We’re in Orlando, Florida. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Booker T. This is the go-home show for the WWE’s newest PPV extravaganza Fast Lane (yay?). The show so exciting the WWE gave it away for free along with the Network this month. The main event is Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE title shot slot at Wrestlemania. Also on the card is John Cena vs. Rusev, Paige vs. whichever Bella is the Divas champion and not a lot else.
Promo Time: John Cena
At least it isn’t the Authority again. Cena has a “scratched cornea” thanks to Rusev’s assault last week. He’s selling that by doing…nothing at all. Where’s the eye patch John? Where’s the storyline? Cena yacks for a bit until finally addressing the concept of “Cena changing” by saying nothing of note. Killer stuff from the WWE’s “franchise”. Eventually Rusev gets tired of listening to it and comes out here. Lana calls Cena’s spiel “tiring rhetoric”. Amen. Rusev steals the segment by doing the ‘you can’t see me’ hand wave so Cena runs up the ramp and kicks his ass. Cena pummelling an unconscious Rusev is joined by nauseating camera-work. I don’t know what made me feel more ill, the booking or the production. However there is one positive and that’s they didn’t talk for 20 minutes before fighting.
Video Control takes us Dean Ambrose aping the “Weekend Update” from SNL. I think the WWE missed the point of Saturday Night Live. It’s a comedy, guys. If this was supposed to be funny they clearly don’t have the same writers. Hire Tina Fey! She can write for crazy old rich men and insane Alpha Males. She’d be perfect.
Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper
These two have a little chemistry and less of a plan. Harper impresses by catching Ambrose on a tope and then booting him in the face. The crowd seem into Ambrose and they’ve been reacting strongly to everything so far. Always a good sign. As the pace picks up they start to develop some better chemistry, although it’s largely just back and forth strikes. Harper’s timing is essential and he slides into position quite nicely and delivers better strikes than Ambrose. Black Hole Slam doesn’t finish as Ambrose gets over being the plucky underdog. Jawbreaker Lariat sets up Dirty Deeds and Ambrose gets the win. This got suitably energised after a sluggish beginning. Harper actually came across much better than Ambrose but both of them are not being booked particularly well. Their characters are not well defined. As was evidenced by Dean’s attempt at comedy and Harper’s…what does Harper do?
Final Rating: **3/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Kane and Big Show are disagreeing. Kane calls Show selfish and stupid. Oh, is it 1995 again? Show makes a quip about Sting so he’s turning face, again.
Elsewhere Bray Wyatt has more words for the Undertaker, without mentioning his name. He’s not scared, he only has pity.
Elsewhere Goldust and Stardust are interrupted by Dusty Rhodes. “Damn it, Cody”. Stardust shakes hands with his brother as Dusty preaches they “stand together”.
The New Day vs. Goldust & Stardust
New Day are represented by Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston. JBL lists off a load of brother tag teams. “But they weren’t brothers” says Booker. The Steiners? The Funks? The Briscos? Might want to look those up Book. Unless he was thinking of Jimmy Jack Funk and Flash Funk. Goldust is starting to look a bit ropey and apparently he’s got injuries. His bumps don’t have any snap to them. He looks like he’s coasting through the match. Stardust misses off the top and the distraction is enough for Kofi to floor Goldust with Trouble in Paradise. After the match Goldust suddenly becomes weak and frail so Stardust lays him out, clearly misunderstanding the “stand together” instruction of his father just moments ago.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control catches up with Roman Reigns. He’s not thinking about the journey but rather the destination; Wrestlemania. Roman sticks it to Daniel Bryan by saying if he was eliminated at the Rumble he would have “taken it like a man” and not whined about it. He’s given Daniel Bryan an opportunity at Fast Lane and he’ll take it away too. Dusty catches up with Stardust, who says “Cody Rhodes is dead and so is my father”.
Roman Reigns vs. Kane
Daniel Bryan joins us at ringside to loud “YES!” chants. Sticking Roman in with Kane is about as smart as putting him in with Big Show. These big lummoxes cannot bump for Roman. They cannot make him look good. The only thing they’re good for is generating sympathy and it’s too late for that. Plus Roman doesn’t do sympathetic, he does ‘quiet cool’. Michael Cole reiterates all of Roman Reigns’ points, just in case we missed them, and Bryan points out he never lost the title and that’s why he wants a title shot. “I was out here just to enjoy the show but after what Roman said I don’t know what I’ll do now”. The crowd ignore the match and chant “YES!” instead with Bryan. This allows Kane to deck Reigns. “Did I do that, or did Roman just get distracted?” Bryan is superb here. He’s subtle, genuine and when he speaks relevant things come out of his mouth. Like when Cole gets on his case about disqualifications as the title shot is like a title match and Bryan casually points out “when’s the last time I got disqualified?” It’s a good job Bryan is there to distract the home audience as the arena audience dies watching this terrible match. The crowd eventually turn on it by chanting “you can’t wrestle”. The match is so phoney and it’s ugly as sin. Roman hits a spear on the floor and beats the count to win. Reigns looks like a choke-artist for failing to pin Kane and the match beforehand was so dreadful it begs the question; why would they put Reigns in a match that’s pretty much guaranteed to suck?
