*Spoilers Ahead, you’ve been warned!*
So, new territory for me. I’ve been a wrestling fan for years, but only started watching the current product regularly about a year ago. Since then, I’ve been swept up in the violence and soap opera shenanigans all over again and actively enjoy it for the most part. As this is my first wrestling related write-up on this site, I felt it fitting to focus on a first for WWE – their newest Pay Per View show, Fastlane. Fastlane comes at an odd time between the two biggest WWE events, Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. If you haven’t been watching recently, just know that there was some justifiable controversy over relative newbie Roman Reigns winning the 30 man match and getting a shot at the main event and the title at this year’s Wrestlemania. How much controversy? Well, the instant booing was certainly an indication. People did not like the fact that fan favourite Daniel Bryan was eliminated early and the match devolved from there. The decision to make Roman Reigns the Number 1 contender was also responsible for the first boos The Rock has received in about 15 years, so good job there, WWE Creative.
Anyway, enough about the Rumble. Fastlane was an opportunity to have a decent PPV and set up stuff for Wrestlemania. They managed to do one of those things. Guess which one.
I’ll take the PPV match by match, but also mention any significant events along the way. Word of warning, I am going to be talking about the results etc, so if you haven’t seen it yet and intend to, close this review. Make sure to come back though…Oh- they’re already gone aren’t they? Bugger. Always open with the recommendation to come back. Schoolboy error.
Dolph Ziggler, Erick Rowan and Ryback vs. Big Show, Kane and Seth Rollins
Fastlane opened with chapter 492 of Team Authority vs Team Anyone The Audience Likes with a 6 man tag match. I’m a big fan of Ziggler and I quite like both Rowan and Ryback, although they are likes with some caveats. Both Kane and Big Show have been stuck in creative limbo for a while and are just generic bad guys these days. I rolled my eyes once they made their entrances. I don’t like feeling this way about them, especially Kane, who I loved as a kid, but I’ve been left with no choice. Only saving grace on Team Authority is Seth Rollins, who is a naturally charismatic heel and is a joy to watch in the ring. When they say he’s the future of the WWE, you’d better believe it.
The match itself was half decent. It was never going to be one for the ages, but it felt like a standard “good vs bad” scenario. Ziggler and Rollins got to do their showy acrobatic things which is a plus. It did suffer from a “Fuck you, bad guys win” ending though, where the Ziggler gets unceremoniously knocked out by a sneaky punch and pinned in a hurry. It’s a good play, but only when used sparingly, which it hasn’t been of late. It brought back painful memories of the Rumble where Big Show and Kane started callously taking fan favourites (including Ziggler) and dumping them over the top rope, making it abundantly clear that only one man was going to win it from there on out.
Still, we got to see the welcome return of Randy Orton and his fantastic RKOs. Mixed bag.
Stardust vs. Goldust
There’s been an interesting brother versus brother dynamic building for a while and it culminated at Fastlane. Goldust, a veteran of the oft-lauded Attitude Era has been butting heads with his brother and tag-team partner, Cody aka Stardust. The story is that Cody has completely bought into his painted, insane alter-ego and is now blaming Goldust and his father, Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes, for holding him back. Goldust wants to beat the Stardust out of Cody, but holds fire, because he is still his kid brother. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s fine. It’s certainly one of the more coherent stories and motivations we’ve had from the Creative department in a while. Whilst I enjoyed the build up, the match itself was slightly disappointing. There was a decent amount of in-ring storytelling, as it was clear Goldust was holding back and not taking advantage of some opportunities to lay Stardust out. I also thought that Stardust reacting to the crowd mockingly chanting “Cody” by freaking out was a stroke of genius. That chant is sticking around and it at least proves that the crowd were invested enough in the whole thing.
It was entertaining enough, but for the second time of the night, the match ended on an off-feeling note. Goldust rolls up Stardust and gets a three count even though the ref didn’t count three. It was either a mistake or something intentional that didn’t quite play. Either way, it seems Stardust is on his own insane path now and this certainly won’t be the last altercation he has with his brother.
