The Road to WrestleMania is officially here and we are officially about to here that phrase WAYYY too many times.
But who cares? It’s time for the Rumble and that’s always worth getting excited about. Before we dive in, I’ll mention I went 8-4 last month at TLC and my total is now up to 63.63% for those keeping count (I’m sure none of you are). The WWE year ends at Mania, let’s see if I can continue to raise my percentage as we chug along to MetLife Stadium in April.
WWE United States Championship Match – Shinsuke Nakamura vs Rusev (c) [KICK-OFF MATCH]
It’s hard to believe how diminished this title has become over the past 6 months. Shinsuke won the title from Jeff Hardy in a six second match at Extreme Rules and then almost disappeared from SmackDown Live, wrestling only nine times on the brand during his five-month reign. Things have gotten even worse during Rusev’s reign, as the Bulgarian Brute hasn’t wrestled a single televised match since winning the title on the Christmas edition of SmackDown.
To make matters worse, not only has the title been devalued, but by proxy these two men have become almost completely irrelevant on the blue brand. Nakamura went from being a hot new heel coming out of WrestleMania to disappearing for weeks at a time on SmackDown. And Rusev winning the title is a perfect example of WWE striking while the iron is (to quote JR) as cold as a mother-in-law’s kiss. Rusev day was running wild at WrestleMania 34, but WWE chose to put Jinder Mahal over Rusev for the US title. Then, they slowly killed the gimmick until randomly throwing Rusev into a WWE Title program that seemed to do nothing but spin the wheels of Rusev’s character.
So, I have no idea what WWE will do here. Giving the title back to Nakamura will mean nothing for the title. Having Rusev retain will do nothing for the title. So it doesn’t matter either way. It’s sad to see how dead these guys are as we kick off the road to WrestleMania. I’ll go with a title retention on Rusev’s part, just because I assume WWE will want the face to win on the pre-show to get the crowd in a good mood to start the night.
WWE Cruiserweight Championship Match – Buddy Murphy (c) vs Hideo Itami vs Kalisto vs Akira Tozawa [KICK-OFF MATCH]
I haven’t been keeping up with 205 Live over the past month, so I’m a bit out of the loop with how these three men came to be the top contenders for Murphy’s title, but I’ve been maintaining for a while now that I believed Murphy was going to remain champion until WrestleMania so that there could be a big title change for the top face of the 205 brand. Throwing a wrench into that idea though is the fact that I had assumed Mustafa Ali would be the one to take the title off of Buddy at Mania, but it appears that won’t be the case since Ali is now part of the SmackDown roster. Regardless, I’m going to stick with that prediction and go with Buddy Murphy here.
Winner: Buddy Murphy
WWE SmackDown Live Tag Team Championship Match – The Bar (c) vs Shane McMahon and The Miz
This has been an oddly intriguing storyline over the past few weeks. Obviously, the build for Miz and Shane-o-Mac becoming partners stretches back longer than that and I enjoyed that as well, but I was surprised to see how nicely The Bar was able to fit into the angle. I’ve been entertained by the two teams’ interactions heading into the Rumble, but there is one major concern I have related to this feud.
As I’ve mentioned several times now in these prediction pieces, the tag divisions in WWE is terrible. It’s so bad and I have no idea why. There are teams like Sanity and The Colons and Gallows & Anderson who are absolutely non-existent on SmackDown for no reason whatsoever. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, Gallows and Anderson have only wrestled SIX TIMES since being moved to the blue brand in April of last year! Same goes for Sanity since they were brought up to the main roster in June. The Colons had ONE single solitary match on SmackDown in 2018, even after Epico returned from injury in August. I don’t understand why WWE refuses to use these teams to build up an actual tag division.
I could go on a rant about that phony McMahon family speech given back on December 17th but I’ll save that for the Men’s Rumble match. But clearly, things aren’t different for the tag division on SmackDown. I’m worried WWE has booked themselves into a corner with this feud though. If The Bar win, they are once again left without any contenders. If The Bar lose, we have a wacky mismatched tag team with the belts which means they’ll be the focus of the division.
