Coming off the heels of a very disappointing result to the 2015 Royal Rumble, the road to WrestleMania continued with the second event of the year, the new PPV known as Fastlane. With the elimination chamber match apparently retired, the new event would see the chosen one of the company, Roman Reigns, putting his WrestleMania title shot on the line against the chosen one of the fans, Daniel Bryan. There was a great deal of anticipation going into the event. Many, myself included, felt this match was put together to rectify the mess that was last month’s Rumble.
That was not exactly the way things played out. There was no match on the pre-show this month. Instead we had an edition of Miz TV with Paul Heyman, advocate of the reigning, defending WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar as the guest. It was a good Heyman promo as usual as he basically said regardless of who won tonight, they would lose to Lesnar at WrestleMania. We also got some fun Miz/Mizdow interactions to continue the build to the split whch I envision happening in the Andre battle royal at Mania. As the actual PPV started, we got a video package focusing on Reigns/Bryan and Cena/Rusev. The pyro went off the arena and the usual announce trio of Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler & John Bradshaw Layfield welcomed us to the show.
Dolph Ziggler, Ryback & Erick Rowan vs Seth Rollins, Kane & Big Show w/J&J Security Winners: Seth Rollins, Kane & Big Show when Kane pinned Dolph Ziggler following a chokeslam at 13:01. Fastlane kicked off with six man tag team action, as the most united Survivor Series partners in history – Ziggler, Ryback & Harper, took on Mr Money in the Bank and those other two relics that make up the Authority. Kane and Big Show really have no business being presented as top level heels in 2015 and if they are still going to be competing on a regular basis should be counting the lights as a means to build up new talent. I figured the face team would win this one, with the heels ending Smackdown standing tall, but that was not the only prediction I made that was wrong on this night. The match itself was a fun start to the show. Nothing spectacular, but it got the crowd going as they were particularly behind Ziggler and Ryback. Rowan just seems to be floating around now since the face turn. The ending is what brought down my overall enjoyment of this one and it goes back to my initial point. Just like at the Rumble, Show and Kane were key players and played an instrumental part in Ziggler taking a loss. I would have had absolutely no problem with Ziggler taking a fall to Rollins, since he’s at least a future star, but Kane pinning one of the most popular guys in the company made me groan in disappointment. Its becoming increasingly clear that the company has no plans in really making Ziggler a top level guy and are content with him being a popular upper midcarder, and thats a shame. Look at where he was at Survivor Series! Unfortunately it looks like he only got that brief push to the top due to Reigns and Bryan being out of the picture at the time. Now at the most, he’ll be in some multi-man I.C title match at Mania, although I think being forgotten in the battle royal with everyone else in this match bar Rollins is more likely. Of course, Rollins will have his hands full with Randy Orton, who made his return after the match and sent him running after an Authority post match beating to the face team. Orton got a big pop, and while I think he’s a natural heel, the face turn does seem fresh at this point and was necessary. My Grade: **3/4
After a video package looking at the issues between the Dusts, we went backstage to Dusty Rhodes. Goldust came in and talked about his history with Cody before shifting tune to say that he was going to beat Stardust up so badly that he would never put on the paint again. Dusty didn’t want anyone to get hurt.
