Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: February 21 2016
Location: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
The final WWE Pay-Per-View event before WrestleMania 32 took on greater importance this year. Since the Royal Rumble match had been for the WWE Title, this PPV would determine the challenger to the top title at WM. Most predicted a Roman Reigns win beforehand, with an increasingly high number of fans hoping that Dean Ambrose would get the opportunity to headline Mania instead. As it turned out, the safe bet was the smart one to take, although the (not unexpected) reaction to the outcome of the main event means that it will be another tough Road To WrestleMania for Roman.
The Kick-Off Show featured a Two Out Of Three Falls bout for the United States Title between Kalisto and Alberto Del Rio, which followed the usual 2/3 formula: heel loses the first fall so that he can cheat to gain an advantage and win fall two, weakening the babyface to help him try and win fall three. It was more entertaining than that, though: an ADR chairshot and Stomp CHECK (delivered quickly over the ropes this time to make it look more believable) caused the first two falls, and after some nifty exchanges (including a Stomp over the ringside barricade), a roll-up by Kalisto earned him the win (I thought a Salida Del Sol would have been more appropriate to truly draw a line under this dragged-out feud).
It was an entertaining start to the night, and provided a boost for Kalisto. WWE hopes that he can be the next Rey Mysterio, and if he is given the opportunity to have further big performances (Kalisto had a fantastic match with Neville a few weeks ago on SmackDown), he might just surprise people, although I still think it’s a stretch to suggest that WWE will definitely book him on the WrestleMania card. As for Del Rio, who knows? He is very good in the ring, but he has virtually no persons at this point, making his matches seem dull when some are actually really good. Bring back Ricardo Rodriguez, I say! Or do something to make fans care when ADR competes, because his fine ring work is being overshadowed by his non-existent character.
Also of note during an eventful Kick-Off show were Mauro Ranallo’s commentary for that match, an appearance by Paul Heyman, AJ Styles describing his past employers as the “minor leagues” (which, at this point, is hard to argue about TNA), and evidence that Jerry Lawler is much more effective as a heel. For example, his first words here were “Renee (Young), I like that shirt, did you get it from clearance?”
The PPV itself unusually opened with a women’s bout, a tag team affair pitting Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch against Naomi and Tamina. Sasha and Becky played up their uneasy alliance as they looked to build momentum in the run-up to Mania, but the former Team BAD put in a strong showing, with highlights including Naomi’s rapid-fire kick sequence (technically a babyface spot, and one which Becky humorously no-sold despite taking around 20 kicks in around 15 seconds) and a brilliantly timed prevention of a babyface hot tag. Once the tag was made, Sasha and Becky took control, and they claimed victory by submission when Sasha trapped Naomi in the Bank Statement, with Becky keeping Tamina occupied via the Disarmer. The aim was to keep Sasha and Becky strong and give them a purpose before they inevitably challenge Charlotte again, and that was definitely accomplished in what turned out to be a fun opener.
Next up was an Intercontinental Title bout between Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler, continuing their recent series of matches. With Owens regaining the IC crown on Raw in a Fatal 5 Way match, this was a chance for KO to build momentum and draw a line under his feud with Ziggler, which is exactly what happened. It was also a chance for them to put on another great match, and this may have been their best outing to date. Despite the concern early on when Ziggler was rammed throat-first into the top turnbuckle, Owens and Ziggler ended up hitting big moves aplenty, from a Owens twisting suplex off the ropes to an exchange of superkicks, which created a big-fight atmosphere in the Quicken Loans Arena. Owens, as ever, was on form with cutting one-liners, telling Ziggler that “Your hometown likes me more than you!” (Incidentally, I don’t know why WWE didn’t announce Dolph on this night as hailing from his genuine hometown of Cleveland; it’s partly why many fans took KO’s side in this match.) In the end, Owens took the win when he brought Dolph in with a short-arm clothesline and turned it into the match-winning Pop-Up Powerbomb. KO looks primed for a big title defence at WrestleMania; Ziggler worked hard, as usual, but one can only envision Dolph in a minor role at Mania and beyond.
The result of the next match seemed obvious beforehand, as it seemed that “The Titans” squadron of Big Show (who received huge boos here), Ryback and Kane (who got a nice pop) were here solely to put The Wyatt Family team of Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman over, even with Bray Wyatt stationed at ringside.
