I’m not going to mince words here. WWE television the last few months has been bad (there…I said the “B” word). It’s been a tough grind to sit through rehashed and often meaningless matches. I understand that late fall/early winter is not peak programming time and there’s the juggernaut of the NFL clamoring for viewer’s attention spans, but the laziness associated with the booking this time of year is shameful. I also understand that Royal Rumble begins the prime storytelling season on the road to Wrestlemania, so you’re naturally going to hold back a bit now, but come on WWE. What are we doing lately?
So with that off my chest, let’s set our gaze upon the event that will hopefully set WWE back on course. With two heavyweight titles matches and two seemingly wide open rumbles, the intrigue is certainly there. Hopefully, WWE can steer the ship back to the shores of relevancy this Sunday night in what should be a hot Super-Bowl-geeked Philadelphia atmosphere. Subsequently, I’m setting the over-under on audible E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles chants at four…would have been five if there was still an Enzo match to stomach.
The 2018 30-Man Over-The-Top Royal Rumble Match
As a kid growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, the Royal Rumble was always my favorite event (and remains as such, today) of the wrestling season. The one night where pretty much anyone on the roster actually has a chance to make a name for themselves and headline Wrestlemania. My biggest beef with the booking today is the same as it was 30 years ago. The winner was largely predictable and usually went to an established star. Elementary-school-me would get all worked up thinking that this was finally the year Mr. Perfect or British Bulldog or The Warlord (well even as a 12-year-old I didn’t seriously think poor Terry Szopinski had a shot) would finally ascend the WWE hierarchy, only to have my dreams crushed as Hulk Hogan won another rumble.
Look at the recent winners of the Royal Rumble – Randy Orton, HHH, Roman Reigns, Batista, & John Cena. Not exactly a group of struggling mid-carders looking for legitimacy on the big stage (in fact all former heavyweight champions). With few exceptions (Rey Mysterio, Alberto Del Rio, and Chris Benoit come to mind, though I’m not sure Benoit’s counts anymore since he doesn’t exist) the Rumble hasn’t been used to build a new star, but rather as a way to give the final rub to a perennial favorite on the road to Wrestlemania. So while, I’d love to sit here and dream of Rusev, Cesaro, or Big E standing alone in the ring in Philly Sunday, I know that’s not very likely.
Prediction: My entire list of odds can be found here. With two separate heavyweight titles, there’s many directions WWE can go here. Most likely we’re looking at an established star or part timer emerging victorious. And while I’d love to see Hulk Hogan emerge to the strains of Real American and take the Royal Rumble full circle, at this point, I’m going to stick with my original gut instinct and say that Shinsuke Nakamura takes it. The rumored Styles/Nakamura title match would be a lot of fun, a great match, and a much better use of both men’s times. However, I’m not real confident in this pick, and wouldn’t be shocked to see WWE fall back on their usual tendencies and have a Roman Reigns or John Cena win it Sunday.
The first-ever 30-Woman Over-The-Top Royal Rumble Match
Besides the intrigue of seeing if WWE can actually scrape together 30 women to compete in the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble match, there’s the question of who WWE trusts to carry the mantle of this historic, trivia-worthy moment. Unlike the men, I don’t see too many realistic options here. Bayley/Sasha/Naomi/Natalya have kind of been there, done that and don’t have any real momentum or storyline that would justify another push so soon. Pre-injury I would have liked Paige as a long shot, but none of her crew or the Riott Squad are seasoned enough to take the main women’s slot at ‘Mania. That really leaves Asuka or…?
Prediction: Although Asuka could certainly win this and it would serve to finally crown her as one of the top grapplers on the brand, my gut still says Ronda Rousey shows up and takes this. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire and there’s certainly been enough on-and-off rumors throughout the last year that suggest something between Rousey and WWE is in the works. A Charlotte/Rousey tilt would be quite the marquee matchup and could serve to draw in a few extra casual fans come April. It’s not like Vince has a problem putting top belts on part-time, former MMA competitors. My entire list of odds can be found here.
WWE Champion AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn — 2-on-1 Handicap Match for the WWE Title
You thought the Women’s Rumble was historic. Well the 2-on-1 handicap match for the WWE Title is historic too – historically stupid. And while it’s kinda cool that Sami Zayn has gone from almost being fired in Europe to main-eventing one of the Big 4, this goofy match is not doing anyone any favors. I really don’t know what the end game is here with the whole McMahon/Bryan/Kami related drama. Unfortunately, AJ has been dragged into this never-ending mess of a story and will be forced to fight in a handicap match against both Owens AND Zayn. Logic would dictate that Owens and Zayn have the upper hand and will emerge victorious, while WWE logic would dictate that Styles overcomes the ridiculously stacked odds.
Prediction: Gotta go with the WWE logic on this one, as Styles retains heading into ‘Mania. Still not sure what the drama between the other four men is leading to, but unless WWE has plans to put Daniel Bryan back in the ring, this has been a masterclass in spinning your wheels.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane (Triple Threat Match)
In Brock Lesnar, the WWE has a nearly, invincible, unbeatable, monster of a champion. However, in Braun Strowman the same qualities can also be found (albeit Strowman is younger, bigger, and actually appears on WWE television). WWE had the chance to crown a new monster at September’s No Mercy PPV but strangely balked, having Strowman succumb to a simple F5. I suppose WWE is trying to get their money’s worth out of Lesnar’s monster contract, but it seems kind of wasteful, with the newer, shinier model ready to take over. Oh, and Kane is in the match too.
Prediction: If WWE wanted Braun Strowman as champ, they would have done it in September. Lesnar retains, likely by pinning Kane and somehow Strowman gets screwed over too. This will lead to the eventual matchup with HHH at Wrestlemania, which will be a waste of both men’s time.
Raw Tag Team Champions Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan vs. Cesaro & Sheamus
Hey look it’s the Bar vs. Seth Rollins. Haven’t seen that matchup before. Ugh. I am intrigued however, by what’s playing out with Jason Jordan. His annoying, clueless, daddy’s boy persona, while grating is setting up for a great heel turn once he goes full bore. With The Revival off the shelf and a semi-rejuvenated Club back on the scene, it’s possible neither of these teams are in the title scene come Wrestlemania 34.
Prediction: It’s a matter of when not if Rollins and Jordan drop the straps. Does it happen Sunday, or do they drag this out to Elimination Chamber? Does WWE scrap the Rollins/Jordan dynamic altogether or will this story develop further? With Dean Ambrose not likely returning until after ‘Mania these two very well could wind up opposite one another in New Orleans. Tough call here, but The Bar aren’t the team to dethrone the Kingslayer and Son of Angle. Rollins and Jordan retain (for now).
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos vs. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin (2-out-of-3-Falls Match)
In what has become quite the crowded tag division on Smackdown Live, the Usos face off against American AlphAngle. A fun fact has been floating around lately stating that the Usos have never made the main show of a Wrestlemania, which seems odd and a bit unfair. And while I can’t guarantee they’ll make the card this year, I can guarantee that on Sunday, there will indded be some Flying Usos Maggle!
Prediction: Due to Jey Uso’s recent DUI, I’m gonna go with Gable and Benjamin taking the straps on Sunday. The WWE is nothing if not arbitrary and petty with their punishments, so Vince teaches those Usos a thing or two by stripping them of their belts (though they likely get them back before March’s Fastlane).