Tonight is the go-home show for second installment of the Fastlane pay-per-view. And for the second consecutive year, the World Heavyweight Championship is held by a part-time worker who will not be working the pay-per-view. Therefore, the post-Rumble booking has revolved around a triple-threat match to determine the number one contender. With one of the participants also a part-timer – and not scheduled to make an appearance tonight – there doesn’t appear to be much to work with to sell the event. We’re in Anaheim, California. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL, and Byron Saxton.
Promo Time: Dean Ambrose
Ambrose did a good job getting over his recklessness / fearlessness last week against Brock Lesnar, and he thinks that he’s sufficiently angered the ‘Beast Incarnate’ so that he might just show up later. He won’t. The ‘Lunatic Fringe’ wants another F5 tonight. Instead, he gets Stephanie McMahon. WWE are promoting the WrestleMania Reading Challenge at the moment, so what better time for them to trade off big words. Dean’s prognosticator is countered by Steph’s filibustering. Steph accuses Ambrose of being over-reliant on his ‘brudda’, Roman Reigns and tells him that the only F5 he’ll be getting tonight is a Fatal Five-Way match for his Intercontinental Championship. If Reigns gets involved, Ambrose is out of the triple-threat at Fastlane, which suggests that it would be in Reigns’s interest to interfere.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens vs. Stardust vs. Tyler Breeze vs. Dolph Ziggler
This could be a real treat of a match, especially if WWE had not spent several months burying Stardust and Breeze (and to a certain extent, Ziggler). I have a soft spot for ‘Prince Pretty’ and wish that he was still strutting his stuff back on NXT instead of being a jobber to the stars on RAW. I’d be really made up if they put the title on him tonight. The match is tornado rules, one fall to a finish, which suggests two things: one, that Ambrose is losing the title tonight; two, there will be a lot of brawling and selling on the outside while two or three of the men run spots in the ring.
After all entrances are televised, the match is joined in progress following a commercial break. For a while, Ambrose is the focal point in the ring, battling each of his challengers in turn while the other three sell on the outside (conveniently not captured on camera). Saxton astutely calls it a “revolving door.” The first big spot is when Kevin Owens powerbombs Breeze out of the ring and onto Stardust and Ziggler, which is immediately followed by a suicide dive from Ambrose to wipe them all out again. A second ad break really cuts up the flow of the match and makes it a disjointed viewing experience. When we return, Owens has everyone lined up for a cannonball, but after he delivers three, he gets a Supermodel Kick followed by the Beauty Shot for a close two count. There was a moment there, just a moment, when I believed for Breeze. It was a nice spot but draws the much-overused “this is awesome” chant from the crowd.
NOTE TO ALL CROWDS: If you keep chanting “this is awesome” at near enough every spot, then awesome will cease to hold sufficient distinction from ordinary.
The tease for Breeze was just that, as moments later he’s back in his usual place of taking the thee count after a Pop-Up Powerbomb from Owens. Of the four challengers, Owens is the most credible and probably the most deserving of this title. He celebrates by rolling in the aisle like a big giddy bear.
Final Rating: **3/4
Backstage, Renee Young catches her off-screen boyfriend, Dean Ambrose, for a word about his title loss. He’s quite philosophical about it and has his focus on Fastlane. We barely cut back to the announce desk before Cole throws it back to Renee, who is now standing by with the new Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens. Before he gets chance to bully her too much, Dolph also shows up to challenge him to a title match at Fastlane. I love Dolph, but I have to say that he’s done nothing to deserve one recently. Contrary to the opening promo, Owens shows that you don’t always needs to use big words. “Nah,” is his final answer.
Promo Time: The New Day
Big E is simply brilliant. He penguin-walks to the ring. We get a flashback to an episode of RAW from last September, where New Day were confronted by Edge & Christian backstage. It’s the kazoo vs. trombone skit where Big E tried to eat the plastic kazoo. The New Day are to be guests on a special edition of the Cutting Edge Peep Show at Fastlane. Cleary there are no credible contenders left for their tag titles, though I think I would prefer this anyway. I honestly considered transcribing the entire promo. That’s how great it is. The highlights are that Edge & Christian reek of booty, they broke fisticuffs rule 101 (bringing a kazoo to a trombone fight), and Big E is censored when he tries to say “Super Bowl.” Mark Henry is also booty, having deserted them in the eight-man tables match last week. He could’ve been the ‘World’s Strongest Unicorn’ but instead he’s the ‘World’s Largest Booty Hole’. This was gold. Solid, solid gold.
Big E vs. Mark Henry
We segue from the promo to this match after the break. It plods along at a tiresome pace, with the only two things of note being Big E declaring, “I’m his daddy now,” and executing a one-man Unicorn Stampede. The finish is awkward and weird, too. Big E has Henry up for the Big Ending, but Mark just falls off and is pinned. I’m sure something went awry here. Cole tries to cover by claiming that Henry is suffering adverse after-effects of two big splashes. This match was sheer booty.
