COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s Nakamura Day.

Men’s Royal Rumble Match winner Shinsuke Nakamura knocked off SmackDown LIVE’s resident folk hero Rusev in the opening contest of Team Blue’s final stop on The Road to WrestleMania. The win sends Nakamura into The Showcase of the Immortals with the wind at his back, while The Super Athlete suffers a setback in his own efforts to turn Rusev Day into a 365-day affair.

Rusev smashes Shinsuke Nakamura into the ringside barrier: WWE Fastlane 2018 (WWE Network Exclusive)

The WWE Universe is divided as Rusev brings the fight to Shinsuke Nakamura: Courtesy of the award-winning WWE Network.

Rusev also failed to avenge Nakamura’s earlier defeat of Aiden English, though The Artiste had recovered enough from his brush with WWE’s Rockstar to introduce Rusev with his customary serenade  (now with rapping!). That was about the only showmanship from the typically gregarious Bulgarian, however. In one of his most impressive showings ever, Rusev both suppressed all of his recent crowd-pleasing instincts and shrugged off Nakamura’s own mind games in an effort to bait The King of Strong Style into a fight.

Nakamura answered with an unusual tactic, targeting The Bulgarian Brute with an early array of holds and submissions rather than his signature knees and elbows. One maneuver in particular — a heel hook — left Rusev stumbling around the ring, and Nakamura didn’t begin to throw his signature strikes until The Lion of Bulgaria had been sufficiently whittled down.

That said, Rusev’s considerable strength advantage certainly kept him in the thick of the fight. Not only was he able to muscle his way out of Nakamura’s holds as his stamina began to wane, but one Machka Kick in particular sent The King of Strong Style into a full flip mid-sprint. Even when Nakamura used his speed to escape the Accolade, it took a pair of Kinshasas — one to the back of the head, and one to the jaw — to finally put the match away.

Nakamura now heads to WrestleMania on the back of some wily planning, strategic maneuvers and maybe, just maybe, a little luck. But come April 8, it may take more than that to win the day.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s Nakamura Day.

Men’s Royal Rumble Match winner Shinsuke Nakamura knocked off SmackDown LIVE’s resident folk hero Rusev in the opening contest of Team Blue’s final stop on The Road to WrestleMania. The win sends Nakamura into The Showcase of the Immortals with the wind at his back, while The Super Athlete suffers a setback in his own efforts to turn Rusev Day into a 365-day affair.

Rusev smashes Shinsuke Nakamura into the ringside barrier: WWE Fastlane 2018 (WWE Network Exclusive)

The WWE Universe is divided as Rusev brings the fight to Shinsuke Nakamura: Courtesy of the award-winning WWE Network.

Rusev also failed to avenge Nakamura’s earlier defeat of Aiden English, though The Artiste had recovered enough from his brush with WWE’s Rockstar to introduce Rusev with his customary serenade  (now with rapping!). That was about the only showmanship from the typically gregarious Bulgarian, however. In one of his most impressive showings ever, Rusev both suppressed all of his recent crowd-pleasing instincts and shrugged off Nakamura’s own mind games in an effort to bait The King of Strong Style into a fight.

Nakamura answered with an unusual tactic, targeting The Bulgarian Brute with an early array of holds and submissions rather than his signature knees and elbows. One maneuver in particular — a heel hook — left Rusev stumbling around the ring, and Nakamura didn’t begin to throw his signature strikes until The Lion of Bulgaria had been sufficiently whittled down.

That said, Rusev’s considerable strength advantage certainly kept him in the thick of the fight. Not only was he able to muscle his way out of Nakamura’s holds as his stamina began to wane, but one Machka Kick in particular sent The King of Strong Style into a full flip mid-sprint. Even when Nakamura used his speed to escape the Accolade, it took a pair of Kinshasas — one to the back of the head, and one to the jaw — to finally put the match away.

Nakamura now heads to WrestleMania on the back of some wily planning, strategic maneuvers and maybe, just maybe, a little luck. But come April 8, it may take more than that to win the day.