Goldust vs Stardust Winner: Goldust via pinfall with a roll-up at 8:55. After months of doing nothing coming off a lacklustre tag title reign, I’ve really been glad to see the Dust brothers being given the chance to be involved in something meaningful again, even this feud would have been much better a year earlier when the Rhodes boys were the hottest tag team in the company. I liked that Eden got to do the ring announcing for the match as well (she’s Cody’s wife for those that didn’t realise). Stardust’s new attire indicates that he’ll be staying that character for a while longer, which is fine with me as he’s doing great work in it, although I think once this feud ends he might need to change things up. That’s never a problem for Cody though – he’s always let his character evolve throughout the years since his Dashing days. The match these two had was decent, although my expectations were higher given how well the two brothers know each other. Then again, that’s mostly been as partners rather than opponents. The crowd were really into it though, getting some loud Cody chants going, which served to agitate Stardust, playing into his persona. He did an awesome job taunting Goldust throughout the match, but in the end he would get overconfident, leading to a roll up from big brother costing him the contest. Afterwards, Goldust tried to make peace with Stardust, but he just stormed off. I didn’t pick Goldust to win this match either, but a rematch is definitely coming based on what we saw moments later. Stardust will win there, which will likely serve as Goldust’s retirement match. My Grade: **
Up next, the announcers plugged some cross promotional stuff as we got TMZ footage of Seth Rollins calling out Jon Stewart. From there, we went backstage to Dusty and Goldust once more. Goldust said he didn’t hurt Cody, but at that moment Stardust crashed the party and threw his brother into a crate, before going into a tirade on Dusty for making him live in his shadow for years. Dusty was distraught as medical staff tended to Goldust. W
WE Tag Team Championship: The Usos (c) w/Naomi vs Tyson Kidd & Cesaro w/Natalya Winners: Tyson Kidd & Cesaro by pinfall when Kidd pinned Jimmy Uso with a neckbreaker at 9:33. Our first championship match of the night saw the tag titles on the line, as the top team on the roster took on my favourite team in the awesome duo of Cesaro & Kidd. I’ve enjoyed everything about this team of two really great performers that had been lost in the shuffle. Well, almost everything, but they’ve gotten away from Adam Rose now. The result was yet another that surprised me considering the Usos had only regained the titles a few months prior, but I’m all for Kidd & Cesaro getting a run with the gold. I’m sure at some point the Ascension were planned to be the team to end the Usos reign, but they’ve flopped so badly be poor booking since being called up to the main roster, while Cesaro and Kidd have really committed themselves to getting this team over, so in the end the right call was made. The announcers put Kidd & Cesaro over big time as well, with Lawler saying it would be a long time until they lost the titles. As far as the actual match is concerned, it was very good for the amount of time they were given, although with another five minutes they really could have kicked things into high gear. As it was, we got some solid tag team action. There’s reports that Vince has decided to put some time and effort into this division again after the past year, and if that’s the case, these two teams are both great choices to build around. I look forward to future encounters between them and other duos that enter the mix. Oh by the way, according to Lillian, Kidd & Cesaro are “still the new WWE Tag Team Champions”. My Grade: ***
Up next we got a video package hyping the Sting/Triple H confrontation, which was up next. Back in the arena Triple H made his way out in a t-shirt, jacket and jeans rather than his usual suit. He said he was not there as the COO but to fight. He said that he regretted losing his cool with Ric Flair on Raw, but meant everything he said about wanting to confront Sting. That led to Sting making his way to the ring. The initial reaction wasn’t that great, but a loud Sting chant followed. Triple H said that Sting was upset with him because his company put Sting’s company (WCW) out of business and Sting went down with the ship. He added that his legacy was ending Sting’s legacy before saying if he walked away, he would allow Sting’s legacy to live on through DVDs, the network, merchandise and a potential Hall of Fame induction. Sting didn’t leave, so Triple H cheap-shotted him. After beating him down, he got out a sledgehammer, but Sting responded by pulling out his trademark bat. Sting backed Triple H up into the corner with it and pointed at the Mania sign, with Triple H ultimately seeming to upset. Sting left satisfied, but Triple H attempted to jump him yet again from behind, only to take a Scorpion Deathdrop for his effort.
A good segment to promote the inevitable Mania match which interests me as a special attraction. Prior to the next match, we cut briefly to Daniel Bryan warming up for the main event. We then saw footage of Heyman’s comments on the pre-show regarding the main event.
