There were so many matches on the Fastlane card that looked primed for screwjob endings that most of our Fastlane preview was dedicated to figuring out where WWE could inject a couple of clean finishes to keep the show in some sort of balance. In the end, WWE went with a clean finish in the main event, but almost nowhere else. In spite of plenty of good wrestling, the result was a decidedly mixed review. In the shadow of Wrestlemania, WWE rolled most of its stories over to the big show. The outcome could be a lot worse, but we will not be talking about the greatness of Fastlane five years from now.
Roman Reigns def. Daniel Bryan to Remain #1 Contender
Bryan’s job after the Royal Rumble and at Fastlane was to alter the narrative surrounding Reigns going to Wrestlemania. He had to function as the foil who could help overcome the perception that Reigns was a poor wrestler with a personality crisis and a penchant for flubbing his lines. Some of the credit goes to the producers who brought the Reigns persona back to basics, but a lot of the credit goes to Bryan for serving as Reigns’s most compelling rival to date and for bringing his best singles match out of him.
An otherwise docile Memphis crowd finally came to life to back Bryan at the start of the match. They were rewarded with a match that painted a stark contrast between the technician Bryan and the powerhouse Reigns. In the early part of the match, Reigns used his strength to surge out of a surfboard and to counter a dropkick with a tilt-a-whirl slam. He followed that with three modified German suplexes and an apron dropkick. When Bryan tried a hurricanrana from the corner, Reigns countered with a powerbomb off of the second turnbuckle.
Bryan finally locked into some offense and delivered a belly to back superplex and put Reigns in the Yes Lock. Reigns got to the ropes, but Bryan hit him with three suicide dives to the floor. Reigns caught the third one and hit an overhead belly to belly suplex on the floor. Bryan used what strength he had to slam Reigns into the steps and both struggled to answer the bell.
Back in the ring, Bryan came off the top rope straight into a Superman Punch. He countered a spear into a small package for a near fall and nailed Reigns with a running knee strike that only got a two count- the first time someone has kicked out of that move. A series of counters back and forth left Reigns in another Yes Lock, but Reigns escaped again and rained down huge forearms on a prone Bryan. Bryan made it to his feet and tried for another running knee strike, but Reigns met him with a spear to win the match. When Bryan recovered, he confronted Reigns with the admonition that “you better kick his ass” and an aggressive handshake. The interaction preserved the edge between them but clearly established Reigns as the rightful Wrestlemania challenger.
The Philadelphia crowd that booed Reigns out of the building reacted to both his poor performance as well as the terrible match that they just watched. This Memphis crowd saw a much better match at the end of a better month for Reigns. It was unrealistic to think that Reigns would get to an elite level in a month, but going from terrible to passable is as valuable as going from passable to excellent. I no longer worry that Reigns will derail the Wrestlemania main event, and Bryan deserves a lot of credit for that positive step, even if the situation remains less than idea.
Rusev def. John Cena to Retain the U.S. Title
Much like Bryan had to bring the most out of Reigns to elevate him for Wrestlemania, Cena had to do the same for Rusev. The only difference is that Cena will likely remain across the ring from Rusev in March while Bryan has to hand over his good work to Brock Lesnar. Nonetheless, Cena brought the most out of Rusev for one of his better title defenses, and he came off as more of a heel than ever.
Rusev hit a dropkick early in the match that was wildly impressive for a man his size. Cena responded with the Five Knuckle Shuffle and Rusev had to escape the AA. Rusev hit a spinning side slam, but when he tried for another, Cena turned it into a crossface for a near submission. Cena put Rusev in an STF soon after for another near submission. After Rusev reached the ropes, Cena ducked a side kick and hit an AA for a two count. Rusev responded with a powerbomb counter to an attempted leg drop. He put Cena in the Accolade, but could not get him to tap out. When Cena made his way to his feet, Lana climbed into the ring and distracted the referee. Ruesv kicked Cena in the groin and in the face to knock him out. He reapplied the Accolade, but the referee had to call for the bell because Cena was unconscious.
My only complaint about the match is that several opponents have gone unconscious in the Accolade already, so the finish was not terribly unique. Even so, the fact that Lana was involved in the finish was a very good touch and something I have wanted to see for a long time. I enjoyed the match and they set up very well to have Rusev’s first loss mean something if it indeed comes at Wrestlemania.
Sting Confronts HHH
After HHH called Sting’s entire legacy a failure and called him to the ring for their face-to-face meeting, he offered to put Sting in the WWE Hall of Fame if he would agree to walk away from WWE permanently. Sting’s steely glare spoke for him and HHH tried to jump him as he turned to walk away. He hit Sting with the microphone to knock him down and went to the floor to retrieve a sledgehammer. Sting was ready, though, and pulled out a bat before HHH could attack him. He held the bat to HHH’s throat and gestured to the Wrestlemania sign. When HHH agreed to wrestle him, he started to walk away. HHH ran at him again, but he anticipated the attack, hit him in the gut with the bat, and delivered a Scorpion Death Drop to leave HHH stunned. Once again, I was thoroughly impressed at how well HHH got a message across and advanced the story without Sting saying a word.