Final Rating: DUD
Video Control goes backstage where Daniel Bryan is asked about playing mental games with Roman and Bryan points out Reigns will have to get used to the chants because there will be more at Fast Lane. Elsewhere the Bella’s have stolen Paige’s gear. She’s got no clothes so she needs to borrow someone else’s gear. As no one else is around she kidnaps one of the Rosebuds.
Summer Rae vs. Paige
Paige’s alternate gear is a pink fairy costume, which is easily the most colourful piece of clothing she’s worn since childhood. Paige takes out her frustrations on Summer and beats the piss out of her. Summer is fairly clumsy and uncoordinated. Wrestling probably isn’t a career choice for someone with her skill-set. PTO puts Summer away in short order. At least this was brief. “Oh no, the Bellas” says Cole as the Bellas turn up. “Oh no” is exactly what I think every time I see the Bellas. Paige cuts them down for their superficiality and claims she’ll win the title at Fast Lane.
Final Rating: ¼*
Video Control gives us a promo for Sheamus. He’s coming back.
Seth Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler
Rollins gets the microphone pre-match to call himself the “most valuable asset in the WWE”. He calls Rowan, Ryback and Ziggler beneath him. “Seth, why are you so mad bro? Sounds like you had a bad Valentine’s Day?” referencing Seth’s Twitter hack where his girlfriend posted naked photos of him. Seth calls Ziggler’s career the real joke. Them’s fighting words!
We forego the shine and go right into Rollins working heat, which is too bad. The ref decides to toss J & J Security to the back for the actual pop. With the extras out of the way they get into the meat of the match, a back and forth contest with quick pinfall attempts and dramatic kick-outs. It’s only really hurt in any way by Michael Cole’s newest irritating verbal tick, shouting “FOR THE WIN” on almost every near fall. Oh, and the unforgivably bad camera work. Take away their zoom if they can’t use it responsibly! They run some terrific near misses before the Zigzag and J & J Security run back in for the DQ. Brisk but tremendous action. Rollins vs. Ziggler should be a major PPV event. If they’ve got no Wrestlemania plans for these guys they could do a lot worse.
Final Rating: ***
Promo Time: Triple H
They’re certainly listening to the audience, or Steve Austin’s podcast, and not starting the broadcast with a droning 20 minute promo. Hunter recaps that he’s going after Sting at Fast Lane before being interrupted by Ric Flair. Normally Hunter is enraged to be interrupted but Flair was his mentor and friend so they hug it out. “You can’t get mad at me. We’re in Orlando, you inducted me into the Hall of Fame here!” Flair warns Triple H not to take Sting lightly. Hunter recites Sting’s history, being a student of the game. “Sting was and is WCW”. “Sting’s legacy was built on Ric Flair’s reputation and that always pissed me off”. Flair points out Sting is already getting to Triple H. A wrestler’s worst enemy is time off says Flair. Hunter says he won’t need to wrestle, he’ll just kick Sting’s ass. Flair mouths off some more and Hunter heels it up by pushing him over. “If someone steps between me and this company I’m kicking their ass”. Good, intense promo from Hunter and nice work from Ric Flair in bringing the emotional punch to proceedings.
Video Control shills Parks and Recreation as John Cena is a guest star tomorrow on NBC.
Darren Young & Jobber vs. The Ascension
The Ascension have a moderate step up in opponents as Darren Young makes a guest appearance as a celebrity jobber. Titus O’Neil runs in and he teams with Young to take out the Ascension. There’s no match and the Prime Time Players are back. A double negative.
Final Rating: N/R
Video Control has The Miz offering to watch Bad News Barrett’s back if he gives Mizdow some tough love tonight.
