WWE Fastlane: an above-average Raw
Bernie Barnes @thedailyjobber
From the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio WWE rolled out the pyro and big-name talent for its latest pay-per-view event: Fastlane.
The build-up to February’s live event was short and felt rushed, and the card yielded a mixture of satisfying conclusions, intriguing twists, and perplexing segments. The general booking and execution of the event resulted in something which felt more like an episode of WWE television than something fans would pay their local cable providers to watch.
Let’s take it to the Jobber Run-Down!
The pay-per-view officially opened with a Divas tag team match between Team BAD, Tamina & Naomi, versus the odd couple of Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks.
The choice to have these strong women jerking the curtain was wise, kicking off the card with an attraction which would hold the invested interest of the avid crowd.
The four wannabe contenders for Charlotte’s Divas Championship gave a textbook tag team battle, showing adept manipulation of crowd sympathy, pacing and tension, ending with a massive pay-off that was ultimately satisfying.
Despite showing signs of dissensions from the onset, Lynch and Banks worked well as a unit against the heels. Banks eventually got the win via Bank Statement submission.
The Intercontinental Championship match kept the momentum steaming forward, as Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler delivered a captivating and physical war.
KO and the Show-off began the match with mat wrestling and brawling, and ended the affair with numerous close calls that had the hungry crowd chanting “This is awesome!”
The middle of the contest saw the action lull. Owens became obviously winded, pointing out his only glaring weakness as a big-match competitor.
At one point, champion and challenger were engaged in a quite obvious mid-match conversation, which the cameras caught and a lack of commentary didn’t help to hide. It was uncertain whether the chat was due to miscommunication, a botched spot, or potential injury.
KO wound up retaining the belt with his signature power-bomb. He then took to social media, teasing a possible further program with AJ Styles via the Twitter comment:
“Hey dweebs… If AJ Styles ever comes
anywhere near MY #ICTitle,
I’ll take him out in less time
than it took me to toss him out of the Rumble.”
– Kevin Owens (@FightOwensFight)
After two solid bouts, the Fastlane line-up took a bit of a dive.
The Wyatt Family, the most unique and compelling gimmick alive in pro wrestling today, were built up with an intense video package. Unfortunately, their contest against the “Titans of WWE” did not deliver the same drama.
The Big Show came away booked as a star, Kane injected himself sparingly in the action and was booked as a monster, and Ryback was the work-horse.
Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman failed to dominate as thoroughly as their characters suggest they should have, and ultimately wound up losing cleanly to the Titans.
A disappointing conclusion to a program that seemed destined to propel Bray Wyatt and his disciples onward and upward, and instead left them once again struggling for meaningful victory.
The Divas Championship match brought the level competition back up again, as Brie Bella challenged Charlotte for the crown.
Although the heavy involvement of Daniel Bryan’s retirement tended to undermine Brie’s own quest for achievement, she successfully used it to gain valuable fan support against (arguably) the much more popular champion.
The match was competitive and dynamic, going through peaks and valleys and never lost the audience. Bella played the valiant, gutsy fighter who gave it her all but failed to capture gold in the end.
Charlotte, to her credit, carried the match on her shoulders and showed every bit of class exhibited by her father in his days as NWA Champion. The former NXT Women’s Champion made Bella look like a million bucks, yet managed to pull off a decisively clean victory.
In a piece of questionable booking which would assuredly never happen in NXT, the Diva’s Championship match was followed by a non-title affair between Chris Jericho and AJ Styles.
The importance of the contest hinged upon the extensive career accomplishments of both men. While the match was expertly conceived, the psychology alive and complex, and the ending perfectly executed, the age of both fighters was obvious to even the most casual observer.
Jericho, especially, appeared winded early on. While he was able to hit his Lionsault with seeming ease, he seemed to struggle with many spots. Despite being pros, there were numerous awkward exchanges that were only saved by the combined star power involved.
Styles claimed his first pay-per-view victory in WWE when Jericho tapped out to the calf-crusher submission. Jericho shook hands with Styles after the bell, saving himself the trouble of turning heel this time around.
The Cutting Edge Peep Show starring Edge and Christian came next, making the entire audience feel as though they were watching an episode of Raw or Smackdown.
The former tag team specialists shamelessly plugged their new show and themselves. They were interrupted by their guests, The New Day, who exchanged childish burns and scathing shoot-comments before they turned their venom on the poor state of the tag division itself.
The League of Nations injected themselves into the conversation, for some reason. New Day and Edge & Christian retreated to the aisle, mocking Sheamus and his droogs at a safe distance.
The segment was mildly amusing, but ultimately confusing. What purpose it served may only become clear as the weeks roll on.
In a piss-break affair between The Cutting Edge Peep Show and the main event of the evening, Curtis Axel and his Social Outcast mates faced off against R-Truth.
It was a match that seemed held over from the pre-show, or from an episode of Smackdown, and further served to distance the audience from the idea they were watching a pay-per-view spectacular.
The entire match became a device to continue the Social Outcasts’ winning streak and to further Goldust’s attempts to become Truth’s tag team partner.
The main event featured the big fight built up all evening long: home-state favourite Dean Ambrose versus Roman Reigns versus Brock Lesnar for the chance to face Triple H in the main event of WrestleMania 32.
Ambrose and Reigns kept to the safety of their script, because it provided all the framework they needed to make the match work: focus the collective offense on the Beast, take him out of commission, then – and only then – turn on one another.
Lesnar played his part expertly well, as usual. He dominated the early parts of the match, overcoming attempts from both his opponents to gain any advantage.
Ambrose was the emotional focal point of the bout. His story received the most attention going into the pay-per-view, and the crowd was firmly behind him.
Reigns, again, was the odd man out. The crowd voiced their displeasure at his every move. The reaction upon his victory, which came after a spear to Ambrose, was overwhelmingly negative. It seems many of the shadows from over a year ago at the Royal Rumble have not fully lifted.
The triple-threat told a definite story, and told it well, if a tad by-the-numbers. There were no big surprises, twists, turns or reveals. The action was good, the pacing was slow at times, and the level of destruction left the audience craving more – which in a way is what this pay-per-view was designed to do.
Triple H came out to the ring, interrupting Reigns’ celebration and providing an Edge & Christian-worthy 5-Second Pose for the Road to WrestleMania build. His appearance was the last indication that the pay-per-view just watched was nothing more than a set-up to a larger, more meaningful show.