Fastlane is the final stop on the road to WrestleMania, where it’s decided who will get their place in the sun and who will hit a bump in the road.
After five consecutive Elimination Chamber events being held as said “penultimate” episode ahead of the series finale that is WrestleMania, 2015 saw a change to the road map. Fastlane was introduced as a replacement for the ominous chamber, due to what was cited as logistical issues by Stephanie McMahon in an interview at that time with the weight of the structure and difficulty to place it in modern arenas being given as reasoning.
With Fastlane 2021 quickly approaching, we look back at every Fastlane pay-per-view from 2015 to 2019 and rank them from worst to best.
5. Fastlane 2016
The second annual Fastlane was a show that really suffered from a lot of filler. Despite an extremely fun main event, it’s difficult to look past the controversial Cutting Edge Peep Show segment. With the WWE Network debut of the Edge and Christian Show That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness following the event, the TLC veterans were sent out to do some “shameless self promotion” and be as edgy as possible in a PG landscape. Things really took a turn when their guests, The New Day, joined the hosts in the ring and the 2021 Royal Rumble winner said he had “never seen so much chocolate acting so vanilla” before Christian did an impression of Rusev in the form of caveman grunts. It’s worth noting – this was only five years ago. Couple this with an unadvertised match between Curtis Axel and R-Truth and you’re already facing an uphill struggle.
Despite a rather difficult watch, the in-ring work across the rest of the show was better than expected. The event got off to a strong start with the uneasy friends Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks teaming up to face the former members of Team BAD, Naomi and Tamina, in what could easily be one of the best performances of Tamina’s career. After some issues getting on the same page as tag partners, and a long beatdown on the Irish Lasskicker, the crowd went wild for The Boss’ hot tag leading to dual submissions from the good guys – giving them the big victory heading towards their eventual clash with Charlotte to decide the inaugural Women’s Champion at WrestleMania.
Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler clashed over the Intercontinental Championship in The Show-Off’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Owens showcased his brilliant ability to trash talk, declaring, “Your town likes me more than you” whilst holding Ziggler in “Headlock Island” but, despite this being a fine match between these two, one struggle was predictability – with Owens having only won the championship a few weeks earlier.
This was a similar issue in the Brie Bella vs Charlotte match for the Divas Championship. With Flair riding a hot streak, Bella’s chances of victory seemed minimal and her offence confined to a short burst, which was essential due to Charlotte mocking the recently-retired Daniel Bryan and Brie’s sister Nikki, who was sidelined with a career-threatening neck injury at the time. Brie did pay a fitting tribute to her husband, wearing the knee pads that he wore at WrestleMania 30 and using his signature moves in the match. This would be the final singles pay-per-view match of Brie Bella before an in-ring hiatus, eventually returning to be a part of the first-ever Women’s Royal Rumble Match.
With a rumoured WrestleMania match pitting Brock Lesnar against Bray Wyatt, there might have been an expectation that the Wyatt Family would be booked strongly on this show in the war of the titans. But for some reason, in this bout – described as a battle of the old gods vs the new gods – the Wyatts were easily defeated after Kane knocked Bray Wyatt out with a big boot on the outside, allowing Ryback to Shellshock Harper in the middle of the ring. Despite the finish of the match, Ryback and Harper had some great back and forth, crisp offence and, contrary to what you would expect from the big men, at a good tempo. However, the crowd wasn’t quite as invested, which led to an uncomfortable moment where Big Show was forced into shouting “feed me more” by himself to try and evoke a reaction from the quiet crowd.
In contrast, the crowd was hot for the best two matches on the show. AJ Styles took on Chris Jericho in his first singles pay-per-view match in WWE, split the crowd between AJ Styles and Y2J chants. Being the third act in a series of matches, the pair had gained a strong knowledge for each others’ in ring offence – allowing for some great reversals, including AJ setting up for his Phenomenal Forearm before being caught in midair with a triangle dropkick by The Painmaker. Jericho looked to have the match won, catching The Phenomenal One with a Codebreaker through the middle ropes, but Styles had his hand under the bottom rope, saving him from defeat. Jericho, losing his temper, called AJ a “son of a bitch” before locking in the Walls of Jericho. Styles didn’t tap, though, and instead managed to make his foe tap out to the Calf Crusher. Technically, these two worked great together, playing on the previous two matches and making the newly-debuted Styles look like a star.
Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar went to war in the main event, looking to become the number one contender for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. While that spot is usually already reserved by the winner of the Royal Rumble match, the 30-man elimination match was for the championship itself, instead of the usual contendership opportunity. The story of this match really came down to how the former Shield brothers could get rid of The Beast, putting Lesnar through multiple announce tables with a Shield Bomb – burying him all the rubble. With Lesnar taken out, Reigns and Ambrose could settle the winner between themselves. The crowd was firmly behind The Lunatic Fringe, and the spot of the match was undoubtedly Reigns readying to hit Ambrose with a Samoan drop before Lesnar runs in from out of nowhere to hit a massive German Suplex on both men. In the end, it came down to Ambrose taking out Lesnar with a chair before being caught with a devastating Spear from Reigns.
All-in-all, a strong show but diminished by a lack of credible contenders to each championship – which is a surefire way to suck the energy from a crowd.
4. Fastlane 2015
“All about that Bryan, ’bout that Bryan. No Roman”
That line, depicted on a sign in the crowd, says everything you need to know about the main story of this show. Of course a reference to the 2014 song ‘All About That Bass’ by Meghan Trainor, the sign can be seen as Reigns makes his way down to the ring through the crowd to a chorus of boos. At the infamous 2015 Royal Rumble Match, crowd favourite Bryan was eliminated halfway through the match, with the crowd turning on the match raining down boos, and even The Rock wasn’t enough to get the crowd behind Reigns winning. This was the last chance for The Leader of The Yes Movement to get into the main event of WrestleMania and get back the championship that he had been forced to relinquish due to injury one year earlier.
Reigns vs Bryan was a true David vs Goliath story, the technician vs the powerhouse. Bryan had to use everything he had trying to wear down The Big Dog with powerful submissions as well as taking advantage of Roman’s own strength, dodging his attacks to make Reigns damage himself by running into the steel steps. It all looked to be over when Bryan finally managed to hit the Knee Plus but Reigns became the first man ever to kick out of the move. Desperation kicked in and the two men started throwing punches back and forth, emphasising the high stakes. The conclusion came when Bryan went for the Running Knee once again, only to be caught by a Spear from The Tribal Chief. Whilst Reigns celebrated, the cameras fell onto a broken Daniel Bryan, seemingly not knowing what to do with himself. Bryan would intensely tell Reigns to “kick his ass”, in reference to Brock Lesnar, but an attempted handshake was met by further boos. Despite the great performance from both men and the validation from Bryan, the Memphis crowd, and the WWE Universe at large, still would not accept Reigns.
The show did a good job of building towards WrestleMania 31 but sometimes did feel like a special episode of SmackDown or Raw rather than a pay-per-view. There were multiple distraction/disqualification finishes and two major promo segments on the show. The first of which being Triple H calling out ‘The Icon’ Sting after the WCW legend interfered in The Authority’s business. Teasing what the WrestleMania match would become, Triple H states that he is the WWE and that his legacy is “putting your legacy out of business” – of course referring to Triple H emulating WWE putting WCW out of business. Sting’s music hit and The Crow came face to face with The Game, before pointing his trademark bat to the Mania sign.
However, the more interesting segment came when the Undertaker’s druids entered the arena with a casket, teasing the return of The Deadman after Brock Lesnar broke the streak at WrestleMania 30. The crowd couldn’t believe their eyes, anticipating an Undertaker appearance, but were shocked to see The Eater of Worlds, Bray Wyatt, merge. Wyatt masterfully played with the crowd, claiming that Taker was now “a monster turned into a mere mortal” following his defeat.
Sadly, while a lot happened on the show, the actual matches were more of a disappointment. Goldust and Stardust, four years before their classic match at AEW Double or Nothing 2019, had a fine match that ended far too soon – but was somewhat ruined by a confusing and messy referee count after Cody Rhodes was rolled up by his brother. This did feature the final appearance of the great Dusty Rhodes in storyline as Stardust verbally assaulted The Hall of Famer saying that he doesn’t live in his father’s shadow. It seemed like these two would be ending this personal rivalry at WrestleMania – but it was actually forgotten following this match.