Instead, in the most questionable match outcome of the year thus far, the Wyatts lost another rivalry when Ryback pinned Harper following a Shell Shocked which looked bungled in some form or fashion, and which appeared to leave Harper with an arm injury (the second such occurrence this week after Mark Henry was injured in a Raw bout with Big E). I can’t grasp at all what this result achieved, and barring a babyface turn, it appears that the Wyatts will never be taken seriously as a promoted act again, considering that they nearly always lose the big matches. Certainly, it’s impossible to envision Bray and/or Braun in a major WrestleMania match after this defeat, despite Wyatt himself not being a participant.
As for the match itself: it was better than expected, with Ryback’s CM Punk-esque knees, Big Show’s huge throw of Harper to the floor where his partners stood, and a ringside Spear by Show to Strowman being the highlights. Unfortunately, my WWE Network feed went down during the match so I missed some parts of it. I know that this happened at some point to many other fans around the world, and it follows signal issues prior to two supershows in late 2015. This is something that WWE must sort out ASAP, because the last thing we need is for everyone’s Network feed to fail during WrestleMania. Not fixing these problems could end up costing WWE a huge amount of money in the long run.
What initially seemed to be a filler Divas Title scrap between Charlotte and Brie Bella took on greater significance after Daniel Bryan’s retirement and the news that Brie will soon retire to start a family with Bryan. Therefore, a Brie title win as a tribute to Bryan was a possibility, and Brie played up this connection by wearing Bryan’s kick-pads from WrestleMania XXX and the fairly occasional “Yes!” chant. At one point during the match, Brie paid homage to or mimicked Ric Flair, Nikki Bella and Daniel Bryan within 30 seconds, which temporarily left one wondering whether Brie had a move set of her own.
That aside, this was another bout which exceeded expectations by delivering a well-executed and dramatic match. Charlotte (who appeared to be slightly cut open early on) dominated the middle portion, working on Brie’s right knee, and heeled it up with a mocking “Yes!” chant. Brie soon made her comeback and managed to trap Charlotte in a Yes Lock to a big pop. Charlotte’s selling during the hold was really good (but not the best of the night; that came a bit later); it was sold with such conviction that I expected the title to change hands. Ric Flair was yelling some insults at Brie during this, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying; therefore, it’s hard to tell whether this affected the outcome, but Charlotte soon found an escape from the hold and applied the Figure-8 for the submission win. It was one of Brie’s best bouts to date, and Charlotte continues to quietly build a strong legacy as Divas Champion, although her strutting backstage reduced the impact of her previous sell-job for Brie’s Yes Lock.
Following that battle was the rubber match between AJ Styles and Chris Jericho, following a really good Raw match and an even better SmackDown rematch. It was hoped that this would be their best meeting yet, and devour some occasional sloppiness and/or miscues, this proved to be the match that everyone wanted it to be. Full of big moves, counters and dramatic near-falls and submissions, this was the match of the night, and one which definitely kept the crowd interested: there appeared to be a complete 50/50 split between Styles fans and Jerichoholics, and both sides were suitably loud (a far cry from the Memphis crowd at Fast Lane 2015 where fans seemed to be half-asleep for much of the show).
From AJ’s Pele Kick and hugely impressive second rope moonsault into a reverse DDT to Jericho’s planchas and quick-fire Codebreaker counter, this match couldn’t have had more action within the allotted time. Styles escaped the Walls Of Jericho in a gripping sequence, and Y2J surprisingly kicked out of the Styles Clash in a great near-fall. To be fair, that should have been the match-ender, and if it wasn’t going to be, then it shouldn’t have been used in order to protect the move (which we’ve only seen AJ hit twice in WWE). Instead, Styles quickly applied the Calf Crusher and after a world-class sell-job by Jericho, with his hand almost telling you that he wanted to tap out but he just couldn’t bring himself to do so, before he finally had no choice but to succumb. Afterwards, Jericho shook hands with Styles to logically conclude their feud, although I think that given enough time, these two could probably give use an even better match at some point in the future. AJ has definitely had a good start in WWE then despite what some might say and he looks strong heading into WrestleMania; Y2J proved here that he’s still as good as he’s ever been, although his Mania role is questionable as I will touch upon later.
