By Chuck Carroll
The WWE Fastlane card will begin to set the final pieces of the puzzle in place ahead of WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans. The show is somewhat historic in that it is the final brand-exclusive pay-per-view for the foreseeable future now that WWE has opted to reduce the number of premium events in an apparent cost-cutting measure. Beginning next month, all PPVs will feature both RAW and SmackDown talents.
As of Friday, the odds for Fastlane are as follows:
AJ Styles is by far and away the favorite to retain the WWE Championship. The next closest is John Cena, but he and everyone else are pretty much long shots.
The Usos are slight favorites to retain the SmackDown tag team titles over The New Day.
Charlotte Flair is heavily favored to retain the WWE Women’s SmackDown Championship over Ruby Riott.
Bobby Roode and Randy Orton are a pick ‘em for the WWE United States Championship.
Shinsuke Nakamura is favored to defeat Rusev. Again, the line on this one isn’t even close.
Becky Lynch and Naomi have the slight edge over Carmella and Natalya, but this could change before bell time.
Will the oddsmakers get it right? To make the picks, I’m welcoming back the dynamic pro wrestling journalism duo of Scott Fishman and Aaron Oster. Heading into Fastlane, I hold the narrowest of leads over the pair so far this year.
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WWE Championship — Six-Pack Challenge
AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler
Chuck: This match is about setting up more than just one bout at WrestleMania. From the fallout of this one, we should see two or three other matches on the ‘Mania card. John Cena is still rumored to face The Undertaker, so don’t expect a win there. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens now appears likely as well. And AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura remains a dream match for a lot of wrestling fans. Don’t expect Vince McMahon to treat that one like a main event in New Orleans, but there will be plenty of hype surrounding it. Pick: AJ Styles
Scott: I think the road has been clear when it comes to AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura facing off at WrestleMania. And with the current schedule for John Cena, it’s highly unlikely he gets a 17th WWE heavyweight title reign here. As for the rest of the field, the chances for the other candidates aren’t that great either, although it would be nice to see something unexpected happen. But I think fans have been wanting to see Nakamura vs. Styles in a WWE ring for some time. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan interference either, when it comes to Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. Pick: AJ Styles
Aaron: At this point, they’ve hyped the Styles/Nakamura title match at WrestleMania so much that any alteration to that match would feel like a robbery. Yes, adding John Cena to the match probably wouldn’t actually hurt the quality of the match, and the argument could be made that it would actually help it. But the “dream match” is AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, not a triple-threat. I don’t think they do anything to damage that, and thus, AJ Styles retains his title. Pick: AJ Styles
SmackDown Tag Team Championship
The Usos (c) vs. The New Day
Chuck: Every time I pick against The Usos I lose. Their run has been phenomenal (sorry, AJ) from the beginning. Do I see them losing before WrestleMania? No. Do I see them losing at WrestleMania? Probably. Pick: The Usos
Scott: The Usos are the best tag team going today in WWE and maybe overall in pro wrestling. Their promos are fire, and their in-ring work is great. WWE seems to be teasing some sort of interaction with the brothers and another “family” duo in the Bludgeon Brothers. New Day is already over and doesn’t need another title win right now. No doubt these teams will deliver an exciting match. Then again this could also lead to another multi-team and man match at WrestleMania. At the same time, I’m going to stick with the Usos one way or another here. Pick: The Usos
Aaron: This is another match that just seems like a precursor WrestleMania. We’re all assuming that the titles are defended in at triple-threat between these teams and the Bludgeon Brothers, right? So pretty much anything could happen here. My hunch is the Bludgeon Brothers interfere in the match, and I’ll say that the New Day end up with the win due to that, though the Usos retain the titles. But any non-clean result, including no-contest, wouldn’t surprise me. Pick: The New Day
SmackDown Women’s Championship
Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Ruby Riott
Chuck: With the prospect of a Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka match still dangling in front of us like a carrot, it’s hard to fathom Ruby Riott scoring an epic upset here. No matter how you spin this one, The Queen walks away with her title intact. Pick: Charlotte Flair
Scott: It was nice to find out a little more about why Ruby Riott formed the Riott Squad. At the same time, Charlotte is going to win here, putting her against Asuka, maybe at WrestleMania? Riott is not ready to win the title. The group needs more time to develop overall. That said, expect a competitive match so the squad leader isn’t totally squashed. Pick: Charlotte Flair
