Friday, July 12, 2024

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Fastlane in Review: All Roads Lead to WrestleMania 32

Fastlane, with all its apt driving metaphors, provided the perfect setting for two Diva paths to converge on the road to WrestleMania 32. Charlotte, dealt with the unexpected detour of a Divas Title defense against Brie Bella, had to fight to ensure that she’d even be fighting at the big show at champion. Brie, meanwhile, had plenty to prove, fighting for the honor of her sister Nikki and her husband Daniel Bryan, both of whom had been disparaged by the cocky champ.

On the other side of the road were Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, whom many have pegged for a Triple Threat match at Mania. Those two, both with their eyes on the prize, have been forced to play nice against Sasha’s former teammates Naomi and Tamina, who want to prove that their UNITY makes them the most dominant force in the division.

The first of these encounters was the B.A.E vs. B.A.D. tag match, which opened the show:

Becky and Sasha make their entrances first, followed by the combined entrance of Naomina. As the remaining members of Team B.A.D. headed to the ring, we were presented with a pre-match interview featuring them. Speaking to JoJo, Naomi dressed down Sasha and Becky and stressed the UNITY! she and Tamina have.

With that done and all the competitors in the ring, the bell sounds, and Becky and Sasha immediately display their lack of UNITY!, squabbling over who gets to start the match. Naomi grabs Sasha and makes the decision for them, tossing her into her corner and tagging in Tamina. Tamina sends Sasha into the ropes, where Becky reaches over and tags herself in. Sasha is pissed, but is able to regroup quickly when Tamina goes on the attack, hitting a tandem dropkick with Becky. Becky hits a follow-up legdrop, elbow drop, legdrop combination and goes for the pin. Tamina kicks out.

Tamina fights back, shoving Becky into her corner. She tags in Naomi, who takes Becky to a neighboring corner, where Becky turns the tables. Becky hits arm drags and goes for a slam, but Naomi slips free and nails her with a series of kicks. Becky answers this with a suplex, and Naomi rolls out of the ring for a breather. Tamina helps Naomi to her feet, only to be leveled by a tandem baseball slide from Becky and Sasha, who head to the outside of the ring, knocking their foes down once more. Becky grabs Naomi and sends her back into the ring, but Naomi slips out once more.

Becky, meanwhile, climbs to the ring apron, where Tamina tries to grab her. Becky fends her off, only to be attacked by Naomi, who sends her falling to the floor outside. Becky slowly regroups and charges back into the ring, but Naomi keeps her down, tagging in Tamina. Naomi sends Becky straight into a clothesline by Tamina. Tamina goes for the pin, but it’s no good. Tamina locks in a chinlock. Becky gets to her feet, but is slammed to the mat. Tamina knocks Sasha off the apron for good measure. Tamina punches Becky in the head and tags in Naomi, who hits legdrop. She covers Becky for the pin, but only earns a near fall.

Naomi locks in a headlock, breaking it to pull on Becky’s hair a bit before resuming the hold. Becky fights free, shoving Naomi into the ropes, but she’s knocked down with a kick. Naomi tags in Tamina, and though Becky is able to knock down Naomi, she can’t fight off Tamina, who drives her into a corner. Tamina goes for a scoop slam, but Becky slips free. She almost gets close enough to Sasha to tag her in, but Tamina keeps her at bay. Becky eventually kicks her away, but when she finally gets to her corner, Naomi knocks Sasha off the apron, further isolating Becky.

Tamina tosses Becky out of the ring, and Naomi follows that up with a clothesline. Becky struggles to get to her feet, and Tamina drags her into the ring. She tags in Naomi, who sends Becky into the ropes. Becky fends off Naomi and sends her flying out of the ring. Becky knocks Tamina off the apron and crawls towards Sasha, finally tagging her in. Sasha takes out Naomi with a series of attacks, fending off a kick and eventually taking Naomi down with a flying double knee attack.

Naomi backs into the corner, only to be nailed with another set of double knees. When Sasha goes to repeat the move, Naomi moves out of the way. She grabs hold of Sasha and tries to hit her with a bulldog into the corner, but Sasha shoves her off, hitting a backstabber into the Bank Statement! Tamina’s there to save her, though, grabbing Sasha’s boot and pulling her out of the ring. Sasha eyes Tamina, who runs. Sasha gives chase, only to run straight into the Rear View! Naomi covers her, but Sasha kicks out at two.

