In this day and age you can’t just “predict” a PPV anymore, you have to to account for the capricious whims of WWE’s septuagenarian, sleep-deprived egomaniac owner. You can’t just “preview” a PPV…you have to preview how things should go, in a reasonable and sane world, and then add “so of course…” and explain what Vince McMahon will probably do instead.
Consider this your SO OF COURSE preview of WWE ROYAL RUMBLE: NOW FEATURING AN EXTRA HOUR OF WRESTLING YOU WILL JUST WANT TO HURRY UP AND END TO GET TO THE ONE MATCH YOU WANT TO SEE!
Look at all the full-timers on that poster!
Last time on SO OF COURSE, WWE presented Roadblock 2: Roadblockier. Let us not recap Roadblock. It was a silly show.
The Road to WrestleMania 33 kicks off Sunday with what is nearly everyone’s favorite match of the year: The 30-Man Royal Rumble Match. The card is almost always stacked with big title matches as the direction of the company’s near future begins to take shape. Big title changes have occurred at the Royal Rumble PPV, and of course, the big match itself has seen plenty of surprises. What’s exciting about this year’s match is how many potential winners there are, and the lack of an obvious favorite to win it. A lot of spots are open in the thirty-man contest so there’s plenty of room for surprise debuts, returns and special appearances by old favorites.
Before we get to that, though, there’s the undercard. And this year it’s solid but not spectacular. In years past we had big matches like The Rock vs CM Punk for the WWE Title. We’ve seen Brock Lesnar vs John Cena vs Seth Rollins for the WWE Title. Bray Wyatt vs Daniel Bryan stole the show in 2014, as did John Cena and Umaga in 2007. This year lacks a big must-see match outside of the big main event, but nothing looks pointless, so it will be interesting to see how Vince screws it up.
Let’s dig in.
RICH SWANN vs NEVILLE
Just when it looked like the Cruiserweight division was doomed to slip into late-2000’s “Divas match” irrelevance, Neville comes along and rescues the whole thing. His heel turn has been nothing short of a revelation. In NXT he flirted with being a heel, but mostly he spent the final bit of his title run as a cocky jerk who could back up his trash talk in the ring. He rarely did anything unscrupulous or outright villainous the way a traditional heel does. I wonder if Vince was holding off on putting him in the Cruiserweight division because he (A) hates cruiserweights as a general rule and certainly as a sub-division, and (B) sees money in Neville as a Rey Mysterio-style midcarder. Maybe he thought he was sparing Neville the horror of having to pal around with the tiny people. They finally gave it a try and it’s worked beautifully.
Neville easily has the most credibility in the division and is a natural “big fish in a small pond.” The role was tailor made for a heel and he’s living up to the faith they put in him. There’s still a lot to complain about with regards to the division (at least on Raw; 205 Live is exactly what it should be), but Neville has given it a fighting chance to establish itself (eventually) as a weekly must-watch segment of Monday Night Raw.
Rich Swann is the champion and though he’s doing better with the belt than either Kendrick or Perkins, he’s not really taken off with the live crowd the way WWE hoped he would. A title change here feels right, not only to strike while the iron is hot with Neville, but also to give him a couple months to dominate as champ before the next top babyface takes the belt from him at WrestleMania. If Vince gives this even a little bit of attention they can have a hot match on their hands come April 2nd.
SO OF COURSE…
Vince are you even watching the Cruiserweight matches?!
CHARLOTTE vs BAYLEY
Is anyone surprised that Bayley is struggling on Raw? During her time in NXT she was easily the most perfectly written and booked character on the show (or at least, tied with Sami Zayn’s quest to win the NXT title). She was everything fans wanted Cena to be for most of his main-event run. She was a never give up scrapper and fighter, who had to scratch and claw for every victory she earned before some heel came and ripped her heart out. Fans embraced her as the heart and soul of the
Divas Women’s Movement that eventually spilled over into the main roster shows. And throughout all her great successes and memorable moments, fans dreaded the day when she would leave the comfortable and insulated nest of NXT and join the circus on Monday nights. “If they use her right she can be bigger than any diva ever!” we said.
