Despite a rocky start to WWE Fastlane that saw the show get off to a stumble more than a sprint, the back end of the show delivered two high-quality matches featuring several men who will anchor April's WrestleMania 37 event. Standing out above all else was the main event between universal champion Roman Reigns and challenger Daniel Bryan with Edge as the special enforcer at ringside.
Edge had already secured his spot challenging for the universal title at WrestleMania after winning the Royal Rumble. While his issues with Reigns were already established, Edge has seen tensions rise with Bryan during recent editions of SmackDown. This led to a shocking finish to the main event that will likely change the entire complexion of one of the featured bouts on the biggest weekend of the year for professional wrestling.
CBS Sports was with you all night, bringing you recaps, grades and highlights for all the action from the ThunderDome inside St. Petersburg, Florida's Tropicana Field.
2021 WWE Fastlane results, grades
United States Championship -- Riddle (c) vs. Mustafa Ali: Retribution was, of course, ringside in support of Ali for the match. After a fast start for Riddle, Ali countered a senton with a kick to the neck, putting the champ on the defensive. Ali continued to work over the neck and shoulder area of Riddle, but Ali tweaked his own knee in a flurry of offense. Riddle exploded with a big chain of moves, including a powerbomb and a Final Flash knee strike, but Ali again countered Riddle's attempt to fly, getting his knees up to block a Floating Bro. After a series of counters from both men, a Koji Clutch almost won the match for Ali. Riddle managed to escape before eventually hitting Bro Derek from the second rope to retain his title.
One of the better Kickoff matches in recent memory with a really well thought out match that showed off the best of both men. After the match, Ali again ran down Retribution, but Reckoning walked off, followed by Slapjack. T-Bar and Mace then laid out Ali with a double-team chokebomb. Riddle def. Mustafa Ali via pinfall to retain the title. Grade: B
Women's Tag Team Championship -- Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler (c) vs. Bianca Belair & Sasha Banks: The champions had trouble getting on the same page, arguing early with Jax even tagging herself in when Baszler had an early advantage. Jax and Baszler started to get rolling once it became clear that Banks and Belair were willing to work as a team. Belair hit a 450 splash on Baszler but Reginald jumped on the ring apron to provide a distraction. Banks locked Baszler in the Banks Statement moments later and Belair jumped in the ring to keep Jax from breaking the hold, but Jax threw Belair backward onto Banks. Banks and Belair argued, allowing Baszler to roll up Banks for the pin to retain the titles. Banks and Belair continued to argue after the match about who was at fault for the loss before Banks delivered a slap and stormed off. There's just nothing good about the build WWE is doing to a money match between Belair and Banks at WrestleMania. Neither woman has been given the slightest bit of shine for weeks, and neither looks particularly smart or strong through the whole program so far. Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler def. Bianca Belair & Sasha Banks via pinfall to retain the titles. Grade: C
Intercontinental Championship -- Big E (c) vs. Apollo Crews: The match started with an immediate brawl before Big E hit his spear through the ropes to the floor. E continued to dominate Crews, hitting several splashes on the ring apron before throwing the challenger around the ring with suplexes until Crews finally went low with a dropkick to the knee of the champion. E's aggression led to more openings for Crews before a confusing ending with some pinfall reversals before E had Crews' shoulders down to score the pin and retain the title. Crews snapped after the match, beating down Big E with several deliveries of his variation of the Olympic Slam before standing over the champion. This match needed more time and a better finish -- or at least a better camera angle -- to live up to its potential. Big E def. Apollo Crews via pinfall to retain the title. Grade: C
Braun Strowman vs. Elias: This was supposed to be Strowman vs. Shane McMahon, but McMahon "injured his knee" training before the show, leading to Elias as replacement. Strowman was able to repeatedly fend off the involvement of Jaxson Ryker outside the ring. Finally, Ryker was able to provide enough distraction to allow Elias to hit a chop block and an elbow drop off the top rope. Strowman was able to kick out and hit the running powerslam for the win moments later. This was a throwaway match that only served to drag out the issues between Strowman and McMahon, and there's nothing good about that. Braun Strowman def. Elias via pinfall. Grade: C-
Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: Rollins was all over Nakamura from the jump, taking the fight to him both inside and outside the ring. Rollins began taunting Nakamura and turning his focus to the 22 times Cesaro swung him on SmackDown weeks ago. Rollins tried for a swing of his own but Nakamura countered to an armbar. That moment got Nakamura back in the match, and he and Rollins began trading offensive flurries. Nakamura seemed ready to end things with a Kinshasa but Rollins countered with an elbow to the back of the neck, followed by a kick to the same spot. This left Nakamura prone, and he ate the stomp for the finish. This match wasn't as good as it could have been, but was perfectly fine, especially given the weak string of matches that came before. Seth Rollins def. Shinsuke Nakamura via pinfall. Grade: B-
