WrestleMania is within spitting distance (or rather reaching distance if we are being COVID conscious) but before we get there, we have the final road-themed WWE PPV on “the road to WrestleMania”, in WWE Fastlane. Now, going back across history, Fastlane has often been an up and down show, as the grandaddy of ‘em all’s big matches loom and seem to render much of this final stop PPV either as filler, predictable or the appetiser before the main course (or in this April’s case a two-night feast!). That said, this year’s line-up looked pretty decent, with many excellent workers paired up (Shinsuke Nakamura battling – on his pal Cesaro’s behalf – against Seth Rollins), some storylines set to receive a much needed boost (Randy Orton’s battle against The Fiend’s twisted devotee Alexa Bliss) and others set to change shape (Roman Reigns and Edge’s Daniel Bryan problem).
So, did this PPV get the pedal to the metal for WWE or was it a car wreck to 2021’s Mania momentum? Lets take a look at what went down!
1. (Kick-Off show) WWE United States Championship Match
Riddle (c) vs. Mustafa Ali w/ Retribution
As one of the few people who have been on Retribution’s side this whole time (love the masks, music and the group), the writing was on the wall really that they weren’t going to takeover but I didn’t expect the inevitable crash just yet! Tensions were building between T-Bar, Slapjack, Mace & Reckoning and their angered leader Mustafa Ali leading to Fastlane and the real story here was not the US Title match but the boil over post-match events. That said, this was a fun US Title bout, which started a bit slower but really caught fire in the latter half, as Riddle and Ali pelted each other with unique offence, until Ali got caught in a top rope Bro Gerrick for the win. After the match Ali berated his masked team, only for them to walk out on him one by one, leaving T-Bar and Mace to lay him out with a seated double chokeslam. I am intrigued as to where the entire group goes from here actually.
The opening video package hypes up the main event contests and how tonight will add the final shape to this year’s Mania card.
2. WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship Match
Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler (c) w/Reginald vs. Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair
After contesting this same match at Elimination Chamber, I must admit I was left a little disinterested by this seemingly unnecessary rematch. The action started off fine but became a little by the numbers, in spite of Reginald’s unexpected union with Nia Jax developing during the match. The final falling out (that cost them the win) between Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks was predictable but needed, as thus far, their already announced (and bound to be good) Mania clash hasn’t got much heat behind it story-wise. Really, this could have been a chance for another team to shine and just jar the momentum of Banks vs. Sasha hype for another few weeks (why not have a contract signing or something between them tonight and let another team take this spot?). That said it was an ok opener I suppose, if unmemorable, but the champs retaining was certainly the right call.
3. WWE Intercontinental Championship Match
Big E (c) vs. Apollo Crews
Talk about an unfortunate situation. After tapping into his Nigerian heritage, I have found Apollo Crews’ new heel persona quite interesting, sort of like a Black Panther villain come to life, and his matches and developing character with the ever lovable Big E have made for quite compelling TV. Especially as the fun loving IC Champ has decided to park fun to the side and allow his anger to bubble to the surface and take the fight to Apollo in recent weeks. So I was rather looking forward to this and it started out quite intense actually. Unfortunately, the lack of stipulation (I’d have made this a stretcher match after Crews left E needing one weeks back) started to show as it went on, because we have seen a singles match between these two a number of times now, sadly the match was unavoidably spoiled by a baffling finish. As Big E went for the Big Ending, Apollo reversed into a small package but the ref seemed to pause the count and restart it and called Big E the winner after he seemingly but questionably reversed the pin attempt, and it all looked really really botched. Maybe this was all in cause of prolonging this to a full-on match (hopefully with an added stipulation) at WM (and Crews’ post-match attack suggests that is the plan) but it just left a bewildering taste to what should have been an infinitely better match than it was.
Backstage Old Spice representative Joseph Average (NXT trainee Erik Bugez) was giving out samples to Drew Gulak (don’t look at me? I was as clueless as everyone else) and when Akira Tozawa came looking for 24/7 champion R-Truth (who was hiding behind a standee) chaos ensued and Average accidentally covered a downed Truth to become the new 24/7 Champ…before being rolled up by Truth for his 51st title win. Yeah, I mean, what can you say about this really?
