It’s here! The road to WrestleMania officially begins with this weekend’s Royal Rumble at Minute Maid Park in Houston. What’s the over/under on mentions of the Astros cheating scandal by the announce crews on commentary and the pre-show? About 100?
Anyway, as always with Royal Rumble weekend, it’s about the surprises. It’s about who will show up when that clock hits :00 for the next contestant to enter the ring. This year, who’s first is not left to predict as WWE Champion Brock Lesnar has already announced his intentions to not only enter the Rumble but be its first entrant. So, who will be the first 5-10 “lucky” superstars who get eliminated by the reigning, defending, conquering Champion? You know it’s going to happen!
This year’s rumors have veterans like Edge, CM Punk and the hometown hero, Booker T as possible entries. And how about the NXT stars? So, far, there’s been no mention of any involvement from the Full Sail gang. It should seem obvious that Keith Lee, off his Survivor Series performance and winning the North American Championship this past week, would be a no-brainer!
And how about the return of Ronda Rousey? Do we get it this weekend or at some point on the Road to WrestleMania? With so few female superstars already announced for the Royal Rumble, there’s plenty of room to add in from all three brands.
But, before we get there, there’s a Saturday night special for NXT and NXT UK to take on each other with Worlds Collide. Here’s the card:
- Pre-Show: Mia Yim vs. Kay Lee Ray
- #DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa vs. Moustache Mountain
- NXT Cruiserweight Championship: Angel Garza vs. Isaiah “Swerve” Scott vs. Jordan Devlin vs. Travis Banks
- Finn Balor vs. Ikja Dragunov
- NXT Women’s Championship: Rhea Ripley vs. Toni Storm
- Eight-Man Tag Team: Undisputed ERA vs. Imperium (James Drake & Zack Gibson)
Star of the Week:
Keith Lee – Lee wins his first NXT singles championship, pinning North American Champion Roderick Strong Wednesday night on the USA Network. This could be just the start of a very good week for Lee with Royal Rumble weekend being the next piece of his stardom.
- United States Championship Title Ladder Match: Andrade defeated Rey Mysterio to retain title
- Aleister Black defeated local competitor
- Drew McIntyre defeated Randy Orton (DQ when The OC interfered)
- RAW Women’s Championship Non-Title Match: Champion Becky Lynch defeated Kairi Sane (Submission)
- RAW Tag Team Championship Title Match: Seth Rollins and Buddy Murphy defeated The Viking Raiders to win titles
- Erick Rowan defeated Matt Hardy
- Lashley & Lana defeated Rusev & Liv Morgan
What we loved:
Viva La Ladder – Kudos to Andrade and Rey Mysterio, Jr for putting it all out there in this one! Brutal and a good story to boot! And how about Zelina Vega throwing caution to the wind, climbing to the top of the ladder to stop Mysterio from winning the title! Now, we get Humberto Carrillo coming to his hero’s aid to start a feud with Andrade next. Good stuff!
New champs – What’s the easiest way to get more heat on the most hated faction in the WWE? Put the gold on them! And the surprise is that it’s Rollins and Murphy who got the title shot and not the pure tag team in the AOP. Could that be a sticking point down the road when this faction destroys itself later this year? It’s like The Undisputed ERA (until this week) or The Four Horsemen holding all the titles back in the day.
Becky vs. Kairi – Quality match, plus we get Asuka on the top turnbuckle during the middle of the match. A different visual that was pretty interesting as to what she would or could do throughout the match and then, of course, a perfect spot to make a post-match attack on the champ heading into Asuka’s title match at the Royal Rumble.
What we didn’t like:
Last 30 minutes of RAW – The last 30 minutes of RAW did nothing for me. First, another squash of Matt Hardy by Erick Rowan. Been there. Done that. Enough said. Then, there’s no need for Lashley/Lana vs. Rusev/Liv Morgan to be a main event. Especially when you’re only going to give it less than five minutes. There’s no surprise, intrigue or better yet, a swerve or great match to be had there. If you’re going to keep me for three hours, give me a payoff.
- Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Semifinals: Grizzled Young Vets (Zack Gibson & James Drake) defeated The Undisputed Era (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly)
- Toni Storm defeated Io Shirai (DQ when Bianca Belair interferes)
- Finn Balor defeated Joaquin Wilde
- Shayna Baszler defeated Shotzi Blackheart (Submission)
- Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Semifinals: The Broserweights (Matt Riddle & Pete Dunne) defeated Imperium (Marcel Barthel & Fabian Aichner)
- NXT North American Title Match: Keith Lee defeated Champion Roderick Strong
What we loved:
Bask in his glory – It’s here. The first NXT title for the big man, Keith Lee. His stock has been on the rise since Survivor Series last November and it hasn’t stopped! It will be interesting to see how long his reign will be and if it’s just a stepping stone to the eventual NXT Championship.
An eye for an eye – As TUE and Imperium build up to their World Collide meeting, it’s only fair that they get each other out of the Dusty Rhodes Classic right? Imperium strikes first to start the night off giving the Grizzled Young Vets a semi-final win. Then, TUE fights back to end the night with a big brawl. If that doesn’t make you want to see them face-off Saturday in Houston, nothing will.
Shayna Baszler – Usually I’m all into a Baszler match, but it just seemed like she was a little off. From the pre-match promo to the match with Shotzi Blackheart, who eliminated her in the Battle Royale last week, there was something missing for me. That desire and killer instinct just was a smidge from where it usually is. Maybe it’s me.
- The Usos & Roman Reigns defeated King Corbin, Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode
- Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross vs. Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville went to no-contest when Lacey Evans & Bayley interfere
- Elias & Braun Strowman defeated Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura
- John Morrison defeated Kofi Kingston
What we loved:
Go big or go home – From start to finish, this was a very good set-up for Royal Rumble weekend for the Smackdown crew. Quality stuff in the ring starting with a very good 6-man match between Roman Reigns and The Usos vs. King Corbin, Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode, advancing storylines and an emotional, get-to-know-me moment from Lacey Evans. And how about that ending, The Fiend signing the contract in his own blood! Emotions and expectations are surely running high for Sunday night in Houston!
Lacey’s backstory – Give me more of the heartstrings from Lacey Evans. What’s not to like about her. A strong Mom and Marine who’s been dealt a rough hand with her father’s issues and not battling a pair of bullies in Bayley and Sasha Bank. It’s going to be nice moment when she wins the Smackdown Women’s Title.
Braun can sing – Count me as one who likes this new pairing of Elias and Braun Strowman. I get a more human, fun side of the big man plus Elias back in the ring for the first time in forever. That’s quality stuff for a Friday night Give me more!
Sealed with a strap and some blood – Finally, we get a contract signing that’s not long and drawn out with the same ol’ non-sense and dribble. Bray Wyatt and The Fiend get straight to the point as The Fiend answers the call to whip Bryan into submission while signing the contract in his own blood! The only bad part of it all was that annoying red light that didn’t let us see the blood at home until after The Fiend left the ring.
It’ll be interesting to see how the WWE treats NXT going forward this weekend at the Royal Rumble and on the Road to WrestleMania. The rumors have been that there will be NXT involvement in Tampa at WrestleMania, but to what extent? I would expect that at the very least the NXT Championships will be defended in some respect on the card. But let’s see first how big (and successful) they’ll be in Houston. This year’s WrestleMania could be stacked, but first they must deliver this weekend.
BTW: Can’t wait for the debut in NXT of Scarlett Bordeaux!
And oh yeah, some predictions (IMHO):
Drew McIntyre and Shayna Baszler will win the Royal Rumble matches unless Vince McMahon tries to slam us one more time with Roman Reigns. Lacey Evans wins the Smackdown Women’s Title while The Fiend survives the strap match.
Thanks for letting us share our thoughts! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear your comments and suggestions! You can also check out my blog, The Crowe’s Nest as we delve into more pro wrestling, sports entertainment and the World of Sports. My apologies ahead of time – I AM a Patriots and Red Sox fan! If you’re not down with that, I’ve got TWO WORDS for you… NEW ENGLAND!