Naomi argues the referee’s count, giving Sasha time to regroup. She sends Naomi into the corner, where Tamina is tagged in. Tamina halts Sasha’s momentum, hitting her with a superkick. She goes for the pin, but Becky storms into the ring to break it up. Naomi enters the ring and grabs Becky, tossing her to the outside. Naomi then seizes Sasha, and she and Tamina goes for a double suplex. Sasha deftly flips and lands on her feet, leaving Naomi and Tamina to be hit with a top rope dropkick from Becky! Becky and Naomi roll out of the ring, leaving Sasha to reverse a sidewalk slam attempt, flipping and taking Tamina down to the mat for the Bank Statement! Naomi tries to break it up, but Becky is there to stop her, locking in the Dis-arm-her for good measure. Tamina taps out, delivering the victory to Becky and Sasha!

A bit later on, it was Divas Title time:

After a video package highlighting this short-lived feud (psst…Chris’s was better), Brie and Charlotte make their entrances. Brie is flying solo, having seemingly shed the last vestige of Team Bella. Charlotte, of course, has Ric Flair by her side.

After the customary introductions, the Divas get down to business, tying up. Charlotte backs Brie into the ropes and then into the corner. She relents at the referee’s insistence, and they tie up again. Charlotte uses her strength advantage to slams Brie to the mat and mocks her with a “Yes!” chant. Brie rushes at Charlotte, angry, and Charlotte finds refuge in the ropes. When Charlotte decides to charge at Brie, Brie catches her arm, wrenching it and bending her backwards. She eventually slams Charlotte to the mat and continues the hold, but Charlotte finds an opening, latching on a headscissors submission.

Brie soon slips free, pummeling Charlotte in the head. She then hits the champ with a fireman’s carry and locks in an armbar. Charlotte fights her way free and doubles Brie over with a knee to the midsection. She goes for a hip toss, but Brie blocks it, keep a hold on Charlotte’s arm as she flips and sends her flying across the ring with an armdrag. Brie does a little mocking of her own, busting out a “WOOO!” and a Flair strut.

Charlotte charges at Brie, only to be caught and slammed face-first into Brie’s knee, Nikki-style. Brie goes for the pin, but Charlotte kicks out. Brie starts in on a series of kicks to Charlotte’s chest but Charlotte escapes, drawing Brie to the ropes, where she sends her falling hard to the outside. After a celebratory “YES!”, Charlotte grabs Brie and sends her back into the ring. She taunts Brie as she pummels her in the corner. Charlotte goes to hit Brie with Nikki’s favored Alabama Slam, but Brie blocks it. She slips free and rolls Charlotte into a pin, but Charlotte kicks out.

Charlotte gets to her feet quickly and flattens Brie with a clothesline. She then goes for the pin, but Brie kicks out at two. Charlotte knees Brie in the back thrice before locking in a submission, wrenching Brie’s arms back and applying pressure to her spine. Brie tries to power out, but is slammed roughly to the mat. Charlotte covers Brie, but only earns a near fall. Charlotte pulls Brie back to her feet, but Brie grabs her arm, frantically trying to take her to the mat for the Yes Lock. Charlotte resists, though, and Brie rolls her into a unsuccessful pin attempt. Brie stays on her, mounting her with a sleeper hold. Charlotte drops to the mat to knock Brie off of her and goes for the pin. Brie kicks out.

Charlotte again targets Brie’s neck, locking in a headscissors and slamming Brie’s head to the mat repeatedly. She rolls to her back and locks in the hold completely. After a few moments of this, Charlotte tosses Brie across the ring while locked in the hold, only letting go after the third flip. She celebrates with a few “YES!” chants and goes for a big boot, but Brie ducks it, taking her down with a drop toehold. Brie props her up against the bottom rope, hitting her with a running knee. She goes for it again, only to meet Charlotte face-to-face when the champ springs to her feet.

Brie keeps control, though, hitting Charlotte with right hands and eventually laying her out with Nikki’s forearm attack. She goes for the pin, bit it’s not enough to win the championship. Brie pulls Charlotte to her feet, but is met with a series of chops and a neckbreaker. When Charlotte goes for a spear, though, Brie takes her down for another pin attempt. Charlotte shoves her off and takes her down with a boot to the face. Charlotte drags Brie to the center of the ring and goes for the Figure Four, but Brie kicks her away. Charlotte heads out to the ring apron, where Brie knocks her to the outside with a dropkick.

When Charlotte gets to her feet, Brie knocks her back down with a dropkick. Brie exits the ring, retrieving Charlotte. She reenters the ring via the top rope, flying off of it to hit Charlotte with a missile dropkick. It appears to have done more damage to her, though, as she gets up favoring her knee. She hits Charlotte with knees to the chest and takes her down with the Bella Buster! Her follow-up pin is unsuccessful, though. When Brie pulls Charlotte to her feet, the champ knocks her down, going for the Figure Four, but Brie reverses it, locking in the Yes Lock!

