Hot off the heels of the WWE RAW brand's Elimination Chamber on Sunday night, attention now switches to SmackDown Live and WWE Fastlane in just a few week's time. With Fastlane being the final PPV before WrestleMania 34, the show is sure to get a major push.
This week's edition of SmackDown also served the purpose of setting the stage for John Cena's involvement on the brand for the next several weeks. Following his failure to win the Royal Rumble and the Elimination Chamber, Cena has come to Tuesday night's to find his way on to the WrestleMania 34 card. His path included a match Tuesday night with the WWE champion, AJ Styles.
We also got a memorable segment from the Usos, Daniel Bryan drama, chronic underutilization of Rusev, and much more. Here are five things we learned from this week's WWE SmackDown in Los Angeles.
John Cena arrived on SmackDown and immediately announced he wants in on the fatal five-way WWE Championship match at WWE Fastlane. Cena said that he wanted to know what he has to do to get in the match, which brought out Shane McMahon.
McMahon noted if Cena were to win the title at Fastlane, he'd walk into WrestleMania as the only 17-time world champion ever. McMahon announced that indeed, SmackDown is the land of opportunity, which brought out Daniel Bryan.
Bryan said he and Shane are on the same page for once. He told Cena that SmackDown is the land of opportunity and everyone who is in the fatal five-way earned their spot. Bryan gave Cena a chance by announcing that if he could beat AJ Styles in the main event of this week's broadcast, he would be added to the title match at Fastlane.
Daniel Bryan's appearance in front of the crowd during that opening segment with John Cena was the first time in a few weeks that Bryan has appeared in front of the live crowd, having mostly been relegated to backstage segments where he seemed aloof and dejected.
During the opening segment, Bryan had some smiles and was back to his old self, or so it seemed. Following a match between Baron Corbin and Sami Zayn, where Dolph Ziggler interfered causing Zayn to lose, Shane and Bryan were shown backstage. Shane gloated that Bryan's "boys" got what was coming to them. At that point, Bryan asked if he could go home since Shane has everything so under control (sarcasm), noting he'd like to see his family. Shane agreed and later teased Kevin and Sami they should leave too since Brie doesn't like it when they're late for dinner.
They've done just about every combination of match between Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Naomi taking on the Riott Squad. Save for one: Ruby vs. Charlotte, which they have been slowly building toward.
Charlotte quickly went through Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan, with WWE noting Ruby was all that was left. Now we've seen Ruby Riott get victories over Becky Lynch and Naomi, including an impressive clean win over Naomi on this week's show.
Practically every woman on the SmackDown roster has been used in building toward this eventual match (Carmella was shown backstage with her Money in the Bank briefcase, the outlier), and they've done a very good long term job of setting it up. We'll almost assuredly get it at Fastlane and then Charlotte will transition to her WrestleMania feud, but they've established Riott as a legitimate threat now even with a pending loss to Charlotte on the horizon.
I can't say it enough: the Usos are so dang good.
Flipped back into a feud with the New Day, whom they feuded with all of last fall and late summer, they have managed to make us care about this feud even though we've already seen it.
The New Day came out, gave a typical comedy promo, and though some of the crowd no doubt loved it, it's still obvious the act is on life support and begging for a break-up storyline. So as the promo stalled, out came the Usos and absolutely lit the place up. They spoke (no, yelled with emotion) about how they have been left off of every WrestleMania during their nine years with the company, but emphasized that will come to an end this year. You could feel their passion through the television screen as they made it know that they would absolutely not be dropping the titles to the New Day at Fastlane and would carry them into WrestleMania. It was awesome.
The segment ended with the Bludgeon Brothers theme crashing the party as Harper and Rowan (and hammers) made their way to the ring. The New Day and Usos slowly left the ring in fear, and it's obvious one of these teams will be taking on the Bludgeons on at WrestleMania. That, too, should be awesome.
The match began hot on the heels of Shinsuke Nakamura's victory (more on that below) over Aiden English. In fact, Cena's theme interrupted Nakamura's victory celebrate. A hint of things to come?
Styles dominated the match early and worked it in desperation mode. Diving for pinfall attempts, gasping for air, and breaking out all stops. During a commercial break, they worked in some of the biggest spots of the match, which were shown on replay. That included Cena kicking out of a Styles Clash and Styles kicking out of an AA.
Later, Cena kicked out of a Phenomenal Forearm and AJ was locked in a STFU but reversed it into a near fall pinning attempt. Cena hit another AA, rolled through and went for a third, but Styles escaped. Styles went to the outside and Cena, still in desperation mode, chased after him. Styles moved, and Cena ran straight into the ring steps outside.
The referee was counting John out, but AJ went to the outside to prevent a count out finish. As AJ argued with the ref, Cena gave him an AA through an announce table and rolled back into the ring to try to win by count-out. Styles answered the count and re-entered the ring just in time.
A visibly frustrated Cena went for an AA in the ring, but Styles countered into a Calf Crusher. John nearly submitted, but glanced up at the WrestleMania sign and got a surge of adrenaline.
Cena escaped, nailed an AA, and pinned the WWE champion clean in the middle of the ring. Following the match, Kevin Owens and Zayn came out on the ramp and Cena was ambushed from behind by Baron Corbin. Dolph Ziggler also ran down to the ring and it was choas, just like the now six-way match at Fastlane likely will be. Is that a good thing?
That's the real question.