The only thing more scripted than professional-wrestling promos are Oscar acceptance speeches, but at least WWE competitors eventually stop talking and fight. And throw down they did last night. Sure, some outcomes were odd, occasional spots got botched, only one title changed hands (all hail Kidd and Cesaro!) and the Memphis crowd was irksomely dispassionate, but all in all it was a tidier and more satisfying affair than its rival awards broadcast.
So, before Kevin Dunn abbreviates my spiel with an encroaching swell of orchestral strings, here are five key things I took away (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar scuttlebutt) from the inaugural installment of Fastlane.
5. Crowd Controlled
Seriously, what was up with the nearly 14,000 in attendance at Memphis' FedExForum? I'm the last man who wants perfunctory, "This is awesome" chants or another Philly Phuck You, but it seemed as if the Fastlane ticket holders came in protest, or at the very least begrudged. No one stood a chance.
Stardust and Goldust were telling a terrific story in the ring, a logical extension of their soap opera complete with the kind of mat wrestling fans from that region used to crowd auditoriums for. Yet, they were booed and belittled. Nikki and Paige failed to put on a match befitting of their gritty feud, but the sound of folded arms couldn't have helped it transcend. Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns exceeded anyone's expectations, except for those in Memphis, who sounded more preoccupied with over-scrutinizing Roman like Fastlane were a scouting combine. Even Sting was hard-pressed to inspire awe. Obviously, WWE has some work to do to win back trust among its hardcore fans. That said, why pay a princely sum and be there live just to play the walking dead?
4. The Kidd Stays in the Picture
Love that Tyson. Love what an arrogant prick he is. Love his Johnny Lawrence 2.0 accessorizing. Really enjoy how well Cesaro's power compliments his agility. And am all in favor of he and his tag team partner's clean win for the titles over Jimmy and Jey Uso. Even last night's icy onlookers could be heard rallying behind the Hart Dungeon alum's arsenal of offense, which ranges from aerial quickness to grounding fundamentals. It's hard to see how Kidd, and he and Cesaro as a unit, don't continue to get over. And since the Ascension seemed determined for their shot down the line, maybe it's a chance to position themselves as relative veterans and fan favorites with attitude. But in the short-term, Kidd has emerged as a key to the midcard revival.
3. Pick a Finisher and Stick With It
Who among us thought Wade Barrett would pin Dean Ambrose with Wasteland to retain his Intercontinental title? Then again, who imagined Barrett would retain via Ambrose getting disqualified? Point being, Wade is one of several WWE superstars with several supposed finishers, even though only one true signature KO move determines 95 percent of their pinfall or submission victories.
Barrett, of course, has also incorporated Winds of Change and the Bull Hammer Elbow into his repertoire over the years, though currently, the latter is his only reliable kiss of death. Then there's Sheamus, who boasts the Brogue Kick, Cloverleaf (which, admittedly, is often as effective as his boot to the face) and White Noise. And let's not overlook Dolph Ziggler, king of the two-counts via his take on the Fameasser and occasional practitioner of the vintage sleeper hold. You get the idea. And a lot of his has to do with how a character evolves over time, but maybe secondary finishers should be donated or shed as a wrestler outgrows them. In Barrett's case, wouldn't it be a magnanimous gesture if he let the Ascension inherit Wasteland, given their tendency for welcoming opponents there? Besides, a singular finisher feels so much more important. How badass would Sister Abigail be if it were always being pre-empted by Brother Bastion? To that end, Bray Wyatt's WrestleMania opponent, the Undertaker, could arguably be the only exception. If the man himself can't be buried and won't retire, no sense in mandating his Tombstone take a Last Ride through Hell's Gate.
2. Speaking of Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt...
This is a tough one. It's easy to see why Sting vs. 'Taker got scrapped in deference to the so-called vigilante's tussle with Triple H. While both the Game and Undertaker embody WWE better than any active performer, 'Taker doesn't represent any company so much as he stands alone. So post-Streak, a couple questions loom over 'Taker vs. Bray (which, after Wyatt psyched folks out with druids, gongs and caskets, is now confirmed): For one, what's 'Taker's side of this story? And secondly, does Bray get shine win or lose, or is it 'Taker's time to help turn another mortal into a monster? There's some great groundwork laid here, with the idea of Wyatt declaring his former idol toothless and decayed. And if 'Taker has anything left to prove, it's that he's not the graying, frail man whose withering figure has haunted Web forums for the past 10 months. Far as Wyatt's actual Fastlane stunt, it wasn't hard to predict that Bray would be the one popping up from that casket. But he's got something to prove too, that without a family of followers to give him strength, he can – as the Undertaker has all these years – survive as a cult of one.
1. Fine, Roman, You Win
Let's be honest: Daniel Bryan essentially put Roman Reigns over. The former Shield muscle played the role of wounded soldier as Bryan ruthlessly kicked, slapped and taunted his opponent while he stumbled with internal aches. Michael Cole and JBL tripped over themselves in awe at Reigns' courage in combatting an apparent bruised liver they were able to spot-diagnose. No one really, truly thought DB would get the 1-2-3 and headline a second straight WrestleMania (which perhaps explains the crowd's curbed enthusiasm), and we all realized Reigns would counter that second running knee with a decisive spear. Still, Roman got his ass handed to him, clawed out of "Yes!" Locks, kicked out of an initial flying patella and did everything asked of him in the moment – and the bigger picture of his road to Brock Lesnar. Now he can rest his shoulders and know it's up to he, Brock, Paul Heyman and the WWE's best minds to share the load and stir interest in that World Heavyweight Championship showdown. But it's also time to take Roman off trial, embrace acceptance and be optimistic that this all works out in his, Bryan's and our best interests between now and April – if you choose to believe that.
Below the Belt:
- Yes, it's silly to watch HHH writhe around from a belly poke and get Scorpion dropped, but this is good fun, and I'm in.
- Yes, John Cena fought Rusev. And like anyone watching the Oscars, Cena fell asleep.
- Yeah, I'll go with Cena was guiding Rusev through that bridge, not talking to himself, but nice try, JBL.
- Joey Mercury's shirts need better buttons.
- And no, that opening six-man tag served zero purpose other than kicking off the interminably delayed Rollins/Orton rivalry.
- Smart move to keep Orton's hands off Rollins for now.
- Is that Fastlane logo supposed to look so much like this one?
- Move of the Night: I'll go with Jimmy Uso's Samoan drop of Kidd off the apron and into the barricade.
- Sign of the Night: Tie: "TV Side" and "Punch That Hippy" (with a heart to boot).
- Line of the Night: Triple H to Sting: "At the end of the day, failure is what you do." Ouch.