Given WWE’s decision to hold two single-brand PPVs per month (or thereabouts), there had been questions raised to as whether all of these RAW-only or SmackDown-only shows would make it to DVD. The WWE Network is more of a priority these days to the company, so the necessity for all of these cards to be made available as single releases isn’t quite as high as, say, 2004 or 2005 (during the previous Brand Extension), not to mention the fact that, if we’re to believe WWE, we’ll be getting 19 supershows per year in total, which means a hell of a lot of DVDs to purchase when you factor in the dozen or so three-disc compilations that the company puts out on an annual basis.
Perhaps for these reasons, and partly due to the somewhat sudden announcement of additional PPVs, the first two SmackDown-only cards of Brand Extension Part II, Backlash and No Mercy, have yet to be released on DVD. TLC did receive a release, followed by Roadblock: End of the Line, which increased hopes that all of these PPVs would make it to Home Video. Thankfully, WWE has now taken the most logical, and customer-friendly, route with the introduction of “Double Feature” two-disc sets which contain both solo-brand shows from a particular time period, with the “Double Feature” series (which isn’t too dissimilar from the old “Tagged Classics”) beginning with the “Double Feature: Elimination Chamber & Fastlane 2017” DVD.
Of course, both cards took place right in the middle of what has become known as WrestleMania Season, with Royal Rumble in the rear-view mirror and with ‘Mania itself on the horizon. Any long-time fan will be aware that, for PPVs held around this time, WWE will place greater emphasis on storyline progression and putting the pieces in place for Mania than necessarily staging the best possible card at that particular point. This is hammered home in this first “Double Feature” set, as Elimination Chamber is essentially a one-match show, and whilst Fastlane has more to offer on the whole, its main attraction is more of an angle than an actual match.
NOTE: This review contains spoilers (well, the DVD’s packaging does too!)
Mickie James vs. Becky Lynch
Beginning with the SmackDown-exclusive Elimination Chamber, the main show kicks off with Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James, a grudge match built up since the returning James was revealed as La Luchadora, saving Alexa Bliss’ SmackDown Women’s Championship in a Steel Cage clash with Lynch. Becky vs. Mickie could be classed as something of a dream match within the women’s ranks, pitting one of the key players in the “Women’s Revolution” against one of WWE’s top females from the mid-to-late 2000s. However, whilst this is an enjoyable opener, it’s a mildly disappointing outing; it doesn’t come to life in the same way as some of Becky’s more memorable matches have. It’s a reasonable start to the show as Becky gets retribution on James, but I was expecting a bit more from it.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Apollo Crews & Kalisto
This is one of those strange match layouts where the psychology is all muddled up. A Ziggler heel turn at the close of the year, with Apollo and Kalisto being his primary targets, forms the backdrop for this to happen, but it still pits two babyfaces whose popularity aren’t exactly through the roof against a heel who fans are still somewhat reluctant to boo. The pre-match shenanigans where Ziggler waylaid Kalisto do provide a greater semblance of logic to the face/heel dynamic of the bout, but it nevertheless feels like a filler match which could have taken place on any episode of SmackDown. What’s more, Kalisto returns later in the match, resetting the two-faces-against-one-heel structure, the outnumbered heel loses (is that a good thing or a bad thing?), and the post-match scenes where Dolph goes crazy with a steel chair again elicit a crowd reaction which would also not have been to WWE’s liking, making this a totally forgettable bout on every level.
Tag Team Turmoil (SmackDown Tag Team Championships)
Next up comes a Tag Team Turmoil match with the SmackDown Tag Team Championships at stake. With Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton’s run with the blue-and-silver titles having ended in December, this match involves all of the brand’s full-time tag teams at the time: American Alpha; The Usos; Heath Slater and Rhyno; Breezango; The Ascension; and The Vaudevillains. It’s a decent effort; Tag Team Turmoil matches are rarely five-star epics due to the rushed nature of most falls and the general inclusion of several teams whose chances of winning are remote, which hinders the crowd reaction during those portions of the bout, but this is one of the better examples of the stipulation, with American Alpha coming out on top to retain the titles. It’s also a reminder that despite minimal promotion, SmackDown’s tag team division has more depth and variety than that of RAW, or at least it did prior to the recent Superstar Shake-Up.
Nikki Bella vs. Natalya
There was a proper story to this one, with Natalya having originally denied and then totally admitted (with brutal honesty) that she had waylaid Nikki prior to the inter-brand women’s match at Survivor Series, which led to a series of personal promo battles and backstage brawls. This clash is supposedly the culmination of all of the animosity, but its lay-out and double countout conclusion make it clear that this is a step towards the final destination of the feud, rather than being a score-settler in its own right. It’s a fun bout to watch, though, and after the match, we’re given the first hint of what would be a major WrestleMania showdown.
Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper
This is probably the second biggest match on the show, considering Orton’s Royal Rumble victory two weeks prior, and his rivalry with Harper being an integral part of the Orton-joins-the-Wyatts storyline. With Randy needing some time to kill until his WWE Title adversary for WrestleMania was officially confirmed on television, this match exists more to provide Harper with a chance to prove his worth in a major singles environment, and he definitely succeeds by putting forth a great effort despite coming up short opposite the Viper, who is one of WWE’s best when it comes to making somebody look good and allowing an opponent to shine. This match is one which could easily be forgotten come the end of the show, given the significance of the main event, but it helped Harper to remain in the main event mix for a little while longer, and his performance here, alongside past efforts against the likes of Dolph Ziggler and John Cena, demonstrate that fans would be well behind Harper should WWE offer him a chance to challenge for the WWE Championship on the blue brand later this year.
Alexa Bliss vs. Naomi (SmackDown Women’s Championship)
Alexa Bliss vs. Naomi makes history by being the third all-female match on the main card of a PPV event for the first time ever in WWE. That aside, though, the match suffers firstly from its placement (after an exciting Orton vs. Harper clash and right before the big Elimination Chamber showdown), and secondly from some minor-yet-noticeable botches, particularly during the finishing sequence. Fans also aren’t into the match too much, perhaps because Naomi hadn’t really been built up as a major threat to Alexa’s championship; she had gained some momentum on television beforehand, but not enough to truly convince fans that Naomi could capture the title. The finish itself which sees Naomi capture the title following her Split-Legged Moonsault is a surprise, although it would leave Naomi with a knee injury which meant that she had to vacate the championship and be written off television for a little while post-EC.
Elimination Chamber Match (WWE Championship)
By far the most important match on the show is John Cena vs. AJ Styles vs. Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Baron Corbin vs. The Miz, inside the new-look Elimination Chamber structure, with the WWE Championship at stake, as well as the honor of defending the title at WrestleMania. That most of SmackDown’s top names are featured in this clash explains why the under-card was a little more underwhelming than at the likes of Backlash or No Mercy, since there was less star power and, consequently, reduced interest. This was often the case during the original Brand Extension whenever the Elimination Chamber was employed, especially on a single-brand show, meaning that the success of the card as a whole relied on the success of the Chamber match.
Fortunately, this one is excellent. Packed with great action and breath-taking spots (the redesign of the Chamber allowed the performers to take greater risks than they would have in the original structure), as well as advancing and planting the seeds for stories which would culminate at WrestleMania, this is as good an Elimination Chamber match as you are going to see; everybody in the match is giving it their all, and the live crowd in Phoenix, Arizona are well to the entire thing, making this one of the best Chamber matches yet. It is also the night where Bray Wyatt would finally capture a major singles title, and they don’t come bigger than the WWE Championship, nor could he have achieved this success in a more impressive fashion than claiming clean pinfalls over Cena and AJ. It’s very likely that this one ends up on “Best PPV Matches 2017” when it’s released at the close of the year, but in the meantime, this “Double Feature” set is worth watching for the Chamber match alone, as it’s a fantastic end to an up-and-down show.
Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn
Fastlane made a bit of history in its own right by being the first WWE Pay-Per-View held in March which wasn’t called WrestleMania. It starts well with Samoa Joe vs. Sami Zayn, a hard-hitting clash which makes Joe look like a true killer, in his first PPV match since coming to RAW. Seth Rollins was originally meant to take on Joe, but a torn MCL in Joe’s debut angle on January 30 meant that Sami stood in as a replacement. I actually think Zayn was a more suitable opponent: I mentioned earlier how Randy Orton is one of the top WWE performers in making somebody look good, but Sami is probably the best in the company at doing that, especially when his opponent is booked as a monster or has a mean streak with an intention to punish. Not to mention that the action here is more than adequate, too, prior to Joe claiming victory by submission with his Coquina Clutch. I’d definitely like to see a rematch at some point, although it won’t be for a while now that Zayn is on SmackDown following the Superstar Shake-Up.
Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore & Big Cass (RAW Tag Team Championships)
The second match sees Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson defend their RAW Tag Team Championships against Enzo Amore and Big Cass. This one is just okay; after month upon month of doubles matches involving The New Day, it was refreshing to see other teams receive an opportunity to shine on the main card of a PPV event, but whilst the body of this match is watchable and inoffensive, it feels like just another tag team match, as The Club retain amidst controversy with Enzo’s foot being shoved off the rope, unbeknownst to the referee. It’s not a bad match, but it’s also not a must-see doubles clash by any means. (On the subject of Enzo and Cass, isn’t it strange that The New Day held the Tag Titles for a record-setting 483 days, and yet they didn’t once defend the belts on PPV against the obviously-over Enzo and Cass?)
Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax
Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax tells the familiar story of a smaller competitor trying to chop down a larger, more dominant and vicious opponent. They had previously met on the Kickoff Show prior to Royal Rumble, and this rematch isn’t too different to their original battle. It tells a logical story, and Sasha gets more offence in and generally looks better than the booking had allowed on the Rumble Kickoff, especially since she comes out in top in the end with a roll-up in order to keep Nia strong in defeat. In that respect, it’s alright, but it’s also nothing special.
Jinder Mahal vs. Cesaro and Rusev vs. Big Show
What comes next is just weird. Formerly tag team partners, Rusev and Jinder Mahal suddenly found a dislike for one another, which led then-GM Mick Foley to assign them a match each on the Fastlane card. I assumed that we would see the two heels face one another, or at least that their opponents would be a surprise of some kind. Cesaro is picked to take on Jinder, and it’s another match which is just okay; that description covers many of the bouts on this card (and many matches on previous RAW-only PPVs, to be honest). Cesaro claims the win with a little help from Rusev, who then dismantles Mahal (he didn’t get the memo not to hinder Jinder). From there, Big Show is chosen to take on Rusev, and given the previous dominance of the Bulgarian Brute and his rise back up the ranks as United States Champion last year, the finish of this one is pretty baffling as Show completely destroys Rusev with three Chokeslams and a KO Punch. Granted, Rusev was about to exit television due to a shoulder injury, and Big Show still had hopes of facing Shaq at WrestleMania at this point (which of course didn’t happen in the end), but this just feels like a total burial of someone who WWE will be relying on to be a major heel again in the future, making the whole presentation of this a head-scratcher. Roddy Piper once said that, in his early days, his contribution was listed as “POOM”, for “Plus One Other Match”. That term comes to mind when watching this match, or matches if you include the Cesaro vs. Jinder portion.
Neville vs. Jack Gallagher (Cruiserweight Championship)
Fortunately, things head into a positive direction again with Neville defending the Cruiserweight Championship against Jack Gallagher. I loved this match; after months of the purple-roped division receiving apathy for a variety of reasons, this was finally a chance for the sub-205 pounders to show what they can really do, and with the crowd fully invested. Whilst there are some high-flying moments, the best part about this to me was the pure physicality (Jack’s headbutts look positively brutal), and the story of Neville having to unleash almost everything within his arsenal to try and put away Gallagher, having taken the Gentleman somewhat lightly, and ultimately requiring the Red Arrow, which he reluctantly resorts to, in order to retain his title. It may not be a vintage Cruiserweight match in the same vein as those held back in WCW, but it’s a great battle nonetheless.
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
The action remains at a high level for Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman. What a difference a year makes; as 2016 began, rumors of a possible Strowman vs. Undertaker match for WrestleMania practically horrified fans. Since the Draft last July, though, Braun has slowly established himself as a true monster, and an agile one at that. His athleticism belies his size, and whilst he had already impressed against Big Show on a previous edition of RAW, this was a chance for him to shine in a major PPV setting. He and Roman over-delivered here, putting on a thrilling big-man brawl that put Strowman on the map. Of course, many at the time disapproved of the outcome (Reigns pinning Braun to hand him his first singles defeat in WWE), partly because Roman was chosen to be the benefactor. (On that note, look out for the guy on the front row who truly hates Roman as he prepares to unleash an attack at ringside.) Given what would take place at WrestleMania when Reigns faced The Undertaker, some may argue that there could have been no other reasonable outcome in hindsight. Besides, there will be a rematch later this month at Payback, where I see the result being reversed, and as of this writing, Strowman is arguably the hottest act in WWE, following his awesome prolonged destruction of Reigns (which culminated in Braun tipping over an ambulance with Roman inside) and ring implosion involving Big Show (the third time this has happened to the poor giant). As I said, what a difference a year makes.
