Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman started the show off this week, because Royal Rumble is on Sunday and the WWE needed to remind people that Lesnar is actually a thing. Heyman basically predicted that Finn Balor will be sacrificed to the alter of Lesnar, which is actually probably a scarily accurate prediction of the future, and ended up getting interrupted by Vince McMahon, who kind of, in a backhanded way, complimented Finn’s ability to defeat Lesnar by comparing the two to David and Goliath…anyway, Braun Strowman eventually came out as well to promise that he will be next in line if Finn falls and, finally, Balor himself showed up to hype himself up.
All of this culminated in McMahon booking Finn to face Braun right then and there. As you might expect, this was the usual speed vs. strength battle the WWE loves to lumber Balor with; luckily, Strowman is a decent competitor, or at least an entertaining performer, so this made for a pretty entertaining clash. Balor more than held his own, enduring Braun’s offense and striking back quickly when he could. Lesnar was at ringside, distracting both competitors, which gave Finn the opportunity to take him out with a dive over the ropes. This pissed Lesnar off, however, and just as Finn looked to have the match won following the Coup de Grâce, Brock hopped into the ring and hit Finn with the F5 for a disqualification finish.
Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush were out next to gloat about Lashley’s title victory last week; Apollo Crews (now sporting a beard!) interrupted and they had a pose-down, making this a really weird, awkward, knock-off version of the opening promo. Anyway, tensions flared and resulted in a match, which saw Lashley dominate in the early going until missing on a Clothesline. Once Apollo took over, he showcased his admittedly-impressive athletic ability but it wasn’t enough to counter Lio’s interference, which allowed Lashley to get the win with a Spear.
Any hopes the three or four fans of Apollo may have had that this was building towards a proper push for the guy were quickly dashed as Seth Rollins came out immediately after the match, having a bit of a stare down with Lashley as he did so, to talk about the Royal Rumble match and how he is going to win it. Drew McIntyre took umbrage to this claim and came out to shut him down, which again led to a match right then and there. Drew took control pretty much right off the bat, tossing Rollins around with his power, but Rollins rallied back with a flurry of his signature moves (the Sling Blade, the Blockbuster, the Falcon Arrow, all that good stuff) but was slowed down by Drew’s knee work. He still kicked out of the Claymore, though, to a massive pop, and even a Kryptonite Krunch off the second rope, and then stole the victory with a simple roll-up, proving that he is wily enough to weather Drew’s biggest moves.
The Lucha House Party were back in action next, facing Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers; it’s really weird seeing the Singh’s in matches after all these years of just standing at ringside. Jinder and the Singhs tried to ground things down with restholds and headlocks but, in the end, lost to Gran Metalik’s fast-paced offense. Again, this is a pretty dire situation for former WWE Champion Jinder Mahal, who may as well be on Main Event at this point.
Elias popped out for a bit of a song…again…about Baron Corbin…again…which led to a match between the two…again…Surprisingly, this was a dominate burst from Corbin, who basically owned Elias and took him out with the End of Days in almost no time at all. Alexa Bliss was out next to explain the rules of the Women’s Royal Rumble match and name all the competitors, which led to a massive brawl between all the women.
Heavy Machinery made their Raw debut next, taking on the Ascension; NXT invasion!!! The big hunks of meat easily destroyed Konnor and Viktor, which would probably mean more if anyone gave tow shits about the Ascension. Afterwards, Chad Gable and Bobby Roode went up against the Revival with the belts on the line, who once again lost after getting distracted with feet being on the ropes and all the “conspiracy” stacking up against them. They were so annoyed at the loss that they beat up Curt Hawkins, who was back in his referee shirt, until Zack Ryder, of all people, made the save, hinting at a possible reunion between the two.
