February 22, 2016 by Joey Keogh
If you don’t have Limp Bizkit’s greatest masterpiece, “Livin’ It Up”, stuck in your head the entire way through WWE Fastlane (henceforth known as simply Fastlane because fuck you, Michael Cole) then you’re doing it wrong. This year, as opposed to Fastlane 2015, when there was at least the potential for something out of left field to happen, it seemed inevitable Roman Reigns was going to walk out of the Main Event with a Wrestlemania shot. And, just as we suspected – and, in case you’ve forgotten, just like last year – he did. But before that there was a whole heap of other, RAW-calibre bullshit to wade through, along with some fun stuff that we should try to highlight and celebrate lest we become the jaded, cynical, never-happy wrasslin’ fans Mick Foley has been whining about on Twitter all night.
We open, as always, with the interminably long Kick-off show, starring the reliably charming Renee Young, the suitably energetic Booker T, resident dirty old man/fellow Hall Of Famer Jerry Lawler and Corey Graves. In an effort to appear as intellectual as his fellow panel members, Graves has worn a pair of glasses tonight. Unfortunately, they don’t fit his face, resulting in him looking even dumber with usual – and, for a man with a skull, wearing a top hat, permanently inked on his neck, that’s no mean feat. Paul Heyman makes a fleeting, albeit memorable, appearance to remind us once again that he is the best in the world. AJ Styles features on that pinnacle of hard-hitting journalism, the social media lounge, to answer a total of two questions. And Kalisto retains the US title in a too-short, two-out-of-three falls match opposite Alberto Del Rio who, thankfully, is more conscious tonight than he has been these past few weeks.
The Divas kick off the show proper, with the first of two matches on the card tonight; a tag pitching Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch against Naomi and Tamina Snuka. Rumours abound that this feud is setting up a triple threat for the title for Wrestlemania, and considering how quickly the Team BAD members are dispensed with tonight, by reluctant partners Sasha and Becky, that would seem to be the case. Divas tags are never going to be the mark of #WomensWrestling, but considering the wealth of talent involved here, it’d be kind of difficult not to take something positive out of this match. Becky takes some serious bumps, the hot tag to Sasha is telegraphed well throughout, and the ending, which sees the two ladies pull the Bank Statement and the Disarmer simultaneously, with Tamina tapping out of the former, is clever and fun.
Speaking of showing them how it’s done (well, kind of), Kevin Owens defends his newly-recaptured IC title next against the undeserving Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler’s downward trajectory in the minds and hearts of fans has think-piece written all over it; how he went from underdog darling, to smug, hated jobber is sort of amazing when you think about it. Of course, it’s also very, very sad, particularly when he’s put in a match opposite the unstoppable Owens. I mean, this is a guy who’s so hungry for it, he sells from the moment he hits the goddamn ramp. Taunting Ziggler mid-match by telling him “Your home-town likes me more than you”, it’s impossible not to get behind Owens. And, when he wins with a Pop Up Powerbomb before hopping out of the ring to continue rubbing it in with ringside fans – carrying the belt in his mouth and grabbing a pro-Ziggler sign and tossing it – let’s face it, we all collectively fall a little bit more in love with him.
Following that impressive display of athletic ability, we have a nonsensical 6-man tag featuring, among others, Ryback, who it’s safe to say is continuing his reign of terror unabashed because he clearly injures Luke Harper midway through. Harper, Rowan and Wyatt himself are so terribly underrated that it hurts to see them jobbing like this, particularly when the end result seems to be to put that creepy giant baby looking thing, Braun Strowman, over. Suffice to say, this match lasts much too long (the Divas tag got about ten minutes less), Ryback doesn’t wear nearly enough clothing and The Wyatt Family eat the loss for no apparent reason. But never fear, because if you thought that was offensive, here’s Brie Bella in a pre-match promo to remind you that her husband is Daniel Bryan and her sister is Nikki Bella and, as a result, she is talented by proxy and seemingly deserves a title shot as a result.
Twitter was loaded with marks bemoaning those who called this match exactly what it was: a pile of shit. The women’s roster is the strongest it’s been in years and there are several chicks who deserve this title shot more than Brie. It’s not about hating female wrestlers, or being “spoiled” by NXT, as some poor, naive little kids are suggesting, it’s about demanding quality and identifying when the matches just aren’t cutting it. Charlotte carried Brie through this, and if she weren’t selling so damn hard, none of her opponent’s so-called moves would stand a chance of hitting – this is a woman who can’t even sell kicks, for fuck’s sake. Speaking of which, Brie supposedly injured her leg midway through and then used that same leg to kick Charlotte moments later. The tag may have been too short, but it wasn’t incoherent or unnecessary, it had a clear narrative structure and showcased the girls’ ability.
