By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
With a tear in my eye, I start this year’s Royal Rumble preview. OK, not really, but this time of year always brings me back to the greatest Pay-Per-View match in wrestling history, the 1992 Rumble. That was the night Ric Flair overcame the odds to win the title after surviving about an hour, backed by the greatest commentary performance in history from Bobby Heenan.
It's the match I reference the most here, because it really is a clinic in how to produce and support a wrestling angle. The event was epic, relaying the drama which WWE often lacks in its storylines today, and adding in the emotion today’s wrestling doesn’t even try to replicate. Flair ended the night with the famous, “with a tear in my eye,” promo. Now, many of the matches WWE puts forth brings its audience to tears, and the writing often causes nausea.
The Rumble, however, is typically the best show of the year in large part because not even WWE’s bookers can mess it up. There are numerous people who can win, and even more who are feuding with each other, and they can be placed into the match near each other in order to create chances for them to fight. It’s also the way to set up new rivalries, which is important as the road to WrestleMania becomes less winding and more of a straight path. This is also the last unpredictable show for a while, and the final one which won’t feel rushed or forced. We have two more shows before WrestleMania after Sunday, and neither will have a lot of building time, nor will either be full of surprises, as we should know much of the angles for Mania by the middle of next week.
So let’s look at this year’s Royal Rumble, which won’t be as good as 1992, but can’t be as bad as what we’ll get between now and when we get to MetLife Stadium.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Finn Bálor
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: One of the problems with having a title match at the Royal Rumble is the order of the card provides spoilers. I give WWE credit for making several contenders feel believable as Rumble winners, which will help the match be fun. Making this match feel unpredictable, however, is a stroke of genius. We all believe Brock Lesnar is going to WrestleMania as the champion, and most of us believe he’s dropping the belt that night to Seth Rollins. The fact that I can sell you on one percent of doubt means the company has done very well building this match. There is a scenario where Balor wins Sunday and feuds with Braun Strowman, as was teased last week. Giving Balor what felt like a win before Lesnar interfered was a really well done, because it now feels like Balor could win that match down the line. Putting them together also puts the idea into people’s heads, perhaps making them want to see it. Balor could beat Lesnar, then Strowman this winter, setting him up as a hot face going into a showdown with Rollins. By the way, Balor beat Rollins for the belt on the first night of its existence, and them finally getting around to a well-promoted rematch would be fun. Plus, Balor and Rollins would be a much better match at WrestleMania than anything with Lesnar. It certainly could happen. But it won’t. Lesnar is going to win, then feud with Strowman before WrestleMania. We’ll know if I’m right if Rollins wins the Rumble. If not, there’s a couple directions they can go. And now, with a tear in his eye, Brad gets to jump in and talk about his guy Finn. Or just yell at me. But don't get too mad at me yet boss, you're going to really want to kill me in a few minutes.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: For a moment, I thought this was Straub’s swan song writing these previews, with a tear in his eye, but alas, our long, national nightmare of having to read his often insane theories and opinions continues. It’s almost like teasing us with something special, and then ripping it apart from us a couple seconds later. And that’s the perfect segway into this match. Finn Balor had one chance to win this match … show up as the Demon. So, of course, WWE does what WWE does and lets it be known quickly that this match will feature Finn Balor the man, not the Demon. If you haven’t been paying attention, that means Finn is going to lose. Like it or not, and most don’t. It would have been special to see the Demon at a big event against an even bigger opponent. And boy would it be great if Finn Balor, of all people, was the one to finally send Brock Lesnar packing. But there will be no Demon, and therefore Brock continues as champion all the way to WrestleMania. Get used to seeing that Universal championship belt, because you’re not going to get many chances again until WrestleMania. And, please, pretty please, I don’t want Brock’s next challenger to be Seth Rollins. If AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Braun Strowman and Finn Balor couldn’t do it, why does it make sense for Rollins to do it? Who does make sense? Any of those above do, as does Drew McIntyre and, well, that’s about it. Maybe it is Kenny Omega, but he’s not skipping out on his friends at All Elite Wrestling, and he would need a long program to be introduced to the WWE crowd. NXT? Aleister Black would be fantastic and believable, but again, he might not be known enough to the general crowd. After that, who knows? But I know for sure I don’t want it to be Rollins.