Bray Wyatt Impersonates the Undertaker
The other non-wrestling segment of the night was even more of a spectacle. The lights in the arena gave way to blue spotlights, flames billowed from the entrance ramp, and a group of hooded minions carried a casket to ringside. Instead of Undertaker, Wyatt emerged from the casket with a maniacal look on his face. He officially called out Undertaker for the first time after several weeks of promos that hinted at his intention. He said he is not afraid of Undertaker and wants to show that he is the true embodiment of evil.
I found the segment impressive in a couple of ways. After so many fans have started to embrace Wyatt, the Undertaker bait-and-switch was a clever way to get some real heat. Additionally, I am surprised at my own reaction to a potential Undertaker return. Even after his loss last year, his presence at Wrestlemania feels essential and thrilling.
Bad News Barrett def. Dean Ambrose by DQ to Retain the Intercontinental Title
It felt like Barrett and Ambrose might be on their way to a solid match, but an abrupt and unnecessary referee stoppage prevented the match from reaching its potential. A big boot from Barrett that sent Ambrose from the top turnbuckle to the floor was just about Barrett’s only early offense. Ambrose responded with a tornado DDT, a bulldog, and an elbow drop. Barrett did manage a Wasteland Slam as Ambrose came off of the ropes, but Ambrose ducked the Bullhammer and rolled Barrett up with a schoolboy. Barrett tried to leave with his belt and Ambrose hit him with a suicide dive. Ambrose brought him back into the ring and stomped him while he was in the ropes until the referee stopped the match.
The finish felt out of place. There is not enough animosity between Ambrose and Barrett to justify an unbridled attack. Furthermore, the kicks in the ropes did not seem like enough to cause a disqualification; similar infractions happen in almost every match. Most importantly, the match’s timeslot and story were not commensurate with the notion of rehabilitating the status of the Intercontinental Title.
Nikki Bella def. Paige to Retain the Divas Title
While the Divas Title match wasn’t especially bad, it could have slid into a regular episode of Raw and seemed right at home. Nikki hit an Alabama Slam early and Paige answered with a series of Clotheslines and a big side kick. Nikki responded with a good sunset flip powerbomb and fought her way out of at attempted PTO. Nikki rolled up Paige out of the corner and held her tights for the pin. It looked like Nikki was supposed to get her feet on the ropes for a cheaper win, but she was out of position to do so. In any case, it’s another match with an unclean finish. Of all of the matches, this is one that could have ended cleanly with little lost.
Goldust def. Stardust
Despite Stardust’s new shirtless gear, this match was the most disappointing one of the night. They looked so smooth together at the start of the match with seamless chemistry. Unfortunately, the match ended after just a few minutes when Goldust countered Cross-Rhodes into a crucifix and got a three count. The referee hesitated on the count of three and it looked like Stardust was supposed to kick out. It’s difficult to evaluate the match because it seems like the ending was not what was planned. Afterwards, Stardust attacked Goldust backstage and told his father that he would no longer live in his shadow. Hopefully they will have the chance to right the ship at Wrestlemania.
Tyson Kidd and Cesaro def. the Usos to Win the Tag Team Titles
Cesaro stiffly chop blocked Jimmy’s leg at the start of the match and it led his team to target that leg for the rest of the match. He did a swing into a Boston Crab and Kidd hit a legdrop as he entered the ring. Cesaro performed a deadlift superplex and Kidd followed it with another legdrop, this time off of a springboard. The rapid-fire action spilled outside and Jey hit Kidd with a dandy Samoan Drop into the barricade. Jimmy tried a Superfly Splash when the reentered the ring, but Kidd got his knees up. He took advantage and put Jimmy in the Sharpshooter. Jey broke it up with a superkick and Cesaro and Jimmy fought to the floor. Tyson made it back to his feet and hit Jey with his swinging fisherman’s suplex to get the pin and win the titles.
Although both Kidd and Cesaro have held gold in WWE before, this win feels important because they have both overcome so many obstacles to get back to a point of relevancy. They have worked so well as a tag team that they could catalyze a rebirth for the division.
Seth Rollins, Kane, and Big Show def. Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, and Erick Rowan
For a match that was thrown together shortly before the PPV to involve several unoccupied wrestlers, the show opener was surprisingly good. Each babyface wrestler got a chance to shine early in the bout. Rowan hit a sit-out pump-handle slam before Rollins hit him with a shiranui. Ryback tagged in and hit a powrbomb and Meathook Clothesline before J&J Security provided enough of a distraction to prevent Shell-Shocked. Rollins answered with a superkick, but Ryback caught him coming off the ropes and hit Shell-Shocked, which might have ended the match but for Big Show’s rescue. Ziggler tagged in and put together a rally. While he was punching Kane in the corner and the referee dealt with J&J, Big Show approached from outside the ring and hit him with a KO Punch. Kane chokeslammed his limp body and got a rare pin.
The Authority continued a gang beating on the babyface team and Randy Orton’s music suddenly hit. Orton got a great response as he hit one RKO after another on the Authority team. Rollins ran for the hills and Orton made it clear that he will continue to hunt Rollins until they eventually square off at Wrestlemania. As for Ziggler, it would appear that he is left without a dance partner yet again, unless the rumored Bryan-Sheamus match is on hold.