WWE came to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio and 14,648 people joined them live for the experience.
With the company firmly on the road to Wrestlemania now should be the time that things are kicked into high gear. That sort of happened and it sort of didn’t, which made for a mixed bag of a pay per view.
The pre-show was the same old format featuring nearly an hour of somewhat aimless talking that had no real bearing on anything. There were some highlights though when Paul Heyman joined the panel to advocate for his client, Brock Lesnar. It was just a typical Heyman promo but it still made for a slightly more interesting discussion that it would have been without him there.
Dolph Ziggler and AJ Styles also got some individual screen time. Ziggler gave a decent promo hyping up his match later in the night with Kevin Owens. Styles did a very short Q and A with the fans on Twitter. Both were fine, neither was anything special.
2 out of 3 Falls Match for the US Championship- Kalisto vs. Alberto Del Rio.
Now this? This was special.
The rivalry between these two men has been raging on for the entirety of this year so far and has seen them trade the championship back and forth a few times. This match provided the perfect opportunity to end the feud and the only way to do that was to have Kalisto go over clean and retain his title.
The contest these performers had at the Royal Rumble was a decent one but it was fairly heavy on the botches, thankfully this match was a lot better.
It was a nice touch to have Del Rio lose the first fall via DQ as it effectively portrayed him as the cunning, ruthless wrestler that he should always be. He used the advantage provided by the steel chair to quickly take the second fall and even things up.
What followed was a well thought out and exciting fight for the deciding fall. ADR dominated for much of the match and Kalisto was forced to fight back from being grounded, meaning he utilized his speed a lot less than normal whilst also showing his tenacity. WWE is clearly making Rey Mysterio 2.0 with this talented luchador and this is exactly the way to do it.
Ultimately Kalisto won via a turnbuckle smash and a roll up. That finish made him look smart in that he used whatever means he could to defeat his larger foe and it also made Del Rio look suitably tough in that he was not laid out with a Salida Del Sol.
Winner and still US Champion- Kalisto.
Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks vs. Tamina and Naomi.
The main show kicked off in unusual fashion with a women’s tag team match. The storyline going into this contest was a little underdeveloped, as was the case with a lot of the matches on this card. Sasha had left Team BAD but then she just sort of jumped into an uneasy alliance with Becky to fight them. That’s it, enough justification for a Raw match but a little more was needed to make this PPV quality.
Still, though, these four women are truly talented and the match reflected that. There was a good amount of back and forth and the heels cut off the ring to isolate Becky, leaving fans clamouring for a Sasha Banks hot tag. When that finally happened the payoff was proven to be more than worth the buildup as the crowd erupted for the pint-sized grappler.
A few downsides were that the Rear View is still the dumbest finisher of all time and the ending was slightly botched. Both Becky and Sasha had an opponent each in their respective submission holds but their positioning meant that the camera couldn’t capture the simultaneous tap out. Still, though, the salient point is that Tamina tapped to Sasha and that’s exactly what needed to happen.
Winners- Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks.
Intercontinental Championship Match- Kevin Owens vs Dolph Ziggler.
The action didn’t let up as it was straight into Owens vs. Ziggler. This was another feud that hadn’t been given any time to mature before reaching a big pay per view encounter. Ziggler had picked up a few wins over Owens in the previous weeks and Owens had just won this IC title for the second time but this still felt cobbled together.
Despite the brevity of the build, these two Superstars put on a very enjoyable matchup wherein both men got a lot of offence and looked exceedingly strong. Of course, it was Owens who looked the better man but then that will happen when you’re the only original one in the ring. Ziggler settled for continuing to be a Shawn Michaels rip off.
There’s nothing wrong with paying homage to your heroes but when it involves using their finisher and copying their style, it becomes a problem. Especially when that finisher has been used by both men repeatedly throughout the match so has no business ending anything. It was actually a relief to see Owens Powerbomb him for the win because this Ziggler should never be a champion.
Winner and still Intercontinental Champion- Kevin Owens.
Following this, there was a slightly weird promo by Big Show, Kane, and Ryback that was supposed the build their match with The Wyatt’s up next. Sadly, no one really cared about this match anyway.
Six Man Tag Team Match- Big Show, Kane, and Ryback vs Luke Harper, Braun Strowman, and Erick Rowan W/ Bray Wyatt.
So the idea behind this contest was The Wyatt’s ridding the WWE of the old guard, not sure how Ryback fits that description and taking control of themselves. If that sounds familiar to you then it’s because they just recycled it from the feud with the Brothers of Destruction last year.
The issue with any Wyatt feud these days is that they never win. For all their talk and posturing they pretty much never walk away with a meaningful victory and so they are impossible to take seriously anymore. You probably want to route for them because they’re just so damn cool looking but it’s not possibly to support a team that can’t get the job done.
This match was no different as Ryback pinned Luke Harper following the ugliest Shellshock of all time that actually looked as though it injured Harper’s arm. Meaning that the guys who should be jobbing to younger, better talent just picked up a massive win.
The takeaway from this forgettable nonsense? WWE don’t care about The Wyatt’s. Oh, and Ryback can’t wrestle to save his life… or Harper’s arm.
Winners: Big Show, Kane, and Ryback.
Roman Reigns was then interviewed backstage by Jo Jo and it was alright. It got a whole lot better when Dean Ambrose showed up but then doesn’t everything?
Diva’s Championship Match- Charlotte vs. Brie Bella.
