It’s a busy weekend for WWE with the Royal Rumble taking place on Sunday night at San Antonio’s Alamodome with an expected crowd of over 50,000 people in the building. Prior to the Rumble, the NXT brand presents another Takeover event at the Freeman Coliseum where the NBA’s Spurs play.
There are eight matches taking place at the Royal Rumble while NXT Takeover San Antonio has five matches, so for fans going to both shows, there’s going to be a lot of WWE action to digest. I’m not going to waste time setting up, so I’ll go with the Royal Rumble first because it’s the bigger event and then NXT Takeover will be on the next page.
30-Man Royal Rumble Match
The announced names for the Rumble match from WWE.com are The Undertaker, Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, Big Show, Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, Big E, Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Luke Harper, Braun Strowman, Chris Jericho, Baron Corbin, Cesaro, Sheamus, Big Cass, Rusev and Mojo Rawley.
Those are 22 of the 30 names for the match. Don’t expect WWE to announce every name in the match because there will be some surprises.
I already wrote an in-depth preview of this match for The Comeback earlier this week. That was before Raw and Smackdown. Has my prediction changed a bit since then? I don’t want to change, but I’m having second thoughts in picking Braun Strowman as the winner.
Since there are two more pay-per-views after the Royal Rumble (Smackdown has Elimination Chamber and Raw has Fastlane), there are so many things that can alter plans after the Rumble. An example is that Brock Lesnar could win this match, then Goldberg beats Owens or Reigns for the Universal Title at Fastlane because Goldberg is scheduled to have a match there and it sets up Lesnar challenging Goldberg for Universal Title. I know they don’t need a title for their feud, but if they are the main event of WrestleMania then The Undertaker could win the Rumble as well because his rumored opponent for WrestleMania is Roman Reigns. If Reigns wins the Universal Title from Kevin Owens then that makes a lot of sense. I know that putting over the oldest guy in the match (The Undertaker) isn’t a great idea, but if it sets up a WrestleMania match then I think WWE would be willing to do it.
Another scenario that’s out there is that Randy Orton wins the Rumble. I didn’t even think of him as a likely winner because his story with Bray Wyatt lacks something to really make it feel like a major storyline. However, if Orton won the Rumble and Bray Wyatt won the WWE Title at Elimination Chamber, then that makes a lot of sense as a WrestleMania title match.
As for surprises, Finn Balor is reportedly undergoing medical testing this week to see if he can return to action soon. How soon? Probably the Royal Rumble. I don’t expect WWE to tell the fans that he’s going to be in the match, but if he’s healthy enough to compete then he’ll be in there. If he’s in the match, it makes a lot of sense to have him win too.
Samoa Joe is another name that’s on the radar. I think there’s a very good chance that he will be a part of this match. If he is, then it would be amazing to see him win the Rumble in his first match on the main roster. It would also set up a scenario where he faces John Cena for the WWE Title, which is another rumored WrestleMania match.
It would be a great story if Sami Zayn won the match because he had to beat Seth Rollins to even get in the match. While I would love that, I don’t see it happening. Not this year anyway. Rollins will probably find a way to be in the match or perhaps attack Triple H if he’s in the match.
I’m going to stick with my Strowman pick, even though I have a lot of doubts after watching WWE TV this week and reading the rumors that are out there. If I had to rank my choices at this point, it would be Strowman, Orton, Samoa Joe and Lesnar in that order.
Will I be right? No idea. I’m just excited about having a very unpredictable Royal Rumble for a change because in recent years it has been too predictable. This is going to be a great one.
Prediction: Braun Strowman wins
WWE Championship: AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena
This is the match I’m looking forward to the most, other than the Royal Rumble match itself. Every Styles and Cena match to date has been outstanding. I don’t expect anything different here. Their SummerSlam 2016 match, which was a clean win for Styles, was the best match on WWE’s main roster last year. Can they top it? I feel like they can because there’s more on the line here, they have worked several more matches against each other at live events and the chemistry is obviously there. Add in a hot crowd and everything is there to believe that they can have another all-time great match here.
As for the winner, it’s not easy to predict. The rumored WrestleMania opponent for Styles at this point is Shane McMahon. If that happens, then he’s not going to be the champion going into WrestleMania. With Elimination Chamber coming up on Feb. 12 with six men challenging for the WWE Title, there are lot of things that can happen between now and WrestleMania. The story that makes the most sense to me is that Styles loses the title in Elimination Chamber, gets really mad at Shane for setting it up (they already started that story two weeks ago) and that sets up their WrestleMania match. As for Cena, the name linked to him for WrestleMania is Samoa Joe. That may or not be a title match.
