We're just over five weeks out from WrestleMania 35, and the road to the biggest show of the year in WWE feels as chaotic as it's ever been.
There are always moving parts at this point in the WWE calendar, as the marquee matchups get locked in and a mad scramble to establish the rest of the WrestleMania card plays out. But with just five weeks of Raw and SmackDown to come before April 7, there are only two official matches locked in (three if you count the fact that we know there will be a cruiserweight championship defense), and one of those matches is almost certain to change in the coming weeks.
To be fair, there are a number of scenarios we can extrapolate as having a high likelihood of coming to fruition. If Becky Lynch isn't a part of the WrestleMania 35 main event, there will likely be massive protests outside of MetLife Stadium. Batista's attack on Ric Flair on Monday night to get Triple H's attention was almost certainly done to set up a legends showcase. If Kofi Kingston were pulled from the Fastlane WWE championship match without a plan to have him battle for the title at WrestleMania, it would be shortsighted and puzzling to say the least.
So, how will it all shake out? Let's take a look at the five biggest questions still lingering as we head into the Fastlane pay-per-view and the homestretch of the road to WrestleMania 35.
How long will it take for Becky Lynch to regain her WrestleMania opportunity?
It couldn't be as simple as Becky Lynch sliding her way into the Royal Rumble, winning and claiming her spot in the WrestleMania main event, right? As fun as it's been to see Lynch lay waste to Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey with her crutches and anything else at her disposal, there will come a time when the switch has to be flipped in order for a proper build to a triple threat Raw women's championship match to have enough time to completely coalesce.
A lot of people thought that Ric Flair's 70th birthday celebration would be the perfect moment for Lynch to hold Charlotte, Vince McMahon and the whole WWE hostage in order to get what she was after. That moment went in an entirely different direction, and although I maintain that the coolest possible way for that attack on Ric Flair to go down would've been to have Batista and Lynch work in tandem to kill two birds with one stone, what went down was certainly memorable and effective.
With Rousey laying the title at Stephanie McMahon's feet last week on Raw, following Lynch's "arrest," everything seems ready to come to a head. Lynch and Rousey have engaged in one of the strangest, most line-of-reality-blurring battles on Twitter in recent days, and Flair essentially told the world that she'd walk into Raw and simply claim the title if Rousey didn't want it.
Putting aside the fact that Charlotte neither attended her father's 70th birthday on Raw nor even mentioned the attack when she appeared on SmackDown the following night, she's clearly the villain and there was a desire to try not to blur the lines.
So, how does Lynch get the job done? Odds are good that she'll strike the decisive blow in either the coming week on Raw or SmackDown or a week from Sunday at Fastlane. It'll have to come down to the combination of pressure from both Lynch and Rousey -- the latter of whom is champing at the bit to get her hands on Lynch. Here's hoping that it'll happen with Lynch going nose-to-nose with Vince McMahon, or with Triple H, Stephanie McMahon or Shane McMahon actually speaking out negatively about Vince's out-of-nowhere decision to change two major title matches on a whim in recent weeks.
How can WWE make the most out of #KofiMania?
Kofi Kingston's whirlwind journey from the sidelines, to a once-in-a-lifetime gauntlet performance, to having lots of people believing he could win the WWE title at Elimination Chamber was a stunning, and yet fully earned, change of fortune for the 11-year WWE veteran. In the aftermath of such a stretch, few were surprised to see Kingston line up with Daniel Bryan for a one-on-one match at Fastlane -- and the path for Kingston to win the WWE championship became clearer still.
Enter Vince McMahon. Just as he had kicked Becky Lynch out of her title shot at WrestleMania and inserted Charlotte Flair, McMahon snatched a WWE championship opportunity at Fastlane away from Kingston at the last possible second and dropped a returning Kevin Owens into that spot instead.
Forgetting that last time Vince McMahon and Kevin Owens were in such close proximity, Owens headbutted and then hit a frog splash on the Chairman, the vignettes leading up to Owens' return positioned him as a loveable everyman who did everything solely for the benefit of his family. That fits opposite Bryan, in the short term, but it's hard to decipher what the plan for Owens could be beyond Fastlane.
Owens played the hero on SmackDown, teaming up with Kingston in a victory over Bryan and Rowan. But if Kingston is going to fight his way back into the picture in time for a WrestleMania title match, is there a way to pull it off without brushing Owens' return away as a non-factor in such a short window of time?
With the level of fan support for Kingston since his meteoric rise reaching a fever pitch in arenas and on social media around the world, there has to be an endgame in mind. A combination of The New Day working collectively to push Kingston back into the picture, along with the McMahon children growing a spine and standing up to Vince, is likely what it'll take to give WWE fans what they really want at WrestleMania.
Paying off a moment like this by making an 11-year veteran (and perpetual underdog) a world champion on WWE's biggest stage would send shockwaves and lend truth to the message that WWE has been claiming in recent months: that the company is listening to its audience.
Roman Reigns announces he's in remission
In his first WWE appearance since October, WWE superstar Roman Reigns announces he's in remission from cancer.
Where does Roman Reigns fit into the puzzle?