Bad News Barrett and Dean Ambrose couldn’t do much better during their match for the Intercontinental Championship which was cut short after Barrett tried to run away. The Lunatic decided to beat up Barrett and ignored the referee’s count, meaning Barrett won via DQ. Ambrose continued to assault the former Nexus leader and left with his Intercontinental Championship in an angle which didn’t really make any sense, and actually made Dean Ambrose look silly as he surely would have wanted to capture the gold.
Luckily, the United States Championship match was much better. John Cena has always done a great job of building up monsters to face, but the disappointing part is that he inevitably has to slay them in the end. That was much the story for Rusev – picking up the victory here at Fastlane, after a distraction from Lana and a low blow allowed The Bulgarian Brute to lock in The Accolade on Cena and making him pass out. As good as this match was, it’s difficult to look past the damage that Cena did to Rusev in the long term by beating him in three consecutive pay-per-view matches following Fastlane.
The best match outside of the main event was for the Tag Team Championships between The Usos and Tyson Kidd & Cesaro. Of course, with these talents, you would expect to see a great match and they really delivered despite a lack of time. Going at 100 miles per hour from the get-go, the finish eventually came with Kidd hitting the Fisherman’s Neckbreaker for the win. Sadly, later in 2015, Kidd suffered a neck injury which led to his retirement.
It’s disappointing when you remember that, in 2015, the then-Divas division was fitting of that name and viewed as somewhat of an afterthought. The division had seen improvement following Paige’s arrival after WrestleMania 30 and the in ring work of AJ Lee, but seemingly wasn’t enough to change the perspectives of those in power in WWE. This match really was the start of the end for “Divas” matches. The story behind this match had The Bella Twins acting like they are in Mean Girls, spray-painting Paige due to her pale skin and stealing the Anti-Diva’s gear from the locker room, forcing Paige to borrow a fancy dress fairy costume from one of Adam Rose’s Rosebuds. The match wasn’t much better than the storyline leading up to it, ending with yet another roll-up and distraction. However, just one night later on Raw, during a tag match which saw Paige and Emma fight The Bella Twins, the #GiveDivasAChance started trending and signalled a change in the WWE.
Overall, the show has its issues with booking but did build towards WrestleMania well and gave us strong promos and an excellent main event – one which is even better in retrospect. Bryan and Reigns will be meeting again at Fastlane 2021, six years after this match, so it will be fascinating to see how it compares.
3. Fastlane 2017
After the brand split was brought back in 2016, WWE decided to bring about the return of brand-exclusive pay-per-views which, in theory, should allow more Superstars to get exposure but, in reality, actually led to midcard talent being placed in unannounced matches to fill time – and this show has some egregious examples of that. However, similarly to the other Fastlanes featured on this list, the show is lifted by some superb in-ring action.
Kicking off the show with some fire was the pay-per-view debut of Samoa Joe taking on The Underdog From The Underground, Sami Zayn. This match is more akin to what you would have expected from both men in their NXT runs. Joe acts as the dominant destroyer, using his strength and power to take Zayn down, whereas Zayn used his speed and dexterity to attempt to out-manoeuvre Joe. The Samoan Submission Machine would be able to reverse Sami’s Helluva Kick with an Uranage out of the corner and then lock in the Coquina Clutch for the victory as Zayn passes out. Both men have shown time and time again that they have superb chemistry and Sami Zayn was the perfect opponent for Joe’s first major match on the Raw brand.
After such a strong opening contest, the show did fall in a slump very quickly, featuring several matches that would have been better suited on Raw than a pay-per-view. This run – or jog – started off with the Raw Tag Team Championship match between Enzo and Cass vs Gallows and Anderson, which was a standard affair, keeping very much to the basics of tag team wrestling. Gallows and Anderson spent forever working on Enzo until eventually he gets the hot tag to Cass. They look to have the match won with the Bada Boom Shakalaka but Anderson instead caught Amore with a big boot, whilst Gallows knocked Amore’s foot off the ropes before the referee could see it. What cannot be ignored in this match, though, is just how over Enzo and Cass were as a tag team. The crowd went wild for their pre match promo and catchphrases, and when it looked like they had the match won, the crowd fully bought in. The popularity of Enzo and Cass would give this match more energy than any amount of athleticism or technical wrestling ability ever could.
