Here we are, wrestling fans, at the Royal Rumble, the official beginning of the "Road to Wrestlemania." The WWE wants to drive that point home so much, it even renamed the next pay-per-view event "Fast Lane." This year is a little bit different, though. Most years, by this point, much of the card already has come together. You know what they likely want to do for the title. You know several of the undercard matches. This year is pretty different. Outside of the Triple H-Sting match, nothing really seems set in stone. There are a couple of rumored matches, but that's all they are at this point: rumors. This brings us to the Rumble, where the first pieces will fall into place.
This Rumble is the most unpredictable in years. In most years, the title match is almost an afterthought because the winner is basically a lock. At this point, you can think of two, maybe three possible title matches at Wrestlemania, just depending on which person they have win the Rumble. This year, it's different, though. What seemed like an obvious decision four months ago for both the champion and the challenger is now completely up in the air. I'll go through all of the possibilities later, but I can see three or four favorites for the main event of Wrestlemania and as many as seven dark-horse choices. While the rest of the card is rather uninspiring, the title match and the Rumble match could end up making this year's Royal Rumble one to remember.
Pre-show: The New Day vs. Adam Rose, Cesaro and Tyson Kidd
Cesaro and Tyson Kidd (The UpperCats) have been a revelation for the company. Unlike most randomly thrown-together tag teams, they have jelled quickly, and have really brought back the art of double-team moves. So often tag teams, especially ones just thrown together, have each member do their own thing. These two not only have their double-team finisher but sprinkle in other combination moves throughout. Hopefully, they get a true push soon, because I think they could be a big boost to the tag division if used properly.
On the other hand, The New Day, for really the first time, did something truly interesting this week. On their way to the ring, Xavier Woods talked about how the reason they were so positive was that if they weren't, the rage would come out. The entire act had felt over the top and phony since their debut, to the point that some speculated they were being corny on purpose, to try to get boos. This speech marked the first time there was any validation to that thought process. While I don't expect it to happen soon, the "rage" likely will come out, and we'll see a heel team. What does this mean for the Rumble match? Probably nothing, but it's something to keep in mind as you watch The New Day progress as a team.
As to who will win? While I truly enjoy the UpperCats, I'll say The New Day takes this. They're the fresher team, and it seems that at this point, the WWE wants to do more with them.
Winners: The New Day
The Usos vs. Miz and Mizdow for the Tag Team Championships
I'll be honest with you readers: I'm completely over this feud. It seems like every RAW and Smackdown for the past two months has featured a match involving these two teams in some fashion. There's been absolutely no break from it. So there's not much new here. The only question is whether we'll finally start to see the seeds of a breakup between Miz and Mizdow. We all know it's coming eventually; the question is when. This match, and the Rumble match, is a possible start.
As for this match, I still think that the next tag champions are going to be The Ascension, despite their supposed "burial" on RAW. The Usos make more sense as far as a challenger, so The Usos walk away with the belts here.
Winners: The Usos
The Ascension vs. The New Age Outlaws
While my initial reaction to The Ascension's segment on RAW was one of disgust, and though I still think it was a dumb segment, it might actually help The Ascension get over as heels. Fans didn't quite know what do when it came to The Ascension, but with them going face to face against some beloved tag teams from the past, the crowd can unite in hating them. Now, they shouldn't have been beaten quite as badly as they were, but so be it.
As for this match, it should only go one way. Not only should The Ascension win, they should brutalize the Outlaws. They shouldn't just win one of their classic one- to two-minute matches. It should be five minutes of The Ascension dismantling The Outlaws. Do whatever they can to make the crowd uncomfortable and booing. If they can pull that off, RAW will be forgotten, to an extent.
Winners: The Ascension
Paige and Natalya vs. The Bellas
The Divas division is in an interesting place right now. Nikki is doing fine as champion, and I think she's better than a lot of people give her credit for. The new season of "Total Divas" has started and WWE is borrowing some storylines, including the odd Paige-Natalya pseudo-friendship-feud, which I'm sure makes more sense if you watch the show. There's also something simmering between Brie and Nikki, though it's hard to say exactly what. They were put back together so abruptly, something has to give there, right?
In this match, I'm going to play it safe and go with WWE's favorite booking mechanism. When the champion is in a nontitle match, it's a fair bet they lose. Maybe Nikki and Brie have issues, and that causes them to lose the match. What will that turn into? Who knows right now. WWE might not even know. But with Nikki currently nursing an injury, it just seems like a safe way to keep the status quo.
Winners: Paige and Natalya
John Cena vs. Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Here's the first of the two big matches on Sunday's card. This is a unique year because the title match at the Royal Rumble is usually an obvious pick. Generally, they have a lesser match at the Rumble where you know the champion is going to retain. Occasionally, you'll have a match where it's obvious the challenger is winning (CM Punk vs. The Rock in 2013). This year looked like it would be much of the same. Brock Lesnar-John Cena seemed it would lead to an obvious Lesnar win. But the addition of Seth Rollins completely changes the dynamic of the match, particularly after the past few weeks. The match has been built fairly brilliantly, as far as the Lesnar-Rollins dynamic goes. While I don't expect we'll see it, I wouldn't mind seeing these guys feud more in the near future.
