The PPV between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania invariably proves something of a halfway house. Storylines towards the top of the card tend to have been established at the Rumble, and the aim is therefore to advance their progress, increasing the level of intensity in notches until WWE’s annual showcase event. For those elsewhere on the roster, the PPV can seem little more than filler, their matches meant as entertaining stop-gaps with their WrestleMania storylines not quite begun. These contrasting aims and functions don’t need to result in an uneven PPV, but at Fastlane the most successful matches were the throwaways, while another frustrating finish to the main event – at the end of a thoroughly confused final hour – cast further doubt on WWE’s plans for the month and a half ahead.
It was at least another big night for women’s wrestling, as with two women’s bouts scheduled, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch vs. Team B.A.D. (Naomi and Tamina) was trusted with opening the show. After some early quibbling between Sasha and Becky, a suplex and a couple of baseball slides saw the duo take the action to Team B.A.D. on the arena floor. Naomi and Tamina recovered, using their size to keep Sasha and Becky grounded, and even after Becky made the hot tag, a flurry from Sasha was cut off thanks to a Rear View and superkick, both convincingly sold, but only managing two counts. A double dropkick from Becky decisively shifted the course of the match, and a nice finish saw the members of Team B.A.D. simultaneously tap, Tamina to the Bank Statement and Naomi to the Disarm Her. This was a strong opener, novel, and allowing Sasha and Becky to show their stuff – although the ‘Irish Lass Kicker’ monicker which Becky increasingly finds herself laden with is a bit of cringeworthy parochialism which ought to stop.
Kevin Owens reclaimed the Intercontinental title six days ago on Raw, coming out the victor in a five-way match which reigning champion Dean Ambrose was forced into by Stephanie McMahon. Dolph Ziggler was the first impromptu opponent of Owens’ second title reign, and in the early going a hellacious Irish whip left Ziggler in a heap in the corner with the referee checking on his capacity to carry on.
In his appearance on Steve Austin’s podcast a couple of months ago, Shawn Michaels perhaps inadvertently hurt Dolph Ziggler by implying that for all his wrestling ability, his mannerisms remain too closely reminiscent of past superstars. As he fought Owens at Fastlane – which took place at the Quicken Loans Arena in Ziggler’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio – the announce team broached Ziggler’s impressive amateur wrestling background, but it never became a theme of the match. Michael Cole did shriek in anticipation as Ziggler reversed Owens shoulder first into the steel ringpost, and the action was back and forth as the competitors traded superkicks and stoked the crowd.
On the outside Owens went for the powerbomb onto the ring apron, only for Ziggler to reverse the move with a hurricanrana that sent Owens head first into the steel steps. The Fameasser brought the nearest fall of the match yet. But as the crowd let out their first ‘This is awesome!’ of the night, Owens manoeuvred Ziggler into the path of the referee, and as he hesitated Ziggler found himself hoisted for a big powerbomb which brought Owens the victory. After the match Owens played up his inane dynamic with Michael Cole, but then had the heelish good sense to rip away a fan’s sign which showed ‘Ohio [heart] Dolph’, the right way to get over both yourself and your opponent.
The first two matches of Fastlane were probably the best of the night. A long video package and backstage segments led to Ryback being given the rub in the dismal six-man tag which pitted him, Kane, and Big Show against the three lesser members of The Wyatt Family. With Bray on the outside giving the Wyatts a numerical advantage, once again they utterly failed to capitalise. Braun Strowman beat up a little on Kane before Big Show sent him over the top rope, and Show then pressed Luke Harper out of the ring onto his gathered teammates, before nailing Strowman with a spear. Back in the ring Bray Wyatt’s interference allowed Harper to roll up Ryback for a two count. But when Kane booted Bray on the outside, Ryback was left to hit Harper with the Shellshocked for the 1-2-3.
Charlotte vs. Brie Bella for the Divas Championship with Ric Flair looking on at ringside, an affair constructed to capitalise on the recent retirement of Brie’s partner Daniel Bryan, happily produced the match of Brie’s career. Orchestrating a big ‘Yes!’ chant and at one point mimicking The Nature Boy’s strut, Brie managed some quickfire offense, knees and forearms, and briefly went into ‘Brie Mode’ even though Charlotte controlled much of the match. But things began to look ominous as Brie tended to an injured left leg, suffered as she hit the canvas after delivering a missile dropkick.
She sucked up the pain the deliver a string of Yes! kicks. And when Charlotte first sought to finish the match with the Figure Eight, Brie reversed into a Yes! Lock, following up with a single leg crab after Ric Flair attempted to interrupt proceedings. The ending unfortunately hurt what was otherwise a very solid, high-tempo affair, as Brie struggled to convey her leg crumbling mid-crab, which allowed Charlotte to cinch in the Figure Eight for the victory. Still despite the slightly sloppy finish, the key to this match was in building up Brie’s credibility as a potential winner, and in this the construction and the efforts of both women succeeded.
AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho, an obvious candidate for match of the night prior to the show, seemed a little off-kilter in places but still just about delivered. There were some nice spots, as Jericho held onto the ropes and allowed Styles’ momentum to take him to the canvas before following up with a Lionsault, and again when he dropkicked the top rope as Styles attempted to springboard in off the apron. A dangerous drop from the turnbuckle allowed Jericho to grapple Styles into the Walls of Jericho, and after another on the outside and a Codebreaker back in the ring, Jericho taunted Styles viciously in the corner, telling him ‘You are a stupid son of a bitch! You are a stupid man!’.
Styles’ look, with his floppy hair, gloves, and cobalt blue trimmings, isn’t obviously conducive to a spot in the main event but it at least distinguishes him from a horde of other upper mid-carders. His ability however can elevate him to a top spot, and he mounted a comeback in the form of a Styles Clash, which Jericho somehow kicked out of at two and three-quarters. But locked in the Calf Crusher, Jericho battled to reach the ropes, and with the agony etched across his face, finally he was forced to submit. His selling really elevated the ending, and after the match he threatened a punch up with Styles, but chose instead to offer his hand in a dubious show of respect for his competitor.
From this point Fastlane fell to pieces. Edge and Christian emerged to plug their new show on the WWE Network. Without a match on the card, The New Day took the opportunity to make an appearance, and some of Edge’s initial lines – making fun of Kofi’s Jamaican accent, calling The New Day their love children with Beyoncé, and informing the group that he’d ‘Never seen so much chocolate acting so vanilla’ – were absurd enough to be humorous. Big E joined in, dubbing Cleveland’s star basketball player ‘Lebooty James’. But the segment was already starting to drag when The League of Nations came out and The New Day, claiming a day of rest, retreated. Edge and Christian made fun of The League of Nations to little response, and then Christian’s ‘Watch our show!’ chant fell flat, rendering the segment a messy and unsuccessful bit of nonsense.
Remarkably, after another advert hyping the presentation on Raw of the Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award, time was now given over to R-Truth and the Social Outcasts. Truth faced Curtis Axel in a match that was neither scheduled nor desired by an increasingly confused audience. Axel won quickly when Goldust – desperate to form a tag team with Truth – rolled Adam Rose into the ring, inadvertently causing the distraction. But despite the short length of the match, along with the previous segment it left a dead crowd for the main event, and it was unclear whether it was intended as light-hearted filler, as a sort of palate cleanser, or simply inserted owing to time mismanagement.
The main event was a Triple Threat to determine the number one contender for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania. With Roman Reigns entitled to a rematch after losing out at the Rumble, a number one contender’s match shouldn’t have been necessary, but this was a sop to a disgruntled fanbase. As such, there was little doubt as to the winner, but plenty of anger and more than a modicum of despair when that winner was confirmed as Reigns, who has barely improved in any aspect of his performance despite more than a year of incessant pushing by the company.
In the abstract this was a decent enough match. Brock Lesnar – hyped up at the outset by Paul Heyman, who introduced him as emanating ‘From the winner’s corner’ – dominated the early going with a torrent of German suplexes on Reigns, and belly-to-belly suplexes on Dean Ambrose. Rolling out of the ring after an F5, Reigns recovered just in time to spear Lesnar as he attempted an F5 on Ambrose. Then Reigns hit Lesnar with a Superman punch, and on the outside he and Ambrose opted to powerbomb Lesnar through an announce table, a throwback to their days as part of The Shield which resulted in a ‘Holy shit!’ chant from those in attendance.
Reigns and Ambrose went at it, but eventually Lesnar got back up, only to be put through another announce table. In the ring a Dirty Deeds brought only a near fall. And when Reigns reversed a second attempt and hoisted up Ambrose, Lesnar surged to life and delivered a German suplex to Reigns while Ambrose still hung over his shoulders. Reigns again hit Lesnar with a spear, but Lesnar responded immediately with the Kimura Lock, as the match descended into farcical non-selling. Reigns powered out of the Kimura Lock, and Ambrose put a definitive end to the submission with chairshots to the backs of both his opponents. But Reigns was apparently unharmed, and rose at once to spear Ambrose and provide us with our title contender. The fans initially signalled their displeasure with boos and thumbs pointed downwards, but by the time Triple H emerged for the meek staredown which closed Fastlane, their apathetic response told a still more worrisome story.