After skipping the last few WWE events (and largely ignoring my website in general), I am back! This weekend is the first WWE pay-per-view (if you still buy it that way) of 2016, the Royal Rumble! The Royal Rumble was always one of my favorite events in wrestling, but after two straight lackluster Rumbles, there is a lot of pressure on the WWE to deliver a solid show on Sunday. How will the Road to Wrestlemania begin? Hit the jump to see my thoughts!
DUDLEY BOYZ vs ASCENSION vs JACK SWAGGER and MARK HENRY vs DARREN YOUNG and DAMIEN SANDOW
Royal Rumble Qualifier
The pre-show for the Royal Rumble will feature an interesting fatal four-way tag team match where eight wrestlers that could have been seen as shoe-ins for being part of the Rumble must now battle their way into the event. The choice of wrestlers for this match is rather interesting. The Dudley Boyz have remained fan favorites since their return and would get good reactions in the main event match (though, honestly, I’ve found them to be a bit tiring as of late as the nostalgia was worn off). Despite the pretty cool assignment as Stardust’s goon squad, the Ascension have been largely forgettable after being top stars in NXT, but they would make decent “cannon fodder” in the Rumble. Jack Swagger and Mark Henry, both former World Champions, have the biggest pedigree to be in the Main Event, but have largely been used as enhancement talent in the past; they could easily be used in a similar manner here. The weirdest members of the match are Darren Young and Damien Sandow. Young had a great thing going with Titus O’Neil as the Prime Time Players before being dropped around the time the Dudley Boyz returned. Sandow is perhaps the biggest creative failure of 2015 for the WWE, as he went from being one of the most popular characters on the show to simply not appearing on television. While I think that the Ascension serve the best purpose in the Royal Rumble and the fanboy in me wants Young/Sandown to pick up the win, I think it is fairly obvious that the Dudley Boyz will win here and secure their place in the main event.
Prediction: THE DUDLEY BOYZ
THE USOS vs THE NEW DAY ©
WWE Tag Team Championship
You can never go wrong with this combination of wrestlers. The Usos and the New Day always put on a great match thanks to being supremely talented and, perhaps more impotantly, having fantastic in-ring chemistry. While I would like to see something added to this match to differentiate it from their other bouts (and thought that Chris Jericho’s spats with New Day would lead to that), I know that they will deliver the goods. The New Day remain my favorite part of the WWE and this past Monday’s “funeral” for Francesca for the Trombone did a great job of elevating the feud, though I feel WWE dropped the ball by having Jericho break her rather than one of the Usos. This match, which I suspect will kick off the show, will be fast paced and exciting and I believe through some shenanigans the New Day will pick up the win though I think we’ll see the Usos get the last laugh post-match.
Prediction: THE NEW DAY
KALISTO vs ALBERTO DEL RIO ©
United States Championship
I do not believe in celebrating the injury of any professional wrestler, but the extreme upside to Sin Cara’s recent shoulder issues is that it has finally given Kalisto the chance to shine as a singles star. I’ve been a HUGE fan of lucha libre since high school and I’ve never understood why the WWE has been so cautious in embracing luchadors. With Kalisto they have someone who is both talented and charismatic, a true successor to Rey Mysterio Jr (who returns to television this month with Lucha Underground). The back-and-forth title swapping between Kalisto and Alberto del Rio has been exciting, though I do need to dock the WWE points for not letting del Rio focus on Kalisto, but rather folding him into the Everyone vs Roman Reigns feud for the majority of his screen time. Del Rio is great on the mic and could have done wonders building this match if given the time. Of course, I’d also say that he can bring it in the ring at a higher level than most of the roster, but since his return a few months back, I feel like he has really phoned it in with some lackluster matches and one of the stupidest finishers in wrestling (yes, it looks awesome, but the long build-up and poor set up completely kills any impact it has). To me, the return on investment for Kalisto is much higher at this point than on Del Rio so I would really like to see the masked superstar pick up another big win here in the rubber match before moving onto his next feud (which I would love to see be Stardust).