Nia Jax, who was on a 3-0 hot streak at pay-per-views after debuting a few months earlier, took on Sasha Banks in a somewhat disappointing match. Nia was still new to the so-called main roster, and being heavily pushed. A lack of chemistry and a somewhat inexperienced Nia Jax being thrust into the limelight led to a rather slow and plodding match between the two, where Jax dominated – but showed little intensity. The Boss managed to lock in the Bank Statement, only for Jax to power out. While the Irresistible Force looked to have it won with a Samoan drop, Banks managed to sneak a roll-up for the win.
That wasn’t the last appearance from Sasha Banks in the night however, as The Boss interfered in the Women’s Championship match later in the show, which saw Charlotte in the midst of her pay-per-view undefeated streak, which had reached 16-0, taking on the champion Bayley. The Hugger had managed to win the championship a few weeks earlier with the assistance of Banks and it was the same here tonight, with The Boss distracting Charlotte, allowing Bayley to get some moves in, in an otherwise one-sided affair. It seemed like a waste to give away Flair’s undefeated streak one month before WrestleMania, especially when it was lost to the critically-panned reign of Bayley, which would end two months later.
However, this was nothing compared to the next segment. After bickering on the pre-show, the team of Rusev and Jinder Mahal decided to break up and demanded that Foley, the Raw General Manager at the time, give them both singles matches on the main show. They both came down to the ring and ended up fighting with each other to decide who would have the first match. Mahal knocked Rusev out over the barricade and hence got to face Cesaro. The match was absolutely fine, but suffered with the absolute lack of story due to being very thrown-together. As expected, the finish came after Rusev managed to get back to the ringside area and, with Mahal, Cesaro to get the win.
Once again, Mahal and Rusev fought before Rusev stood tall after hitting a Machka Kick. Rusev drew the short straw when his opponent was revealed to be the Big Show and the match wouldn’t live up to the quality of its predecessor, mainly due to the fact that Rusev had suffered a legitimate shoulder injury that wrote him off TV for four months after this bout. Big Show picked up the win, but none of the matches, nor the segment, were necessary, nor did they add much to the show, with commentary calling them “bonus matches” rather incredulously. 20 minutes of the show had been allocated to two men who wouldn’t be featured at WrestleMania.
Things took a turn for the better after, though, with The King of the Cruiserweights Neville retaining his championship against Gentleman Jack Gallagher in a fast-paced match, which saw both men leave it all in the ring, before the match of the night saw Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman in the first of their excellent series of matches. The career rivals went at it in a brutal match, which showed how good both these men could be. With the crowd firmly against Roman at the beginning of the match, The Monster Amongst Men was cheered with every blow. But one of the best spots of the night came when, on the outside of the ring, Reigns’ attempted Spear saw Strowman reverse into a Running Powerslam, driving his opponent through the announce table. The chemistry between Reigns and Strowman truly brings out the best in both of men, and this was a perfect example.
Braun threw everything he had at Roman but Reigns just would not stay down. Strowman would add the proverbial kitchen sink, going for a top rope splash – but it proved to be his undoing as Reigns rolled out the way and hit a second Spear for the victory. Even the crowd, who wanted to boo Roman for the entirety, couldn’t help but cheer Reigns and Strowman after a great match and first of many they would have.
Goldberg may not be everyone’s cup of tea and, in 2021, there is definitely a strong argument that the Hall of Famer shouldn’t be inserted straight into title matches, but his initial return run, which started at Survivor Series 2016, had incredible crowd interest behind it. After beating Brock Lesnar in 86 seconds, a rematch with The Beast on The Grandest Stage of Them All was guaranteed and would be a box office hit, but Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho had built a brilliant story in parallel about friendship and betrayal over half a year. All of which came to a head in one of the best segments of 2010s, The Festival of Friendship, where Jericho gave everything to celebrate his best friend but Owens had enough of Y2J – throwing Jericho through a television on set.