So of course they are ruining her, making her give long winded promos and stifling her “comeback kid” persona with 50/50 booking and nonsense stories.
Now she faces Charlotte in her first major PPV title match and, as with all of the Raw women’s matches, the actual wrestling is sure to be great but it’ll never be as good as it could be because the story and booking is so terrible. Charlotte has this silly “PPV win streak” going, that no one really cares about but someone in WWE is fixated on. She’s also something like a nine time champion or whatever after a year on the main roster. I dunno man, five years ago the matches and the stories sucked, so at least WWE has one foot forward.
It doesn’t feel like Bayley will win: It would stop the winning streak cold with no fanfare, on the PPV used to set up the big moments that are supposed to come at WrestleMania. It would jump over the entire story of the babyface climbing to the top by giving her the title in her first big match. It wouldn’t make any sense and as great as it would be to see Bayley an actual main-roster Women’s Champion, the circumstances would be so asinine it would almost ruin the moment. Charlotte retaining is the only thing that makes sense, with Sasha working her way back in for a WrestleMania triple threat, perhaps.
SO OF COURSE…
AJ STYLES vs JOHN CENA
This was the match I had pegged—back in August—to be the title match at WrestleMania 33. It seemed like we were gearing up for Cena to pull an Old Man Logan, make his last big comeback and win his final title, tying Flair for #16 by beating the only heel to really and truly go over him. Instead, as WWE is wont to do, they are telling that WrestleMania worthy story two months early. You might think that will leave Cena free to face Undertaker at WrestleMania (which is the other possible Cena match everyone had pegged for the big show), but nah it’ll probably be Cena vs Styles again, after it no longer matters, and Undertaker will go out on his back to Braun Strowman.
Because Vince’s booking is what happens when the human brain runs on 45 minutes of sleep every day for twenty five years straight.
Silliness aside, this match is going to be great. Nothing should top the actual Rumble match on the Rumble PPV, but as far as normal matches go, Cena and AJ have a tremendous chemistry, rivaling that of CM Punk’s connection with Cena. It’ll blow the roof off the building and whatever the finish, as long as it’s clean (and if not, then it better be a shocker for the ages), will be satisfying. Cena has won over a lot of his formerly jaded critics now that he’s out of the main-event spotlight so constantly. AJ Styles has had a strong run with the title, and not been treated like an undeserving champ (the way so many smaller, or indie guys have been when they won). If the title changes and Cena has a big, important Mania 33 match (almost certainly his last with the belt as a full time performer) that’ll be fine. If AJ does the nearly-impossible and beats Cena again, well you can just shut the show off right there. This is almost impossible to screw up.
SO OF COURSE…
KEVIN OWENS vs ROMAN REIGNS
Kevin Owens is treated like an undeserving champ. Chris Jericho will be locked in a tiny cage hanging over the ring. Roman Reigns will be there and will likely win the title because Vince is the most stubborn man on the planet. This is the most “Brand Split-era Raw” match on the card. Expect it to be juuuust good enough that you keep watching, but ultimately you will ask yourself “why do I even bother?” more than twice.
But yea, Roman’s winning. And likely will wrestle Braun Strowman on the mid-card of WrestleMania. Or maybe Jericho and Owens will make it a triple threat and then they’ll do the Owens/Jericho feud while Reigns farts around as champ in the Spring. At some point Finn Balor is going to come back and you just know some writer will say to Vince “hey remember that we pushed him right to the top?” and Vince will say “Who, the Irish Goldust guy?” and go back to his ketchup-covered well done steak.
