Previously at “The Royal Rumble“…Roman Reigns not only went under with the crowds once more, but he lost the Royal Rumble match to Triple H, being eliminated even before Ambrose. Kalisto dethroned Alberto del Rio once more for the United States Championship, while Ambrose, Charlotte and the New Day retained their belts in what was an overall entertaining event.
Note: I was unable to watch the episode of RAW following the PPV due to time constraints. Furthermore, I’ve chosen to shorten my writings a bit, as discussing every match, promo and segment takes forever.
RAW (2/1/2016)– This was an acceptable, but unexceptional episode of RAW. There were a few points of interest, predominantly Brock Lesnar’s interactions with Dean Ambrose. Lesnar conquering Ambrose at the end only reinforces my belief that Ambrose is not ‘World Heavyweight Championship’ material though in terms of booking. Roman Reigns almost seems like an afterthought in this storyline, which is not a good sign. On the midcard, Big Show had yet ANOTHER face turn (apparently), but I will concede that this was a pretty intense segment…once again ruined by Braun Strowman’s inability to kick or punch. I did like the Wyatt Family picking him up and slamming him against the steps though. AJ Styles kicking the crap out of the Miz was arguably the best segment of the show thanks to the Miz being a master of crowd manipulation and Styles looking convincingly aggressive. The matches were all solid, although nothing really stood out as anything special. While my interest was engaged, I found myself questioning too many booking and storytelling decisions to call this a ‘good’ show. I mean…did Dolph Ziggler defeat Kevin Owens?
RAW (2/8/2016)– This was a good show, a major step up from the last week and while the matches themselves tended to be a little underwhelming, I appreciated the story developments, promos and comedy (it’s all about Mark Henry getting his sexual chocolate on with the New Day…that sounded much more innocent in my head). Things start off on shaky grounds, as we get a #1 contender contract signing (!!) , where Stephanie emasculates everyone (so tired of this shit), but I enjoy watching the Lesnar/Ambrose tensions grow. It ended up being a strong segment that would get better during a reprisal later on. Jericho’s ‘Highlight Reel’ goes up against Miz’s ‘Miz TV’ and Jericho is funny again! Both men have awesome chemistry, even though the point is to get AJ Styles over. Great segment, but I think the Miz gets beaten up too often. I’m beginning to forget why anyone would find him threatening. The Dudleyz turned heel, although I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen with the Tag Team Division. Will they settle things with the Usos? Have a three-way battle with the New Day? Dolph Ziggler continues his trend of being a horrible babyface who cheats to get over on Kevin Owens. Finally, Daniel Bryan has his retirement speech…Perfect…I nearly cried. Poignant, funny, inspiring and tragic, it was everything it should be.
RAW (2/15/2016)– This was a bizarre show that somehow entertained me despite shamefully boasting some of the most absurd booking I’ve seen in awhile. The Intercontinental Title has lost credibility once more, as we open with Ambrose being verbally emasculated by Stephanie before dropping the belt in a 5-way battle royale…Who won? Kevin Owens, but Owens seems to have lost quite a bit over the last month…and so has Ziggler, who is apparently the new #1 contender (didn’t he recently lose to Heath Slater???). Who else filled out the match? Tyler Breeze and Stardust- two men who may have not even won a match in 2016 for all I know. Why can’t they put a competitor like the Big Show, Neville or someone who has actually been booked to win matches in recent memory? But as much as I hated this…the match was pretty awesome, allowing everyone to stand out, deliver crazy spots and move at a fast pace. The overarching storyline of the show is everyone trying- and failing- to drive a wedge between Reigns and Ambrose. Not bad stuff, although this only puts Lesnar at a babyface disadvantage…Brie and Charlotte’s banter was surprisingly tolerable, but even though I know why she’s in the championship scene, she has lost too many matches to feel like a credible opponent. The Main Event was ‘Big Show Vs Braun Strowman‘ (strange booking indeed), which was too short to stand out, but the DQ finish lead to a brawl between the Wyatts and Kane, Show, Ryback. Admittedly, Kane’s entrance was pretty exciting and made the segment feel more epic than it was. Nevertheless, the matches were consistently good, even ‘Mark Henry Vs Big E‘, although Henry’s real injury ended it on a sour note. Good show.
Smackdown (2/18/2016): I really liked this episode of Smackdown, because the matches were consistently entertaining and the developments within the feuds made the show seem important, without being too convoluted (a problem with RAW). I did think the tensions breaking out between Ambrose and Reigns felt forced. With all the attempts to drive a wedge between the two, this is what causes them to implode? Nevertheless, I enjoyed every segment on some level…so good job!
- Kalisto Vs del Rio: Alberto del Rio, although this is a tough call. I figure Kalisto will return to the Tag Team divison.