Drew McIntyre vs. Sheamus (No Holds Barred match): It took little time after the brawling started for the action to spill outside the ring and a variety of weapons to come out from under the ring. A pile of kendo sticks were among the plunder and Sheamus was quick to use them to mark up the front and back of McIntyre's torso. McIntyre returned the favor, taking things one step further to the extreme by driving the end of the stick into Sheamus' eye. With the brutality continuing, the fight began to move through the ThunderDome, leaving the ringside area and heading into the stands with the LED screens before McIntyre threw Sheamus through a set of the screens. McIntyre tried to return Sheamus to the ring where he could score the pin, but Sheamus knocked him over the ringside barricade with a Brogue Kick and hit White Noise through the announce table. McIntyre was able to come back with a Future Shock DDT and a Claymore to score the win. This was the first truly good match of the main show. McIntyre and Sheamus have a trust in each other to put on brutal matches that never feel truly dangerous beyond the story they're telling, and it has made everything they've done in recent months truly click. Drew McIntyre def. Sheamus via pinfall. Grade: A-
Randy Orton vs. Alexa Bliss: Before the match, Orton once again vomited the black goo. Orton tried to attack once the match began but Bliss moved out of the way, sending him crashing shoulder-first into the ring post. Lights then fell from the rigging, nearly hitting Orton while Bliss laughed. Bliss taunted Orton to get back in the ring, shooting a fireball at him after he did so. A burned hand emerged from a hole in the ring, grabbing Orton's ankle before The Fiend came through the canvas. Bliss shoved Orton forward into The Fiend, allowing him to hit Sister Abigail for Bliss to cover for the three count. The match, like the entire Orton vs. Fiend angle, will largely come down to personal tastes. But the return of The Fiend was solid enough to overcome a bit of a slog through keeping Bliss and Orton from actually making physical contact and violating WWE's stance on intergender wrestling. Alexa Bliss def. Randy Orton via pinfall. Grade: B
Universal Championship -- Roman Reigns (c) vs. Daniel Bryan: Bryan was almost playful early on, trying to show Reigns that he couldn't keep up with the challenger on a hold-for-hold basis. He proved that point right through the early stages, getting in Reigns' head with takedowns and holds before throwing jabs to the body and leg kicks while dodging out of the way. Reigns tried for a headlock takedown but was caught in a submission, finally having to resort to throwing a headbutt to take over on offense. Reigns' power was eventually able to allow him to take over the match as Edge paced around ringside. After taking a prolonged beating, Bryan was finally able to get his offense firing again after a series of kicks, but an attempt at a rana from the top rope was countered into a Boston crab by Reigns.
Bryan was able to fire back yet again, landing some offense outside the ring and then a knee to the arm of Reigns, attempting to soften him up for a Yes Lock. Reigns lost control and began attacking Bryan in the corner while ignoring the referee, but Bryan continued to fire back, hitting a rana and then a pair of kicks to the head for a near fall. Bryan then landed a series of stomps to the face before rolling into a Yes Lock and re-securing the hold after Reigns nearly escaped. Reigns managed to break Bryan's grip and land a flurry of punches, leading to Bryan inadvertently taking out the referee with a running knee. Reigns hit a spear and Edge slid into the ring to make the count, but Bryan kicked out at two. As Reigns argued with Edge and tried to attack Bryan, Bryan locked in a triangle choke before transitioning to a Yes Lock and landing crossface strikes. Jey Uso ran in and delivered a superkick to Edge and another to Bryan before grabbing a steel chair from ringside, only to be hit with a Bryan running knee. Bryan went to hit Reigns with the chair but Reigns moved, causing Bryan to hit Edge before being hit with a Superman punch. Bryan then countered a spear back into the Yes Lock. Reigns began tapping out, but Edge hit Bryan with a chair, then did the same to Reigns before storming off. A new referee came to the ring as Reigns crawled to cover Bryan for the victory.
This was outstanding stuff from both men. Daniel Bryan has a legitimate claim to being the greatest professional wrestler in history exactly because of matches like this -- making changes both small and large that completely alter a match while remaining true to his established character. It seems clear he will be entered into the WrestleMania match with Edge and Reigns, and there's nothing bad about that at all. Roman Reigns def. Daniel Bryan via pinfall to retain the title. Grade: A