What is the better option, box office or storyline? Goldberg managed to defeat Kevin Owens in 22 seconds after a distraction from his returning bitter friend Jericho. It’s a completely understandable decision but a clear sign of WWE pushing part-time stars for short-term gain over the full-time competitors telling long-term stories. A story built over half a year had its legs taken out from under it for part timers who arguably didn’t even need the championship to be a main event at WrestleMania.
2. Fastlane 2018
The brand split pay-per-views continued with SmackDown taking the 2018 Fastlane show. The blue brand had been trying to diversify from Raw at this point, with promos made to look as if they where filmed on mobile phones and words plastered over the screens during entrances – in particular, The New Day’s animated introduction. This really helped to make this show feel different to all the other Fastlanes on this list. With a slight change to the video direction of the show, it felt so much fresher after the ‘if it’s not broke, why fix it’ mentality we see in much of the WWE product.
This show got off to a perfect start, with a wild crowd excited to see the action. The 2018 Royal Rumble winner, Shinsuke Nakamura, would emerge first to a chorus of people singing along to his theme, but was soon interrupted by the throat clearing of Aiden English. The Shakespeare of Song introduced Rusev with a riveting rap and song, bringing Rusev Day to the people of Columbus, Ohio. The Bulgarian Brute made Nakamura look like a million dollars, with both men playing to their strengths and laying in some stiff offence. Nakamura managed to slide out of The Accolade and land a brutal Kinshasa to the back of Rusev’s head, followed up by one more to the face to pick up the big win. There may have been no real story to this match, but the action in the ring did exactly what it needed to and helped to make both men look strong going into WrestleMania.
The Viper, Randy Orton, was on the hunt to finish his collection of WWE Championships, aiming to claim the United States Championship for the first time ever. But to do this, he would have to go through The Glorious One, Bobby Roode, coming off of a tournament win for the vacant Championship – after now-partner Dolph Ziggler vacated the title. Orton was also annoyed with another of SmackDown’s new ideas to freshen up the show, the SmackDown top 10 list. Roode was placed above Orton, which added to Orton’s anger towards Roode. The match itself was a lot slower than the others on the card and essentially based around who could hit their finisher first. The two veterans suited each other’s styles and it’s a shame that they haven’t wrestled more often in one-on-one matches. The Legend Killer caught Roode with a signature RKO out of nowhere, after Roode attempted a splash from the second rope, to claim his first United States Championship.
With The Viper celebrating, Jinder Mahal came out to ambush Orton with a Kallas but Roode saved the new United States Champion briefly, before deciding to drop Orton with a Glorious DDT. Roode is a natural heel and it made perfect sense to show the anger and disappointment of The Glorious One losing his title, who had been predicting his United States Championship run would be the best of all time.
After an acclaimed series of matches throughout the previous year, which culminated inside Hell in a Cell, The Usos and The New Day looked to restart their rivalry on the road to WrestleMania. Both teams were desperate for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships in order to cement their place on the card for the Show of Shows. The Usos had never been on the main card of a WrestleMania and the New Day had never defended the championships at the show. There’s so much chemistry between these teams, and their storied history was painted all over this match. A great match was ended when the monstrous Bludgeon Brothers interfered, proceeding to absolutely dominate both teams to the point where they needed medical help – with Xavier Woods being stretchered out. It may have been a shame to not get a finish to the high-energy match, but the brutality of the attack and how it was sold by both wrestlers and commentary did a great job to ensure the audience did not feel sour.
After The Riott Squad ran wild across SmackDown, their leader, Ruby Riott, set her sights on the Smackdown Woman’s Champion Charlotte Flair. A feud that saw a game of one-upmanship between the two, with The Queen beating the other members of the Riott Squad, whilst Ruby defeated Flair’s friends Becky Lynch and Naomi. Riott may not have felt like a worthy challenger before this match, but she proved her worth throughout. Commentary did a superb job of selling the story that The Queen was looking past Riott and only focused on who she might face at WrestleMania. The rest of the Riott Squad on the outside would distracting the referee left, right and centre to get cheap shots in on Charlotte but the course of the match changed when the referee had enough, getting rid of everyone at ringside. This led to the end for Riott, who was going for a frankensteiner, but Flair reversed, flinging Ruby into the turnbuckles, then hitting a spear into the Figure 8 – and it was all over for the underdog challenger. As soon as the match ended, Riott was but a distant memory as the Women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka made her challenge clear to The Queen.
