By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
When Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote “We’re gonna’ teach ‘em how to say goodbye” and put those words in the mouth of George Washington, he couldn’t have imagined a homecoming and send-off as beautifully fit for them as we saw from Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose at Fastlane. The Shield had their last moment as a unit on Sunday night as it was one of the best wrestling moments and matches you’ll see all year.
It is so weird to be a wrestling fan sometimes. You sit through weeks and months of trash, hoping for one transcendent moment. You wade through the muck of weekly storylines, weak execution, having your dreams of what could be crushed again and again only to get a moment like the hug at the end of The Shield vs. Baron Corbin, Bobby Lashley, and Drew McIntyre and to be reminded why you watch. Wrestling is a strange thing to love, but it feels impossible not to.
WWE is three-for-three on pay-per-views with magical moments on the year. With so much television, it is easy to forget this, but WWE has given us a near-perfectly executed work of art on every show on the Road to WrestleMania. Becky Lynch came around and winning the Royal Rumble. Kofi Kingston came within a breath of winning the WWE Championship inside the Elimination Chamber. The Shield fought together for one last time at WWE Fastlane. We’ve gone entire years without moments this great before.
The thing about great moments is how much can get lost in the follow-up. WWE Fastlane showed us how possible this is. Becky Lynch may have won the Royal Rumble match, but she was puzzlingly removed from her WrestleMania main event by a puzzled geriatric old man. Kofi Kingston may have earned himself a WWE Championship singles match, but the opportunity was taken from him without a true rhyme or reason behind the decision.
Even on this show we saw Kofi Kingston pointlessly killed and Mustafa Ali’s popularity sacrificed in favor of garnering a rebellious fan reaction. We saw Becky Lynch continue to look like an underdog, but not quite a rebel, as she won the ability to be in the WrestleMania main event again with help from Ronda Rousey. Neither of these stories created a memorable (or even logical) chapter on this show.
WWE might be firing on all cylinders when it comes to pay-per-view moments, but their internal logic betrays them. Vince McMahon can say or do anything and steal moments away from wrestlers and fans. If it’s not leading to Vince stepping away on-air, then I can’t see what portraying him as the ultimate poor decision maker does overall.
With Dean Ambrose getting ready to leave WWE, I’m thankful for the moment he had on this show. Wrestlers don’t usually get to shine on the way out, but Ambrose seemed in his element once again with Reigns and Rollins by his side. He seemed to enjoy what he was doing in a way we haven’t seen in years.
Roman Reigns returning from leukemia treatment in one last match with the men who brought him to the dance was special beyond most things we see in wrestling. Roman getting unanimously cheered and looking like he’s present in his own skin and comfortable in front of the crowd is a gift. This was the best possible comeback scenario for him.
Seth Rollins, preparing for an opportunity to slay Brock Lesnar, WWE’s resident dragon, reuniting with his most notable friends and foes and bringing back some of the lightning quick offense The Shield was known for, was special.
This was something rare for WWE: an ending. We will never get a real retirement match from The Undertaker as long as Saudi Arabia has blood money to blow. Shawn Michaels decided a perfect retirement wasn’t worth ignoring a big dumb check. WWE creates stories but rarely ends them well. This is an area NXT has excelled at with wrestlers having limited runs before a call-up, but WWE’s main roster is like an everlasting purgatory.
WWE gave us the end of The Shield, not by embarrassing one member, not with an awkward turn, not in a match where they have 27 opponents, but by celebrating the magic The Shield brought when they began. The frenetic pace of the main event, the mannerisms of Rollins, Reigns, and Ambrose, and the straightforward way they won told us how great The Shield was, how much they have mattered to the last seven years of WWE, and how much they’ll be missed.
Sure, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns will still be around and they’ll still be very good, but without Dean Ambrose they won’t be The Shield and The Shield is something special and irreplaceable.
Elsewhere on the show:
– The ending to Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair was obvious. Ronda Rousey had to get involved somehow and this method of making it happen was alright. Why did it happen when the match was barely going though? Why not show off how great Becky and Charlotte can be together one month before they main event the biggest show of the year? Why tell such a convoluted story going into this in the first place?
– There was a story to tell leading to Ronda vs. Becky vs. Charlotte that would have made sense and had 17 fewer illogical steps than the one WWE told. It also wouldn’t have involved Vince McMahon at all.
– Daniel Bryan continues to impress in this WWE Championship reign. It may be a little silly and involve more hemp than I ever thought I’d see in a WWE ring, but Bryan is doing something remarkable. A year ago he announced his return to the ring and fans wept with joy (okay, at least I did). Now he’s back, the WWE Champion, and people hate him. This performer is better than we deserve, y’all.
– Bryan vs. Kevin Owens vs. Mustafa Ali was fun, but confusing. Ali didn’t deserve being set up to fail, since he’s one of Smackdown’s best rising stars. By the end of the match, the fans didn’t hate him, which is saying something. This could have gone very wrong and it only went a little bit off-kilter.
– I hope there is still a meaningful role for Kevin Owens at WrestleMania, since Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan should absolutely be a one-on-one match.
– Holy Beth Phoenix, y’all! I’ve wondered since she’s been back in the fold as a commentator if WWE would include her in the ring or if she’d even want that. Beth is one of those wrestler’s I’ve asked “what if” about for the last couple years. She would have been an even bigger star if WWE had made these gestures towards equality in her time. Beth Phoenix and Natalya in the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship scene should be great.
– I loved the tag team chemistry Bayley and Sasha Banks were able to show in their match against Tamina and Nia Jax. I’m already looking forward to more defenses of the Women’s Tag Titles and hoping we can keep up the pace of three or more women’s matches per pay-per-view.
– The United States Championship four-way match on Smackdown was better than the one on Fastlane, but the work of R-Truth should not be denied. It’s delightful.
– There were a ton of multi-person and multi-team matches on this show, weren’t there? It was like WWE Fatal Four Way from 2010 all over again…
– The Revival vs. Bobby Roode and Chad Gable vs. Ricochet and Aleister Black was a fun sprint of a tag team match. WWE is getting it right with Black and Ricochet thus far. I want to see where they end up on the WrestleMania card this year.
– Kofi Kingston vs. The Bar was a dumb thing to do.
– Asuka vs. Mandy Rose was a bit of a nothing match, but I want to praise Rose’s work in it. She’s improving rapidly and can hold her own in the ring with Asuka now. She is adding to an already great women’s roster in a major way. Remember her great performance is the Women’s Tag Title Elimination Chamber as well.
– Shane McMahon turning on The Miz was a curious development. I hope Miz can shine as a babyface during this run. I also hope Miz never tries a Frogsplash again.
– Elias is basically the Town Troubadour or WWE now. I don’t understand why.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.