The Cutting Edge Peep Show to promote Edge & Christian’s Show That Totally Reeks Of Awesomeness on the WWE Network (what a mouthful that is), with The New Day as guests, was a strange segment. It started off well as E&C and New Day exchanged some good banter, but whilst it clearly existed to promote the Network show, most realised that it would probably hint at New Day’s next challengers for the WWE World Tag Team Championships (read that back while imagining the New Day doing their dances). Some believed that it would be an NXT team to be called up, possibly Enzo Amore and Big Cass.
Instead, New Day suddenly began ripping fellow heels The League Of Nations, who came out to stand their ground (or something like that). New Day retreated, and after some more funny lines, E&C oddly backed off as well, and ended the segment by … siding with the New Day??? The presentation was so confusing that it reduced the enjoyment of what had started out as a funny segment, as well as feeling like a let-down for those who were expecting a major debut or return here. That being said, it appears (because I’m genuinely unsure) that this possibly marked a babyface turn for New Day. If so, then it makes sense, since New Day have been popular heels for months now, and the LON are perfect heels for them to oppose as new babyfaces since they have nothing distinguishable about them to like (which is a negative, I suppose). I hope we get a more inspiring Tag Title match at Mania than New Day vs. League Of Nations, but for now, despite the weird presentation of the segment, at least New Day will get the “correct” crowd reaction going forward … until the hardcore fans suddenly decide that they don’t find New Day funny anymore and turn on them. I’ll be optimistic and say that this won’t happen until the summer, but you never know.
An unadvertised and unexpected addition to the card came with a short bout between R-Truth and Curtis Axel. After the underwhelming end to the E&C segment, this didn’t really help matters, since it was clearly a filler match rather than one which could surprisingly steal the show. Goldust quickly ran down to try and repel interference from the Social Outcasts (who had humorously performed a “Bo Train” around the ring earlier in the match), as part of the storyline where Goldust wants to become Truth’s tag team partner (which I find entertaining, even if other people don’t), but he ended up actually costing Truth the match: Goldie chased Adam Rose into the ring, where Truth legitimately would have tripped over Rose had he not jumped out the way, only for Axel to then roll Truth up for the win. A PPV win for the Social Outcasts (well, one of them) isn’t bad, I suppose, but this should have taken place around an hour earlier to have received more interest from the audience. Why this wasn’t the stage for Truth and Goldust to confirm their partnership, I don’t know. Alternatively, WWE could have held this match on Raw and used the time to promote something relevant to WrestleMania, especially with the main event coming up next.
WWE’s manner of determining the number one contender to its richest prize at WrestleMania was a bit odd, to say the least. Let’s backtrack: Triple H won the WWE Title in the Royal Rumble match, with his entry being intended solely to take the title from Authority enemy Roman Reigns. Yet, Reigns was then inserted into the contender’s match for Fast Lane by Stephanie McMahon, with no logical explanation.
Then you have to consider that Reigns was thrown in there with WWE’s two top babyfaces besides Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar, putting Roman in a position where being booed was almost a guarantee. And since the Authority were picking entrants based on whether they impressed on the post-Rumble Raw, why was Brock involved when he wasn’t even on that episode of Raw?
While the match itself sounded baffling, the build-up was actually good because WWE managed to make many fans believe that Ambrose, rather than being there to take the defeat, had a real chance of winning the match by having him bring the fight to Lesnar and having him make it clear to Reigns that he was willing to do anything to headline WM, which included beating up his Shield “brother”. His IC title loss on last week’s Raw paradoxically increased speculation that Ambrose would triumph here.
On the night, though, the result we all expected when the match was announced ended up being the outcome that WWE opted for. Happily, the match itself was very enjoyable: Lesnar took his opponents to Suplex City, as usual, before a Spear by Reigns and a ringside low blow by Dean slowed Brock down, and he was driven through an announcer’s table, Shield powerbomb-style.
Reigns and Ambrose then squared off for a spell, although my Network feed suddenly jumped ahead skipping key moments (sort this out before WrestleMania, WWE), so I only saw a Superman Punch and Dirty Deeds during this portion. Lesnar returned to the match only to taste another Shieldbomb through a second announcer’s table, with his adversaries literally burying Brock under announcer table rubble.
