The next stop on the Road to WrestleMania is WrestleMania 34 itself, thanks to the completion of the SmackDown-exclusive pay-per-view, Fastlane. And because of what went down at Fastlane on Sunday night, we also have a much better sense of what SmackDown will be contributing to WWE’s biggest show of the year.
These are the five things we learned from WWE Fastlane 2018, a show that split its time between being really good and making you wish you could fast-forward through live television to get to the next match.
If you want the full blow-by-blow recap experience, check out our live blog from Sunday night.
Shinsuke Nakamura will indeed face AJ Styles at WrestleMania 34
No swerves here: Royal Rumble winner Shinsuke Nakamura wanted to face AJ Styles for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 34, and after Styles successfully defended his title in a six-pack challenge at Fastlane, that’s just what Shinsuke Nakamura is going to get. Even better, we got to this conclusion almost the exact way I suggested we should:
This is probably a match that should be very aware of the lack of tension about the wrestler with the best chance to win, as that’s Styles retaining his title despite the fact anyone else could pin Dolph Ziggler at literally any time during the match and become champ instead. To make up for that relative lack of tension and surprise, things should probably go super off the rails, with false finishes and broken set pieces and Baron Corbin throwing someone into the crowd and then using a fan as a weapon or something.
What we got was things going off the rails from the start — Cena hit his finisher on four opponents before AJ Styles decided against running right into one, and then it was signature moves and finishers and false finishes due to interference and brutal attacks on the outside and broken announce tables and stairs getting thrown and Baron Corbin did throw someone into the crowd, but alas, did not then use a fan as a weapon. Can’t predict them all, I suppose.
Most importantly, though, Styles won, which gives us the matchup most people want to see. Nakamura had a poor start to his WWE career thanks to some strange decisions for feuds and how those feuds went, but he’s begun to look like the superstar he was presented as when he arrived stateside, and Nak vs. his old rival from New Japan Wrestling should make for a serious championship bout at Mania.
Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are fighting each other again, but still have a common enemy in Shane McMahon
Sami laid down in the middle of the ring for Owens as promised, but Owens didn’t trust Sami to stay down, and all hell broke loose from there. Zayn ended up ducking an Owens’ kick later on in the match, and it found a new target: Shane McMahon’s head. Shane O’Mac then broke up pin attempts of both Owens and Zayn, pins that were likely going to end the match and make them WWE Champion, so those two have a place to direct their justified anger besides each other.
Shane McMahon feels like a real waste for these two to be spending their attention on, but at least Sunday’s main event advanced the story and introduced stronger tensions, while opening up a space for Daniel Bryan — SmackDown’s other authority figure — to get on Shane for directly interfering in the match, twice, after what was clearly an unintended kick from Owens.
John Cena still has no path to WrestleMania 34
Cena came out of the gate on fire, hitting Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, and Kevin Owens with Attitude Adjustments, but he couldn’t keep that pace going throughout, and suffered defeat in the end of Sunday’s main-event just like all of those men whose attitudes he adjusted. He now has weeks to go and no pay-per-views left, and still no direct path to WrestleMania 34.
So, on RAW or SmackDown this week, we’re likely to see one of two things: the Undertaker does arrive despite Cena being told that wasn’t in the cards by WWE management, as he said in his promo on Monday’s show a couple weeks back, or Cena legitimately is going to miss WrestleMania 34, which sets up a long-term story line for when he’s in a better position to wrestle full-time again. The answer very likely depends on how Taker has felt in the gym the last few months.
We’re getting Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania 34
Here we gooooo. The face of WWE’s women’s division, who has turned into a legitimate star for far more reasons than just her last name, will defend the SmackDown Women’s Championship against Asuka, the wrestler for whom no one is ready. Charlotte has been the most dominating women in WWE basically since her arrival on the scene a few years back, and Asuka has yet to lose a single match in the company. This is going to be amazing.
Asuka showed up after Charlotte successfully defended the women’s title against Ruby Riott — more on that soon — and didn’t say a word, but she didn’t have to. The anticipation of challenging Charlotte Flair and putting hands on her was palpable, and Asuka pointed at the WrestleMania sign just in case it wasn’t clear why she had that smile on her face and that look in her eyes.
This also likely means Nia Jax is going to finally get that long-awaited championship opportunity against RAW Women’s Champion Nia Jax at Mania, and oh man do I have feelings about that, too. This was the ideal setup, if it’s the direction they’re going in, and if both Nia and Asuka win, WWE’s women’s scene is going to look significantly different than it has for some time.
[whispers] and don’t forget Carmella still has the Money in the Bank briefcase, and wouldn’t cashing in on a victorious Asuka while she’s down and out after her Mania match, breaking the streak and ripping the title from her in the process, just be an incredible source of renewable heat for the Princess of Staten Island?
Rusev and Ruby Riott looked wonderful in defeat
Rusev and Ruby Riott had unenviable tasks at Fastlane. Rusev had to go up against Shinsuke Nakamura, who needed to look good and strong heading into his WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 34, and Riott was challenging Charlotte Flair for her title in a similar capacity. They both lost, as expected, but they both looked great in the process, and that’s encouraging for two characters who need more of a spotlight on whichever show they end up on after Mania.
Rusev was absolutely dominant during his lengthy match with Shinsuke, and looked like he was going to win on multiple occasions. The resourcefulness and wrestling IQ of Nakamura won out in the end, though, as he slowed Rusev with submissions, snuck out of his finisher, and refused to be pinned no matter how many times he got kicked right in the head. Rusev looked like someone capable of defeating a main-event star, and Nakamura looked like someone who is incredibly difficult to put down, even with incessant beatings.
Riott and Charlotte had a different structure to their match: Riott was in control nearly the entire time, to the point of it being surprising how much she was in control. When Flair would begin to pick up momentum, Ruby would almost always find a way to cut it short and take back the advantage. She ended up failing when she didn’t stick to just trying to one-up Charlotte, however: when her stablemates Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan were sent to the back by the ref, Ruby got distracted arguing with him about it, giving Charlotte time to recover.
Had Ruby just stuck to beating on Charlotte instead of worrying about her squad — who, by the way, didn’t have much of anything to do with Riott’s dominance over the champ — Ruby just might have pulled out the surprise W. Good storytelling, that, as it let Charlotte know that she needs to take Riott more seriously than she has, let the audience know Ruby Riott is a legitimate threat, but one that still has some room to grow if she’s to pull off the scheme she revealed during this feud — she can likely topple Charlotte, but that’ll now have to wait.
That’s it! That’s five things. And we didn’t even have to talk about Randy Orton vs. Bobby Roode to get there. Congrats, team, this is a victory for all of us.