What’s old is new again.
The Royal Rumble is on Sunday, meaning Wrestlemania season is upon us. The most wonderful time the year for wrestling fans isn’t part of the old and new equation though.
Instead, it’s the reappearance of one of the most guaranteed ratings draw in WWE history.
Vince McMahon is back, and he’s back on a regular basis. Wrestling fans often woe McMahon and the too-often harken back to the attitude era, noting that the company’s most profitable period in history often overshadows the efforts of today’s superstars. To an extent, fans are right. An over-reliance on stars from yesteryear dilutes the stars of today.
But it’s hard to argue with reaction and ratings.
The chairman of WWE came back to mark the beginning of a fresh start for both Monday Night Raw and Smackdown. Yes, the old and tired ratings draw is back to help with a fresh start. What a wonderful oxymoron.
It doesn’t matter, though. McMahon casts an important shadow on everything he touches. For instance, in what would have otherwise been another standard Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar promo to kick off the go home Raw, McMahon came out to spice up the segment.
Any time McMahon and Heyman get together it’s pretty good, as both are superb in their verbal presentation. Adding to that encounter was McMahon’s story about David and Goliath that was spun in a way that only McMahon could have presented, which was absurd to listen to, but brilliantly juxtaposed the Universal Championship contender Finn Balor with Lesnar.
McMahon was also fantastic in his encounter, however brief it was, with Daniel Bryan and A.J. Styles just ahead of the Rumble. It’s no secret that McMahon doesn’t understand Bryan’s lifestyle, which includes being a vegan, which is why it was so great to see him in a father figure type role, demanding that Bryan get in the ring for a face-to-face with Styles.
McMahon has injected himself into the championship picture on both shows, and it’s been fantastic.
WWE Championship: Daniel Bryan (C) vs. A.J. Styles
Speaking of the championship picture, Bryan has been absolutely incredible as the WWE champion. His pompous, looking-down-his-nose, better-than-you attitude has been masterfully crafted, and plays really well in the “stuff you don’t want to hear, but should hear” category.
He’s been so fantastic as a heel champion, that it’s been hard to actually dislike him. Let’s not forget the message he has for Chase Field–the host of the Rumble this year.
Bryan and Styles are the two best wrestlers in WWE, and it’s not as close as you might think. I’d love to find a way to keep these two feuding into Wrestlemania.
Prediction: Bryan (C) defeats Styles to retain the WWE Championship.
Universal Championship: Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Finn Balor
On the other side of the championship equation is Brock Lesnar and Finn Balor. Braun Strowman was supposed to be in this spot, but WWE used McMahon to help take him out of the championship match, by way of punishing Strowman for destroying McMahon’s limo and then sliding in the underdog, Balor.
There should be no questions surrounding Lesnar’s ability to work with a much smaller opponent heading into the Rumble, as Lesnar has recently demonstrated that he’s able to have above-average matches with the likes of Styles and Bryan. Instead, the question should be why was Balor inserted into the title picture on Sunday over the likes of John Cena, Drew McIntyre, or even Seth Rollins?
WWE could have a grandiose plan for Lesnar and Strowman to square off at Wrestlemania, which means they wouldn’t be keen to fire that bullet yet. So in comes Balor. He’ll give the WWE audience a great match, and has been Universal Champion once before, so it is possible that he can win again.
Prediction: Lesnar (C) defeats Balor to retain the Universal Championship.
WWE Raw Women’s Championship: Ronda Rousey (C) vs. Sasha Banks
Similar to the Universal Championship match, this feels like a placeholder matchup. Banks was randomly handpicked by the champion for a match at the second biggest show of the year, and the short buildup for the bout leaves some drama to be desired.
Rousey is still, arguably, the company’s most noteworthy wrestler in the women’s division, with apologies to “The Man” Becky Lynch, and there doesn’t seem to be any threat to her champions status.
This match should, however, remind the world of how good Sasha Banks is. She has shown flashes in recent months — like at Survivor Series — of the wrestler she used to be, which is a top-tier, unquestioned main event level superstar.
Prediction: Rousey (C) defeats Banks to retain the Raw Women’s Championship.
Smackdown Women’s Championship: Asuka (C) vs. Becky Lynch
While other championship matches on Sunday have McMahon, the best wrestlers in WWE, and former UFC stars… they all lack one certain feature.
Lynch is the biggest star in WWE right now and has been for several months. Lynch’s still somewhat new persona could one day be looked back upon as generational in not just women’s wrestling, but all of sports entertainment.
She has been shining in every aspect of the business, including the newly necessary qualification of internet promos. She’s also added some excellent in-ring wrinkles to her game.
Oh, let’s not forget, though, that Lynch’s opponent in this match should also be considered in the generational category. Asuka is fantastic in the ring and brings a certain charisma with her every time she steps through the ropes.
Prediction: Becky Lynch defeats Asuka (C) to win Smackdown Women’s Championship
Men’s Royal Rumble Match.
Hell in a Cell, Tables, Ladders & Chairs, Flag Matches, Inferno Matches, and the main event of Wrestlemania don’t hold a candle to the popularity that is the Royal Rumble.
There are usually only two, three, maybe four wrestlers who have a realistic shot at winning the Rumble, and this year is no exception. Anyone of McIntyre, Rollins or Cena have a strong shot at winning but only 20 of the 30 entrants have officially been announced (through the final airing of Raw and Smackdown before Sunday), leaving us with 10 surprise slots. The surprise slots generally don’t pull through to win, though.
But that could change as Strowman hasn’t officially been announced as a participant in the Royal Rumble, after being removed from the Universal Championship match, but it’s a good bet that he will, in fact, be entered into the match.
Wouldn’t it make sense to finally catapult Strowman into the champions stratosphere with a win over Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania?
Prediction: Strowman wins Men’s Royal Rumble match.
Women’s Royal Rumble Match
The second annual women’s Rumble match comes to the wrestling audience with less pressure than last year’s inaugural event, as the history-making aspect is out of the way.
The women’s side of things offers a plethora of quality options but one makes more sense than the others, considering the storyline already building, and considering the betting lines.
Charlotte Flair and Lynch are a perfect fit like lamb and tuna fish. The match has happened before, yes, but that doesn’t mean these two are done with each other, both in-ring and backstage. It’s been brilliant and can continue to be brilliant.
If it’s not Flair, then perhaps it’s actually Lynch who wins. A storyline where Lynch loses controversially in her championship match, and then enters herself into the Rumble and takes her frustrations out on everyone in her path sounds absolutely delightful. And then maybe this is where we start a path to, no doubt, the biggest money making women’s match in WWE history: Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey.
Prediction: Flair wins Women’s Royal Rumble.
The rest of the card
The Miz and Shane McMahon defeat The Bar, Sheamus & Cesaro (C), to win Smackdown Tag Team Championship.
Rusev (C) defeats Shinsuke Nakamura to retain United States Championship.
Buddy Murphy (C) defeats Kalisto, Hideo Itami, and Akira Tozawa to retain Cruiserweight Championship.
For more Royal Rumble coverage this weekend, be sure to check out Sportsnet.ca’s live coverage on Sunday starting at 7 p.m. ET.