The Road to WrestleMania kicks off in earnest this Sunday, as one of the most exciting events of the year, the Royal Rumble, takes place at Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. Seven championships and two WrestleMania title matches are on the line. Get your drinking games ready, ladies and gentlemen: It’s time for the Royal Rumble!
Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Hideo Itami vs. Kalisto for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy asked 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick for a challenge, and Maverick certainly delivered. After setting up a series of qualifying matches, a fatal four way is set to determine the cream of the crop on the purple brand, as Murphy has to dispatch of former Cruiserweight Champion Akira Tozawa, Hideo Itami, and Lucha House Party’s Kalisto.
Patrick: Here’s where I only again lament the fact that I don’t get much time to watch 205 Live, so I am not terribly well versed or invested in this matchup. I do really like Buddy Murphy, and would easily consider him my surprise/most improved of 2018, and I can appreciate the work of the three other guys in the match as well. It should be a solid matchup, with or without the proper storyline context. As far as predictions go, Cruiserweight Champs seem to hold onto the title for a long time, and with Mania season right around the corner, I can see Murphy holding on until the Show of Shows.
Winner: Buddy Murphy
JJ: Well, this is awkward. I legitimately cannot remember the last time I watched 205 Live. I guess I’m a bad wrestling fan. But come on, between SmackDown, Raw, NXT, NXT UK, it’s a lot to keep up with. I do know that Buddy Murphy has had the belt for a long time now, but I can’t say I see that changing for a few simple reasons. Kalisto is already wrestling on the main roster with Lucha House Party. D-Bry has been talking trash to Hideo recently, so my Spidey sense tells me we’ll get a match between those two sooner rather than later. Lastly, Akira Tozawa is a talented wrestler, but I can’t say I find anything about him remotely compelling.
Winner: Buddy Murphy
Brian: For the first time in a while, we’ve got a chance for a great show of athletic skill that has no real consequence for the greater title picture. Buddy Murphy has been amazing for the cruiserweights and giving more of the 205 Live roster a shot at the champ and to impress the crowd is always a good thing. There aren’t any real storylines I’m aware of here beyond Akira and Itami having beef. Without Mustafa Ali or Cedric Alexander there’s not a high profile face in the match. Sorry, Kalisto. Murphy retains heading into Mania.
Winner: Buddy Murphy
Rusev (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE United States Championship
The United States of Nakamerica are no more, all thanks to one particularly happy Rusev Day. On the Christmas Day edition of SmackDown Live (which also happens to be Rusev’s birthday), the Bulgarian Brute became a three time United States Champion by upsetting the reigning champion. Can Shinsuke get his title back, or will Sunday be another happy Rusev Day?
Patrick: The poor, poor United States Championship. Not that I dislike either of these guys — I’m a big fan of both. The title just seems to be completely forgotten at every turn, though. In fact, I didn’t even realize this was a match at the Royal Rumble until just now. I really don’t know what they’re doing with Nakamura, man. The guy won the Royal Rumble match last year, but ever since his feud with AJ Styles fizzled out, he’s just kinda…there. I’d like to see the US title rise to some form of prominence again because both of these guys deserve it, but I’m not sure I see it.
JJ: Rusev is going to win based off the simple fact that WWE has no clue how to properly use Shinsuke Nakamura. I’m tired of talking about this every PPV, so whether you want to argue that WWE is to blame or Shinsuke is, the fact remains that since his match with Sami he’s only gone down hill.
Brian: SmackDown Live is so stacked right now, the US Title is just about an afterthought. With the removal of the rematch stipulation, maybe this can be a great opportunity for more mid-card members of the roster to step up. Shinsuke Nakamura is not going to stay in this area for long. Actually, I’m concerned he won’t be staying with WWE for long, but things could change. Post-Mania I’d trade him to Raw and rebuild the main event scene. Rusev can have a long run with the title, rebuilding his character to where he was when he rode a tank into Mania against Cena.
The Bar (c) vs. The Miz and Shane McMahon for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships
It took plenty of convincing, but The Miz and Shane McMahon are finally on the same page and have their sights set on the same prize: the SmackDown Tag Team Championships. The Miz has been a new man since teaming with Shane-O-Mac, even going so far to design matching outfits for the blue brand’s newest tag team. Largely unimpressed by their shenanigans, however, are The Bar: the gruff, no-nonsense Tag Team Champions who’ll revel in the opportunity to shut down Miz’s fairy tale.
