Monday, March 22, 2021

WWE Fastlane 2021: Daniel Bryan's Going to WrestleMania

WWE Fastlane 2021 ended up a better show than it really had any right to be, thanks to three strong matches and a welcome change of direction in the main event.  With one screwy finish, suddenly I give a shit about this year's WrestleMania.  So I'm gonna go pretty easy on what was a mediocre PPV.

The show opened with the Women's Tag Title match, which sadly did not live up to the previous outing these two teams had.  The upshot, as expected, was that Sasha and Bianca had a falling out after once again not winning the straps.  The idea of a pair of future WrestleMania opponents teaming up beforehand to go after a secondary title is pretty goofy, but whatever.  Sasha had Shayna locked in the Bank Statement when Nia knocked Bianca on top of her, and the two got into an argument.  Sasha pushed Bianca but then got rolled up by Baszler for the pin.  Sasha then slapped Bianca to complete the dissolution of their friendship.  So now they'll be enemies going into Mania, which makes more sense.  Not much to this match though.  **

Next up was the Intercontinental Title, with Big E and Apollo Crews, which was way too short to amount to anything.  They had an ok showing with some big moves, that ended suddenly at the five-minute mark with a messy-as-fuck small package reversal so confusing there wasn't even an announcement about who won.  Crews rolled up Big E, Big E reversed but not really, and then Crews attacked him after the match.  Does that mean Crews is getting yet another title shot in three weeks, despite losing, what, three times now?  *1/2

The scheduled Braun Strowman-Shane McMahon match didn't happen, as Shane got pretend-injured while training and sent Elias in his place.  So we're still stuck with this stupid feud at Mania.  This match was a squash.  Braun beat the crap out of Elias and finished him with a powerslam.  *
The show finally picked up with a last-minute addition, Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura.  I'm a little sad this wasn't booked for Mania instead, but it looks like we're getting Rollins vs. Cesaro on that show, which should be pretty great.  Nakamura better be given something to do as well; it looks like he'll be challenging Matt Riddle for the US Title, based on the backstage segment prior to this?  Anyway, this match started pretty slow and basic but picked up a lot in the second half.  The bout wasn't as good as their Survivor Series 2018 match but both guys looked good.  The finish was full of counters, the most clever of which involved Rollins hooking his foot on Nak's leg and then kicking him in the back of the head.  This set up the curb stomp to give Rollins the win.  Damn good match.  ***3/4

Two hits in a row for this show, as the Drew McIntyre-Sheamus No Holds Barred match was next.  These two beat the crap out of each other, often with kendo sticks that left welts and scratches all over both guys.  There was a fun spot where they had brawled into the ThunderDome stands and Drew tossed Sheamus through a row of virtual fans and sparks flew everywhere.  They fought back to ringside and Sheamus hit White Noise through the announce table, then tried to hit a spinebuster on a piece of the table.  Drew countered with the Future Shock DDT on the table piece, then followed up with a Claymore Kick to win.  I'm not sure what Sheamus does at Mania, but this was very solid stuff.  ***3/4

The stupidest thing all night was of course the Randy Orton-Alexa Bliss nonsense.  Orton had another puking episode before Alexa came out.  Then he sorta skulked after her but she kept shooting fireballs at him and at one point Force-pulled a lighting rig down from the ceiling, that just missed him (this was sort of a fun moment).  Eventually The Fiend ripped a hole in the ring and rose up to confront Orton, and now he's all burnt up, looking like some kind of zombie.  Sweet Jesus this match is going to be terrible.  The Fiend should be retired as a character.  It was a cool idea in theory, but in practice, in a pro wrestling environment, it's too one-dimensional to be of any real use.  You're shoehorning a horror movie villain/anti-hero into what's supposed to be a legitimate combat sport.  It worked with The Undertaker and Mankind.  It doesn't work here.  Lose this character.  NR

The main event saw Daniel Bryan challenge Roman Reigns once again, with Edge as the outside referee.  This was fundamental but really well worked.  Bryan's goal was to make Roman tap, so he looked to use his superior grappling skills, while Roman tried to fend him off with power.  They worked an old-school style match that built in intensity.  Bryan eventually slapped on the Yes Lock after a series of arm trap stomps (nice transition), and Reigns fought the move, dragging himself to the ropes.  Bryan rolled backwards and reapplied the hold.  Reigns powered out and hit a series of ground forearms and a powerbomb.  Bryan blocked a spear attempt and went for the running knee but Reigns moved and Bryan hit the referee (in a telegraphed spot as the ref was awkwardly positioned directly behind Reigns).  Bryan got the Yes Lock again, and Edge ran in to potentially render a decision.  Jey Uso suddenly ran out and superkicked both Edge and Bryan.  Uso tried to whack Bryan with a chair but Bryan moved, grabbed the chair and hit Uso with it to send him packing.  Bryan then went to hit Roman with the chair but Roman moved again, leaving Bryan to hit Edge with it.  Reigns went for another spear but Bryan countered with another Yes Lock.  Roman tapped but there was no referee to see it, and suddenly an enraged Edge hit Bryan with the chair, then hit Roman, then Bryan again.  Edge stormed off, throwing a tantrum, as a third referee showed up.  Roman crawled on top of Bryan for the pin.  So the finish was a bit of an overbooked mess, but considering where they needed to go - Bryan being added to the Universal Title match at 'Mania - this was effective.  There needed to be a clusterfuck to justify this change in the story.  Now the heel champion will defend against a freshly heel-turned Edge and the underdog babyface.  Not unlike what happened seven years ago actually.  Old-time star returns for the Royal Rumble and wins it, the fans don't like him as the babyface challenger, so the company turns him bad and adds Daniel Bryan to the match.  I hope the result will be the same; that will give Bryan the babyface title run he should've had in 2014.  You'd think Vince would've learned by now to really think his plans through BEFORE committing to them.  Then he wouldn't need these radical left turns en route to 'Mania.  Anyway, this was a very good match.  ****

So yeah, Fastlane was a three-match show, but it didn't overstay its welcome, the three good matches were very good, and the show served a purpose in shaping WrestleMania.  I can live with that.

Best Match: Roman vs. Bryan
Worst Match: Orton vs. Bliss
What I'd Change: The main event finish could've been simpler, The Fiend needs to just go away at this point, the Intercontinental Title match should've been longer.
Most Disappointing Match: Big E vs. Apollo
Most Pleasant Surprise: That they added Rollins vs. Nakamura to the show
Overall Rating: 7.5/10

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