Raw began to construct the WrestleMania 34 card at Elimination Chamber. It's SmackDown Live's turn at WWE Fastlane 2018.
By the end of Sunday's pay-per-view, fans will have a clearer idea of what to expect from The Showcase of the Immortals this year.
Charlotte Flair will have to battle past the bruiser Ruby Riott in order to remain champion come WrestleMania. If The Queen can stand tall in Columbus, Ohio, she will be in the title match at the marquee event for the third time in a row.
The Usos need to get past familiar rivals to remain champs themselves. How they fare on Sunday will determine where the brothers fit into the WrestleMania puzzle.
The same goes for AJ Styles.
The WWE champion has a barn burner against Shinsuke Nakamura awaiting him on April 8. But he has to beat five other men in a Six-Pack Challenge at Fastlane first.
The night's results will be noteworthy in terms of their WrestleMania implications, but Sunday's show has the makings of a C-level event. A lack of buzz and a run of poor SmackDown episodes have lowered expectations lfor WWE's trip to Nationwide Arena.
News, Potential Spoilers
It may not be wise to hold out hope for Sami Zayn or Kevin Owens to emerge from Fastlane with the WWE Championship. The two heels are reportedly booked for a bout well outside of the WrestleMania 34 main event.
According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, WWE plans to place both Owens and Zayn in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at the big event (h/t Marc Middleton of Wrestling Inc).
John Cena will also be vying for WWE gold in Fastlane's marquee match. To further the idea he could miss out on the WrestleMania fun, he teased missing the show altogether in a recent sit-down with Sports Illustrated's Justin Barrasso.
"All things considered, with everything coming out, I wouldn't mind my contribution to WrestleMania this year being an absence," Cena said. "If that's my role in the story, I'll play it."
That seems far-fetched—an example of the powerhouse trying to manipulate the audience. It's hard not to imagine all this talk about whether he will make the cut leads to a big-name challenger (The Undertaker?) stepping up to face him.
And although announcer Renee Young has been out of action of late, she noted via Twitter we can expect her on the PPV broadcast:
She's the heart of the pre-show panels, so that's welcome news.
- Rusev vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
- Becky Lynch and Naomi vs. Natalya and Carmella
- Bobby Roode vs. Randy Orton (United States Championship)
- The Usos vs. The New Day (SmackDown Live Tag Team Championships)
- Charlotte Flair vs. Ruby Riott (SmackDown Live Women's Championship)
- AJ Styles vs. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler (WWE Championship)
- Nakamura over Rusev.
- Lynch and Naomi over Natalya and Carmella.
- Orton over Roode.
- The Usos over The New Day.
- Flair over Riott.
- Styles retains.
Roode vs. Orton
Bobby Roode outlasted the competition in the tournament to crown a new U.S. champ in January. The Glorious One has since fended off Rusev and Mojo Rawley. The level of competition jumps up in a major way Sunday, when he takes on a former world champ in Orton.
WWE's announcers continue to play up that Orton has yet to win the United States Championship. He's one RKO away from changing that fact.
And with WrestleMania so close, it makes sense to shift the title to Orton. A championship match with Orton on the big stage has more appeal than most of the options the company has with Roode as champ.
There's a chance Jinder Mahal worms his way into the mix here. He has berated both Roode and Orton recently. And on Tuesday's SmackDown, he notched a win over The Viper.
The cocky villain may prove to the be X-factor one way or another Sunday.
The Usos vs. The New Day One More Time
What was arguably the best feud in WWE last year isn't done.
The New Day took down Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable a few weeks back to earn another crack at their old rivals The Usos. Now they are one win away from walking into WrestleMania as champions again. The champions, meanwhile, are propelled by a motivation to not be left off The Show of Shows again.
The Usos have continually been relegated to the pre-show. But over the past year, they have stockpiled momentum and have become one of WWE's hottest acts. That will continue in Columbus opposite their pancake-throwing challengers.
History says this match is going to be excellent. Each time these teams met in the past, they knocked it out of the park.
Flair vs. Riott
The Riott Squad has spent much of its time on SmackDown antagonizing the women's division, focusing on Charlotte Flair in particular. Ambushes have become the faction's calling card.
In the search for payback, Flair has knocked off Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan. The group's leader, Ruby Riott, is next.
This clash has the chance to be a showcase for Riott—win or lose. She's shown herself to be the best newcomer from the wave of last year's NXT call-ups. A long, back-and-forth bout with the champ could be her means to make her mark on the blue brand.
Flair, though, is all but guaranteed to retain the title. Whatever WWE has planned for that championship at WrestleMania, be it Flair vs. Asuka or Flair vs. Becky Lynch, it would be better off with The Queen at the center.
Riott's time will come, but not just yet.
Fastlane's main event won't be short on moving parts.
With this bout, WWE has folded together a mess of stories—Cena's quest to make it to WrestleMania, Zayn and Owens' splintering relationship, Styles' attempts to keep his dream match with Nakamura alive and Ziggler is out to prove he's a top dog following his return from hiatus. And SmackDown's bosses, Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon, figure to play into the drama as well.
General manager Bryan has bickered with the commissioner over decisions that often involve Owens and Zayn. Is he showing favoritism or just making poor choices? Is the growing tension between Bryan and McMahon leading to anything?
Those questions linger as Styles looks to fend off five challengers.
The Phenomenal One remains the favorite despite the odds. He makes the most sense to walk out of Nationwide Arena with the title in hand. Styles vs. Nakamura is the best WrestleMania match available to WWE.
But even Styles' in-ring mastery isn't going to save a subpar show. The main event promises to be crowded and all over the place, capping off a transitional PPV that does not look set to be a classic on paper.