In the wake of Daniel Bryan’s retirement a few short weeks ago on Raw, his wife, Brie Bella, had found herself with a much better chance of leaving Fastlane with the title around her waist. That would have been a terrible decision.
That’s not because Brie is awful, although she kind of is, and it’s not because Charlotte is a great champion, because she isn’t. It would have been awful because the build is already there for Charlotte to defend her title against Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch at Wrestlemania. And that would be perfect.
It was assumed that this would be a pretty mediocre match since Brie isn’t known for quality wrestling and Charlotte has all the selling ability of a black hole. Seriously, she never looks like anything is hurting her, why is that?
Surprisingly this managed to be pretty good. Brie brought her A game and, granted, that was equivalent to most people’s C game but it was still better than expected. Save for a few botches here and there, such as with an attempted Crucifix, she put forth a valiant effort and shocked a lot of people.
The ending was moronic, though. After all the build, all the emotion of dedicating the match to Nikki Bella and Daniel Bryan, Brie was distracted by Ric Flair shouting “What about Daniel?”. So sufficiently did this distract her that she was flung from her Half Crab submission, into the ropes, and then locked into a Figure Eight which caused to her to tap out in the most lackluster manner ever seen.
Winner and still Diva’s Champion- Charlotte.
AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho.
Finally, a match that had the proper build put into it. Styles debuted at the Royal Rumble to an amazing crowd reaction that proved you don’t need to be a WWE made guy be over as hell. On his first night on Raw he defeated Jericho and Y2J took that quite badly. Jericho then won the subsequent match and, after some cajoling, he agreed to a rubber match with Styles at Fastlane.
This was always going to be something to behold. Here were two of the best wrestlers of their generations competing against one another in a high-profile pay per view match, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, with the exception of a botched Moonsault DDT, nothing did go wrong. This was a prime example of what a great wrestling match should look like and the fans are lucky to have been able to witness it.
None of this is said to be a Styles bandwagoner but rather because these two men put on an amazing contest that deserves all the praise possible. There were near falls and false finishes, momentum shifted at the right moments, and Jericho looked more vicious and determined that he has in years. It brought out the best in both guys.
The only odd thing? That Jericho tapped out to the Calf Crusher. Jericho does not often submit and for him to do give up to end this outing was a huge surprise but not necessarily a bad one. It builds up Styles to be even more impressive than he already was and that is hugely important now that he’ll be looking for a big Wrestlemania match. Please, WWE, let it be against Kevin Owens.
Winner: AJ Styles.
To serve as a break from the in-ring action, it was the Cutting Edge Peep Show next. Edge and Christian were both entertaining even if was just to shill their new show. The New Day were as hilarious as ever. So what the issue? Instead of a new team debuting to challenge New Day on E and C’s behalf, say a team such as Enzo and Cass for example, what fans got was an unwelcome appearance from The League of Nations. After some weird back and forth jibes E and C and The New Day went from being at each other’s throats to teaming up to mock The League. So are New Day going face? Will they feud with The League? Who knows and who cares at this point. What a wasted segment.
To follow on from that silly interlude there was another silly interlude as the Social Outcasts made their way to the ring giving some promo about being Prius’ or Tanks or some such nonsense. That led into a match between Curtis Axel and R-Truth which doesn’t even deserve a write-up. It didn’t belong on PPV and it had better not happen again.
Number One Contenders Triple Threat Match- Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar.
Brother vs. Brother vs. Beast.
There was no way that the action in this Triple Threat would be anything other than exhilarating. You just knew it was going to be the main event to remember and that’s exactly what it was.
Brock came out of the gates looking unstoppable as he manhandled both men with amazing ease. He even nearly finished the match via an early F5 on Reigns only for Ambrose to break up the cover. Still though he dominated for a good while longer until finally Ambrose Low Blowed him and the former ‘brothers’ Powerbombed the ‘beast’ through an announce table.
From there the real story kicked in as Ambrose and Reigns came face to face and fought one another for the chance to go to the main event of Wrestlemania. Fans had been gossiping to no end about how this match would see the implosion of this friendship and how one of the two performers would be turning their back on the other. That didn’t happen. They fought for a bit, put Lesnar through another announce table, then fought a bit more.
Lesnar returned again and performed and incredible German Suplex on Reigns whilst he had Ambrose hoisted onto his shoulders. To follow-up from that he came a whisper from getting Reigns to tap out to a Kimura Lock but Ambrose once again made the save with a steel chair, attacking both men.
The stupid thing is that Reigns just shrugged off that attack and speared his friend for the win as if nothing had happened. This is why people don’t like Roman and it’s also why the main event of Wrestlemania stands are tremendous chance of getting booed out of the building. WWE need to listen to their audience and try something fresh because this Roman-led plan is not working and it likely never will work.
Winner and New Number One Contender: Roman Reigns.
All things considered, this was a pretty good show. The in-ring action was top-notch for the most part and although the comedy segments feel apart quite dramatically they didn’t detract too much from the overall package. Still the WWE has shown a remarkable lack of awareness with their booking of the main event. That’s a huge cause for concern and it threatens to ruin the headliner of the biggest show of the year. Whether you like Reigns or not you’d be foolish to say that he is the right man for such an enormous responsibility.
Match of the Night- AJ Styles vs Chris Jericho
The highlight of the Night- Two Shield Powerbombs through the announce tables.
Most Underwhelming Match of the Night- Curtis Axel vs. R-Truth shouldn’t even be considered a match so let’s go with the Six Man Tag.