|Image Source: WWE|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: February 22 2015
Location: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tennessee, USA
For the first time since 2007, WWE’s final Pay-Per-View stop-off before WrestleMania did not involve the Elimination Chamber. Instead, a new PPV called Fast Lane was held as the February supershow. It went down this past Sunday in Memphis, Tennessee, and whilst some first-time matches seemed appealing beforehand, everyone recognised that this was going to be one big preview for WrestleMania 31. As it turned out, it provided more hints for potential WM matches than expected but, besides a shocking number of mistakes, it still provided enough worth in-ring action to merit a purchase in its own right (mind you, few viewers probably bought it; this month is free on the WWE Network, and Fast Lane was shown for free on Sky in the UK too).
The pre-show Kick Off featured an episode of Miz TV with Paul Heyman discussing the main event here and at Mania. It also saw more dissension between The Miz and his stunt double-turned-personal assistant Damien “Sandow” Mizdow. A showdown between these two is inevitable, and the roof will blow off when Mizdow finally turns on Miz, but I am still unsure of how fans will greet Mizdow once he becomes his own man again. Still, both deserve the chance to settle this in the ring at WrestleMania; their chemistry has been one of the funniest things on WWE TV in the last few years, and has made Mizdow a bigger star than he has ever been.
The PPV show opened with a six-man tag pitting Dolph Ziggler, Big Show and Erick Rowan against Seth Rollins, Big Show and Kane. This unfortunately did not meet with much success: Ziggler and Rollins didn’t get to shine as well as they do on a weekly basis on TV due to the multi-man format, the action involving the other four was largely slow (Ryback deserves credit for lighting up the bout when he tagged in), and Ziggler was disappointingly chosen to be pinned following a Big Show KO Punch and Kane chokeslam, rendering his Survivor Series main event win pointless. A post-match Authority beatdown was the signal for Randy Orton to finally return and attack all in sight, although his original attacker Rollins escaped. A WM match between Orton and Rollins is a sure thing, although later footage suggests a possible confrontation between “the future” and The Daily Show’s outgoing host Jon Stewart. Incidentally, the crowd reaction to Orton’s big comeback was not as loud as expected, which would be a theme for this audience throughout the show unfortunately.
Match two between Goldust and Stardust suffered most from the lacklustre crowd. For a personal feud which some fans had waited years to see play out (going back to Stardust’s days as Cody Rhodes), it was as if the fans in Memphis simply weren’t interested. It was also more of a feeling-out match, clearly a warm-up for things to come as few big moves were executed and Goldust scored a surprise pinfall. Sadly, this was bungled by the first – and biggest – of several glaring errors on the show, as the referee inexplicably did not count the three for the pin, but awarded Goldie the win (and he clearly was pinning Stardust). Overall, a letdown on a few levels but not because of the brothers Rhodes. A post-match attack by Stardust was wild and proved that the feud is not over, and was actually the highlight of the event thus far. Hopefully these two will get a chance to redeem themselves at Mania, where it is likely that Cody Rhodes will re-emerge to beat Goldust (and, if the rumours are to be believed, end Goldust’s career in the process).
Next up was a WWE Tag Team Title match between The Usos and the team of Cesaro and Tyson Kidd. This was a really good wrestling match which, again, didn’t get a lot of love from the crowd initially. Towards the end, it got more appreciation though, and there was a moderate pop for the shock result that saw the long-ignored Kidd get the winning pin and claim the gold for him and Cesaro. Unfortunately, we then got another flub as ring announcer Lilian Garcia described Kidd and Cesaro as “still the new WWE Tag Team Champions”. For the record, The Usos lost the titles, although a rematch is likely; I can see these two teams providing a great rivalry for the straps if given the opportunity.
The focus shifted back to WrestleMania with the confrontation between Triple H and Sting. Although this was The Stinger’s third in-ring appearance for WWE, it still feels a bit surreal to see him on WWE broadcasts. HHH, who was dressed for a fight, gave Sting two choices: walk away and benefit from The Authority marketing him as a legend, or stay and be subject to a beatdown. The face-painted Vigilante said nothing, a nice reminder of his silent days in WCW. So, it led to a brawl, which at first I thought HHH was winning too handily, until Sting pulled out his trusty black baseball bat to quite literally back The Game up into a corner and “persuade” him to agree to a dream match at WrestleMania 31. Sting would whack the COO in the ribs with the bat before leaving. Again, the crowd was a little subdued, but I thought this segment was really effective, and nicely set up a showdown that nobody thought would ever become a reality between Sting and Triple H. This is the match I am looking forward to seeing most at WrestleMania.