The final Raw before Royal Rumble ended with Ronda Rousey and Natalya squaring off with Sasha Banks and Bayley, which was prefaced by a really weird and wacky promo from Ronda where it sounded like she’d gone mad and turned heel and wanted to wipe her feet with Sasha’s hair…or something…anyway, Sasha got the win after making Natalya tap out, allowing her to look strong ahead of Royal Rumble, and the WWE desperately tried to build some tension towards their match by having the women and referees pull her and Ronda apart because they are so close to breaking point after the last…week or so of build…
The opening promos continue as Becky Lynch started SmackDown! Live this week to talk about her match against Asuka and her desire to main event WrestleMania; Asuka interrupted to shout at Becks in Japanese but, before anything could really happen, Charlotte Flair interjected herself and promised that she will win the Royal Rumble to get back in the title hunt. Asuka got bored and attacked Becky but Lynch managed to get the upper-hand and whipped the piss out of Asuka with her jacket.
Many Rose and Naomi brought us back to reality with a jarring gut-punch in the first match of the night; remember when Naomi held the belt and was being pushed as kind of a big deal? Didn’t take the WWE long to default back to Charlotte, did it? Anyway, this was more an excuse to try and get Mandy over as a threat, by the looks of it, as she got the win after some interference from Sonya Deville because, don’t forget, “anyone can win the Royal Rumble”…
Cesaro and the Miz were up next; I guess the Bar are the default faces in this feud? Or has the Miz accidentally turned face since teaming with the universally-loved Shane McMahon? I don’t even know anymore. Anyway, this was all Cesaro, who dead-lifted Miz all over the place and even snatched him out of mid-air with a slam. In the end, Sheamus was the deciding factor as he managed to lay the Miz out when the referee wasn’t looking, which allowed Cesaro to get the win off the Neutraliser but it was okay because the “Best In The World” ran out after the match to attach Sheamus (after the match…really useful that…), this time, though, the Bar got the better of Shane and Powerbombed his stupid ass through a table.
Vince McMahon showed up again to moderate a face-to-face between AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan, which went about as well as you might expect; Bryan stayed out of the ring, claiming he was embarrassed to be in the ring with Styles, and went on a tirade about being better than the people. Vince got annoyed and tried to force Bryan into the ring but AJ got fed up and went after him but, when Vince accidentally got knocked, Bryan managed to lay AJ out with the Running Knee. Great promo work by Bryan but it’s weird how all of the feuds over the WWE Championship involve so little physical interaction between the two wrestlers.
Samoa Joe and Mustafa Ali actually made it to the ring for their match this week, which wasn’t exactly an attractive prospect for Ali as Joe mutilated him in the early going with chops, tosses, and kicks. Joe worked over Ali’s head but Mustafa did rally back in the middle portion and tried to topple Joe with Suicide Dives, Superkicks, and a Tornado DDT but, in the end, Joe got the Coquina Clutch, won the match, and held on until Ali passed out to really emphasise that Ali is this plucky, gutsy underdog.
SmackDown! Live ended with a rare two-out-of-three falls match that pitted Rey Mysterio against Adrade “Cien” Almas; Andrade started things off strong but Rey managed to get his momentum back by landing on the apron after a toss and hitting his new mid-match tide-turner, the Canadian Destroyer, obviously for only a two count. The two ended up fighting for leverage on the tope rope and Andrade put Rey away for the first fall after hitting a Powerbomb from the top, which was quite the sight. Andrade tried to win the second fall right away with a Sit-Out Powerbomb but Rey kicked out, hit another Canadian Destroyer, and evened the score at two for two. They tumbled to the outside for the next fall and Andrade got thrown into a barricade a bit; once they got back in the ring, Andrade took over and hit the Hammerlock DDT but Rey got his foot on the ropes. Rey flipped through an Arm Bar but Andrade, impressively, held on and forced him down. Rey did fight out of hit, hit a bit Reverse Hurricanrana, landed the 619, and got murdered when Samoa Joe randomly ran down and Powerbombed him into the ring apron, giving Rey the win by default. Joe attacked them both after the match and vowed to destroy everyone in the Royal Rumble…and got laid out by an RKO from Randy Orton because…he hasn’t been on television for a while…?
