Who is headed to WrestleMania? Smart money is on Curt Hawkins.
Well ladies and gents, it’s time. It’s been a whole year since Randy Orton tossed Roman Reigns over the top rope to eke out a win and a substantial pity pop at last year’s Royal Rumble. An all around uninspired victor, Orton would use his opportunity at a WrestleMania main event to win his 14th championship by pinning Bray Wyatt in a match some have dubbed (only somewhat hyperbolically) the worst title match in Mania History. That may all be pretty deflating, but look on the bright side: at least Roman didn’t win. And that’s the thing about the last several Royal Rumbles: even if they haven’t exactly hit the mark, they’ve learned from the previous year’s mistakes. This year’s Rumble emanates from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, a building that actually hosted the 2015 Royal Rumble that was won by the Big Dog himself. You remember how that one turned out, right? Has WWE learned from its mistakes? Considering that this is the first year we’re getting a women’s Royal Rumble match — and the company’s sketchy history with its female performers — let’s hope so.
The Bar Vs. Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan (c) (Raw Tag Team Championships)
Jason: The Bar has recently begun a mini feud with Titus Worldwide…and they’re losing it. Sorry Sheamy and Big Tony, but you aren’t sniffing those belts again for a while. Seth and JJ will roll on and hopefully drop the belts to The Good Brothers en route to Jordan’s simmering heel turn.
Winner: The Champions Club
Loser: Dramatic irony when Seth gets betrayed by JJ.
Brian: I just don’t care. There are so many good tag teams now, why are we getting The Pseudo-Shield vs The Bar? Can we just count on WrestleMania being a reset button and move on with our lives?
Winner: God help us, Seth Rollins with an “injured” JJ
Loser: Realizing that Cesaro’s push was right off a cliff
Patrick: I actually really love both of these teams, including Jason Jordan and his oblivious heel schtick that’s reminiscent of early Kurt Angle, but I don’t know how many times I can see The Bar and a team involving Seth Rollins fight over these titles. Can we please move on to a new set of challengers now?
Losers: Every other member of the tag team division.
Nathaniel: I thought Sheamus had suffered a serious injury? Jordan seems to be getting the feel of his character and is just about ready for his full on heel turn. But not this Sunday.
Winners: The “Shield”
Losers: Anyone tired of Seth vs The Bar. They will have at least one more match within the month.
The Usos Vs. Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin (2 out of 3 falls match for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships)
Jason: On paper, this should be an easy call for the Usos, but it’s a touch unclear what (if any) fallout from Jey Uso’s recent arrest for DWI will be felt by the tag champs. Chad and Benji are a good team, and I’d love for them to get a run with the belts — but there are no competitive face tag teams to challenge them that we haven’t seen a million times before. Unless we’re looking to hotshot the belts from American Beta to the New Day in order to create title competition for the surging Bludgeon Brothers (or an incoming AOP?), Jimmy and Jey are keeping the straps.
Winner: The Uso Penitentiary
Loser: Roster depth.
Brian: I’m glad that American Beta/The World’s Second Greatest Tag Team has made the full heel turn here, attacking The Usos on last week’s SDL. I’m less happy that our choices here seem to be a) Chad and Shelton win and feud with the Usos through ‘Mania or b) The Usos win and get fed to The Bludgeon Brothers. The tag team division on both shows need to be shaken up and resettled into some legit non-title feuds. Having a dozen tag teams without much to make me care about some amazing athletes has been a drain.
Winner: The U………….sos
Loser: Jey as he does his community service
Patrick: It doesn’t look like anything is going to happen to the Usos following recent Jey’s brush with the law, so while Gable and Benjamin should put on a great match, it’d be crazy to have them beat the Usos.
Winners: The Usos
Losers: Anyone who thought Gable/Benjamin was going to be half as hype as NXT American Alpha.
Nathaniel: I hate how WWE books 2 out of 3 fall matches. The first two falls are short and don’t mean a thing, before a a great third fall. It just seems like it would be better to have a one fall match. At least it will be good.
Winners: The Usos
Losers: Fans who hate having stipulations for the the sake of having them
AJ Styles (c) Vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn (Handicap match for the WWE Championship)
Jason: I don’t like handicap matches unless they’re Strowman-style monster squashes, so I’m not looking forward to this match. Big Kev and Lil’ Sami have only just reunited and I feel like their partnership has a lot of gas left in the tank, but I see AJ walking out of Philadelphia with the belt. The only way that happens is either with some kind of rift forming between the Quebecois crew or interference from Shane McMahon. I imagine it’ll be the latter, but no matter how they get there, AJ should hold that belt through WrestleMania — but more on that later.