KEVIN OWENS vs DEAN AMBROSE ©
Last Man Standing Match
This match should steal the show. Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens are two of my absolute favorite wrestlers on the WWE roster and are easily the best brawlers currently under contract, so the Last Man Standing match is a perfect fit for their style. Although the PG-era does mean that “brutal matches” like this aren’t quite as impactful as they used to be, this match will be stiff and hard hitting, likely with some crazy spots to showcase just how important the title is to these two men. We’ve seen the two spend the last month attacking one another relentlessly, so the bar is already pretty high for the violence of this match. I’m looking forward to how they deliver. The other thing that I find interesting is how this match could affect the Royal Rumble. Dean Ambrose is arguably the most popular wrestler on the roster besides the injured John Cena and Kevin Owens is the wrestler the crowd loves to hate the most—both men would get huge reactions in the Rumble and could outshine Roman Reigns, who is intended to be the focal point. The best use of this match would be to have Owens and Ambrose beat each other to the point that neither can be medically cleared for the main event, leaving two open spots for surprise entrants. It is important to keep the crowd happy on Sunday, so Ambrose is going to barely pick up the win, but I don’t expect either man to walk out of this match fully intact.
Prediction: DEAN AMBROSE
BECKY LYNCH vs CHARLOTTE ©
WWE Divas World Championship
The feud between Becky Lynch and Charlotte has been exactly what I’ve been demanding form the Divas division for the last few years. I am so happy with the screen time that they have been given, the great matches that we’ve seen from both women, and the stakes that have been built without using the cliché story beats that we’ve seen in most women’s feuds (petty jealousy, anything involving boyfriends, or high school-style bullying). Everything came to a great crescendo this past Monday with Becky’s amazing promo after her match, which led to Ric Flair accepting her challenge on behalf of the dismayed Charlotte. If this match is given time, it has the possibility of being the best Divas match on the main roster in quite some time. I still believe that the long game is either Charlotte vs Sasha Banks or Charlotte vs Bayley as the premiere feud (and hopefully the first PPV main event between two women), so I don’t see Charlotte dropping the title here, but I do anticipate we are going to see a really great match that elevates both women and proves just how good Becky Lynch is.
29 SUPERSTARS vs ROMAN REIGNS ©
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
This could definitely be the most interesting Royal Rumble in WWE for a number of reasons. The most obvious of which is the fact that Roman Reigns is defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the match, which has never happened before. The second is that the WWE had terrible reactions to the last two Royal Rumbles. In 2013, the returning Batista won the Rumble to a chorus of boos despite being booked as a face. Last year, the crowd turned against the Rumble again thanks to a some terrible booking that weakened a crowd favorite (Daniel Bryan), over-pushed two aging veterans to the detriment of younger stars (Kane and Big Show), and was the worst possible way to elevate Roman Reigns to the top of the roster. The crowd still isn’t 100% behind Reigns, despite much stronger booking in the last few months, so putting his title on the line could mean the crowd turns against him again, especially if there are any surprise fan favorite wrestlers in the mix (see more of that above in my Owens/Ambrose write-up). The other looming issue is the rumblings (no pun intended) of the NJPW superstars AJ Styles, “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, and (my favorite) Shinsuke Nakamura signing with WWE. Unless they definitively state these men will not be at the Rumble, they will be the main focus of the crowd until #30 shows up. If they do arrive, it changes EVERYTHING. If they don’t, the match needs to be booked so that the crowd isn’t disappointed. In the end, I think it makes the most sense to have Roman Reigns come out on a top, but they need to toe the line very carefully to keep the crowd from completely turning on them in the wrong way. Last year showed the difference between a crowd booing a wrestler and booing booking—hopefully it won’t be something we see again this year. Roman Reigns will likely retain the belt here, but I suspect we’ll see a lot of shenanigans to get us there.
Prediction: ROMAN REIGNS