- The Wyatt Family Vs Big Show, Ryback, Kane: The Wyatts
- Charlotte Vs Brie: Charlotte
- Kevin Owens Vs Dolph Ziggler: Owens, although it is possible they will throw the dog a bone.
- Jericho vs AJ Styles: Styles
- Brock Lesnar Vs Roman Reigns Vs Ambrose: Roman Reigns
(Kick-off Match) UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP: Kalisto vs Alberto del Rio– Hulu omitted the majority of this storyline (at least on RAW) since their last PPV bout, although from what I understand, it developed more into the Lucha Dragons fighting the League of Nations. This sounds good in theory, except it must’ve not been very compelling for Hulu to ignore it and other peoples writings seem to confirm that WWE wasn’t entirely sure what to do with this feud- so my emotional connection was running on fumes. Yet even before the match itself started, I was annoyed and confused as to why this was on the pre-show, considering that there were at least two non-Title fillery matches that would feel more comfortable acting as the kick-off bout. By the end of this PPV, this flaw would develop crabs and irritate the hell out of me. As for the match itself, it was thoroughly OK. Throughout most of the action, I was wondering whether Kalisto and del Rio were phoning it in, but then I remembered that del Rio was apparently suffering from some sort of injury and they were likely playing it safe. Nevertheless, the pacing wasn’t slow and there were still some cool spots and maneuvers. I actually liked the psychology involving the chair. I came to the conclusion that this was selected for the kick-off show in order to take some pressure off of del Rio, presuming he’s still hurt, but I think the decision back-fired in the long run. Solid match that while unexceptional, should’ve been on the official card.
Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch Vs Naomi and Tamina– And this is the first reason why putting a Championship match on the pre-show was a mistake, as the stakes were vague and the story made little sense. “The Royal Rumble” strongly implied that Sasha would enter the Title scene, but now she’s aligned with the girl whom she had previously attacked, while jobber Brie takes her spot as the #1 contender. The real problem though is that Naomi and Tamina haven’t been presented as credible opponents, for they lose the majority of their matches while both Becky and Sasha have been (mostly) protected. I feel like this should’ve just been ‘Sasha Vs Naomi‘, while Tamina’s presence would even up the odds. The tensions between Becky and Sasha felt forced and their decision to suddenly be friendly felt even more forced and none of it amounted to anything in this match. So the storyline sucked, but the action was fine. All of the women were trying hard and their intensity, matched with the reliable formula for heel psychology, made it watchable. For me though, there just wasn’t enough drama. This would’ve made a better candidate for the kick-off match.
INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Kevin Owens vs Dolph Ziggler- The Intercontinental Championship has lost credibility for a reason I never would’ve seen coming. Before, I thought the issue was that the belt exchanged hands too often, but now I feel like the contenders suck. Ambrose lost and while this was done to add more unpredictability to his WWE Championship match, it still means that he lost his Title…to the guy he has defeated like a million times now…who had recently lost to Dolph Ziggler, who had recently lost to HEATH F@CKING SLATER…This is supposed to build Ambrose up? Tyler Breeze and Stardust- two men who haven’t won a major match in 2016 so far- were also chosen as candidates for the 5-way bout that ended with Kevin Owens becoming champ. Winners like Neville, Bray Wyatt or even more credible talent enhancement like Kane or Big Show should be in those spots. Hell, why can’t Damian Sandow get something to do? Even Jack Swagger has won more matches than Stardust this year! So this Championship match is between a guy who hasn’t been booked to be a strong champion and a guy who hasn’t been booked to be a strong contender. This storyline sucks pretty badly….
But at least the match itself was good, although Owens and Ziggler are exceptional workers who also have exceptional chemistry together, so there would be a serious problem if it was anything less than good. I still take issue with Ziggler’s psychology and his kayfabe tactics are so predictable to the point of being laughable. Does he really think the Famouser will ever score the victory? How many super kicks need to fail before you move onto something else? At least Ziggler seems to be having fun once again, as it feels like he’s been phoning it in for the past few months. For every issue I have with the guy as a performer, I will always emphasize how he is an incrediblle worker who usually delivers the fastest paced matches on the roster. Kevin Owens is also a hard worker and I love his strange obsession with Michael Cole during his matches. While this bout didn’t really offer anything that we haven’t seen in their previous clashes, it was still exciting and intense, with both men bringing out the best of each-other.
