WWE Royal Rumble 2019: Our Full Preview & Predictions
Raw and Smackdown have been pushing a “new era” in recent weeks, and WWE's first pay-per-view of 2019 is absolutely stacked from top to bottom with several potential match-of-the-year contenders.
Forget the 10 second countdown, let's get right into the predictions...
Buddy Murphy vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Kalisto vs. Hideo Itami – WWE Cruiserweight Championship Fatal 4-Way Match (Kickoff Match)
Buddy Murphy has been tearing through the competition ever since winning the Cruiserweight Championship, and so, WWE's Best Kept Secret demanded a bigger challenge from 205 Live General Manager Drake Maverick. That request was answered with a qualifying tournament for a championship Fatal-4 Way match at the Royal Rumble which sees Murphy defending his title against Kalisto, Akira Tozawa, and Hideo Itami.
Prediction: There is a compelling mix of styles in this match which should make for an exciting show-opener. Between the hard-hitting strikes of Tozawa and Itami, the high-flying ability of Kalisto, and the hybrid-style of Murphy, this will be a fast-paced, explosive encounter. I don't expect the Aussie to drop his title before WrestleMania, so therefore, Murphy will find a way to overcome the odds.
United States Champion Rusev vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (Kickoff Match)
It's not the first time the Bulgarian Brute and the King of Strong Style have battled it out for the United States Championship. Nor is it the first time their match has been relegated to the pre-show Kickoff. To put this into context, this time last year, Rusev was the most popular guy in the men's Rumble match, while Shinsuke Nakamura won the damn thing!
Prediction: The two men have decent chemistry in the ring, but their rivalry is sort of directionless – neither competitor appeared on this week's edition of Smackdown. The match will be solid, if ultimately meaningless, and Rusev will retain his championship so he can go on to feud with the likes of Andrade and Samoa Joe. What happens to Nakamura from here I have no idea.
Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Sasha Banks
Major credit to Sasha Banks for adding some intensity to this hastily thrown together match-up in such a short amount of time. The women only had two weeks to work with to build to this WrestleMania-worthy encounter, and thanks to Banks rediscovering her Boss attitude, we've gone from what was just a potentially great match to a potentially great match and compelling character showcase.
Prediction: As much as I'd love to see Banks return to her rightful spot at the top of the card, bossing it up and making children cry, sadly, I don't think that's the direction she's heading on the Road to WrestleMania. Ronda Rousey seems destined to defend her championship at The Grandest Stage of Them All and Banks looks primed to take those shiny new Women's Tag Team Titles with her best bud Bayley. Therefore, Rousey to retain in what should be a hell of a match.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Bar vs. The Miz & Shane McMahon
In a sane world, the unlikely friendship turned tag team partnership between The Miz and Shane McMahon should not work. But we live in insane times, and so, against all common sense, the Miz-McMahon drama is, dare I say, weirdly endearing? The vicious beatdown Sheamus and Cesaro gave the odd couple on this week's Smackdown also added some much-needed severity to the storyline which up until then was mostly played for laughs.
Prediction: Do I want 49-year-old Shane and his sweat-drenched jersey to carry a Tag Team Championship in 2019? Of course not. Do I think it's going to happen? Absolutely. Where the story goes from there, who knows? Maybe Miz will turn his back on Shane after growing resentful, leading to a one-on-one match? Or perhaps they'll hold onto the Tag Titles until WrestleMania where they'll defend against Braun Strowman and former Raw Tag Team Champion/10-year-old child Nicholas? Whatever happens, I at least expect Miz and Shane in matching red-leather sequined outfits, otherwise, what the hell is the point of all this?
WWE Champion Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles
Daniel Bryan's transformation from universally beloved underdog to fan-hating militant environmentalist is my favorite current storyline in WWE. The self-declared Planet's Champion has cranked his personality up to 11 and is delivering some of the greatest promos of his career. His scathing verbal assault on Vince McMahon and the baby boomer generation on this week's Smackdown was both valid and utterly obnoxious. And man-of-the-people AJ Styles makes for the perfect adversary.
Prediction: I expect another high-caliber bout from these two incredible athletes. Bryan's new mean-streak has added an edge to his recent matches and Styles is the most reliably consistent performer in the company. While I could see a surprise title change here, given that the majority of the championship matches seem to favor the current title holders, it doesn't make sense to take the strap off Bryan when he's on such a roll. Bryan to win and force the Phenomenal One to drink a kale smoothie.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Asuka vs. Becky Lynch
The Empress of Tomorrow is finally back in her groove after languishing for the majority of 2018 and she is taking on the hottest act in the company in Becky Lynch. Believe it or not, but this is the first time Asuka and Lynch have wrestled one-on-one. That in itself makes the match must-see and the fiery brawl on Smackdown this past Tuesday only raised the stakes further. Asuka is determined to prove her championship victory at TLC wasn't a fluke, and The Man is out to slap heads and reclaim what she believes is rightfully hers.
