Monday, March 12, 2018
It’s no secret that Smackdown has been the weak point of WWE for a long time. After killing it in the back half of 2016, they died around WrestleMania last year. Randy Orton won the WWE Title and everything went downhill. The WWE Title picture was a drag, the US Title saw a string of disappointment matches and overbooking, while the Women’s Title was littered with dull ladies. At least the Tag Team division was fun. Anyway, it’s Smackdown’s final stop before WrestleMania. Can they end a drag of a year (Mania to Mania) on a high note?
I love the new Team Angle. This was a thrown together match that wasn’t announced until the Kickoff Show started. Tye, Mojo, and Breezango haven’t had much TV time lately. Luckily, they all brought energy here. When I watch a Kickoff match, all I expect is something fun, which is what we got here. Mojo was great at the character stuff. He played to the crowd and drew a lot of heat. There were some moments that didn’t fully click, but this ultimately worked. Tye got the win with the Tye Breaker on Mojo at 7:27. To me, this kind of felt like an NJPW undercard. It was a meaningless, but fun multi-man match.
On this Rusev Day, the crowd was MOLTEN for both men. Aiden English basically rapped Rusev to the ring, which is worth about three stars on its own. I’ve harped on about the lack of effort Nakamura has put in since coming to the WWE (other than the Zayn match). He’s had some good ones against Cena, Balor, and Orton, but that’s about it. I guess with Mania around the corner, he’s bringing the effort. He and Rusev killed it here. It wasn’t just Nakamura working from behind, which isn’t his strong suit. It was evenly matched, with both guys having counters for almost everything the other threw at them. When Rusev stopped the Kinshasa with a Machka Kick, I nearly jumped out of my seat. Nakamura countering the Accolade and hitting a Kinshasa to the back of the head was excellent. He added another to win in 14:29. Easily the best Nakamura match in almost two years. Tons of great counters, Rusev being awesome, and the best Nakamura we’ve seen in a long time.
I fully came into this match expecting to be put to sleep. That didn’t happen, but boy did they come close. Look, these are two wrestlers who are technically fine. They do their moves and do them well. But that’s not enough to put on a compelling contest. The pace was incredibly slow. I don’t mind that kind of pace at all, but these guys do everything in such a hollow manner, there was nothing behind it to get me interested in any way. Things got good near the end, but it was too little, too late. I’ll compare to NJPW again. I hate when their matches have a dreadfully slow start and only seem to matter late. That was this, only with a less interesting closing stretch. Orton won his first US Title with the RKO after 19:30 that felt like it went 35:30. Like I said, it was technically fine, but with no real heart.
Post-match, Jinder Mahal came out for a brawl. He has been the saving grace of this feud. But man, this Triple Threat sounds nowhere near as interesting as Raw’s IC Title one for Mania.
Becky and Carmella looked incredible here. With that out of the way, we can focus on the match. It was your standard tag team match. The heels cut off a babyface (Naomi) from making the tag. Carmella and Natalya work as a team, because Nattie handles the technical side, while Carmella does the top notch character work. Becky’s hot tag run was good stuff. However, a Nattie distraction set her up to eat a superkick, giving Carmella a rare win in 8:53 It was a fine match, though something that didn’t really feel like it belonged on PPV. I could’ve seen this on any episode of Smackdown for the most part.
These teams engaged in an incredible series of matches last year. Their high profile matches ranged from ***½ to ****¾. With Woods in over Big E, it reminded me of their great Battleground match. So, I came in saying it might be weird for them to have a normal tag after the war they had back in October. But, never count these guys out. They found a new way to put a spin on these matches. New Day did the Usos’ offense and the Usos busted out classic New Day stuff. What a brilliant way to keep things fresh. Just as the match was nearing a great level, the Bludgeon Brothers came out and attacked both teams for a double DQ after 8:57. That was really fun, though the finish kept it from being great. I get that it sets up another potential Triple Threat for Mania (one that should be all kinds of awesome) and it made sense, it just cut the match short. They hyped this up so well with the Smackdown promo and video package, only to have it set up something different.
Ruby Riott is the first interesting person involved in the Smackdown Women’s Title scene since WrestleMania 33. On my first watch, this match lacked a lot. A second viewing helped as I paid more attention. Ruby delivered here. She sold well, had some good looking offense, and did all the little things right. Her submission on Charlotte right in front of Becky and Naomi (who ran out after Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan appeared) was great, as was her use of the signature Flair chops. I appreciated the Riott Squad outsmarting Becky and Naomi by tricking them into getting ejected, only to get ejected themselves after. With it back to being one on one, Charlotte pulled off a SUPERMAN style power up and won with the Figure Eight in 13:44. The outcome was never in doubt, which hurt the drama. I also wasn’t a fan of the finishing stretch. However, Ruby was great and with a better opponent and a better laid out match, I think she can put on a banger.
After the match, Asuka came out and officially declared she was coming for Charlotte and Smackdown Women’s Title at WrestleMania. It’s a big time match and one that really feels much more important than whatever the Raw Women’s Title match ends up being. I think it can be a great match, though I’m interested in how it gets laid out. Charlotte is at her best when she plays a dominant role, not someone fighting from behind, which is what she’ll probably be in this match. Either way, I’m cool with this.
Shane McMahon came to ringside for this. I honestly don’t know how anyone can cheer for him anymore. He’s been a horribly written character for a long time. Anyway, like most matches on the card, this had a predictable outcome, but they worked at such a torrid pace, it didn’t matter. You were engaged. Cena opened with four AAs on everyone but AJ, giving us a great start. From there, the match never slowed down. There were great elements of storytelling for the most part. Even the guys who weren’t directly involved in that (Baron and Dolph) still had good action moments. Owens and Zayn had a great moment where Sami went to lay down for him, only to roll him up. That set up one of their classic hockey style fights. I love it. Shane got superkicked by Owens after arguing with Sami. So, when Owens had the match won, Shane pulled the referee out. Then, Sami had it won, and Shane pulled him out. See? He’s awful. The closing stretch was wild and, after a barrage of stuff, Styles returned from taking an AA through a table to win with the Phenomenal Forearm on Ziggler at 21:52. Great main event. They managed to feature a ton of action without going too long and telling several stories. They established the Nakamura/Styles match, while also adding layers to other potential Mania matches.
Overall: Historically, Fastlane has been a drag of a PPV. 2015 had a great Reigns/Bryan match, but it mostly feels like filler. While most of this show had expected results, it was mostly fun. The Roode/Orton match was boring, while the women’s tag was okay, but everything else seemed to click. The Women’s Title was solid, the Tag Title was good, the Kickoff show was enjoyable, Rusev/Nakamura ruled, and the main event was great. Thumbs up.