Final Rating: ¼*
Exclusive Interview with Brie Bella
WWE are clearly hoping that the residue of fans’ good will from Daniel Bryan’s real-life retirement situation will carry over to his wife to get her feud with Charlotte over. I still don’t buy it as a credible pay-per-view title match. Charlotte and her dad interrupt the interview, which is not only good heel work – build heat by going against the only thing that fans care about: Daniel Bryan – but it also means that I don’t have to listen to Saxton interviewing Brie. Their argument stems around Bryan and they mention him every few seconds to ensure people don’t forget to invest in this angle by way of proxy. Looking at Ric Flair grinning with senility in the background, I stop listening to Charlotte and Brie henpeck each other and instead imagine Bryan vs. Flair when both in their prime. I do pick up on Brie accusing Charlotte of “literally throwing Daniel and Nikki in [her] face.” No, Brie, it’s FIGURATIVELY in this instance. It ends with Brie hitting multiple kicks a la her husband. Good try from Charlotte, but the Fastlane result must be a foregone conclusion in favour of the champ.
A.J. Styles vs. The Miz
After A.J. made his debut in the Royal Rumble match, a friend of mine messaged me to ask what I thought WWE would do with him creative-wise. I said, leave it a week or so and he’ll be stuck in a programme with Miz. At least he’s also had a couple of good matches with Chris Jericho, who happens to be the guest commentator for this match. On a side note, Cole points out actor Gerard Butler in the crowd, only, he pronounces it Gurred. Miz attacks Styles before the bell because he’s angry about having his teeth knocked out the last time they met. He gets way too much offence for my liking and even stops off to flap his gums at Jericho, apparently peeved that Y2J hijacked Miz TV on SmackDown! I really hope this isn’t heading to a triple threat at Fastlane. Jericho and Styles should be having their rubber match at the pay-per-view, and there should be no Miz in sight. For the go-home sequence, Miz kicks out of the Pelé kick, but then Styles gets to kick out of the Skull Crushing Finale in return. A.J. then submits the goofy one with the Calf Crusher. Miz isn’t even close to A.J.’s level. Post-match, Jericho grabs a mic but is immediately interrupted by Styles, who challenges him to the decider at Fastlane. Jericho doesn’t give the expected response, instead telling A.J. that he’ll give him an answer on SmackDown! In other words, we’ll put on the match, but please tune in to SmackDown!, people.
Final Rating: **
Promo Time: The Dudley Boyz
Basically, they recap their promo from SmackDown!. There’ll be no more tables, which is probably the best way they can manipulate the crowd into giving them heat, that and bitching about the attention Daniel Bryan has received recently (as they did on SmackDown!). It’s a decent old-school heel promo. They’re not a nostalgia act and they’re not relics, but they are the baddest tag team on the planet.
Paige vs. Summer Rae
I wasn’t even sure Summer Rae was still employed here. Paige is face again now because it suits Total Divas, even though we’re only a couple of months removed from her bringing up Reid Flair’s death to get herself over as a heel. Paige is fine as a wrestler and would be ideal in the midcard of an improved women’s division; Summer Rae is not. But spin my nipple nuts and send me to Alaska, Summer actually wins with a dodgy roll up! According to Cole, the win might put her in line for a “possible Divas Championship opportunity.” I sincerely hope not.
Final Rating: ½*
Promo Time: Paul Heyman
Truth be told, I look forward to Paul Heyman promos more than most matches on RAW these days. Heyman is confident of his client’s chances in the triple-threat match but wants to say his piece directly to Roman Reigns, who promptly shows up – it’s almost as if on cue. Reigns also becomes the first person to point to the WrestleMania sign tonight. I hate that. Heyman’s angle is that Roman needs to watch out for Ambrose at Fastlane. He must choose between promises to his family (apparently he’s told his little girl that he’ll be coming home as champion after ‘Mania) and loyalty to his friend. It’s like what Steph’s trying to do to them, only delivered much, much better. Reigns doesn’t seem fazed, reminding Paul that he’s already beaten Ambrose and that the score still has to be settled between him and Lesnar. They amicably shake on it, but as Heyman exits the ring, the Dudley Boyz ambush Reigns. Ambrose makes the save of course, setting up what should be an interesting tag match on SmackDown!, but teases Dirty Deeds on Roman afterwards.
Next week the Vincent J. McMahon Legacy of Excellence Award will be presented to one WWE Superstar. Apparently, it is to be an award bestowed with the utmost prestige. I hope it’s like the First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellency and is given to pacify someone that they’ve made sterile.
Heath Slater vs. Zack Ryder
Slater is flanked by his Social Outcast buddies, with Bo Dallas appearing to have finished dropping beats in the studio. I know that the four jobbers (dare I say it) are having fun and trying to work with what they’ve got, but I can’t see them becoming the new New Day. Ryder has total control until he’s distracted by Dallas, and Slater wins with a DDT. Filler.