The Wyatt Family Vs Big Show, Ryback and Kane– I guess I don’t mind this storyline, even though it seems cobbled together from previous storylines involving the Wyatts…I figured that this exists in order to re-establish the Wyatt Family as a dominant force, as united they conquer three of WWE’s largest- Oh my God, they lost. WHAT. THE. F@CK. Every time I say to myself: “I cannot take the Wyatt Family seriously anymore“, I’m continuously surprised when they bury themselves even deeper. This was a horrendous and idiotic booking decision that arguably did more damage to the Wyatts than their 5-minute loss to ‘Undertake/Kane’ at “Survivor Series“. For what it’s worth, I didn’t think the match itself was a disaster, although the crowd seemed bored (but polite). The Big Show wasn’t in the match very much, even though his rivalry with Braun Strowman seems to be the focal point of the entire damn feud, but him power lifting Harper and tossing him out of the ring was impressive. Ryback also had time to shine, moving so quickly that at one point a commentator observed he was “like a cruiser wreight” (LOL)“. Unfortunately, Ryback ruined his own momentum by botching the finish, which looked like it legitimately hurt Harper. Braun Strowman looked surprisingly passable though, showing more aggression while not screwing anything up. Baby steps. Yet the pacing was predictably slow and the story told us nothing. Braun was out-powered by the Big Show and even united, the Wyatts were unable to overcome people who most relevant people seem able to overcome. More mediocre than bad, but is another match that could’ve been on the kick-off show.
DIVA CHAMPIONSHIP: Charlotte Vs Brie Bella– Of all the flimsy storylines on this card, the battle for the Diva Championship is once again the worst. “The Royal Rumble” strongly implied that Sasha Banks would be the #1 contender, or at the absolute least she would share the spot with Becky, but that would make sense and the Diva’s Division never makes any f@cking sense. Plans were changed when Daniel Bryan announced his retirement and the segment was used to close his chapter, while starting the next for his wife- Brie. Because she has the audiences sympathy, those behind the scenes figure that this is the perfect opportunity to utilize her. This is perfectly fine in theory, but Brie has spent the last few months jobbing, usually either to the Champion or the #1 Contender, so it was too soon to suddenly put her in the Title Scene. They should have built her up first, re-establishing her as a strong competitor, before putting her in this spot! With that said, I will give credit where credit is due…both women played their roles effectively within the development of this story. Brie came across as sympathetic, while Charlotte acted like a total bitch. Unfortunately, I found this match to be mediocre at best, embarrassing at worst. Brie’s attempts at using her husbands techniques usually ended in failure, forcing the ladies to improvise (with mixed results). Charlotte at times looked clumsy and Brie’s psychology was highly inconsistent. She shrugs off a neckbreaker, but seems to injure herself (in real life or kayfabe?) doing a drop kick, which she does sell. Their shenanigans got annoying really quickly, especially Charlotte’s mocking of the “YES!” chant. I’m aware that she is supposed to be aggravating, but all it did was make me eye the mute button. Brie’s mocking of Ric’s strut was pretty goofy looking too. The ending made no sense and Brie tapped out too quickly, which the commentators tried to explain, but I didn’t buy into it. As far as Brie matches go, this isn’t terrible, but it’s not what the Diva’s Division needs right now.
Chris Jericho Vs AJ Styles– This was easily the most compelling feud, although special mention goes to the Miz, who I felt kept it fresh and exciting. Neither men acted like noble babyfaces in the build up, but neither could be described as heels either. You just had two strong, roguish personalities with a grudge and the promos made it work. The match itself was the best of the night, going on for a right amount of time and having *gasp* actual…DRAMA!!! There reached a point where I wasn’t even sure who would win, as both men appeared to be on the verge of victory multiple times. Jericho at times look like he’s struggling to keep up with Styles, but as he was more strategic, I thought it worked within the storyline (Veteran Vs Rookie- even though Styles isn’t really a rookie). There were some unique spots that were exciting and dangerous. The pacing was swift, but not too fast, allowing the in-ring story to breath. My only complaint is AJ’s finisher has already been kicked out of…He has only been with the company for like a month and ‘Styles Clash’ is already being watered down…oi…Nevertheless, an excellent bout. Worth watching, even if you choose to skip the rest of the show.