There was a moment during this match when I really thought Brie might win it, and I have no problem saying that, if she did, it would’ve been purely thanks to the association with her sister and brother. Thankfully, Charlotte nailed her with the Figure-8 – which Brie no-sold, of course – to retain her title, and all was right with the world once more. If you honestly believe that this is the best the WWE can do for women’s wrestling, then god speed, but we should be demanding more than this. Female wrestlers fight harder to stay relevant, and we should be rewarding them with matches and feuds and story-lines that complement their ability and that fighting spirit. A triple threat for the title at Wrestlemania should be a guarantee given how well Becky, Sasha and Charlotte did tonight. If it’s not, we should be asking ourselves why.
A late addition to a strangely light card saw new recruit AJ Styles take on the perennially likeable Chris Jericho, who could put a fucking dishcloth over, let’s be honest. Pre-match, he cuts a promo with Jojo, where he suggests that Styles will have to really prove himself in the ring. Once they get down to it, it’s immediately clear he means that quite literally, as the two work to tear each other to pieces in what is easily the best match of the night – and it’s not even for anything. Both look super-strong and very capable throughout, Jericho putting Styles over without jobbing to him, hitting a gnarly lion-tamer at one point that almost breaks the newbie’s back. His trash talk is as cringey as his super-heel, shirtless ensembles, as he tells Styles “You’re a stupid man!” and suffers a Styles Clash as a result.
The end comes when Jericho taps out of a Calf Crusher, in a display of ingenious selling that could easily be used to teach coasting lazy-pants Reigns a thing or two about how to simultaneously put oneself and one’s opponent over, while still looking strong as hell. Not only does Jericho look fit to cry in pain, he also looks like it’d kill him to give in – and rightly so. Following the match, Owens was teasing a feud with Styles on Twitter, for the IC title, so hopefully this is the beginning of something really great for both of them. The reliably brilliant New Day are the guests on Edge and Christian’s Cutting Edge Peep Show tonight, proving once again why they’re the best part of the WWE right now bar none. The elderlies are well up for it, too, giving as good as they get, even though they’re not nearly as funny as they like to think they are.
Things start to go south when The League Of Nations show up to interrupt the proceedings, but thankfully a ramp-centric booty shaking from The New Day (during which Edge hilariously makes it rain all over them) ends the segment on a fun note, before we are inexplicably drawn into a RAW reject match starring R-Truth and Curtis Axel. Someone on the writing team clearly thinks the Truth/Goldust angle is high-larious so he shows up too, ultimately costing his intended tag partner the match. It’s unclear why this shit-show was jammed in at the last minute, particularly as it took time away from the women and The New Day, but suffice to say its inclusion doesn’t bode well for the Main Event, the expected ending to which the fans are already booing even before Reigns has made an appearance.
And now, to that Main Event, for which nobody, it seemed, was particularly excited. I’ll say this much; Ambrose and Lesnar were the stand-out competitors from the outset and they did themselves incredibly proud tonight even if it was clear neither of them had any real chance of advancing to face Trips at Wrestlemania. What was perhaps most disappointing about this match wasn’t the fact that Reigns won, because everyone expected that, but rather how he won. The match itself was fine – at least, the moments where Lesnar and Ambrose were the focus, anyway. Brutal, sweaty and rough, Lesnar Suplexed the hell out of anyone who crossed his path while Ambrose fought like the mad dog he is for a shot at the biggest stage on earth, a shot he had proven he rightly deserved. He and Reigns teamed up against The Beast a couple of times, ending up eating a double Suplex as a result, but the Superman mostly stayed out of it.
This was especially irritating considering how little he participated in the general building of this feud. Even in the pre-match promo, it was mostly Ambrose’s sound-bites that were used (he’s been killing it on the mic lately), along with the requisite sermons from Heyman. And yet, we were supposed to buy that Reigns, who no-sells everyone else’s moves as well as his own, was the most deserving of the three participants. In the end, after Ambrose beats both he and Lesnar with a chair, it’s the humble Spear that seals the deal for Reigns, to little fanfare, and massive boos from the assembled crowd. Immediately following his win, Trips strolls out, singing along to his own theme tune as if to quietly acknowledge how ridiculous this whole thing is at this stage. It’s been an entire year since Reigns last “earned” a Wrestlemania shot, and he hasn’t gone up in our estimation whatsoever. If anything, he seems even less deserving now than he did at Fastlane 2015.