4. Elias w/Jaxson Ryker vs. Braun Strowman
Promoted as Shane McMahon vs. Braun Strowman, after their confrontations (and Shane’s “stoopid” taunting) over on Raw, I think we all knew this wasn’t happening tonight and would be left – as it should – for WrestleMania. And as expected, they went that way, showing us a video of Shane getting “injured” during his training, and just before the scheduled match he ran into Elias (craving a Mania spot to perform his music) and just before the match, Shane announced Elias would be taking his spot. This could all have been done better to be honest and the match itself was a virtual squash match and nothing that you can’t see anytime on the weekly shows, Braun picked up the easy win over the unprepared music star and that’s all there is to say with this really. Pretty pointless and this space could have been reserved for something else.
5. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Seth Rollins
It was at this point the thus far pretty poor Fastlane had a great big turn around and to a major degree! Thank god. Starting with this match between Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura, which seems to suggest that Rollins vs. Cesaro will be happening at WrestleMania (what a show stealer that could be!!). These two even on their worst day could give us something good and while I don’t think this was as great as their last PPV clash at Survivor Series 2018, it was a fun match that had some fast moves and occasionally innovative (Rollins delivering a very smooth leg locked kick to the head) sequences. In the end Seth hit his curb stomp for the win over the king of strong style, ending a fun match that got decent time to work with. I hope Shinsuke gets something to do at Mania, as I’ve always liked him and recently he has had some real flourishes over on Smackdown.
6. No Holds Barred Match
Sheamus vs. Drew McIntyre
I’ll be the first to admit that this personal story between two longtime best mates has not been given the most well structured of builds by WWE, with the two working around a plethora of other storylines (from The Miz’s short lived title reign, Lashley’s WWE Title win and the elimination chamber). And that is a shame, as this rivalry deserved grander treatment, and on Raw Drew McIntyre and Sheamus have had a few good matches, leading some to think they had kind of overplayed their hand when it came to this No Holds Barred PPV match. However, Sheamus and Drew proved us all wrong here and, in my eyes, this was the match of the evening. Drew came out with faceprint inspired by the colours of the Scottish flag and Sheamus was ready for his wrath. Across 20 glorious minutes, these two pals beat the holy hell out of each other, with high impact wrestling, anarchic brawling, some skin swelling (they were covered in welts and bruises) Singapore cane and other weapon shots, and it was just a fantastic display of passion, physicality and chemistry. This really deserved a WM spot but hey I’m just glad we got it, though the Thunderdome maybe wasn’t, as they fought up behind the virtual fan screens and Drew even threw Sheamus through an LED board to the ground! The match would conclude in the ring though, as Drew caught the Irish warrior with a claymore for the win. Looks like he’s indeed ready for Lashley at Mania!
7. Intergender Match
Alexa Bliss vs. Randy Orton
While I have loved Alexa’s fiendish transformation, her psychological battle with Randy Orton (post-The Fiend’s burning at TLC last December) has dragged a bit the last few weeks, as Papa Shango-esque tricks have been pulled out of the bag with black goo vomiting and curses and whatnot. However, going in, this match was clearly set to be a shift, as The Fiend’s return seemed to beckon! The match itself was more a showcase of story, as even before the bell Randy Orton had another black goo coughing fit (think Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island) and out came Alexa to a twisted remix of the Firefly funhouse theme, the match (contested in pink lighting) saw her unleash fireballs, flame walls and even try and crush the viper with falling ceiling lighting. It was all quite mad but really good fun, and very well shot, with both selling it gloriously, however the money shot we were all waiting for arrived, as a partially burnt glove and charred arm tore through the canvas and grabbed an unsuspecting Orton’s ankle. Cue a burst of flame and smoke and out rose The Fiend!! Sporting a really damn cool melted mask look and burnt attire, looking like a cross between Darkman, The Toxic Avenger, Jeepers Creepers’ The Creeper and Resident Evil’s Nemesis. The walking monster hit Orton with the Sister Abigail and Bliss covered the fallen Orton for the win. I know this has drawn some polarising responses on social media (sigh!) and people can like or dislike what they wish but anyone who has ever enjoyed a Friday the 13th sequel or ‘80s horror has no right criticising this. Wrestling should be fun and not just a series of early choice create-a-superstar templates doing moves, and this was brilliant. Fiend vs. Orton has (as of Raw this week) been made official for WM, and The Fiend’s Jason Voorhees style rise from the dead, in charred/melted mask and attire, is practically priming us for what will be a WWE answer to Jason vs. Tommy Jarvis! Nightmarish, inventive & the perfect end to Bliss/Orton and begining of the end for Fiend/Orton’s long built rivalry (with roots that goes back years). Look forward to seeing what’s next, and to see (surely) Bray get his redemption and win against Orton on the grand stage, atoning for their infamous WM33 encounter.
