Monday, 12 March 2018

WWE Fastlane 2018 Review

Fastlane 2018 was the final WWE PPV before WrestleMania XXXIV, coming four weeks before the Showcase of the Immortals, as the SmackDown brand hosted their final solo PPV before dual events return. The show was main evented by AJ Styles defending his WWE Championship in a six-pack challenge involving John Cena, Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, as The Phenomenal One looked to head into WrestleMania as WWE Champion. But how did it all go down in Colombus? Lets take a look! 

Commentary - Tom Phillips, Corey Graves & Byron Saxton
Kick-Off Panel - Renee Young, Booker T, Sam Roberts & David Otunga
Ring Announcer - Greg Hamilton
Interviewer - Charly Caruso

WWE Championship // 
John Cena vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. "The Phenomenal" AJ Styles (C)

Before the match - Dolph Ziggler answered questions from social media, saying he didn't regret dropping the WWE United States title, put himself over for not getting injured and then Sam Roberts asked him if it would be his last chance at the WWF Championship. Fuck - Sami Zayn tried to convince Kevin Owens that they were still pals, but KO walked out on him - Shinsuke Nakamura wished AJ Styles good luck ahead of the six pack challenge.

AJ Styles retained the WWE Championship, pinning Kevin Owens with a Phenomenal Forearm, in a thrill-ride of a scramble main event. The bout took in a number of different storylines, drifting from one section to the next smoothly, keeping a ridiculous pace with a feeling that there was something going on from the very beginning. John Cena's attempt to find a Road to WrestleMania, tension building between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens and an escalation of their issues with Shane McMahon once more, as well as AJ Styles' doing anything he could to hold onto his title, reprising the sweeper role he played on Tuesday night, whilst Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler made up the numbers (with both men doing great jobs in this role, featuring in some lovely sequences throughout the match) there was a lot of narrative to play with. All the stories could have ended up dragging the match down, but they ended up blending together well, highlighted by a sequence involving Styles, Cena, Owens and Zayn on the outside that saw Styles initially try to put Owens through the announce table, only to eventually end up taking a massive Attitude Adjustment from Cena, after a number of twists and turns thanks to Styles looking to take out as many people as possible. 

The strongest story of the bout was Zayn/Owens/McMahon stuff, with the trio involved in a rich interplay that left a number of questions open for Tuesday's SmackDown with just four episodes before WrestleMania. A sequence where Zayn offered to lay down for Owens as promised two weeks' earlier, with Owens grabbing his friend to attempt a Pop-Up Powerbomb, only to get caught with small package for a near fall was handled beautifully by both men, with Zayn particularly owning the moment as he took his time to lie down, seemingly hoping that someone would recover in time to make the save. McMahon's involvement was teased throughout the match, through a number of funky over-the-shoulder camera angles as he sat ringside, but it wasn't until Zayn got in the Commissioner's face and a stray Owens superkick connected with that face that things got truly interesting. Two very good near falls followed with Owens coming close with Pop-up Powerbomb on Ziggler and Zayn with a Helluva Kick on Owens, but on both occasions McMahon pulled the ref and Zayn respectively out of the ring. He looked a bit of a dick and there's arguments to be made for the character abusing his power, but after a kick to the face he also has clear motive. The near falls also keep Owens & Zayn looking strong heading into WrestleMania, whilst barely denting Styles' reputation as he was down after the Attitude Adjustment through the table. I'm not sure where this goes, but I'm at least interested to see what they do on Tuesday! 

