All aboard! The Road to WrestleMania kicks off this Sunday with easily the most fun event in WWE’s calendar year, the Royal Rumble. In addition to the two massive 30-person battle royals that will determine who will punch their tickets to the main event of the Show of Shows this April, we’ve got the Universal Championship, the United States Championship and both women’s titles on the line, as well as a number of grudge matches that should clear up some schedules for Mania. Let’s take a look at the card and run down who we here at AIPT think will walk away victorious.
Royal Rumble airs this Sunday, January 26, on WWE Network at 7pm ET.
Shorty G vs. Sheamus
Sheamus has returned to SmackDown, and ever since he came back he’s been lamenting the, in his eyes, sorry state of the blue brand’s locker room. Nobody seems to embody that weakness better than Shorty G, who is everything Sheamus hates: small, overly positive and embracing of his faults. Can Shorty G do the impossible, or is this nothing but a warmup for the returning Celtic Warrior?
Jay: Sheamus. Why isn’t this on SmackDown? This is standard return match fare and they don’t have any gasoline on the fire besides Sheamus attacking Shorty G. The audience haven’t attached to Shorty G’s gimmick so they don’t really care he was attacked. The audience was just happy to see Sheamus back so he doesn’t really have any heel heat. This match will be good, it’s just whatever.
Vishal: I just cannot get behind any of the Shorty G stuff. His entire feud with Corbin didn’t work for me at all, and it feels like he’s really just SmackDown’s punching bag. Plus, with this being Sheamus’s big return, he obviously can’t lose here, otherwise the hype they’ve been trying to build up falls flat.
Forrest: Shorty G is not going to “rise over size” this time. Next Drew Gulak will give him a PowerPoint presentation on why he should get leg extensions.
Andrade (c) vs. Humberto Carrillo for the United States Championship
Andrade has had a series of outstanding matchups with Rey Mysterio, including this week’s memorable ladder match. But after said match, Humberto Carrillo, who Andrade had seemingly put on the shelf several weeks ago, returned to even the score, and in the process nabbed himself a United States Championship opportunity against El Idolo at the Royal Rumble.
Jay: Hey, take out our phone and pop open Twitter. I’m @JBarrettWrites and I’d like you to message me a description of Andrade without using the phrases “good wrestler,” “Zelina Vega is his manager,” “The United States Champion,” or “dating Charlotte Flair.” Then I want you to describe Humberto without using the words/phrases “good wrestler,” “wears a cape and shoulder pads to the ring,” “great on 205 Live,” or “from Mexico.”
Let your inability to accomplish this task be a testament to why I don’t really care about this match. Make no mistake, both are wonderful talents and this will be a wonderful match — I just don’t know who they are outside of one really loves Rey Mysterio and one really hates Rey Mysterio.
If someone can prove me wrong and tweet me a worthwhile description of either competitor, in line with the rules delineated above and with concepts presented on WWE, I promise to watch every one of their matches for a year with a dedicated review and analysis. If not, I’ll be building Ikea furniture during their match.
Forrest: It’s been a convoluted road, from AJ Styles (champ at the time) introducing him, to Andrade and Rey Mysterio dipping their toes back into an exhausted feud, to being a new Cain Velasquez proxy to finally get this thing into Carrillo’s hands, huh? He’s earned it, and Andrade will need to take a break to get married anyways.
Winner: Humberto Carrillo
Roman Reigns vs. King Corbin (Falls Count Anywhere Match)
It’s been a long road for the Big Dog and the King, but all bets are off at Royal Rumble when Roman Reigns finally gets his hands on King Corbin in a Falls Count Anywhere match. Reigns has promised to whoop Corbin up and down Minute Maid Park, but the King rarely fights fair. Will the Big Dog’s yard become Corbin’s kingdom?
Jay: Reigns will topple Corbin and thankfully this feud will be over. The SmackDown roster is hurting for heels. You can’t base the show on The Fiend because that would mess with his mystique, or what little there is left of it you can’t buy on WWE Shop, thus Corbin has had to step up. Make no mistake, Corbin has done well and is perfectly functional in this role, but he’s just not gripping enough for me to care. Furthermore, this entire saga has just been too textbook for my liking. Standard heel is doing standard heel things to anger the standard face who is fighting against standard odds. The match itself will be above standard, will likely surpass all of our expectations, and will make Reigns look strong en route to winning the Royal Rumble — it’s just that this was a lot of wasted motion. They could have done so much to raise Corbin’s stock here and really make him a dastardly villain but instead, they were more focused on terrible comedy spots, slathering Roman Reigns in literal dog food, and featuring an apathetic Dolph Ziggler and a meandering Bobby Roode.