WWE Champion Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: This is a match I couldn’t wait to miss which has been saved by the recent out-of-ring work of the two men. I can’t think of the last time a build made me turn on a match so quickly. I’m actually interested in this one now. The duo has done great stuff in recent weeks, with Bryan’s heel promos actually making people want to see him get beat up, which is the bad guy’s main job. Styles isn’t great at talking, but sells emotion well, and the two have had a couple of brawls lately which helped create heat between the characters that had been lacking during the feud. I still don’t get how Bryan knew Styles would be at that merchandise stand far enough ahead of time to be able to hide in the crowd to jump him, but the rest of it has worked. Bryan probably deserves to win, something I never dreamed I’d say, because he’s been great at making me hate him lately, but it doesn’t help the company long-term. If WWE is going to keep AJ from jumping to the new AEW promotion, they have to make him feel like part of the upper card. We don’t really know what Styles wants to do, after all the buzz before this was he wanted a break, but there’s enough smoke connecting AJ to AEW that WWE has to be concerned. He’s also a much better champion than challenger, so he gets the win here.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: I do agree Styles is much better as the champion than he is as a challenger, and that’s probably WWE”s fault for not being able to write him better. But WWE’s writers have that problem with pretty much everyone. Actually, I don’t think there’s anyone who’s being written well, except for maybe Rollins, who has taken over the role of the guy who rarely loses. I don’t believe AJ is heading for AEW, though, as he waited this long to make it to WWE, and he’s still being pushed as a headliner, even though he never closes the show, that it makes sense for him to stay. But schedule is always key and wrestling in the new start-up would offer and break there by a wide margin. Yet, can Styles afford to wait for AEW to really hit its stride with regular events and a television deal? He’s no spring chicken, so WWE’s stability and paycheck makes sense. All of this leads me to pick Daniel Bryan to win this match, as it’s way too early to pull the plug on his heel turn and run as WWE champion. Bryan wins and Samoa Joe probably is the next man up for what seems like the hundredth time trying to win a championship.
2019 Men’s Royal Rumble Match
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: As we mentioned, WWE has done a good job bringing several wrestlers into the picture here as possible winners. Rollins is the likely winner, which is why he lost the IC belt. Strowman wrestling Monday and showing he’s healthy makes it confusing as to why he lost his push, but puts him back into the picture as the possible winner Sunday. I could see Strowman costing Brock the title, then Brock entering the Rumble and winning (there are nine spots yet unannounced). We also have to remember there’s a couple months between Phoenix and WrestleMania, so there could be a surprise winner who loses the title shot eventually. Dolph Ziggler, who WWE also risks losing soon, comes to mind in that role. Drew McIntyre is an option, and I think he’ll be there late, but I don’t see him winning. There are a few things I’m sure of. First, no one from Smackdown is winning. This is a Raw year. There also won’t be a winner who hasn’t been on TV lately. The Rock has been rumored, but that would have been to work with Roman, who sadly won’t be wrestling Sunday. Kenny Omega, who is perhaps the most overrated person in all of sports right now, isn’t winning. And no, Hulk Hogan is not wrestling, never mind winning. Rollins is going over, but this much uncertainty is a credit to WWE and to the concept itself, the best in wrestling history (War Games is a close second).
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Rollins, McIntyre, Strowman, Cena, Ambrose, Orton, those are the only credible options to come away with the win here. And I’ll go ahead and eliminate Orton, because he’s not going to win another one. Cena can be dropped too, as he’s been putting guys over lately too much to be given another main event spot, which would be asking a lot considering his outside of wrestling commitments. Ambrose? I don’t see that one either, but there’s a sliver of hope. Which really leaves three: Rollins, McIntyre or Strowman. Either of those could win and go into WrestleMania as a believable challenger for Brock Lesnar. As for surprises that could win, I don’t believe it’ll happen, but as mentioned above, Kenny Omega and Aleister Black would work. But Omega won’t be there and Black won’t be given the opportunity to win, although he could be one of the surprise entrants. So, who wins? For my own personal choice, I say give it to Aleister Black. The dude has it all. If you watched him in NXT it’s not hard to see him as the next Undertaker, but with way more wrestling ability. Give him the ball and let him spike all over Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. It would be epic. But is it likely? No. So, out of the three choices left, I’m going with Braun Strowman. Braun was taken out of the Royal Rumble match against Brock Lesnar because, at least what I believe, WWE didn’t want him to lose yet again. Dropping another match to Lesnar would bury Strowman. Even though WWE wrestlers have 99 lives, it would make zero sense for Strowman to ever challenge Lesnar again. So, WWE had to think on the fly of a way to get Strowman to WrestleMania without another loss to Lesnar. Easy, take him out for some stupid reason, replace him with a fan favorite so nobody cares, then have him win the Royal Rumble and go on and finally beat Lesnar where WWE wants him to lose: at WrestleMania. There you go. It’s Strowman. It’s not exciting, but I believe the fans will be happy with the result.
