No matter how down you are on WWE, and Eric and I certainly are somewhere around ankle-level, there’s still something special about the Royal Rumble. It’s still the only of its kind. It signals the beginning of the build to WrestleMania, but mostly it’s because it’s still the only event on the calendar — AEW or WWE — built around non-traditional matches. All the other PPVs premium live events have different types of matches here and there, or stipulations that alter things slightly. But the Rumble has built something we only see at The Rumble (unless Saudi Arabia pays for its own version).
So get your whiskey, get your wine, because Saturday night we got the Rumble and the lights are goin’ down!
Fels: Sadly, this seems pretty telegraphed, and much like the men’s title scene, it will trace back what Vince McMahon had tried to get to work before. Though this time, it is something that worked in the past. Specifically, three years in the past. Ronda Rousey is coming back. She is going to be a surprise entrant in the Rumble, win it, and challenge Becky Lynch. And that will probably headline Night 1 of WrestleMania.
And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. That is a main event worthy feud. It’s hard to remember that Rousey’s start in the company was actually excellent. She did the work, was great in the ring, and the mic work everyone was able to get around. But the crowd turned when she was shot up the card way too quickly and Lynch’s ascension made everyone aware of what a real star looked like. It’s also an indictment of Raw booking that there’s simply no one else, on Raw or SmackDown, that can stand in a ring with Lynch at Mania and have everyone take it seriously, especially with Sasha Banks out. This is Occam’s Razor.
Blum: There are two possible scenarios here. If Ronda Rousey returns, she’s winning. You can bank on that as soon as the first chords of “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts hits at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis. If Rousey doesn’t appear on our screens for the first time since WrestleMania 35 in 2019, the picture becomes a little more murky.
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WWE has been hyping up that there’s never been a back-to-back women’s Rumble winner. There’s only ever been four. So the timing of bringing up Bianca Belair as a possible repeat winner at this point could be a red herring. Or it could be reality. Belair winning would be interesting considering how amazing of a moment she had at last year’s WrestleMania. I can’t see a way WWE just repeats that history, even though without that sense, my gut says Belair takes it.
If it’s not Rousey or Belair, I’ll go Alexa Bliss as a little bit of a shocker to win it all. She was planted firmly in the women’s championship picture for years but has been away from the main-event scene for long enough now where another run at the title from Bliss would feel legitimate and fresh. There are not many better options advertised in the match for WWE that can combine those two things better.
Fels: My first urge is to say a returning Bayley should win, but her alignment as the arrogant, chickenshit heel doesn’t really line up with either Becky or Charlotte for Mania. She also doesn’t have the mainstream name recognition that Rousey does. So I’m going to say that a returning Asuka should win, and continue her rivalry with Charlotte (the best match at Mania 34), except this time get her Mania win. Again, this is an indictment that New York can’t make another star than the ones they’ve already had for years, or a crossover one like Rousey. Asuka should be that, has been that before, and is still probably the best worker on the women’s side. You can get to Rousey-Lynch without the former winning the Rumble, but Asuka would need the buzz. Get Asuka’s build right, and it shouldn’t be hard, and Charlotte-Asuka will feel just as big as it did in 2018.
Blum: The biggest attention-grabbing storyline for WWE coming out of this weekend would be Rousey vs. Lynch at WrestleMania. Nothing else comes close on the women’s side. That’s the deserving winner if the former UFC champion appears. If that’s not the play here, I wouldn’t mind seeing Naomi get her shot at a big-time match at WrestleMania. She’s been in the company for well over a decade. Seeing her athleticism against Lynch would be a fun matchup. If you’re looking for a longshot, give me Liv Morgan. Would it be a weird choice? Yes. Would it be interesting? Also, yes.
Fels: This one’s murkier because of the two title matches on the card as well. So we’ll have to work backward. We know that Vince has a chubby for Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns to main event Night 2 of Mania. We’ve known this pretty much ever since Brock came back at SummerSlam. So one way is to have Brock drop the Raw title before the Rumble to Bobby Lashley, then win the Rumble.
But I think it’ll be another route. Again, you can get to Lesnar-Reigns without Lesnar winning the Rumble. You can even see them doing it with each holding a title come April. That said, I do think Lesnar is going to drop to Lashley, but what they’ll set up is Big E-Lashley for Mania here, with Big E winning the Rumble. It’ll be something of a make-good for taking the title off E and really not giving him a quality run with the title. It’ll give Big E the Mania platform he’s always deserved. It seems like the easy call.
Blum: The endgame for WWE here is clear. Reigns vs. Lesnar to close out the festivities at WrestleMania 38 appears a foregone conclusion. Evidenced by what occurred at Day 1, things can be written in pencil instead of sharpies all the time. I was in New Orleans the last time these two main evented a WrestleMania together in 2018. Maybe a do-over between Lesnar and Reigns isn’t a bad thing after the crowd was more excited to play with a beach ball than watch the match?