Aaron: Charlotte Flair is winning this. End of story. The only question is if Carmella is going to cash-in at the end of the match or not. If I had to bet, I’d say no, and the cash-in happens at WrestleMania, but at the same time, it wouldn’t shock me. There has to be a reason for her re-emergence on SmackDown this week beyond simply setting up a random tag match, right? Pick: Charlotte Flair
United States Championship
Bobby Roode (c) vs. Randy Orton
Chuck: This one could go either way. For the sake of needing a title change on the card, I’m going with Randy Orton. A title change here would be significant given the U.S. Championship is the one piece of gold that has never been around Orton’s waist. Plus, the title would carry more significance being held by an established veteran heading into the biggest show of the year. Pick: Randy Orton
Scott: Bobby Roode needs a good win here to get his U.S. title run going, and defeating Randy Orton can do just that. There is a lot of potential there with Roode and Orton, as this could be just the beginning heading into WrestleMania. Then you think about Jinder Mahal, who has been in the mix. Perhaps a triple threat in the future with Mahal entering the mix in New Orleans is in our future? Pick: Bobby Roode
Aaron: This might be the strangest build we’ve seen to a title match in a while. Both of these men are involved in a feud, yet it’s not really with each other. They’re both in a feud with Jinder Mahal. Who isn’t in this match. It’s really weird. Clearly Mahal is getting involved, and all of these men, plus maybe more, will be involved in a match at WrestleMania. And since that’s the case, I’ll say that Roode retains here. Pick: Bobby Roode
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev
Chuck: Rusev Day will only be 364 days this year. There is no way Nakamura doesn’t walk away victorious here. A loss would simply ruin WrestleMania or require a lot of unnecessary storylines over the next month. Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Scott: Shinsuke Nakamura won the Royal Rumble and on the road to WrestleMania. As much as I hate for Rusev to lose with the Rusev Day momentum, this is needed for Nakamura. At the same time, I don’t know why they would put Rusev and Nakamura in this position. Rusev is clearly one of the most popular guys on the roster, yet they put him against Nakamura. The reaction from the crowd should be interesting. Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Aaron: When is the last time the Rumble winner lost in the PPV before WrestleMania? Doesn’t happen very often. So clearly on Sunday, it’s Nakamuuuuuuura Day! Pick: Shinsuke Nakamura
Becky Lynch & Naomi vs. Natalya & Carmella
Chuck: This one is interesting. My gut is telling me to go with Natalya & Carmella, as a reminder that the latter still holds a Money In The Bank contract. I can’t envision the cash-in being imminent, however. To the best of my knowledge, the heels were favored at one point before the odds flipped slightly. So I’m going to plop down a couple bucks on them and toast my winnings with a vegan shake. Pick: Natalya & Carmella
Scott: This being the pre-show, WWE would want to have fans happy. And a victory for the fan favorites would get things started in a positive direction. All four of the ladies haven’t been featured much the last few weeks. Hopefully, that changes leading into ‘Mania, especially with Carmella holding the Money in the Bank briefcase. Pick: Becky Lynch & Naomi
Aaron: This one is a tossup, just because it’s one of those matches that really has no impact on what happens going forward. If there’s even a thought of Carmella cashing in later Sunday night though, then a loss for her makes sense. It seems like you have to lose before you can win (See: Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 31, Sheamus at Survivor Series 2015, Alberto Del Rio at SummerSlam 2011, etc.). So due to that, I’ll give Becky Lynch and Naomi the win here. Pick: Becky Lynch & Naomi
PRO WRESTLING NEWS AND NOTES
Ring of Honor’s new streaming service, Honor Club, had its first test recently with Manhattan Mayhem. The stream was choppy at points, and there were unconfirmed reports that others had difficulty subscribing on the day of the event. Nonetheless, the internal belief is that the initial launch was largely positive. The next test is the ROH 16th Anniversary PPV Friday night.
As of press time, the stream is still only available on computer and mobile browsers. A beta version of an ROH App for Apple TV, Roku, Android TV channels, and iOS and Android devices is still in development. The company expects the beta version to be released to select subscribers shortly, with a final release available to all subscribers prior to Supercard of Honor in April.
ROH will stream a match between two former WWE talents for free on Facebook prior the start of the PPV Friday. Brandi Rhodes will face Tenille Dashwood (aka Emma) in a quarterfinal match of the WOH Tournament. Also, Sumie Sakai will face Hana Kimura from Shimmer. The free pre-show begins at 8:30pm ET.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.