As for the match, I'll start by saying that John Cena winning would really surprise me. I can't ever be completely shocked by a John Cena win, but having Cena win makes by far the least amount of sense for several reasons, primarily because all of the likely Rumble winners are faces. They could do a "passing of the torch" match with Cena and Roman Reigns, but it's far less likely than many of the other possibilities. So I'm going to rule Cena out here.
So the question is, Lesnar or Rollins? There are pros and cons to both winners. When it comes to Brock Lesnar, they've built him up to be an unstoppable monster. Hypothetically, whoever beats him cleanly should get a big boost, and it seems like they had been building it up to a Wrestlemania loss. So why would it make sense to have him lose here? There are two primary reasons. The first is that it's against Rollins, who has his own problems if he loses. The other reason: rumors of his departure for UFC after Wrestlemania. When he left in 2004, his final match against Goldberg was booed throughout. Granted, Goldberg was leaving, too, but if it comes out in February that he's definitely returning to UFC, who knows how fans will react to a major feud involving him.
As for Seth Rollins, one of the major reasons he could win is, simply, timing. He has the Money in the Bank briefcase, which will expire in June. Clearly, he wouldn't cash in anytime between February and April if he were going to win. For the record, because of the pop he'd receive, I'm completely against cashing in on Wrestlemania weekend, and I believe the WWE would think the same way after the boost Dolph Ziggler received. The other reason has to do with the fact that there are two only viable Rumble winners if Brock Lesnar wins: Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan. No one else seems to make sense. If Rollins wins, there are at least two or three others.
So what does the WWE want to do? It's a 50-50 proposition. Either Brock Lesnar loses earlier than people think, and without as much fanfare, or Seth Rollins might run out of time to cash in. The only reason I'm leaning toward Rollins right now is because of my idea for the Royal Rumble, which we'll get to next. I could certainly see Lesnar winning, but a Rollins win sets up an exciting title match and undercard for Wrestlemania.
Winner: Seth Rollins
The Royal Rumble
Four months ago, the winner of the Rumble was basically etched in stone. Everyone knew Roman Reigns would win the Rumble and go on to beat Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania. Then, as I wrote about a couple weeks ago, things have started to crash down on Reigns. His injury put him far behind where he was supposed to be at this point, and his promos have been less than inspiring. Combine that with a rabid crowd in Philadelphia, and it's a big risk to have Reigns win the Rumble right now. The addition of Daniel Bryan is a further complication. Having him in the Rumble without winning it could lead to another situation like last year.
So those are the two favorites, but they're not the only ones who could win. Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler and my dark horse, the resurgent Randy Orton, all could win. Ambrose, of course, still needs to resolve his feud with Seth Rollins, and Dolph Ziggler has problems with The Authority. A face Randy Orton has had issues with both Rollins and Lesnar. So, conceivably, any of the five could win and not shock me.
I'm going to focus on the two favorites, however, because while the other three could win, Reigns and Bryan make the most sense. To me, it will come down to who wins in the title match. While both could face Lesnar and Rollins, a Bryan-Rollins match, while potentially phenomenal in the ring, would follow nearly the exact same storyline Daniel Bryan had last year with The Authority. Pairing Reigns with Rollins makes sense both on a personal level, as does Reigns vs. The Authority, since Reigns and Triple H had run-ins over the summer. I would try to pair off Reigns and Rollins, and Bryan and Lesnar, who could have a fascinating feud and match. Since I predicted Rollins to win, I will go with Reigns here. Despite his problems with the mic, the WWE has been notoriously stubborn about changing their plans, even if they're not going well. That being said, I think the WWE knows they need to protect Reigns, which is why I think Rollins being the guy to hold the title when Reigns win could appease some of the crowd. I could see people booing a potential Reigns-Lesnar match while enjoying a Reigns-Rollins pairing.
While I'm not sure that the WWE would do this, I'd give Reigns even more protection from a hostile crowd. If Rollins wins, and they want Reigns to be in the main event at Wrestlemania, I'd give everyone the match they want to see, which is a triple-threat match between the former Shield members. If the final two came down to Reigns and Ambrose, and the two went over at the same time, I think the fans would eat it up. You could have Reigns get to the main event of Wrestlemania, where the WWE wants him eventually, while giving him the protection. Will the WWE do this? It's hard to say. But it's a safe way to get the man the WWE wants to Wrestlemania.
Winner: Roman Reigns (with maybe Dean Ambrose?)
Questions? Predictions? Leave your comments here, Email me, or find me on Twitter: @TheAOster