By Nick Perkins, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
It is Royal Rumble Sunday and I’m trying to remember the last time I was as underwhelmed and unexcited by what is typically my favorite event of the year. To be fair to the company, it could be the fact that this will be the first year in a long time I will not be watching it with my usual compadres. I moved away and don’t know how to make friends as a 32-year-old man, so I’ll be watching it on my own (or, if I can figure out technology, perhaps my friends and I will be able to Skype through it). So that could be part of my lack of enthusiasm, but it certainly is not the only reason.
This year’s Royal Rumble feels lazy and uninspired, from the top of the card to the bottom. As usual, the wrestlers will work hard and do their part but I’m trying to think of any story coming out of this show that will actually get me excited. There are very few but, for the sake of this article, I’ll at least attempt to fantasy book some best-case scenarios.
Sheamus vs. Shorty G: Come on. Is this even up for debate? Sheamus is the returning hero (or villain, rather). Unfortunately, Chad Gable fell into Vince McMahon’s Isle of Misbegotten Gimmicks, and it’s going to be a long time before he is able to find refuge. Sheamus wins and probably beats him up after the bell just to add injury to insult.
Roman Reigns vs. King Corbin in a Falls Count Anywhere Match: Sigh. I could not care less about this match. In fact, I’ll probably try to sneak away and pick up my ceremonial pizza and wings during this part of the show. I live in New York now and dealing with New York drivers is still more interesting to me than King Corbin and any match in which he is involved. Roman Reigns doesn’t even evoke anger from me anymore, just apathy. Crowd reactions are better for him at least, but the guy does nothing for me. Which is partly why I’m not as excited for this show as I usually am (more on that below). Maybe they’ll surprise me and have a decent match. What will not surprise me is Roman Reigns winning. Or maybe they’ll extend the feud one more month and we will get the glorious return of the Kennel from Hell match.
Winner: Roman Reigns
Bayley vs. Lacey Evans for the Smackdown Women’s Championship: It’s the two Women’s Championship matches (or, if we’re following NXT’s lead, the two…Championship matches?) that excite me the most. The story between Bayley and Evans has felt somewhat rushed in terms of Lacey just deciding she’s a good guy all of a sudden. But that’s okay. I much prefer this version of the former U.S. Marine than the “sexy, southern belle” persona she had been using previously. Fans can easily get behind a former marine who is also a mom trying to live her dream and provide a future for her daughter. That actually has the potential to be one of WWE’s greatest babyface roles, if handled correctly. The problem is it probably won’t be handled correctly. That aside, I hope this is a coming out party for Evans. I hope she and Bayley get enough time to tell a good story and, in the end, I expect Evans to win, setting up the inevitable clash with Sasha Banks at WrestleMania.
Winner: Lacey Evans
Andrade vs. Humberto Carrillo for the U.S. Championship: Andrade has the potential to be everything that Alberto Del Rio never was. He is as gifted in the ring as anybody else (his matches with Johnny Gargano and Aleister Black are still some of my favorite matches in NXT history) and the dude bleeds charisma. I would say he could be the next Eddie Guerrero, but I think he would rather be the one and only (sorry Ricochet) Andrade. Humberto Carrillo, on the other hand, just doesn’t do it for me. The booking of him thus far has left much to be desired and he just doesn’t seem to have that illustrious ‘it factor’ that his opponent has in abundance. For this reason, and many others, I see Andrade walking away with the win after a flashy contest that further proves it’s not the wrestlers that are the problem in this company.
“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan in a Strap Match for the WWE Universal Championship: They’re doing the best they can with what they’re given. I wish I could tell you that this match has be psyched beyond belief. Bryan is my current favorite wrestler, and he has been for years. The Fiend is a fascinating character with a ton of potential and interesting directions to go in. But if we’re still in the ‘Bray Wyatt can’t be beaten, period’ phase, then the foregone conclusion to this match, not to mention its stipulation, just doesn’t excite me. I have full faith that these two will put on a good match, despite the aforementioned conditions. I’m just significantly less excited about The Fiend as the Universal Champion than I was three months ago.
