Photo from WWE.com
25 January 2017

The Royal Rumble Match is my favorite match type because it’s the perfect way to get fans talking and speculating about who’s debuting or returning, what angles WWE will be going with for the first quarter of the year, and more importantly, which direction they’ll be going in as the Road to WrestleMania officially kicks off.

Last year’s Royal Rumble Match featured the main roster debuts of AJ Styles (!!!) and Sami Zayn, while also reminding us that Triple H and Roman Reigns would be the focal point of WrestleMania Star. Last year’s Royal Rumble Match really just came down to four names: Triple H, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, or Brock Lesnar. This year’s is more unpredictable. In fact, if you look at the Vegas booking odds, you can talk yourself into just about any name they’ve got on the list of potential winners. 

The rest of this year’s card has also been filled up pretty neatly. In the past week alone, two Kickoff matches were announced, along with the 6-Woman tag team match from SmackDown Live, bringing us to a total of eight matches across a six-hour show. Damn, that is going to be tiring.

To psyche you up for the Royal Rumble, which starts on Monday, January 30, at 6 a.m. (Manila time) on the WWE Network, here are the ten most important questions heading into the card.

1. Is Roman Reigns winning the Universal Championship from Kevin Owens?

Let’s face it. No matter how hard we try to boo Roman Reigns, he still is Vince McMahon’s Chosen One. He’s still going to get that push that he may or may not rightfully deserve. And he’s still going to remain a top guy. That means he’s bound to take the top title of whatever show he’s on, and in this case, it’s the Universal Championship. But will he actually win it at the Royal Rumble?

As much as I want Kevin Owens to regain that edge he used to have as an uncaringly brutal and vicious heel who would stop at nothing to win (or retain) a championship, we might as well rip the bandage off and let the Reigns title win happen now. Let's just get it over with. Kevin Owens has been booked as a joke of a champion, I'm resigned to the fact that his title's about to come to an end. 

Prediction: Roman Reigns wins the Universal Championship

2. Is John Cena actually winning world title #16?

Yes. Recognize.

That said, the AJ/Cena story can still be so much better. Cena could have spent the last month doubting himself and wondering if he still had what it takes to win. Instead, he handily defeated Baron Corbin in the most Super Cena way on SmackDown Live a couple of weeks ago and immediately put those doubts to rest. 

But I can live with Cena matching Ric Flair’s record for most number of world championships, especially if Cena and Styles can have a match that’s much better than their showdown at last year’s SummerSlam. Plus, just because AJ Styles has to lose the title to Cena, it doesn’t mean they can’t keep feuding until WrestleMania, right? Let me come back to this point in a bit.

Prediction: John Cena wins the WWE Championship

3. Will Charlotte’s undefeated streak at pay-per-views come to an end?

Nope. It’s too early for Bayley to win the women’s title on the main roster. She hasn’t been fleshed out as a character for the mainstream audiences yet. Plus, with all the hot potatoing of the women’s title between Charlotte and Sasha Banks, do we really want to see that again with Bayley? No, thank you.

The Charlotte victory at the Rumble should be used to give the Women’s Champion more to brag about so she can keep putting Bayley down. That should add layers to their feud so that when they eventually clash at ‘Mania, with or without Nia Jax and Sasha Banks in the mix, there will at least be a compelling story behind the feud.

Prediction: Charlotte retains the RAW Women’s Championship

4. Is it time to officially crown Neville as King… of the Cruiserweights?

Yes. Bring out the crown and scepter for—oh wait, we’re not crowning a King of the Ring here, fellas.

But I’m calling for Neville to win the Cruiserweight Championship at the Royal Rumble from Rich Swann because it’s time for the former to put his money where his mouth is as the true star of the division. This heel turn has absolutely rejuvenated Neville’s career and has shown us that the division can be built around him as the ruthless powerhouse heel. Let Neville be the villainous champion who can turn away challenger after challenger, while building up an epic babyface foil in the process for an eventual showdown at ‘Mania. Or we can just have the Cruiserweight Open for the title again like we had at WrestleMania XX.

The only thing I really find problematic is the fact that he calls himself the King… of the Cruiserweights. It really underscores how separated they are from the rest of the main roster.