I’m going to go ahead and pick Miz and Shane to win the titles here and have a rematch at Elimination Chamber and/or Fastlane. I thought it possible for The Bar to retain here in nefarious fashion and have the feud carry over to the Chamber show where Miz and Shane would gain the belts, but I think we’re ultimately headed for a Miz/Shane match at Mania and it’d be too close for that to all happen next month. So, I’m going with the title change here.
Winners: The Miz and Shane McMahon
WWE Championship Match: Daniel Bryan (c) vs AJ Styles
This feud has become a bit too silly for my liking. I enjoy Daniel Bryan’s over the top heel gimmick as I mentioned last month I thought it came about (kayfabe) via his oxygen chamber treatments. But the whole hot dog stand stuff is just not what I want to see when it comes to the WWE Title. And while I liked the segment with McMahon this past Tuesday, Bryan’s rant towards McMahon would’ve made more sense if he were a face. Also, is Vince a heel on Raw but a face on SmackDown? I’ll touch on that a bit more in the next match.
Despite the storyline, I know these guys can deliver and I expect an excellent showing from these two here as well. I think the feud has to end here so both guys can move onto something new to gear up for Mania. The problem is, I don’t know how Vince’s “Let’s see the REAL AJ Styles” thing plays into this moving forward. Especially since I’m picking Bryan to retain the title here.
I would have preferred to see this defense from Bryan be against Mustafa Ali, but apparently WWE would rather he get destroyed by Samoa Joe on a weekly basis following Ali’s big moments against Bryan. Maybe we’ll get to see Bryan/Ali at Elimination Chamber (or maybe IN the Elimination Chamber).
Winner: Daniel Bryan
WWE Universal Championship Match: Brock Lesnar (c) vs Finn Balor
Finn has to win this match, but I don’t know if he actually will. Why is this a must win for “The Ordinary Man Who Does Extraordinary Things” here? Because Vince McMahon went on Raw and said Finn was too small and didn’t stand a single chance of winning the title. How can a main event guy have the boss say that about him without proving him wrong and winning the title? Well, I’ll tell you how… it’s WWE! WWE creates some of the oddest storytelling that wouldn’t be used outside of the company ever. So I could see them have Finn lose in similar fashion to how Daniel Bryan lost to Brock and try to sell the viewers that Finn showed a lot of heart and a lot of guts and a lot of determination and a lot of smiles and a lot of winning and a lot of oh my and a lot of wow and a lot of… okay, I had a little moment there, I digress…
You get my point, they’ll have him lose without losing anything which is impossible. It doesn’t matter how close he comes to winning, if you have Vince McMahon say he’s too small to win and then he doesn’t win, you’ve hurt the character. Unless you plan on having him get beat then enter and win the Rumble to go to Mania and beat Brock for the title (I don’t think so) then this is an ineffective storyline.
And why was Braun taken out of this match in storyline? Vince wanted AJ Styles to “get real” and basically encouraged Styles to punch him so that he could let that vicious, ruthless side out. Braun does that same thing, but beats on Vince’s limo instead of Vince’s chin and somehow that’s out of line? And why is Vince playing a heel on TV again in 2019? Is this the change they talked about? Is this what “we” as the authority were always demanding? “More Vince! Give US MORE VINCE!” To quote 1992 Shawn Michaels, I don’t think so.
I’m picking Finn to win. Not because I actually think he’ll win, but because I can’t bring myself to fall in line with this stupid idea of having him lose after everything has been stacked against him. I hope I’m right and I hope WWE actually has him win to cement Finn as a main event guy (especially after Cena’s stamp of approval) but I won’t hold my breath.
Winner: Finn Balor
WWE Raw Women’s Championship Match: Ronda Rousey (c) vs Sasha Banks
Thank God Ronda Rousey has been on Raw to hold down the main event these past few weeks. Her feud with Sasha feels real and even Ronda’s choppy promo where she stumbled over herself made me feel Ronda really was infuriated with Banks. I know the Raw rating plummeted last Monday during the 3rdhour with Rousey in the main event, but I chalk that up to the show just being to freaking long in the first place. This feud involves two characters that the fans are invested in heading for a matchup that has never been seen before.
