The 2018 Royal Rumble has come and gone, so now it’s time to gear up for the Road to WrestleMania. Monday night, the Raw crew started down their path in Philadelphia, but on Tuesday night it was the SmackDown Live brand’s turn to start making its WrestleMania picture become a little clearer in the City of Brotherly Love. 

As we saw on Sunday, the 2018 men’s Royal Rumble winner is from the blue brand. In what was one of the more exciting Rumble matches in recent memory, Shinsuke Nakamura emerged victorious, outlasting the 29 others including some big names at the end of the match in Finn Balor, Randy Orton and John Cena. Immediately after the victory, Nakamura didn’t waste any time in deciding which title he will challenge for at WrestleMania34 in New Orleans on April 8, calling out current WWE champion AJ Styles — who was also victorious in his bout on Sunday against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn — and giving wrestling fans the dream match they’ve been waiting for since the two entered the company from Japan in 2016. 

While we’re all excited for the inevitable showdown between Styles and Nakamura in New Orleans, Tuesday night’s post-Royal Rumble SmackDown was all about the implosion of Owens and Zayn, as well as setting the main event for the upcoming Fastlane show prior to WrestleMania. 

Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens implode

Tuesday night’s SmackDown Live got right to the point, opening up with an appearance from Rumble victor Nakamura. In the ring, Nakamura ran down the list of names in Sunday’s match who took a knee to the face for elimination. After running that list down, Nakamura — while pointing to the WrestleMania sign, of course — stated Styles would be next to eat a knee to the face, making him the WWE champion come WrestleMania. 

This brought out everyone’s favorite best friends pairing, Owens and Zayn. KO went over how he and Sami were screwed over on Sunday by the referee in their WWE title match loss, providing visual evidence of Styles pinning the wrong man. In what was a pretty amusing rebuttal, Nakamura told Owens and Zayn that AJ is a winner while they’re just losers. Naturally, this brought out the champion. Styles let everyone know that the dream match at WrestleMania will happen, and it’ll be between he and Nakamura. The WWE champion had an idea: He and Nakamura turn their dream match into a dream team to battle Owens and Zayn Tuesday night on SmackDown Live. Owens and Zayn were knocked off the apron by the ‘Mania WWE title match participants, and then turned down the tag match proposal for Tuesday night with an emphatic, “Nope!”

Backstage, SmackDown general manager Daniel Bryan booked the match before dropping a bombshell: Owens and Zayn will square off next week to determine Styles’ No. 1 contender for Fastlane on March 11. Later in the evening, tension was teased between Owens and Zayn backstage. The best friends seem to be imploding in anticipation of their match next week in addition to what happened on Sunday at the Royal Rumble. 

Owens and Zayn had the upper hand together early in the main event, working over Nakamura. However, with Zayn knocked out of the ring about halfway through the bout and Owens yelling for him to get in the ring and help, even more animosity was teased between the two. The aforementioned bickering wasn’t finished between the two competitors in next week’s No. 1 contender match, though, as they violently slapped each other with tags before Zayn stormed off twice. After the final departure, Nakamura nailed Owens with the Kinshasha to get the win for his pairing with Styles. To close the show, Zayn told Renee Young backstage that he and Owens are still friends despite what we all saw out in the ring Tuesday night, but he’ll be the one headed to Fastlane to take on Styles. 

Aside from a playful little exchange backstage earlier in the night, there was very little tension teased between Styles and Nakamura but that’s perfectly fine. WrestleMania is 68 days from now, so it was the right move to successfully team them up to further what’s happening between Owens and Zayn. There will be plenty of time for these two to properly hype up what we all know we’re going to see go down in New Orleans. As for Owens and Zayn, the road for them seems to possibly lead to a match at WrestleMania. While, yes, we’ve seen this many times before on a variety of stages throughout pro wrestling, they deserve to beat the hell out of each other in front of a WrestleMania crowd. The interesting question might be: Could it possibly be heel Sami vs. a tweener Owens?

What else happened on SmackDown?

  • Rusev def. Kofi Kingston, Zack Ryder and Jinder Mahal via submission in a No. 1 Contender’s match: With United States champion Bobby Roode on commentary, Rusev made Kingston tap with the Accolade to become the No. 1 contender to the U.S. title in this Fatal 4-Way match. You’d maybe assume Mahal would have gotten another shot at Roode, but it was a nice surprise to see the Bulgarian Brute get the nod here. Hopefully it’s a sign they’re getting serious about capitalizing on his “Rusev Day” popularity and considering a bit more of a push. Rusev and Roode will square off for the title next Tuesday. 
  • The Bludgeon Brothers def. Jobbers via pinfall: Prior to this match taking place, The Usos came out to the ring to cut a promo on all the teams they’ve put in “lockdown.” This list, of course, includes Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin, who they defeated on Sunday in a 2-0 sweep in their 2-out-of-3 falls match. As they were ready to depart from the ring, the Bludgeon Brothers’ music hit, and they made their way down the ramp past The Usos, obviously foreshadowing the next feud for the tag champs. As for the match itself, it was your typical squash, but those look to be coming to an end soon. These two in the ring with Jimmy and Jey Uso has a lot of potential to be fun. 
  • Bryan announces the SmackDown Top 10: If you missed the announcement that was delivered by Bryan on Twitter earlier Tuesday explaining the new venture, you can watch it below. 
  • Carmella botches a cash-in attempt: Charlotte Flair was cutting a promo in the ring when she was interrupted by the Riott Squad. While Flair was able to fend them off initially, they ended up outnumbering the champ to leave her laying prone. This brought out the first women’s Money in the Bank winner, Carmella, to a huge pop as Philly believed they were getting a cash-in — and with the way Flair was laid out, you certainly believed it was going to happen. However, Carmella botched her own attempt when she knocked the referee out of the ring with a dropkick meant for Flair, and she ended up taking her briefcase up the ramp to live to fight another day. 
  • Baron Corbin def. Tye Dillinger via pinfall: In a match that was put together backstage earlier in the night by SmackDown commissioner Shane McMahon, Corbin got the win with the End of Days after a short, back-and-forth match. 
  • Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin def. Breezango via pinfall: Prior to this bout being made, Gable & Benjamin interrupted a backstage segment with Breezango and their lovely friends who might not actually be their friends, The Ascension. This was a quick match put together to fill time before the main event. 
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