The night after the Royal Rumble didn’t do much for me, as it was one of the few times I’ve been able to catch the full three-hour broadcast (most of the time, I watch the Hulu version that edits out most of the filler). I was left with three lasting impressions... a nonsensical Main Event announced for Fast Lane, The Rock, and a handful of obnoxious fans sitting front row that annoyed everyone in attendance and I’m sure caused Vince a headache since one was dressed as Hulk "He Shall Not Be Named" Hogan and all were addressed by the Rock when he "went off-script." I’m still not a fan of the insider-slang. We know that professional wrestling is entertainment, but you don’t have to acknowledge it as a scripted show and making little remarks like that. The show definitely came across as a filler show, with very little direction with a lot of the key players. The most important story of the night turned out to be a series of matches that were meant to "impress" the McMahon’s and Triple H in determining who would get the WWE Championship opportunity at WrestleMania Star. You’d think Roman Reigns wouldn’t be allowed in such a scenario, considering the effort over the last month or so of screwing him over, but here we go again. Years ago, an Austin or a Rock would taunt and threaten his way into finding a spot into such a situation where he clearly wasn’t wanted, but here, it’s basically handed to Reigns like a ticket to a TNA event (do those things still exist?).
Without going into too much detail, the following matches were focused on as potential eye-opening matches for the Championship: Kevin Owens, STILL selling his beating from the Royal Rumble, pinned Dolph Ziggler in a long back-and-forth match; A.J. Styles, making his WWE television debut (and with a great line, "I should’ve been here the whole time."), pinned Chris Jericho in a good, but not great match as they continue to tease his Styles Clash finisher without hitting it (don’t fret: he used it on Curtis Axel at the Smackdown taping the next night so huzzah). Hard to complain about anything that’s 3-stars or higher, and it was quite clearly match of the night. Bray Wyatt pinned Kane in what felt almost too one-sided in an awful match made worse by the annoying fans in the front row and in the Main Event, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns def. Sheamus and Rusev. After all was said and done, who gets the title opportunity? Well, three men will fight for that right at Fast Lane: Brock Lesnar, who wasn’t even on the show, Roman Reigns, who was just screwed over 24 hours earlier and is now gifted ANOTHER chance at the title, and Dean Ambrose, who will likely be the one taking the fall because they don’t have anyone else at a Brock-like level who can compete AND do the job. How in the hell does this make any sense? Just a waste of three hours when they just throw logic right out the window.
As mentioned earlier, the other highlight, and in this case, a true highlight, was the "surprise" appearance of the Rock. They were in Miami, so it shouldn’t have been that hard to figure out who they were teasing for a surprise appearance, and technically by advertising it heavily, it wasn’t really a surprise. He chewed out the Miz for being a WrestleMania flop, suggested that Lana was a bit of a sexual deviant in what was quite clearly an effort to continue the senseless punishment and burial of Lana for allegedly sabotaging the terrible angle between Ziggler and Rusev from the Summer. Rock made his way to the ring, talked to the fans because he knew it would probably piss Vince and company off and then had a bit of back-and-forth with the New Day after suggesting he didn’t know who Byron Saxton was (another inside joke since Saxton, during his time trying to make it in WWE’s development system years back, was a Rock clone minus the charisma and talent). The Tag Team Division is in a sad state when all the New Day can do right now is trade jokes with the Rock, having no viable contenders left after going through the Dudleys, Usos, and Lucha Dragons.
There was actually so little content worth commenting on, that everything else will be wrapped up in the "minor stuff that may or may not be worth mentioning" section... Kalisto made his first successful defense of the US Title, scoring a victory over the Miz. I’m pretty sure we’re not done with Kalisto/Del Rio yet... Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch had a short-match that was ruined by Charlotte’s run-in. Will we milk things until WrestleMania or will we get a Triple Threat at FastLane... Bo Dallas had a ridiculously funny "Rap Battle" with Flo Rida, leading to a so-so match with the Dudleys... Goldust, now doing his Tourette gimmick again, did a backstage comedy segment with R-Truth, suggesting they be a tag team by R-Truth being confused and thinking it was something sexual. Paige and Natalya teamed up in a meaningless match probably designed for something on Total Divas. Who knows, who cares about that show.