Bayley vs. Charlotte Flair (RAW Women’s Championship)
Bayley vs. Charlotte Flair is the penultimate clash, with the RAW Women’s Championship at stake. Unlike Roman vs. Strowman, the booking surrounding this feud made, and still makes, no sense to me. Granted, WWE couldn’t completely replicate the Bayley-as-the-underdog-challenger storyline from NXT, since most of her fans know that she held the NXT Women’s Championship for over seven months, but having her win the championship on a random episode of RAW (albeit in the main event) between Royal Rumble and Fastlane felt like a real waste. The rematch here is a pretty good one, but the finish is a bit confusing, and considering Charlotte’s dominance on PPV for so long, and with WrestleMania around the corner, the outcome is once again a baffling one as her lengthy PPV undefeated record abruptly and anticlimactically ends.
I would have preferred a DQ win for Charlotte here in order to keep both ladies strong (Sasha could have caused the disqualification, adding some tension to the Bayley-Sasha friendship which surprisingly has still yet to implode as of this writing). When rewatching this match, it feels like WWE had booked itself into a corner, based on past results when Charlotte was facing Sasha. To reverse the trend of the babyface capturing the title on television only for the heel to regain the gold on PPV, Charlotte would be damaged, but in order to maintain the dominance of “The Queen”, Bayley would be harmed. It’s as if WWE couldn’t deliver a pinfall or submission finish without adversely impacting one of the participants, hence why I believe the DQ outcome was the way to go. It’s still a good match, but the circumstances surrounding the booking of the result are quite frustrating. Speaking of which…
Kevin Owens vs. Goldberg (Universal Championship)
The main event, then: Kevin Owens vs. Goldberg for the Universal Championship. You probably already know what happened, but let’s just say that if you’re a big Kevin Owens fan, you probably won’t enjoy this: following several minutes of stalling by Owens, a sudden distraction by Chris Jericho allows Goldberg to Spear and Jackhammer Owens, capturing the title in just 22 seconds! If Goldberg had gone 10-15 minutes with Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series, and defeated him, this match might have been different. I assume WWE took the theory of “Why take 20 minutes to tell a story when we can do so in 5?” and applied it to this match, except that it doesn’t last 5 minutes. Or one minute. In fact, it will take longer for you to read this paragraph than it will to watch this bout, from bell-to-bell.
I understand the booking behind this, and perhaps because the nature of this match had been so heavily rumored for weeks beforehand, it didn’t really bother me that much on the night. However, it still makes for a rather underwhelming end to the show. This match/angle should have taken place on RAW, where it may have been more tolerable. As a PPV main event (and a match to try and justify a DVD purchase such as this “Double Feature” set), it doesn’t work, and I’m guessing it will sit highly on “Worst Match” lists come the end of the year. As an angle, it serves several purposes; as a match, well, it’s barely a match! (It also harmed Goldberg’s crowd reactions from this point on, which had been almost entirely positive since he returned to RAW in October; in the weeks between Fastlane and WrestleMania, Goldberg and/or the mention of his name would be booed by fans on multiple occasions, largely stemming from the way in which he became the Universal Champion.)
Thank goodness that Fastlane comes as part of a two-disc set, because had it been released on a single disc, it would be very hard to recommend it due to the brevity of the main event (unlike Survivor Series, which had several strong matches to support the unexpectedly-short Goldberg-Lesnar clash). The two shows complement each other quite well, actually: Elimination Chamber has a superb main event but an inconsistent under-card, whilst Fastlane has a more entertaining under-card followed by a main event which is more angle than match. If you combine the two, and skip through the missable material, you have enough action to make for what would have been a pretty damn good three-hour PPV (Neville vs. Gallagher, Orton vs. Harper, Roman vs. Braun, Bayley vs. Charlotte – finish aside – and the Chamber match).
The set also includes the Kickoff Show matches from both cards, which are Mojo Rawley vs. Curt Hawkins and Akira Tozawa and Rich Swann vs. The Brian Kendrick and Noam Dar respectively.
Summing this one up: as I mentioned earlier, when a PPV falls in the middle of WrestleMania Season, WWE is more interested (and understandably so) in promoting ‘Mania than delivering an outstanding show in its own right, and we have two examples of that here. To be honest, aside from the Elimination Chamber match, I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to buy this set, but with that sensational battle included, and several under-card highlights spread across the two discs, I’ll give the set a mild thumbs up overall.
What did you guys think of Elimination Chamber and Fastlane? If you liked either show, will you be buying this DVD double pack? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
Get WWE’s new ELIMINATION CHAMBER 2017 & FASTLANE 2017 DVD…
– Australia: Available now! Grab the first “Double Feature” DVD pack at Madman.com.au.
– UK/Europe: May 1st. Pre-order the new “Double Feature” DVD now here on Amazon.co.uk.