The fourth bout was Paige vs. Nikki Bella for the Divas Championship. It was a good women’s match, although diehard WWE fans have been spoiled by the topnotch Divas bouts on NXT, meaning that WWE women’s matches are now almost always of a lower standard. This one was alright though, and Nikki’s powerbomb from out of the corner onto the challenger was expertly done. A clichéd finish which saw Nikki win with a handful of tights slightly dampened the match presentation, and with Paige beaten here and AJ Lee still off TV (and she was beaten very quickly for the crown back at Survivor Series), the question turns into what can be expected from the Divas at WM. Perhaps it is time to bring Charlotte up from NXT to face and dethrone Nikki at Mania? (Incidentally, this was subject to another mistake as Lilian introduced Nikki as the holder of the “Women’s Title”, which hasn’t been on WWE TV since 2010. Someone probably had a word with Lilian when this show was over, the poor girl.)
Match five was Dean Ambrose vs. Bad News Barrett for the Intercontinental Title. Ambrose got a good reception from the at-times-uninterested crowd, whilst Barrett’s only real acknowledgement was when the commentators discussed his humorous Twitter spat with Wayne Rooney (imagine if that Mania match actually happened). This was an enjoyable match with another poor finish, as Dean was disqualified for refusing to stop attacking Barrett in the corner (and, in major production error number four, the bell barely rung, meaning that some didn’t know that the match was over). We have seen this scenario play out so many times that to recycle it, and on a PPV (even one which is free to the majority of viewers), is an insult. Ambrose left with Barrett’s crown, so the feud is not over yet. For Ambrose, that was the only thing here which wasn’t Bad News.
Before the next bout, the lights went out as a number of Druids came out with torches, and The Undertaker’s music hit. This did get a major reaction, as nobody expected Undertaker to resurface here. As it turned out, he didn’t: a casket was brought out, but it was Bray Wyatt who was inside, as he revealed that his recent cryptic promos are aimed at Taker (as suspected), and challenging him to a match at WrestleMania. This is one WM bout that I do not get. If Undertaker had beaten Brock Lesnar at WM 30, I’d be up for it; but because he lost, the only possible opponents for him realistically would be Lesnar (to avenge the Streak ending) or Sting in one final dream match. Why not have Lesnar lose last year and let Wyatt snap the Streak this year if it had to end, or have Wyatt do it last year when he had more momentum and more menace via The Wyatt Family? The other major concern is that Taker looked a little off his game in New Orleans and, whilst rumours about Undertaker’s health are usually not to be believed unless seen, many have commented that he really does not look ready for another WM match, and may not be again. Had it been me in charge, I would have ended Taker’s career at WM 30 or, if he is healthy, I’d have kept Taker off WM 31, and let him return for one final match at what may be a record attendance-setting WM 32. Still, it looks like it’s happening now, so let’s just hope that it’s a fairly good match, that Taker’s health can withstand another major WM match, and that he wins (he surely can’t lose to Wyatt after falling to Brock). Anything else, and the disappointment will be much greater than it was at WM 30, because this time around it will all have been totally unnecessary.
Some have expressed sadness that Undertaker and Sting are on the same WrestleMania card, but are not fighting each other. I actually like it: Sting is finally in WWE, and Undertaker’s career isn’t over yet. Had they met on March 29, most would have looked at it as Sting’s only WWE match and Taker’s last showdown, and because Taker finally lost a WM match last year, most would have put money on him winning this year. Instead, Sting is getting his first major WWE match – and a dream bout at that – but still has the option to fight Taker. Meanwhile, the Phenom can prove that he does still have something to offer in his match with Wyatt and can redeem himself after the Streak ended, with the chance to then go into a scrap with Sting. And, if they then meet at Mania next year, the result could go either way. I would like to see both icons win at WM 31, and then have one interrupt the other on Raw the following night to set up a massive match for WrestleMania 32 (backed up by the previously teased Rock-Triple H bout, perhaps?). If all goes well, I’m sure that the fans will get what they want in the end.
The semi-final saw Rusev defeat John Cena by stoppage to retain the United States Title. This was the best match of the show so far, and one which did get provoke a good crowd reaction (see, people do want to see John Cena). But Cena’s spot-calling was notable at several points (some would say that’s not unusual for him, but it was very noticeable here), and the finish was completely predictable. After his overly dominant beatdown of Rusev on the pre-PPV Raw, Cena probably wasn’t going to win (at least not on this night), and Rusev was unlikely to make Cena submit. A pinfall was an option, but Rusev’s finisher is the Accolade, a submission hold, which probably negates pin wins for the Bulgarian Brute in the short-term. A stoppage finish (with cheating beforehand, of course) was the only possible result. It also didn’t help that most had been predicting this feud to happen around WM season since the summer of last year, making it all even more predictable.
