With WWE Fastlane 2018 on Sunday being the final pit stop on the road to WrestleMania 34, everyone from SmackDown Live will be eager to make the biggest impact possible to ensure their spot at the Show of Shows is secured.
Coming out of the event, fans should get a better idea of what SmackDown's side of the WrestleMania lineup will consist of. Thus, a strong showing at Fastlane would go a long way toward increasing a Superstar's chances of being featured in an important role in the buildup to WrestleMania.
While not many SmackDown stars have managed to stand out lately, all of them intend to leave lasting impressions that will carry their momentum to the grand stage.
As Fastlane draws near, let's take a look at the athletes who will shine brightest and earn the spotlight at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Shinsuke Nakamura, the 2018 Royal Rumble winner, will have a match for the WWE Championship at WretleMania 34 no matter what. His desired opponent, AJ Styles, doesn't have a guaranteed road to The Showcase of the Immortals yet because of his pending WWE title defense in the Fastlane main event.
Styles will have his work cut out for him Sunday night, when he puts the gold up for grabs in a Six-Pack Challenge. The odds may not be in his favor, but considering not one of the challengers makes sense as an opponent for Nakamura at 'Mania, fans should expect The Phenomenal One to retain his title.
While it's all but guaranteed Styles will be walking into WrestleMania as WWE champion, his spot on the card remains unknown. With Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship also confirmed, it's much more likely Raw's top title will be contested last at the event.
However, an exceptional outing from Styles at Fastlane would increase his chances of being placed higher on the WrestleMania card. Considering Styles typically steals the show whenever he steps in the ring, he should have no problem doing the same Sunday.
The Usos have made their aspirations of competing on the main card at WrestleMania 34 quite clear. It would be a crime for them to be bumped to the Kickoff show yet again this year, and it appears they will be involved in a marquee match of some sort if the past few weeks have been any indication.
At Fastlane, they will rekindle their long-running rivalry with The New Day over the SmackDown Live Tag Team Championships. Every encounter between the teams during this feud has been above-average, and their upcoming outing should be no exception.
As determined as New Day is to make history by becoming five-time tag team champs, The Usos need the win a lot more. Those blue straps are their tickets to WrestleMania, and they plan to solidify their spot on the WrestleMania card with a successful title defense against their archrivals.
Every Usos match finds a way to be more exciting and more innovative than the last, and New Day always brings out the best in them. Therefore, their instant classic at Fastlane should be enough to earn them a prominent position on WWE's biggest show of the year.
Compared to the aforementioned athletes, Rusev's name may come as a slight surprise. After all, his on-air presence has declined drastically in recent months despite the undeniable popularity of Rusev Day.
That said, if anyone deserves the spotlight at WrestleMania, it's Rusev (as well as Aiden English for his contributions to the act's organic success). He's scheduled to go one-on-one with Nakamura at Fastlane, and although the result isn't in doubt, it is imperative The Bulgarian Brute looks credible in defeat.
Granted, WWE may not view Rusev as a top priority, but to say he could be a breakout babyface any day now would be an understatement. The fifth annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal would the perfect place for him to shine at WrestleMania, especially if he were to win it.
That won't be possible unless he takes Nakamura to the limit and proves to officials the WWE Universe is fully behind him. The King of Strong Style is WrestleMania-bound either way, but an impressive performance from Rusev would boost the two-time U.S. champion's stock significantly just in time for the April extravaganza.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.