WWE Diva’s Championship: Nikki Bella (c) w/Brie Bella vs Paige Winner: Nikki Bella by pinfall following a roll-up using the tights at 5:34. After an excellent fatal four way from the NXT girls at Takeover: Rival, the main roster divas had their chance to respond, although obviously with much less time. Lillian made her second blunder of the night here when she called the title the Women’s Championship. This was a decent enough match, but its clear the girls on the main roster aren’t given the same chance to put on memorable showings, even if the talent is there. Paige is one of my favourite divas on the roster, and while I enjoyed her heel run, it was going to be hard keeping the crowds booing her for long. Nikki on the other hand has improved so much over the past year, much like Brie did the year before. She’s not great by any means, but solid compared to what she used to be. This was another match I predicted incorrectly as I figured they might give Paige another run here, but it looks like she’ll be chasing the gold for a while longer with the cheap way in which Nikki retained after interference from Brie. I think its highly likely we’ll see AJ Lee get back in the mix heading into Mania, as she’s due back from injury any time now. With the announcers mentioning on Raw the following that Paige needs to find a friend to counter the Bellas number advantage, it seems like the seeds have been planted for that given AJ and Paige’s past history. The match was okay for what it was, but it was really just filler. I wish the main roster girls had the same opportunities as those in NXT. According to a recent social media movement, I’m not the only one. My Grade: *3/4
With the Oscars on the same night as the PPV, we saw Eva Marie and Cameron making an appearance on the red carpet show. Following that, we got the official announcement that Triple H vs Sting was set for WrestleMania.
WWE Intercontinental Championship: Bad News Barrett (c) vs Dean Ambrose Winner: Bad News Barrett by DQ when Ambrose continued to beat up Barrett in the corner following the five count at 7:58 The run of title matches continued with the Intercontinental championship. After Ziggler’s reign elevated the once prestigious title somewhat late last year, I was excited to see what Bad News Barrett would do with the championship since returning to the scene. He had a huge amount of momentum before getting injured after all. Unfortunately he’s become just another heel champion that loses more often than winning. They’ve also taken away his “bad news” line, probably because it gets cheered. Its a shame as he really had something special prior to that injury. Speaking of guys who have lost a ton of momentum, look no further than Dean Ambrose. Since the split of the Shield and his subsequent feud with Seth Rollins in 2014, Ambrose had consistently been one of the most popular guys on the roster. The problem was, he never got a chance to win an important match. His last PPV win was with the Shield over Evolution at Payback. In terms of singles matches, you’d have to go back to 2013. He’s still popular, but nowhere near what he used to be, as evidenced by the tepid reaction he got from this crowd. This was a match that could have been enjoyable as both guys are very good in the ring, but it just wasn’t given the time to be able to be anything really worthwhile. The finish was poor as well even if it does play into Ambrose’s lunatic ways. He made a big deal about actually wanting to win the I.C title heading into this match, but he just cost himself the match anyway. Obviously this feud isn’t over as Ambrose stole Barrett’s title belt after the match following Dirty Deeds but with Ziggler also thrown in the mix the next night on Raw, I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys are thrown into the battle royal at Mania. I just hope when they have their next title match its better that what we got here. A cheap Barrett roll up using the ropes would have been a stronger finish. Average, nothing more, nothing less. My Grade: **1/2
As we did with Bryan earlier, we saw Roman Reigns backstage preparing for the main event. Back in the arena, the eerie music of the druids played as they made their way out into the aisle. The famous gong hit and the music of the Undertaker played. The announcers said he’s back as a closed casket was wheeled out to ringside. When the lid was finally opened however, it was Bray Wyatt rather than the Deadman. Wyatt said he no longer feared Taker like he did when he first saw him. As he mentioned on Raw heading into the PPV, his promo played into Taker’s soul being lost in limbo ever since Brock ended the streak last year and vowed to be the evil that ultimately took his soul. As far as Wyatt’s character goes, thats a decent explanation for why this match is happening. Wyatt left without any sign of Taker. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if the first we saw of him was at Mania itself, like the WrestleMania XX build.
Of course, we’ve known this match was taking place since late last year, and it explains why Wyatt has been booked so strongly since his brief hiatus in the fall. Taker’s last match wasn’t great by any means from a ring quality standpoint, but then again, he was concussed during it. Aside from that match, he has a pretty good track record in recent Mania matches, even if Wyatt hasn’t been as great as we hoped over the past twelve months. I’m interested in what they can do at Mania. It won’t be Taker’s last match. I thought WrestleMania XXX was it for him, but 32 is in Dallas. He’ll work that one and it could be his final. I’ll be there next year. At this point, we checked in with the expert panel hosted by Renee Young. As with last month, it consisted of Booker T, Bryon Saxton and Corey Graves. They talked about the previous segment before shifting gears towards the U.S title match, which got the video package treatment.