Patrick: While they certainly wouldn’t have been my first or even fifth choice to receive a Tag Team Championship shot, I really like the pairing of The Miz and Shane McMahon. It’s added a new wrinkle to The Miz’s somewhat one-dimensional — however perfect — character, and testing the waters for a full-blown face turn. Consider me cautiously optimistic, as so far I’m digging it, but memories of Miz’s last horrific face turn still linger. I could totally see this story continuing with them capturing tag team gold.
Winners: The Miz and Shane McMahon
JJ: This has been such a fun storyline to watch. From The Miz courting Shane with flattering promos, asking Vince’s permission to see his son, to the Besties Birthday Bash — WWE has really surprised me with how funny and entertaining this angle has been. As much as I respect The Bar, it’s time for the SmackDown tag belts to move in a new direction. I’ve had enough of the titles going through The New Day, Usos, The Bar, rinse, repeat. The Miz and Shane are a great pair to move the belts in a new direction.
Winners: The Miz and Shane McMahon
Brian: Is this the tag team revolution The Revival was reportedly promised? I’m sports entertained by Miz courting Shane, but it’s odd considering the rumblings from within. Miz has been great, as always, but Shane just doesn’t need to be an active wrestler, especially one with a title belt. Maybe if they win we can move on from the merry-go-round we’ve had for the past two years. The Bar, The New Day, and The Usos put on fantastic matches, but it’s time for a change. This is where I pitch my trios tournament.
Winners: The Best Tag Team in the World
Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Sasha Banks for the Raw Women’s Championship
Ronda Rousey hand picked the next challenger for her Raw Women’s Championship in “The Boss” Sasha Banks, who is Ronda’s words is the unsung hero and true Cinderella story of the women’s division. While Sasha was grateful for the opportunity, she’s minced no words in recent weeks: she’s coming for that title, and all that matters is becoming a five time Women’s Champion.
Patrick: While I could see a few scenarios that involve Sasha winning the title Sunday, all roads lead to Ronda vs. Becky and/or Charlotte at WrestleMania, and I think I’m gonna go with Occam’s razor on this one. As much as I love Sasha Banks, I think this is just a filler feud until the Mania build begins in earnest, where Ronda will turn her attention to The Man, and Sasha will set her sights on the Women’s Tag Team Championships with Bayley.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
JJ: Not much to say here. The entire world knows that WrestleMania will see either Ronda vs Becky or the two of them in a triple threat with Charlotte. This feud was hastily thrown together and screams of filler.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
Brian: I’m genuinely upset that Sasha is being fed to Rousey. There’s no way she wins here. I hope we get a clean, decent match, but I’m not sure that Sasha can carry Ronda. Sasha will move on to the Elimination Chamber with Bayley for the Women’s tag titles and Rousey on to Mania against Charlotte/Becky or both.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
Asuka (c) vs. Becky Lynch for the SmackDown Women’s Championship
While the world was focused on Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair, The Empress of Tomorrow swooped in and snatched the SmackDown Women’s Championship for herself back at TLC. “The Man” seems destined for one hell of a WrestleMania Moment, but first, she’s gotta get her title back from Asuka.
Patrick: Going along with what I said about Rousey vs. Banks, it all depends on how they decide to get to Rousey vs. Lynch (vs. Flair). If Ronda keeps her title this Sunday, the easiest way would be for Becky to show up as a surprise entrant in the Rumble and win the whole thing. But I’m a Daniel Bryan fan, and those types of scenarios haven’t really played out how we’ve wanted over the years, so I’m skeptical. Still, it makes the most sense.
Winner: Asuka (or some kind of schmozz that prevents Becky from winning)
JJ: My gut tells me that Becky is destined to destroy Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania and I don’t see that match happening as Champion vs Champion. I see it as Becky going after Ronda’s title. It’s tricky though, because how does Becky save face and continue to look tough if she loses her to Asuka? Either way, I don’t see the Empress of Tomorrow dropping the belt just yet.