Smackdown didn’t offer much when it comes to advancing any storylines. They did a Highlight Reel with Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose to add interest to the FastLane Main Event, but other than that, a lot of meaningless matches... Reigns, Ambrose, and Jericho (I guess they made up for the Night of Champions fiasco) defeated the Wyatt Family by DQ when Brawny Strongman interfered (got to protect him for that Undertaker match at WrestleMania Star)... Kalisto defended the US Title for the second time, picking up a victory over The Man That Gravity Forgot in a decent, but unspectacular, match... Titus O’Neil got a pinfall victory over Miz in an Eight-Man Tag also involved the New Day, The Usos, and Dolph Ziggler. What is the deal with Titus getting pinfall victories on every show?... Charlotte def. Natalya in a Non-Title Match, with Becky Lynch making the save in a post-match attack. I guess I was wrong about Becky being put on the back-burner in favor of Sasha Banks based on the finish at the Royal Rumble... As mentioned earlier, A.J. Styles pinned Curtis Axel with the Styles Clash after fighting off distractions from the rest of the Social Outcasts.
From WWE Main Event, taped on January 26th from Tampa, FL... Kevin Owens (1-0) made his first appearance on these shows (buried!) with a victory over Mr. MVP himself, Jack Swagger (10-2) with the Pop-Up Powerbomb. Three Star match, since it was given more than 4-minutes... The Dudley Boyz (3-1) def. The Ascension (0-8) in a nothing match. The Ascension need to be sent back to NXT to just pad things out down there, since they are already dead and buried when it comes to the WWE product... Rusev (3-0) def. Ryback (3-1) in the show’s Main Event. About as good as they usually are (*1/2-**, depending on how irritated you are). WWE will do their best to humiliate Lana, but Rusev is still being decently protected. I guess its because there’s no one else left.
From WWE Superstars, taped on January 25th from Miami, FL, but broadcast at a later date than Main Event... Stardust (2-6) picked up a rare victory over "Mr. No Days Off" Darren Young (1-2) to ride his winning streak to "2". Maybe if he keeps fighting the Youngs and Fandangos of the WWE, he can break .500. In the show’s Main Event, Titus O’Neil (7-0) continues to ride an undefeated streak with a victory over Tyler Breeze (3-3), who might have set the new modern record for quickest burial. Goes from trading wins with Dolph Ziggler on Raw and PPV to doing job after job on Superstars. One of these days, I need to compile all the records and list them in one quick recap for my own personal interests, since nobody else could possibly care about such a thing.
With Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose positioned for the Main Event, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that Stephanie McMahon and Triple H would do their best to try and create distrust between them. After all, it was the same thing they did to Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan to build up for last year’s FastLane Main Event, but we weren’t supposed to remember that one. But to prove they are on the same page, they will be facing the New Day in the Main Event (a Main Event that drew an incredibly poor rating, but dissecting and analyzing ratings isn’t my business, so we’ll move on). Meanwhile, Brock Lesnar is hanging around and it doesn’t help that Triple H is trying to light a fire in him by calling him soft (but not "SAWFT", because that’s an NXT character and therefore safe from Vince). To the surprise of nobody, Brock made his presence felt to close out the show, planting Ambrose with an F5.