The Usos vs. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd for the Tag Team Championship
Well, this one was a bit of a surprise. I didn’t go in with high hopes because I’m bored of the bland Usos. They can do some amazing stuff but there’s no sense of personality there. Also, I still can’t tell them apart, no matter how many times commentary tells me. Another reason for hopes being so low is WWE’s treatment of Cesaro, an incredibly talented athlete who had a brief high spot when he won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale, but has since been relegated to the midcard for no real reason. Teaming him up with NXT graduate Tyson Kidd is about as random as decisions get, but it’s worked out well for both of them.
I think this was my favourite match of the night. It was pacy, fun, innovative and for once, surprised me with the ending. Kidd and Cesaro play off each other well and some of the spots (a move or sequence of moves for the uninitiated) put a massive smile on my face. I was genuinely glad that Cesaro and Kidd walked away the new champs. Hopefully they actually do something with this instead of merely setting up the Usos triumphantly regaining their titles at Wrestlemania. Fingers crossed.
Not a match, but worthy of a mention: Sting finally confronted Triple H after weeks of interfering and they’re fighting at Wrestlemania. Sting had also finally learned that pointing his trademark baseball bat at people is a lot more threatening than merely pointing his finger- something he did previously for so long and with such intensity it made me chuckle.
Paige vs. Nikki Bella for the Divas Championship
Hard to shake the “filler match” feeling on this one. I’m a fan of both Paige and Nikki and would be happy for either of them to hold the title. I just felt that there was no danger of the belt changing hands and it robbed the match of any tension. I’m glad WWE are treating Nikki like a legit champion. The only real thing of note that happened in this match was the use of a turnbuckle camera I haven’t seen before. I’m sure we’ll get a proper conclusion at Wrestlemania, but this was just Creative wheel-spinning.
Dean Ambrose vs. Bad News Barrett for the Intercontinental Championship
Like most things featuring Dean Ambrose, the run up to this has been fun. The guy’s a walking embodiment of the Attitude Era and he’s engaging as hell. Having zip-tied Barrett’s hands to the ringpost, Ambrose forced a signature from him on a contract for a Fastlane title shot. You don’t often see something like that in this current PG Era and it’s refreshing. Sure, it’s not bloody hardcore matches, but it’s something approaching the feel of the bad ol’ days.
Anyway, I enjoyed the match. Barrett’s brawling style is a good match for Ambrose’s unconventional whatever-the-hell style. As would become the theme for the night, it was all fine until the end, where Ambrose is disqualified for stomping on Barrett’s face a bit too much. It was worth it to see Ambrose steal the actual belt though. Reminds me of some of the stuff Stone Cold Steve Austin would pull. I imagine there will be a rematch at Wrestlemania, it’s just a shame that the match’s sole purpose was to advertise the next PPV, rather than hook the viewers of the current one.
Hey! The Undertaker’s back! Except he isn’t. Turns out the man wheeled out in a coffin to the Undertaker’s music and accompanied by his hooded torchbearers was, in fact, Bray Wyatt. It had me fooled, I must admit. It’s a great heel move to get peoples’ hopes up like that and dash them. Wyatt gave one of his best and most coherent promos in a while, calling out the actual Phenom for a match at…you guessed it- Wrestlemania. When Wyatt is given a properly thought out angle, he’s one of the best on the mic. All signs point to an Undertaker return soon though and I’m totally up for a Bray vs. Undies dust up.
John Cena vs. Rusev for the United States Championship
Russian manbear Rusev has been on an undefeated streak since joining the WWE. It’s practically the only interesting thing about him other than his hackneyed disrespectful foreigner/anti-American gimmick. Many have tried and failed to defeat Rusev, nearly all doing the Hulk Hogan, Real American flag-waving schtick. This was one of the only matches I couldn’t guess the outcome of. I couldn’t really see them ending the streak at Fastlane, but they’ve fed new talent to Cena to just steamroll over before, so I couldn’t be certain.