Anyway, it’s more so how the men’s Rumble leads into those plans and how that domino effect produces the other WrestleMania men’s world title match and this winner. Either Brock drops the strap to Lashley earlier on in the evening and he wins the rumble. That’s the most straightforward way. If it’s not Lesnar pointing at the WrestleMania sign at the end of this match, my money is on Big E winning it. He’s deserving and it would be a great way to set up a collision with Lashley at WrestleMania.
Fels: Big E is hardly a bad call, and I’d be on board with that. If I had to pick another name, it would have to be Kevin Owens. No one has been doing better work the past six months to a year, which is reflected by KO being on both shows recently. KO-Lashley would be great, and KO hasn’t had a proper singles Mania match (in front of a crowd at least) in far too long.
Blum: Johnny Knoxville!!! Just kidding. Although he makes more sense to win than Happy Corbin. Just kidding again.
Big E would be great. After Kofi Kingston’s decade-plus of Royal Rumble highlights, having a fellow New Day winner actually be the last man standing would be great. I don’t want to see Drew McIntyre win it for the second-straight rumble with a live crowd. I’d love to see Riddle win it. He’s a main-eventer waiting to happen. Him against Lashley or Lesnar at WrestleMania with the mixed-martial-arts angle played up would be fantastic. Maybe he can eliminate Randy Orton en route to victory.
Fels: I’m more excited for this than I have been for most Lesnar matches. Which isn’t fair, because given all the problems with Brock, his matches are usually good. Lashley has been on a hell of a run the past year, and there’s a couple ways they can go here. The build is that Lesnar hasn’t wanted any part of Bobby, and Lesnar didn’t get in any offense on Lashley at the last PPV premium live event when Lesnar won the title. You could keep that going with a Lashley win and make him look like Galactus.
But my hunch is that WWE is more concerned with keeping Lesnar’s momentum running, and going into Mania with a title vs. title match against Reigns, leaving Raw even more of a mess than it was before. Which is saying something. Anyway, definitely some big meaty men slappin’ meat.
Blum: This result is more up in the air than the other world title match on the show. Lashley has an organic sense of legitimacy as a challenger to Lesnar he hasn’t felt since 2017, when Samoa Joe faced him at Great Balls of Fire. Lesnar should’ve dropped the title that night and given Joe his shot at the top of the card. I don’t see WWE making the same mistake twice with an in-canon better version of that in Lashley. Him getting a victory over Lesnar would make him an elite superstar, if he’s not already there, for the rest of his stay in WWE. Give me Lashley via some way that isn’t a direct pin or submission. A scenario where Lesnar passes out due to his own workrate would be top-class.
Fels: I’ll give WWE this, they’ve gotten me to a point where I can actually see Rollins winning this. And they’ve gotten his face-turn to match-up with Reigns right as well, which only took using logic. Again, simple is almost always best. References to The Shield, pointing out Reigns has never beaten him, harping on Roman’s paranoia and cheating. It’s been excellent (why can’t they do more than one of these at a time?).
So I can see Rollins winning this… and then dropping the title before Mania so WWE can get back to what it really wants. But again, that seems too complicated. We know what they want for Dallas in April. It’s Lesnar-Reigns, and they’re not going to muddy that water in any way on the route to it. Reigns is retaining here, almost certainly through various shenanigans.
Blum: Reigns isn’t losing the belt. He could lose this match via countout or disqualification to continue the feud until Lesnar can cross paths with him again. I just can’t see WWE vanquishing all of Reigns’ momentum to give Seth Rollins the belt here. WWE has gone with an obvious build-up to this match that people already wanted to see. To me, it doesn’t feel special. It feels safe. Although that’s not the worst thing in the world, I was hoping for a little bit more out of two of the most talented wrestlers on the roster. I’ll go Reigns with a spear clean after about 20 minutes of grappling.
Fels: Doudrop-Lynch is going to be sneaky good. Hopefully it will convince WWE to let Doudrop go back to her name of Piper Niven. She’s a great wrestler, and hopefully they let her show that in a good 10-15 minutes against Lynch. While Lynch isn’t quite the ring general she gets credit for, she’s more than capable of making anyone look good. This will be a great contrast to her feud with Liv Morgan, who’s still a little green. Niven is not at all. Let it breathe, no dumb finishes, and WWE will have another star on its women’s roster with Niven.
Blum: Edge and Beth Phoenix vs. Miz and Maryse could be interesting. It might even kick off the show. Finding a good WrestleMania angle for Edge is more important than this match, so I see him and Phoenix winning, with Edge possibly trying to go back-to-back in the rumble later in the night, even though he has zero chance of winning. Lynch vs. Doudrop could be great. Those who remember the former Piper Niven’s work dating back to the first Mae Young Classic know she can work her tail off in a match. Lynch has proven it. There’s no chance Lynch drops her belt here, but giving a good showing to Doudrop is critical.