Although the build to the new Fast Lane PPV has been uninspiring at times, WWE hit the right notes in the go-home show, particularly with regard to the match between Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns. Ever since Reigns put his Wrestlemania main event on the line, he and Bryan have traded barbs and the occasional punch while they largely observed an uneasy détente. On Raw, the needling became too much and the uneasiness turned violent. It was an effective way to market their match at Fast Lane without compromising either wrestler’s character.
There were a variety of angles in relatively high positions on the card- a series of Bray Wyatt promos about closing the casket on his “mysterious” adversary, John Cena squaring off with Rusev, and Ric Flair warning HHH about Sting-, but the program over the #1 Contender slot at Wrestlemania was the centerpiece of the episode. Reigns and Bryan faced off with Kane and Big Show, respectively. As unimaginative as those matchups were, they were not the focus for either wrestler.
Before his match, Reigns said in an interview that Bryan should have taken his Royal Rumble loss like a man and gone to the back of the line. Bryan sat in on commentary during the Reigns-Kane match and responded- in a lovably sarcastic way- that he never should have lost the WWE Title in the first place. The fans cheered for Bryan, which repeatedly distracted Reigns from the task at hand. Eventually, he speared Kane on the floor and made his way back into the ring to earn a count-out victory.
Bryan added a layer to the program with Reigns when he said that Reigns does not have the mental toughness to fight through distractions and deal with the psychological pressure of the main event. That approach is a clever distinction since the physical advantage so obviously belongs to Reigns.
Just like Bryan led the fans in “Yes” chants during the Reigns match, Reigns came to ringside to sign autographs and take selfies while Bryan wrestled Big Show. He did not talk, though, which was probably a smart move given his recent troubles on live mics. At one point, the action spilled outside and Big Show threw Bryan into Reigns. When he followed up with a spear, Bryan dodged it and Big Show hit Reigns.
Back in the ring, Bryan countered an attempted chokeslam into a Yes Lock. Big Show powered out, but Bryan continued his momentum with a stiff kick to the head before he climbed to the top rope. Recovered from the earlier spear, Reigns came for retribution and clocked Big Show with a Superman Punch. The interference caused a DQ victory for Big Show, which frustrated Bryan. Still perched on the top turnbuckle, he came down on Reigns with a missile dropkick.
That kick opened the floodgates after Reigns and Bryan had tiptoed around one another for the last few weeks. Reigns came back after Bryan and threw him out of the ring to the floor. They continued brawling while several referees tried to pull them apart. Their anger was too great to be contained and they continued to fight on the floor, into the crowd, and up toward the stands as Raw went off the air.
Sometimes, wrestling can be very simple. For all of the storyline maneuvering between Bryan and Reigns- Is Reigns turning heel? Will there be a triple threat match? Will Paul Heyman get involved?- the thing that sold the match better than anything was an old school fight. In retrospect, the steady build toward this explosion was very well done. The fact that Reigns and Bryan tried so hard to stay civil toward one another made it more meaningful when they dropped the pretense and the gloves.
In only a month, they have developed into bitter rivals- the best either has had in the last year- and neither had to alienate his fan base with cheap, heelish tactics. A few weeks ago, I hoped for a Wrestlemania triple threat main event because I feared Reigns couldn’t live up to his half of the bargain. Now, I want the same thing because I want to see more of Bryan vs. Reigns.
Match of the Night – Dolph Ziggler def. Seth Rollins by DQ
Rollins and Ziggler started with a humorous verbal exchange that turned serious when Rollins said that Ziggler’s career amounts to nothing. He looked like he was onto something when he dominated the early part of the match. Ziggler finally started to turn things around when the referee ejected J&J Security. He hit a jawbreaker and followed it with a splash, a neckbreaker, and an elbow drop. He countered a powerbomb with a sunset flip and a big DDT, each of which earned a two count. Rollins responded with a sudden enzuigiri and ducked a famouser to hit a big superkick. Ziggler continued to fight back as he avoided the Curb Stomp and answered with a Zig Zag. Before he could get the win, J&J Security came back and broke it up to save a modicum of respectability for Rollins.
Ryback and Erick Rowan came to even the odds and chased the Authority members away. After a couple of tough weeks for Ziggler, it was a nice win for him, even if it came by DQ. It also makes me wonder if J&J Security might replace Big Show and Kane in the presumptive six-man tag between these groups at Fast Lane.