As much as we’re trying to be tricked into believing that "anyone can win", it’s clearly going to be Roman Reigns moving on to face Triple H at WrestleMania, otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. The only question is what do they do with Lesnar and Ambrose, and is putting Reigns over his "best friend" another great decision to push Roman as the baby-face leader of the next generation? There’s no Money in the Bank situation to bail them out this time, so we’re going to get Roman Reigns in the Main Event of WrestleMania, again, and he’s going to be booed out of the building, again, because of the failures from the creative department in making him a baby-face worth getting behind. I’m not trying to suggest Ambrose should win, because he doesn’t feel like he belongs in the Mania Main Event, not because he isn’t a good enough worker, but because he’s been a second-tier guy for so long and it doesn’t fit the storyline. Brock, on the other hand... who knows what the plans are with him. Actually, we’ll touch on that in the FastLane run-down.
The Divas division seems to be the only other thing with real direction at the moment. I wouldn’t say good direction, but it’s something. If you’ll recall, Sasha Banks made her intentions clear at the Royal Rumble that she was going to go after the DIVAS Championship. This week, Team BAD, much like Team PCB, imploded, with Naomi and Tamina turning on Sasha, but a double-team beat-down failed to take place when Becky, of all people, decided to help her out, despite being treated like a piece of garbage at the Rumble. Don’t worry, it was explained on Smackdown with one of those thrown-together interviews where the key line of the entire segment was "I don’t know." Why are Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch all of a sudden backing each other against Team BAD? I don’t know. I’m sure it’ll be dropped in less than two weeks.
After a incredible debut at the Royal Rumble and an above-average debut on Monday Night Raw, A.J. Styles is settled with the death-segment known as Miz-TV. Although it wasn’t nearly as brutal as some of the Divas stuff from 2015, Miz-TV usually means "time for a piss break." Typical Miz promo, offering his services to Styles, much like he offered Neville, much like he "mentored" Daniel Bryan from a nothing rookie to a WrestleMania Main Eventer. Styles is also incredibly Southern and his new nickname is "The Pitbull", because he’s small and has to fight for everything he has. They ended up having a match on Smackdown, a decent but under-whelming match since nobody buys Miz as much more than a JTTS these days, highlighted by Styles knocking out Miz’s teeth on a back-hand punch. Post-match, Jericho cut a promo on Styles and wanted a rematch from Monday Night Raw for next week’s episode of Smackdown. Why not save it for the PPV? Nobody watches Smackdown and WWE didn’t even have time to give up on it since moving it to the USA Network.
I could go on about the continuing of the angle between Kalisto and Alberto Del Rio, but nothing much has happened, so we’ll focus our attention on Brie Bella. Now that Nikki is gone for who-knows how long, she turned face, again, in a backstage segment with Charlotte, making it 35 career turns, or roughly 3 shy of the Big Show’s record. This lead to a Non-Title Match where Brie won with a small package. They followed this up with ALICIA FOX facing Charlotte on Smackdown, because the natural progression would be feeding the Champion the even more lowly member of a team immediately after doing a meaningless job to someone who is probably 5th or 6th on the depth chart at the moment. Before you worry about poor old Big Show, he’s a baby-face this week, so he padded his lead over Brie to four, as he’s once again fighting with the Wyatt Family, and we might as well book Big Show vs. Strowman at FastLane, slap a -** rating on the match right now, and move along without any further headaches.
In other action, Dolph Ziggler pinned Kevin Owens for the first time in what might be forever, which was even joked about on Smackdown when Ziggler said he’s probably lost to him 10-15 times. Knowing how much they like to recycle the same matches, I’m going to buy that as a serious estimate. It feels like we’ve had them wrestling three weeks in a row in the latest run... The Usos defeated the Social Outcasts, minus Bo Dallas a.k.a Bo Rida, who along with Bray Wyatt, missed the week of TV because their grandfather, Blackjack Mulligan, was hospitalized and in serious condition... Tyler Breeze got some face time on Raw, doing a 2-minute job to Titus O’Neil, the King of Meaningless Wins.. Goldust and R-Truth continued to do their low-level comedy segments that were much funnier when Goldust did it with Booker T in 2002.