Despite the high standard the rest of the show had set, the main event was even better – and stole the show completely. AJ Styles was forced to defend his Championship in a six pack challenge against tense friends Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, the recently returned Dolph Ziggler, The Lone Wolf Baron Corbin and John Cena. Cena was fascinating at this time with his desperate search to find a place for himself at The Show of Shows. He was essentially going through a crisis, now that he was no longer a full-time wrestler, not knowing if he was still deserving of a feature spot at WrestleMania. The best thing about this match was every competitor had some kind of story between them. Owens and Zayn are best friends but with tension, after Zayn hit Owens with a Helluva kick, and they also have been screwed by SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon. John Cena ruined Baron Corbin’s Money in the Bank cash-in, Dolph Ziggler was Corbin’s first rival on SmackDown to name a few. It may have been obvious that Styles would win to face off against Shinsuke Nakamura in a dream rematch of their critically-acclaimed Wrestle Kingdom 10 Match but it didn’t matter because this match was a constant at 100 miles per hour.
As soon as the bell rang, each man ran into an Attitude Adjustment, except the current WWE Champion, allowing the old rivals to start the match with a follow-up to their series of classic matches a year earlier. But as soon as one man was out, another was in, with Owens and Zayn fighting with Styles and Cena, whilst Corbin and Ziggler were in the crowd throwing each other through vinyl separators. Owens looked to put The Leader of the Cenation though the announce table but Cena reversed and Styles ran straight into an AA through the table. KO looked to have it won when Sami teased laying down for him but Owens, not trusting his best friend, turned on him, leading to them hitting their iconic dual duelling punches. With McMahon watching the match on the outside, Sami got in his face and Owens accidentally superkicked the Commissioner, which led to Shane O’Mac once again screwing over the Canadian friends. It all came to an end with a Pop Up Powerbomb reversed into an AA from Cena – but Styles, from out of nowhere, hit the Phenomenal Forearm to secure his place at WrestleMania. Whilst Styles celebrated, the camera panned to Cena, absolutely defeated in the corner, who pushed the camera out of his face. A rare crack in the mask of the Super-Cena.
1. Fastlane 2019
The most recent edition of Fastlane is undoubtedly the standard-bearer and the best so far. In 2019, the branded pay-per-views were no more, so everyone was available to be on this show – which really helped to reduce the amount of filler on the event. What makes this show so good is the over-arching storyline of Kofi Kingston being screwed out of his first-ever one-on-one WWE Championship match with the new Daniel Bryan, and what was advertised as the final ride of The Shield. With Dean Ambrose not renewing his contract with WWE, this was the last opportunity (except for one more Network special) to see the stable that had undeniably created three mega stars in the wrestling world. It was also the return to action for Roman Reigns, who had just returned after four months, announcing he was in remission after a battle with Leukaemia.
With the show being held in Cleveland, Ohio, the crowd when absolutely wild for hometown hero The Miz who was wearing a special “Cleveland is Awesome” t-shirt. They could not get enough of him and this made the match, and the turn after it, so much more effective. The Awesome One was teaming with his Best in the World tag team partner, Shane McMahon, taking on The Usos in a match that was better than their previous encounters over the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. The best part of the match was a mid-air Coast To Coast, whilst one of the Usos was attempting to hit an Uso splash on The Miz. But it all fell apart for The Best Tag Team in the World when Miz took advise from his dad, who was seated ringside, to go up to the top rope and attempt a sub-par frog-splash which got Miz rolled up. Though disappointed, McMahon celebrated with The Miz and his dad, until stabbing Miz in the back with a clothesline and then beating down the presenter of Miz TV to a chorus of boos from the hometown crowd and George Mizanin who was being forced to watch on.