The finish had a real kinetic feel to it (as did the majority of the match, tbh) as Corbin cleaned house with the steel steps, before taking an Attitude Adjustment on the metal for a near fall with Ziggler taking the save, leading into Cena no-selling a superkick, hitting an Attitude Adjustment then rolling through for another, only for Owens to re-enter and nail a Pop-Up Powerbomb, leaving himself open for a Phenomenal Forearm for the finish. Whilst the match didn't fall into the same tropes (tower of power etc.) as usual multi-mans, it was nice to see as many guys as possible crammed into the final sequence, with a feeling that by the end of the match everyone's stock had risen for taking part in it and their paths to WrestleMania had been enriched for their involvement. Even guys like Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin came out better off, because their performances were polished and they featured in a handful of the matches best sequences (Ziggler's Fameasser reversal out of an Attitude Adjustment was gorgeous), whilst Zayn & Owens looked to have the match won and furthered their issues, Cena looked devasted at the loss after the match and AJ Styles looked every inch of the brilliant World Champion that he is ahead of his big clash with Shinsuke Nakamura in four weeks time. All over this match was real good fun to watch and did a lot for everyone involved, thumbs up.

After the match - Shane McMahon turned up on Talking Smack, putting in a good performance, whilst actually not saying a whole lot at all. The character was non-commital over whether he felt bad about his action and also repeated some stuff about how he feels Daniel Bryan is trying to live vicariously through Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn.

WWE United States Championship // 
"The Viper" Randy Orton vs. "The Glorious" Bobby Roode (C)

Before the match - Jinder Mahal joined the Kick-Off panel and stumbled through a promo, whilst getting loud "Jinder sucks" chants. 

Randy Orton won the United States Championship for the first time, catching Bobby Roode with an RKO as Roode dived off the middle rope, at the conclusion of a good, yet flabby, contest. I'd spoken in my preview that I was worried that this match could turn out being a little dull and large swathes of bout confirmed my worries. Both men being babyfaces, but not really wrestling like babyfaces hurt the match, as the crowd was unsure who they wanted to cheer for and the action went through the motions for, at least, half of it's run length. Without an aggressor or the classic pacy face vs. face style, I found myself zoning out of portions of this and it seemed the crowd did too as they began a small chant for Bryon Saxton at one point. Both Orton and Roode are great professional wrestler, but can often can be overly clinical, meaning that whilst their moves are performed near perfectly, the X Factor that makes a great match is missing. Without a different type of performer to bounce off, the match ended up feeling a little cold and detached. 

Now, after reading the previous paragraph, you're probably asking the question "James, why did you call it a "good match"?" Well, constant reader, that's because the match had a nice story that built up well throughout and brilliant finish that I wasn't expecting. The main thrust of the narrative was based around the similarities of the performers, with both attempted their respective finishers three or four times only to have it quickly reversed, whilst we also see Orton have a number of signatures blocked before being able to hit the move a few moments later, hinting that the Viper might've had the upperhand over the Glorious One. It was subtle little hint at what was to come and a nice take on a familiar trope. There was also a handful of nice sequences, usually focused around the Glorious DDT and RKO, where the pace quickened before one of the lads would hit a signature or get a roll-up near fall. The finish with Roode getting caught with an RKO got a strong reaction from Columbus, because it felt like the match had another five or so minutes left due to the previous pacing. I hadn't expected Roode to lose the title so early, but it was a cool moment to see Orton win the only title missing from his collection, which creates a talking point that WWE can push to media outlets.  

After the match - Jinder Mahal attempted to attack Randy Orton, but Bobby Roode made the save, only to nail Orton with a Glorious DDT moments later, seemingly setting up a triple threat at WrestleMania and laying the foundations for a heel turn - Randy Orton appeared on Talking Smack, saying he'd have done the same as Jinder Mahal and Bobby Roode if he'd had the chance and putting himself over as the newest member of the Grand Slam club. Orton was also asked about John Cena's Road to WrestleMania, which was an interesting moment, with Orton putting over Cena, but also commending Renee Young for the interview on RAW Talk last month where Cena cried after losing the Elimination Chamber.