From WWE Main Event, taped on February 2nd from Memphis, TN... The Usos (4-0) teamed with Titus O’Neil (8-0) and Darren Young (2-2) to win an Eight-Man Tag over the punching bag of the division, The Ascension (0-9), Tyler Breeze (3-4), and Stardust (2-7). Based on the list of opponents, they might as well have let Titus pin all four of them at once. I don’t think this constitutes an official reunion of the Prime Time Players, but who knows... Jack Swagger (11-2) made Fandango (2-5) tap out to the Patriot Lock, and in a match I’m sure will be spliced into something on Total Divas, Naomi (2-0) and Tamina (1-1) def. the go nowhere team of Paige (0-1) and Natalya (0-1).
From WWE Superstars, taped on February 1st from Birmingham, AL, but broadcast at a later date than Main Event... Mark Henry (4-0) and Jack Swagger (12-2) teamed up for what feels like the third time in a winning effort over the Ascension (0-10), our first double digit losers of record, and Stardust (3-7) won his third consecutive singles match, this time over everyone’s favorite victim of the glass bottom boat, Zack Ryder (2-5). I’m sure it seems a bit unfair to count tag team matches in the numbers, but it’s for fun, so it doesn’t really matter. Kind of like the old "Who’s Line Is It Anyway", where the points don’t matter.
1. Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Brock Lesnar compete in a Triple Threat Match to determine the challenger for Triple H’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 32. Roman Reigns is the clear favorite based on it being the only match that makes any sense, but the real intrigue surrounding this match is what the finish will be, will anyone screw over Lesnar, and will Dean Ambrose turn heel? You might argue merchandise numbers against turning Ambrose, but heel merch sells pretty well (see: Kevin Owens and the New Day), so it wouldn’t be a character suicide like turning John Cena. Ambrose as a face can only go so far, and turning him heel could make an interesting post-WrestleMania feud for Reigns.
2. Kalisto defends the WWE United States Championship against Alberto Del Rio in their never-ending series of matches. Unlike his last reign, Kalisto has been allowed to score victories over the likes of Neville, the Miz, Kevin Owens, and Rusev (in varying ways, most of them by pinfall), but this is a program I just have zero interest in based on their performance at the Royal Rumble, with a lack of chemistry and a lot of sloppy work that killed most of the high spots of the match. Both are capable of more, but sometimes chemistry just isn’t there, and I don’t think it will be. I’m expecting another decent quality match for TV, but for a PPV Championship Match, I don’t have much hope for this.
And as far as official matches go, that is it as of February 8th. Triple H will not be wrestling at the show, so there won’t be a WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match, and Ambrose is the reigning IC Champion, so that won’t be defended, either. For a show that was rumored to be treated as an "A-Show" to draw interest for WrestleMania, it feels like an even lazier B-Show, on par with some of the more notoriously poor December PPV’s. The undercard can be filled out a lot of ways, but there’s clearly a lack of direction for most of the talent. The New Day will work, but they’ve officially beaten every Tag Team, unless they somehow throw Goldust and R-Truth out there for a time waster. I sense Big Show vs. someone from the Wyatt Family, and unfortunately, it might be Braun Strowman. Who knows if Rusev or Sheamus will get a spot on the PPV. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kevin Owens might happen again, and maybe we’ll get the 3rd match between Chris Jericho and A.J. Styles. This time next week, we’ll hopefully know more of the card so we can officially bitch about it.
Final Thoughts: Two weeks until FastLane, the final stop before WrestleMania, and there doesn’t seem to be much interest for what should be the most exciting time of the year for wrestling fans. The key angle surrounds a 46 year old Champion and an heir to the throne that they seem to be doing everything in their power to make look like a chump. The IC Championship is in limbo since Ambrose is involved in the storyline to put Reigns over, the Divas Championship Revolving Door of Challengers™ may or may not involve Sasha Banks as a long-term solution, and holy crap, does the Tag Team division need some new blood, fast. Until next week (and yes, I promise, next week)...