Ric tries to provide a distraction, but it doesn’t do much good, as Brie simply switches to a single leg crab! The pressure eventually gets to be too much for Brie’s knee, though, and she weakens her hold, providing an opening for Charlotte to knock her off and into the ropes. Charlotte locks in the Figure Four, bridging it into the Figure Eight! Brie taps out!

Post-match, Brie spoke to about her loss:

Despite the loss, Brie says she feels good about what she accomplished by going out there and fighting for her family. Though she didn’t walk out with the Divas Title, she did walk out with pride and dignity. She admits that she thought she had the win with the Yes Lock, but isn’t completely surprised that she eventually collapsed, as that tends to happen when you put everything you have into a match.

Thoughts: The opening tag match was definitely fun. Becky and Sasha are always captivating to watch, and I can’t object to Naomi and Tamina getting a bit of Pay-Per-View shine, though they weren’t exactly placed in the spotlight here. With the outcome being pretty predictable, the real interest was in seeing how they got there, and though the match utilized the usual “divide and conquer” strategy for Naomi and Tamina, they pulled it off in interesting ways that believably took a lot out of Becky and Sasha, requiring them to dig deep to pull out the win. It made them look all the more resilient. Despite the loss, Naomi and Tamina have the potential to develop beyond this (hello, Cameron!), so I hope this wasn’t a send-off to Jobberville for them.

It was nice to see Becky and Sasha work together, as hesitant as they were to do it. I’m sure we’re building towards Charlotte vs. Becky vs. Sasha at WrestleMania, and I can see how both Sasha and Becky looking impressive in this match would give both of them, in their minds, license to lobby for a title shot. This alliance will certainly fall apart soon – the only question is how it’ll happen. Hopefully it’ll happen in a way that allows Sasha to regain some of her heelish Boss mojo, because I’m not on board with her being even a tweener just yet.

The really enjoyed the Divas Title match, though there were weaknesses in the action itself due to less-than-perfect chemistry between Brie and Charlotte. They more than made up for that, in my eyes, by actually telling a clear story in the match. I loved seeing Brie pay tribute to both Daniel and Nikki though her ring gear and use of Nikki’s snapback knee attack and forearm, and it was cool to see Charlotte do the flipside of that, too, with the “YES!” chants, the Alabama Slam attempt and the focus on Brie’s neck, which of course was a reference to Nikki’s current predicament. It made me wish that the story played on the “mind games” aspect more, with Charlotte vowing to “come full circle” by defeating the sister of the Diva she won the belt from in the first place and putting her on the sidelines as well. I suppose there just wasn’t enough time between the Royal Rumble and Fastlane.

I wasn’t crazy about the finish – it wasn’t as impactful as I’m sure it looked on paper. I get the knee injury angle, but they should have done it sooner and played with it throughout the match, exposing the limitations of Brie’s knee-heavy repertoire when her knee is smarting. It would have made her even more of an underdog, having to battle back at both an emotional and physical disadvantage. With the injury spot coming so late, it didn’t resonate in a way that made the finish – Brie releasing a potentially title-winning submission hold – as clear as it was meant to be.

I do appreciate that Charlotte didn’t use Ric to get the win; he’s done that so often, she’s long been in need of a relatively clean win. With her heading into WrestleMania as the Divas Champion, she needs to look strong and dominant, and the finish helped achieve that, her exploiting Brie’s injury to turn the tables swiftly and decisively.

Brie is likely retiring soon – probably sooner than her summer estimate – but the tone here wasn’t at all signaling finality. Maybe she’ll have her final match at WrestleMania in some capacity, possibility in a second Divas match? I’m all for that. She deserves a proper send-off, as does every Diva that’s put as many years into this business as she has.

While the title picture isn’t 100% clear, I have to assume that Becky and Sasha will vie for that opportunity, as I mentioned earlier. We’ve got more than a month to get there, so there’s no telling what shape the story will take. I’m excited to watch, though, because even the possibility of three supremely talented Divas – each with several excellent matches under their belts – battling for the Divas Title at WrestleMania is practically unprecedented. WrestleMania 18 and 19 are the closest comparisons, but even the those matches’ lead-ups left something to be desired. Here, we’ve got plenty of history to build on, talent to spare, interesting character dynamics and every reason to believe that the WWE wants to put them to full use. Let’s hope they do!

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