Prediction: Neville wins the Cruiserweight Championship

5. Will a member of the Cruiserweight division enter the Royal Rumble Match?

Nope. The ropes won’t be purple for the Royal Rumble Match, so the Cruiserweights can’t step into the ring for that one. Moving on. 

6. Who are the surprise entrants/returnees we should be on the lookout for?

Let’s start with the one guy who’s conspicuously absent from NXT and the buildup to TakeOver: San AntonioSamoa Joe.

The Royal Rumble Match is the perfect place to make that debut, where he’ll immediately make… an impact and be part of a top storyline from the get-go. He can come in as an unassigned Superstar, and then hopefully go to SmackDown Live, where he’ll eventually feud (or team up) with AJ Styles. Joe never needed NXT, and at this point, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that he’s moving up to the main roster by the Royal Rumble Match itself.

Since we’re talking about NXT guys who’ll be making their main roster debuts, the WWE will be totally missing an opportunity here if they don’t bring this guy out at #10…

Yep, why not bring in the “Perfect 10” Tye Dillinger out at the tenth spot just for a quick appearance? Or you could even have him put up a formidable showing, eliminating a guy or two, only to be taken out by a singular force of nature like Braun Strowman, Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, or the Undertaker.

I was thinking about how awesome it would be to have Shinsuke Nakamura come out at this year’s Royal Rumble, but I wouldn’t mind saving him for next year. One guy who does need to return now and explain his actions would be this guy:

It’s time to play the game and let Triple H’s presence be felt again. If we’re really going to go all in on this Rollins/Triple H feud, we might as well start it now, right? Let Trips come in and cost Rollins his shot at winning the Royal Rumble to cause more tension between the two, which will eventually culminate in their one-on-one match at WrestleMania.

Now, there’s one name we’ve been missing, who’s more or less due to return within the next month or two, and that’s…

Yep, Finn Bálor. In fact, Bálor’s return and entry into the Rumble makes sense because it’s the most logical way for him to make a case to immediately contend for the Universal Championship he never lost. He makes a resounding return, wins the whole damn thing, and challenges for the title at ‘Mania, regardless of who’s holding the title by then. Now, if that sounds like it’s too easy, I can’t blame you. And that’s why Balor is one of three people I’m willing to bet as this year’s Royal Rumble winner.

And of course, we can’t sleep on the possibility of hearing this during the Royal Rumble Match itself:

Kurt Angle has stated in numerous interviews that he still has a few matches in him, and if his Hall of Fame deal actually does include dates in which he can wrestle, then I would be totally behind a Rumble appearance for the former Olympic Gold Medalist. We saw on RAW this week how hot a live WWE crowd can get for Angle, even though he hasn’t been on WWE programming for almost eleven years. We’re all ready, body and soul, for one more Kurt Angle match in WWE. It’s true. It’s damn true!

7. Is Miss Philippines Maxine Medina going to win this year’s Miss Universe?

Nope. And we wrestling fans will be too busy caring about the Rumble anyway.

7. Which will be the most fun face-offs?

I wouldn’t mind seeing the ring with just all three members of the New Day in it for a minute or two. Will they fight among themselves? Will they lead a chant of “New! Day rocks!”? Or will they pretend to knock Kofi off so he can actually save himself? I have no idea, but I think that’ll be a fun little spot in the match. 

Of course, there are the obvious ones like Brock vs. Goldberg, Brock vs. Undertaker, Undertaker vs. Goldberg, Big Show vs. Braun Strowman, or pretty much any combination featuring all these behemoths. I’m pretty curious to see which of these super-threats will be taken out en masse by everyone else. 

Actually, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Undertaker face off against the guys he’s previously beaten at WrestleMania. After all, a number of them are actually in this match from Big Show to Bray Wyatt to Randy Orton. That should at least be a fun nod to his continuity.

Here’s a dark horse face-off I want to see: Chris Jericho vs. Goldberg. If you’ve read Jericho’s second autobiography, Undisputed, you’ll know that these two don’t like each other and have actually shoot brawled. Guess who came out on top of that scuffle. Go on.

Chris f’n Jericho. That’s right. 

And then there’s Samoa Joe and pretty much whoever he’ll run into. Imagine if AJ Styles got in the Rumble and he and Samoa Joe met. Damn.