WWE Cruiserweight Championship Fatal Four-Way Match: Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Kalisto vs. Akira Tozawa vs. Hideo Itami
Wow, we’re actually getting a whole bunch of faces fighting for the Cruiserweight Championship; that may seem contradictory, as I used to moan quite a bit about the cruiserweights being tossed into meaningless multi-man matches, but the more competitors there are for the purple belt the more it looks like it actually means something. Buddy Murphy has held the belt for quite a while now and his feel-good story has to be running a bit dry so I say we finally do something with Hideo Itami and put the belt on him, maybe turn him heel afterwards (if he isn’t already…),
WWE United States Championship Match: Rusev (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Ah, yes, the blood feud between these two is so off the charts that I don’t recall them being on television this week. Once again the United States Championship has been left in the dirt, with the champion barely on television and receiving little to no focus. I’d love to say that a Rusev win here would help solidify his new run and change all that so I’ll go with that and hope for the best but, if he actually shows up on SmackDown! Live next week, I will be genuinely surprised.
Women’s Royal Rumble Match:
Lots of women are involved in this one, obviously, but only Carmella is coming in at Number Thirty. Not that I think that will do her any good as I think her time in the sun has passed for now; the smart money here is on Charlotte Flair for the “dream match” with Rousey at WrestleMania but I am going to pick Ruby Riott to win this because it’s a very left-field pick and I really want them to do something with Ruby before all of her momentum is snuffed out.
SmackDown! Live Women’s Championship Match: Asuka (c) vs, Becky Lynch
Again, this feud has played a lot of second fiddle to Charlotte, who just can’t stay out of the title picture. I think that may even play into the finish somehow, with her causing either a disqualification, count-out, or costing Lynch the belt. Either way, I’m expecting Asuka to retain and, hopefully, a fresh new face to challenge her going forwards.
SmackDown! Live Tag Team Championship Match: The Bar (c) vs. The Miz and Shane McMahon
Great…this match. What, again, did Shane McMahon and Miz do to earn this match except for just demand it? Maybe SANitY and the Ascension should try that tactic sometime because they have simply hot-shotted over all the other teams on the Blue Brand to get this match; they could have played off of Shane’s name and power to weasel into it but, no, they just…got it. And, because I hate that, and Shane, so much, I am fully expecting Shane McMahon and the Miz to win the belts here so Shane will have something to do at WrestleMania (either teaming with the Miz or facing off with him).
Raw Women’s Championship Match: Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Sasha Banks
Another match that appears to have come out of nowhere, I honestly didn’t even realise that Sasha had earned a shot, let alone that they were really feuding over the belt as they just randomly teamed together and then decided they hated each other. Not really sure what’s going on with Ronda, either, as she seems to be becoming a bit or a heel now but this is clearly a stop-gap between her big WrestleMania match and should be a good opportunity to show her talent as, while I am no fan of Sasha’s, she’s a better opponent for Ronda than Nia Jax. Oh, yeah, Ronda Rousey will retain.
WWE Championship Match: Daniel Bryan (c) vs. AJ Styles
The war of the words finally gets settled in a match; again, I feel this will be the last one-on-one clash between these two for a while as the WWE really needs to start thinking about their WrestleMania plans and this feud has been ran into the ground lately. I am liking Bryan’s new heel work but I am not sure what is going on with AJ and his attempts to impress Vince McMahon; either way, I think we’ll see Daniel Bryan retain and get a WrestleMania moment.
WWE Universal Championship Match: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Finn Balor
I am so happy that we’re getting this match; sure, it’s not ideal (Finn is talked down to a lot for my liking, despite his obvious talent and ability) but it’s a great way to give Lesnar a competitive outing rather than constantly lumbering him with big, muscly guys. There’s obviously no way that Finn Balor is going to win the belt, as Brock Lesnar will definitely retain, but I am thinking we’ll see Baron Corbin get involved somehow to cost Finn the title as he just cannot seem to let his issues with Finn go. Oh, also: yes, we will see the Demon King return.
Men’s Royal Rumble Match:
R-Truth is Number Thirty in this match, and I actually expect he’ll stay in the ring until the end this time around but, obviously, he isn’t going to win it. There have been rumours all year of all sorts of people winning this, from Andrade to Randy Orton, but, unlike the women’s Royal Rumble, I am going with the smart money with this one and picking Seth Rollins. The story of plucky, underdog face dethroning and dominating heel champion on the grandest stage of them all is just too tempting for the WWE not to see through, after all.