By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
The Royal Rumble is my favorite show of the year. I love it even more than WrestleMania. The way they can tell a story over time, the surprise entrants, and the possibility of mistakes make it so much fun to watch. Plus, you have the annual “Kofi uses props to avoid hitting the floor,” spot.
This year’s Rumble, however, had better deliver since there isn’t much else to talk about on Sunday’s card. There are two Rumble matches, which is great, but only two people who could win each one. There are four title matches, but only one which won’t just be used as a chance to set up something for WrestleMania. So while this year’s show will be interesting, it won’t be terribly unpredictable. The Rumble always does give us some surprises, however, so let’s look at some of the forks the road to WrestleMania could take.
Below is Part 2 of our preview for both the men’s and women’s Royal Rumble matches. Click here for Part 1, which breaks down and predicts the title matches.
The first-ever 30-Woman Over-The-Top Royal Rumble Match
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction
Usually I just list the matches in the order they appear on WWE.com, but I feel pretty strongly that the women’s match will go after the two tag team title bouts and before the two world title matches. The only other place it makes sense is as the first bout on the card. Putting two battle royals in a row would grow tedious, and if WWE does this right, they can work a pretty solid flow of ups and downs for the last couple hours of the show. As for the match, I’m thrilled the women are getting the spotlight so many of them deserve, but WWE has a problem here. Not only are they going to have to find some legends or dig pretty deep into the NXT roster to come up with 30 names anyone will want to see, but we go into the match pretty much knowing there are only two possibilities here for a finish. The men, by the way, have a similar problem we’ll get to.
On the women’s side, there’s Asuka and everyone else. She’s been absolutely fantastic since making her debut on the main roster, and I can see why Triple H has held her in such high regard for so long. WWE has done a nice job giving her a slow build, which will make the rest of her climb to the top feel important. It’s an art too often lost in the effort for instant ratings and pops. Making someone big over the course of time gets fans invested and makes them want the payoff even more. It’s why Hogan vs. Sting was the greatest angle ever, and why WCW started Goldberg’s decline by putting the title on him too quickly. Asuka’s rise has been perfectly timed.
She gets her big moment tonight and wins the belt at WrestleMania, making her as big a star as she’ll ever be in this country. It’s really obvious, but this time in a good way.
But, since WWE doesn’t always go with the obvious, even when they should, I’ll throw a potential curve into the mix. And hear me out for a minute before you start yelling at me. Ronda Rousey could totally win Sunday.
Sure, they’d be putting someone who has done two moves in a WWE ring into the top spot right away, but they’ll never have to do less work to get someone over. Rousey’s MMA career was basically over before she started losing (a big factor in why she lost in the first place), but she’s much younger and more athletic than a lot of people who come from other sports after retirement. She has instant star power, could do anything in the ring with little to no training, and already knows how to talk into a mic, something it takes former football players years to do. Her arrival has been rumored forever, and how much more mainstream attention could WWE get for WrestleMania than if it has Rousey challenging for the women’s title?
Plus, they’d have the option of having her face either champion. They could have Asuka triple-teamed and eliminated, keeping her strong, and have Rousey fight Ric Flair’s daughter (with Ric back in her corner) at WrestleMania, which the media would eat up as much as when Floyd Mayweather showed up, while still having Asuka get her moment against Alexa. WrestleMania is like six hours now anyway, why not do both?
And to those who think a tarnished Rousey wouldn’t be huge in WWE, let me give you a quick history lesson. The last time WWE tried something like this, they created the best era in their history. Steve Austin deserves all the credit in the world for what he did, but it’s undeniable that a large part of how quickly he rose stemmed from his huge introduction into the title picture, which was largely due to the excitement generated by the arrival of Mike Tyson. Tyson made that night in Boston feel big, and Austin used the rub to launch himself into an all-time great. Tyson, who was months removed from total disgrace after biting off a man’s ears, created the best atmosphere at a WrestleMania since Hulkamania died, and yet if you listen to podcasts by any of the WWE execs who were around at the time or even the wrestlers, they’ll tell you that was the night WWE took back its spot as the No. 1 wrestling company in the world.