Damien Mizdow vs. Bad News Barrett
JBL references the Man Utd-Preston FA Cup game and shows his sports knowledge. No reference to Wayne Rooney being a no-good, cheating sack of crap sadly. Mizdow gives Barrett a shoeing but Miz rings a bell to stop Damien, his man-servant, and makes him buff Miz’s shoe. Miz has a further issue with his sunglasses causing Barrett to win with the Bull Hammer. All storyline. Dean Ambrose runs out here, with Miz chickening out on watching Barrett’s back, and zip-ties Barrett to the ring post. Then he forces Barrett to sign a contract for them to wrestle for the IC title at Fast Lane.
Final Rating: ½*
Jimmy Uso & Naomi vs. Tyson Kidd & Natalya
This is a husband & wife tag team match. It is part of the build for Kidd & Cesaro challenging for the Uso’s tag titles. The ladies have a friendly rivalry whereas Kidd cowers and avoids Jimmy. I don’t understand why so many heels have to be abject cowards. A competitive wrestler like Tyson Kidd should not be booked that way. It’s a personality switch. With the men not wrestling at all it’s left for Nattie and Naomi to have a decent match, which Natalya loses. Cesaro is unimpressed and Kidd suggests Nattie should have beat Naomi with the Sharpshooter and even stops off to demonstrate how it’s applied.
Final Rating: ¾*
Daniel Bryan vs. The Big Show
You know how Bryan totally took over the situation during Roman Reigns’ match? How he was far more entertaining than Roman and brought the responses and the pops? Here Roman comes and sits his ass down and ringside and does nothing while the crowd cheer along for Bryan’s spots. Which is the difference between the two. Bryan can be entertaining at the drop of a hat. Roman cannot. They’ve put him in bad matches and destroyed his persona with worse promos. Now the only thing he can do is sit there doing nothing. He ends up signing autographs to keep himself amused. Bryan does a good job of working around Show’s limitations but nobody cares about Show (or Kane) as Authority bullies. When Show takes over, after Bryan is distracted by Roman taking selfies with the ringside fans, the match rapidly goes to shit. It becomes so slow and dour. Show accidentally spears Roman after Bryan side-steps the big man. The crowd is dead with Show in charge and only comes to life when Bryan makes his comebacks. Roman Reigns then runs in to Superman Punch the Big Show and cost Bryan the match. Bryan and Reigns get into it after the match with the fans into the action, which is good news for Fast Lane. Should be a good match.
Final Rating: *1/2
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Daniel Bryan
Least Entertaining: The Big Show and Kane. They’re both tedious.
Quote of the Night: "Cody Rhodes was destined to live in the shadow of his polka-dotted wearing freak of a father" – Stardust.
Match of the Night: Seth Rollins vs. Dolph Ziggler
Verdict: The show started out with a hot crowd and after a few segments a hot product. The Rollins-Ziggler match was really good and Hunter’s promo with Ric Flair was excellent. But the WWE’s insistence at booking Show and Kane as anything of relevance is a bigger crime than the rest of the booking in the Rumble. People weren’t just moaning about Bryan’s booking but all the booking. Show and Kane shouldn’t be going over anyone of note. The good news is that Roman Reigns looked better working Daniel Bryan than in months. Yes, his match with Kane was terrible but that’s Kane for you. They can rebuild Roman Reigns. It’s not too late. They just need to stop playing him like a superhero babyface because that’s not him. He’s a main event if he’s kept cool. If he stays in that grey area. People cheer, they boo, it doesn’t matter. He just needs to be cool and people will come around. I keep coming back to Diesel in 1995 after he lost to Bret Hart. He couldn’t get face pops because he was too big and too much of a bully against smaller guys but he couldn’t work big guys because the matches sucked. The switch came by having him acknowledge his fans but be himself. He came across as more relaxed and the character vastly improved. He got so good WCW poached him. The only difference is that Kevin Nash was a great talker and Roman Reigns isn’t. But if he’s allowed to be himself, and not a cartoonish babyface, he can still get there.
What’s really worrying about the WWE at the moment isn’t the main event scene even, where they have Lesnar, Reigns, Bryan and Rollins but rather the undercard. Wrestlemania isn’t taking shape in any kind of positive fashion. The potential card is a string of poor match ups and unless the WWE has some sort of miracle planned, like handing the undercard over to NXT, that won’t change. This show had moments that worked. You look at Bryan and Reigns and they are both capable of being ‘the man’ so at least the WWE has options. It’s a bit like when Luger & Bret Hart co-won the Royal Rumble. I wonder if they could *both* win a title shot at Wrestlemania? Then Bryan could work twice (Ziggler wants that match). Is anyone in the WWE listening? Because they should be.