Prediction: This is a tough one because both women could do with a win here. Asuka needs a decisive title defense after Rousey's interference at TLC helped her to victory. On the flip-side, Lynch doesn't really want to be losing if the plan is to reignite her feud with the currently undefeated Rousey at WrestleMania. One possible answer is for Lynch to take the clean loss to Asuka and then enter and win the Rumble later in the night, thereby softening the blow. I'm not so sure that is on the cards though. I fully expect Asuka to beat Lynch; it's just the “how” that is the question.
Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Finn Bálor
Finally, after almost two-and-a-half years, Finn Balor gets his one-on-one rematch for the Universal Title. Much like the Raw Women's Championship match between Rousey and Banks, this was another bout thrown together on short notice within the past couple of weeks. Braun Strowman was stripped of his title shot for wrecking Vince McMahon's limo, Balor earned his way in, made believers (Balievers?) out of us all, and now we have a much more compelling match on our hands.
Prediction: Part-timer Brock Lesnar hogging the Universal Championship is frustrating, but there is no denying that when he faces off against smaller opponents, such as AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan, the match quality improves dramatically. I expect this David vs. Goliath battle at the Rumble to be a show-stealer, especially if the way The Beast sold Balor's offense on Raw this past Monday is anything to go by. Sadly, there is no way Balor is beating Lesnar, not without his undefeated Demon gimmick - WWE has yet to come up with a logical reason as to why he's not using it for this match. Just say the budget for body-paint was cut along with the pyro budget or something!
2019 Men’s Royal Rumble Match
The Royal Rumble match can either be the most fun you have watching wrestling (like the ones Asuka and Nakamura won last year) or an hour-long exercise in torture (like in 2015 when Big Show and Kane eliminated all of our favorites). Mostly, though, they're great fun, and this year's men's Rumble is pretty stacked, despite the image above featuring perpetual irritants Baron Corbin and Jinder Mahal and a possibly absent John Cena. The field includes the likes of Andrade and Rey Mysterio, who have been churning out instant classics on Smackdown, Jeff Hardy, Dean Ambrose, Bobby Lashley, and the always entertaining New Day.
Prediction: The favorites on the Raw side of things are Seth Rollins and Drew McIntyre, and possibly Braun Strowman, now that he's out of the Universal Title match. The Smackdown side has had less specific focus on the men's Rumble, but Samoa Joe made a strong case for himself this past Tuesday, as did the returning Randy Orton. Of those picks, Rollins makes the most sense, especially after the pep-talk he received from Triple H a few weeks ago. The Kingslayer vs. The Beast sounds like a marquee WrestleMania match, or if Balor somehow pulls off a miracle, a redux of the first-ever Universal Title match between Rollins and Balor at the Showcase of the Immortals is equally as appetizing. I'm predicting Rollins, even though my heart really wants an out-of-the-box winner, like say, Kofi Kingston!
Surprise Entrants: As for unannounced participants, I'm going to predict WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne, seeing as the NXT UK talent is in town for Axxess, and Velveteen Dream, to make up for him not being booked for NXT TakeOver Phoenix this Saturday. It wouldn't shock me to see recent call-ups EC3 and Lars Sullivan either.
2019 Women’s Royal Rumble Match
The women knocked it out of the park in last year's first-ever women's Royal Rumble match, and I expect them to turn things up another notch this Sunday. The women's roster is still a lot thinner than the men's; therefore it leaves more spots open for surprise entrants, though hopefully WWE won't rely on the same legends who made appearances in 2018. The Women's Championship picture is hot on both brands right now, and with the winner of this match potentially headlining WrestleMania (and I don't mean in the “co-main event,” I mean the actual final contest of the night), there are big stakes at play.
Prediction: Here's the thing, there's unfinished business between Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch, and a Triple Threat match with those three competitors is a sure-fire WrestleMania main event. Do you build to that match by having Charlotte win and lay down the challenge to Rousey? Or by having Lynch enter and win after losing earlier in the night? Or do you set-up that encounter another way and instead use the Rumble to focus on the Smackdown Women's Championship? It could be an opportunity for a less obvious winner, like say, Ember Moon, who could jump ship to Smackdown and revive her NXT rivalry with Asuka. All that said, I'm going to make a bold prediction, I think we're getting shenanigans. Yes, Flair and Lynch will be the last two standing and eliminate each other at the same time, thereby being declared joint winners Lex Luger and Bret Hart style.
Surprise Entrants: As I've predicted an appearance from Pete Dunne in the men's Rumble, I feel it's only fair we get NXT UK Women's Champion Toni Storm here. I also think we'll see current NXT Women's Champion Shayna Baszler, and Nikki Bella, for the Arizona home state reaction. For a legend pick... why not roll out the red carpet for former five-time Women's Champion Melina? Oh, and if R-Truth doesn't mistakenly come out at #30, I will eat Lacey Evans's hat.
There we have it! Let me know your predictions in the comment section below.
Royal Rumble 2019 Kickoff Show, Sunday, January 27, 5/4c, WWE Network
Royal Rumble 2019, Live, Sunday, January 27, 7/6c, WWE Network