There’s no competition to conquer anymore, but Rousey could help launch the women’s division in a similar way, even if she is just used for a few months to make Charlotte or Asuka into a household name outside the wrestling bubble. I’m still taking Asuka because of another theory I have we’ll get to in a bit, but Rousey is a very real option.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction
First, I would have been on board with picking Ronda Rousey to win the Rumble if she didn’t come out and say this week she wouldn’t even be in the country on Sunday, as she’s filming a movie, so luckily for those of us who’d rather see a woman currently on the roster win this match, and for the actual women in the match, she seems to be out of the conversation until at least WrestleMania. Now, remember, there’s always the chance she could fly back Saturday night, win the Rumble Sunday, and go back to filming Monday, so nothing is set for her not being there.
For me, I’m not excited at all about Rousey possibly coming into the WWE because it will be a rehash of everything we’ve seen with Brock Lesnar. We know how it’s going to play out because we’ll all living it right now. Brock is never on Raw, and hardly ever defends the Universal title, so why would things be different when Rousey debuts and wins the Raw title? (I don’t think they would put her permanently on SmackDown, although matching up with Charlotte is easily the biggest match WWE could do.) Just imagine the women’s division on either show without a champion or championship to chase? It would kill the division, especially since there is no secondary title to prop up, and certainly no one like The Miz to do it. So while Rousey is going to happen eventually in WWE, I’ll be hoping she just doesn’t come in and squash Charlotte and Asuka and ruin everything the women’s division has built into it.
I also don’t think Rousey and Mike Tyson, as Matt mentioned, is the right analogy, as Rousey will be a wrestler and not just a side act to a bigger story. Rousey will be wrestling, not refereeing, so I don’t think anyone outside WWE will know Charlotte or Asuka even if they are wrestling Rousey at WrestleMania. Rousey will be Lesnar and I don’t want that. But headlines are headlines I guess and Rousey will generate those.
Now, taking her out of the picture, I actually think there are three possible winners here, not just one as Matt mentions. I might agree with Matt’s pick in the end, but there are definitely two others who could win this and it would make complete sense.
First, there’s Asuka, who proved on the Raw 25 show that when let loose she can look completely dominate. She annihilated her teammates after the match, and did so with a smile on her face. If that didn’t impress you, nothing will. It stinks that Asuka’s first loss could come to Rousey eventually, because that’s where that is going. Asuka, however, is the clear favorite in this match no matter what.
But this is also a time to have her lose a match without ruining her undefeated streak, as the entire division at one point in the match could team up to eliminate her, keeping her strong with plenty of vendettas to finish afterward.
Second, is Nia Jax, who the WWE loves and is actually getting better, finally, in the ring. She would be a believable winner, because of her size, and a title matchup with friend Alexa Bliss could easily be marketed and built up over the next few months. It might not be the same as having Asuka against Bliss, but it definitely would work.
Third, from the SmackDown side of things, is Becky Lynch. The fan favorite (just listen to the pops she gets every time she comes out) could win this match to set up what would be another friend vs. friend feud and match with Charlotte that would put the entire SDLive women’s division on the right track. Becky and Charlotte are in a class by themselves on SDLive, so why not have them wrestle on the big stage? There’s no reason not to. Plus, WWE could easily pit Alexa Bliss against Asuka anyway without the Rumble win. Becky’s only real road to facing Charlotte at WrestleMania would be to win the Rumble, so it’s certainly possible.
In the end, however, I’m going with Asuka to win the Rumble, even though it may be too obvious. She’s made to carry and dominate the division for the time being, taking on and beating everyone until the cycle starts again. Sure, it might ruin Bliss and Jax for now, but wrestling will always end up giving those types chances again. So, after all this, me and Matt agree: Asuka will win the women’s Royal Rumble match.
The 2018 30-Man Over-The-Top Royal Rumble Match
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction
Like the women’s match, there are only two likely scenarios here. The first is Roman Reigns winning, as we discussed in Part 1 of our preview here, then fighting Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. It’s been the plan for a while and I don’t see it changing, despite how over Braun is right now. Strowman just doesn’t have the mainstream appeal yet to be in the WrestleMania main event. Since we know what we’re getting at Mania, Roman winning would be the obvious way to go. And Roman winning in obvious fashion would make fans hate him even more, but Vince doesn’t care. Like I said earlier, it’s his show and he likes Roman. When he wants our opinion, he’ll ask for it.
The only other outcome I could possibly see here would make Brad as happy as seeing Roman win would anger him. It’s also my pick. There are a million ways to get to Reigns-Lesnar, but only one way to get to what I think is the other lock match at WrestleMania. It’s a match we talked about for months, and it’s AJ Styles vs. the man who will win the Rumble, Shinsuke Nakamura.