Roman Reigns' return to the WWE on Monday, complete with the announcement that his leukemia is in remission, is as good as the news on him could've been. Questions about how soon he could return to action didn't linger for long, either, as he and Seth Rollins quickly mixed it up with a trio of foes inside the ring later in the night on Raw. With one of its blue-chippers back in the fold, it's clear that WWE has a key piece to put into play for its biggest show of the year, and it would be foolish not to take advantage of the situation.
So, what could Reigns do to get a maximum return on his presence? First and foremost, he should be as far away from both world title pictures as humanly possible. Reigns sniffing around the Universal championship in any way, shape or form would summon images and feelings of the disaster that was the main event of WrestleMania 34 -- and that would be a great disservice to Reigns, Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar.
A feel-good win against an indisputable villain seems the easiest way to go -- and Baron Corbin would fill that particular role quite nicely. There's already plenty of groundwork that's been laid in terms of making that match make a lot of sense, and it would be a solid way for Reigns to reintroduce himself into the WWE ecosystem in an undeniably positive role without disrupting the current state of affairs. Reigns can take care of business, put past conflicts behind him and then return his attention to greater goals moving forward.
Don't discount the possibility of a six-man tag team match that could roll Reigns, Corbin, Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre, Braun Strowman and Finn Balor into the fold, either. Though I don't like not having the Intercontinental title defended on the biggest show of the year, it's a way to keep everyone engaged and on the WrestleMania card before they all break back into separate rivalries in April and beyond.
Who is ready for Asuka?
When Asuka earned a clean submission victory over Becky Lynch to open the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, it represented a big moment that could have catapulted Asuka right back to the level she was at during the peak of her undefeated streak. Instead, we spent the better part of February with no Asuka on our TV screens, as her top two potential challengers for WrestleMania migrated toward Raw and Ronda Rousey.
With Flair and Lynch -- two of the biggest names in the SmackDown women's division -- off to Raw, logic would seem to dictate balancing the equation by moving one or more women from Raw to SmackDown. But rather than taking one of Raw's top challengers (outside of new women's tag team champions Bayley and Sasha Banks) like Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Natalya or Ruby Riott (with Riott Squad in tow), everyone sat on their hands and waited for a believable challenger to materialize from the group SmackDown had left.
Asuka finally returned to TV and was challenged by Mandy Rose. Though Rose put on an impressively solid effort in one of her biggest one-on-one matches to date -- and beat Asuka to set up a match at Fastlane -- Asuka vs. Mandy Rose does not, in any way, feel up to snuff in terms of being a WrestleMania match.
If WWE is truly apprehensive about more roster shifts in the next few weeks, it's hard to see any match that could be made on SmackDown in the weeks to come holding a candle to last year's Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair WrestleMania match. That's not a knock on the talent available on SmackDown -- it's simply the reality of Asuka getting lost in the shuffle once Flair was moved into the Raw women's title picture.
Realistically, a four- or six-way match would make the most sense. In that scenario, including former SmackDown women's champions like Naomi and Carmella alongside a Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville and some combination of The IIconics would allow Asuka to step up to meet a difficult challenge and set up for a more established, well-thought-out story post-WrestleMania.
How does the rest of the card shake out?
With the sudden infusion of NXT talents, lack of clarity with the mid-card title pictures and completely inconsistent booking of the men's tag team divisions, the rest of this card feels like anyone's guess. If we lock in a few matches -- the Raw women's championship match as a triple threat, Brock Lesnar defending the Universal title against Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston for the WWE championship and Triple H vs. Batista -- that still leaves a lot of wiggle room.
Buddy Murphy will defend his cruiserweight championship against the winner of a tournament to come, but if you don't think that match ends up on the kickoff show, you're fooling yourself. It's clear to see that The Miz and Shane McMahon seem to be on a collision course, with their tag title rematch at Fastlane in Cleveland likely to end in tears, but it gets even fuzzier from there. It seems unlikely that Ricochet and Aleister Black would be introduced so close to WrestleMania only to be forgotten when it comes to the show of shows, but their potential role is hard to define.
In order to fit a lot of deserving people on the card, it feels like either the Intercontinental championship or U.S. championship could be defended in a multi-way ladder match, which could easily include those two guys and open the main card with a bang. And can Kevin Owens be so quickly vanquished from the WWE championship picture without a solid parachute to fall back on -- possibly alongside Sami Zayn? At least one set of tag team titles will be defended, but the particular challengers are anybody's guess -- so why not Owens and Zayn?
The women's tag team titles are likely to find a home on this card, though that's yet another match in which you could make a clear argument for a multi-way contest. One of the biggest issues at hand is the sheer size of the Raw and SmackDown (and NXT, NXT U.K. and 205 Live) rosters at this moment in time. A pair of battle royals is an easy way to squeeze as many performers as possible on the card, but as we saw just last year, winning a match like that did little for Matt Hardy or Naomi without there being an additional carrot dangled for the winner.
The chaotic energy over the next few weeks is sure to draw interest, as the WrestleMania 35 card becomes clearer, but no matter how it all shakes out, there are only two important questions that should be asked in each case: Is the story worth investing in? And will the payoff be worth it?