Once again, we’ve reached the wrestling industry’s equivalent of the holiday season. From the Royal Rumble in January through WrestleMania typically nestled somewhere in late March or early April; this when WWE will do it’s best to pull itself out of whatever creative rut they’ve resigned themselves over the last nine months, but also make boatloads of cash. WWE was so successful at this, that until the world changed forever thanks to the global pandemic, almost every other successful wrestling promotion in the world has tried to get a slice of that sweet, sweet Mania weekend moolah.
However, astute readers will be keen to notice, “But Andy, there’s like a whole month between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania—sometimes two!” Well, you’re darn right there is. February in particular, while having a few historical shows thrown into the mix, is the valley between Mt. Rumble and Mt. Mania.
Since St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1999, which is also the final classic installment of the In Your House series the company ran during the mid-to-late 90s, WWE had a run of ten straight No Way Out branded shows from 2000-2009. In 2010, the Elimination Chamber concept got the full Hell in a Cell treatment, and received its own branded pay-per-view show from 2010-2014. Elimination Chamber was another marquee match that would declare a new champion or challenger for the other world title match that the Royal Rumble winner was not pursuing. It makes sense if you try not to think about the idea of “two concurrent world champions in the same company.”
In a little behind the scenes access, while doing some legwork for the Break It Down podcast (available exclusively on the Fight Game Media Patreon network; subscribe today!) myself and my esteemed co-host Keila Cash went looking for an older show we could review in the month between our big Royal Rumble 2015 and WrestleMania 31 recaps. Our first thought was hey, there was a Fastlane show between those, why not do that one?
If you happened to listen to the 2015 Rumble show, you’d know that I happened to quickly and very dismissively run through that card on air, and declare it a big waste of everyone’s time. To be clear, I stand by that sentiment 100%. It was a bad show. Well, what about some of the other Fastlane shows. Surely, one of them is worth looking back on?
A person could be born today and live a long, rich, fulfilling life as a wrestling fan, and die peacefully having never seen a single moment of any of these shows.
Dear reader, I chose the title of this article for a very specific reason. After reviewing the results, and rewatching some of the bigger moments, I am here to tell you that Fastlane, well and truly, sucks. There has never been a single Fastlane show worth anyone’s time. There have been moments, sure, but nothing that couldn’t have also been accomplished on a single hyped episode of RAW. In the era of pay-per-view, it would have been a cash-grab between two bigger shows. In the WWE Network/Peacock era, I wonder what the future holds for such an afterthought show.
So, today, after the 500 word intro explaining the method to my madness, I am here to take a look at the five previous Fastlane shows WWE has presented and why each of them absolutely stinks.
The show that started it all! This is the show I have already covered on Break It Down, but since we’re here: this is the last major show before WrestleMania 31. While that show ended up being one of my favorites of all time, Fastlane 2015 was following what is largely considered the worst Royal Rumbles of all time, and in the middle of the first wave Roman Reigns forced coronation.
The main event saw the people’s champion, Daniel Bryan, one year removed from his triumph at WrestleMania 30, face Roman Reigns with his World Championship Opportunity against Brock Lesnar on the line. Only a year earlier, fan revolt led to Bryan receiving that opportunity, with WWE retconning their storytelling to imply it was actually their plan all along. In reality, the thought of a football stadium worth of fans booing the planned Batista vs. Randy Orton match likely caused WWE to call an audible.
One year later, there was no such change of course. While Daniel Bryan would have once again been a much more popular choice for the main event of the biggest show of the year, WWE decided that the Reigns experiment would move forward, come hell or high water. Reigns would win after an exciting but drama-free 20 minutes, with the post-match show of respect and handshake from Bryan not being nearly enough to get the crowd behind the Big Dawg.
If we pan out on this moment, we see a very messy card with lots of reasons for the crowd to be unhappy. Not only were the Authority still a thing, but they won a house show level six-man tag match where Kane, Big Show, and Seth Rollins defeated Erick Rowan, Dolph Ziggler, and Ryback. Sheesh, what a team.
In a moment hardcore wrestling fans had wanted for years, this was the first and only one-on-one singles WWE PPV match between Stardust (Cody Rhodes) and Goldust (his brother, Dustin Runnels). While we would get a five-star bloodbath between these two down the line, this match was as anti-climatic as it could get. Goldust won with a crucifix pin that came from out of nowhere. That’s really it. The feud was teased to continue later in the night, but Stardust would be entered into the multi-man Intercontinental Title match at WrestleMania 31, and this would be all we’d get.
After that, we’d get four consecutive championship matches! Except, well, they were kind of bad. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd would win the Tag Team titles from The Usos in a match that was better on paper. Bad News Barrett got disqualified in his defense of the Intercontinental title against Dean Ambrose. Nikki Bella beat Paige with a handful of tights.