WWE United States Championship: Rusev (c) w/Lana vs John Cena Winner: Rusev by submission following Cena passing out in the Accolade at 18:42. For all the talk I’ve done over the past year about the midcard titles being devalued, this match had really been built up as a big deal. Of course, thats due to Cena being involved, but I’ve wanted to see Rusev in something that he actually had a chance of losing in for an eternity now, and we finally have got it with this feud. Its still weird to see Cena feuding for the United States Championship, considering the last time he was remotely concerned about it was all the way back in 2005, but its refreshing and really boosts the significance of that title in the eyes of fans. For as boring as Rusev had been prior to this feud in terms of doing the same thing week in and week out, he’s built up some strong heat and didn’t look out of place against Cena either. Thats a huge credit to him, as I’ve worried about that ever since this match was rumoured shortly after Rusev’s arrival on the main roster on the post-Mania Raw in New Orleans. Despite the crowd being poor for much of the night, this match woke them back up to a degree with the usual mixed response for Cena. It was more positive than usual in terms of the split though, which just goes to show he’s more enjoyable when not in the title scene these days. Its time to mix things up with him more like this. No, I’m not talking about a heel turn there by the way. That one’s never happening. Back on topic, this was a very good power match, and definitely Rusev’s best showing in the company. They went back and forth with some big moves with both men getting some near falls. Rusev even managed to kick out of an AA which was shocking. I didn’t expect Cena to win the title in this match, but I thought we’d get some kind of DQ, although that feeling lessened as I watched since we just had that in the I.C title contest. What we got was a fairly strong win for the champion as he put Cena in the Accolade. Cena struggled and fought his way out of the hold, but just as he looked to be coming back, Lana distracted the ref, allowing her man to deliver a low blow. With Cena dispatched, the Bulgarian Brute applied the Accolade once more, with Cena passing out in the hold. That leaves things open to the rematch at Mania, potentially with some kind of no holds barred stipulation. A very good match that made me want to see more from these two. Not bad considering I had really soured on Rusev a few months ago. I do wonder where he goes after ultimately losing to Cena at Mania though. My Grade: ***3/4
We checked in with the panel a final time before the video package for the main event.
Number One Contender Match: Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan Winner: Roman Reigns by pinfall following a Spear at 20:10. Well here we go, the main event that most felt was the WWE going into damage control following the complete rejection of Reigns by the fans at the Royal Rumble. I absolutely expected some kind of Bryan win here, leading to a Reigns heel turn and subsequent triple threat for the title at Mania. I still think that would have been the right move. Now regardless of the decision, this was a very good match. We’ve seen better from Bryan of course, but then again, he’s the best guy in the company. As far as Reigns goes, this was without a doubt his best singles match to date and was first time he has looked anywhere near remotely being ready for the top of the card. He hung in there with Bryan and put on a really good match with both men going back and forth with each other and ultimately kicking out of some big moves. Despite the crowd being pretty weak for most of the night, we started with duelling Reigns and Bryan chants. The support for Reigns seemed to fade as the match went on, but it does show that the Rumble crowd was more hostile than what most will be. Of course, Mania will be ten times worse for Reigns and the fans will be pleading for Lesnar to destroy him, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. While I enjoyed the match, the moment Reigns got the three count I was disappointed with the decision. What did they really have to lose with making a triple threat at Mania for the title? You please the fans heading into the biggest show of the year and can still have Reigns win there if you really want. The match would have been better for Bryan being in it. Nobody is exactly clamouring for the Bryan/Sheamus match we were meant to get last year. Sure, they’ve had great matches in the past, but Sheamus hasn’t been involved in anything important for at least a year now, so it seems like a total afterthought of a match. Anyway, the match had some memorable moments such as Bryan rolling Reigns up on a Spear attempt as well as a kick out from Bryan’s running knee which was put over as a major deal by the announcer. Despite coming up short, Bryan looked strong in defeat here, which is a lot more than can be said for his nondescript elimination in the Rumble. After the match, he shook Reigns’ hand and told him to beat Lesnar, and the endorsement continued the following night on Raw. Its supposed to get the fans to cheer Reigns. It might work some of the time, but I highly doubt any reaction aside from major rejection at Levi’s Stadium next month. I just hope Bryan gets back in the main event scene after Mania this year and is competing for the title by SummerSlam. We don’t know how many years he has left following his time off. Take advantage of the most popular guy in recent memory while you have him. My Grade: ****
Three Stars of the Night:
1. Daniel Bryan – continues to be the best wrestler in the company coming off his lengthy stint on the sidelines. Put on a great match with the chosen one, even if the poor crowd didn’t fully appreciate the match.
