WWE FASTLANE REVIEW
Okay, I know you all are wondering why my first wrestling blog post is about a pay-per-view back in February. Well it's because I've come back to wrestling after a long time away and I thought you all might like to see it the way I saw it. After this post I'll move onto Wrestlemania, until we're caught up to date with the shows. Sound good?
In February, simply out of boredom and nostalgia, I decided to check out WWE FASTLANE, the first wrestling pay-per-view I'd seen since... I don't even know. It's been at least 10 years, perhaps even more than 15, since I'd last watched wrestling. Once I'd moved out of my parent's house, I no longer could afford expensive cable packages that included wrestling, which used to be on TSN on Monday nights. In Canada a basic cable package only gives you channel 2 to 30, you have to pay extra for channels 30 to 50. I really couldn't afford it and there really wasn't anywhere to watch it online in the days before YouTube and torrents. Most of my focus at the time was on learning the ins and outs of the comic business and so wrestling became another part of my childhood I left behind for adult things.
There were only two wrestlers on the card that I recognized: John Cena and Randy Orton. Both men had started their careers right when I'd stopped watching, but I'd seen enough of them over the years to know who the both were. It was interesting to see how the two wrestlers had evolved; John Cena was no longer a rapper, but more of a Hulk Hogan-esque All-American, whereas Orton had cemented his reputation as the viper, the eternal heel, the one you can never trust and must always keep an eye on.
Here's what I knew about wrestling before I watched Fastlane: Brock Lesnar had come back a few years earlier and was probably going to leave again. Sting was set to make his appearance at his first ever WWE event. I think it was Sting's appearance that piqued my curiosity. I was never a Sting fan, but I'd been a WCW fan for many years, up until Vince Russo made himself a character on the show. I respected Sting, I knew he had a lot of in-ring talent, even if his "Crow" gimmick was a little too 90s grunge for my taste. I kind of hoped he'd return to his old look for his big WWE return, but of course the Crow look sells more merchandise. Can't argue with the coolness of a big black bird.
I am calling this the "Authority Era", the first era of pro wrestling without Vince McMahon in charge, starting with Brock Lesnar's return to the WWE and the completion of the training center. I still played the video games so I knew most of the names on the roster. I knew that the company had gone public. They now had shareholders to answer to so I had low expectations, because I knew this was a very corporate company putting out a very specific product. I count the performance center as the beginning of a new era because it radically changes the landscape of professional wrestling. We're seeing those changes now with NXT and talent like Neville, who might never have been able to showcase his talents on the road shows.
The first thing that surprised me in the new Authority Era were the beards. Beards everywhere. Sandow, Lee Harper, Bray Wyatt, Daniel Bryan, Erick Rowan, Seth Rollins... I am sure there are more. I know there was a tradition of goatees in wrestling, but very few legends of the sport were bearded. I don't count Hollywood Hogan's black paint as a beard. These bearded guys weren't c-list goons or comic relief, they were top star contenders! I guess somebody at the WWE stopped enforcing the shaving rule (although ironically many of these guys seem to have NO body hair!) Other than the legendary Macho Man Randy Savage, I can't think of any bearded champions.
Feel free to post some in the comments section if you know of any.
Seth Rollins, Big Show and Kane vs Dolph Ziggler, Ryback and Erick Rowan.
Obviously Ryback stands out, just the sheer size of the dude means you'll remember him. I didn't like Dolph Ziggler much, he reminded me of Billy Gunn. Big Show was the same guy I remembered, just with much less hair. It was strange to see Kane stripped of all the gimmicks, but I was impressed with his physique, he looked good considering how long he's been playing that character.
Goldust vs Stardust
Of all the matches on the card, this was the one I was most looking forward to. I'd always liked watching Goldust's antics in the ring and young Cody Rhodes had a great gimmick in the freaky Stardust. One of my favorite matches was Goldust VS Ahmed Johnson, in which Goldust sexually assaulted a big black dude so bad that the guy's reputation never recovered. I have no idea what happened to Ahmed.
What a big letdown this match was. It seemed like Stardust was barely getting started when the match was over. Goldust looked old and tired. This should have been a passing of the torch match, where the older Goldust helps put over his younger brother, but instead it was boring. A match with two guys in face paint should never be boring. There was no flash, the crowd was bored and the match failed to live up to expectations. Not surprised they dropped it soon after, although I am still waiting for Stardust to get his big push. Guys like him are needed to give the rising and falling stars someone to bounce off of. Guys like Goldust, or the Undertaker, or Bray Wyatt, are what I call "The Dues", the guys you have to beat to take that step from the b list to the big time. It took ten years for Undertaker to move up to a title bout, because he was so damn good as a "gatekeeper". This is the role Stardust needs to fill.