In two of the show’s only highlights, Rusev defeated John Cena via referee’s stoppage during his year-long undefeated streak to push their US title feud to the next show. This is when Cena losing was still particularly shocking, and to a submission move, no less.
Finally, Sting appeared, Scorpion Death Drop’d Triple H after some shenanigans, and their WrestleMania 31 match was official. And what a match it was!
A year later, we have what should be a good wrestling show—on paper. The premise of this show was [checks notes] Roman Reigns in the main event trying to earn a world title shot at WrestleMania?
Are these the right notes?
Yes, instead of a small, furious vegan man standing in his way, 2016 saw Roman Reigns facing his old SHIELD partner Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar in a Triple Threat match to see who would face Triple H for the world title. Fastlane was now 2/2 in number one contenders matches headlining in place of proper world title bouts. Don’t get me wrong, this is a huge match with a lot of star power. The other two non-Roman participants would go on to have one of the most disappointing WrestleMania matches of all time the next month in Dallas, with Lesnar seemingly not very interested in having a hardcore match with Dean Ambrose.
But the result was never in doubt, as Roman speared Dean to win and return to the WrestleMania main event—now with more Triple H!
As far as highlights, AJ Styles making his singles WWE pay-per-view debut and defeating Chris Jericho by submission is certainly worth watching. Styles debuted a month earlier in the Royal Rumble and would go on to have one of the best rookie years with WWE since Brock Lesnar back in 2003. Jericho would get his win back at WrestleMania, but Styles was officially on the map at Fastlane.
As far as lowlights, well, how about everything else? The pre-show saw Kalisto defeat champion Alberto Del Rio 2–1 in a two-out-of-three falls match during the hasty devaluing of John Cena’s epic US Title Open Challenge from the previous year. From a WWE title vs US title holder match at Summerslam 2015 to the pre-show of Fastlane in about eight months should let you know how ADR’s final run with WWE was going at the time.
Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks got a cool dual-submission over Naomi and Tamina, but WWE was still trying to figure out how to promote women’s wrestling in 2016. We had moved well beyond Bra and Panties matches, but if I had told you that one of these women would headline WrestleMania within three years, I’m not sure anyone would have believed me after seeing this.
Tell me the rest of this doesn’t sound like an episode of SmackDown in the middle of July: Kevin Owens defeated Dolph Ziggler. Big Show, Kane, and Ryback (who had switched sides since last year) defeated Braun Strowman, Luke Harper, and Erick Rowan. Charlotte Flair submitted Brie Bella. Curtis Axel beat R-Truth in a match that really happened on pay-per-view, I’m not joking.
I’m going to get this out of the way right up front: I remember watching and hating this show in real time. I remember the main event making me mad that I watched wrestling. It’s now taken me longer to write and edit this paragraph than Kevin Owens lasted in the main event against Goldberg. It was 22 seconds, to be exact. Yes, the first Fastlane show to have an actual world title match as it’s headliner, and we’re treated to this horseshit.
Owens had been doing some incredible, if not unlikely, work as the main event heel while holding the Universal Championship during this time. His on-screen friendship with Chris Jericho during this time made watching Monday Night RAW entirely bearable. What a concept! This all culminated in the legendary Festival of Friendship segment that saw Owens turn his back on Jericho and set up what was the easiest to book title feud in wrestling history for the really big show a few months later.
Oh, and a title feud we got! As Owens and Jericho would face each other for the US title after Goldberg, someone who I’ve never much cared for as a performer, showed up to be a transitional champion for Brock Lesnar.
The actual Owens/Goldberg match was a lot of Owens stalling, getting distracted by Chris Jericho’s presence 100 feet away, spear, Jackhammer, who’s next? If I was a ’90s shock jock radio host, here is where the fart noises and toilet flushing sound effects would get played.
Samoa Joe and Sami Zayn got about ten minutes, which must have been cut short to make time for the Goldberg match. In fact, considering the main event was so short, the longest match on this show was Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman for about 17 minutes. The conundrum WWE faced at this time was no matter how crazy strong and insane they made Strowman look ahead of this match, absolutely NO ONE thought Roman was taking the L here. This started a long standing tradition of Strowman being booked like a monster but losing his actual matches which continued up until he was a replacement for Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 36 and defeated Goldberg, of all people.
Bayley successfully defended her RAW Women’s Championship vs. Charlotte Flair. This was heralded as Charlotte’s first pay-per-view loss, which means she does actually lose on pay-per-view, sometimes.
After that, we can roll out the filler: Neville beat Jack Gallagher to end that guy’s comedy run outside of 205 Live. Sasha Banks defeated Nia Jax. Cesaro defeated Jinder Mahal. Big Show beat Rusev.
I’m still mad about this show’s finish, so let’s just move on.
