Let’s get ready to rumble

David Koier, Courier Staff

It’s the beginning of a new year and that means one thing and one thing only for wrestling fans: It’s time for the Royal Rumble! The Royal Rumble is the first of the World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) big four pay-per-views which also includes WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series.

The Royal Rumble is a very special event that not only has multiple matches, most dealing with a championship on the line, but it also has the famous 30-man Royal Rumble match. The rumble match is like a normal battle royal except that instead of all 30 superstars starting in the ring, they enter one at a time in 90 second intervals.

While most people get excited for WrestleMania, and don’t get me wrong I do too, the Royal Rumble is by far my favorite pay-per-view of the year. The sheer thrill and suspense of trying to predict who’s going to win the match and earn a championship spot at that year’s Mania never fails to draw my viewing of the event annually. This year’s card is quite stacked and should be entertaining.

Starting off the show is a strong tag team matchup for the SmackDown Tag Team Champions. The current champs The Bar, comprised of Sheamus and Cesaro, face off against the newly formed team of The Miz and SmackDown Live general manager Shane McMahon.

The Bar has proven since their formation that the chemistry is there, and they can compete with any tag team in the SmackDown or Raw divisions. Since their formation in 2016, Sheamus and Cesaro have won the Raw Tag Team championships a record of four times and have held the SmackDown titles since Oct. 16, when they defeated The New Day.

The one thing I don’t understand about this matchup is the randomness of the Miz/McMahon pairing. The two are both talented stars, the Miz both a former world champion and tag team champion, but with the star-studded tag division on SmackDown it just seems odd that these two got this opportunity. My prediction is that The Bar retain the titles and some fuel is added to a sparking rivalry between Miz and McMahon that may end up with a match at WrestleMania.

Following the tag match, both women’s championships are on the line. Raw women’s champion Ronda Rousey faces off against former women’s champ Sasha Banks. I personally am not looking forward to this match at all. There will be plenty of talent in that ring on Sunday, but an unpopular opinion that I seem to have is that I don’t think Rousey should be in the WWE at all.

Since her surprise debut in the WWE at last year’s Royal Rumble, the former UFC champion has had all the hype in the world for her first WWE match. That match came at WrestleMania when “The Baddest Woman on the Planet” teamed with Kurt Angle to beat Triple H and Stephanie McMahon.

I thought her performance in that match was some solid work, but not crisp enough to be put anywhere near main event quality. Unfortunately for me and fans with my similar reaction, Rousey has received the largest push I’ve seen in recent years. Not only has she held the Raw women’s title since Summerslam, but the champ has never lost since joining the WWE. My prediction for the match is that Rousey wins via armbar submission and will hold the title until WrestleMania.

The other women’s title match pins SmackDown Live champion Asuka against Becky Lynch. Lynch has been red hot as of late. Her promos building her up as “The Man” in the women’s division as well as calling out the other women in the division have been some of the best promos I have heard in a while. Putting her up against last year’s women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka sets the stage for an impressive bout. My prediction is Lynch either wins the gold or loses via DQ. Either way I think this feud will continue all the way to WrestleMania with Lynch taking the final win.

The one match on this entire card that I think has the possibility to be a classic is WWE champion Daniel Bryan versus AJ Styles. Both are some of the most technically gifted professional wrestlers of this generation. Their WWE title match on SmackDown a few months ago saw Bryan hit a low blow on Styles to give him the advantage and win the title.

The story those two told and the solid execution of Bryan’s first heel turn since pre-WrestleMania 28 should make any wrestling fan excited for what these two are planning for the Royal Rumble. My prediction is that Bryan retains his title and the two continue their feud until they meet one more time at WrestleMania.

The other match may not be as technically astounding, but it will be entertaining and thrilling. After winning a fatal four-way match on last week’s RAW, Finn Balor earned the right to face the WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at the Rumble. Balor is easily the underdog in this matchup due to the significant size difference between Lesnar and himself. My prediction for the match is that Balor will put up a strong fight but Lesnar will still come out on top to retain the title.

And last but certainly not least, the Royal Rumble matches. It is almost impossible to correctly guess all 30 participants in each match so for these I will just stick to my predictions for who will win.

For the women’s Rumble I think that Charlotte Flair will emerge the victor and earn a title match at WrestleMania. It just makes sense on paper. Both the SmackDown and Raw women’s titleholders are in feuds right now, but Flair could easily be put in a program with anyone and it would be a phenomenal match.

If there is anyone who would be worthy enough to end Rousey’s undefeated streak, Flair is the easy choice to do it. Put her up against Asuka, the superstar who she defeated at last year’s WrestleMania in a stellar bout, and I think they could blow the roof off the joint. And hypothetically if Lynch were to defeat Asuka, Lynch and Flair have had matches in the past that were so technically sound that no wrestling fan would be disappointed to watch again.

While I think that Baron Corbin and Elias are two talented superstars who deserve a shot to win the Rumble and get the push they deserve, it most likely won’t happen this year. I don’t think there is a clear-cut winner that stands out, but the two most likely winners in my opinion are Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins. Rollins has been hot lately and has the feel that the backstage personnel are pushing him hard. Samoa Joe, on the other hand, is in a need of a strong push. An accomplished independent wrestler, Joe hasn’t gotten many Universal title shots since joining the WWE. If the Balor/Lesnar feud doesn’t continue after their match at the Rumble, I think that Rollins or Joe as the Rumble winner would make a fine opponent to possibly dethrone the Beast.

Whatever the outcome may be in each of these matches, one thing is for certain, “The Road to WrestleMania” has begun, and it goes through Phoenix at the Royal Rumble!