January 24th, 1988 was a great day in wrestling history. On that date, live on the USA Network, the WWE held their first ever Royal Rumble. In classic Vince McMahon fashion, holding this event for free on cable was a way to keep folks from ordering the Bunkhouse Stampede pay per view Jim Crockett Promotions put out that same day. The Royal Rumble match itself was revolutionary. Starting with two performers in the ring, at regularly timed intervals, another performer would come out until, in the case of the 1988 Royal Rumble, all twenty participants were in the ring. The winner of that first Rumble was Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
Fast forward 29 years and here we are at the 30th Royal Rumble. Unlike the Rumble’s that have occurred the past five years, the WWE has done an amazing job of promoting this event. They have some great matches in store as well as the Royal Rumble match itself. Submitted for your approval, I discuss the matches for tonight’s event and offer my predictions.
Rich Swann vs Neville for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
The WWE has not done right by the cruiserweights. I absolutely loved the Cruiserweight Classic tournament that was on the WWE Network last year and thought they did a wonderful job of introducing some new faces for the revitalized cruiserweight division. Then 205 Live happened. I will never knock the in ring abilities of any performer because even the worst performer in the ring can run circles around me (despite me being a physical specimen akin to a god but that’s a different story.) The problem I have with 205 Live is just that it’s not interesting. Apart from Jack Gallagher, I could care less about the superstars performing on that show. I don’t want to see the cruiserweights gone. I want to see some attention brought to their characters. A good story is what connects fans with their favorite wrestlers. The WWE has not offered any for the cruiserweights.
Prediction-Neville wins the championship in a short match.
Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax
Nia Jax is interesting. While she hasn’t been wrestling for long, I definitely see what the WWE sees in her. Her facial expressions alone bring an emotional level to matches that turn an average match to a pretty good one. She will be great one day. I just don’t buy her current run however. They’ve tried to build her up the same way they did Braun Strowman by having her tear through talent in quick fashion. Yet they haven’t given her a real opportunity to shine yet.
This match will be a test for Sasha Banks. The mark of any good wrestler is when they can make anyone look good in the ring. Folks like Bret Hart, Ric Flair, The Rock, Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan (when he wanted to) come to mind as superstars that could work with an inanimate object and make it look like a good match. According to rumor, the WWE has yet to fully get behind Sasha Banks because they view her as reckless and injury prone. In my opinion, if she is able to get a great match out of Nia Jax, her stock will rise considerably.
Prediction- Nia Jax wins
Sheamus and Cesaro vs The Club (Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson) for the Raw Tag Team Championship
Last year marked the debut of three performers the WWE had recently snagged from New Japan Pro Wrestling. The first, AJ Styles, debuted at last year’s Royal Rumble and has had one hell of a year. The other two were Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. (For long time fans, yes, I know Luke Gallows has been in the WWE before.)
While AJ has finally received the platform to show the world what an amazing performer he is, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson have faltered. Superstars of their stature should be showcased as bad asses yet the WWE has tried to position the duo as some sort of a weird comedy act. It’s just not working. They need to bring back some of the viciousness the duo had when they were a part of the Bullet Club in NJPW.
Sheamus and Cesaro are two people that should not be in a tag team. They had a pretty decent best of seven series that ended in a freaking draw. From their, creative had the brilliant idea that instead of having one final, brutal match to decide who the best man was, they put them in a tag team. While they have had some level of success, it appears the WWE doesn’t know what to do with these two so they decided to put them together as a team to give them something to do.
What we need to see tonight is the WWE finally get behind The Club and have them tear through Sheamus and Cesaro. From there, let Sheamus and Cesaro resume their feud and bring it all the way to a conclusion at Wrestlemania.
Prediction- The Club win the Raw Tag Team Championship
Charlotte vs Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship
This will be the sleeper match of the night. These two can put on a clinic. Charlotte is definitely a sponge as a wrestler. You can tell she’s learned a lot from her father, the Nature Boy Ric Flair, with how she handles herself on the mic and how she carries herself to the ring. She’s also learned a lot from an amazing group of female performers, such as Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and her opponent tonight, Bayley. Every time Charlotte is in the ring she gets better.