Winner: Roman Reigns
Vishal: I am praying that this feud ends after Royal Rumble. I can’t imagine this going all the way until WrestleMania — it’s already way overstretched. Roman’s going to finally be able to take down Corbin after stealing the show of TLC from the far better women’s feud, and we can all put this behind us. No more dog food, please.
Winner: Roman Reigns
Forrest: Dolph Ziggler is one can of dog food away from being a really serious 24/7 Championship contender (sorry, Truth) and we’ve gotta stop that sh-t right now. Maybe another king, one of strong style, could become the final boss of SmackDown after Corbin…please.
Winner: Roman Reigns and nobody else
Bayley (c) vs. Lacey Evans for the SmackDown Women’s Championship
Bayley isn’t the only one in SmackDown’s women’s division who’s undergone an attitude adjustment in recent months. Ever since performing in the first-ever WWE women’s match in Saudi Arabia back at Crown Jewel, Lacey Evans has seemed to have a newfound appreciation for the WWE Universe, of which her young daughter is a proud member. Bayley and her buddy Sasha have tried to make Lacey’s life a living hell for weeks now, but the Sassy Southern Belle gets a chance for revenge this Sunday by taking the one thing Bayley loves more than anything else: the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
Peter: I really don’t care about Lacey as a face — a Sassy Southern Belle is so much better as a heel. But the obvious move here is to have her win. WWE wants to establish her as a face who can win and she just beat Bayley. They also seem to have put Sasha on the back burner currently. Lacey wins.
Winner: Lacey Evans
Jay: Bayley. Lacey beat Bayley on SmackDown this past week and common storyline conventions dictate that Lacey will therefore lose when the title is on the line. It was done so Lacey’s character, which has to her credit been effective, could be protected in the eyes of the fans after she loses. Furthermore, Lacey just does not fit into WrestleMania’s current trajectory. With that said, I have no idea which highway Bayley is going to take en route to WrestleMania. Aside from Sasha Banks, Bayley has no legitimate contenders which means that either a feud between them will carry us to the Show of Shows, or we are going to to get a multi-woman match with the angle being “omg Bayley has so much heat everyone hates her.”
Forrest: Lacey. Not because she’s a better competitor, and not because she’s good as a face, but because Bayley is so, so boring without Sasha and they need new energy (read: any energy) behind this title. It helps that the upheaval will strengthen Sasha and Bayley’s relationship anyways.
Becky Lynch (c) vs. Asuka for the Raw Women’s Championship
The Man has done it all and climbed to the top of the mountain when she wasn’t supposed to. But now that she’s there, instead of a thorn in the side of management, she’s the golden goose. She feels overprotected and coddled so the machine can wring more profits out of her. But that’s not what Becky Lynch is all about, so she’s looking to take the fight straight to her greatest rival, the woman who always seems to have her number, and one half of the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions, Asuka.
Jay: The Man is going to take it. This entire build has been about Becky not being able to beat Asuka and basing the tension on whether or not Becky will overcome this last obstacle. Understanding that Becky is the top star in the company, understanding that this entire year has been about what Becky Lynch can accomplish, and understanding that they will need Becky to shoulder a marquee match for WrestleMania should be all the understanding you need to realize that an Asuka title win has little possibility of happening. Asuka, to her credit, is riding a wave of momentum as Raw’s top female villain, but the needs of WrestleMania is enough to render any sort of momentum inert.
Winner: Becky Lynch
Peter: While I’m not as certain as Jay here, I am going to tentatively agree with him. I feel like the Asuka/Becky feud would be a plot WWE would want to extend, and Becky needing to climb back up the hill is appealing, as that’s what what was so great about what put her on the top in 2018. So I can see WWE giving Auska the belt as the start of a longer feud.
Winner: Becky Lynch
Forrest: These two are my favorite wrestlers in the company and I would be perfectly fine with any outcome. That being said, I think Becky against the Kabuki Warriors at WrestleMANia to get her title back sounds like something they would do, and something the WWE Universe would eat up.
Winner: Asuka, me
“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Daniel Bryan for the Universal Championship
The Fiend doesn’t forget. He doesn’t forget what Daniel Bryan did to Bray Wyatt all the way back in 2014, when he turned on the Wyatt Family. And now that The Fiend has been unleashed upon this world, there may be no stopping the demented Bray Wyatt on his quest for revenge. He’s already attempted to strip Bryan of his identity by tearing his hair and beard from his head, but that only served to revive the dormant Yes! Movement. Will its resurgence be enough to lead Bryan to a sixth career world championship win?