Winner: The Champ that Runs the Camp
Loser: Simple mathematical logic. 2>1.
Brian: Okay, there’s no way we get a dual champion. It’s too dumb, even for a company that just highlighted Mark Henry and Mae Young’s love affair on the official Raw 25 intro video. I’ve got to believe that there is just too much gravitas placed on the WWE Championship for that. I think that this match will be a furtherance of several feuds in positive ways, but no title changes hands here. At best, we’ll get a DQ win after interference by Shane or, God I hope, D-Bry.
Winner: The Phenomenal A…J…Stahhhhhhhh
Loser: Shane McMahon, whose current run on TV is becoming quickly stale
Patrick: If there is finally a set of co-WWE Champions and they are not named the New Day, I’m done. There’s no way the first time Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn hold the richest prize in sports entertainment is through this ridiculous angle, but I don’t think AJ simply overcomes the odds. Expect some definite foul play from either Daniel Bryan or Shane McMahon — probably both.
Winner: AJ Styles
Loser: Anyone clinging onto hope that Daniel Bryan wrestles at WrestleMania.
Nathaniel: Co-champions for the Divas Championship was fine. Co-Intercontinental champions was silly. Co-World Champions is just dumb. Thankfully, it will not happen. What is disappointing is what could be a good triple threat match was made a silly handicap match. AJ is the World Champion, but he shouldn’t be able to beat two best buddies who are also great wrestlers. But this is more about the story than the match.
Winner: AJ Styles
Loser: Tired of Shane-O-Mac? The build to Shane’s Mania match kicks into high gear here.
Brock Lesnar Vs. Braun Strowman Vs. Kane (Universal Championship)
Jason: Kane has gone on record as saying this could be his last stint at the top off the card and I pray to god he’s right. Dude is a 50-year-old mayoral candidate, he shouldn’t be in competitive bouts with guys like Braun Frickin Strowman, to say nothing of a literal freak of nature like Brock Lesnar. I know he’s more or less in this match to take the pin so Braun doesn’t have to look weak, but the ending of this match has never been in doubt. Hopefully it’s an entertaining scrum, but expect to see Lesnar/Reigns at WrestleMania.
Winner: Bork Laser
Loser: The entire upper midcard that had to job to make Kane look credible
Brian: Braun Strowman has been the best thing on Raw in quite a while. Dude pulled down an unconnected set piece with a grappling hook and flipped over a semi-truck. How can he not win this match?! Oh, is Brock still champ? Yeah, Braun’s gonna lose. Can we finally stop with trying to make Brock an underdog? He’ll never be one no matter what. I really want to see Braun take this one, but that would be an unreal surprise. Here’s hoping.
Winner: The ironclad plans for WrestleMania that will make you sad
Loser: You, for being sad about the ironclad WrestleMania plans
Patrick: As Braun has given Brock the business on multiple occasions now, including in the main event of Raw 25, the law of opposite momentum should be in play here as Brock Lesnar overcomes the INSURMOUNTABLE odds of being in the ring with a MONSTER and a MACHINE at the same time (wasn’t Kane also once billed as a monster? And a demon? Braun and Finn robbed him blind). It should be a fun match, but barring some kind of miracle, yeah, we all know Brock is pinning Kane.
Winner: The Beast Incarnate
Loser: Fans of seeing the Universal title on TV weekly
Nathaniel: The last time a guy was obviously in a triple threat match just to eat the pin, Dolph Ziggler became the U.S. Champion. Pretty sure that is not happening here. This should be a fun mean guy match for as long as it lasts.
Winner: Brock Lesnar
Loser: Braun Strowman fans. How many times is he going to be on the losing end of title matches?
Women’s Royal Rumble
Jason: This one is harder to pick than the men’s Rumble because there’s just so much opportunity for the booking to go outside the box. Now I don’t see any meaningful debuts or big surprises coming for the men’s rumble, so I’ll go in on an appearance from Ronda Rousey in the ladies. An appearance, but not her participation. I’d say she appears to distract Asuka long enough for her to be eliminated and set up a match between the two at Mania. With that being said, I’m still going with a safe bet and calling it for Becky Lynch. Lynch is the last true babyface, immensely popular and would make a great “first winner” of the ladies’ Rumble. She and Charlotte could put on a great match at Mania…’s pre-show, but at least it’ll be a well-worked match.
Winner: The Irish Lass Kicker
Loser: Anyone thinking Ronda’s lacing up boots for the match itself.