Missing the Mark – John Cena Prematurely Levels Rusev
Raw opened with Cena in the ring for an intense promo about how he wants to take the fight to Rusev at Fast Lane. Rusev came onto the ring for a response and Cena charged him. Cena annihilated Rusev- he slammed him into the light board and punched him until he was immobile. It was a curious decision to have Cena look so good when there was probably more heat to gather on Rusev if he could have avoided the beating. Cena has also failed to fully explain why he cares about the U.S. Title after he has held so many World Titles. Even Cena’s promo felt like the paint-by-numbers version of when Cena pivots from jocular to serious the week before a big match. The segment was not a total loss- I am still looking forward to their match at Fast Lane-, but I thought these small parts could have been quite a bit better.
Developing Story – Dean Ambrose Dials Up his Intercontinental Title Chase
Ambrose responded to Bad News Barrett’s BNZ segments with a news-style promo of his own in which he restated his goal of getting Barrett to sign a match for the title. He took the contract with him to the ring for his match with Luke Harper. He ate a big boot on floor from Harper early in the match to get behind. He had to bite his way out of a headlock as Harper remained on top. After Harper hit a superkick, Ambrose ducked under a discus clothesline and rolled him up for a two count. He kept the advantage and hit Dirty Deeds to win the match.
There are several little things in the Ambrose-Barrett program that are working well. For one, I like that Ambrose is always willing to try something creative, such as the oddball news desk promo. Even when the ideas don’t work, it’s nice to see something fresh. More importantly, Ambrose has made me care about the Intercontinental Title, for which he secured a match later in the night. It’s easy for secondary titles to get lost in the shuffle. His week-in, week-out obsession with the belt keeps his character focused and elevates the status of the title. If the chase lasts all the way to Wrestlemania, a win for Ambrose would be a very meaningful one.
- Bad News Barrett def. Damian Mizdow
The Miz and Barrett made an arrangement whereby Barrett would take Mizdow down a peg in exchange for Miz looking out for Dean Ambrose. Neither end of the deal worked out well. Mizdow put together a nice run, but Miz stopped it when he demanded that Mizdow shine his shoes and clean his sunglasses. Barrett hit the Bullhammer to win the match, and Ambrose rushed the ring after the bell. He zip-tied Barrett to the ring post and forced him to sign their Intercontinental Title match contract.
- Jimmy Uso and Naomi def. Tyson Kidd and Natalya
Natalya and Naomi had some nice back and forth in the early going included a double kip up. When Natalya tried to tag Kidd into the match, he told her to stay in the match because she had the advantage. Naomi then rolled her up and got the pin. Naturally, the heel Kidd responded by berating his wife and got some heat out of it.
Divas Division Update – Paige def. Summer Rae
The Bellas stole Paige’s ring gear while she was showering, so she had to wrestle in a Bo Peep costume she got from one of the Rosebuds (NXT’s Blue Pants). Try as I might to suspend disbelief, I couldn’t figure out what happened to the clothes she wore before the shower, how she found a Rosebud wearing her exact size of wrestling boots, or even why she was showering before the match. She easily won the match a PTO before the Bellas tried to rub in the humiliation of the costume. Paige responded that the only thing she cares about wearing is the Divas Title. The idea for this segment was every bit as bad as it sounds on paper.
- Prime Time Players Reunite
Darren Young made his return to Raw with a nameless partner. They suffered a terrible beating at the hands of the Ascension in a match that never formally started. Titus O’Neil made the save for his former partner and chased the aggressors away. So little has gone right for either wrestlers since the team split that it makes sense to go back to what they did well together, particularly in a tag division that needs a few more teams.
- New Day def. Goldust and Stardust
Dusty Rhodes immediately dialed up the emotion in the Rhodes rivalry when he said that Stardust needs to put family above everything else. It looked like the lecture worked as the brothers looked more cohesive through their match. Eventually, Stardust missed a Disaster Kick and Goldust helped him steady himself. Kofi Kingston hit Trouble in Paradise and pinned Goldust.
Stardust tried to help him to his feet and hugged him, which was a very tense moment. As Goldust finally recovered and started to walk away, Stardust grabbed him and hit Cross-Rhodes to finally fully turn on his brother. Afterwards, Stardust told his father that he had to reinvent himself to avoid being crushed under the weight of his family. It was a big step forward in what had been a pretty bland split story to date.
- Ric Flair Warns HHH about Sting
HHH started another soliloquy about Sting when Ric Flair interrupted him. He told HHH not to take Sting lightly or to put himself in a position to fail. HHH said that he has a personal problem with Sting because he built is career on Flair’s reputation. Flair responded that he has to be careful because he is not a full-time wrestler any longer. The warnings started to frustrate HHH and he shoved Flair to the ground before he angrily said that he will not let anything jeopardize WWE. Flair worked perfectly as a mouthpiece for the silent Sting and helped bring out the personal motivation for the feud that might otherwise get lost.