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WWE Fastlane preview: Will AJ Styles survive the six-pack challenge?


Tonight, we get the final SmackDown brand-only PPV from Columbus, O-HI-O: WWE Fastlane. This is also the final PPV before WrestleMania in April and is built around four title matches, and the trials and tribulations of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn's complicated friendship. 

With this being the final PPV before WrestleMania for Smackdown Live, all the big key matches for the big show will be settled tonight. All the future title matches should be pretty clear, with maybe the exception of the women's title, because of the pending announcement from Asuka. There's a very good chance that this show will be as predictable and anti-climatic as Elimination Chamber's matches were which just leaves us anxiously awaiting WrestleMania next month. 

The WWE title will be defended in a six-pack challenge match when champion AJ Styles fights to retain his title, and a defense against Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania, against John Cena, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Baron Corbin, and Dolph Ziggler. This is the second month in a row with six or more wrestlers in the main event but the outcome still feels as anti-climactic.

Is it possible for the WWE to do back-to-back predictable shows? Yes,  it is. Is it possible that WWE can prove that doing PPVs in between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania is pointless? Yes, it is. But is there hope that the WWE might try to throw a different, less predictable set of results at us? Yes, there is. 

Becky Lynch and Naomi vs. Natalya and Carmella

"Ms. Money in the Bank" Carmella is joining up with Natalya to take on Lynch and Naomi, made as a result by Lynch submitting Carmella by submission recently. The story in this match is Carmella and when she'll cash in her MiTB conract. Depending on the placement of the match, that might tip us off to a potential cash in later if the Charlotte-Ruby Riott match is after it. If this match is before that, I expect Lynch and Naomi to win and if it's after, I expect Carmella and Natalya.

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev (w/Aiden English)

Since Nakamura's title opportunity at WrestleMania is already booked, he's been just hanging around on SD without a whole going on. The same can be said for Rusev, who despite being one of the most beloved talents on the roster, has had nothing going for him. With that being said, Rusev and Nakamura are on two separate paths going in opposite directions. Back at the end of February, Nakamura beat English in a match and after an interrupted Nakamura promo one week later, Rusev challenged Shinsuke for damaging English's vocal cords. Shinsuke accepted and here we are. 

SmackDown Women's Champion Charlotte Flair vs. Ruby Riott

The assumption is that Asuka is going to challenge Alexa Bliss for the Raw women's title. However, that has not officially been announced and while Flair was looking forward to WrestleMania, Riott took exception. Riott doesn't think that Flair is going to make it to Mania as champion and wants to dethrone her here. This is a great opportunity for Riott to perform in her biggest match to date on the main roster. The company is showing they have faith by putting her in this match and of course, they know what they already have with Charlotte. Although this is a great opportunity for Riott, there should be no doubt that Flair will find a way to retain. But that doesn't mean she will leave as champion...

SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos vs. The New Day

While The Usos have been the best team on the blue brand, the division has become not so important. Hopefully, the emergence of The Bludgeon Brothers will change that, but in the meantime, we revisit one of, if not the best, tag team feud of 2017. After the feud last year, both teams became friends with mutual respect for one another. But after ND beat Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin a few weeks back, they decided that they wanted to be tag champs heading into WrestleMania. The Usos, who have never been on the main card of WrestleMania, refuse to have that happen again and look to retain their tag titles. I expect The Usos to do just that and then face The Bludgeon Brothers at WrestleMania. 

United States Champion Bobby Roode vs. Randy Orton

Roode won the United States title tournament by defeating Jinder Mahal in the finals. He now jets off to attempt to be "the greatest U.S. champion of all-time" and in order to do that, he needs to beat Orton who is "one of the greatest of all-time". This match seemed to come to fruition after Mahal made fun of where Roode and Orton were ranked on SD's Top Ten list even though Mahal didn't rank at all on the list. Also, even though Mahal has been right in the middle of this feud and has stood tall over Roode and Orton respectively, he is not in the match. There is a safe assumption that all three men might be competing at Mania for the US title should Roode should get out of Columbus with the title still in-hand. 

Six-Pack Challenge: WWE Champion AJ Styles vs. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler

For the second straight month, the main event of a WWE show seems like an absolute lock for the winner. Where last month it was Roman Reigns at the Chamber, all WrestleMania signs point to Styles somehow surviving Fastlane with the WWE title. So much so, that the main story of this match isn't even the title on the line, but the friendship of Owens and Zayn. Will Zayn actually lay down and let Owens pin him or will he go into business for himself and try to win the WWE title? Is their friendship strong enough to make it through what happened at SD this past Thursday and what happens tonight?

A few other key storylines: will Cena find a way to the grandest stage of them all against the Undertaker? Can Corbin stop squandering opportunities? Will Ziggler ever be anything again? 

Follow along with tonight's show with Dave Meltzer's live coverage here on the site.