Brian: I honestly just don’t know where this one will go. With only 19 women on the roster currently eligible for the match, we’ll have some returns and some NXT-type debuts. I’d love to see The Iconic Duo brought in. Maybe Candice LeRae? Kairi Sane just to get an elbow drop in? Without Paige, the potential winners narrow quite a bit. As much as I want a babyface or Asuka win, I’m going to go with Nia Jax. This gets her in a spot against her BFF Alexa Bliss and makes her a go-over babyface when she wins at Mania. The match will set up a few other feuds including, hopefully, a 4 Horsewomen showdown at Mania and someone credible for Asuka to lay waste to.
Winner: Nia Jax. She’s not like most girls.
Loser: Stephanie McMahon’s on-air character who is just terrible.
Patrick: WWE is going to have to dig deep to fill up this match, and though she’s supposedly filming a movie, I think part of that is going to include Ronda Rousey. This is the company that had a dude win the first ever women’s Money in the Bank match — you think they’re above having a part timer win the first women’s Rumble? As much as I’d love to see the accolade go to someone who had a part in building the division to what it is today, such as Bayley, Becky, or my girl Sasha, WWE will likely go with what gives them the most publicity.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
Loser: The women’s division
Nathaniel: This is the most interesting match on the card. The fact that Steph is now going to be on commentary adds to the intrigue. Will she talk about being a part of herstory? Will she parody her dad and scream, “What a womaneuver!” Probably not, but she will enter at #30. A part of me says she and Rousey eliminate each other to set up their WrestleMania match while Asuka’s win is overshadowed. Another part of me says Steph wins. In the end though, I don’t know how Queen Stephanie gets eliminated, but I am going with a Rousey win. Then the next night on Raw when they ask which title shot she wants at WrestleMania, Rousey says, “I want a shot at the real champion…Stephanie McMahon.”
Winner: ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey
Loser: Anyone thinking this match wouldn’t be about Stephanie McMahon.
Men’s Royal Rumble
Jason: Daniel Bryan isn’t coming back to WWE, Kenny Omega isn’t coming to the WWE, and EC3 isn’t a big enough name to win the Rumble even if he does appear. With that all out of the way, we all know Roman and Brock at Mania is chiseled in stone, and we also know what happens when the WWE lets Roman win these things. As such, I’m calling a SmackDown victory and that limits the meaningful playing field to one man, the current odds-on favorite for the Rumble: Shinsuke Nakamura. Yes, he’s been booked like s--t and has already been eliminated from the Mixed Match Challenge (ugh, they paired him with Natty, it’s like they don’t want us to like him), but the WWE knows that they’ve got a money match in Shin-Styles II, and neither guy is getting any younger. Why not do it for the belt at Mania?
Winner: The King of Strong Style
Loser: Seriously guys, Bryan’s not coming back.
Brian: Roman Reigns. In Philadelphia. At the Royal Rumble. A week before the Eagles are in the Super Bowl. Bro, it’s gonna be loud in there. After the past few years, WWE has to get this one right by the in-person fans. If they’re behind the winner, everyone else will give them a chance. If WWE goes with Reigns here, they’re sunk and so is the main event of WrestleMania. I would love to see BRAUN enter the match, not as a participant, but just as an agent of chaos, eliminating a bunch of dudes, including Reigns, just because he’s pissed about losing to Brock. My final four are Nakamura, Balor, EC3, and The Miz. I want this Rumble to be one that makes new stars. Philly will mark the W-W-F out for this and when Balor wins and challenges Styles for leadership of the Balor Club…gotcha. Nakamura wins and Balor will never get a rematch for his red belt until Brock is out of the company for good. Weep a tear and two-sweet me sadly.
Winner: The Artist formerly known as Shinsuke Nakamura
Loser: Everyone who got a little excited about my swerve.
Patrick: I’m with these guys. WWE can’t be THAT stupid to have Roman Reigns win the Royal Rumble AGAIN, in Philadelphia AGAIN (though if I had a nickel for every time I thought “WWE can’t be that stupid…”), so the winner will likely come from SmackDown Live to set up the WWE Championship program for WrestleMania. WWE teased Nakamura/Styles at Money in the Bank and the place went insane, so they would be wise to stop treating Nakamura like some freaky weirdo and more like a legitimate badass who can dethrone the Champ Who Runs the Camp.
Loser: Well, 29 other men, I guess.
Nathaniel: It’s no secret that the WWE is giving us Roman vs Brock at WrestleMania. Roman winning the Royal Rumble makes sense, but also isn’t necessary. I think someone from SmackDown is getting the win here. The quick answer would be Randall K. Orton, but I want to go out on a limb. When was the last surprise winner? Edge coming back from injury in 2010?
Loser: SmackDown will continue to be treated as the B show.