Final Rating: *
Video Control cuts to R-Truth in a restaurant on a Valentine’s date. Goldust is the waiter. These skits are intended, I think, to be comically awkward. Remove the word comically and you’ll be closer to the truth. Goldust metaphorically shoots his load over Truth’s date via a champagne bottle. I hate this entire angle. This isn’t 2003 and Truth isn’t Booker T.
Lucha Dragons & Neville vs. League of Nations (Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio & Rusev)
After rehashing the feud with Stardust and his Cosmic Wasteland on SmackDown!, Neville is back in six-man action along with the Dragons again. Their LON opponents are technically more credible this week, though they really represent embarrassment and failure when it comes to being a stable. They were formed to protect Sheamus’s World Heavyweight Championship, which he promptly lost. Now they’re all in the midcard where they belong. King Barrett stands around on the outside in his wrestling gear, but he’s definitely still injured. This match serves to have Del Rio beat the least capable of the faces, Sin Cara, to somehow prove that he will beat Kalisto in another United States Championship match between the two on the Fastlane pre-show (that it’s on the pre-show should tell you all you need to know). The double foot-stomp is performed while Sin Cara is hanging between the ropes rather than the usual Tree of Woe position. It makes it look even more hokey and contrived.
Final Rating: *
As part of the celebrations for Black History Month, video control shows a montage of Booker T’s career. I really enjoyed watching Booker work from back in his WCW days, and it’s a decent package, as it happens. There is even a clip from the Pulp Fiction spoof vignette that he did with Eddie Guerrero. I’d forgotten about that.
Next it’s footage from WWE’s Facebook page, showing the remnants of Team B.A.D. attacking Becky Lynch in the parking lot. Consequently, it’s Becky vs. Naomi later tonight.
Backstage, Renee gets a word with LON. Del Rio claims that Kalisto is a fluke champion, so challenges him to two out of three falls at Fastlane.
Becky Lynch vs. Naomi
Naomi’s colour-changing neon boot trims are funky. I also enjoy her new variation of a flurry of kicks, which highlight her footwear. That’s about it really. Becky wins by submission in short time, so Naomi and Tamina beat her up. Sasha Banks makes the save because she’s Becky’s, albeit reluctant, tag team partner on Sunday against B.A.D. It’s a positive step that we’re getting multiple women’s matches on RAW and on pay-per-view, but I get the impression that they’re keeping Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky from wrestling each other until a triple-threat at ‘Mania; unless Becky is very unlucky and misses out in place of a singles match.
Final Rating: *
Big Show vs. Braun Strowman
The battle of BS. This is your main event, folks! The Wyatts get to do a truncated version of their SmackDown! ‘Fall of the Titans’ promo. I actually enjoyed it, but I don’t like where it is heading. Strowman is possibly the oddest-shaped man I’ve ever clapped eyes on. He looks like Samwell Tarly of the Night’s Watch. I guess that makes Show a Wight Walker – not only a pun on his surname, but also a testament to the pedestrian pace at which he wrestles. And while I’m at it (safely behind my keyboard), what’s with Strowman’s tattoos? That grey-shading-tribal-Superman-logo one on his upper arm looks weird and far too small for the size of that limb.
Anaheim have the gall to start a “let’s go Big Show” chant, which is simply ridiculous. I’m sure there’s a parallel universe where Strowman surprises Big Show with a flying headscissors to start. Unfortunately, this is the universe where they’re two useless lugs. There’s no real match as such. The Wyatts jump show for the DQ. Ryback tries to make the save but is also caught out by the numbers game (stoopid!). Finally, Kane emerges from underneath the ring, which was once a cool spot but has been done to death over the years. And there are your titans: Show, Kane, and Ryback. They’re one shy in numbers, so I assume that Tiny Lister, a.k.a. Zeus will shortly be joining them. The reality is a six-man tag between the Wyatt followers and these three while Bray kick starts his WrestleMania programme with Brock. A truly awful finish to the show.
Final Rating: N/R
THE RAW RECAP:
Most Entertaining: Big E.
Least Entertaining: Mark Henry. It’s as if he’s regressed to 1996 levels of bad.
Quote of the Night: “You could’ve been the World’s Strongest Unicorn but you turned into the World’s Largest Booty Hole.”
Match of the Night: Ambrose vs. Owens vs. Stardust vs. Breeze vs. Ziggler
Summary: The majority of the wrestling on this show was simply horrible. On the other hand, there were a few good promos to at least partially save the day. Do any of the events that unfolded tonight make me want to watch Fastlane even more? Not really. Only the promise of New Day and Edge & Christian in the ring together is hyping me up for the show any more so than I already was (taking into account that I already think that the main event might be worthwhile, plus I’m expecting to see Styles-Jericho). In short, watch the promos, but skip all the matches except the first one.