In a perfect world, Bryan would figure out a way to upset The Fiend and walk away with the title. Bryan getting roughed up on the go-home edition of Smackdown could have foreshadowed that, as is usually the case. But The Fiend is not usual and so, despite my heart wanting Bryan to win, my head belongs to The Fiend.
Winner: “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt
Becky Lynch vs. Asuka for the Raw Championship: This match has had the best buildup of any match on the card. It’s the best story and it has the potential to be the best in-ring match of the night. From the moment Asuka stepped foot onto the main roster, she’s been misused (surprise!). Though she won the Women’s Royal Rumble a couple years ago, she lost to Charlotte at that year’s WrestleMania and had been spinning her wheels since. Yet, every time she faced Becky Lynch, she got the better of her, whether by fate, happenstance or plain dumb luck. Now, Becky must face the one woman she’s never beaten, in order to solidify herself as the champion she so desperately longs to be. The story has, quite literally, written itself and the final page will be written at the Royal Rumble. In the end, however, Becky will come out on top, setting herself on a collision course with…
Winner: Becky Lynch
30-Woman Royal Rumble Match: Ronda Rousey. She is the only option that makes sense, the only option that is actually exciting and the only option that sets up the perfect WrestleMania match. Once again, this is a story that write itself. Becky Lynch won the Royal Rumble last year and challenged Rousey in what should have been a one-on-one match. Instead, Charlotte was inserted into the match and a fluky finish to the WrestleMania main event ended the feud for the time being. Becky went on to have a great year as champion while Ronda licked her wounds and lied in wait. Now is the perfect opportunity for Rousey to come back, win the Royal Rumble and finally take on “The Man” in the WrestleMania match that should have happened last year. It’s the perfect bookend to Becky’s story.
Plus, do you really want to see Dana Brooke or Carmella take on Becky or Lacey Evans?
30-Man Royal Rumble Match: And this is where it gets tricky. To their credit, WWE hasn’t really telegraphed any potential winners. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they may not have learned their lesson from previous years and plan on having Roman Reigns win the Rumble, moving into a WrestleMania feud with The Fiend. Because, obviously, the only one who can beat The Fiend is Roman Reigns. Because Roman Reigns is the only one who can beat anybody. So that’s the safe bet.
I would love for Drew McIntyre to win and challenge Brock Lesnar for the Championship, but I just don’t think it will happen. I believe McIntyre will get the Kane-in-2001 or Reigns-in-2014 treatment, in that he will put on a great showing but will ultimately fail to win. In doing so, however, he can set himself up to be the true breakout star of 2020.
My biggest wish is probably the least-likely scenario. I would like Brock Lesnar to actually win the Rumble and then go on to challenge Daniel Bryan in a title vs. title unification match at WrestleMania. Even after their awkward first-time meeting, Bryan vs. Lesnar is still a dream match, especially with Bryan back to being the courageous underdog. That’s the dream and I refuse to wake up from it until Reigns is eliminated.
Of course, Edge could also make his hotly rumored return and set up a match with Lesnar at Mania that will have audiences peeking through their fingers the entire time.
You know, after writing this article, I’m actually more excited about the Rumble than I thought. The four big matches have a ton of potential to be entertaining. It’s just so hard to trust WWE to do the right thing anymore. The Royal Rumble used to be the launching pad for superstars that the fans had christened as the heir apparent. From Shawn Michaels, to Steve Austin, to Chris Benoit, to Batista (in 2005, definitely not 2014) to Shinsuke Nakamura. The final moments of the Rumble match served as catharsis. It had audiences holding their collective breath, before allowing them to erupt in joy. These days, we’re lucky to even get a sigh of relief. Maybe that will change this year.
But it probably won’t.
Winner: Roman Reigns