Photo from IMPACT Wrestling

Wait, I’ve got one better: imagine AJ in the Rumble facing off against… Finn Balor. Too sweet.

8. Which will be the most fun team-ups?

The most obvious answer would have been Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, but that’s not going to happen anymore. (Thanks, Steph.) So let’s get creative here. How about Dolph Ziggler and the Miz? We all know they’re very tight outside the ring, plus they’re both heels now. Wrestling logic dictates that they can work together now, right? Right?

This here’s a pipe dream, but what if all the NXT alumni come together for an NXT alliance? Imagine the likes of Big E, Xavier Woods, Big Cass, Enzo Amore, Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, Braun Strowman, Sami Zayn, and Rusev all looking out for one another? No? No? Okay. *sulks*

One last time: AJ STYLES AND SAMOA FRICKIN’ JOE.

9. What’s the most random thing that’ll happen this year?

This could be the year when the New Day finally turns on one another, and with all three of them being individual entrants in this year’s Royal Rumble Match, we might finally see it happen! How nuts would it be to see Xavier Woods eliminate both Big E and Kofi Kingston? Speaking of Kofi, he’s made a career out of the crazy, over-the-top ways he’s avoided elimination in the Rumble Match. Is anybody willing to bet that he just gets flat out eliminated this year?

What if Tye Dillinger enters the Rumble at #10 and eliminates someone like Braun Strowman or Rusev? Or what if Chris Jericho finds a way to incorporate the shark cage and stays there through most of the match? Or what if the Miz comes out to Daniel Bryan’s music just to mess with all of us? Come to think of it, I like that last idea. You can take that, WWE. You’re welcome.

10. Who’s winning the 2017 Royal Rumble Match?

Finn Bálor is still my top pick to win this year’s Rumble, but I wouldn’t be opposed to AJ Styles being a close second. Hear me out first.

While reading several Rumble rumors and fantasy scenarios, I came across one that I immediately got behind. Imagine AJ losing the title to Cena earlier in the night, and then angrily taking someone out backstage and getting the #30 spot in the Rumble. Styles comes out as the last entrant to a thunderous pop and wins the whole damn thing and goes after Cena so he can #BeatUpJohnCena at the grandest stage of them all. Sure, AJ doesn’t necessarily need to do this because he’ll have a rematch clause anyway. But he wants to put Cena down on such a huge stage to finally stake his claim as the new Face That Runs the Place. 

Among my three picks, though, the third has to be the most realistic one: Braun Strowman.

He’s been built up as a monster of a man since being drafted to RAW, and he’s been handled well enough that the smarks haven’t turned on him just yet. He’s obviously not in the mold of the indy darlings we love like Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, and CM Punk, but a Strowman win is something the internet can get behind if… he goes after a Universal Champion named Roman Reigns. 

Have Strowman win the Rumble and keep building him up as a ridiculously imposing monster. Then have him challenge Roman Reigns at ‘Mania, build a match in which Strowman just absolutely demolishes Reigns, and you’ll get the smarky fanbase behind you. After all, they’re going to love seeing Roman get his ass handed to him. The only way this doesn’t backfire is if WWE avoids booking Roman the Super Cena way by giving him an unbelievably unstoppable comeback. Crap, I just talked myself out of the Strowman Rumble win.

You know what, I’m going to leave it at that: Finn Balor, AJ Styles, and Braun Strowman. Those are my Royal Rumble winner picks.

Prediction: Braun Strowman, Finn Balor, or AJ Styles will win the Royal Rumble Match

*****

There you have it. If that doesn’t whet your appetite for the Royal Rumble, I don’t know what will. Let me know on Twitter @_StanSy what you think will happen at the Rumble

And if you want to catch it with your fellow wrestling fans and favorite stars from Philippine Wrestling Revolution (PWR), come join us for this year’s Royal Rumble Viewing Party at Skinny Mike’s Sports Bar at BGC! The party starts at 7 a.m. on Monday (Manila time)! There’s a PhP 300 entrance fee, which also entitles you to a free drink. Proceeds will go to PWR to fund future shows for at least the rest of 2017. Not only do you get to watch the Royal Rumble live with fellow Filipino wrestling fans, but you’ll also get to do your part to #SaveFilipinoWrestling! See you there!

Photos from WWE