He gets a lot of hate, but I kinda like John Cena. He’s still stuck with being the face of the company so he’s in personality lockdown in case something he does or says causes a drop in the popularity of his merchandise with a certain demographic. The writing isn’t sophisticated enough to have him do anything interesting, so all of his promos and time on the mic boil down to the same thing. It gets old very quickly.
I enjoyed the match quite a bit. Decent pacing and both competitors sold the fact it was a proper battle. The all-important streak was maintained, but the dirty way it was done would definitely suggest it’s ending at Wrestlemania, probably by Cena’s hand. I’m just concerned what else they’re going to do with the brutish Bulgarian after they do. He deserves to stick around.
Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns for a World Heavyweight Championship match at Wrestlemania 31
The fallout after the controversial Rumble has been interesting. I genuinely feel sorry for Roman Reigns. It’s not his fault his boss is an out-of-touch George Lucas type who seems hellbent on ruining promising talent. Reigns is the right guy in the right place, but just at the wrong time. Like many others, I love Daniel Bryan. I like the fact he’s a classic underdog with an insane wealth of wrestling experience behind him. He’s a very talented performer. He is also getting the loudest cheers and “pops” of anyone on the roster right now. The audience got their way when he won the title at Wrestlemania 30, but injury derailed the hype train and forced WWE to go a different way. He’s back now and I, like many others, want to see him succeed and get a proper shot at being champion. Trouble is, Vince McMahon has clearly chosen Roman Reigns as the next big guy and as the man who will almost definitely relieve Brock Lesnar of his title at Wrestlemania 31 and the attitude to people saying he isn’t ready or skilled enough yet seems to be “Fuck you, you’ll like who we tell you to like”.
He’s been pushed to the top of the deck so fast they’ve forgotten to give him a proper personality. It seems to vary from week to week. It’s interesting that of the three members of the Shield, Roman has been the one with the least work done on him, even going as far as to keep the same outfit and entrance, and yet he’s the one who will probably walk out of Wrestlemania champion.
Fastlane was a chance to change that. The match itself was great. Bryan elevated Reigns’ game by a few levels and they had a good back and forth. It was clear Bryan was doing the legwork though as Reigns only has a few signature moves and big slams to call his own. I was all hopeful that Reigns would lose and Bryan would go on to Wrestlemania, setting up a rivalry between the two after the PPV was over. Tough luck though, as Roman Reigns won to sparse applause and scattered cheering. Remember when I said that Bray Wyatt’s Undertaker impersonation was great because it’s such a heel move to dash peoples’ raised hopes? Yeah, well, that. WWE is the biggest bad guy in the business right now. Wrestling isn’t subtle at the best of times, but the forced commentary was painful at this point in the show. Nail-on-the-head things like “Roman’s redeemed himself with that win” and “he’s proved he’s the worthy man twice” and things to that effect make it inescapably clear that if you don’t like Roman Reigns, you’re in for a bad couple of months at the very least.
So, yeah, Fastlane. It was a bit of a mess. Despite having all but the top title on the line, the whole show felt like very little was at stake. It all felt like a souped-up version of a mediocre episode of Raw, which is not something you should be able to say about a Pay Per View. The muted crowd didn’t help matters either. Several sites have blamed the Memphis crowd, but I reckon any audience would be baffled into silence by some of the incoherent, tone-deaf decisions being made.
In my opinion, the show didn’t do enough to justify its existence and just seemed to be an excuse to make crappy car/driving puns. Look back over the giant wall of text above at count how many times I mention Wrestlemania. I used it so often the word has lost all meaning to me. Thing is, I had to keep talking about it because that’s where most of the storylines actually get some closure. We’re only seeing half a story and that sucks. Some neatly contained stories wouldn’t go amiss, not everything has to be a drawn-out saga which stretches credibility and patience as apparently Wrestlemania is the only place where shit gets sorted out.