Cesaro/Kidd vs The Usos
Having just come back to wrestling, I really had no interest in this match. At least the Usos had a theme, but all I kept thinking was "both these guys look just like the Rock".
Nikki Bella vs Paige
Nice to see how the divas have evolved. No more hair-pulling and rolling around, these girls know how to wrestle! Paige looked like an albino out there, but once I learned she was English it made perfect sense. I like the Bella twins, both as a team as a singles wrestlers.
Well his appearance wasn't worth the price of admission, but I guess if you are going to announce a once in a lifetime match for Wrestlemania, the pay-per-view is the place to do it. Sting looking old made me feel old.
Bad News Barrett vs Dean Ambrose
Okay, I know NOW that Ambrose is a fan favorite, but at the time I thought someone let the road crew wrestle. He reminded me of all those greasy WCW wrestlers from Raven's Flock in the 90's. Decent enough match, no complaints, but since I didn't know either wrestler I wasn't really cheering for either of them. Nice to see an English wrestler who wasn't a "regal". You can never have too many tough guys from the UK.
So the Undertaker is coming back. Didn't realize he left. I knew Brock broke the streak, but I didn't know Brock broke the Undertaker too. Bray Wyatt didn't impress me here, it was a classic bait-and-switch, the kind that drives fans nuts. As my wife said when we watched it together the second time: "Why wheel the guy down to the ring if he isn't going to wrestle? He could have talked from the stage and the audience behind the coffin lid could see him."
Rusev vs John Cena
This was as classic, old-school wrestling match, with John Cena as the All-American and Rusev as the latest in a long line of hated European heels. John Cena's face was showing some mileage, but who isn't? Unlike those big mean Soviet machines of the bygone era, Rusev is surprisingly agile and rounded as a wrestler. I was expecting some kind of slow mean thug, not a in-ring specialist that reminded me of the Iron Sheik. It was a perfectly executed match with a surprise ending I didn't see coming. I'd love to see Rusev tackle some other opponents; Bray Wyatt or Stardust for example, maybe I missed them as Rusev rose to the top?
Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan
Thanks to other wrestling fans, mainly Nick's posts, I've kept up to day on some of the wrestling news of the last 15 years. I knew Roman was the new golden boy and fans hated it, and that Daniel Bryan was the fan favorite. It was an impressive match but neither competitor dominated.A wrestling match is like watching two surfers, as the big waves come in they take turns riding it and when two veteran wrestlers have a match, and they hit the waves, you get a legendary match. What Daniel Bryan and Roman are missing is the ability to ride the waves, to generate the pops as they switch roles. Both men have tremendous in-ring talent, but they need to learn how to re-up when the momentum changes; its not just about switching moves, but riding the crest of the way all the way into the beach. I was glad to see Roman win because at the time I couldn't honestly see Bryan facing a man like Lesnar. Mainly because I'd never seen Wrestlemania 30.
Overall I had a nice experience watching the pay-per-view. The next day I asked my wife is she wanted to watch Raw and I discovered that she used to be a wrestling fan, so now we watch it together. I ended up watching Fast Lane again just before Extreme Rules so she could see it, so now we've got the whole family involved!
SOME OF THE CHANGES I NOTICED
There was a lot more real contact, you can see the MMA influence in a lot of moves and holds now.
A lot less sexuality. I think this is for the better. I hated the ham-fisted way they used to use sex.
Very few gimmicks. It seemed everybody was just trying to be exaggerated versions of themselves, but other than the Rhodes brothers, there were no dentists, rabbits or roosters.
It was a nice welcome back and a nice warm up to Wrestlemania. Unfortunately like many things these days, I have to avoid the internet because people spoil shit with their rumors and complaints. I downloaded Daniel Bryan's Ring of Honor work a week or two after watching it as well as the Road To Wrestlemania documentary he did. Bryan still needs some work in-ring, but his skills are the best I've ever seen since Bret Hart and Mr. Perfect.
Come back in a week or so for the next post, where I share my first Wrestlemania experience since... well somewhere around Wrestlemania 18.