Everything about Nakamura’s WWE career has been botched, but they can get him to his originally-planned spot by having him win Sunday. Then, two months of build and his place in the main event at WrestleMania would be more than enough to repair the damage his awful booking has done to him.
There’s one other reason I like Nakamura to win, and it’s the crazy theory I was referencing earlier. While it was vastly over hyped, much of the wrestling world was focused lately on a match in Japan between Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega, which WWE gave its blessing. Omega is huge in Japan, and is affiliated with the group now known as Balor Club, something WWE is inexplicably trying to recreate despite only the biggest wrestling marks being even remotely interested. Vince has been trying to tap into foreign markets lately, as evidenced by the failed attempts to get big in India, and stealing some of the thunder for Japan would make him some money. What better way to get into that market than Nakamura vs. Styles, another part of that scene, at WrestleMania? It would make the pure wrestling fans here happy because the work in the ring would be good. It would make the marks who care about Japanese wrestling happy. It would make Brad very happy. It would make everyone who hates Roman happy. There’s no downside here. Plus, people are going to be hoping for a surprise appearance by Omega Sunday anyway, so why not appease the crowd?
I think Vince is actually going to make more than himself happy this time. Besides, he’ll get Reigns the belt soon enough.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction
Yes, we all know the rumors of Roman Reigns facing Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, and it’s probably going to happen. Plus, the path got a whole lot easier when Reigns lost the IC title to the Miz on Monday, freeing him from a future title defense and removing any barriers to a Rumble win and Lesnar match. But I just don’t believe Reigns is going to win the Rumble. First, the fans would riot. Second, Reigns and Lesnar have a ready made feud anyway, so they don’t need a Rumble win to make this match happen. Just look at Randy Orton’s win last year. That did nothing to change the plans for WrestleMania, except to give the SmackDown crew a main event in name only. So, Reigns won’t win.
Matt’s pick of Shinsuke Nakamura makes complete sense and everyone would be dying to see Nakamura and AJ Styles got at it at WrestleMania. It would be epic. And for electricity, just look at when these two teased facing each other in the past. The crowd went ballistic. It’s a match everyone wants to see and there’s no realistic way to get there unless Nakamura wins the Royal Rumble. He’s a great choice and a logical one at that, and if he did win it wouldn’t be a surprise. On a personal note, it would be great to see this happen. Hearing the crowd sing his theme song after he won and probably all night after would be awesome. But I’m not going with the obvious here, and even though I’ll end up being wrong, I’m taking a outside chance anyway.
Before I get to that person, however, I’ll bring up another contender who might not even be in the match. But if Daniel Bryan is cleared by doctors to wrestle and take part in the Rumble, he’s going to win it. Sports betting sites have Bryan as one of the favorites to win right now. But getting cleared by doctors isn’t a storyline for Bryan, it’s real life, so there’s little chance of him actually competing. It would be amazing though if he came out at No. 30. We’ll see.
Now, for my winner. He’s a guy who should be in the main event picture already. He has a ready-made storyline with Brock Lesnar in his back pocket. And, oh yeah, he never lost his title in the first place. It’s Finn Balor. Fresh of being together with D-X and Scott Hall Monday night, the Balor Club, with a rejuvenated and happy leader, has been given the start of what should not only be a gigantic push, but a faction that could turn into the next D-X or NWO, without the Attitude Era edge, or even the current Bullet Club in Japan. Remember, Balor was the top guy in the Bullet Club before leaving for the WWE. AJ Styles followed Balor in that role. Just imagine Balor, Gallows and Anderson and then Styles together, even across two brands. That would be amazing. Just wow. Of course, I wish they did something other than Balor Club, because that kind of eliminates this scenario with Styles being part of it. But either way, Finn Balor is now the face of a faction, with Gallows and Anderson by his side, and the Demon King at his disposal, so how could Balor not be considered a favorite to win this match? The crowd would love it and the Balor-Lesnar possibilities would be limitless. While it’s certainly a longshot, considering Reigns and Nakamura are the logical choices, along with guys like John Cena and Randy Orton always possibilities too, Balor would not only make complete sense, but would create a ton of excitement going into WrestleMania by going against the norm and creating a buzz in the wrestling community for once. Balor pulls off a shocker, wins the Rumble, and everyone goes home happy. Well, maybe not Matt, who is still secretly wishing and praying for yet another Roman victory. Too bad, Matt.
Click here for Part 1 breaking down each of the Rumble title matches.