I’m going with Rousey to retain here, although recent news about Rousey leaving WWE for a spell after Mania had me thinking twice about it. Ultimately, I think Rousey will stay unbeaten heading into a match with The Man at WrestleMania. I’m curious to see how Banks is booked here and moving away from the Rumble. I could see her and Bailey (as heels maybe?) winning the tag titles at Elimination Chamber.
Winner: Ronda Rousey
WWE SmackDown Live Women’s Championship Match – Asuka (c) vs Becky Lynch
This is a tough match to predict because I’m fairly positive I know where Becky will be come Mania, I just don’t know how she’s getting there. Maybe Charlotte costs Becky this match, but then Becks enters the Rumble, dumps out Charlotte and faces Rousey for the Raw title? Maybe Becky wins the title and somehow Rousey faces her? What if there’s some kind of Title vs. Title match at Mania? But how would that work with the Rumble winner? Maybe Charlotte wins the Rumble and we get a triple threat of Rousey vs. Lynch vs. Charlotte with 2 titles on the line? I haven’t the slightest clue and it’s driving me crazy trying to pick a winner here.
I’m going with Becky to win because it seems like my safest pick. She could always win by DQ or count out without winning the title so I feel like this covers me better than going with a loss for her.
Winner: Becky Lynch
Men’s Royal Rumble Match
I’m going to take this time here to address the big “shakeup” that supposedly took place on the December 17th Raw. In the immortal words of Leslie Knope, Are you better off? I mean, let’s look at who has been booked to compete on Raw and SmackDown of late and see what kind of changes we’ve seen over these 6 weeks. Next to nothing has changed on Raw. It’s the same format, same storytelling devices, and in many cases, the same storylines. We’ve seen Apollo Crews a few more times than we had before, but he’s not gained anything. The Revival have popped back up, but my guess is they’re in line to lose to Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder which is probably Vince’s petty way of punishing them for asking for their releases. I could be wrong, and hope I am, but would it be that surprising? Seth Rollins was getting these weird pep talk/confrontations with his old pal Triple H, but those kind of randomly stopped. But mostly it’s the same old Raw. On SmackDown, we’ve got Mustafa Ali on the main roster and Andrade (sans Cien Almas) has been given a push, but that’s about it. The tag division sucks, the mid-card title has disappeared and the WWE Title feud is the same guys that we’re feuding in November.
So what does this mean for the Rumble? Well, I guess you could say that this is WWE’s chance to really start delivering that change they promised. But the Rumble has always served as a bit of a hinge on which the WWE’s stories turn going towards Mania. I’m fairly certain that McMahon Family Speech was just a knee jerk reaction to crap ratings. Now that the ratings have risen back up to pre-speech numbers I don’t think there is any real intention on WWE’s part to doing anything that different with the brands.
But, I used to be known around TWM as the guy who always Accentuated the Positives, and I think WWE, while not going through some revolutionary change, will start to improve moving forward, and I think that improvement will be kicked off with Seth Rollins winning the Royal Rumble and fighting for the Universal Title at Mania. There’s a good chance that match will be against Brock, but I’d love to see Finn and Seth go at it for the Universal Title on the grandest stage.
Winner: Seth Rollins
Women’s Royal Rumble
I don’t have a clue who is going to win this match. I don’t even know what to say about it because I don’t even know where to start. I think the winner will be from the SmackDown side of things since I expect Rousey to be challenged by Becky. That would leave the SmackDown side without a contender, but then again I also thought Becky would win the title. So obviously I’m confused. But, I’m going to hedge my bets and make the safest pick I can…
I’m going with Charlotte to win the Rumble. I don’t have the slightest clue what happens at Mania with Becky and Rousey, but I know that it makes things a lot easier if Charlotte wins. In fact, maybe Charlotte wins the Rumble and challenges BOTH champions to a match at Mania, setting up a Rousey vs. Lynch vs. Flair triple threat. If a champ gets pinned, they lose their title or something like that. I haven’t fleshed it all out, but this is the best I can come up with.
Alrighty pals, that’s all I’ve got in me for this month. The Rumble match is my favorite thing every year and I’m very much looking forward to the event despite my criticisms here. Let’s see how I do with these picks and until next time, make good decisions.