Where it goes next is unclear: even the announcers acknowledged that this was supposed to happen at WM 31, but it took place here instead. However, right now neither has an obvious Mania opponent besides each other (unless the returning Sheamus targets Rusev, which could happen, and unless Hulk Hogan decided to have a career-ending match against Cena, which I’d love to see but probably won’t happen), and Cena in the storyline will probably want to rebound from this big loss. Prediction: they have a rematch at Mania which Cena wins. It could have a stipulation; if it were a Flag match, Cena could become US Champ whilst Rusev would still be unbeaten by pinfall or submission. Bet the farm on it! Either way, though, I did enjoy this match, and both deserve credit for it.
Main event time, then, between Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan. After the Royal Rumble debacle, this match was set to put things right, as the WM 31 WWE Title shot was at stake. The belief going in was that Reigns had to win in a reputation-enhancing way (in terms of performance, not the storyline outcome) that would somehow not upset the same Bryan fans who pleaded for him to win the Rumble, or Bryan would win and/or there would be a draw which would insert Bryan into the Mania top-liner. Could they pull off a match to please all parties, and not result in #CancelWWENetwork trending again?
By and large, yes. This was a very good main event, a little slow at first and slightly overrated by some, but a worthy match that should have satisified those who were up in arms after the Rumble. Reigns won with a Spear, but after a strong performance (his best to date) that made him look worthy of fighting Brock Lesnar, rather than looking a bit lazy and weak and coming across as needing The Rock to make him look like a superstar (which was the case at Royal Rumble). Bryan lost, but after putting forth a powerful, competitive showing, rather than being unceremoniously dumped in a way that would make people lose faith in him (which was also the case at Royal Rumble). And fans reacted a lot more favourably here than they did in Philadelphia, although one reason for this was undoubtedly the location of both events. (In hindsight, the Rumble should have been in Memphis and Fast Lane in Philadelphia; a muted response for the Rumble would have looked better than the chaos which instead happened and would have made Reigns look more popular on the night; and the top-liner here would have been something different rather than a reaction to the outrage after the Rumble. Bryan vs. Lesnar here for the title, having been held in Philadelphia, would have been a perfect compromise, but you can’t have everything.) A post-match handshake keeps both men as babyfaces, and Bryan’s endorsement should help Reigns as a babyface as he properly begins his feud with Lesnar.
So, the picture for WrestleMania 31 appears to be Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Title; Triple H vs. Sting (this will probably become a No Holds Barred match); John Cena vs. Rusev in a stipulation match for the United States Title; The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt; and Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins. Their Twitter exchange a few weeks ago suggests that Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler now really will happen, possibly after a Ziggler heel turn; Goldust and Stardust/Cody Rhodes should have a rematch; Damien Mizdow will hopefully face The Miz; and a Divas and Tag Title match will probably occur, along with the second Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, which at this point I would suggest that Dean Ambrose has the biggest chance of winning, given his popularity. That’s quite a stacked card with several legends on hand, although something still seems missing. A special guest referee for the main event (Hulk Hogan? The Rock? Stone Cold Steve Austin, to Stunner Lesnar to set up an unlikely yet incredibly appealing comeback for Stone Cold against Lesnar in his home state at WM 32?) will elevate that match and give the show more appeal. I have touched upon my thoughts for WrestleMania already, but I will give my proper predictions in the weeks to come.
As for Fast Lane? The February PPV has always been more of an extended WM promo than a standalone event with its own identity, so if judging Fast Lane on the criteria of setting up WrestleMania, I think it did a very good job. All the big matches were either announced, hinted at or the storylines which will lead to the bouts happening on March 29 were advanced, and the non-match incidents involving Orton’s comeback, the Sting-Triple H confrontation and the pseudo Undertaker comeback were the talking points of the show. However, besides several gaping production flaws and a quieter-than-expected crowd, I thought there was a good amount of quality action in the ring, especially in the final two matches. It didn’t deliver a classic match like at Royal Rumble, but it also didn’t give the audience reason to be enraged like, erm, Royal Rumble. It probably won’t stick in many people’s minds a few months from now, but overall Fast Lane was worth watching, despite its downsides, and set the table nicely for what will hopefully be an entertaining and memorable WrestleMania.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good