Kofi Kingston was on an absolute roll at this time. Everyone was desperate to see The New Day member get his first every WWE Championship that he had been working towards every day for 11 years. Fastlane was supposed to be the opportunity for Kingston but Vince McMahon replaced him with the returning Kevin Owens. Things seemed to be looking up though, as McMahon called for Kofi to come to his office during the show. After an hour of waiting, The New Day stormed into the office and made an impassioned argument as to why Kingston deserved his match. The Chairman seemed to have a change of heart, making the WWE Championship a Triple Threat Match, saying that “Kofi needs to get going ’cause his match is now”. But when he arrived in the ring, he was greeted with an unpleasant surprise: The Bar made their entrance instead of The Planet’s Champion. It was revealed that Kofi would be in a two-on-one tornado handicap match instead of his promised championship opportunity. As much as the crowd were displeased seeing Kofi be decimated by the European Superstars, it was a very effective way to push the moment of glory to WrestleMania and get the crowd even more desperate to see Kingston get his crowning moment.
McMahon was good to his word though and the WWE Championship match was made a triple threat, adding Mustafa Ali who was returning from an injury. Sadly, this is the only opportunity The Heart and Soul of 205 Live has ever gotten at the WWE Championship in WWE, but watching this match he deserves to be in this position more often. Ali flew around the ring, throwing his body into every move, making everything look even more believable and painful. The new Daniel Bryan would tell both of his opponents how they don’t deserve to be in the match, leading to Owens and Ali to team up on Bryan with some joint manipulation. But The Leader of the Yes Movement had his insurance policy on the outside – Rowan got involved by taking Owens out of the match. The final sequence between the veteran Bryan and the future leader of Retribution was magical. Ali did everything he can, knowing this could be his only opportunity, but Bryan managed to surprise Mustafa with the running knee and Ali’s dreams were shattered. You cannot look past how amazing Daniel Bryan was in this role as The Planet’s Champion with an eco-friendly WWE Championship, controlling the crowd with expertise and be a ring general, bringing out the best in whomever he worked with.
The in-ring work on this show was just superb, especially the United States and Raw Tag Team Championship matches. Samoa Joe, Andrade, Rey Mysterio and R-Truth have so many divergent styles: from Lucha Libre to brawling and the WWE standard made the match feel different throughout depending on who was wrestling at the time. Very similarly, in the tag match, the newly debuted Ricochet and Black felt like a breath of fresh air going against the technical mastery of The Revival and Gable and Roode. The stories may not have been of the most importance but sometimes good wrestling can supersede everything else.
Perhaps the most disappointing part of the show was the match between Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. This was more of an angle than a match, after The Man was removed from the Raw Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania and replaced by The Queen. Lynch was on a quest to get back what she deserved after winning the Women’s Royal Rumble but after brutal attacks by Flair and the champion Ronda Rousey, she walked into this match on a crutch with a damaged knee, arm and ribs. As you would expect, this meant The Irish Lasskicker was not able to wrestle to her usual ability, hence Flair toyed with her and seemed to have the match won, until the former UFC star sprinted down to the ring and caused the DQ, giving both Ronda and Becky what they wanted, to face each other at the the Show of Shows. It’s hard to criticise this angle by itself, as it was simply the aftermath of the disappointing and convoluted storyline of the Raw Women’s Championship up until this point.
The main event saw a nostalgic brawl between The Shield and Lashley, McIntyre and Corbin – where all the magic of the old Shield matches was brought back to life for one last time. Seeing these men back together again after all they had been through as competitors only emphasised the emotion and nostalgia, and this was a true love letter to what The Hounds of Justice had brought to WWE. After the bad guys isolated the soon-to-be-AEW star Jon Moxley, Reigns and Rollins fought back, hitting a vintage Triple Powerbomb on Drew McIntyre through the announce table. All the members of The Shield hit their finishing moves onto the dastardly Corbin, picking up the well-deserved win in their farewell match.
Whilst this may not have been necessary to the show, it was a fitting welcome back to The Big Dog and an apropos farewell to one of the best stables of all time which will be etched in history as creating three men who are still at the summit of the industry to this day.
Make sure to check out our coverage of Fastlane 2021 here at Inside the Ropes