WWE SmackDown Women's Championship // 
Ruby Riott vs. Charlotte Flair (C)

In what was Charlotte Flair's best match since moving to SmackDown, the Queen retained her SmackDown Women's Championship over Ruby Riott, using the Figure Eight to get the submission victory. The match was packed with big spots, dramatic moments and featured a base of good solid wrestling, with the pair putting on one of the most technically sound WWE women's bouts for quite a while. Whilst the pacing was a little off kilter due to a Riott Kick near fall coming a bit too early to be convincing, the rest of the match was well put together as we saw Riott's Riott Squad stablemates Sarah Logan & Liv Morgan appear and get countered by Naomi & Becky Lynch, leading to a clever distraction spot, that would eventually see both pairings ejected from ringside by referee Mike Chioda. Spots wise there was a number of impressive bumps, including the two spilling through the middle rope early on, Flair bumping from the top rope into the barricade and an exploder suplex into the barricade all looked very good, adding an intensity and feeling of importance that the match didn't have in the build up. The highlight for me was Flair pulling out a spot that Drew McIntyre was using a lot on the indies, as Flair blocked a reverse rana attempt and hit an inverted alabama slam into the top turnbuckle, which would eventually lead to her hitting a spear and locking on the Figure Eight for the win. The two (alongside Logan, Morgan, Lynch and Naomi) did a stellar job of making this match feel like something valuable, rising above the lazy booking of the feud and creating a match that remained exciting for the duration and almost certainly raised the stock of Riott, even in defeat. 

After the match - Asuka arrived for a staredown with Flair before pointing at the WrestleMania sign, confirming Asuka vs. Flair for the Show of Shows. #EmpressVsQueen - Charlotte Flair was interviewed on Talking Smack, putting over Ruby Riott for her performance and putting over Asuka for her dominance whilst pushing their WrestleMania match. Flair also had to work hard to make a number of shitty questions from Sam Roberts sound good.

WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship // 
Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods (with Big E) vs. Jimmy Uso & Jey Uso (C)

Before the match - The New Day cut an entertaining promo on The Usos, managing to shift quickly from pancakes to serious chatter about winning tag titles and proving they're the best tag team, as they continued to show a much rougher side than we've seen in the last six months.

A tremendously fun SmackDown Tag Team title match was unfortunately cut short, with the Bludgeon Brothers hitting the ring and leaving the match as no-contest between The New Day and The Usos. Prior to that, the match had been an entertaining affair, that saw both teams essentially swap roles and pull out a number of the opposite teams signature moves (I can only imagine the groups had just watched ATTACK! latest Press Start show). It was a simple idea, based of the two teams familiarity with each other, but one that was extremely effective, with all four lads bringing lots of energy and despite what could've been a fairly lightweight structure, they also brought barrel loads of intensity from the very beginning as Xavier Woods and Jimmy Uso traded strikes. Particular highlights included a Boom Drop from Jimmy Uso, Kofi Kingston and Jimmy both missing Trouble in Paradise before The Usos hits Midnight Hour and The New Day getting a near fall after multiple superkicks from Woods and a splash from Kingston. It's a shame that we didn't get to see the idea reach its conclusion, but what followed was fun in a different way. 

After the match, Harper & Rowan cleaned house with all five wrestlers involved in the match, in a well-orchestrated beatdown. Whether the pairs new gimmick has fully clicked is up for debate, but they both looked great when bodying the Usos and The New Day here, with a number of big spots to emphasise the destruction. Harper nailing a blackhole slam on Kingston on the floor and Rowan catching Big E with a charging crossbody were memorable, but the highlight was a bodyslam spot involving the Usos. Both twins took slams on the floor, before Harper slapped Rowan and demanded he be slammed onto the Usos, with Rowan hitting an aided splash for the exclamation point. I've similar spots on the indies, but it was nonetheless cool to see these two big lads pull it out in a moment that put over their style and relationship well. Woods also took a powerbomb onto the steel steps and sold the move like it was the end of his life, twitching on the steps as he was loaded onto a stretcher. The team seems to be following a similar path to how WWE built up Braun Strowman over on RAW, which could eventually turn them babyface, because watching them smash through blokes is more fun than it should be. This would seem to set-up a triple threat at WrestleMania, but we'll have to wait and see.

After the match - Xavier Woods left on a stretcher, whilst the rest of the teams had to be helped out by WWE staff.

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev (with Aiden English)

Before the match - Aiden English performed a special Rusev Day rap/song, ripping on Nakamura and the crowd with a delightful ditty. 

