Traditionally, the PPV before WrestleMania acts as little more than a speedbump on the road to wrestling’s version of the Superbowl. Previously titled ‘No Way Out’, the 2021 version of Fastlane found itself in uncharted waters.
Due to the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and the subsequent effects on allowing fans to attend WrestleMania in Tampa, a firm card for the two-night extravaganza was, curiously, not forthcoming. In the previous 35 Manias, at least a handful of matches have been set up for fans to get excited about weeks in advance.
But like everything in the past 12 months, nothing seems to follow rhyme or reason. With less than three weeks until WrestleMania week only two matches had been made official heading into Fastlane. So, with spots up for grabs on the most prestigious event on the wrestling industry’s calendar, did Fastlane fill in any of the blanks? Andy Spoors runs through the main talking points of a high-stakes night of action.
Riddle Rises To The Occasion
Like or loathe Riddle’s stoner schtick, the former MMA fighter’s talent in the ring should be undisputed. NXT provided Riddle with a platform to show the WWE Universe what he could do, but a relatively rapid call up to SmackDown might have come too quickly.
On the Fastlane kick-off show, Riddle successfully defended his US Championship against Ali in a fast paced and thoroughly entertaining match. Delivering his finishing manoeuvre from the top turnbuckles added yet another string to the bow of the Stallion Battalion leader.
Since their introduction last year, Retribution have been labelled as one of the worst factions in WWE history. When questions are asked after your first appearance, it might be a sign that something needs to change and quickly.
The unveiling of Ali as the leader of the masked stable may have come as a shock, but WWE failed to make the group or its members relevant over the last year. At Fastlane, it appeared the group may already be going their separate ways. Well at least one of them anyway.
After berating his followers, Ali was subjected to a beat down and left wondering what the future holds moving towards WrestleMania. Unquestionably talented, Ali will hopefully have a chance to branch out on his own and thrive without the albatross of the Retribution angle hanging off his shoulders.
Banks and Belair Begin To Battle
When Bianca Belair won the Royal Rumble in January, her road to WrestleMania should have been easy. Pick your opponent, play some mind games and train your ass off. What the WWE Universe has seen instead, is an uneasy alliance with her future opponent complicate matters for no reason.
Losing in their attempts to capture the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships, the rivalry between Bianca and Sasha belatedly began. The gloves are off and receiving a hellish slap from Banks might finally have woken up something in Belair ahead of the match in a few weeks.
Big E – Victorious But At What Cost?
The curious feud between Big E and Apollo looks set to continue into WrestleMania, as the former retained his Intercontinental Championship in dubious circumstances. Fighting his way out of a sort of double pin by bridging his neck, didn’t look like much of a winner just seconds later.
Now displaying a ruthlessness, in touch with his Nigerian roots persona, Apollo instantly attacked Big E upon defeat. Quite where this leads is up for debate. After facing off against each other on SmackDown a few times in the last few weeks, the gravitas behind the match up has already begun to subside.
If WWE want the rivalry to continue, they must find an incentive for fans to remain interested. Big E should be pushing on as a single competitor outside the New Day and fighting some of the best WWE has to offer. Charismatic, athletic and ridiculously strong, it is time the company started booking Big E for the star he already is.
Seth And Shinsuke Pull Off A Mini Banger
On paper, Seth Rollins vs Shinsuke Nakamura is a match of the night candidate. Only announced two days before the PPV, the WWE Universe were salivating at the thought of these two Superstars facing off.
Rollins has not long been back from his extended paternity leave but the guy hasn’t missed a step both in his wrestling ability and in his character work. Sporting a white and brown camouflage suit, Rollins has a swagger that makes him instantly unlikable and forces you to root for his opponent.
It just so happens that his opponent at Fastlane was a highly decorated Superstar that should be higher up the card and chasing championships. High octane, innovative and slick, the only negative was that the match wasn’t able to go at least 10 minutes longer.
Drew McIntyre Channels His Inner William Wallace
Face painted in blue and white, carrying a giant claymore and wearing a kilt. If you didn’t know, Drew McIntyre is Scottish. Like downing Irn Bru, while watching a double feature of Braveheart and Trainspotting Scottish. Splitting social media right down the middle, McIntyre’s choice of donning face paint in a brutal No Holds Barred Match with Sheamus may have started the conversation, but the viciousness on display finished it.
Rolling sentons, powerbombs and clubbing blows all over the ThunderDome, the two warriors and real-life friends put on a stiff and snug bout. It was a shame there seemed to be very little in the way of consequence, after McIntyre vs Bobby Lashley at WrestleMania was made official before Fastlane.
Nevertheless, McIntyre continued to build momentum in a phenomenal last 12 months and now looks to regain his WWE Championship in front of crowds, an opportunity that was robbed from him at last year’s WrestleMania.
A Fiendish And Frightening Return
Today’s professional wrestling industry seems to take more stock in putting on five star matches rather than the over-the-top gimmicks and storylines that have forever been associated with WWE.
Quite frankly, sometimes it is nice to have the best of both worlds. Enter The Fiend and Alexa Bliss. More akin to a Hollywood horror movie, the build for Fastlane’s match between Bliss and Randy Orton has been nothing short of spectacular.
Sure, it has been corny in places and sure you have to suspend your disbelief but the same could be said for most TV shows and movies. The Fiend made his long-anticipated return to help Alexa Bliss score a victory over Randy Orton. Even writing that sentence sounded ridiculous.
The Fiend hadn’t been seen since being ‘burnt alive’ at TLC back in December 2020 but some admirable character work by Alexa and Randy has kept the storyline ticking along. Some fans may have wished they still hadn’t seen The Fiend after the camera zoomed in on his horrifying new look. Mask and face burnt, so many questions now need to be answered in the coming weeks.
Edge Enforces But Roman Reigns
A chaotic main event saw perennial underdog Daniel Bryan look to upset the odds one more time by winning the Universal Championship from Roman Reigns. With shades of his infamous run to WrestleMania 30, Bryan has made no secret that his time in the squared circle is coming to an end.
Add in the parallel story of a returning Edge and a red-hot Roman Reigns and the SmackDown main event picture has been busy but intriguing. That picture seemingly became a little clearer at Fastlane as tempers boiled over and special enforcer Edge handed the match to Roman Reigns.
The build-up had focused around Bryan’s ability to make Reigns tap and although The Tribal Chief did indeed tap out, no referee was around to see. Edge ensured the headlines would bear his name by attacking both men with a steel chair as Roman covered Bryan for the win. So Reigns vs Edge it is. Probably. But never count an underdog out, especially when his name is Daniel Bryan…