But after another Reigns-Ambrose square-off, Brock ran in once more, even suplexing Reigns as he was Samoan Dropping Ambrose in the coolest spot of the match. At this point, many expected the Wyatts to screw Lesnar over, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Ambrose broke a Lesnar Kimura Lock on Reigns (which Roman was powering out of anyway) with a chairshot and then whacked both opponents with the chair several times, eventually knocking Brock out of the ring. Ambrose then turned around to be Speared by Reigns, who got the 1-2-3. Reigns was going to WrestleMania, and was confronted by Triple H afterwards in the “we’ll stand in front of the WM sign so that it can be used in a video package” moment.
The match was really good, but Roman’s win was predictably met with an overwhelmingly negative response, both in the arena and online. WWE had placed Roman in a no-win situation here, so the boos weren’t a surprise. I do wonder, though: why boo Reigns at this point? Unlike last year when he clearly wasn’t ready to main event WM, Reigns has done a lot of good work in the last 12 months to be seen to have earned this opportunity. Could he improve? Of course. But outside of his abilities, it is WWE which has mishandled Reigns and/or made him something close to John Cena from a character standpoint. It’s obvious that WWE is going all the way with Reigns (hence the months-long feud with the Authority, which some people thought would just be dumped here), but it’s harsh that many people aren’t willing to give Reigns the opportunity to succeed or fail (TLC being a good example). If Reigns becomes WWE Champ again at WrestleMania and then flops based on his work, then you look at whether he’s suitable for the role. But repeatedly booing him for reasons beyond his control is getting quite annoying, and at this point I almost feel sorry for Reigns, and partly want him to succeed just because of the volatile hatred many fans are giving him. Is he the next Rock or Steve Austin? Probably not. But many fans aren’t willing to allow him the opportunity to prove himself at that level.
Ambrose put in a great showing in this match, and with his popularity still growing, a main event role seems likely at some point (perhaps he will be the lead babyface going into Mania 33?). Perhaps the most hampered performer here was Lesnar, whose last two supercard appearances may as well have not happened given that he wasn’t enhanced by his participation in said matches nor was he truly beaten whereby someone would have bragging rights. Had Lesnar not been on television since Hell In A Cell and only returned to TV after Fast Lane, that might have been the best option, because he has definitely lost part of his special aura in recent times.
Perhaps the strangest part about Fast Lane is that, considering there are now no more supershows before Mania, it is still anyone’s guess as to what most of the matches will be. Indeed, outside of the main event and the Divas Title scene, which has a clear direction involving Sasha Banks and possibly Becky Lynch challenging Charlotte for that championship, there isn’t one other match which you can definitively say will take place at WrestleMania. This isn’t always a bad thing as it means the next few weeks will be more unpredictable, and tonight’s episode of Raw will likely answer some questions, but as of right now, your guess is as good as mine for the rest of the card for what is supposedly the biggest WrestleMania of all-time (until the next one).
For instance, who does Brock Lesnar face? It appears that the presumed showdown with Bray Wyatt is off, since they haven’t interacted at all since Royal Rumble and nobody could possibly believe that Wyatt has a chance of winning such a match. Dean Ambrose is the only other full-time name who springs to mind, given his recent involvement with Brock, but if anything, despite his recent push, Ambrose is even less of a threat to The Beast Incarnate than Wyatt is due to his size (it’s sad but it’s true). Let’s face it, Lesnar will beat whoever he faces at Mania, especially since his recent televised win-loss record is actually poor. Perhaps WWE will bring in a special guest to face Brock because, right now, Lesnar’s WM match will exist purely to fill time.
Similarly, although it hasn’t been hinted at on television, speculation has been rife concerning who The Undertaker will face at Mania, since his options are even more limited than Brock’s. A rumoured bout with Braun Strowman would have been awful, so it’s encouraging to know that WWE has scrapped such match proposals. The big rumour was for a bout with John Cena, but Cena’s shoulder injury means that this match likely won’t happen (although you never know with Cena’s superhuman recovery powers). The Lesnar feud is over, and apparently a match with Kevin Owens (WWE’s second top heel after, erm …) is not scheduled.