Jay: The Fiend retains via DQ. Again, we are in WrestleMania season and he is likely the number 2 act in the company behind Becky Lynch. Expect The Universal Championship build to be centered around him and his Funhouse, but he’s lost some steam. He burst onto the scene with an iconoclastic fervor and elated the audience when he beat a stumbling Seth Rollins for the title. Since then though, he’s been a victim of his own mystique in that he’s simply not around enough to capitalize on his own momentum. Think of The Undertaker.
Whenever Taker isn’t champion, he’s employing all the scary shenanigans that Wyatt is to avoid overexposure however, Taker was always the focal point of the show whenever he was champion. Taker typically started each episode of SmackDown as the World Heavyweight Champion back in the late 2000s, said some spooky sh*t midway through the show, and wrestled the main event to the terror of all in the locker room. So knowing that, I find myself asking, “Where’s Bray at!?” Make no mistake, I loved it when The Fiend ripped Bryan’s hair off and I still love the Firefly Funhouse, but we need more of him. I need more terror from The Fiend that I’m just not getting right now.
I digress. I think it’s likely The Fiend retains via DQ to prolong the feud with Bryan as we barrel towards a WrestleMania triple threat with The Fiend taking on Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns.
Winner: The Fiend
Peter: Bray retains. Wyatt, while not as hot as he was last year, is still a fan favorite. His character and plot has been built up as well to this point where it would be sloppy storytelling to have him drop the title after only a couple weeks of feuding with Bryan. I think we can all agree The Fiend is going to be one of the big matches at WrestleMania. The smart move here is to use this match as the beginning of the third act in The Fiend’s title run.
Winner: The Fiend
Forrest: While I don’t want to discount the credibility of…*checks notes* hair magic, I would be very surprised if Bryan beat The Fiend after a couple weeks of back and forth. Bray has a ton of momentum and energy behind him that even the return of the Yes! Movement hasn’t squashed and the idea of an over-the-top spookfest at WrestleMania (no maggots, please) is simply too tantalizing. This thing will only be over when they’ve found a way to make The Fiend and Bray fight each other.
Winner: The Fiend
2020 Women’s Royal Rumble Match
30 women will enter, but only one will earn a championship opportunity of her choosing at WrestleMania 36. Who will be able to outlast 29 other women in the ultimate battle royal?
Jay: Shanya Baszler. Or a returning Ronda Rousey. This match has barely been mentioned on television aside from Charlotte bringing it up as she pummels Sarah Logan. Only Charlotte, Sarah Logan, Alexa Bliss, Nikki Cross and Natalya have even been formally announced for the Rumble. Not to mention that Becky has no viable contenders after Asuka. Baszler, however, has been the focal point of the women’s division in NXT, has nothing left to achieve there, and has a ready made storyline from her confrontation with Lynch at Survivor Series. Alternatively, a Rousey return is not something any of us can predict but I can’t imagine Rousey not taking it if she returns. But, I am more comfortable going with Baszler.
Winner: Shayna Baszler
Forrest: While I think Jay is right that this is where Rousey returns, I just can’t muster any enthusiasm for her. Charlotte doesn’t have much going on, let’s give it to her.
Winner: Charlotte Flair
2020 Men’s Royal Rumble Match
30 men will enter, but only one will earn a championship opportunity of his choosing at WrestleMania 36. Who will be able to outlast 29 other men in the ultimate battle royal?
Jay: Roman Reigns. This year’s Rumble has a solid build. We’ve had several wrestlers declare their eligibility for it, it has been incorporated in multiple storylines, and it feels important. Adding Lesnar to it was a stroke of genius as well. It gives Lesnar some heat for, from a character perspective, wanting to open the Road to WrestleMania with a win, will be more entertaining than a humdrum match he would have had with an upper mid-carder, and opens up many storyline avenues. McIntyre will look like a beast if he takes him out. Reigns can restart his feud with him if he eliminates him. I hope this isn’t the case but, Cain Velasquez or Tyson Fury can eliminate him to start a feud, hell, John Cena has been hinting in recent interviews that he wants to do something substantial at Mania — why not have him dump him over the top?
Regardless, Reigns will come out on top. He very much doesn’t need it but it’s the safest choice, the most effective way to get him to Mania with The Fiend and Daniel Bryan, and WWE won’t be able to resist anointing him as a made man, once again, on a big stage.
Winner: Roman Reigns.
Vishal: Cain Velasquez.
Winner: Cain Velasquez
Forrest: Drew McIntyre. The man has an entire playlist on the WWE Network for Christ’s sake. It’s Claymore season, baby!
Winner: Drew McIntyre
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