8. WWE Universal Championship Match
Roman Reigns (c) w/Paul Heyman vs. Daniel Bryan
Special Enforcer: Edge
For many this main event was “Match of the Night” and there is certainly a case for that, as Bryan and Reigns delivered an excellently judged contest here, which admittedly sacrificed a clean cut climax to create the necessary build for WrestleMania. Bryan’s character change the last few weeks had echoes of his green champion heel back in 2018 and seeing him psychologically toy with Reigns early on was incredibly satisfying and out of the ordinary for the often overpowering Tribal Chief. This was aided by tip top ringside selling by an increasingly concerned Paul Heyman. As the match went on Bryan did get worn down by some of Reigns’ blows but was never down for long, often outwrestling the champion (who can’t he outwrestle to be fair?) and making good on his promise to “tap out” the champ. Things reached that fever pitch when Bryan furiously stomping Reigns and persistently went for his submissions and eventually blasted the referee accidentally with a running knee, which prompted enforcer Edge to jump in and take over as the official, as Reigns hit a spear but only got a two count. Naturally out came Jey Uso (which is getting really tiresome) and laid out Edge and Bryan with super kicks, though his chair attack went sideways as Bryan attacked him with his own weapon and went for a shot on Reigns who moved and he ended up cleaning Edge’s clock with the chair. But Bryan wouldn’t be denied and trapped Reigns in the Yes Lock and the champion actually tapped (a victory of sorts for Bryan) but there was no ref!! This would result in a bit of an overbooked climax where Edge kind of turned heel-ish, lost his marbles and attacked both Bryan and Reigns with the chair and stormed off, and the fallen Tribal Chief scrambled on the mat to cover an also down and out Bryan and get the three-count to end the match. It was all a bit Attitude Era-esque in its ‘show ending booking’ but didn’t ruin one hell of a match with such unexpectedly compelling psychology and more expectedly great grappling battles, and this is all clearly building to a Bryan vs. Edge vs. Reigns re-fit for the WrestleMania main event, which is a heck of an upgrade if you ask me and a match that should be an absolute blinder, not to mention more unpredictable. It is wise to make this a three way and I can’t wait for that announcement (probably on Smackdown tomorrow) and to see what goes down at WM!
Overall, WWE Fastlane started off alarmingly lacking (not including the interesting pre-show match), with matches that were either padding, pointless or screwed up but come the fun Shinsuke/Rollins match things heated up so well that it rendered much of the first hour a distant memory. Sheamus/McIntyre was phenomenal and for me the best match of the evening but the main event was a fizzing battle of wrestling and cerebral storytelling, while (the new and hellish looking) fried Fiend’s return was long awaited and perfectly delivered (who cares about the negative Nigels on social media). We’ll see how everything unfolds for this year’s two-night WrestleMania in the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, as a live audience will return for the first time in just over 1 year since the pandemic era struck! Whatever happens, the energy on those nights will be pure electricity, see you in April folks for WrestleMania (which will also mark 1 year of WWE PPV reviews for yours truly here at Roobla).
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