Therefore, it has to be a part-timer or a special guest. Since it’s unlikely that The Rock will wrestle, and even more so for Steve Austin, the only options I can think of are Sting (whose neck injury suffered at Night Of Champions could be career-ending), Goldberg (who is now 50 and hasn’t wrestled since 2004), Kurt Angle (who is available, but is not in WWE’s good books due to past problems) and Batista (who has fought Taker many times in the past, including at WrestleMania). The alternative is for WWE to shock everyone and bring back Shawn Michaels for one final showdown with Taker, although that couldn’t possibly reach the heights of their 2009 and 2010 classics at this point in time. I think it should be Sting or Angle if either is healthy enough to compete, or Goldberg as a special attraction, but WWE’s options aren’t great in number right now. Perhaps the sudden announcement that an unnamed performer will receive the new Vincent J McMahon Legacy Of Excellence Award on the post-Fast Lane episode of Raw will be the first major hint as to who Undertaker will face at AT&T Stadium.
Incidentally, this is another reason why WWE shouldn’t have ended The Streak: no matter who Taker faces on April 3, it will still be just another match, even if it’s a great one, rather than an exciting chance for him to go what would by now have been 24-0.
In the mid-card scene, it’s likely going to be a case of mix and match, unless WWE pulls a celebrity out of the hat (and Stephen Amell is being linked with a Mania match against Stardust). I think we will get a multi-man Ladder match again, either for Kevin Owens’ Intercontinental Title (quite likely), Kalisto’s United States Title (less likely), or even the Money In The Bank briefcase. I personally would like to see such a bout for the MITB briefcase, and an Owens-AJ Styles clash (no pun intended) for the IC gold. With so many rumoured matches no longer happening (one has to assume that Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho isn’t happening now either), it’s literally anyone’s guess as to how WWE fills most of the under card for Mania, other than knowing that we will probably get a multi-man Ladder match, an IC Title scrap (if that isn’t defended in the Ladder bout), a Tag Team Title defence for The New Day (probably in a multi-team clash) and the third annual Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
And with the two matches that are definite or very likely, the outcomes are obvious. It would be foolish for Sasha Banks not to become Divas Champion after such a long wait for her to receive a title shot, along with a perfect record in singles action since her Raw debut in July. And since HHH has barely appeared on television since becoming WWE Champion at Royal Rumble, it isn’t hard to predict that he will lose the gold to Roman Reigns at Mania. The only questions surrounding that match (which should be really good, by the way) are how many bells and whistles WWE will add to it (a special guest referee and big-name managers are possible, along with a possible No Holds Barred stipulation) and whether the crowd will turn on one or both of the combatants come bell time.
In the case of the latter, it’s up to WWE to change fan opinions. It appeared they had broken through with Roman at TLC and in the weeks after, but poor booking of Reigns during the Rumble match (where fans were divided beforehand, and ended up almost completely turning on Roman by the finale) and almost nonexistent booking of him since, along with the odd decision to have him beat two popular babyfaces to earn the Mania shot, have all put Reigns back where he was before TLC. Regardless of whether the fans are right to boo Reigns or not, it’s up to WWE to find a solution so that fans are on Roman’s side. Let’s be frank, Reigns is winning at WrestleMania barring a freak injury, so hopefully over the next six weeks, the fans who dislike Reigns will be given a reason to feel happy if/when he triumphs on April 3.
So, as it turned out, Fast Lane didn’t speed up the Road To WrestleMania very much at all. It was a good show, with several strong matches, and it confirmed the Mania match that has been expected for months. But it will be upcoming episodes of Raw and SmackDown (if WWE feels daring) that will shape the card for WM 32. Some encouraging things to remember are that WM 31 surpassed all expectations last year after a lacklustre hype job, and even the famous Hulk Hogan-Rock bout from WM X8 in 2002 only received four weeks of build-up. One can hope that WWE can find a way to create a card worthy of the occasion, given the much-discussed injury crisis, along with some exciting storylines to give the top matches a purpose; we’ll soon find out if they can. I am looking forward to WrestleMania 32, but Fast Lane didn’t do much to create anticipation for Mania. That being said, judged on its own merits, Fast Lane was a mostly enjoyable WWE supershow.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10 – Good