Shinsuke Nakamura picked up momentum ahead of his WWE Championship match at WrestleMania in a very good match with Rusev, with a pair of Kinshasas getting the pinfall for the Artist. There were times where I was worried that the match was a little slow, with plenty of stalling from Rusev as an attempt to seemingly slow down the Bulgarian's roaring popularity, but the final five minutes or so here featured some great action. In arguably Rusev's best match to date, the former WWE United States Champion stepped up to the challenge of putting over a WrestleMania title challenger, looking smooth on the offence, selling well for Nakker's strikes and even more so for a mid-match heel hook. Beyond his novelty "Rusev Day" popularity, this performance should be enough to earn Rusev a more sustained push coming out of the Granddaddy of Them All. The best action came off the back of a good strikes sequence, which leads into some wonderful action as both men got near falls of roll-ups and Rusev attempted to apply the Accolade to a nice pop. Despite the match feeling like a forgone conclusion throughout, the two lads worked a strong false finish into the mix as Nakamura ran straight into a Machka Kick, with the kick-out being left just long enough to allow the audience to suspend disbelief and imagine that Rusev could've pulled off the upset. Hopefully, this match was promising precursor for WrestleMania and we'll Nakamura kill it on the Grandest Stage.

Naomi & Becky Lynch vs. "Ms. Money in the Bank" Carmella & Natalya

Carmella pinned Becky Lynch with a superkick to pick up a big win for her and Natalya in mixed-bag of a tag team match. The bout featured a number of nice ideas, whilst sticking a simplistic tag team formula, but often those ideas would result in sloppy wrestling. The biggest culprit of this was surprisingly Natalya, who made a number of slip ups with Naomi in their pacy sequence early on, before later seemingly forgetting that she was supposed to be sent to the floor by Becky Lynch with the moment taking a unnecessary amount of time as Natalya fumbled around. The Queen of Harts did however hit a nice sitout powerbomb that folded Naomi end over end. Carmella continued to impress me with her fundamental heel work and sound moveset, as she used Naomi's braid to control the match, with a couple of nice spots involving that, whilst also pulling out the handstand frankensteiner and a Candylicious, whilst Becky Lynch also looked solid when coming in for the hot tag. The finish was a little scrappy after Natalya dicked around with the briefcase on the apron, but it was good to see Mella get the win and see WWE actually build some momentum behind the Money in the Bank winner.

Tyler Breeze, Fandango & Tye Dillinger vs. Shelton Benjamin, Chad Gable & Mojo Rawley 

Before the match - In a clip from the Fashion Files, Mojo Rawley, Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable challenged Tyler Breeze, Fandango & Tye Dillinger to a match.

Tye Dillinger picked up the win for his team with bringing back the Perfect 10 to pin Mojo Rawley in a weak six man tag team match. The match actually started alright, with some comedy from Breezango, whilst the crowd was hot for their first match of the evening, getting loudly behind Dillinger, whilst also pulling out a loud "You can't wrestle" chant for Breezango. The pop for the hot tag from Tyler Breeze to Dillinger got a big pop, but unfortunately everything after the tag had been cut off was poorly put together. There was a lot of energy and movement, but most of that movement was sloppy, including a poor looking O'Connor roll from Gable, as all six men looked like they were rushing to get their shit in, resulting in a number of strikes that looked way off the mark. I'm surprised to see Rawley take the pin to Dillinger, as it had seemed like WWE had something planned for Mojo after his break-up with Zack Ryder a few months ago, but that's clearly not the case anymore. 

Also on the show

- For some reason we got a look at the feud between Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey and Triple H & Stephanie McMahon, despite that having absolutely nothing to do with this PPV. 

- The New Day auditioned to be the host of next year's Nickolodean Kids Choice Awards, only to end up getting gunged by this year's host, John Cena.

- We also got a look at the story between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar, despite that match having nothing to do with what was on this show. 

ATPW Scale Rating // 6.32 out of 10

Written by James Marston // @IAmNotAlanDale

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