Brian: This is the beginning of WrestleMania season and the first women’s main event match. The most important thing to build towards involves the Raw Women’s Championship and Becky HAS to be involved. Whether it is through the Rumble or some other mechanism, this is the end of The Man’s quest for the blue brand’s title. That leaves Asuka in a bad position for Mania, but I’m sure her pre-show match against Carmella will be fun.
Daniel Bryan (c) vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship
Daniel Bryan claims he needs the WWE Championship, because it gives his platform of change a wider reach. After weeks of fruitlessly trying to get the WWE Universe to change their ways in favor of the planet and their own health, The New Daniel Bryan must turn his focus to former champion AJ Styles. In a WWE with no more contractual rematch clauses, AJ had to claw his way back to the title picture a few weeks ago on SmackDown, and looks to reclaim the title he held for almost exactly a year before Bryan snapped.
Patrick: As much as I like AJ Styles, I am really loving The New Daniel Bryan, and would love to see the tyrant hold the WWE title going into WrestleMania, a subversion of his usual underdog, “can he do it” story around this time of year. The question then becomes who challenges for the title (please not AJ again), but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. With an electric car, of course.
Winner: Daniel Bryan
JJ: Daniel Bryan’s reinvention of his character is one of the best that we’ve seen in wrestling in a long time. I particularly love what he’s doing because he’s taking his core real-life values and channeling them into The New Daniel Bryan. As much as I love AJ and admire his in-ring ability, he just can’t stand toe-to-toe with D-Bry’s character and promo work. I don’t know who’s going to dethrone The New Daniel Bryan, but it sure doesn’t feel like AJ has his number.
Winner: Daniel Bryan
Brian: Are we all agreeing on these? The recent spate of title changes should mean the new match ups we were promised. AJ needs to move on to another feud, hopefully beginning the wind-down of his career. Not because I don’t want him around, but because he deserves it. The NEW Daniel Bryan needs to hold the title for a while, but work someone new leading into Mania. What’s Finn doing after Brock murders him?
Winner: The guy from the cover of Aqualung by Jethro Tull (underrated song)
Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Finn Balor for the Universal Championship
The Beast thought he was going to have to defend his Universal Championship against The Monster Among Men, Braun Strowman. So did the rest of the world — until Strowman shattered a window in Mr. McMahon’s limousine, finding himself $100,000 poorer and out of his title shot. As a result, a fatal four way was booked on Raw that ultimately saw Finn Balor come away with the victory and the #1 contendership. Nobody, not even Mr. McMahon, believes Balor can conquer The Beast, but The Extraordinary Man has been proving people wrong his entire career.
Patrick: Come January there are a couple universal truths: The Patriots will be in the Super Bowl, and Brock Lesnar will be Universal Champion. There have been sustained rumors that Finn Balor has been in line for a push for some time now, but as much as I’d love to see it happen, I sincerely doubt it, for reasons both kayfabe and real-life. Lesnar is keeping that title until at least WrestleMania.
Winner: Brock Lesnar
JJ: Ever since Finn got injured on his first night as Universal Champion I’ve been itching to see him pushed back to the top of the card. With WWE promising a change in direction, I feel like it may finally be Finn’s time to shine. With his recent appearance at NXT UK Takeover: Blackpool and his victories on Raw, I think the crowd’s hugely positive reaction to both is a big check mark in his win column. Brock Lesnar is going to wrestle at WrestleMania regardless of whether or not he has the title — he’s one of the few superstars who doesn’t require it to be over. I’m foreseeing Braun interference leading to a Finn Balor victory.
Winner: Finn Balor
Brian: I hate to say it, but there are only two ways that Finn wins this match: 1) Interference by BRAUN or 2) Vince McMahon meant what he said about listening to the audience. Finn Balor is money. Having him, after all the trials of the past two years, win back HIS Universal Title would be amazing. Neither of these will happen because Vince has a hate boner for most small guys. Until Balor Club invades Raw, Finn won’t get near the UT.
Winner: Bork Laser
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
The second-ever women’s Royal Rumble match features a stacked field, including Alexa Bliss, who is finally returning to action after months on the shelf. The winner of the match gets to take on a champion of their choosing on the Grandest Stage of Them All — who will win, and who will they pick?
