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With Fastlane set for March 21, WWE continued to build the feuds Friday night on Fox that will play a prominent role on the card and beyond, focusing heavily on SmackDown’s championship programs.
Apollo Crews sent a loud and clear message to Big E, Edge and Daniel Bryan found themselves at odds as they both chase the Universal Championship and the writing team left fans introducing their faces to their palms as it overbooked and underwhelmed with the latest chapter in the Sasha Banks-Bianca Belair rivalry.
Dive deeper into those topics with this recap of Friday’s show.
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The build to Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair should not be difficult, yet WWE Creative has managed to overthink it to the point that it is becoming one of the company’s worst storylines.
Friday, the back-and-forth between Belair and Banks was less about their skills or their historic encounter at WrestleMania and more about the ongoing saga between The Boss and sommelier-turned-overused pain in the ass Reginald.
The character, no doubt a favorite of the writing team, continues to be at the forefront of a feud over the SmackDown Women’s Championship that should be focused on the competitors themselves. Instead, it is centered around the effect Vince McMahon’s new favorite disasterpiece has on Banks.
Belair took exception to Banks, not because of overconfidence or because they have a heated rivalry heading into their WrestleMania clash, but because she is paying too much attention to Reginald and it cost The EST a win Friday night.
WWE’s inability to book the easiest storyline it will encounter on this Road to WrestleMania is astonishing, especially since it writes itself. Two hyper-confident competitors feuding over the top prize in their field. It doesn’t need gimmicks or bells and whistles.
Yet here we are, distracted by the constant presence of an overexposed wine expert.
It does a disservice to the performers and, more importantly, the fans who were genuinely excited for a women’s title match for the first time since Banks struck gold at Hell in a Cell in October.
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Whereas the women’s title feud has been a disappointment of epic proportions thus far, the Universal Championship picture continues to heat up.
The prospect of Edge vs. Roman Reigns in a singles match at WrestleMania may not be the most appealing to some, but WWE is expertly hinting that may not be the endgame.
On Friday, Edge took exception to Daniel Bryan inserting himself into the title picture with his recent win over Jey Uso inside a steel cage. Bryan responded, and The Rated R Superstar landed a zinger about being the better wrestler.
Fast-forward to later in the show, and Bryan used Reigns’ ego against him, reminding him he did something The Tribal Chief never could: got Uso to quit. He mocked Reigns, called himself the king of the island and manipulated The Big Dog into signing the contract for their match at Fastlane.
A furious Uso pitched the idea of a special enforcer for the match, which brought out Edge and set up their match on next week’s show—a high-stakes encounter that will serve as The Rated R Superstar’s first televised SmackDown match in 11 years.
And if the excellence that went into the show-long storytelling weren’t enough, Bryan put an exclamation point on things, dropping Edge with a running knee as a response to the men’s Royal Rumble winner suggesting he was the better wrestler.
The layered storytelling, including Uso’s continued blind support of Reigns and The Tribal Chief looking on as his two top contenders suddenly find themselves embroiled in a feud, helped to make this show a success and, more importantly, brought considerable hype for a program featuring wrestling’s best character and two babyfaces fans genuinely care about.
This was straight fire, and hopefully WWE’s creative forces can continue to build momentum on this Road to WrestleMania.
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For the first time in his WWE career, Apollo Crews feels like a wrestler with purpose.
Sure, he won the United States Championship last summer and feuded with The Hurt Business, but he felt more like a supporting player in that story of the group’s formation and run at dominance rather than the centerpiece he probably should have been as the babyface.
Now, he is a newly minted heel and one of the most engaging characters on the blue brand’s roster.
Friday night, Big E returned for the first time in three weeks after suffering a brutal beating at the hands of Crews. What awaited him moments after successfully defending his Intercontinental Championship against Sami Zayn was another attack by Crews.
Apollo used the steel steps to add further pain to Big E before standing tall on top of them.
Big E will defend his title against Crews at Fastlane. It will be interesting to see how invested WWE officials are in the challenger because given his momentum, it seems like the perfect time to pull the proverbial trigger and execute the title change.
One, it elevates Crews to the position we are supposed to buy him in at this point. Two, it puts Big E on the chase heading into WrestleMania, a role that suits him.
Time will tell, though.