When WWE replaced Elimination Chamber with Fast Lane, it was apparent that part of the motivation was to create a whole PPV show to prime the pump for Wrestlemania. The top three attractions for the show all anticipate something bigger and better a month later. Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns wrestle in the main event for a shot to wrestle in the Wrestlemania main event. Everyone who is watching John Cena and Rusev believes that their first match will only create the need for a Wrestlemania rematch. On top of it all, HHH and Sting are advertised for a “confrontation” at Fast Lane rather than a real match.
It all adds up to a feeling of remoteness on some of the shows. This week’s episode of Raw was heavily focused on the storylines for Fast Lane, but those storylines are only building blocks to larger stories to come later. While that does not make the episode bad, per se, it is a strange experience to devote three hours to a show that is only tangentially relevant.
While the eventual focus is still on the match that either Bryan or Reigns will have with Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania, the immediate attention fell on the tension between Bryan and Reigns. They were at odds from the start of the show when Bryan told Reigns that, in spite of all of Reigns’s physical advantages, “everyone knows that I am the better wrestler than you.”
As the temperature rose between the two, HHH put them in a tag match against Kane and the Big Show. After a relatively long opening match, Big Show broke up Bryan’s Yes Lock on Kane and got his team disqualified. It broke down into a brawl that ended with an inadvertent dropkick from Bryan to Reigns. Reigns responded with a slap and the Authority happily gave them another match together against the same opponents, plus J&J Security and Seth Rollins.
Before they collided again, Paul Heyman brought Brock Lesnar to the ring to issue warnings to Bryan and Reigns. He said that they are both lying to themselves when they say that they have a chance against Lesnar. The comparisons to Brian Williams and the metaphor about sustaining enemy fire in a helicopter were a bit dicey, but it was obvious that he did not mean it literally. Heyman’s material about Bryan pulling out miracles to sustain his success was strong and gave me the impression that he has at least considered the possibility that Bryan will be Lesnar’s adversary at Wrestlemania.
At last, Bryan and Reigns came to the ring to team up with each other. The Authority teamed up to beat down the teammates before the match started and Reigns was taken out of commission with a double chokeslam from the two big men. After The Authority took turns walloping Bryan, Reigns finally recovered just in time to break up a pin and eat a KO punch.
As Big Show and Kane prepared to put Bryan through the announce table, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, and Erick Rowan came to ringside to even the numbers. The fight left Bryan isolated in the ring with J&J. He tore them apart with kicks and set up for a running knee on Mercury. Instead, Reigns jumped up from the floor and blindly tagged himself in. He speared Mercury to get the win.
The heelish move led to an argument between Bryan and Reigns that ended with a spear by Reigns. The crowd loudly booed Reigns and this time it was no mistake. There is no doubt that what Reigns did was purely and intentionally heelish. Since Fast Lane is merely a preparatory PPV, it is not reasonable to think that Reigns would temporarily turn heel for only that event. In that respect, this conclusion lends credence to the belief that Bryan will find his way back to the Wrestlemania main event, potentially as the third wrestler in the match.
Match of the Night – Bray Wyatt def. Dolph Ziggler
Second verse, same as the first. While the announcers underplayed the fact that this was a rematch from their excellent match a week before, Wyatt and Ziggler picked up where they left off. Ziggler bloodied Wyatt with a dropkick to the nose and made him look even more sinister than usual. Wyatt took his time and paced his offense well to make the high-impact punctuation more meaningful- such as the diving shoulder block that nearly ended the match. Ziggler countered an attempt at Sister Abigail into a schoolboy for a near fall and followed it with a famouser and a superkick for another two count. Wyatt lured Ziggler outside and leveled him with a titanic clothesline. He brought Ziggler back in the ring and hit Sister Abigail to win the match.
After the bell, Wyatt continued the attack. He brought Ziggler outside and peeled back the padding on the floor. Only intervention by a couple of referees prevented even more of an attack on Ziggler. JBL summed it up perfectly when he said, “as good as Bray has been, he’s at his absolute peak right now.” Ziggler deserves credit for helping Wyatt get to that level and for keeping himself looking relatively good in the losses.