2019 Women’s Royal Rumble Match
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Unlike the men’s match, there’s only one way this is going. Charlotte is winning and going to WrestleMania. There’s still a chance Becky Lynch gets involved to make it a 3-way match along with Charlotte and Ronda Rousey, but WWE desperately wants the names Flair and Rousey in the main event. There will be a Lynch-Rousey 1-on-1 match at some point, perhaps even before Mania, but fans will be disappointed to learn Lynch is the third wheel here. Yes she’s incredibly over and a phenomenal talent. But we’re heading toward the time of year where WWE caters to casual fans and mainstream media. Lynch is over the way NXT is. Hardcore fans love it, but the NXT fanbase is small compared to the mainstream WWE crowd, which is a silent, but giant minority. Lynch is amazing, but when we get to the one-show-a-year crowd WWE is going to be working on drawing in for Mania, Rousey and Flair are big names, and Lynch isn’t as well-known. As for the Rumble, the drama is how we get to WrestleMania. I stumbled upon my prediction during a recent conversation with Brad about something else. Conor McGregor is rumored to be making an appearance, and has been making friends with Lynch on Twitter. I say he’s in Lynch’s corner at WrestleMania for a triple threat, after a few weeks of training her for how to fight an MMA style. Ric would be in Charlotte’s corner, and Rousey can find some celebrity to have in her corner. WWE would be in heaven, getting as many big names as possible in the main event, while finding a way to get Lynch involved and over with people who don’t know her yet. As for Sunday, we’ll know how this is going by the end of the Asuka-Lynch match we’ll get to in a second. There is a scenario where Lynch loses to Asuka and gets in the Rumble, but I don’t think they’ll get that convoluted. Charlotte wins and challenges Ronda, and WWE worries about the rest later.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Sometimes I believe Straub just says things that he doesn’t truly believe but does so anyway knowing he’ll get a negative reaction so strong he’s in defense-mode heaven. Just follow him on Twitter to see some of his past battles where he takes insane stances and defends them to kingdom come. In this realm it’s the fact WWE is so obsessed with Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair, and the mainstream, that Becky Lynch is forbidden from even being spoken about in the same stratosphere as Charlotte. He’s wrong for a variety of reasons, of course, the obvious believing anyone outside of wrestling knows who the hell Charlotte Flair is. But I’m not going to feed the beast calling out his insane takes. All I will say is Becky Lynch will be facing Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania, and Charlotte will likely be there too, as the third wheel and challenger after winning this Royal Rumble match. While Charlotte is miles ahead of Rousey on the mic, Lynch will be the one to carry this feud all the way to Mania. And everyone will be hanging on every word, not to mention every Tweet assassination she doles out to her opponents. She alone will carry this feud. We don’t need Ric Flair or Conor McGregor to make this thing big either. It will be the main event on its own and will steal the show. And, praying, if Ronda really is going to take time off to get pregnant, Lynch really establishes herself as the one true badass in the entire company by beating Rousey to become the champ champ. As for the Rumble contenders, it’s really only Alexa Bliss that could upstage Charlotte. And Bliss was destroyed as a challenger after her “feud” with Ronda that she doesn’t stand a chance either. Charlotte wins, and what will happen next is what Straub writes below.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Asuka vs. Becky Lynch
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: OK, all you Lynch fans that want to kill me (and I’m a Lynch fan), hear me out. It’s going to work out for “the Man.” If you want Lynch in the WrestleMania main event, the best thing you can have is for Lynch to lose this match. Even if she’s going to win the Rumble, she has to lose this match to have a reason to enter it. The only way I see Lynch winning over Asuka is if Charlotte wins the Rumble and challenges both champions. Asuka wins, but only to free up Lynch to get back in the Mania picture. By the way, good for Asuka getting back in this position.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: See what I said about feeding the beast? And if you don’t feed this beast, he’ll feed himself, as he carries on his Lynch hate (or is it love of the mainstream?) into the next preview too. But nobody wants to kill Straub. Everyone needs that guy who says a college program should drop football and just focus on basketball. Oyve. But he’s onto something here, although he doesn’t go all-in. Becky Lynch wins this match, gets her title back; Charlotte wins the Royal Rumble, has both champions to choose from, and wala, a triple threat match for both the Raw and SmackDown women’s championships. And wala, Part II, Becky Lynch wins and becomes the champ champ at Mania. Asuka gets screwed a little in the process, but they’ve already done her so much damage this loss won’t be remembered. Plus, when Lynch moves to Raw after being stripped of the SDLive title, Asuka can regain the blue belt and reign over that division without Lynch or Charlotte getting in the way.
Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Sasha Banks
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: Has a story ever blown up and then quieted down faster than Ronda’s impending departure did on Thursday? We went from she’s definitely leaving to she might stay another year or more before leaving to have a baby in the span of a couple of hours. We’ll know her future after WrestleMania. I can’t picture her losing unless she’s leaving for a year. Maybe she returns at WrestleMania 36? Maybe she and Brock come back to UFC and form the first MMA tag team? Or maybe she beats Charlotte and Becky at WrestleMania and WWE pulls every dollar possible from her appearance on the biggest show of the year. Either way, I feel bad for Sasha, who deserves better than placeholder status. She helped start this evolution, and now she feels left behind for no good reason. They’ve done a good job building some heat here, but the result is obvious.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Ronda Rousey is terrible on the mic, haven’t I mentioned that yet? Well, she is, and it’s not even debatable. Sasha Banks will have a great match with Rousey in the ring, though, but Sasha and Bayley are way too involved in the women’s tag team titles storyline to take a detour with the Raw women’s championship. Of course, there’s also the little fact WWE won’t have Rousey lose this quick and won’t have her lose to Banks either, which says a lot about how far she’s dropped from the women’s main event scene. Rousey wins and Banks and Bayley go for the tag titles next.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Bar vs. The Miz & Shane McMahon
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: OK, I need someone to explain all of this to me. Shane and Miz being friends makes no sense, and them having a title match at a major PPV makes even less sense. The only thing I see working here is Miz turning on Shane, who is the best in the world, after all. It’s now the time of the month where Brad gets to give all his love to the Bar.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: The Miz pairing with Shane McMahon is a disservice to the Miz in a gigantic way. It’s also probably going to lead to a reign as tag team champions. Nobody wants to see it, but is there any other reason to put these two together other than to continue it and have the tag team titles as ammunition? Nope. The Bar is great, but not great enough to beat a McMahon in this spot on a PPV.
Buddy Murphy vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Kalisto vs. Hideo Itami
– WWE Cruiserweight Championship Fatal 4-Way Match (Kickoff Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: I’d rather spend another day arguing baseball Hall of Fame candidates, which I’m sick of, than talk about this match. At least this match isn’t on the main card. Murphy wins, but no one cares. By the way congrats to Mariano for being the first unanimous Hall of Famer. Derek Jeter should become number two next year. Also, stop badgering baseball writers on Twitter about their vote. Debate is fine, but a lot of you are just being dumb. Unless the topic is the MVP. Then feel free to lose your mind for 10 hours and have near brawls with strangers. Not that I’ve ever done that. Remember kids, if your team is awful, you’re not valuable.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: This match is going to be really good. But good luck if you can actually find the time to tune in early to watch it. I won’t cause I can’t watch a four-hour broadcast and a kickoff show to boot. Plus, it’s not important in any way. This might be the time to shake up the 205 Live division, though, so give the win and the title to Hideo Itami, who needs this after being one of the big free agent signings who went nowhere after injuries cost him a good part of his career after coming to WWE. For the Hall of Fame, I don’t believe Derek Jeter gets 100%, although he’s a no-doubt Hall of Famer and should get every vote. Also, if Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens don’t get in soon, neither should Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. The worst thing that could happen is Ortiz gets in and the others don’t. That would be criminal. Either all go in, or all stay out. It can’t be any other way.
United States Champion Rusev vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (Kickoff Match)
Matt’s Breakdown and Prediction: WWE actually puts this last on their list. They actually care more about the little guys than a former champion and a guy who should have been. I admit I’d forgotten Rusev had taken the belt back, but I still care more about these guys than WWE does. The only recent news involving these wrestlers which is even remotely interesting is Aiden English moving to commentary. It’s almost like ending his feud with Rusev, which had been built for what seemed like months, in a week hurt his career. Also, I find it interesting that this belt made the show, but the IC belt, which has been part of two feuds which earned lots of TV time on Raw lately, isn’t being advertised as being defended. It’s worth noting, if only because I wanted to give Brad a shot to rip Dean Ambrose. Here, I’ll start. Is there anything more annoying that Rene Young on commentary doing her, “I’m married to Dean but we don’t talk much,” routine? It’s not her fault, WWE has her in an impossible position, but it’s still awful to listen to each week. Obviously you didn't think this preview was terrible, or you wouldn't be still reading nearly 5,000 words in. As always, we thank you. You deserve to have a party backstage with all the heels like Ric did. It's where I for one belong, since Brad crushes my attempted face turns every month anyway.
Brad’s Breakdown and Prediction: Rene Young saying those things about Dean Ambrose is only one-tenth of her problems on commentary. Cliche after cliche, lame one-liner after lame one-liner, there is no substance and, worse, there has been minimal to no growth, although I’ve admittedly been tuning her out now, so who knows. Rusev and Nakamura, two guys who were so over it wasn’t even possible, and now regulated to the kickoff show. Nobody cares. Rusev wins because he’s got the push and Nakamura is floundering without direction. And there’s that beast again, trying to get fed, attempting face turns and going heel anyway. Oh, Straub, what would these previews be without you? Let me know on our Twitter page: @gamedayishere