Patrick: Like I’ve been saying, I think the end goal for both women’s divisions is to get to Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair. I know Becky isn’t officially announced for the Rumble, and already has a match on this card, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude her from the battle royal. I’ve been burned by putting stock into the obvious Rumble outcome that nearly every fan was dying to see a few times before, but I just can’t shake the feeling that The Man needs to win this one.
Winner: Becky Lynch (or, if she’s not in it, Charlotte Flair)
JJ: Becky Lynch will lose to Asuka and be a surprise entrant to set up her match with Ronda at WrestleMania. This one feels pretty obvious.
Winner: Becky Lynch
Brian: I think the “right” ending is straightforward, but how we get there has a lot of moving parts. Becky v Charlotte v Ronda is the Mania match they deserve, all for different reasons. The Rumble is pretty much the only way we get there without some real shenanigans. I think Becky losing to Asuka, entering the Rumble and a double-win with Charlotte (or double-loss caused by Rousey) is likely.
Winner: Double-win by Becky & Charlotte
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
A WrestleMania main event and a date with destiny hangs in the balance. 30 men will enter, but only one will punch their ticket to headline the biggest show in pro wrestling’s year.
Patrick: I really think this is Seth Rollins’ year. He strapped Raw to his back for all of 2018, been delivering some of the most consistent promos and matches on the show, and perhaps more than anybody, deserves to be the one to take down The Beast. WWE can even tie it into Roman Reigns, since not having him in the main event of Mania just feels weird at this point. Rollins slays The Beast, avenges his friend and main events WrestleMania the right way. That’s a story everybody can get behind.
Winner: Seth Rollins
JJ: Besides Cody Rhodes, I can’t think of another wrestler in the modern era that has done a better of recognizing their weaknesses and putting in the work to address them and completely reinvent themselves than Drew McIntyre. Drew took a big risk when he left WWE, but boy did it pay off. Besides having an incredible look, he’s great on the mic, has a legitimate bone to pick with the roster and is very entertaining in the ring. Braun has a lot of potential, but Drew is the total package and can be the full-time top heel this company needs.
Winner: Drew McIntyre
Brian: This year’s Rumble is looking to be one of the most stacked in its history. Truly, a dozen names could win the Rumble, but only 2-3 have the storyline that builds to it. With the events at the end of the most recent SmackDown Live, I see a lot of fresh storylines coming out of the Rumble, but none of them involve winning the match. On the Raw side, Seth Rollins, BRAUN, and Drew McIntyre all have solid shots at winning. I think this all depends on the end of the Lesnar-Balor match. If Lesnar retains, Rollins is the natural choice to win with BRAUN a close second. If Balor wins, McIntyre wins the Rumble with Rollins coming in second. Final four are Rollins, McIntyre, BRAUN, and Samoa Joe.
Winner: Drew McIntyre
Surprise Royal Rumble Entrants?
Every year, WWE pulls some surprises out of their back pockets to make the hour+ long Rumble match even more entertaining, setting up some classic confrontations. In 2016, it was AJ Styles’ debut. In 2018, Andrade. Who will appear in the Rumbles in 2019 to shock the wrestling world?
Brian: There are only 21 women announced for the Rumble as of press time, so there’s plenty of room for nostalgia as well as new acts. Lacey Evans is a natural entrant. I think Kairi Sane and Io Shirai would be great adds, as would Shayna Baszler flanked by her flunkies (non-entrants). If Belair wins the NXT Women’s title, a Baszler appearance is a lock.
For the men’s Rumble, the nostalgia slots are almost entirely gone, so let’s focus on the future. Aleister Black will kick the faces off of everyone somewhere in the middle of the match, giving him the spotlight he has earned. I would love to see DiY, Ricochet, The Undisputed Era, and Pete Dunne all appear, but that’s a lot of hoping.
Patrick: In the women’s Rumble, I think you’ll definitely see some past stars like we did in last year’s Rumble. Trish and Lita are almost shoo-ins, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both of the Bella Twins pop up.
As far as the men go, I think there’s still some room for nostalgia acts. Someone around Christian’s level of stature and past relevance pops into mind. But I’m with Brian that I think Undisputed Era makes an appearance in some form.