It's the final PPV before WrestleMania XXXIV AND the last SmackDown exclusive PPV of the second brand split...so what have WWE got in store for us with Fastlane 2018 on 11th March? Traditionally, the PPV before WrestleMania has been a bit of a damp squib, often falling victim to a little predictability as the company focuses on getting the building blocks in place for the biggest show of the year. Will this be the case with Fastlane?
WWE Championship //
AJ Styles (C) vs. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin
Based on last Tuesday's five-way match, featuring everyone but John Cena, this should be a cracking scramble match for the brand's top prize. There's a lot of talent here, with the SmackDown brand spending some time introducing a variety of relationships between the six guys following Royal Rumble in January. Obviously, Styles' feud with Kevin Owens (and then Sami Zayn) has been rumbling for the longest time, but we've seen Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin randomly get inserted into the mix, seemingly flipping between heel and babyface willy nilly. John Cena, of course, has had issues with pretty much everyone in the match at one time or another and after being absent from the match on SmackDown, it will be interesting to see how Cena's participation effects the flow and narrative that's picked for the main event.
The most interesting element however came to life at the conclusion of SmackDown Live, when Sami Zayn pinned Kevin Owens with a Helluva Kick, after previously promising to lie down for his best friend at the PPV. It's currently unclear how the duo will interact during the match, but there's potential to tell a brilliant story as the two have to contend with four other men in order to get at each other. I'm looking forward to seeing the inverted version of this classic feud and how Kevin Owens does when steadily transitioned into a babyface role, something which he hasn't portrayed since his debut match in NXT.
For me, it seems pretty clear that we'll have the same WWE Champion when this is all said and done, because AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura is the biggest match possible, considering Nakamura has already faced Cena on an episode of SmackDown. The predictability shouldn't be a massive issue if the action is strong and the six men work in a number of number falls along the way, which they are more than capable of.
WWE SmackDown Women's Championship //
Charlotte Flair (C) vs. Ruby Riott
Lets be honest, WWE hasn't done the greatest job of building up Ruby Riott and her Riott Squad since their November and whilst that has improved over the last few weeks, it's difficult to see Riott as a threat to a Charlotte Flair who hasn't lost in singles action since July, especially with WrestleMania just around the corner. The issue between the pair has often felt contrived, whilst we didn't actually find out the reasons behind Riott's dislike for Flair until last Tuesday, so I think it's fair to say that despite it's length, this feud has often felt rushed and poorly thought through. However, both Riott and Flair are quality in the ring and have the potential to show us that on Sunday, if they receive the time and attention. Riott could do with a big performance to keep her in the mix following WrestleMania, whilst Flair still needs that top quality match that has evaded her since moving to SmackDown.
Flair feels like pretty much a lock to retain, whilst part of me expects Asuka to appear after the match, setting up Asuka vs. Flair at Mania.
WWE United States Championship //
Bobby Roode (C) vs. Randy Orton
I'm a little bit worried about this one. As I alluded to in this week's SmackDown Live review, both Bobby Roode and Randy Orton are capable of great wrestling when they're 100% motivated, but also have the potential to put on utterly boring, through the motions wrestling when they're not completely invested in what's going on. If this was simply Roode vs. Orton, then I don't think we'd have a massive problem, especially with a heated issue between the pair, but unfortunately the feud has been built around Jinder Mahal's meddling and the SmackDown Top 10 rankings, with lazy writing and lame ideas. It would seem obvious that Mahal will be involved in this match in one way or another, possibly setting up a three way at WrestleMania (despite the Orton vs. Roode match having much more of a big time feel) and if that's the case I'd expect Orton and Roode to plod through this one and tread water until the interference. I'm hopeful that we get the match that both are capable of in the right environment, but I certainly won't be surprised if that isn't the case.
This could go either way, but it would seem like Roode is the more likely to win because he's not held the title all that long.
WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship //
The Usos (C) vs. The New Day
This bout has the potential to steal the show as The Usos and The New Day renew their rivalry that was one of the highlights of last year. These two teams know each other very well and a have a rich history to draw upon to bring extra depth to this tag clash. A slight change to their original programme, as it appears that Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods are transitioning back towards a heel role for the first time since the start of 2016, highlighted by both a cheap win over Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable and a fiery promo from Big E two weeks ago on SmackDown. How that change plays into the contest and what it allows the four (or five) to do creatively should be fascinating to watch unfold. Whether the two teams can top their matches at Hell in a Cell and SummerSlam Kick-Off, I'm not sure, but what am sure of is that they're going to give it a go and leave it all out there.
I'm picking the Usos to retain, because I feel like Jimmy & Jey vs. The Bludgeon Brothers is the most intriguing bout that SD tag division has for WrestleMania.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev
Whilst this is one is a forgone conclusion match, with their being absolutely no chance that WWE would have Nakamura lose before getting a title shot at WrestleMania, there's still potential for an entertaining match here with Rusev. After disappointing matches with John Cena and Randy Orton last year, as well as an even more disappointing squash loss to The Big Show, Rusev needs to show that his in-ring work is up to his entertaining mic and character work, whilst Nakamura also could do with a good match after failing to show what he is truly capable of since switching to SmackDown from NXT last April. Their styles should match well with lots of heavy striking and submission wrestling that has the potential to produce a very good match if both turn up, whilst the crowd should produce a atmosphere conducive to great wrestling considering both men are still extremely popular right now.
Obviously, Nakkers wins.
Becky Lynch & Naomi vs. Natalya & Carmella
Scrambled together on SmackDown this week, we have this absolutely nothing tag team match. I'm all for having a second (or third or fourth or whatever) women's match on the card, but I would've liked to have seen one with anything resembling a build. Becky Lynch and Naomi have mostly been feuding with the Riott Squad and helping out Charlotte Flair lately, but WWE decided to go with a random Becky Lynch vs. Carmella match on SmackDown and then chuck together this match with a backstage segment. There's talent here to do an enjoyable match, but I've been given no reason whatsoever to care about this and there's very little chance that this won't come off as absolute filler.
I'm not sure it matters who wins, but seeing as I've gone all-babyface so far, lets say Natalya & Carmella win this, for reasons.
Six matches doesn't seem enough for a full PPV and pre-show, so expect potential appearances from any of Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin, The Bludgeon Brothers, Breezango, Tye Dillinger, Zack Ryder, The Ascension or Mojo Rawley to beef up the card.