If Cena wins this match then he wins his 16th World Title in WWE, which ties the all-time record held by Ric Flair, who did that in NWA, WCW and WWF/E. It’s something WWE hasn’t pushed that hard in the last few months, so I think Cena is going to fail in his title quest. My gut feeling has been that Styles will continue to have Cena’s number and will retain his title. This will be classic match that gets 25-30 minutes and I think we’ll all be praising after the night is over. Looking ahead, I think Styles will drop the WWE Title at Elimination Chamber. To who? I don’t know yet. It depends on the Rumble winner as well.
Prediction: AJ Styles retains the WWE Title
WWE Universal Championship No Disqualification: Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns with Chris Jericho in a shark cage above the ring
My pick was Roman Reigns for several weeks, but then I watched Raw this week and he was put in a dominant position. For many years now, WWE has made people look strong on TV prior to a PPV event and then they ended up losing at the PPV. I’m not sure if that’s the plan here because the story seems to call for Reigns getting his hands on the title after Owens has found ways to retain the gold thanks to his buddy Jericho most of the time.
This is not a confident pick, but I’m going to stick with Reigns. I just think the better story is to have Owens lose because Jericho is above the ring in the shark cage, Owens ends up getting jealous that his buddy Jericho is still the US Champion and they start having problems leading to their WrestleMania match. Reigns can go on to WrestleMania with the Universal Title or perhaps he’ll lose it at Fastlane. Who knows? There are so many twists and turns that can happen here, which I like.
Prediction: Roman Reigns wins the Universal Championship
Raw Women’s Championship: Charlotte (c) vs. Bayley
The match was set up about a month ago, so they have had a lot of time to build it up. Charlotte’s the cocky girl who is a supreme athlete, while Bayley is the “average” girl that is living out her dreams. It’s an easy story to tell that has been done in wrestling many times. While I don’t expect a match as good as most Charlotte vs. Sasha matches, it should still be an entertaining match. I think that Charlotte will find a way to keep the title, perhaps by doing some cheap move before the finish (like an eye poke or using a weapon without the ref seeing it) and retaining her title that way. I think Bayley will get her title win at WrestleMania while Charlotte’s undefeated streak in PPV title matches continues here.
Prediction: Charlotte retains title in a cheap manner
Cruiserweight Championship: Rich Swann (c) vs. Neville
Neville has really impressed me since turning heel in the last month. He’s a talented guy that was on the sidelines because creative had nothing for him. Now that he’s an angry guy who does cheap attacks, suddenly he’s a lot more interesting. I think they’ll have a very competitive match that hopefully the crowd gets into a lot because they are talented performers. Swann has had the title for about two months. While a longer reign might benefit him, I think Neville is a better choice as a long-term champion. I think there will be a title change here.
Prediction: Neville wins the Cruiserweight Championship
Nikki Bella, Naomi & Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss, Natalya & Mickie James (Kickoff Show)
This match got moved to the Kickoff Show on Thursday afternoon according to WWE’s social media channels.
The women of Smackdown Live have done a great job in recent weeks. Mickie James returned to WWE two weeks ago as a heel that attacked Becky Lynch and followed that up with a solid heel promo this week. I can see the match going to either side because giving Mickie the win makes her look strong in her first match back on the main roster in seven years. A win for Naomi would be good too, since she might be the next contender for Alexa Bliss’ Women’s Title based on their segment on Smackdown. Nikki’s rivalry with Natalya has become very personal as well.
The good news is that Elimination Chamber is two weeks after the show, so they could do a women’s Elimination Chamber match or three singles matches featuring these women. I’m going with the heel side getting the win with Mickie scoring the pin.
Prediction: Alexa Bliss, Natalya & Mickie James win with Mickie getting the pin for her team
Raw Tag Team Championships (Kickoff Show): Cesaro & Sheamus (c) vs. Gallows & Anderson – Two referees at ringside
Cesaro & Sheamus have held the titles for one month. They’re not a regular tag team, but I see their reign continuing at least a little while longer. The two referees at ringside stipulation makes me think that Gallows & Anderson will try to cheat, one of the refs won’t see it, but the other one will and then Sheamus will be waiting with a Brogue Kick. That could lead to another match on Raw where Gallows & Anderson finally win the gold. For this match, I’m going with the champs retaining.
Prediction: Cesaro & Sheamus retain their titles in a controversial ending
Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax (Kickoff Show)
It could go either way, but Jax has yet to have a high-profile win on the main roster in a singles match. She should work on the injured leg of Banks, have Banks come back to nearly win and Jax can do some power move to win the match. Banks is going to get a reaction win or lose. In order for Jax to be a believable title contender, she should win this match.
Prediction: Nia Jax wins
You can watch the Royal Rumble on WWE Network this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET with an expected run time of four hours. There’s a Kickoff Show starting at 5 p.m. ET as well, so it’s a six-hour show. Brace yourselves on Sunday because it’s going to be a long night.