Oh man, make it stop. Another year, another world title headline match, with the WWE title getting its time to shine in a six-pack challenge as WWE Champion AJ Styles defeated Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, John Cena, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. How soon I forget that Styles was not only the champion going into a WrestleMania, but would defend against Shinsuke freakin’ Nakamura at that year’s show. This was fine for the talent involved, and props to Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin, and Zolph Diggler for getting a crack at the top spot.
Speaking of Nakamura, he beat Rusev in a tune-up before facing Styles, the world still hopeful we would see the King of Strong Style tear it up at WrestleMania (spoilers: they did not).
A small bit of WWE history as Randy Orton (with hair, during this time) defeated Bobby Roode to win the US Title and become the 18th Grand Slam Champion in company history. This might actually be the peak of Roode’s WWE run, the losing to Randy Orton thing.
The Usos and the New Day were embroiled in a rivalry over the SmackDown Tag Titles during this time, only here they went nine minutes to a no-contest. This feud was ended when the Bludgeon Brothers (Harper and Rowan, but with mallets) showed up and completely wrecked both teams and took the titles for themselves.
Charlotte Flair faced Ruby Riott in a Foregone Conclusion match, where Charlotte retained via Figure-Eight leg lock. The Foregone Conclusion stipulation was that Charlotte would win via submission. The ladies also got shoehorned in, with Natalya and Carmella beating Becky Lynch and Naomi, probably since Lynch got held back by still having a surname.
Fastlane 2019 was definitely a land of contrasts. Or was it? I don’t know. Fuck, this was such a better idea when I started writing.
[Editor’s note: Andy had to walk away from the computer for a little while, he’ll be back.]
Fastlane 2019 was a huge show, with six of ten matches going at least ten minutes including the main event, which lasted a shade under 25.
[Editor’s note: No, where are you going? You have to sit down and finish this! This was your idea! There’s only one more!]
Fastlane 2019 was the home of the final SHIELD reunion, with Dean Ambrose’s terrible heel run placed firmly in the rearview mirror, he teamed once more with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to take on the latest trio of baddies shackled together for jobbing purposes: Baron Corbin, Bobby Lashley, and Drew McIntyre.
While WWE sabotaged their own SHIELD babyface run back in 2013 when Rollins defected to The Authority, circumstances surrounding Reign’s leukemia diagnosis forced them to, uh, call an audible in 2018. This was their last real chance to push the three as a force of good, but this time, Ambrose’s foot was halfway out the door and this was their last real hurrah. I can’t help but think so much merchandise money was left on the table back in 2013.
Becky Lynch would regain her place in the WrestleMania 35 main event by defeating old rival Charlotte Flair by submission. Lynch’s popularity was sky-high by this point and the decision to have her in the main event against Ronda Rousey was finally official.
Daniel Bryan was in the middle of his “Champion of the Planet” delusional, eco-terrorist heel run, complete with championship belt made from sustainable materials, was involved in a bit of a bait and switch, as he was originally supposed to defend against the ascendent Kofi Kingston and the unlucky to not be Kofi Kingston, Kevin Owens. Kingston was pulled from the match and fed to Cesaro and Sheamus to continue fanning the coals of Kofi-Mania, before igniting the whole bonfire at WrestleMania 35.
Instead, Mustafa Ali got to say he challenged for the WWE Championship! He ate a Knee Plus from Bryan to lose, and a chokeslam from Erick Rowan afterwards, for good measure.
The Usos won the SmackDown Tag Team titles from— [checks notes]
[checks notes again, but with eyebrows raised]
—The Miz and Shane McMahon. This would lead to Shane and Miz having a match at WrestleMania the next month as well, which Shane would win because of course he would.
The WWE Women’s Tag Team titles were defended as inaugural champions Sasha Banks and Bayley would defeat Nia Jax and Tamina. Asuka would defeat Mandy Rose, but then go on to unceremoniously lose her SmackDown Women’s championship to Charlotte Flair a few weeks later to turn the upcoming Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey match a Triple Threat with both titles on the line. Asuka would be demoted all the way to the Mania pre-show battle royal, which she did not win.
This also is the point in WWE history where Andrade and Rey Mysterio would not fucking stop wrestling each other on a weekly basis. Here, we included Samoa Joe and R-Truth to make it a four-way for the US title. Joe retained.
With that, we have all five previous Fastlane shows, in a nutshell. You do not need to watch these shows. A person could be born today and live a long, rich, fulfilling life as a wrestling fan, and die peacefully having never seen a single moment of any of these shows. The fact that two of my favorite wrestlers, Daniel Bryan and Kevin Owens, seem to routinely get the short end of the stick at these shows does them no favors. The fact that both men are in prime places on the upcoming Fastlane 2021 card? I guess I’ll have to be ready to be hurt all over again.