIntyre screaming into the void from underneath the giant WrestleMania sign.
McIntyre slung Sheamus over his shoulders to carry him back to the ring, but Sheamus raked McIntyre's eyes and Brogue Kicked McIntyre over the barrier.
"You stole that from me. I should be in the main event of WrestleMania!" Sheamus shouted. With both men standing on the barrier, Sheamus picked McIntyre up and hit a running White Noise from the barrier through the commentary table and to the floor.
Sheamus, himself battered and bruised, struggled to get McIntyre back into the ring. He took one of the end pieces of the commentary table and slid it into the middle of the ring -- and it would ultimately be Sheamus' undoing. A series of counters back and forth ended with McIntyre hitting a future shock DDT onto the table and then a Claymore, ending the match in a flash.
What's next: McIntyre challenges Bobby Lashley for the WWE championship at WrestleMania. Sheamus proved he deserves something big himself, but time will be tight and options are unclear. Perhaps something cross-branded?
If you were making predictions for Sunday's Fastlane card ala the NCAA men's basketball tournament, chalk would've been the way to go. Seth Rollins entered with a bone to pick with both Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro. With a decisive victory over Nakamura on Sunday, Rollins can now set his sights back on Cesaro, and a seemingly inevitable date for a match at WrestleMania.
Even though the ending was fairly predictable, everything leading up to those final moments was entertaining and well-executed. When you put together two of the most talented wrestlers in the world, good things have a tendency to happen.
Rollins going on about how Cesaro swung him around for 22 rotations and staring into the camera was a bit on the nose, but the match itself hit all the right notes. Each had their moment to shine, hit their signature offense in creative ways, and everything flowed together.
Everything kicked into a higher gear once Nakamura slipped off the ropes to the floor, suffering a nasty landing. Rollins followed up with a suicide dive.
The exchanges were quick and the momentum swung back and forth. A Nakamura sliding German suplex under the bottom rope fed quickly back into the ring and led to a Buckle Bomb and a Falcon Arrow. A rare pinfall attempt in the match by Rollins only garnered a two-count.
Rollins' first attempt at a stomp fed into a Nakamura deep cut, the Landslide, followed by a Reverse Exploder and a kip-up. The running Kinshasa knee strike missed, and in a mad scramble, Rollins landed a forearm to the back of the head, swept Nakamura's legs from underneath him and hit a stomp to get the three-count.
What's next: For Rollins, it's Cesaro -- no question. For Nakamura, sadly, there doesn't seem to be a clear path forward. A year that started very promisingly has gone sideways. Hopefully, he'll find something to sink his teeth into come WrestleMania time.
This was merely a filler match, as Shane McMahon suffered a "knee injury" and abused his power to thrust Elias into a showdown with Strowman in his stead. Despite a brief glimmer of hope with a chop block and a top rope flying elbow, Strowman was essentially playing with his food as long as he wanted to. He eventually pinned Elias, and nothing was gained.
What's next: Strowman vs. McMahon, for real. Maybe green paint/goo/slime will be involved.
It was hard to predict an ending for the Intercontinental championship match at Fastlane. Would Big E get a definitive win and stop Apollo Crews' newfound momentum cold? Or would Crews win the Intercontinental title, and bring Big E's title reign to an unspectacular end?
Turns out, neither of those scenarios. Big E squeezed out a win by getting one shoulder up just in time as both men locked in simultaneous roll-ups, but the victory wasn't enjoyed for long. Crews immediately launched into a post-match attack and landed three Angle slams and many slaps to Big E's face to show his anger. Despite losing five times in Intercontinental title matches thus far in 2021, Crews is seemingly on track to get another come WrestleMania.
Strangely, the WrestleMania shot still feels earned, at least from an emotional standpoint. Big E continued to wear his heart on his sleeve, shouting throughout the early stages of the match as he beat up Crews. "You asked for this ass whuppin'," Big E screamed as he hit a spear through the ropes and a few apron splashes. "This is what you begged for... you brought this side out of me."
After a couple of overhead belly-to-belly suplexes, Crews used Big E's aggression against him and flipped the script. A trio of German suplexes and a frog splash got Crews a two-count. Two step-up Enzuigiris and a stand-up moonsault followed, Big E got his knees up on the last move to spin into the final sequence.
Big E fought out of a powerbomb, Crews got out of a Big Ending, and then the battle of rollup attempts was won by Big E.
What's next: It seems like tensions have only begun to boil over, and Big E and Crews have scores to settle. What better place than WrestleMania? Hopefully next time, it'll be a match that's long enough to show off more of what each of them can do.
In terms of the most transparent and predictable stories on the Fastlane card, the women's tag team championship match played out exactly as anyone who has watched five minutes of WWE TV in the last month knew it would.
Banks and Belair -- in fantastic matching gear, mind you -- started fast, hit some great double-team moves, including an assisted running knee. But it all devolved because of an intrusion from a guy named Reginald, a moment of miscommunication in the ring, and finally the dissolution of the short-term pair with rising tensions heading into their WrestleMania title match.
From the moment Banks hit the assisted knee on Shayna Baszler, as Belair held Baszler up in a double underhook position, Banks fell right into a Banks statement submission. Belair tried to stop Nia Jax from breaking up the attempt, but Jax shoved Belair into Banks, and Banks took it the wrong way. Banks and Belair started arguing, Banks called Belair a rookie and then Banks pie-faced her. Baszler rolled up Banks as Belair took her time getting out of the ring, and when Belair couldn't break up that pinfall fast enough, it was game over.
They argued again, Banks called Belair a rookie again and then connected with a full swinging slap to Belair's face. With three weeks to go until WrestleMania, tensions are rising, but you can't help but to think there could've been a better way of doing that than having the SmackDown women's champion pinned, yet again.
What's next: Hopefully, a Reginald-free future for Banks and Belair. Let them build to their match, keep it simple and it will be great. As for Jax and Baszler, they keep spinning their wheels without really going anywhere. Find an up-and-coming team that could use the boost, and let these two go their separate ways as singles competitors.
It's a shame that this match was relegated to the Fastlane Kickoff show for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the match itself, especially the last four minutes, was an incredible reminder of the talent that Ali and Riddle both possess. There was one particular sequence in which a small package roll-up attempt by Ali was rolled through to Riddle standing up with Ali in his arms, picking Ali up and hitting a small package driver, straight into an Ali submission. To attempt it was ludicrous, to succeed and make it look that good was stunning.
There was barely a moment to catch your breath toward the end, and Riddle resorted to hitting his finishing maneuver, the Bro Derek, from the middle rope to win and retain.
Post-match, Retribution finally fell to pieces and turned their backs on Ali. Reckoning and Slapjack were first, and then Mace and T-Bar double chokeslammed Ali to remove any doubt.
What's next: Could Retribution continue without Ali? Sure. Should they? Absolutely not. Dominik Dijakovic (T-Bar), Mia Yim (Reckoning), Shane Thorne (Slapjack), and Dio Maddin (Mace) were saddled with a silly gimmick that Ali tried his hardest to save, but with no creative juice behind it and no major wins to speak of, it was left dead in the water. Each of them, especially Dijakovic and Yim, have incredible solo potential if given a fresh start.
As for Riddle, he'll either have a multiway match at WrestleMania, or dive headfirst into something new on Monday night.