The Peep Show: New Day– There were some amusing moments, mingled in with some really dumb moments and some potentially offensive moments- a racial joke is directed at the New Day, during Black History month (whoops). But this segment ended up being awful because I had no idea what to take away from it. The New Day verbally bury heel and babyface teams alike, which pisses off the League of Nations, who confront them. Sheamus has a genuinely funny line (deflecting the ‘You Look Stupid‘ Chants towards the New Day), but…Huh? Aren’t the New Day and Sheamus supposed to be on friendly terms? Is the New Day turning into heroes? They back off in a cowardly manner, while the League are acting like bullies- but at least they’re standing up for themselves. Edge and Christian ultimately goof off with the New Day, even though they were bickering earlier on….the f@ck is going on!? If the New Day are turning into babyfaces, is it a good idea to bring up that they previously flopped as babyfaces? So…f@cking…stupid…If this doesn’t lead anywhere, then the segment was pointless, but neither Team should renounce their wicked ways at this time. It went on for way too long as well, but shit would about to get worse…
Curtis Axel Vs R-Truth-………………….What…………………The……………….F@CK!!!!!!!!!!! My eyes went wide as soon as the Social Outcasts came out, as there was no warning on the card that this was going to happen, but it turned out a match was planned…*sigh*…If there was ever a burial of a championship, it was when it was defended on the kick-off show, while a match that deserves to be on “WWE Superstars” is on the official card. I don’t even dislike Truth or Axel, but this should’ve been on the damned kick-off show, dammit! When Goldust came out to support Truth, I figured that they would finally become a Tag Team, because they’ve been teasing the ‘Golden Truth’ for awhile…and then Goldust screwed things up like a complete idiot, cost Truth the match and it lead to…absolutely nothing… The ‘Golden Truth’ alliance did not form, making me wonder if this was planned for the following RAW, but one of the previous matches ended too quickly so they decided to fill out some time with this segment. It was filler. Bad filler.
#1 Contender Spot: Brock Lesnar Vs Roman Reigns Vs Ambrose– This whole story drew lukewarm reactions from me, as it kept wasting all of its potential for drama. The majority of the tensions were between Ambrose and Lesnar, with Ambrose trying to prove that he belongs in the Triple Threat match, contrary to everyone elses opinions. The Authority and Heyman attempted to cause a rift between Ambrose and Reigns, but they failed until Roman Reigns accidentally ran into Ambrose and that caused their relationship to implode. That seemed silly, petty and anti-climactic, but the arc of the story was Ambrose rising up against Lesnar, with Roman Reigns being treated as an afterthought. In my eyes, it should’ve been more about the mounting tension between Reigns and Ambrose, with Lesnar almost looming in the back-ground. The whole underdog story where he overcomes the odds against two Titans should’ve been toned down (unless the plan is for him to win)…Nevertheless, it’s nice seeing Lesnar interact with someone different and I’m glad there were no predictable heel turns…This match was technically ‘good’ in that it moved at a solid pace, highlighted everyones strengths as performers, presented Lesnar like the beast he is and gave us some cool spots. I liked how one powerbomb through a table wasn’t enough to put Lesnar down, forcing a reprisal. My issue with the main event was purely a storytelling one. Ambrose has clawed his way to get here and he’s out to prove himself, except this match ultimately showed that…he didn’t belong here…It seemed like he spent most of the time getting his ass kicked, relying on Roman Reigns to do any real damage, relying on a chair to do some damage and ultimately eat the pin. This was what WWE was building up to? Who did this benefit? Roman Reigns has already beaten Ambrose, whom according to “Fastlane“, does not belong here. He didn’t pin Lesnar and in fact, required Ambrose just to stand a chance. This was Ambrose’s story and it got hijacked by Reigns. I’m not saying that WWE was wrong in having Reigns come out on top, primarily because let’s face it…Ambrose’s story sort of hijacked the feud between Reigns and Triple H…But they built it up all wrong. It should’ve been Romans’ story from the beginning, emphasizing his tensions with Lesnar. Ambrose probably shouldn’t have even been here. I never thought I’d say this, but maybe Sheamus should’ve had his spot, as it would have lessened the inevitable back-lash against Reigns and would’ve given us a legit heel to boo. Plus, it would make sense for Triple H to want an Authority friendly figure as a potential opponent. So the match was fun, but the story it was telling was not.
Overall: The problem with the annual “Fastlane” PPV is that it’s ultimately pointless because it takes place between “Royal Rumble” and “Wrestlemania“, two of the most important and prestigious events of the year. If there’s going to be a major plot development, title change or cathartic resolution, they’re going to take place at one of those…At least when “Elimination Chamber” filled the February Slot, it was able to fall back on the Elimination Chamber gimmick. This is just a normal PPV, where we know that nothing important will occur. So despite already facing an uphill battle, the feuds were underdeveloped because they seemed thrown together at the last moment, treated like an afterthought because we’ve already seen the matches before or they needed to fill out the runningtime and lead to absolutely nothing. Even the primary story- the main f@cking event- seemed unfocused and underwhelming. This lead to me not being able to make an emotional connection at all, although sometimes I got angry, particularly when The United States Championship bout was deemed less important than Goldust courting R-Truth to become his Tag Team partner. Is it the booking disaster that was “Survivor Series (2015)“? No. It just played it too safe, as if the writers and booking team figured we wouldn’t care what happened on this PPV, so didn’t care themselves. At the absolute least, the match quality was fine and some of the matches were even exciting. But generally, I spent these 3 hours uninterested in what was going on.