In the lead-up to WWE Fastlane 2016, the company has done everything it could to make it look like the dark horse will ride away with the win in the headline bout. But Dean Ambrose is not winning the right to battle in WrestleMania's main event. This is, and always has been, Roman Reigns' story.
Sunday's pre-WrestleMania pay-per-view promises a wealth of thrilling action. It just won't be powered by unpredictability.
Shrewd fans can see the foundation of the WrestleMania card WWE has already constructed. Fastlane will build on that, not restart the whole process.
That means Charlotte won't let go of the gold around her waist. It means AJ Styles is set for a major win. And in the latest chapter of Reigns' race to the mountaintop, he will outlast his brother, Ambrose, and The Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesner.
Still, fans have plenty of reasons to be excited. A number of prime showdowns have the potential to be memorable, dramatic in-ring displays.
Those betting on Brie Bella to win the Divas Championship at Fastlane have to be less confident after hearing what she had to say on a recent edition of Good Morning America. With Daniel Bryan at her side, she talked of joining her husband in retirement.
"It's time for me to hang up the boots," she said.
She said she was close to being done and that she would make an official announcement in the summer. That makes it less likely WWE invests in her as champ. Why cut Charlotte's momentum short just to crown a wrestler on her way out?
Besides, one report pointed to Charlotte retaining. PWInsider (h/t Wrestle Zone) reported that WWE planned to have Charlotte keep the title until WrestleMania.
It's no surprise, then, that Charlotte is a -530 favorite to win at Fastlane, according to Odds Shark.
The odds are in Reigns' favor, too. He is a -600 favorite to beat Brock Lesnar and Ambrose on Sunday.
Rumors of The Big Dog heading for a showdown with Triple H have to contribute to that figure. According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestle Zone), the plan is for Reigns to win at Fastlane to set up a title match against The Game at WrestleMania.
- Kalisto vs. Alberto Del Rio (2-out-of-3 Falls match for United States Championship)
- Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles
- Kevin Owens vs. Dolph Ziggler (Intercontinental Championship)
- Ryback, Kane and Big Show vs. The Wyatt Family
- Naomi and Tamina vs. Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch
- Charlotte vs. Brie Bella (Divas Championship)
- Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (No. 1 contender's match for WWE World Heavyweight Championship)
- Kalisto over Del Rio.
- Styles over Chris Jericho.
- Owens over Ziggler.
- The Wyatt Family over Ryback, Kane and Big Show.
- Banks and Lynch over Naomi and Tamina.
- Charlotte over Brie.
- Reigns over Ambrose and Lesnar.
Kalisto Keeps the Gold
To have the U.S. title change hands four times in under two months would be baffling. Talk about undoing all the work John Cena put in to elevate the title last year.
Having Del Rio win back the gold after Kalisto took it from him at the Royal Rumble would leave the U.S. Championship looking like a cheap prop.
And it's not as if Del Rio is rich with momentum right now. The League of Nations has been a disappointment, failing to feel like a top heel faction.
It makes more sense for Kalisto to win, putting a cap on this story and moving on. Giving Kalisto a real shot to see whether he can catch on as champ is the obvious move.
Styles Wins the Rubber Match
The Phenomenal One's value shoots up if he get past Jericho. If he falls to Y2J, whatever WWE has planned for him at WrestleMania won't feel as significant.
This a chance to catapult AJ Styles, to have him make a statement in the early stages of his run with the company. Jericho is a quality opponent with a world championship pedigree. Making him a stepping stone for Styles is the logical choice.
A loss doesn't hurt Jericho nearly as much as it would the newcomer. It could even be a catalyst for him to dive further into heel territory.
Bleacher Report's Alfred Konuwa believes this bout is set to steal the show:
Having just won the Intercontinental Championship on Monday, Owens feels like a lock to win here. It's hard to imagine WWE undoing all the momentum the powerhouse gained by reclaiming the title.
Having Owens head into WrestleMania as champ makes the most sense. That opens the door for a Styles vs. Owens IC title clash, a contest with classic written all over it.
Ziggler is just a means to that end. He's the prey that helps showcase the predator. As PWInsider's Dave Scherer wrote: "Not only should Owens win here, but he should also destroy Ziggler, getting a ton of heat moving into WrestleMania."
The Wyatt Family Warm Up for WrestleMania
The focus of this story up to this point has been on The Wyatt Family. Big Show, Kane and Ryback haven't had mic time. They haven't made any bold promises. The narrative leading up to Fastlane has been all about the fact the heels want to conquer WWE's titans.
That signals the babyfaces will be the fodder here.
This match is about prepping the fearsome clan for WrestleMania. Whether the plan is to have Braun Strowman win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal or have Bray Wyatt take on Lesnar, the ideal route to that point is a dominant showing from The Wyatt Family.
WWE would gain little should Ryback and crew fend off their enemies at this point.
Banks and Lynch Win Despite Imploding
Team B.A.D. are the obstacles. Banks and Lynch are the heart of this story.
WWE has made sure to showcase how shaky Banks and Lynch's alliance is. They have bickered and stared each other down rather than unite. That foreshadows an explosion of some sort between the two.
But having either of those women lose isn't smart. Banks looks poised to slide into focus in the Divas title picture. Lynch may join her and Charlotte in a Triple Threat at WrestleMania.
To build to that, Banks and Lynch need to look impressive here. That's where Naomi and Tamina come in, ready to play the victims of the emerging stars' rise.
Charlotte Fends off Brie
Brie is just a placeholder rival. Banks vs. Charlotte or a Triple Threat with Lynch looks to be in the works for WrestleMania. Why else would WWE spend so much time spotlighting Banks and Lynch up to this point.
WWE is using the natural pathos generated by Nikki Bella's surgery and Bryan's retirement to build a story for Brie.
Charlotte, though, has been the focal point of the Divas division for months now. To pull the title from her just before WrestleMania would be a waste. She needs to be champ heading into The Showcase of the Immortals.
Reigns Rides into WrestleMania's Main Event
Ambrose has been fearless in stepping up to Lesnar as tensions have risen surrounding this main event. He's teased turning on Reigns. It's been fun watching all of that.
Count on that simply being sleight of hand, however. WWE has been trying to make the audience doubt the obvious outcome of Reigns coming out on top.
Bleacher Report's Dan Pecoraro pointed out the story up to this point has foreshadowed Reigns battling Triple H:
Reigns vs. Triple H is the logical climax. Bet on Reigns claiming the win here to set that up. Ambrose and Lesnar, meanwhile, have shown so much chemistry with each other WWE is likely to let them go at it one-on-one come WrestleMania.
Fastlane's marquee match will be the precursor to that battle too.