Bayley, as far as a character, will probably go down as a modern day Ricky Steamboat, in the sense that as a good guy character, she knocks it out of the park each time she’s on the screen. (As an in ring performer, she would be the first to admit Steamboat is a master.) I’m really digging how they’re building her character up as an every woman type counterpart to the cocky Charlotte Flair character. Fans male and female alike can relate to her because we’ve all been there. I’ve been watching wrestling since I was a kid myself. Each time I’ve been to a show, it lead to memories I will never forget.
Yet the problem I see with tonight’s match is that I don’t feel Bayley is where she needs to be yet. They will get there but I think there’s more to Charlotte vs Baylay than this one match. My hope is that we see the rematch at Wrestlemania with Bayley having a Daniel Bryan type of moment when she wins the title.
Prediction-The Queen, Charlotte Flair, retains the title.
Becky Lynch, Naomi, and Nikki Bella vs Alexa Bliss, Natalya, and Mickie James
This is the throwaway match of the night which is sad. Apart from Naomi, I have a deep respect for the rest in the ring and wish they would have had a chance to have individual matches. Alas, this is the best we’ll get. There’s not much to be said about this match. I fully suspect the feuds between Lynch and Bliss and Nikki Bella and Natalya to continue after the Rumble.
Prediction- Alexa Bliss, Natalya, and Mickie James win after Naomi is pinned.
AJ Styles vs John Cena for the WWE Championship
The rubber match in their series, AJ Styles has done no wrong in the ring since debuting for the WWE. For the longest time the WWE wanted nothing to do with him so the fact he’s in the WWE is a testament to his work ethic alone. Something else I respect is the fact that instead of complaining about getting the top spot on the roster, he let his work do the talking. Despite the fact he’s being presented as a bad guy now, there is a lot to respect from AJ Styles.
John Cena is one of the most polarizing figures in WWE history. I’m not the type of person to knock him. He puts in a lot of hard work and I do feel folks will miss him when he’s gone. I think one area of contention that I have has to do with how he’s been booked. He’s been too dominant for too long which takes some of the mystique out of his matches.
Not so with this one. AJ Styles work speaks for itself. They are both presented as equal competitors. If AJ loses the match, he loses nothing, which is the fear I have with the other championship match of the night. The WWE has two ace cards with John Cena that will bring them big money. One is breaking Ric Flair’s championship streak. The second is a heel turn.
Prediction- John Cena wins the WWE Championship
Kevin Owens vs Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship (with Chris Jericho in a shark cage above the ring)
This match sould mean a lot more than it does. The WWE has a bad habit of positioning their bad guy, heel champions as weak. The problem with that comes when the audience starts questioning themselves why the heel champion has the title in the first place if he isn’t able to win a match on his own. The biggest problem comes with the fact they have a horrible habit of booking non-title matches with their champions and consistently have their champions lose. Add to that their love of Roman Reigns and their desire to build him up as their next big star and you’re going to get an audience that will hate this match.
If rumors as reported from the Wrestling Observer turn out to be true, the WWE is looking to build toward a Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker match at Wrestlemania for the Universal Championship on the line. If that is the case, I don’t expect that match to be pretty. Not from lack of trying from The Undertaker and Roman Reigns but the audience will tear that match apart if Roman Reigns wins.
Prediction- Roman Reigns wins the Universal Championship
The Royal Rumble Match
If there is one thing the WWE should be commended for this year it’s how they’ve built the Royal Rumble match itself. In years past, you had a general idea of who would win. While that isn’t always a bad thing, if the person winning is someone folks don’t want to win, the audience will hate it. From there, it will lead to lack of enthusiasm for Wrestlemania. They have to be really careful to choose the right person.
Now who could win it? Goldberg and Brock Lesnar, while both powerhouses, have no reason to win the match. It would be a nice notch on their belt, sure, but there’s no story line reason for them to win it. The Undertaker has a pretty decent chance as there is ample reason to believe this may be his last Rumble. If Kevin Owens happens to win his match against Roman Reigns, there’s a chance that Chris Jericho may win the Rumble, setting up a match between the two at Wrestlemania. I doubt that though because all signs point to Owens facing Jericho for the United States Championship.
To me, the logical choice would be one out of left field. That would be Randy Orton. If Orton wins the title and Bray Wyatt wins the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber in a couple weeks, that sets up a pretty awesome finale for their feud at Wrestlemania. They’re already teasing some dissension in The Wyatt Family. Why not add a championship to the mix to increase the stakes?
Prediction- Randy Orton wins the Royal Rumble to face the WWE Champion at Wrestlemania.
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