SO OF COURSE…
SIX WOMAN SMACKDOWN TAG MATCH
Naturally Smackdown is forced to offer up its superior Women’s talent (superior in division depth, writing, match quality consistency, number of over talent, etc) as a throwaway match that will likely be positioned as a buffer between the two big title matches and the hour+ long main event. A trio of babyfaces (Becky Lynch, Naomi, Nikki Bella) will take on a trio of heels (Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Natalya). Obviously Mickie James is the big story here, as this will be her first main roster PPV match in seven years. She proved she could still go in her NXT Takeover match with Asuka, and she’s settled in nicely on Smackdown. She ought to get a nice showcase in this match and hopefully something big to do at WrestleMania.
The Women’s Title is not on the line, but the finish to this match might hint and which direction they go with the belt heading into WrestleMania. Alexa is the current title holder, but as great as she’s been, she just feels like a traditional “heel transitional champ.” It wouldn’t be a shock to see her drop the belt to a babyface in February and have the new champ go over Mickie in Orlando. Whether that babyface is Becky Lynch or the less talented, but more beloved by decision makers Nikki Bella, remains to be seen. Becky continues to be the best all around lady on the Smackdown roster, and the best should either have the title or be chasing for the title.
SO OF COURSE…
THE ROYAL RUMBLE
For a primer, the three best Royal Rumble matches are 1992 (Ric Flair wins the WWF Championship), 2001 (Steve Austin gets win #3 at the peak of the Attitude Era), and 2008 (Madison Square Garden, great surprises, John Cena gets cheered). Watch those to get you in the mood. Last year’s Rumble match was a lot of fun too, but the ending was terribly predictable. Having said that, the big complaint against Vince is that he sometimes throws a stupid curve ball when he realizes fans have guessed his ending (remember 2012 when Sheamus ended the Rumble with a wet fart?).
Fortunately this year there’s no obvious winner, so it should be exciting, especially if the final four features four reasonable winners. And who are those potential winners?
UNDERTAKER is the closest thing to a favorite. Jokes aside, his story would almost have to pit him against John Cena in a dream match for the WWE Title in what might be the Dead Man’s final WrestleMania.
CHRIS JERICHO might win, but that would be dependent on Kevin Owens retaining the Universal Title earlier in the night. The Rumble is Jericho’s only remaining accolade in a certain Hall of Fame career. He doesn’t necessarily need the win, but it would at least be logical.
BRAUN STROWMAN can certainly win, if Vince is not yet tired of fans hating the endings to their favorite match of the year (When was the last time the crowd cheered wildly for a Rumble winner? Edge in 2010?). Braun vs Roman Reigns would be the ultimate “so of course” move for Vince to pull this year, so don’t put it past him.
BROCK LESNAR and GOLDBERG are both considered reasonable picks simply based on their stature and starpower. It would take a little reverse engineering to make WrestleMania’s big title match feature either of them, however, since they most certainly are going to face each other at the big show. One of them would have to win the title at the February PPV and it would just feel like jumping through too many hoops to make the match happen when it could happen so much easier without the title being on the line.
FINN BALOR is not confirmed so his appearance would almost certainly telegraph a win and thus would almost certainly have to happen at #30. He’s not supposed to be cleared to return to action until April, and by then the Mania title matches will already be set. If he doesn’t return on Sunday, he probably won’t until the day after WrestleMania at the earliest. If he has rehabbed ahead of schedule however, he would be a strong favorite, provided again that Kevin Owens retains the title against Roman Reigns.
Everyone else who is confirmed for the Rumble just looks like filler or guys like Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton who are in the middle of their own—non-main event—stories. There are guys like Big E or Cesaro that no one would be upset to see win, but one of those guys has not even been hinted at as being groomed for the main event and the other is a current Tag Team Champ. Other surprises could range from Kurt Angle to Texas natives HBK and Steve Austin (the Rumble is in the Alamo Dome), any of which would blow the roof off the place but none of whom have a snowball’s chance of winning.
SO OF COURSE…
Oh well there’s always NXT (and SmackDown!).
Here’s to Sunday.