Missing the Mark – Dean Ambrose Reprises His Segment with Curtis Axel
Axel’s pre-match promo- with the promotion of an “Axel-Mania” hashtag and an insistence that he belongs in the Wrestlemania main event- was almost identical to the one his gave on Smackdown. On top of that, the match with Ambrose was more or less the same. Axel briefly controlled the match, Ambrose sprung out from between the ropes to hit a clothesline, and he finished the match with Dirty Deeds. At least Bad News Barrett refused Ambrose’s request for an Intercontinental Title match to distinguish it from Smackdown in some way (as an aside, the fake news crawl during Barrett’s BNZ segments is hilarious). Overall, the segment was so similar to what happened on Smackdown that it made me feel like a sucker for watching both shows.
Developing Story – Rusev Takes the Upper Hand over John Cena
Rusev and Lana pretended to honor Cena when they showed a highlight package of some of his best moments. The highlights morphed into lowlights of Cena in various states if distress. Lana and Rusev both added that Cena has been beaten down to the point that he is now vulnerable. Cena answered that Rusev picked a fight with the wrong old man and he intends to teach Rusev to respect him. He added the obligatory joke about testicles and Rusev charged him on the ramp. They scuffled and Rusev took Cena down after he gouged Cena in his injured eye. Rusev charged Cena into the light board and only let him leave when a cadre of referees surrounded Cena to protect him.
Cena’s job over the next couple of months is to make his program with Rusev feel like a main event. I thought his promo started out appropriately intense this week. I especially thought their grappling looked rugged and serious. If he is able to keep the progress at this pace, the program will be a success.
- A New Day def. Goldust and Stardust
Once again, Stardust left when he was called Cody. Kofi Kingston easily pinned Goldust when he was left on his own. Backstage, Goldust tried to have a heart-to-heart, but Stardust responded that, “Cody is dead. Stardust lives.” I’m glad they have found a way to create a backstory for the split that is not patently obvious, but it’s hard to tell that story in such short segments on each show.
- Ryback def. Seth Rollins
J&J Security tried to make sure that Ryback could not lay a finger on Rollins’s head even before the start of their match. They repeatedly shafted Ryback and made sure he could not gain an advantage. When Ryback finally did get firmly in control with some stiff shots to Rollins, J&J made it hard to keep it that way and interfered on behalf of Rollins. Although it got him disqualified, Rollins stood tall with a Curb Stomp after the match. The main purpose of the match was to keep Rollins hot and give Ryback a bone to pick with The Authority and it worked on both levels.
Divas Division Update – Paige def. Brie Bella
It feels awkward for Brie to use her preposterously upbeat entrance and crowd-pumping mannerisms when he works as a heel. Even so, her wrestling was decent until Paige seized control with a series of three lariats. Nikki tried to distract Paige when she set up with the Paige Turner and Paige threw Brie into Nikki. She hit the RamPaige to finish the match and stand tall before her title shot.
I get the distinct impression that whoever wins this match is destined to lose the title to Charlotte in short order. My question is who it will be based on whether Charlotte debuts as a face or heel.
- Tyson Kidd and Cesaro def. The Usos
A solid match built to a hot finish when Jey Uso and Kidd got simultaneous tags. Jey hit a diving headbutt into Kidd while he was stuck in a tree of woe. Kidd blocked Jey’s splash to the floor, but Jimmy followed with one of his own. When Kidd tried to springboard back into the ring, he ate a superkick from Jey. When Jey went to the top rope, Cesaro threw Jimmy into the path of the referee and knocked Jey off the top rope for Kidd to pin.
- Sin Cara def. Damian Mizdow
Mizdow wrestled Sin Cara while Miz brilliantly ordered him around on a microphone at ringside. His snide comments got huge heat from the Columbus fans and prompted them to chant, “You’re from Cleveland,” to which he responded, “better than Columbus.” Mizdow looked to have the match won when Miz ordered him not to use the Figure Four, the “move he made famous.” Sin Cara rolled Mizdow in a small package and got the pin while Mizdow looked at Miz with frustration on his face.
- Sting Accepts HHH’s Invitation for a Confrontation
There is an inherent absurdity in having a promo to call out another wrestler to announce whether he will attend a confrontation that may or may not result in a match. Setting that aside, the way Sting responded to HHH’s challenge was imaginative, theatrical, and impressive. Crow sounds echoed, lights flickered, video of HHH showed him in Sting makeup, and a fake Sting briefly appeared in the ring to scare HHH before he disappeared. This version of Sting works best when he is silent and scarce. WWE has done a great job to perpetuate the story between him and HHH with so little actually happening.