2. Roman Reigns – give credit where it is due. He does not deserve the position he is being put in in any way, but on this night he looked his best since the Shield days. Not a bad follow up to a career low last month. The question is can he have a performance like this against someone not named Daniel Bryan?
3. Rusev – like Reigns, had the best performance of his career thus far. One of the more clean losses Cena has taken as well despite the interference shows the faith they have in the guy too.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The first ever WWE Fastlane event did not provide us with the shake up to the WrestleMania plans that most of us were hoping for. Instead of joining Daniel Bryan on his journey to regain the title he never lost at the biggest show of the year, one year after the greatest night in his career, we will see Roman Reigns defeat Brock Lesnar to officially stamp his print as the new face of the WWE. Just writing that sounds nowhere near as exciting as where they could have gone with Mania this year if they were more in touch with the fans. Now, despite the decision, this was not a bad show from a quality standpoint. There were two excellent matches in Rusev/Cena and Reigns/Bryan, a memorable return from Randy Orton, and great segments setting up Mania matches in Triple H/Sting and Bray/Taker. There was nothing that was really bad on this show from that perspective, as the lower rated matches were all quite short. Of course, its depressing to see guys that the crowd are invested in like Bryan and Ziggler take a back seat to those such as Reigns, and to a far worse degree Kane and Big Show, but it seems like thats something thats going to continue One thing that I will say is this was a fairly unpredictable PPV, which is rare for a February show.
Maybe I overthought things, but the only matches that I predicted correctly were the I.C and U.S title matches, and even in those cases I figured Barrett would win by a cheap pinfall while Rusev would win when Cena got disqualified for channelling his aggression. So if we’re talking finishes strictly speaking, I got everything wrong on this show. Some of the decisions made me scratch my head, but there were some pleasant surprises like the nature of Rusev’s victory and the crowning of Cesaro & Kidd as the new tag team champions. At the moment we can lock in the following matches for WrestleMania – Reigns/Lesnar, Sting/Triple H, Taker/Bray, Cena/Rusev and Orton/Rollins. We also know the second Andre the Giant memorial battle royal will take place. That will feature most of the guys from the opener, Miz and Mizdow, and those in the I.C title picture to name a few plus a potential Cody/Goldust rematch. We’ll also get a tag title match in some capacity (on the main or pre-show) and a divas match which will probably see AJ Lee involved in the Bella/Paige rivalry in my opinion. Is there someone we’re forgetting? Oh yeah, that Daniel Bryan guy. The announcers mentioned on Raw that his Mania plans are in jeopardy as a result of his loss to Reigns. Of course, he’ll be on the show, but it will probably be in a match against the returning Sheamus that doesn’t get as much time as the bigger matches on the card. Where else would they fit him now? Despite everything, in a vacuum this was a decent show. There was nothing on it as good as the triple threat title match we saw at the Rumble, but as a whole this was a better show overall. The crowd really sucked though for the most part. FINAL GRADE: 6 out of 10
The 2015 PPV Rankings Thus Far:
- Fastlane (6)
- Royal Rumble (3.5)